George Orwell in 2017

1984-2017

From Amazon.com, January 25 2017 11:45 CET

I was overjoyed yesterday to read an article in the Guardian about the surge in sales of George Orwell’s 1984, probably due to frequent mentions in social media and the press the last few daysAt the time the article was written, Orwell’s masterpiece from 1948 had reached sixth place in the bestseller lists at Amazon, and today it hit the number one spot.

Part of my pleasure comes from the fact that I am writing a dystopian novel, and this development gives me hope that the genre is still alive and well …but I also find it incredibly heartening to know that so many people are willing take the effort to read the book for themselves and form their own opinion about this work of classic literature.

I hope that some of the folks new to the genre continue their journey and seek out some of the other classic dystopian works, such as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley,  We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. One of my personal favorites is the short story “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster (which you can read for free online or download as pdf or epub from Goodreads ), written in 1909 and in many ways eerily prescient about the changes to modern culture and our daily lives due to technological advance.

One thing that Orwell and many other dystopian novelists missed is that subjugation to authority doesn’t necessarily have to be forced by the state, because we step into the trap willingly. How many of us have willingly given up our privacy to corporations in the name of convenience? Apple or Google or Microsoft can track our movements, know all of our families and friends, and know what we search for on the internet. Big brother is watching us, indeed, and unlike a nominally democratic government, corporations are by their very nature authoritarian.

As for news and the manipulation of truth … I was visiting family in the U.S. right before the Iraq war, and I was amazed how willing people on both sides of the political spectrum were to believe the “official” line, and quash any dissidence. What struck me the most at that time was that the censorship came not from the government, but from the people themselves, all in the interests of “unity”. So despite sanctimonious calls to unity and peace, just remember that dissidence can be a good thing, no matter which side you might be on.

Finished first draft!

I managed to finish my first draft of Amazon’s Apprentice, so I’m going to put it aside for a couple of months to concentrate on the rewrite and revision of Deviants. During my first read-through of Deviants, I’ve discovered that there are way too many threads, themes and characters in the story as it stands (what happens when you take 2 years instead of two months to write a book!). I think I’ve managed to get my story outline trimmed down to its essentials, which I’ll be using in the rewrite.

Anthropology for fun and profit

warrior woman

Image: warrior woman (CC BY 2.0) by Anne-Lise Heinrichs

Back when I was deciding on a major, I inexplicably eschewed sensible majors such as Computer Science in favor of the endlessly fascinating but less useful Anthropology. I returned to computers long ago, and thought I’d never have a use for my Anthropological studies again. However, I’ve found lately that Anthropology is actually very useful for a writer of speculative fiction, because it really helps with world-building.

One aspect of Anthropology is the study of  how cultures are shaped by and shape their environments. There are so many things that we take for granted, and assume are the “natural” way of things because we grew up with them, but are not necessarily universal human traits. This is helpful to know when designing cultures in a completely new world.

In the world of The Amazon’s Apprentice, magic plays an important role in daily life, and women are stronger than men because they can use magic more effectively. Anthropology helps me figure out what their societies and cultures might look like, because there are physical differences between the sexes that would make them different than being simply a mirror of our own.

For instance, woman are both more affected by and more in control of pregnancy and childbirth than men, unless her culture or circumstances remove that power. If women are in control of society and its institutions, the whole concept of family and marriage is probably going to be very different than what we know. Unlike a man, a woman doesn’t have to worry that her child is not her own, so the necessity of keeping her mate(s) under sexual control diminishes unless there is another compelling reason to do so. In my world, there are some reasons why a woman might want to bind a mate, but they are not as compelling as in our world so the institution of marriage does not have the same importance.

NaNoWriMo

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winner

This year I tried my first NaNoWriMo. I went into it with some skepticism, and didn’t really expect to reach 50,000 words, but to my surprise I finished with an almost complete first draft of a Fantasy novel.

Doing NaNo helped me conquer one of my major problems: I have a tendency to get stuck in an endless cycle of revision. I’ll write a chapter, revise, write another chapter, revise both, and so on and so forth until I get to the middle and have no clue what direction I want to go. Having a set goal for the month really helped me get out of my rut. I managed to write more of my NaNoWriMo book in 30 days than I achieved through more than two years of slogging through my other project.

I’m not really good at thinking up titles. I’m calling my NaNoWriMo project  “The Amazon’s Apprentice”  for now – the book doesn’t have any real Amazons in it, but it is based on a society where women have the power and men are their chattel. We’ll see if I can come up with a better title during revision.

I have a few more scenes to write to flesh out the story, and I’m hoping  to finish by the end of December and have a first draft to put through revision. After I do some revision I’ll go back to my Science Fiction project, and hopefully I’ll be able to take a fresher approach with it.