You Should Know: CRISPR

Something amazing is happening right now. #CRISPR is being tested, and is already starting to save lives. The technique is in its infancy, but if it works, it could lead to entirely new fields of medicine, as it enables a level of medical care previously only imagined in science fiction.

CRISPR is the name given to the process by which living bacteria edit their genetic structure, and swap out genes with other living bacteria. It’s how they evolve immunity to antibiotics so quickly. Having finally figured out the basics of how it works, scientists are now trying to apply it to humans.

Imagine being able to engineer humans who don’t require vaccination — because they’re born immune to the prevalent diseases of the time. Imagine being able to safely eliminate tumor cells with a method that leaves normal cells alone. Diabetic? Let’s fix that pancreas. Injured? Let’s reactivate the genes that allow for regeneration (we have them; our livers regenerate, in a limited fashion).

There are dark possibilities with this kind of capability. There’s no denying that. Want to ensure that all babies are born with blue eyes and blond hair? That would be possible.

Before “1984,” there was “Brave New World,” in which classifications of human being are created with specialized, often broadly diminished, physical and mental capacity, specifically engineered to fill specific functions. An early example in the book was that of a mentally disabled man designed to operate an elevator, without the intellectual capacity to do much more than that. Famously, George Orwell idolized Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, who reviewed 1984 and said that it was “very good, but when that future arrives, it will be more like Brave New World.”

That future is coming.

What’s important to remember is that, like anything else we’ve ever made, from the first time we picked up a heavy rock to break open a clam (or crush a rival’s skull), CRISPR is a tool.

It is a tool with great potential to do good, or to cause harm, but it has no agenda. It doesn’t wish us ill, and it won’t wreak havoc — not if we refuse to let it. The scientists who are presently experimenting with CRISPR are doing so with the goal of curing genetic afflictions and improving overall human health, wellness, and lifespans. It is up to the people at large, the responsible citizens of developed countries, to stay on top of this.

We need to watch. To marvel, and delight in the achievements of those who are working to improve our lot — everyone’s lot — in this life.

And, to make certain that this is all they’re doing. Not out of paranoia, or by being heavy-handed, or presumptive about what we know, but by making ourselves heard, tracking progress as it is published, and being absolutely clear on what will and won’t be accepted as ethical applications for CRISPR.

Overall, I’ve got a good feeling about this. I’m sure that someone, somewhere, at some point, will do something they shouldn’t, but this kind of treatment offers huge promise for eradicating infectious diseases… heart disease… kidney disease… diabetes… cancer… Alzheimer’s disease… and, potentially, down the road a ways? The aging process.

Sex & Violence

Sex & Violence

Of all the scenes to ever trouble the weary fingers of the career author, those which rely on sex or focus on action and violence are the most difficult to write—and, from the writer’s own perspective, often the least satisfying. Both involve the same two hang-ups: action, and intense and passionate emotion, which can be difficult to convey in swift and sudden fashion.

This, of course, is how you often want the heart of an intense scene to progress: buildup aside, you want things to proceed briskly, rather than getting lost in the details. The mind of the reader needs just enough to work with so that they can fashion an image of what’s going on for themselves.

With that in mind, how should you go about conveying this kind of imagery, ensuring that enough bridges the gap between writer and reader—without knocking the reader’s head against the wall, just to remind them that it’s there?

Pace Your Scene

The Devil is in the details… so avoid them. Use the buildup to your sex or action scene to establish atmosphere. Describe a few important details; when you visualize the scene itself, what stands out? Is it the color of the room, or the texture of a wall—perhaps as someone’s fingertips run along uneven masonry? Does the creaking of a bed remind your main character of the treehouse that their long-vanished father built for them as a child? Establish atmosphere before reaching the heart of the scene, using colorful, vivid, but increasingly clipped detail.

Your audience will remember the atmosphere. Now, it’s all about the action. Think of it as the foreground to the atmosphere’s background.  Describe actual action in minimalist terms—whether it’s combative, or sexual… or both, if you’re into that sort of thing. Be sparse with your description, but make sure that what you do use is well-written and relevant. As a rule, you shouldn’t describe superfluous detail that stands starkly in contrast to the atmosphere you’ve already laid out.

With the conclusion of your action sequence, hearken back to the atmosphere briefly, just to tie it all together. Make a final, departing reference to the texture of the wall, or the creaking of the bed, before you continue with your story. Unlike the buildup to an action scene, the ensuing story can return to its previous pace abruptly—not without acknowledgement, but some of the most accomplished authors in existence manage this with a short paragraph, if not a single sentence.

The transition from the main force of an action scene, back to dialogue or narrative, can be as abrupt as the action itself.

Know What You’re After in Advance

sex violence action scenes writing
I’m 60% certain that this falls under “sex.”

The broad strokes of this are obvious (“it’s a fight sequence with the villain,”) but let’s take things one step further than that.

By overcomplicating an action sequence, you risk giving your reader too much to absorb. Sudden changes, such as points that profoundly affect the narrative, need to be indulged quickly—or else they run the risk of interrupting the scene. That’s sometimes a desirable thing, but certainly not always.

Suppose that you’re writing a tense Victorian crime thriller. Your heroine is a young heiress who spends her night fighting for London’s impoverished lower classes—mask and all, although her primary tools are her father’s dueling pistol and her brother’s rapier. You’re writing a scene where she finally comes upon the villain she’s been pursuing. The setup is quick; there is both cause and vengeance at steak. You’ve laid the groundwork: a fiery intensity of emotion, a keening Warrior Princess cry that leaves her foe backpedaling, and our femme fatale draws first blood.

In so doing, she unmasks her foe—revealing the face of her brother, whom she had thought dead, and for whom she had been seeking vengeance all along.

I’ll even give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that there’s more to the story than that, Shyamalan. Her brother, as it turns out, isn’t the villain at all: he’s been working against the same forces that she’s been fighting, the whole time, but he always did his best to hinder her progress and—in so doing—keep her out of harm’s way.

He’s less interested in the greater good, and more in avenging an unfair slight against his family’s honor. He’s done terrible, horrible things in the act of pursuing his vengeance. Your heroine is confused, and she wants answers, but that rage is still there—she knows what he’s done. She’s seen him do it. The righteous fury of the cause rises to the surface…

It’s a bit much, isn’t it? To be conveyed during a fight scene?

You’ve got two choices here. Progress the action scene for a time, giving your reader some satisfying, adrenaline-pumping excitement, before the unmasking of the noble heroine’s brother. The foe can appear to be toying with her, only to have it later revealed that he was simply trying to avoid doing her any harm.

Once he is unmasked, have the heroine stagger; convey a cold, hard shock, and shift things into a tense dialogue to explain what’s going on.

The other option is to continue the fight. In place of cold shock, there is the fiery anger of betrayal; the heroine redoubles her efforts against her treacherous brother, who is not so unwilling to do her harm that he is willing to risk his vendetta by falling to her sword. The two continue fighting, but there is brief, clipped dialogue intermixed with the action—don’t use four words, when three will do, and only cover the broadest possible details. Major revelations should pause, if not end, the scene.

Too many people get lost in the scope of the detail with an action scene that’s important enough to have more at stake than the simple result of the action itself. They try to introduce new plot elements mid-fight, to change the atmosphere entirely, or to introduce lengthy, interruptive dialogue in between every act involved. This kind of thing bogs an action scene down, and is better reserved for the consequence of a scene—not the mid-point. Full paragraphs and a sudden mood change is a transitory point, not something to indulge in while the bullets are flying.

Pace your Writing

We’ve gone over pacing a scene, but there’s something else to remember about pacing: it applies to your actual writing habit. The greatest writers all say the same thing: “just write.” Sit down, and write. Write until you don’t have anything else to write. Write until you’ve hit the end of your ideas and you’re rambling—then ramble some, before stopping.

Never, ever “edit as you go.” Editing as you go is writer’s block waiting to happen. It’s 100% assurance of dissatisfaction with your own work, and for something as important as an action scene, you don’t want to second-guess yourself unto eternity.

With sex and violence, it’s more crucial than ever that you just… keep… going, until you’re done, and then don’t let yourself change anything right away! Continue writing your story. Write it until the end. Write subsequent action scenes; during the editing process, what you’ve written later may inform some minor tweaks you want to make to what came before, but you’ll be far more likely to be happy with what you’ve written in context. Editing sex or violence as it’s written is the surest way to wind up mired in what I like to call “porn syndrome:” too much detail, not enough reality.

Trust Your Reader, Trust Yourself

This point is critical, but is too often overlooked: you need to relax. Your reader knows what they’re after in a story. Have faith in yourself, in your ability to convey the desired imagery for this scene in the same way that you’ve held your reader’s attention thus far. By the same token, you should also trust that your reader is enjoying your story; if they’ve made it to the sex, or the action, they want to appreciate the scene—but they also want to know what’s coming next. It’s very unlikely that anything you’re likely to do, if you relax and let the words flow, is going to shatter their immersion or ruin their appreciation of your work.

By staying true to yourself—to your vision, your established style, your existing techniques—everything will most likely turn out fine, without a lot of hassle.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

As a writer who has spent the last couple of years trying to transition into new genres and mediums, I’d be very interested in what you have to say about this, or any of my other articles concerning advice for writers. If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to share them in a comment below.

If there’s anything I’ve left out, such as some strategy which has worked well for you in the past? Share it in a comment as well—for the benefit of anyone else who might come along!

The Devil’s Bean?

The Devil’s Bean?

Currently, this article condemning Red Bull is #trending on Facebook. It is an example of #fakenews. It contains shoddy, limited, and low-effort research. The low-quality graphics and basic errors in grammar show a lack of careful editing, which also manifests itself in the subjective content.

Here is why you should read such content with a critical and otherwise well-informed eye, and never accept it as the sole source of input for your opinion.

The Source Article has Nothing Specifically to Do with Energy Drinks, Let Alone Red Bull

Nothing about the article has anything to do with #RedBull, or even with “energy drinks” in any general sense. The content relates, solely and entirely, to the effects of caffeine. Important natural processes, which are always at work in your body, are cast in a villainous light, thereby making the effects of caffeine appear far more insidious and pervasive than they actually are. The Church of Latter Day Saints, one of the most notorious advocates against the use of caffeine in the modern world, even clarified its policy five years ago; they now explicitly allow Mormons to drink caffeinated soft drinks, some of the least healthy caffeinated beverages in existence.

You Always Lose Valuable Nutrients When You Urinate

This is why animal waste (ours included) makes such an effective fertilizer. The digestive process is simply not that efficient. This is a point that is regularly raised to make soft drinks, energy drinks, and alcohol look worse than they are, but it would happen even if you drank nothing but crystal-clear mountain springwater. Meanwhile, anything that *isn’t* water (including milk, soy milk, almond milk, and fruit juices) will suck more nutrients out of your system than water will; such is not the exclusive province of caffeinated beverages.

Releasing Sugar Into Your Bloodstream Is Part of Your Liver’s Vital Function (You Need This to Be Alive)

Your liver’s normal, everyday function includes the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Insulin is used to turn sugar into chemical fuel, so more is produced in response to more sugar. This is how you get more energy and stave off exhaustion, which most of us are trying to do when we drink caffeine in the first place.

Blood Sugar Spikes Happen Every Time You Consume Anything Edible (Again, Necessary for Life to Exist)

When you consume anything edible, your body turns part of it into sugar. This sugar is processed into chemical energy by your cells, and used as fuel. This is where all of our energy comes from; supplementing with B-Complex Vitamins doesn’t “give you” energy. Instead, it makes the process more efficient; you lose less of what you’re already taking in. If what comes out of your bottom doesn’t look like what went in at the top, that’s because part of it was chemically altered to produce sugar.

Your Body Naturally Stores Chemical Energy as Fat

Excess chemical fuel is stored as fat when its energy is not needed. The article implies that this is some diabolical twisting of your body’s systems by caffeine. This is how your body normally works. The problem, here, isn’t what you’re taking in: it’s how much of it you’re consuming, and what your daily routine looks like. You shouldn’t drink energy drinks if you’re sitting around on your ass all day. You also shouldn’t eat a lot, or drink anything but water, if you’re sitting around on your ass all day. While we’re at it, you shouldn’t sit around on your ass all day. That is unhealthy in itself. These processes, the way in which your body creates and stores chemical energy, are why that is unhealthy.

Let’s Talk About Red Bull, Since The Source Didn’t Bother

Red Bull does have a lot of sugar, but the total amount (including processed sugar) is no greater than the total amount of sugar found in an equivalent volume of fruit juice.

Its sugar content is roughly equivalent to the maximum daily sugar intake advised for an adult human. That’s in one normal-sized can. It’s equal to about 4-9 teaspoons of sugar, depending upon how high you heap those teaspoons. Many of us put that much in 1-2 cups of coffee, and we’re otherwise generally very careless about our sugar intake regardless (on average, we consume 2 times the recommended daily intake), but that doesn’t objectively make Red Bull any better.

The issue here is the accessibility of that sugar. Processed sugar is easily accessed, and quickly stored (often, I’ve found, in the hips).

Except, there is sugar-free Red Bull. There are also sugar-free varieties of most other energy drinks.

You can restrict your energy drink intake to when you actually need that extra energy, which will burn more sugar without storing the excess as fat. The American Heart Association’s maximum daily intake advisement is based on averages in both body size and daily activity levels. A person with more non-fatty tissue can safely consume higher amounts of sugar. A person with unusually high activity levels, such as someone who gets 30 minutes or more of physical exercise in a given day, will burn through substantially more calories.

The average intake advisement only involves 100 – 150 calories per day, maximum. It is so restricted due to the necessity of making room for calories from other important nutrients *within the average daily allotment of 2000 calories*. An amateur bodybuilder, someone who works out for 1-2 hours per day, may consume 2-3 times as much. It’s all about healthy activity levels and well-informed habits.

Energy drinks are not the Devil. Caffeine is heavily consumed by countries with some of the highest life expectancies on Earth, including the US and the Nordic countries. Articles like the one I’m referencing present a woefully incomplete and deeply skewed angle that is designed to mislead. This is so they can trend on sensationalism, which is exactly what this article is doing.

Ancient Stories: The Wild Hunt

Ancient Stories: The Wild Hunt

The myth of the Wild Hunt, or “Raging Host,” is based on an ancient European folk story. It has been told and retold by many different cultures over thousands of years, but its origins are popularly held to lie among the ancient Germanic tribes of central Europe. It usually takes the form of a cautionary tale about a supernatural hunting party, pursuing its prey through the woods (or the night sky). Its pre-Christian origins have taken different forms over the centuries, but all are recognizable as having their roots in the original myth—and, like most myths, the story of the Wild Hunt was meant to entertain. It was also intended to offer moral and spiritual guidance.

Ancient Stories Wild Hunt

What is the Wild Hunt?

The Wild Hunt takes the form of a host of supernatural beings in wild pursuit of their quarry. They may be elves, faeries, or some other fey (of the early, non-diminutive variety). Their leader is usually a figure associated with Woden, an early Germanic deity, who would later become the Norse God Odin; he was known to the Celts of central Europe, Britain and (especially) Ireland as Lugh, with some variations on the name occurring in other areas of the Celtic world. The figure might be an avatar of Woden, or—in some traditions—a partial representation of the deity, some specific aspect of his area of influence given separate form. On occasion, the leader of the Wild Hunt is represented as a great hero, or a quasi-historical figure out legend.

In other versions of the story, the Wild Hunt is comprised of the dead; ghosts, although the concept served a different function thousands of years ago. The modern ghost is usually an aberration; a lost soul which didn’t leave the world of the living behind when it was supposed to, something that defies the natural order and serves no purpose. In the ancient world, spirits of the dead were thought to manifest in service to some intended function; it was less “they aren’t supposed to be here” and more “we aren’t supposed to see them.” Ancient mythologies frequently placed the realm of the dead close to the world of the living, and there were held to be many possible ways to pass back and forth between them; go back far enough, and the separation was seen as little more than a journey of a few miles. In this form, the appearance of the Wild Hunt often heralded a “thinning of the veil,” a time when (or a place where) the boundary between this world and the next was unusually thin—perhaps even penetrable.

In either form, the Wild Hunt was a herald of ill omen. Its appearance was seen as a thing to be interpreted by the wise, whereupon human sacrifice, war, or migration might be engaged in for the sake of averting a subsequently prophesied calamity. The ancient world offered frequent hardship; the Wild Hunt might be seen in a storm, or a comet, and the less common its form the direr the predicament it presaged. At best, the sudden appearance of the Wild Hunt was said to mean the death of the one who beheld it; it was not uncommon for ancient European peoples to flee the site of a battle with the rise of a sudden storm, fearing the arrival of a spiritual entourage. On more than one occasion, this saved the loser of said conflict from complete annihilation.

Some stories of the Wild Hunt story describe its leader as being charged with escorting mortal spirits to the realm of the dead. This type of figure is referred to by modern mythologists (and spiritualists) as a “psychopomp,” with familiar examples including the Greek Hermes, the Egyptian Anubis, the Norse Valkyries, and the Christian Archangel Michael. In older myths, this was a far less benign role than how it is described later, with the psychopomp laying claim to whatever souls it can find—including those residing in people unlucky enough to stumble upon the Wild Hunt while they’re still breathing, as well as any individuals who happen to be sleeping nearby. The benign guide represented by figures such as the Archangel Michael comes much later; early psychopomps were seen as more of a function of natural laws, part of the universe’s machinery, and any soul which ventured too close was swept away with all the rest. As such, they were cautionary figures, whose reported approach sent ancient people scrambling indoors—and kept them out of mysterious, sacred places, such as the depths of the woods, and those places where the dead were buried or venerated.

Elements of the Wild Hunt Story

In addition to the leader of the Wild Hunt, and the individual huntsmen accompanying him, there were other elements which change with the time and location. The huntsmen in this supernatural entourage were often accompanied by hounds, who varied in appearance from great hunting dogs to wolves. In some locations, most notably in Celtic and post-Celtic Britain, the leader of the Wild Hunt was accompanied by hounds only. This is the origin of the black dog folk story, which is common in more recent British folklore: a black dog which appears as an omen of death. It is also the point of origin for the hellhound of modern fantasy, which arose as a Christianized version of the black dog story before passing into popular culture.

Long after the Wild Hunt has passed largely into obscurity, the black dog story continues to influence popular media today, most notably the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most popular Sherlock Holmes tale, The Hound of the Baskervilles. J. K. Rowling also included the image of the hound as an omen of death in the form of the Grim, first encountered in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In the Potterverse, the Grim is the direst portent of death that exists; the one who sees it is almost inevitably doomed. The Little Black Dog, from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, is an example of an Americanized version of the British black dog folktale, which—like a lot of English legends—jumped the Atlantic with early American colonists.

The Wild Hunt’s quarry also changes depending upon the time and place from which the folktale is being sourced. Early accounts feature an animal of the sort that a mortal hunting party might track, such as a deer or a boar. Later accounts went in different directions: in the United Kingdom, a white hart or a white stag became common, and developed folktales of their own. Both recurred regularly throughout subsequent centuries’ fantastic and romantic adventure fiction, with notable appearances in the various retellings of the King Arthur legends. In Norse mythology, the Wild Hunt is often described as being in pursuit of unusual quarry, such as horses, or even maidens.

Wild Hunt hounds huntsman

Origins of the Wild Hunt

The name “Wild Hunt” first appeared in 1835, in a study of Germanic mythology written by Jacob Grimm (a profound linguist and mythologist, though he remains better known as one of the Brothers Grimm). Jacob noted the many variations on the same mythological theme, which occurred in ancient cultures throughout Europe, and he coined the phrase Wilde Jagd (“Wild Hunt”) as a reference.

…they sweep through forest and air in whole companies with a horrible din. This is the widely spread legend of the furious host, the furious hunt, which is of high antiquity, and interweaves itself, now with gods, and now with heroes.

Jacob Grimm, from Teutonic Mythology

He was the first to recognize the true geographical breadth and temporal depth of the many variations of the story, and may be responsible for recognizing the connection between Woden, Nodens, Odin, and other variations on the same ancient Germanic deity.

That the wild hunter is to be referred to Wodan, is made perfectly clear by some Mecklenburg legends.

—Jacob Grimm, from Teutonic Mythology

The actual origin of the folktale itself is unknown. Wild Hunt stories go back for thousands of years, with variations present in a range of British cultures, Nordic cultures, and the ancient Germanic tribes. Jacob Grimm notes the fact that, in every culture where stories of the Wild Hunt arose, they appeared to go back into pre-Christian times:

Look where you will, it betrays its connexion with heathenism…The Christians had not so quickly nor so completely renounced their faith in the gods of their fathers, that those imposing figures could all at once drop out of their memory. Obstinately clung to by some, they were merely assigned a new position more in the background. The former god lost his sociable character, his near familiar features, and assumed the aspect of a dark and dreadful power, that still had a certain amount of influence left. His hold lost upon men and their ministry, he wandered and hovered in the air, a spectre and a devil.

Jacob Grimm, from Teutonic Mythology

Many of these cultures were widely illiterate, with writing either entirely unknown or reserved to a special, learned class of society, making backtracking to a specific point of origin difficult. It is entirely possible, given the ubiquitous concept of the hunting party and the widespread notion of a powerful sky god, whose sphere also encompassed victory on the battlefield, that the concept of the Wild Hunt arose separately in several ancient cultures. As with the changes in the black dog folktale with its conveyance from England to America, divergent traits would have spread from one society to another with the advent of trade and diplomacy, and different groups of people would have seized on aspects that were at once different from their own tales—yet familiar enough to relate to.

 

Post-Christian Forms of the Wild Hunt

Jacob Grimm has already told us how converted Christians retained the memory of their ancient beliefs, but in many cases certain elements of the Wild Hunt mythology were eventually supplanted: in no society has the development and creation of folktales ever ceased, with modern-day examples ranging from urban legends to the internet’s creepypasta.

Christian influences on the Wild Hunt folktales can be broadly divided into two forms: the identity of the master of the hunt, and the nature of the quarry being pursued. In either case, Christian “use” of the story parallels pre-existing pagan tradition very closely: the Wild Hunt was seen to be a harbinger of great misfortune, and was often regarded as being an omen of certain death to those who beheld it. It is possible to find parallels between the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the story of the Wild Hunt, while in other cases the leader of the Wild Hunt is represented as Death—stripped of his divinity, and even of his individuality, but not of his power and influence. Notably, some later folktales presented the master of the hunt as being a dead nobleman whose life had been characterized by wickedness; in some versions of the tale, he was slain by a boar, which he was subsequently doomed to never cease pursuing.

One German version of the post-Christian Wild Hunt names the doomed huntsman as Hanns von Hackelberg, who is said to have violated the Sabbath with his final, fatal hunting expedition. In various parts of the UK, post-Christian versions of the Wild Hunt frequently feature King Arthur as the phantasmal leader of the expedition. For a time (read: several hundred years) it became common to characterize notorious and unpopular political leaders as the master of the Wild Hunt—after their deaths, of course.

The quarry pursued by the Wild Hunt under Christian influences was sometimes of the traditional variety, as in the legend of the Baroque-era German nobles and their boars. One of the more common alterations to the story does feature a significant change to the quarry, however. This type arose among the Christianized Nordic peoples of northeastern Europe, whose ancient tales of the Wild Hunt had already incorporated the pursuit of maidens, mythical creatures, and other types of unusual quarry (at least for a mortal huntsman). The post-Christian Wild Hunt stories of northeastern Europe featured the Wild Hunt conjuring up the souls of specific types of sinners, most notably those of unrepentant petty criminals and unbaptized infants. These versions of the Wild Hunt sometimes featured hellhounds in forms recognizable to modern fantasy enthusiasts, and might have been led by the Devil himself—but this region did give rise to the version of the Wild Hunt, which would eventually become more widespread, which didn’t have a huntsman at all. It was simply a wild procession of the damned, with or without demonic hounds or other diabolical figures in attendance.

That last variation would eventually lead to the “dissolution” of the Wild Hunt folktales, where—without the rallying point of the huntsman himself, whatever his identity—other individual elements of the Wild Hunt, like the hellhound or the demon, began to take on more importance. These led to the distinction of the Wild Hunt fading away, or to the rise of alternate folktales that bear only a cursory resemblance to their point of origin: many would be regarded for centuries as death omens, or otherwise as a sign of misfortune.

Modern Pop Culture References to the Wild Hunt

While its origins as a distinct myth might not be well-known, particularly outside of central or eastern Europe, the Wild Hunt is one of the most influential stories behind much of today’s popular fantasy and science fiction media.

The Wild Hunt in Books

The Wild Hunt makes an appearance in many books, but is perhaps most well-known in fantasy.

In Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence, the leader of the Wild Hunt is a primordial entity who controls the Wild Magic, one of the four fundamental magical forces of the universe—infamously powerful, and notoriously resistant to any attempts to harness it. The forces of the Light and of the Dark both seek out the ritual elements required to bind the Wild Magic to their service for a single night, which will be enough for either side to remove the other side’s influence over mankind’s continued development.

In her bestselling Mortal Instruments series, Cassandra Clare describes an alternate New York populated by all manner of supernatural beings, including the angelic Shadowhunters who seek to protect the innocent—and the demons who want to destroy everything. In this setting, the Wild Hunt is depicted as being led by Gwyn ap Nudd, the ancient Welsh God of the Dead—an equivalent to the Irish Lugh and the Germanic Woden, and one of the early figures to lead the Wild Hunt in Britain.

In a noteworthy departure from traditional fantasy fare, Cormac McArthy—author of The Road and No Country for Old Men—penned a semi-autobiographical work called Suttree over a twenty-year period. The book is set in 1951, but wasn’t published until 1979. Many people have speculated over the apparent Odinic parallels to Cornelius Suttree, the titular, somewhat Steinbeckian hero, which are scattered throughout the book. While it is generally accepted that the Wild Hunt is given mention in Suttree, there isn’t a lot of consensus as to the meaning behind it—except, perhaps to the Hunt’s useful symbolism as an image of chaos, corresponding to Cornelius’ attempts to find himself (in an existential sense).

Andrzej Sapkowski is an award-winning Polish fantasy author most well-known in the rest of Europe and America for The Witcher saga, a series of fantasy novels featuring the exploits of one Geralt of Rivia—one of an order of Witchers, sorcerer-assassins who fight the monsters that infest Andrzej’s dark fantasy world. His world is itself deeply reminiscent of the gritty, non-Disney-esque fairytales and folk stories of ancient Germanic Europe. It features the Wild Hunt, led by a “King of the Wild Hunt” and consisting of a host of specters, which Geralt at one point joins after giving his soul in exchange for that of another. The Witcher series is noted for its seamless inclusion of various scholarly and scientific disciplines within its fantasy; as such, the exact nature of the Wild Hunt is debated by intellectuals within the context of the story itself.

Frank Long’s Hounds of Tindalos were incorporated into the Cthulhu mythos after being codified by August Derleth. They appear as emaciated, “rotting” hounds, which inhabit the angles of time. Living outside the normal progression of time as such, they are able to find their quarry wherever it may hide. Their lapping tongues produce deep, bloodless wounds which drain their victims’ vitality. These Lovecraftian hounds are deeply reminiscent of some of the creatures once described as being a part of the Wild Hunt, unshakable hellhounds with the power to steal a person’s soul away from them.

hound tindalos lovecraft wild hunt

The Wild Hunt in Film and Television

The Wild Hunt is a 2009 Horror/Drama film by Canadian production company Animist Films. A low-budget film, produced for approximately $500,000 CA, it has won two awards of note: Best Canadian First Feature Film at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival, and an Audience Sparky Award for Best Narrative Film at the fifteenth annual Slamdance Film Festival (which focuses upon emerging, low-budget film production) in 2010. More widespread critical reception of the film, which features a live-action role-playing event gone wrong due to a ritual invoking the Wild Hunt, was lukewarm; a few critics have given it three stars, but multiple problems have been pointed out with lighting, special effects, and film editing.

The Wild Hunt in Games

The Witcher saga has been transformed into a series of three games (to date) by Polish video game developer CD Projekt Red. The company has rapidly risen to prominence based upon the success of the Witcher series. Witcher 3, the latest installment, is fully titled “Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt; it has accumulated more than 800 awards since its release, with more than 250 “Game of the Year” awards from reputable sources within the worldwide video game industry—and more than 10 million copies of the game sold to date. The Wild Hunt features prominently throughout the Witcher series, and its representation is somewhat complex: at times, the King of the Wild Hunt seems like a diabolical figure, while at other times the Hunt is represented as a mechanical part of “the way the world works.” Within the context of the game itself, characters have varying takes on the nature of the Hunt; some believe that it is not actually a host of specters at all, but “simply a magical phenomenon.”Witcher King Wild Hunt death omen

The Wild Hunt has been a contributing factor to western folktales for so long that many of its influences have evolved beyond recognition. The plot of the existing installments of the critically acclaimed Mass Effect video game franchise centers around the coming of the Reapers: a host of sentient machines created by the first intelligent spacefaring race in the Milky Way galaxy. For millions of years, the Reapers have returned to the galaxy from the depths of intergalactic space at regular intervals, wiping out all sentient spacefaring civilizations before they could develop the technology to completely scour the galaxy of all life themselves. The bodies and memories of those slain are then used to construct new Reapers. The oldest and most powerful Reaper, the nominal “leader” of the Hunt, is known as Harbinger, tying in the idea of a death omen with the coming of the Reapers.

Reaper Mass Effect Harbinger Death Omen Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt on Stage

The Wild Hunt was a popular theme in theater and opera for centuries, up to the innovation of modern media.

  • Karl Maria von Weber’s 1821 opera Der Freischütz.
  • Franz Liszt’s Transcendental Études of 1837.
  • Arnold Schönberg’s oratorio Gurre-Lieder, 1911.
  • Spanish writer Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer’s 1861 El monte de las ánimas features a much-overlooked contribution to the modern Wild Hunt story, as it introduced the idea of the Hunt appearing on Halloween.
  • Robert Wagner’s Die Walküre, from which we have Ride of the Valkyries, was first performed in 1870 as a complete piece. However, the main score may have been written as early as 1851. In Norse myth, Valkyries are not only psychopomps, but also supernatural warrior-maidens who hunt down the cowardly; they were often involved in Nordic stories featuring the Wild Hunt, for as long as those stories have existed.
  • B. Yeats evoked the Wild Hunt in his 1893 poem The Hosting of the Sidhe. The Sidhe are one of the houses of the fey as represented by the Celts of ancient Britain and Ireland. Yeats is noted for having competed with English aristocrat Aleister Crowley, “the most wicked man alive,” for leadership of the occult Golden Dawn Society: their power struggle split the popular Victorian occult society in two.
  • Stanisław Wyspiański’s play Wesele, 1901.

The Wild Hunt in Modern Pagan Tradition

In the late 1990s, a modern Pagan group in Norfolk, England staged a “Wild Hunt Challenge” on Halloween. Participants would explore a local wooded area during the daytime, then repeat the process at night in a timed competition. The activity was associated directly with Gwyn ap Nudd, as the particular wooded area used was believed by the group to have been an area which the Wild Hunt frequented in ancient times. Successful completion of the challenge was rewarded by permission to cut timber from the woods and fashion a staff, representing the initiate’s having gained the trust of the wood’s spirits.

Founded in 1979 in southern California, the Reclaiming tradition combined Goddess worship with political activism to create an offshoot of the feminist movement, which Reclaiming adherents felt had gotten off-track. The movement combined modern feminism, anarchism, the peace movement, and environmental awareness. It was reported by various outlets that the leaders of the movement—a pair of Neopagan women who had converted to the faith from Judaism, bringing some elements of ancient Jewish religious practice with them—staged a recreation of the Wild Hunt in an area of San Francisco.

Digging Deeper into the Wild Hunt

This was originally intended to be a standalone piece; it now seems likely that additional blog posts will be written on the subject, with each one most likely focusing on a specific aspect of the Wild Hunt as outlined in this article. If you’re looking for more information on this fascinating subject in the meantime, here are a few highly authoritative sources which deserve consideration. Most have already been referenced within this article, but here they are for convenience:

Writing Prompt #1: The Reboot

Writing Prompt #1: The Reboot

writing prompt creative writing exercise

New website, new series of prompts! I’ve had some issues with image prompts in the past, and will not be making images for every prompt this time around; some reported finding them distracting, or having issues with contrast. Image prompts will still make the occasional appearance, but will be categorized separately.

Anywho, since I’m rebooting my prompts, I thought that I would use the concept of a “reboot” for my first prompt’s theme! Isn’t that TREMENDOUS? Aren’t you EXCITED?! WOO! YEAH! WRITING PROMPTS! YEAH! WOO!

Right, I’m done now. Here we go!

Writing Prompt: An Unexpected Gift

You’ve discovered that you have the power to reboot the day, one day at a time. The events which occur during that day play out slightly differently each time. Your own involvement is as a spectator, looking out through your own eyes like windows, as “you” function on a level best described as a vaguely detached autopilot. 

Expanding the Exercise: Thoughts & Ideas

I’ll try to make each prompt a little shorter than they used to be, but I do enjoy presenting people with a few additional options. If you would like, try expanding upon the prompt’s concept with one or more of the following additions! Given that this is still, if just barely, Halloween, I’m going to go with a dark and sinister undertone—just for fun, of course.

  • Each time you reboot the same day again, there is an increasing tendency for familiar objects to no longer reappear. After one or two reboots, you might be missing a familiar rock, or a tree. After three or more, random manufactured items stop reappearing. After five or more, animals. Vanished objects sometimes reappear after you resume normal time progression; other times, they don’t. You’ve just repeated the same day eleven times, having never gone so far before; your neighbor is now missing. Nobody else seems to notice.
  • You’ve just experienced a dreadful reboot. Everything that could possibly have gone wrong does, to the point where your sense of detachment shatters and you experience a nervous breakdown. Once you’ve recovered, people are delighted that you seem “back to your usual self,” but—to your horror—you appear to have lost the ability to replay the day. You must live with the consequences of devastating recent events.
  • While engaged in an active reboot, your “autopiloted” self is struck by a car and killed; you are powerless to stop them. Your ability is immediately triggered, and you wake up in a brand-new reboot of the same day—apparently, none the worse for wear. The specter of death haunts you, however: now, whenever you use your power, you find yourself confronting more and more frequent close calls, almost as if the universe were trying to get rid of you.
  • One day, while using your ability, you realize that some of the people around you are looking at you funny. You’d noticed it before, but you’ve become used to being a casual spectator in these reboots. Now that you think about it, they aren’t looking at you like any normal person would. They appear confused, and some look flat-out hostile, but all are hesitant—as if it would somehow be rude of them to acknowledge you directly. After your fourth such encounter in the same rebooted day, you finally figure out what clued you in to their existence: none of these “strangers” are interacting with any of the ordinary people around you.

Feedback

I’d enjoy hearing what you have to say about this prompt! Feel free to get in touch, or to leave a comment in the field below (I love comments almost as much as I enjoy a fine, well-aged, extra-sharp Vermont cheddar).

If you want to share a prompt of your own, let me know!

Modern Genres: Five Characteristics of Successful Steampunk

Modern Genres: Five Characteristics of Successful Steampunk

steampunk hero gunslinger clockworkSteampunk has been described as “Victorian science fiction,” a futuristic version of a world long past—but never far from our hearts. It’s characterized by a solid industrial setting, advanced steam-powered technology, defunct scientific theories, Victorian English aesthetics, and (frequently) alternative history; it is worth noting, however, that—unlike cyberpunk, which is usually set in the urban landscape of near-future Earth—steampunk regularly departs from real-world settings completely.

Steampunk may also incorporate metaphysical themes, of the sort more commonly associated with fantasy than science fiction: there may be a great clock tower, in which there lies imprisoned a figure who is the embodiment of all the world’s sorrows. There might be a massive engine of unknown origin at the center of the world, which drives the life-force of an entire race of living machines, inevitably leading to a conflict of interests whereby its function would seem to endanger humanity. Steampunk grew, in part, out of early twentieth-century pulp fiction set within the Victorian era, and ethical questions of human progress and advancement were a common thematic element in Victorian writing.

In honor of Peter Jackson’s upcoming feature film, based upon Philip Reeve’s steampunk novel Mortal Engines, let’s explore five of the characteristics which successful steampunk novels have in common.

Creative Anachronism

steampunk hat goggles steam-powered technology Victorian fashion

Steampunk features advanced technologies, often with abilities which would be incredible even by modern standards. At the same time, there is a strong element of retro-futurism; these technologies are anachronistic, as they may have been imagined by a fiction writer living in Victorian times. The steampunk writer must take the forward-thinking but still fundamentally limited prescience of the modern science fiction author, and imagine what the same individual might have written about 150 years ago—give or take a few decades.

Common technological elements of the steampunk genre include steam power, early experiments with wireless and electrical technology (which are often presented as being both powerful and uncontrollable, save perhaps by a few gifted individuals), complex mechanics driven by clockwork mechanisms, hydraulics, orreries, and automatons. Steampunk automatons are frequently represented as true artificial intelligences—either the unfortunate victims of uncaring men, or the monstrous offspring of a botched experiment. They are often cast as either the casual hero, striving to be human, or the tragic villain, whose responsibility for their own actions is deliberately debatable.

Meanwhile, the feats which such devices are capable of achieving may include such noteworthy accomplishments as the replication of solid matter, teleportation, the generation of free energy, travel beyond “the spheres” of the known universe (during a time when even the concept of the galaxy and the composition of stars were unknowns), and the reanimation of dead matter.

The Ambiguity of Power

Steampunk incorporates contrasting views. On the one hand, the nature of scientific progress and human achievement is placed under a critical microscope—but this is not to say that such ideas are presented as inherently bad. Rather, the suggestion is more that careful thought needs to be put into such concepts, lest we make ill-considered decisions—with potentially cataclysmic consequences.

In fact, steampunk embraces the concept of scientific advancement and achievement. Anything which is unknown or “outside” the laws of science is, if not invariably bad, certain to be sinister and suspect. Extra-dimensional powers and spiritual entities, where they are present, have ulterior motives and agendas that are at worst malevolent; at best, their plans take on such a long view that most characters can simply sidestep any scrutiny of their ethical considerations.

If a character in a steampunk story is fiddling with alchemy, researching sorcery, or dabbling in the occult, the powers with which they are contending are portrayed as dark and ill-advised influences. Magic and technology mix and react in uncertain ways, with magic (where it exists; it’s not a universal element) being portrayed as the essence of chaos. Its very use may serve to break down the natural order of things, and—if it is even successful—there are always unanticipated consequences.

Steampunk DIY: Do-It-Yourself

The Victorian era—the actual Victorian era—was a time of almost steampunk-clockwork-deviceunprecedented invention and technological innovation, as compared to all the rest of human history. It also saw the growing frequency of large corporations, railroad barons, and captains of industry, and introduced (at least to the popular perception) the widespread idea of intellectual property theft as a damaging, criminal enterprise.

In modern times, for example, we recognize the frequent theft of ideas perpetrated by Thomas A. Edison, as well as his propensity for ruining the livelihoods and careers of his competitors so thoroughly that some died in relative anonymity many years after Edison himself was long gone.

The steampunk genre pays underlying tribute to the more genuine side of the spirit of Victorian innovation. Large organizations and powerful individuals are usually presented as having stolen their ideas, often for dark and sinister ends. The most remarkable innovations are the prerogative of individual, independent craftsmen and innovators, often unrecognized for the true extent of their genius, who are forced to assemble their gadgetry more or less single-handedly from secondhand materials. Time and again, the day is saved thanks to the life-long efforts of an unsung “do-it-yourselfer.”

A Motley Aesthetic

steampunk soldier officer steam-powered prostheticThe appearance of steampunk settings has a lot in common with the era on which they are based. The average individual is not clean and well-kept, save perhaps in higher echelons of society—which are invariably keeping the majority of the population oppressed. Technology is functional first, and neat second: neatness, where it occurs, is one of several traits that tends to be characteristic of the corporate presence, the inner circle, and other parties with sinister or suspect motives.

Patchwork riveting, scavenged materials, and dirty streets intermingle with other cobbled-together visual elements, such as clothing and personal accessories which incorporate bits of the steampunk aesthetic. They may be functional, such as a steampunk or a clockwork-driven prosthetic limb, or they may be purely decorative, serving no apparent use—except to make an individual stand out as being a character in a steampunk setting.

Steampunk is a gritty, hard, and visceral setting, one that is based profoundly on visual imagery and readily recognizable components. The profound nature of its underlying themes is manifested directly in the way everything else is presented. Things look a certain way—right or wrong, benevolent or dangerous, friendly or hostile. There is, of course, a meta element to such a presentation: the visual nature of the genre is for the reader’s benefit, leading to the dramatic tension of a character interacting with something we know to be dark and sinister—even if we don’t quite understand why.

A Disenfranchised Society

Steampunk, like the other ‘punk genres, embraces the lone and asocial hero. Sometimes, a small group of these may be forced to work together, and might even find some common ground, but there is always a maverick streak—a sense of rebelliousness, which encourages them to rise up and work against a corrupt and inadequate system. The system, after all, is something that most people simply accept, for the sake of the greater good or simply not rocking the boat. As a result, there is a certain amount of ambiguity in the main characters’ actions; some part of why they’re fighting, or working against the system, is based on their own internal dissatisfaction—or other needs that must be reconciled.

They might be doing the right thing, but not entirely for the right reasons—and they may not be going about what they’re doing in the best way. That’s not to say that the steampunk hero can’t be a clearly right-minded individual, only that they frequently aren’t, and the latter seems to be the ingredient of more highly-praised and critically-acclaimed steampunk. One of the great forebears of the genre, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—while not a work of steampunk in itself—features two primary characters: Victor Frankenstein, an obsessed man who follows blind ambition to a result that was dark and ill-advised from the beginning, and his creation, a creature who is at once terrible and innocent, as tragic a villain as any in the last two centuries of modern fiction.

In steampunk, nobody is perfect. The people in power are corrupt and uncaring; the do-gooders are naïve—and often obsessed—and the common people are either bitter, broken, or angry, reduced to the dog-eat-dog state of doing what it takes to survive. The villain may have the best of intentions, but fail utterly in their realization, and the hero might use the absolute darkest methods. In the end, steampunk is about upsetting a carefully constructed balance, often one that is stressed as having stood the test of time for most of human history up to that point, in response to the growing need for individual recognition and personal satisfaction. It is not a genre for the faint-hearted, or the unusually reserved.

It is, however, a lot of fun to read.

Need More (Steam)?

 

You Should Know: The Ninth Amendment

You Should Know: The Ninth Amendment

First, let’s have some background. There are a lot of popular misconceptions about the Bill of Rights, ranging from the false, but relatively harmless (“it wasn’t called that at the time”) to the alarmingly misinformed (“it wasn’t the work of the Founding Fathers, and shouldn’t be regarded as a real part of the Constitution”). Here’s a quick summary of the actual history of the writing of our Constitution, including how the Bill of Rights (the first nineteen… I mean, ten Constitutional Amendments) came into existence.

United States Constitution Ninth Amendment rights
Can you honestly say, or even think “We the People” without rolling your eyes a little, at this point?

The Constitution of the United States was hammered out by the Confederation Congress. They came together for this purpose in 1787, in Philadelphia, and worked out the particulars of the document over the course of four months: from May 25th through September 17th, at which point the Constitution was signed by the delegates. At this point in time, America had no executive branch, and therefore no chief executive officer. George Washington would be elected as our first president the following year, with John Adams elected vice president.

Several key figures in our nation’s fledgling history, including both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were serving in diplomatic positions abroad at the time of the Constitutional Convention. They communicated extensively with the delegates by written correspondence, and works for which they were already responsible were among the influential factors in shaping our Constitution. Given such, they are recognized as having been deeply influential in the shaping of the original Constitution.

The original document was drafted by James Madison, who would go on to become our fourth president, serving two consecutive terms following his election in 1808. Substantial input was provided by such individuals as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine, author of “Common Sense.” Notable patriot Patrick “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death” Henry was hotly opposed to the idea of creating a Constitution at all, as at first blush the very idea supported a strong centralization of power. He was persuaded to come on board through the addition of the Bill of Rights, which afforded rights—not just to We the People—but also to the individual states.

States’ rights versus federal authority has always been a controversial topic throughout US history (we spent four years killing each other over it, you know—that one time), and it remains a heated issue even today. At the time of the Constitutional Convention, however, it was easily the fiercest point of fevered contention among the delegates. There was a tremendous sense of the responsibility inherent in what they were doing, and the understanding that whatever direction they took would subsequently shape the course of American history. Thanks to this issue, the necessity of incorporating protection for individual and states’ rights directly into the language of the Constitution was understood, and in the planning stages, before the ink was dry on the original document itself.

The Ratification of the Bill of Rights (and, Yes, It Was Called That at the Time)

Like the original Constitution itself, the Bill of Rights was drafted by James Madison, and originally took the form of nineteen proposed Constitutional Amendments. These were proposed to the United States Congress on June 8th in 1789, Madison drafted nineteen amendments, which he proposed to Congress on June 8, 1789, not quite two years after the Constitution itself had been signed. Through a steady series of approval procedures, the fledgling proposal was narrowed down to seventeen Amendments, and then to twelve, by the House of Representatives and the Senate respectively. After approval by Congress on September 25th of the same year, these twelve Amendments were sent to the individual states for ratification.

The final ten of those twelve Constitutional Amendments were officially ratified, as the Bill of Rights, on the 15th of December in 1791. At this point, they became a recognized part of the US Constitution. The original First and Second Amendments ultimately failed to meet with necessary state approval. The first dealt with certain particulars in how representation was apportioned in the House of Representatives, and the second would have prevented Congressional representatives from voting themselves a pay raise within the current session (in other words, “effective immediately”). That original Second Amendment would eventually become our Twenty-Seventh Amendment, being ratified on May 7th, 1992.

Fun Facts: The Unopposed Elections of George Washington

Washington is considered to have run unopposed during the elections of 1788 and 1792. He received one vote per elector. Each elector was supposed to cast two votes, supporting two candidates, with the overall runner-up at the time being elected as vice president. By receiving one vote per elector, Washington is said to have earned 100% of the presidential vote. It was widely understood that the other candidates were “functionally” running for the vice presidency; the eventual 12th Amendment to the Constitution would change the

The Ninth Amendment: Our Forgotten Potency

Ninth Amendment inalienable rights US Constitution
Click the image to view this image of the original Ninth Amendment text at full resolution

Ask the average American today what rights are acknowledged as being afforded to them by the Bill of Rights, and most will stumble to a halt after the first two. A distressing number of people view our rights as being provided by the Constitution, when the idea is that they’re inherent—undeniable, inalienable—and that the Constitution acknowledges the government’s duty to protect them. Technically, “Constitutional rights” is a misnomer, though its use is unlikely to go away any time soon. More’s the pity.

A few people who remember the investigation into Bill Clinton, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, can hash out a guess as to the Fifth Amendment—it protects one from self-incriminating. Some states’ rights enthusiasts are familiar with the Tenth Amendment, which affords jurisdiction over any matters not specifically retained by the federal government to the discretion of individual states. The Ninth Amendment, however, is rarely referenced in popular culture or major news items, and that’s a pity. It’s entirely relevant to many ongoing issues affecting Americans today.

Like most of the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution, the Ninth Amendment is pretty short. In fact, at a single modest sentence, it’s shorter than several others. Here it is:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

It’s an open door to “Power to the People.” It’s the Billy Mays “But wait, there’s MORE!” of the Bill of Rights. It literally, inarguably, and uncompromisingly asserts the fact that the American people can, by general consensus, stake their claim to fundamental and inalienable human rights which aren’t mentioned in the Constitution at all.

So, why did Madison write this?

As I mentioned earlier, the issue of federal versus state power was the number one issue during the drafting of the Constitution. There were individuals who were heatedly opposed to the idea of a Constitution, which they felt was nothing more than a tool for solidifying centralized power over the rights of the individual states to by-and-large govern themselves. This was ultimately the driving force behind the Tenth Amendment, which assured that any rights not specifically retained by the federal government were left to the individual states.

In writing our first batch of Constitutional Amendments, however, James Madison came to recognize another disturbing possibility, with regard to the future expansion of the power of the government. He understood that society, technology, and general human innovation would continue to advance over time; after all, significant advancement had occurred within his own lifetime (that whole “rebellion against the Crown” and “establishing the first great modern democracy” thing, not to mention the one-man technological revolution that was Benjamin Franklin).

Should society advance significantly, Madison reasoned, it seemed likely that there would eventually exist some commonly-perceived right or fundamental necessity to ensure the continuation of that whole “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” deal which he, from his hot and non-air-conditioned chambers, could not hope to anticipate. At such a time as such an innovation came into being, there was the distinct possibility that the Constitution could be turned on its head, and used to restrict the rights of the people.

There is an old Latin maxim, which was recognized at the time of America’s founding: expressio unius est exclusio alterius. In English, this means “the expression of one thing is the exclusion of another.” It is the implication, in legal documentation, that—in a situation with two possibilities—the “common sense interpretation” of one of those possibilities legally excludes the other. It has been raised and debated many times throughout American history since James Madison’s time, and it was a common subject of debate and interpretation going back to a time when people spoke Latin as a native tongue.

James Madison drafted the Ninth Amendment to try and prevent the list of rights recognized by the Bill of Rights as being used to imply that no other protected rights could be claimed in the future. It reinforced the notion that the rights listed were inherent and inalienable, while providing them with room to grow. Though the average American isn’t even aware of the existence of the “Silent Amendment,” it affords us as a society great power over the direction our government takes—should we choose to exercise it.

Given that there are hundreds of millions of us, it should come as no surprise that—despite the general lack of understanding of the Ninth Amendment, and what it entails—efforts have been made to bring it to bear on behalf of all American citizens.

Recent Efforts to Apply the Ninth Amendment

gay rights protest inalienable rights Supreme Court
The hatred that arose in response to the push for gay rights is a national embarrassment.

Here are a few areas where the Ninth Amendment might just come in handy, in terms of securing the future of American freedom for all its citizens. Please note that, while they are certainly not my opinions alone, these do reflect upon my own personal views quite heavily.

  • Right to Privacy: During the time of America’s founding, privacy was a little-known luxury. Most houses didn’t even have hallways: they were built as a series of interconnected rooms, including bedrooms. The large families of the day meant that multiple people typically shared a bedroom, which was predominantly used only for sleeping. A lack of privacy doesn’t simply impact personal comfort levels: it affects social roles and behavioral norms. No activity that is remotely unusual can be engaged in without observation and influence by those around you. In the present day, privacy concerns have expanded into the electronic medium, with fiercely debated arguments regarding what is required to spy on a person through their mobile device activity. If we indeed hold the rights of the individual as sacred, the modern scientific understanding that you cannot observe someone without affecting their behavior should limit the extent to which said observation is permitted. There is even some argument to the effect that mobile devices and personal information should be treated with the same reverence as a person’s own thoughts (video link), due to how we approach the electronic medium psychologically.
  • Right to Engage in Private Sexual Acts Between Consenting Adults: Recognition of gay rights was long overdue, but without the teeth of a Constitutional Amendment to back this up, there are many ways in which gay rights are still under attack—and too many people are now sitting back, congratulating themselves on a job well done. This is quite possibly well-earned, given all that homosexuals in the United States have endured by way of decades of completely legal persecution (video link), but it means that progress in some areas is being reversed. In certain states, for example, the right to start a family via gestational surrogacy is limited to those for whom natural reproduction is a medical—not biological—impossibility. In a country with millions of homosexuals, such situations regularly impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, while representing a problem that can be easily dealt with through the introduction of a carefully and simply-worded Constitutional Amendment.
  • Right to Die with Dignity: (video link) Thousands of individuals struggle, day by day, with the pain and the suffering of terminal illness. With no end in sight, they are not permitted to pursue painless, physician-assisted suicide, due to a lingering stigma that is entirely religious in its origins. These include individuals who are elderly, with no surviving family members, and people with conditions for whom even viable, experimental treatments are years away (it isn’t so simple as “discovering a cure;” the overall process can take years, and that’s assuming it’s viable to begin with). People with terminal illness are forced to waste away, often on life support, past the point where they can care for themselves—or even communicate with the outside world. They endure until they suffer organ failure, drown in their own fluids, or suffer brain death—and it is not unknown for a person who is brain dead, and only being kept “functionally” alive by machines, to be kept on life support against the wishes of their immediate family. There are high profile cases of the government interfering in this (lookin’ at you, Jeb).
  • Right to Reproductive Autonomy: The ongoing issue of abortion is clouded with misunderstanding, false myths, and deliberate ignorance (video link). The pro-life “platform” is based entirely on these misconceptions, and it has its roots in the enforcement of ideas that are at worst rooted in individual religious preferences—and, at best, a matter of personal opinion, completely unenforceable in accordance with known facts. The platform is notoriously unconcerned with the reasons why an abortion is being sought, with the other services provided by an organization that offers abortion services, with the consequences of a society without legal abortions, with the health and well-being of the mother, with the welfare of a child once it has left the womb, or with the profoundly negative way in which it impacts the lives of millions of American women every year. It is one of the primary focal points for under-reported incidents of extremist Christian violence and domestic terrorism, and is a major example of how American policy allows for “religious freedom” to involve the imposition of one’s religious beliefs on other people.
  • Right to High-Speed Internet Access: This is a relatively recent proposal, but it is an idea that is gaining traction (video link), both in America and abroad (I’ve always wanted to study a broad… I’m so sorry). The European Union and the United Nations have both come out in favor of pursuing the classification of high-speed internet access as a necessary public utility, and its advancement as an inalienable right. We live in a world that is becoming increasingly globalized; internet access is frequently required to look for a job, to shop for basic necessities, and to pay bills. Our legal regard for internet access—which is still regarded almost as a passing fad, or a curiosity, by the US government—is decades out of date. This antiquated regard for the electronic medium has contributed in many ways to the ability of law enforcement and other government agencies to flout existing, recognized Constitutional rights in ways that wouldn’t be possible in direct physical analogy: recognizing internet access as an inalienable right could assist in the ongoing fight against invasive electronic search, seizure, and surveillance practices.

The Right to Know More

There are many more areas where the Ninth Amendment could be brought to bear, for the good of all American citizens. Is there an issue about which you are passionate, that you would like to see raised in regard to the Ninth Amendment and the protection it could potentially afford? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you! In the meanwhile, feel free to check out these additional resources on the subject:

How to Tell an Indie Author that You Love Them

How to Tell an Indie Author that You Love Them

indie authors love reviews
I mean, who doesn’t? We’re all so clean and well-irrigated.

Write a review. Please. And, thank you.

There’s a lot to be said about this, but that’s the cold, hard gist of it. Each year, hundreds of thousands of new writers join the millions who are already engaged in self-publishing. Thanks to platforms like Amazon and CreateSpace, millions of new books are flooding the worldwide market.

I recently joined the ranks of new authors (The Death of Constance is a BDSM erotic thriller, available now, if you’re into that sort of thing) along with my coauthor Amburgese Rain; it’s been an adventure, a rewarding experience, and a lot of fun. A simple release party on an indie authors group on Facebook can lead to a few hundred dollars in sales, right away, but for anything bigger—to climb the ranks; to become known? That takes some serious elbow grease, thanks to the level of competition.

This is not a bad thing. It’s “the more, the merrier.” And, thanks to eBooks, reading habits are actually on the rise: print sales are gradually declining, but the difference is vastly outpaced by the number of people using e-readers. Until conclusive evidence is presented as to e-readers somehow being “harmful,” there is no reason to discount electronic readership as being somehow “different.”

I love a hard copy as much as the next B&N haunt, but—ultimately—books are books. I’m sure people complained when we stopped using clay tablets, and again when we stopped using parchment scrolls.

Another Non-Sequitur “Nick Can’t Stay on Topic” Moment: Digital Information Death

To those worried about the eventual decay of electronic media, a phenomenon sometimes called “digital information death” or “digital information disintegration,” modern books disintegrate after a few decades. Books from five decades ago are frequently in worse shape than books from five centuries ago. The medium of the written novel began using cheaper, less durable materials a while back, and nobody noticed—except to appreciate the associated decrease in pricing, which e-readers have once more delivered.

Back to Indie Books and Writing Reviews

save authors help indie books write reviews
My review type is 0+. There’s a shortage.

The sheer number of new books and fledgling authors has led to the saturation of many commonly read genres, both in fiction and in nonfiction. As a rule, “commonly read” equates to “commonly written;” it’s mostly readers who become writers, and the self-publishing community relies heavily on community support. People also tend to write within genres and subject matter which they personally enjoy reading about.

As a result, there are simply too many books for online publishing and marketing platforms to keep track of via traditional methods. This has resulted in their finding ways to essentially narrow down the list, without actually discriminating directly against authors based on subject matter or preferred genre. To be fair, the latter is the avenue being taken by many traditional agents and publishing houses (it is common, for example, to stumble upon “no longer accept manuscripts within the fantasy genre” in the course of one’s search for a potential outlet).

What the online platforms have done, in response to the glut of new literature, is to focus related product searches and other incidental promotional efforts on customer reviews. Books on Amazon are ranked, referenced, and promoted based upon customer rankings and reviews, with books that have no reviews loitering in a negative space that is in some ways even more disadvantageous than having an overall negative reception.

How to Write a Review

amazon goodreads reviews indie publishing
Give a hoot! TEASE YOUR EYEBROWS! Also, write reviews.

There are lots of places which offer tips and advice on how to write the perfect review. What they tend to neglect (though not always; thanks for the ample assistance, Kyle!) is the fact that even something quick, low-effort, but high-energy is far more valuable than nothing—even more than a standalone rating. The simple act of taking a few moments out of your day to submit a review at all is what Amazon and other markets are looking for. The rest is icing. Sweet, sexy, succulent icing—but still icing.

Reviews in places like Amazon and Goodreads don’t have to be lengthy. They can be as simple as “Great job; can’t wait for the next one!” or even “I liked it!” along with an honest rating. Goodreads also offers other forms of engagement, including a forum for questions, quizzes, and trivia questions relating to the book.

Frankly, many authors don’t pay enough attention to these features.

Would You Like to Know More?

  • Amazon’s Customer Review Guidelines. They’re pretty much common sense, but everybody involved in the industry ought to read them at least once as a reminder.
  • The best reviews on Goodreads; a weekly/monthly/annual/all-time list of the site’s 50 most popular book reviews in the United States. If you really want to do your favorite authors a favor in return, this is where to go to find some good examples. It’s applicable outside of Goodreads as well.
  • From Bustle.com, Nine Websites for Readers Who Think About Books All Day, Every day. As with Goodreads (which is on the list) it’s to the indie author’s benefit to be familiar with these websites as well!
  • Join The Hive on Facebook, a group dedicated to indie authors pooling their resources to provide a mutually supportive boost to new authors. Mind you that “mutual” is a point of emphasis—but it’s the effort that counts!

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