Rand Idolatry

Conservatives have been expressing appreciation lately for the ideas of Ayn Rand. Rand was a second-rate novelist with an axe to grind. Her family had lost everything in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and she purely hated communism. Her mature work (using the word “mature” loosely) is a concerted, conscious attempt to define a personal philosophy that is the antithesis of communism. She called her philosophy objectivism.

Objectivism is a blight. Stripped of its trappings, it amounts to little more than unbridled greed and a license for cruelty. But since it has become somewhat trendy, we might profitably spend a few minutes examining it.

Here is a brief explanation of objectivism, which Rand wrote in 1962 (as quoted on aynrand.org):

  1. Reality exists as an objective absolute — facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
  2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
  3. Man — every man — is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
  4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may Read more

Win or Lose

Back in the early ’80s, I used to play pool with a guy named Dave Williamson. We would drive down to a nearby pool hall and play 8-ball while eating lunch. Dave was Keyboard’s advertising director, and a very competitive guy. In order to understand this story, you have to know a little about the rules of 8-ball.

There are two ways to win a game of 8-ball: You can sink all of your balls, followed by the 8, or your opponent can foul. If you foul, you lose immediately. Sinking the 8 ball too early is a foul … but here’s the nasty bit: Once you’ve sunk all of your balls and you’re shooting for the 8, if the cue ball strikes one of your opponent’s remaining balls before it hits the 8, you’ve fouled, and you lose.

If your opponent gets too far ahead — if he’s shooting for the 8 while you still have four or five of your balls on the table — you have a tactical opportunity. You can Read more

Fantasy Unchained

I’ve written seven novels. The first two were published; the other five haven’t been. Three of those five my agent (who I guess is now my former agent, more or less) declined even to try to market. He didn’t feel they were commercially viable, and he may have been right. It’s very possible that my stories aren’t gripping enough to provoke excitement among hard-to-impress publisher types.

Even so, every few years I get the itch to try it again. Right now I’m sketching some ideas for a fantasy novel. The idea of writing another less-than-publishable book, however, fails to stir me. If I’m going to put all that work into developing a story, I’d like to believe, or hope, that other people might enjoy reading it too.

To that end, I thought I’d do a little survey of what’s going on in the fantasy field. I have my own favorite authors, but they’re not necessarily representative. Terry Pratchett sells like gangbusters, but I have no interest in writing like Terry Pratchett. Tim Powers I happen to like a lot, but I don’t think he’s a hot seller.

Poking around on the Web, I made a list of about 20 authors of epic fantasy series, folks who seem to be selling decent quantities of books. Hard sales figures are not readily available, but given that there are 14 books in Robert Jordan’s series, it’s a reasonable bet that the publisher was happy with the sales of volumes 3, 4, 5, and so on.

I approve of writers’ habit of putting the first chapter of a book up on their website. It gives me a reasonable glimpse both of what the book may be like and — more important — what elements these writers feel will draw in fantasy readers.

One strategy, in books that aren’t the first volume in a series, seems to be Read more

Eye Candy

Last night I watched the first half of Avatar on DVD. I’m not sure I’ll watch the second half.

It’s visually stunning, of course. Breathtaking. But the story … feh.

For starters, there’s the unobtainium. Terrible name for a mineral — straight out of DC Comics. Either unobtainium is an element (which it can’t very well be), or it’s a molecule. If it’s a molecule, synthesizing it from its atomic constituents is simply bound to be a thousand times cheaper than sending out starships and maintaining a base on another planet.

We need also to ask, how can a gigantic economic demand ever develop for a substance that is so rare as to make this mining operation profitable? Consider the case of aluminum: It’s extremely useful stuff, but it was also extremely rare — more precious than gold — until a way was found, in the 19th century, to extract pure aluminum from bauxite. Until aluminum became cheap, there was no demand for it!

Considering the scope of an interstellar mining operation, unobtainium would have to be worth at least Read more

Lifestyles & Looks

For the most part, I enjoy my life. It wouldn’t suit everybody, but it suits me. I play classical music on piano and cello. I compose strange electronic music in my computer. I write magazine articles, fiction, and even an occasional non-fiction book (Picture Yourself Playing Cello is now on Amazon). I read, do chores, teach music lessons, work out at the gym, chat with a few friends on Facebook, maybe watch a movie on Netflix.

I’m seldom bored. On the contrary: I usually have a to-do list wherein three or four things await my attention.

Every now and then, though, I start feeling that I’d like to share my life with someone. Not, certainly, because I crave excitement. Excitement doesn’t interest me much. It’s more that I’d like to be able to share life’s little satisfactions and little dissatisfactions on a daily basis by talking about them with someone who cares.

Yesterday, for instance, I hung six of my father’s paintings. I’ve just moved into this house, so I had to make numerous decisions about which paintings would work best on which walls. When I finished, I had a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure. I had odd memories of a few of the paintings. I would love to be able to chat with somebody (and preferably somebody who will be sharing the house with me!) about the choices that needed to be made, about my memories, and about Read more