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rogue planet
rogue planet
You're helping me write space opera, cosmic horror, action/adventure stories... and tell you about Plato, Kant, and Heidegger.
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rogue planet
Public post

Should authors care about reader feedback?

Authors care too much about what unimportant people think

Do you care about the reviews on your books?

Do you obsess over one-star reviews on Goodreads? Are you losing sleep because somebody didn't like your book?

Before I get into this post, if you've got a minute, listen to this bit from shock-jock Howard Stern:

Love Howard or hate him, doesn't matter your feelings about the man himself.

Listen to the attitude.

He knows that his value as a creator is not about responding to what his fans think.

He didn't build the brand of Howard Stern by asking his listeners what he should do better.

He did it by being Howard Stern.

HOWARD: The way that I was an innovator was to IGNORE the feedback.

If you make things and send them out into the world, you must understand this.

Get it tattooed somewhere if that will help you. But remember this.

You are not in the game of responding to feedback from the audience.

Reader reviews are like the rules in a game

Imagine you're off on a relaxing vacation.

You meet a group of friendly strangers who invite you to play a game of Monopoly.

After a few moves, you make a couple of bad deals and you're on the hook for a lot of money.

Are you on the hook for your bad investment in the Short Line railroad?

No way. It's just a game.

A group of people got together and agreed to obey these rules until somebody won or flipped over the board.

What would you think of somebody that treated the game as if it were a real part of his life? Everybody else picked up and moved on, but this guy's still acting like you owe him rent on Park Place.

You'd think he was pulling your leg, or a total nutcase.

The game's rules only matter as long as you're playing.

When you stop, nobody cares.

Feedback from your readers is no different.

It only matters if you're playing the game.

What game are you playing as a writer?

Are you a writer because you need everyone everywhere to like your work?

I won't speak for anyone else, but I write for me.

If you like my work, great. If you don't care for it, it wasn't for you. No problem.

I'm not playing the game of "everybody please like me".

My game is "I write what I want to write"

Don't get me wrong. A good review is always a boost to the ego. A bad review can sting, even if it's one of those one-star reviews from a person who couldn't make ice in Antarctica.

But you must remember one thing...

Your response is your responsibility

If you aren't playing Monopoly, then it doesn't matter if you landed on "Go to Jail".

The police aren't going to come arrest you.

Things happen. Nobody can control that.

Whether things matter is your call. Not me, not the cliques on social media, not the cartels of reviewers.

Their power begins and ends with your decision to give them attention.

If you don't play the game of "reader feedback" then you don't have to play by its rules.

PS – If you enjoy these posts, why not subscribe? That way you can receive them directly in your inbox... and you'll get the members-only posts.

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rogue planet
Public post

How the "music meltdown" of the 90s made everyone miserable

Keep your head clean and clear with the inspiring music of 80s

The words in your mind are the laws of your world

A couple of days ago Vox Day put up this excellent post about how words shape our reality:

... this is why relentless positivity of mind, the determined avoidance of negativity, and the refusal to live in fear are vital for the Christian. It's also important to pay attention to the lyrics of the music one listens to; classical music is much better for your mental and spiritual health than imprinting your mind with emo goths droning about how unhappy they are or metal gammas screaming about how they hate the world because everyone hates them.

Skeptical? Test it. The next time it's late at night and you're feeling down, or feeling afraid, or wallowing in self-pity, listen to the following three songs. Crank them up. Sing along. Then measure how you feel versus how you were feeling previously.

  • Tubthumping by Chumbawamba
  • Move Any Mountain by The Shamen
  • Indestructible by Disturbed

He's absolutely right.

The words that you let into your mental space shape what you think and feel.

You can't separate your experience from the words that you have available to describe it.

That rabbit hole runs deep indeed.

It starts with an assumption about the mind's place in the world.

Today's materialist has a simple-minded take on psychology

Over here, there's stuff. Medium sized dry goods plus a system of weights and measures.

Over there, we have you, the observer. Touch feely experience.

That divide between the subject and the object is an influential piece of modernist dogma. Minds and bodies, fact and feeling, they are classified into separate boxes.

This is not a scientific conclusion, I should add. It's entirely the work of philosophers who reasoned their way to it. Science, and more precisely the materialist metaphysics behind atheist naturalism, supposes the division between mind and world -- it does not prove or argue for it.

This is despite generations of philosophers and artists telling us that human beings aren't passive observers of reality. We are also active participants in the world.

What we find is partly made. By making, we also discover.

Aristotle knew this all the way back in the 4th century BC.

Modern science has had to play catch up. Quantum physics already has a problem getting a handle on the influence of the observer on the observed reality.

Then there's all the work on complex self-organizing systems which brings up its own set of observer problems.

Human minds don't just take in information like a camera watching a game from the sidelines. We're out on the field playing ball.

But that's all high-minded abstract stuff. What's this got to do with music?

The quality of your music is the quality of your life

Your Host grew up with 90's grunge on MTV, back when MTV still played music. Lots of anger, angst, and depressive lyrics.

It seemed normal. Why wouldn't it?

The goldfish doesn't notice the water.

When you don't know any different, you take what you're given.

But after a deep dive into soundtracks to 80s movies and TV, it hit me square in the face.

These old songs were full of positive, inspirational, uplifting and encouraging lyrics.

Even the hair-metal glam bands of the day had a (mostly) optimistic message.

By the mid-90s that was all gone

That upbeat music was replaced by angst-rock, violent hip-hop, and at the turn of the century, the auto-tuned bubble-gum pop that is everywhere to this day.

The causes of this are beyond this article. Author Brian Niemeier dates Cultural Ground Zero to 1997, and I'd suggest reading his posts on the subject if you wish further illumination.

The point of this modest post is to point to the effects of this on your mind.

When you shift from a cultural climate of sunny optimism to depressive whiny angst, what would you expect to happen?

Would you expect a jump in anxiety disorders and depression?

A spike in drug addictions?

Unprecedented levels of political polarization as people organize into friends and enemies?

A loss of social cohesion?

We could list symptoms all day long.

It's too quick by far to blame all this on the music. The music reflects the attitudes of the culture as much as anything does. But we'd have to be blind to the fact that the music also influences the culture. This isn't a one-way street.

Even the kinds of stories, and the kinds of heroes, have changed. The never-give-up grit of characters like Rocky are nowhere to be found. Instead we're given the snarky ironic anti-hero with few redeeming qualities.

Either way, for your own sake, you must understand this.

The words in your world you affect you on a level you can't consciously sense.

That "harmless" pop or hip-hop that you keep on in the background affects your mood in ways that you don't notice.

Then you wonder why you're miserable.

Filter that noise out of your mental world and replace it with beautiful & fine things

PS – If you enjoy these posts, why not subscribe? That way you can receive them directly in your inbox... and you'll get the members-only posts.

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rogue planet

Why a "ticking clock" is the best productivity tool you'll ever use

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Why fiction authors should be good marketers (but usually aren't)

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rogue planet
Public post

That time John Carpenter found the devil in quantum physics

The surprising depth in this little-known gem by a legendary film-maker

Catholic priests and scientists aren't supposed to agree about the nature of the world.

That's key to the mythology of our modern age.

The Science shows us that the world is nothing but matter and energy out there banging around.

Christianity is a hangover from a less enlightened age when man still believed in gods and demons haunting the night.

The scientists turned a floodlight on the dark and discovered it was all an illusion. There's nothing out there but more particles banging around.

John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness takes that idea out with the trash

Today's viewer can't help but notice how Carpenter totally fails to ridicule the Christian faithful in the name of atheist materialism.

Any snark-filled sci-fi film worth its salt today couldn't wait to sink its ironic venom into the soft necks of any character stupid enough to believe in God.

Religious characters must be dull, emotionally troubled people prone to psychotic meltdowns.

While Carpenter isn't quite a friend to the Christian believer, he's not an outright opponent. That by itself makes for a more interesting sort of story than the one-sided hit piece.

The film's premise is standard horror-movie stuff

Satan's alive and well as a green goo locked in a million year old glass jar, hidden away by a secret order in the Catholic church.

Then we add a team of 80s grad students led by the sorcerer Egg Shen – no, wait,  hang on, that's long-time Carpenter collaborator Victor Wong, playing a physics professor.

The character of the priest, played by Donald Pleasance, brings these jaded academics into the fold of the church – literally, as this is where the action takes place.

But it's the metaphorical dimension where this tension between modern science and old-time religion gets interesting.

The thematic core of the movie sets it apart from a B-tier hack-n-slash

What if the weird world of quantum physics and the religious doctrines of Christianity were two ways of describing the same thing?

The professor of physics teases the viewer with hints of the weird quantum world, which challenges all of our intuitions about matter and time and causality.

The Catholic priest tells a secret tale of the Church's origins – hinted to be aliens – as a defense mechanism against the circulating green goop and the chaotic "Anti-God" it seeks to revive.

What if the creator of the universe were incompatible with our experiences of the world?

You can watch this film as a group of hapless 20-somethings stumbling blind into an ancient horror as they're picked off one by one.

That's the low-level viewing.

The dialogue between science and religion is the real meat of the story. Carpenter dramatizes this effectively, using mildly graphic action to show us the darkness waiting just outside the lights of reason.

It turns out that those illuminating spotlights didn't show the scientists as much as they thought.

Our confidence in science turns out to be a fatal arrogance.

But what if it turned out that God was not the benevolent creator of Christianity, either?

That's the truly unsettling message of the film

What if religion were all a sham? What if the force sustaining the all creation was an inverted, evil power?

If science turns out to be powerless against the chaotic forces of reality, religion is not exactly in a better position.

That's the conclusion of at least one character.

And a bleak conclusion it is. That, combined with the "explaining" of religion in materialistic terms, might seem like talking down to any religious-minded viewers.

It might seem like an entirely pessimistic conclusion.

This is compounded by the prophetic dreams which appear to be broadcast into the mind from the far-off future year of... 1999.

But it's not so simple as that

The fusion of religion and science doesn't get rid of faith in the name of all-knowing science.

That's how it would go in any of today's snark-fests.

Carpenter's bold enough to challenge that central dogma of the modern age.

Good and Evil aren't found only in the hearts and minds of human being.

Evil is more than the corruption of the human will.  

These aren't subjective projections on to a neutral reality of facts.

Good and Evil are real and objective aspects of the natural order. As real and natural as the particles studied by physicists.

The climax of the film shows us the physical embodiment of that evil in all its glory.

What about that mysterious figure seen leaving the church in the time-warped dream from the future?

The question of freedom and fate hangs over the conclusion of the film. Carpenter's a wise enough storyteller to leave that question unanswered.

Whether that future can be prevented, or whether fate wins, would tell us a great deal about the prospects of Good in a universe of quantum evil.

We don't get those answers. Rightly so.

The unresolved tension between two potent but incomplete worldviews is much more interesting getting all the answers handed to you

PS – If you enjoy these posts, why not subscribe? That way you can receive them directly in your inbox... and you'll get the members-only posts.

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Public post

Why Blindsight isn't all that great a story

Peter Watt's grimdark nihilism mixes the best of SF speculation with unlikeable people and a depressing message

You wake up one day to discover that your family lives in a computer and a race of hyper-intelligent vampires hunts the survivors

I'm talking about Peter Watts' much-remarked book Blindsight.

There's a lot for the sci-fi geek to like here.

Mind uploads into a shared VR reality which is more fun than living out in the real world.

Biologically realistic vampires revived from extinction by genetic cloning tech.

The selling point of the story is the wildest aliens like you'll never see on Star Trek. They don't even have mushy foreheads.

Even the human crew of the starship Theseus (a prophetic name if there ever was one) isn't quite normal.

Not surprising. The central conceit of Watts' existential SF horror story is that normal ain't what it used to be.

The headline of this post might give the impression that I don't like the book.

Not true.

There are things I like about it. There's things I don't like about it.

The discussions of consciousness and evolution are some of the most interesting parts of the book.

What I don't like is how one-sided it all is. The deep thinking is put out there in the service of an agenda.

And that agenda? Nihilistic grimdark fatalism.

Nothing matters woe-is-me I forgot my Zanax today.


If nothing matters then why'd you wake up and create this beautiful piece of art for the readers to enjoy?

Existential nihilism is so boring because it's so clearly the author's own psychological hang-ups intruding into the writing.

If the author coughed up a wad of black phlegm all over the page it would be less of a heavy-handed intrusion into the story.

The philosophical story about consciousness as an evolutionary dead-end sounds plausible enough. As a story premise, it's fantastic. What we have here is a tantalizing tale that wraps up reflections about mind, life in a purposeless world, Fermi's paradox, the hard problems of space travel, and more themes I'm certainly forgetting.

I don't agree with any of Watts's conclusions, by the by, but my philosophical disagreement is less important than the broaching of the subject, or its use as a dramatic core.

In story terms, what the crew of doomed Theseus discovers at that rogue planet beyond the edge of the solar system explains a whole lot about the haunting silence of the stars.

The difficulties of space travel for warm, wet Earth-adapted beings like ourselves hit home hard.

That stuff is the best part of the book. The problem's different.

The story itself is ultimately unsatisfying, like all nihilistic stories. Who cares what happens to any of these people if nothing, nothing done by any human ever, matters?

Horrific dread and terror have a place in all kinds of fantastic fiction. The depressive nihilism of the story runs well past that. We cross the line beyond unsettling to the point where you have to wnder what's the point of reading stories.

We get it, the world sucks and everything sucks and nothing matters and I forgot to take my SSRIs today.

Here's a dirty secret about philosophy. Very few abstract ideas are motivated by rigorous argument and supporting reasons alone. Many of the deepest problems about knowledge, ethics, and What Exists could be better explained as psychological scruples.

Worried about free will? Think ethics are just somebody's opinions? Believe that nobody can know anything?

It won't surprise you to learn that the people who believe these things almost always fall into a certain psychological profile.

You'll know it when you meet them because they are by temperament jaded, cynical, pessimistic people.

Around here at RP we love to dabble in the bleak side of things. The empty black void of space. The inevitable impact of technology on the human condition. Synthesizer music. Cultural wastelands. Existential terror. All that and more.

But Your Host also recognizes the other side. Bleak for bleak's sake isn't satisfying.

If you want to look at the ugly, you have to contrast it with beauty.

Ditto for the contrast of good and evil.

It's the contrast that makes the meaning. Get rid of that and all you've got is a boring wasteland of grey-scale junk.

PS – If you enjoy these posts, why not subscribe? That way you can receive them directly in your inbox... and you'll get the members-only posts.

There's no charge (yet) to subscribe as a free member.

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