Sensitivity: A New Round of Edits?

https://wpo.st/G0Gb2

Read the above article today, very interesting and prompted quite a few thoughts.

The first being a general concern that I may typical to human development may be becoming more conservative and less compassionate as I grow older. Not in the sense that I’m forming white rallies or starting to agree with a certain U.S. Politician but conservatism has an interesting commonality in all people where we tend to be most comfortable in the world that we grew up in, to have mainstays of our existence questioned in the name of compassion can be challenging.

Or in normal speak. If we’re used to books being a certain way the suggestion that they may be contributing to prejudice and should be edited/changed can be hard to swallow.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying the blatant stuff, I’m referring to a new suggestion that many authors are now hiring (or is it their editors source unclear) to ensure their work is sensitive to the groups it depicts, not just looking for racial stereotypes but even accurate portrayal of for example chronic pain.

The reason I’m wondering if I’ve fallen into the pit of conservatism is that I tend to think that while stereotypes are a lazy way to write, and definitely ought to be challenged I am happy for this challenge to be the response to a published work causing uproar, rather than a sensitivity edit prior to release. I’m also concerned that this might simply be “easy for me to say” after all there are very few books depicting white, middle-class, men as a stereotype and even if there were I would still hold an advantage, its not like I ever have to worry people might actually think X about be because book Y said Z about my ethnicity.

All that aside I do tend to respect book readers as more than just passive recipients of ideas and information. Movies in my opinion could definitely get this sensitivity treatment, I really don’t need to see another beloved transformer reduced to a cultural trope. When books contain concerns, such as an apparent pair of YA novels essentially promoting white supremacy:

http://justinaireland.com/dammit-this-is-a-blog/2016/12/4/the-continent-carve-the-mark-and-the-trope-of-the-dark-skinned-aggressor

I still feel that its better to have the work out there to discuss, I don’t have the data to back this up but I consider the medium to be one of careful thinking and reflection, whereas television, particularly blockbuster franchise movies are literally shoving racism/sexism/everything else in our faces.

My final word is I find it a little perplexing that people are offering their sensitivity editing for a fee, admittedly its pretty low for manuscript reviews, but isn’t the whole deal perpetuated by the idea that just one person of a minority can review your manuscript?  I mean it makes sense if I were to write about Mâori (indigenous people of NZ) that I might get someone from a local iwi to have a look, but can they spot sexism, or prejudice towards disabilities?

In conclusion my stance is that writers should be intentional in all they do, stereotypes in writing often represent lazy writing, just as they represent lazy thinking in real life. I don’t think sensitivity editing is the way to go, because we want people to ‘be’ sensitive not just produce sensitive books.

7 Tips for Writing a Book Blurb

Gud advice – and the book advertising is subtle rather than in your face!

Writers After Dark

7-tips-to-write-book-blurbI’m here to help stop the madness. You know the one. The insanity that accompanies the “fun” of writing a book blurb. Attacking is more like it . . . I could stab it upside the head if it had one. But alas. Don’t let my bitterness get to you. In fact, use it to rise above me . . . with my own help, ironically. So let’s just get straight to it:

What on earth is a book blurb and why do you need one?

A book blurb is an important tool in convincing your readers to buy your book. Essentially, it’s a sales pitch. And you want it to be KILLER.

A reader will browse the shelves (or Kindle), and will find themselves intrigued by that amazing book cover of yours. Yay! You caught their attention. But you need more than that. You need to make…

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Review of Sherlock Se4 Ep2

I hate to see a good series go downhill.

Now oftentimes I’m a victim of my own expectation, but I think in the instance of Sherlock I have the case that season 4 is just not as good as previous installments. There is a really good HULK SMASH review of Marvel’s Civil-War where one of the criticisms is that Marvel writers are relying on our love of the characters and shoving them together to have a good time rather than developing decent character driven plot.

Firstly I tended to agree Civil War was a really fun movie, but its true that it seemed all the character’s main motivations were to keep the plot moving and ensure the next critical moment happened (other than the awesome Black Panther and somewhat Spider-man)

Secondly I believe that’s part of the problem with this season of Sherlock. I feel like the familiar characters have been shoved together (despite the SPOILER ALERT departure of one, they simply returned as a ghost/hallucination emphasizing just how much the writer(s) simply wanted to pluck heart-strings but couldn’t resist keeping characters around)  and seem to just riff on with their interactions. Most of it feels very in-jokey so much so I almost swore I could feel Moffat nudging and winking at me the whole episode. Again the saddest part being that Watson and Sherlock barely share any scenes their interactions being reduced to Watson using naughty words to describe Sherlock (how droll)

This wasn’t my only beef with the episode, again we get another ‘Sherlock made vulnerable, but WAIT he’s actually faking cos you know he’s actually superman’ spoiler I guess. I know that many writers like to do this hyper-competent characters but really this should only be done once or at the very least done with some decent variance storywise. Season 2 and 3 worked so well because in the former Sherlock did fake vulnerability but had to make sacrifices along the way (so it wasn’t without tension) and season 3 worked because despite all his brilliance Sherlock was stuck in the face of an enemy with their own mind-palace.

BIGGEST SPOILER YET ALTHOUGH LETS FACE IT IF YOU ARE STILL READING YOU’LL REALIZE THIS REVIEW ISN’T FOR PEOPLE YET TO SEE THE EPISODE.

Finally the ending twist. I feel that ever since The Empire Strikes Back, writers are under the impression that familial reveal twists are great. No. The reason Vader revealing he is Luke’s father works as a twist is that Luke had been told one thing about his father relevant to his development and the plot of the story that made Vader’s reveal shocking and important.

Abruptly revealing that the Holmes have another sibling and pulling the old gender bend as some sort of clever plotting (nudge nudge look how smart we at at writing television) has zero relevance to the thinks Sherlock (and Mycroft I suppose) have been going through. If a missing sibling or family had been a major interest throughout the show, then the reveal would have had an impact. The foreshadowing they did use was so blunt it they may well have had Mycroft tell Watson they had a sibling it would have been more subtle because we would have questioned Mycroft the manipulative (probably) Again returning to Star Wars when Vader revealed himself it calls into question what will Luke do, will he be compromised, will he still be passionate about the rebel cause and so forth.

The ending of Sherlock episode 2 just made me go:  well I guess there will be some smarty pants dialogue some sort of half-arsed mystery linking the family and a cliff hanger ending to keep us sucked into next season. It didn’t make me worry about what Sherlock OR Watson would have to do, it didn’t make me rethink any of the story up to that point.

 

The Real Life Trolley Problem

I was lucky enough to stumble upon this gem today:

http://moralmachine.mit.edu/

You see I’ve always loved the Trolley Dilemma (do you pull the lever and make the train kill one person, if its already careening towards five?) not ‘loved’ loved but I enjoy thinking about right and wrong and how it all fits together.

The modern driver-less car creates a real life trolley dilemma. The cars must be programmed to make decisions precisely like the 1 vs five and much worse. Its delightfully ghoulish and fascinating and insightful all at once. Apparently I’m heavily biased towards humans over dogs (that I knew) abiding by the law (I’m actually not a huge law-abiding kinda guy I’m just lucky that NZ law and my ethics match up) and bigger people over slim (did not see that coming considering I myself am a scarecrow)

But what really gets me about driver-less ethics is that it touches on so many biases. Automatic cars have been shown to be far safer than human drivers (statistically at least) yet any crash via a machine driving has wounded the perception of them (far more than an given crash leading people to believe humans are unsafe drivers). I confess I am just as guilty of this myself, the thought of a driver-less car crashing into me feels almost morally reprehensible even thought I know its a combination of naturalistic, and responsibility fallacies (i.e. believing what is natural is right, cos cars you know so natural, and preferring wrong-doing that has someone you can target with blame)

The fallacy I really enjoy rolling through my head though I don’t know if there is a specific name for it, but the kind of ‘hands-off’ ideal (not hands of the wheel) but where we prefer to not make judgement calls about this sort of thing, like who should driver-less cars crash into, even though such a call is and must be made, its kinda like people who trust their government to conduct military and clandestine operations.

 

Try out the Moral Machine test yourself, and don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts, would love to hear more moral conundrums.

 

Flash Fiction: The Omega Dilemma

Not so much waking up, as coming into existence again. The last memory, the few moments of experience before consciousness was lost for the last time. At least it seemed so then.

Perhaps this is the afterlife?

It would make a very strange one. The room is dark, the walls lumpy and twisty, like the inside of a tree. Gravity feels insignificant here, although there is enough tug to indicate which way is down.

‘Hello.’ A deep voice startles.

Turning in the direction of the voice, there is something totally out of this world. Humanoid, two arms, two legs and a head, but distinctly not human. The figure loping across the chamber resembles a chiasmus of person and fungus.

‘Who are you?’

Despite appearances, and being without explanation for the current situation, there is no fear. The creature’s eyes, amber blobs of sap, somehow communicate kindliness, and its movements are slow and predictable.

‘My apologies, I have no name to tell you, I have not needed one for so long I no longer recall it.’

‘Where am I?’

‘Come with me and I’d show you.’

The figure strides across the floor and through to another chamber.

The creature lifts an arm and points to a gap in the wall, some form of window.

Outside an impossible mass of light and energy. It looks like a gargantuan firework exploding in slow motion. Continents of blazing colour swirl and spiral. Behind the star a blackness so complete it has its own pull.

‘Is that the sun?’

‘No that is not the star you would have known in your lifetime. Like myself this star has no name, as there has been nothing to name it for a long time.’

‘What is going on, what am I doing here, where is here?’

The tall tree/person thing continues gazing out the window, light sparkling in its gold eyes. ‘That is the last star in the universe. And this is the last vessel, a complex seed-pod grown for one purpose, to attach to dying stars and preserve life inside for as long as possible. It has kept me alive for eons, right until this very moment. Soon that star will collapse into a black hole, which will absorb us and any matter left in the universe, only existing itself for a few nanoseconds before being torn apart by the sheer nothingness, and all things will end.’

‘Why on earth did you bring me here, just to see the universe ending?’

The alien holds out his hand and reveals a tiny metallic device, it looks heavy in its gnarled fingers.

‘This is the Omega Device. I was able to use it to bring one person here from the past.’

‘But why wouldn’t you just bring one of your own species back?’

‘This may surprise you, but my species is the result of Homo Sapiens’ eventual evolution, through both natural and artificial selection. We are of the same creation. While it took me some time to learn to speak English in preparation for your arrival, it is no great burden to relate to you, I note that you feel the same.’

‘I could tell you much more, however there isn’t time.’

‘Yeah right.’ The vessel begins to rumble, more and more blank spots erupt across the dying supernova.

‘The Omega device was designed for one purpose, it is the culmination of all of scientific progress of sentient  beings throughout the life of this universe.’

‘What does it do?’

‘When activated the device uses quantum chaos strings to recreate reality.’

‘Um. What?’

‘The device creates a new reality that can survive the end of the last star.’

‘You’re going to save the universe?’

‘Not exactly. The Omega device turns reality into a massive quantum simulation.’ The creature touches a few buttons on the device and series of lights flick on. ‘If activated the Omega Device will recreate every single sentient organism that ever existed, along with an infinite amount of habitable planets and other environments. The simulation will be entrenched in the very fabric of reality and exist forever.’

‘I’m still struggling, what does that all mean, and what does it have to do with me?’

‘This device essentially will create an afterlife for all living beings. It will defy the end forever.’

‘Wow.’

‘Indeed.’

‘So how come you haven’t switched it on already? And how come I am here?’

The creature lets out a sigh that is remarkably human. ‘Throughout all the eons of life and its philosophies, endless political and moral advancement, no-one has ever settled on whether it should be used or not.’

‘But why not?’

‘Using this device would remove the one constant that binds all reality: death.’

‘Doesn’t sound that bad.’

‘Yes, I tend to agree.’ The alien looks out at the decaying star. ‘Even after more thousands of years of life, my neurology still trembles at the thought of dying.’ It turns back to you. ‘But what of any true afterlife?’

‘Seems redundant doesn’t it?’

‘Quite the opposite. Activate the device and you will ensure everlasting existence for every intelligent being that has ever existed. There will be no choice in the matter once the device is activated. If there is an afterlife, we will never reach it. If any being does not want to live, they will have to find a way to endure it.’

‘Uh, so you’re saying if I push that button no one will get into Heaven or Hell? Haven’t you proven they don’t exist or something yet?’

‘No.’

‘Are you saying I have the choice to stop everyone from having to die, but on the odd chance God exists I’ll ruin all his plans?’

The rumbles of the dying star stop abruptly. The nova had reduced to a mere few slivers of glowing embers.

‘Quickly now, I brought you here to make the choice no-one else could. Preserve all life with the Device, or let us to our fates. One or the other.’

The creature pushes the Omega Device into your hands.

What will you choose?

Review of Sherlock SE4 Ep1

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD

The first two seasons of Sherlock count among my favourite in television. Not only did the series introduce Benedict cucumber Cumberbatch I felt like the show did both justice to the source material while still modernizing and creating a unique story without being too fanfictionish. And that ending to season 2 – OMG.

Season 3 was good, and certainly carved a shocking ending both in regards to Sherlock’s choices and the return of a scary villain.

So I think it pretty fair to say a lot of people were looking forward to the return of Sherlock in season 4 myself among them. Unfortunately I finished the episode unsatisfied. Sure there were some really funny bits (Watson trying to remind Sherlock of Lestrade’s first name) some really sassy parts and a couple of cool Mycroft interactions.

But lacking was the strong characterization, instead of decisions and plot arcs, everyone just seemed to do whatever was most ‘cool’ and daring and surprising which probably sounds great, until it becomes the core story rather than being grounded in the actual characters. Watson seems virtually absent, his new family life cheapened by gags about who gets to caper around and who has to babysit.

(reminder big spoilers)

Probably what bugged me at first was the authors chose to explore Mary’s past catching up to her, rather than the more obvious choice of Sherlock’s murderous decision at the end of last season which is literally photo-shopped over. I thought that the ending could have provided some moral tension perhaps plaguing Sherlock who despite his aloof demeanor could show that still doesn’t do wrong.

What bugged me second most is that Sherlock for all his genius completely stuffed up the final confrontation with deadly consequence, but without any apparent flaw or reason. After 3 seasons and a movie Sherlock somehow fails an interaction with a retiree cat lady who successfully fires a shot while, Watson, Mary, and a squad of police all stand around staring with little more to say than ‘Don’t be silly.’

LAST WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD

Finally as a comparative the end of season 2 was superbly edited, written and acted particularly by Martin Freeman. Fast forward to season 4, and we get a scene with horrible cliche dying dialogue finalized by possibly the worst grief acting from the very same Freeman, honestly what the hell happened? I know that sorrow can present oddly that people don’t always cry with perfectly angled tears and polite sobbing but Freeman’s emoting sounded like death cries of Atari video game monsters.

I will of course keep up with the series, but I fear that like so many original television series the gold is in the early work and now we’re getting the drawn out material that lacks the simplicity and passion of the beginning.

OR maybe just the good stuff is being saved for the rest of the series – I’m hoping for the latter…

Daniel S. Duvall’s Plea for World Peace

Well at least I’m not the only guy dreaming of world peace

Intermittent Ramblings from Daniel S. Duvall

Human beings have always had the choice individually and collectively to look inward and make conscious decisions about how to behave. We’re well beyond the point where we could’ve already achieved world peace and restored some semblance of harmony with the planet’s environment. Instead, we’re razing the rainforests and spilling the blood of each other (and dropping bombs on children) at an ever-accelerating rate. Knock it off, fellow mammals! To the Christians in the U.S. Military, I ask this: why do you accept graven images (paychecks) in exchange for violating the “thou shalt not kill” directive of your chosen scripture? To the extremists of any faith who think that their gods approve of murdering infidels and heretics, I ask this: do you not sense that you’re perpetuating an endless cycle of violence and retribution? You can choose to participate in the wars that your political leaders demand (to appease the…

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