Archive for February, 2012
What’s more important to you–the Earth itself, or humankind? Personally, I go with the Earth.
When I listen to the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, I get the impression they are in favor of humanity being more important than the Earth on which we dwell. The message I get is that it’s okay to scrape away whole mountains to get the coal that lies near the surface; to cut down the trees in huge swaths in our forests just to get the wood; to build a pipeline from Canada to transport a heavy, thick, dangerous crude oil from Canadian tar sands to Texas for refining (why don’t they build the refinery up there and transport the safer end products?); to drill for oil in the arctic without knowing if they can do so safely (at the present time a well is leaking in the arctic and they haven’t been able to plug it because, as I understand, they don’t have the technology to shut it down in that hostile environment); to continue to drill in the Gulf of Mexico in the face of a serious oil leak two years ago; to mine for uranium in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon, one of the greatest natural wonders on the surface of the Earth; and drill for natural gas using fracking technology that hasn’t been thoroughly researched to determine if it’s safe enough for the people who live near the wells. Granted, we could use the energy liberated by the coal and oil and gas, and we need the jobs that those industries could provide, but do we need them that much at the expense of the environment?
I don’t think so.
I find it difficult to understand how we can pollute our environment to the extent these practices would potentially do. The Earth is the only planet we’ve got. We can’t just run off to Mars or Venus or the moon if our planet becomes uninhabitable by foul environmental practices. We’ve already liberated so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere we’ve caused a slight temperatures rise all over the world, a rise over and above what would occur naturally. Granted, it’s not as bad as Venus where the temperature at the surface is over 600 F. But this is our Earth; it is in the best interest of all of us to maintain it in a close to a pristine state as possible. I believe we were put on this Earth to preserve and maintain it, not to use it and discard the remains like a bag of trash in a landfill. It is most convenient to think of our tenure as stewards of the Earth as not so much inheriting it and its environment from our ancestors as borrowing it from our children.
I don’t believe in the conservative ethic that says we can do what we want with the Earth. That man is more important than the planet he lives on. That the world is his little play toy and to hell with the consequences. The conservative ethic says that if we do something today that becomes a problem, like pollution, then there will be a scientist who comes along in a few years to clean up the mess, so we don’t need to worry about it. But we’ve got one helluva mess now, so where are the scientists? Where are these people who are supposed to clean up our planet and make it safe for clear-cutting and mountain top removal and damming up the Grand Canyon and polluting Yosemite and Yellowstone? This planet is my home, and I don’t ordinarily foul my own home, and I would like to keep it that way.
As many of you know who read my blogs, I’m trying to get a science-fiction novel published by the traditional method, namely, by getting an agent who will sell it to a publisher and the rest will be history. But I’ve run up against a small hurdle. Or maybe it’s a big hurdle.
Everyone tells me that a novel by a new author, that is, one who’s never published in fiction, should be in the range of 70,000 to 90,000 words. A hundred thousand at the most. Over a hundred thousand and your chances of getting published are close to zero. What I can’t figure out is why this should be. I’ve seen lots of books in the stores and libraries that vastly exceed that limit. Longer books are getting published by well-known houses. So how come I can’t get an agent if they keep telling me that my book is too long? (It’s around 123,000 words.)
This is a concept I’ve never been able to figure out. I’ve heard several explanations, such as the books over 100,000 words are by well-established authors, and a new author should stay below the magic hundred thousand mark for his first. Look at J.K. Rowling, they say. Her first Harry Potter books were relatively short. Only the later ones were larger. But I say, so what? What value does it do to a new writer to have to write a short book first? What part of learning to write does that enhance?
Another reason I’ve heard for writing a shorter book first has to do with the increasing cost of paper. Write a short book, and it will cost the publisher less. If that’s true, then someone should tell all the writers who pen large books, because that’s not an admonition to a new writer, it’s a warning to all writers.
Another reason that has been suggested is that the booksellers have limited space in their stores, and if an author writes a large book they won’t have the room to put it on their shelves, leading them to purchase fewer of those books in favor of narrower books. But that, like the criticism above, applies to all large books. Yet George R.R. Martin still sells lots of books even though his are several inches thick.
I’ve also heard that a new author should write within a set limit to prove he can do it. To that I say, so what? Why do I have to prove I can do it if I intend to write longer books in the future, as many authors do? I offers me no learning value at all.
In short, I’ve never heard a good reason why a beginning author has to stay within an arbitrarily defined set of word limits. I’ve been working on my novel for several years and I’ve cut it and cut it and cut it. It’s beginning to look really good now, suitable for publication. Yet it’s still considered too big. More cuts are necessary, they say, especially by people who’ve never read it. I’m close to cutting as much as I can without sacrificing the integrity of the plot. Does anyone have any good reason why I can’t publish a book of 123,000 words?
Back on March 13, 2011, I wrote a short blog about the inevitability of the formation of “life” on a planet, any planet, given the right circumstances. You can define life however you want in this context, that’s not the point of my blog today. What I want to explore today is the aftermath of the emergence of living organisms. Is there anything inevitable about the direction of the evolution of those organisms? Must it take a certain course?
I’m specifically looking at one particular feature of higher life on the planet we call “Earth,” a concept I’ve wondered about for a long time. As humans, we occupy the top of the intelligence ladder. Our brain has evolved farther than most, if not all, other animals. Dolphins, I understand, have a brain as complicated as ours, but no dolphin has ever devised a computer. Or, as far as I know, even used one. Some higher apes use tools, but no ape or monkey has ever built a steam shovel. Or operated a typewriter. No, we’ve gone overboard in our tool development.
Humans also, though, seem to show some things that are mostly lacking in animals. I’m speaking here of compassion and altruism. What I’m wondering is, is the tendency toward a desire to help the less fortunate–to heal the sick, help the poor, diagnose and treat disease, and so on and so forth–specifically foreordained in the evolution of the most highly evolved living organisms on a planet? To put it differently, where did this idea come from?
Some animals do help others of their species. I’ve seen elephants try to help a dying or injured member of their group, and I’ve even seen them expressing great emotion (in the particular way elephants express it) when another member is in trouble. Dogs, also, can show great loyalty to their owners, visiting their grave site over and over for years. But no dog performs surgery on another, and no elephant buries its dead cousin. That is left to us humans.
But why? Why do we feel compassion toward another of our species? Is that a normal part of the evolution of the highest member species on a particular planet, and can we look forward to seeing it on other planets, if and when we become so sophisticated we can journey to other worlds and greet the inhabitants?
Certainly, the course of evolution will be different on other planets–vastly different from what we’ve got here–and we have to consider the fact that what passes for life on another planet may not even be recognizable by space farers of the future. Yet it’s not too early to start asking ourselves, what will the most intelligent forms of life look like when we get there? It’s time to open our minds to the fact that life will take many forms, and perhaps it will be in our best interest to show a little compassion to a lower form of life on Planet X. Tread carefully astronauts of the future, you might step on the extraterrestrial equivalent of a pussy cat.
Here’s a short update on my attempts to find a literary agent for my first novel, a science fiction work, The Anthanian Imperative–Blue. I’ve sent out sixty-seven query letters to today, mostly as email queries or through the regular mail. A few literary houses have their own web-based form to be filled out by an interested writer, and I’ve filled out six of those so far. But I’m rapidly running out of names to query. From various sources, including online, print, word-of-mouth, and so forth, I’ve collected about a hundred names of potential agencies that handle science fiction. From that, I’ve been able to select the agencies that are actually accepting queries and send off a missive. I’ve still got a few more–I’m hoping to hit at least seventy, possibly seventy-five–but the list is getting shorter and shorter. Many agencies and agents that handle science fiction are not useable for one reason or another right now. Some are closed to submissions and wouldn’t look at a letter even if I did send it, some agencies are open only to writers who have published novel-length sci-fi in the past, and some are handling only children’s and young-adult science fiction or fantasy. Some agents want only queries from those they met at a meeting and said, “Send me something,” and some agencies I’ve been able to find only a limited amount of information about and have some reservation about sending in a letter. Every now and then I run across an agency for whom, in the chat rooms of some of the agent-related websites, the buzz is not good. Again, reservations.
But, it’s been an interesting experience. Somewhat less than half the agents have responded, and that counts those for whom no response is a “No, I’m not interested,” so I’m still waiting for more answers.
The most interesting thing to come out of perusing so many websites has been the variation in the style of the individual agents. Some want only a letter, some want lots of other stuff, like a synopsis, a resume, or one or two or three or four or five chapters. I keep a log of what I’ve sent just to keep everything straight in my mind about what went to whom. Most of the requests are reasonable; in fact, the vast majority are. But there is one suggestion some agents have made that, while it’s logical in any individual case, is impractical in the extreme.
Several agents have suggested that, in writing a query letter, the querier (that is, me) find some personal item or fact or substance that shows how I found out about the agency, not just a name grabbed from a book or website. In other words, get in on the good side of the agent and butter him/her up. Did we meet at a meeting? Did I have my picture taken with him? Read a book or two she’s represented? Did the agent ask me to send something? Was I recommended by someone else, preferably a well-known author? Preferably one of the agent’s own authors? I can understand how that would work. But how do you do that for sixty, seventy, eighty agents? Good advice sometimes has its limits. In any event, the buzz goes on.
I’m going to cut this short. I have to get back to the TV, there’s some sort of game going on. The Stupid Bowl? No, that’s not right. The Insipid Bowl? That doesn’t sound right either. Whatever.