Archive for February, 2016

A Trip To The Bookstore

I usually write these blog posts on Sunday afternoon, after my regular stop at one of the local bookstores in the Albuquerque area.  Today was no exception.  The first thing I check after entering is the magazine rack of news journals to see what people are saying about national and international politics.  (Right now that’s the 2016 election.)  Then I begin to wander around the store, examining such areas as the hobby magazines (especially model railroading and woodworking), beginner’s guides to the increasingly sophisticated electronics products out there (phones, tablets, computers, cameras—you name it and there’s a magazine for it), some of the art and artist magazines, and eventually I wander into the book sections.  My first stop is always the science-fiction area.

And what an area it is.  One of the largest sections in the bookstore.  I especially check the new SF/F.  I tend to pay little attention to the regular stacks of books because they don’t appreciably change over weeks and months, though I might scan them just to see if anything has been added.  It’s the new releases which interest me.  For two reasons: primarily I want to see what’s just come out, but secondarily because they’re the ones my books will be competing against if I ever get them published.  At first glance, that can be daunting.

Science fiction and fantasy seems to be a booming genre.  The colors of the various book covers, often in shades of red and black, compete with the customer’s eyes for attention.  I get the impression that most of the books are either fantasy, with lots of swords and knights and jousting and killing and all that, or dark sci-fi wherein wars are being fought and planets destroyed or decimated in some way.  I tend to look for the less violent titles.  I’m interested in internal conflict, as opposed to external warfare, but I’m not sure that’s too much in vogue at the present time.  It’s so easy to write about wars and monsters and so forth, and more difficult to write about the battles and hostilities that take place within the human soul.  But that’s what my books are about.  (I have to admit, however, the third book in my Anthanian Imperative series does have some battle scenes.  Small ones, though.)  Warfare sells, I guess.

But the sheer volume of new titles in SF/F brings up another point, that of competition.  Can my books, I ask myself over and over, compete with all these new titles?  Eventually, I expect my books will be new, too.  So, how will they fare next to those in the present display?  That can be disheartening, seeing all those books and expecting mine—one more in a rack of fifty or more others—to compete.  But then, I tell myself, that’s the wrong question to ask.  The real point to be made here is not so much that there is intense competition among authors for the sale of their books, and there certainly is, but that each book should be considered as a title all by itself.  Of course mine can compete, I say.  I maintain that what is important is not whether a book competes well against established authors, but whether it is any good in the first place.  Books—and I believe many people will agree with me here—should be judged by themselves, not as a contestant in a race for the highest sales that can be obtained.  I trust my books to be the best I can make them.  And if they sell, all well and good.  If not, then I’m back to the drawing board and I’ll try again.

Then I go to the Starbucks in the back of the store and look at all the goodies.

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Too Many Facts

Well, we’re embroiled in another presidential campaign season in the United States, and facts, figures, and allegations are flying around the multiverse like bees defending a hive.  I’m not much of a politician (I don’t want to be) and I try to avoid political conversations, though I do have very definite opinions about most of the current political and economic and humanitarian situations that routinely find themselves on the evening news.  Having an opinion is one thing, though, and bolstering that opinion with all the relevant facts is quite another.  And that’s the one thing that annoys me most about politics.  Facts.

Politicians have definite opinions, to be sure, and I assume most US citizens do too.  But behind those opinions should be the true facts of the case.  And we are absolutely inundated with facts.  My disquiet with facts is neither the lack of them nor the absolute glut of facts we encounter daily, even hourly.  My problem is with the accuracy of those facts.

I’m too much of a scientist to let these “facts” go without a comment or two.  Each presidential candidate has his/her own opinion, of course, and so often those opinions are backed up with what they throw out as “facts.”  Dropped before us like pearls before swine, those facts may look and sound good when taken at face value, but rarely are they backed up by any real evidence that they are what the candidate says they are.  Facts are too often the fodder for pundits who massage them and manipulate them into being what they want them to be.  I, personally, would like to know whether the “facts” presented by a candidate are true or not, not how that person is using them.  Political candidates aren’t the only ones using facts.  Facts are put forward by all sorts of organizations intent on making their own case for something or other.  Yet, rarely are those facts actually verified.  I want to see more verification.  A lot more.

I wouldn’t doubt that in this country, there is no one—not one single, solitary person—who can verify every fact presented in the media.  There’s just too many.  I’ve seen some fact-checking reports after the presidential debates, and many times those “fact-checkers” sound legitimate.  But no one can check everything.  We’re swimming in facts, facts that can be used by anyone or any group to make their own point.  How do we know who to rely on?  Who’s accurate and who’s not?  I’d like to see the facts behind the facts.

When I wrote scientific papers, I had to use a lot of facts, some of which I generated myself, some of which were taken from other papers.  And I had to reference all of them at the end of the paper in a section titled “References,” or in some cases, “Literature Cited.”  All the facts had to be verified, and any conclusion(s) I drew had to be supported by the facts.  Considering the importance of the President in US society, why shouldn’t presidential candidates be subject to the same rigor?

So many facts; not enough verification.

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All-Time Worst

This is an admittedly unscientific poll, but I’ve noticed over the years that the most common grammatical error across all types of writings seems to be the confusion of the word “you’re,” with the word “your.”  Most of the time it occurs as the use of “your” when the writer meant “you’re.”  But it pops up everywhere.  I’ve seen it in all sorts of writings, especially on Facebook posts and in other places where the writer was either in a hurry or didn’t stop to proofread his/her writing.  Even once on a Post-It Note.  Not long ago I saw it in a commercial on TV.  And that’s someplace where the error was shown nationwide.  All because the writer (and the marketing or advertising firm behind the commercial) either didn’t proofread or didn’t know one of the simplest of grammatical rules.

At the risk of boring those of you reading this with some information you already know, the word “you’re” is a contraction for “you are.”  As in, “You’re my sweetheart.”  (After all, today is Valentine’s Day.)  On the other hand, the word “your” indicates possession or ownership, such as,  “Here’s your valentine today.”  That shouldn’t be too difficult to remember.

I’m not so sure that many of the errors we see of this type are because writers don’t know the difference, and I suspect many do, but I wonder if the main reason is that sometimes people don’t think about what they’re writing.  (Don’t get me going on there-their-they’re.)  I wonder if the error comes as much from the tendency nowadays to scribble something down and not go back and re-read it.  Just zip through and get it down.  I suspect a lot of Facebook posts are like that.  Many Facebook posts contain errors of other types too, though the “your/you’re” boo-boo seems to be the most common.  I always proofread my Facebook posts, even if it’s only a few words in response to someone else’s post.  I’m sure some mistakes have gotten through over the years, but at least I try.

Is life in our society so hurried that people don’t have enough time to think about what they’re putting down on paper or on a com screen?  I guess it is.  But the person who can use the rules of grammar correctly has the edge in one of the most basic of societal needs: that of communication.  We are immersed in an absolute of glut of forms of communications nowadays, and knowing how to use them properly is almost mandatory.  Watch what you’re writing.  Proofread.  Everything.  You’ll be better off for it.  Surely you don’t want your grammatical errors shown on nationwide television.

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