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    1. In 1977, Stephen King published a novel about a school shooting called Rage. It is somewhat infamous, as it has been connected to instances of real-life school shootings. King, in response,...

      In 1977, Stephen King published a novel about a school shooting called Rage. It is somewhat infamous, as it has been connected to instances of real-life school shootings. King, in response, allowed the story to fall out of print and has never reissued it. The novel has a lot in common with other YA stories and tropes: a disaffected protagonist, meddling/out of touch adults, and newfound social connection with peers. While the main character is undoubtedly disturbed, the novel feels somewhat uncritical (or potentially even supportive) of his actions.

      Certainly fiction is a space where authors are free to explore any point of view or theme they wish. The beauty of fiction is that it is limitless and consequence-free. No people are harmed in Rage because there are no people in it. Its characters are merely names and ideas--they are a fiction.

      Nevertheless, Rage addresses a real-world phenomenon, and the beauty of fiction is that it doesn't live as a lie. As Ursula K. Le Guin writes,

      "In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it. Finally, when we're done with it, we may find - if it's a good novel - that we're a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have changed a little..."

      We like fiction because it resonates with us, exposing us to themes that can affirm, shape, or challenge our mindsets.

      With this dichotomy in mind, I'm torn between whether authors should be free to explore anything they wish from the safety of make-believe, or whether they have a social responsibility because their words carry messages and ideas that directly impact lives. I'm not sure what to think, and I can come up with great arguments for both sides. What's your take? What social responsibilities do fiction authors have (if any)?

      20 votes
    2. Adjustment Day is a parody, at least I hope it is, of a United States dystopia. The concept is rather ambitious, but the author rises to the task. The prime conspiracy theory behind the book is...

      Adjustment Day is a parody, at least I hope it is, of a United States dystopia. The concept is rather ambitious, but the author rises to the task. The prime conspiracy theory behind the book is that throughout history, civilization has periodically weeded out young men of 18-24 through war and whatever other means available to keep society from returning to the dark ages. Who does this in the U.S? Why, your government, of course.

      In this version of the conspiracy, the young men turn the tables. Most of the book is about what happens after Adjustment Day. I've only read Fight Club and Choke by Palahniuk before this. All I can say is the cynicism and nihilism of those two books seems increased tenfold in Adjustment Day. Do you have a conservative conspiracy theory that you think about from time to time? They're all in here. I'd even bet that the author comes up with some you've never heard before.

      In a satire that is as biting as The Sellout, Palahniuk presents several characters who live through the aftermath of the event, including the originator of it. But instead of nobody talking about it, (like in Fight Club) everybody is talking about this new bizarre movement/social-political revolution. As you go down this rabbit hole of irrational rationalization, it's easy to lose sight of what is going on. Scenes and characters are switched at the beginning of random paragraphs, causing me to back up every few pages.

      A good example of Palahniuk's treatment of infrastructure is given by a new form of money that comes out of the movement:

      Officially, the order called them Talbotts, but everyone knew them as skins. Rumor was the first batches were refined from, somehow crafted from the stretched and bleached skin taken from targeted persons. People seemed to take a hysterical joy from the idea.
      Instead of being backed by gold or the full faith of government or some such, this money was backed by death. The suggestion was always that failure to accept the new currency and honor its face value might result in the rejecter being targeted. Never was this stated, not overtly, but the message was always on television and billboards: Please Report Anyone Failing to Honor the Talbott. The bills held their face value for as long as a season, but faded faster in strong light and fastest in sunlight. A faded bill held less value as the markers along the edges became illegible.

      Because the money had a shelf life, people had to work all the time. At the top of the hierarchy were the young men who had put their lives on the line during the Adjustment Day revolution. They would get the money from some source and give it away to their workers and people they knew, spending it all as fast as they could.

      If that sounds ridiculous, you haven't even scratched the surface of this world. Chief among the topics are racism and prejudice toward everyone you can imagine. All in all I found the book a little tedious. Palahniuk puts the crazy theories in the mouths of people who voice them so convincingly that it becomes surreal. If you're a fan of the author you might like it. But practically every paragraph seems engineered to be offensive in some way, to someone.

      Let's just hope Chuck is making all this stuff up.

      6 votes
    3. Ursula K. Le Guin was my favourite SciFi & Fantasy writer. Her passing earlier in the year was a great loss. I'm reading her scifi-fantasy book Always Coming Home (1985), a compilation of...

      Ursula K. Le Guin was my favourite SciFi & Fantasy writer. Her passing earlier in the year was a great loss.

      I'm reading her scifi-fantasy book Always Coming Home (1985), a compilation of "in-universe" codices and oral traditions as seen by an anthropologist. Her works were usually put in the "soft scifi" bin, as opposed to the "harder" genre. What caught my attention was a passage from the book, as appeared in an oral narrative (p. 161):

      There are records of the red brick people in the Memory of the Exchange, of course, but I don't think many people have ever looked at them. They would be hard to make sense of. The City mind [a vast autonomous network of computers] thinks that sense has been made if a writing is read, if a message is transmitted, but we don't think that way.

      Here we're called to notice the information vs. meaning distinction, for which a lot has been said and will be said. It was striking to me how the definition of "sense" according to the "City mind" closely paralleled the concept of information in Claude E. Shannon's seminal paper, A Mathematical Theory of Communication (PDF link). There, "information" simply meant what was transmitted between a sender and a receiver. It gave rise to a consistent definition of the amount of information based on the Shannon entropy.

      However, we implicitly feel that this concept of information isn't encompassing enough to include meaning -- a vague term, but one we feel to be important. It seems that meaning enters information only as we (or someone) interpret it. In the words of computer scientist Melanie A. Mitchell, "meaning" seems to have an evolutionary value (Complexity: a Guided Tour, 2009). I feel that we could as well say, meaning may be bonded to the bodily and messy reality where flesh and blood living is at stake.

      Returning to the passage in the novel, for me it was read as a rare spark of "hard" science in Le Guin's scifi works. Was it possible that she actually read into the information theory for inspiration? I don't know. But it appears to have captured the tension in the "ever-thorny issue" of meaning vs. information. For the computers, "sense" follows the information-theory concept of information; but for the human people in the story, it "would be hard to make sense of" the information in that way.

      Do you have similar "aha" moments, where you find a insightful moment of grasping an important "hard-science" idea while immersed in a "soft" scifi/fantasy work?

      Or, we can talk about anything vaguely connected to this post :) Let me know.

      10 votes
    4. I really like YA fiction. I like contemporary stuff. Fante is my favorite author period, so maybe that helps understand what I like even if he is definitely not YA. I really like Cormier's...

      I really like YA fiction. I like contemporary stuff. Fante is my favorite author period, so maybe that helps understand what I like even if he is definitely not YA. I really like Cormier's Chocolate Wars, but his other stuff not so much.

      I have: (both links go to Goodreads)

      Both are just sitting around and I'd like to swap them out. So if one or two people want to swap, I'll send them to you and pay for postage if you send me a book in return. One for one please. Continental US only please. I am in OK if it helps you estimate shipping.

      Thanks

      I think True Diaries is amazing and a way better book, but both are good.

      8 votes
    5. You know the kind I'm talking about - a series of fiction novels (generally falling into urban fantasy/sci fi/straight fantasy) based around a main character (or small group of characters),...

      You know the kind I'm talking about - a series of fiction novels (generally falling into urban fantasy/sci fi/straight fantasy) based around a main character (or small group of characters), nothing overly serious, though they may sometimes touch on serious topics. Fun, fluffy reads with engaging characters that leave you wanting more. The main drawback of a lot of these series is that the starring characters can turn into Mary Sues REAL FAST (Looking at you, Harry Dresden), but I'm ok with that.

      A few examples:

      • Jim Butcher - The Dresden Files
      • Kim Harrison - The Hollows

      What series have you enjoyed?

      8 votes