Apocalypse? What, NOW?

Aside

Hey, cats and kittens! I’m in an Apocalyptic mood, so here’s an article detailing how finding another “Earth” could mean that this one is doomed. Enjoy!

Sean


Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

By Andrew Snyder-Beattie, University of Oxford

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth orbiting in the “habitable zone” – the distance from a star in which we might expect liquid water, and perhaps life.

What did not make the news, however, is that this discovery also slightly increases how much credence we give to the possibility of near-term human extinction. This is because of a concept known as the Great Filter.

The Great Filter is an argument that attempts to resolve the Fermi Paradox: why have we not found aliens, despite the existence of hundreds of billions of solar systems in our galactic neighbourhood in which life might evolve? As the namesake physicist Enrico Fermi noted, it seems rather extraordinary that not a single extraterrestrial signal or engineering project has been detected (UFO conspiracy theorists notwithstanding).

This apparent absence of thriving extraterrestrial civilisations suggests that at least one of the steps from humble planet to interstellar civilisation is exceedingly unlikely. The absence could be caused because either intelligent life is extremely rare or intelligent life has a tendency to go extinct. This bottleneck for the emergence of alien civilisations from any one of the many billions of planets is referred to as the Great Filter.

Are we alone?

What exactly is causing this bottleneck has been the subject of debate for more than 50 years. Explanations could include a paucity of Earth-like planets or self-replicating molecules. Other possibilities could be an improbable jump from simple prokaryotic life (cells without specialised parts) to more complex eukaryotic life – after all, this transition took well over a billion years on Earth.

Proponents of this “Rare Earth” hypothesis also argue that the evolution of complex life requires an exceedingly large number of perfect conditions. In addition to Earth being in the habitable zone of the sun, our star must be far enough away from the galactic centre to avoid destructive radiation, our gas giants must be massive enough to sweep asteroids from Earth’s trajectory, and our unusually large moon stabilises the axial tilt that gives us different seasons.

These are just a few prerequisites for complex life. The emergence of symbolic language, tools and intelligence could require other such “perfect conditions” as well.

Or is the filter ahead of us?

While emergence of intelligent life could be rare, the silence could also be the result of intelligent life emerging frequently but subsequently failing to survive for long. Might every sufficiently advanced civilisation stumble across a suicidal technology or unsustainable trajectory? We know that a Great Filter prevents the emergence of prosperous interstellar civilisations, but we don’t know whether or not it lies in humanity’s past or awaits us in the future.

For 200,000 years humanity has survived supervolcanoes, asteroid impacts, and naturally occurring pandemics. But our track record of survival is limited to just a few decades in the presence of nuclear weaponry. And we have no track record at all of surviving many of the radically novel technologies that are likely to arrive this century.

Esteemed scientists such as Astronomer Royal Martin Rees at the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk point to advances in biotechnology as being potentially catastrophic. Others such as Stephen Hawking, Max Tegmark and Stuart Russell, also with the Cambridge Centre, have expressed serious concern about the exotic but understudied possibility of machine superintelligence.

Let’s hope Kepler-186f is barren

When the Fermi Paradox was initially proposed, it was thought that planets themselves were rare. Since then, however, the tools of astronomy have revealed the existence of hundreds of exoplanets. That just seems to be the tip of the iceberg.

But each new discovery of an Earth-like planet in the habitable zone, such as Kepler-186f, makes it less plausible that there are simply no planets aside from Earth that might support life. The Great Filter is thus more likely to be lurking in the path between habitable planet and flourishing civilisation.

If Kepler-186f is teeming with intelligent life, then that would be really bad news for humanity. For that fact would push back the Great Filter’s position further into the technological stages of a civilisation’s development. We might then expect that catastrophe awaits both our extraterrestrial companions and ourselves.

In the case of Kepler-186f, we still have many reasons to think intelligent life might not emerge. The atmosphere might be too thin to prevent freezing, or the planet might be tidally locked, causing a relatively static environment. Discovery of these hostile conditions should be cause for celebration. As philosopher Nick Bostrom once said:

The silence of the night sky is golden … in the search for extraterrestrial life, no news is good news. It promises a potentially great future for humanity.

The Conversation

Andrew Snyder-Beattie does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Think about The End of All Things.

One by one, all of these will come to be true on planet Earth. The exact time is unknown, but the fact is inescapable.

There will be a last song ever played on the radio.

There will be a last sentence ever spoken on radio.

There will be a last image displayed on the last working televisions.

Photo: Just got a message from a friend that said: "sean i support you 100%. I have several writers in my family, i get it. But this begging for people to support you so you can write is going overboard...what happened to your funny and humble posts? bums me out." 

Taking this excellent opinion to heart, I now return you to regularly scheduled intellectually enriching, morally upstanding HoadeTV programming, "Monkey Squad 2: Muthafuckkas Go Apeshit"

It will probably be this.

The music of every culture that existed previous to the invention of musical notation has been completely, irretrievably lost.

There is a book in the solution space of the Library of Babel that explains, in detail, your death. This book includes a 100-page analysis of your last words, your last thoughts, your last impressions of the only life you had.

Every moment the planet Earth is spinning more slowly than the moment before. Days used to be 18 hours long. One day this far into the future days will be 36 hours long, and our species will have adapted or died out by then.

There was a first joke ever told in the first proto-language that developed among humans. There will be a last joke told on planet Earth.

Do we know what it will be? Frayed not.

In your own personal lifetime, there will be a last meal, a last conversation, a last sexual encounter, a last cruel remark made, a last cruel remark heard, a last hope, a last disappointment.

Every instant the Moon is further from the Earth than it has ever been.

If subjectivity worked like objectivity, then magic would be science.

If you take any metaphysical concept as completely true, you will take no joy in any moment because of what awaits us all.

You’re welcome.

 

 

Why You Need Conflict In Your Fiction, Part 1

I recently unveiled my shiny new Patreon campaign to replace the Indiegogo campaign. As my mentor, “Afternoon Delight” composer and infrastructure fan Sean Conner, suggested, I set up the Patreon bit as a way to seek supporters of the epic 10-book journey that is my Permuted Press contract. One book is down, another is almost completed, but there are eight more to go before October 2016! (Actually, I said in my Patreon video that it was October 2017, which would be a relaxed and breezy schedule compared to the one I have committed myself to. Typical rookie mistake.)

Moose with Hunter

This cat knows what I’m talkin’ bout.

Anyway, I set a challenge to the people of the Internet (more specifically, the subgroup of people unable to resist my charm a̶n̶d̶ ̶g̶o̶o̶d̶ ̶l̶o̶o̶k̶s̶) that if I got to a certain (low but nonzero) support treshhold, I would post on my blog Part 1 of …

Why You Need Conflict In Your Fiction

And here we are. So why do writers of dramatic fiction need to understand how to use conflict? Only because anything that is even remotely interesting in fiction is suffused with conflict, immersed in conflict, third-verbed in conflict. You can write Ikea installation instructions without including conflict because people aren’t reading them for entertainment.

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Or reading them at all.

But in narrative, dramatic prose, you need contract. Some of you might say, “What about Waiting for Godot? That don’t have no conflict whatsoever!”

Well, first of all, nice grammar. Second of all, Waiting for Godot is a play. And third of all, that play is steeped in dramatic and verbal irony, and guess what? Irony works because of conflict between what is said versus what is meant (verbal), what one expects to happen versus what does happen (situational à la Alanis Morissette), and what the characters know versus what the audience knows (dramatic). That, however, is putting the carb before the borscht. (That made no sense. Moving on.) First let’s talk about what “conflict” even means.

Conflict: What does it even mean?

Aaand we’re back. In fiction, conflict means that something is happening other than the way a character or the audience wants it to happen or expects it to happen. Delving back into my favorite of pure fiction writing instruction books, Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure, here is what a “scene” in fiction consists of:

  1. A character, usually the viewpoint character, has an explicit goal. S/he may state it (“Dammit, Satan, I want that promotion!”) or it may be assumed (a character hails a taxi in the rain), but it is known to the audience at or very soon after the outset of the scene in question.
  2. The character in pursuit of this goal encounters external opposition. (Internal conflict, although sporadically interesting, is not dramatic conflict. Somebody deciding whether or not s/he wants a sandwich isn’t dramatic conflict. Someone attempting to take hold of a hot dog just bought from a cart but dropping it into rat feces on the sidewalk is dramatic conflict, since external opposition has kept the character from satisfying his goal of a̶f̶t̶e̶r̶n̶o̶o̶n̶ ̶d̶i̶a̶r̶r̶h̶e̶a̶ a delicious meal.

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Hey, all those pig lips and assholes aren’t gonna eat themselves, amirite?

And 3., Resolution to the character’s quest for that goal. S/he can achieve it or not, but what’s important is that the writer provides an outcome of the conflict. This can be a success or a failure, but much more interesting is when it’s technically a success but with unwanted consequences or when even seeking the goal has put the character further from that or another, bigger goal. (I will go further into this in later installments, but suffice it to say that this is key to writing a tightly plotted story.)

This is on the plotting level, but there are other vital levels of conflict in fiction as well.

Conflict between characters even when they aren’t in a specific conflict

Let’s say you have a teenage boy and his lifer Marine father. They have had many heated arguments over homosexuality and the role of gays and lesbians in the armed forces. If these showed up as scenes in your story, then one character’s goal may be to make his beloved family member respect his homophobia; the other character may, alternately, be shown trying to show that his homosexuality is no threat to anyone. (You would just pick one of these in any  scene–that is, there are always at least two sides to conflict, but you should only have one viewpoint character with an explicit goal in each scene.) So, in your story, let’s say that the father is trying to explain to his son that being a gay Marine is not a contradiction in terms, but the son is having none of it and calls his Dad some hurtful expletives.

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See? SEEEEE??? THE DAD WAS THE GAY ONE THE WHOLE TIME!

The conflict of these scenes where they fight are constructed in the usual goal-opposition-resolution structure, but every scene with the father and son OR the father OR the son will now be infused with this deep division between them. Scenes in which a completely different conflict is being dealt with (say, the son wants to have a friend stay over for the night) will now contain the conflict from those earlier scenes.

This is how you keep your whole story interlaced with tension. In the book and movie No Country For Old Men, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem’s hair, the scene in the gas station is, on the surface, a conflict in which the owner seeks the goal of completing a friendly interaction and he is stymied by the intense, almost surreal non sequiturs of Javier Bardem’s hair. BUT that alone as a scene wouldn’t be terribly dramatic or exciting (although it WOULD qualify as a dramatic scene because of the goal, opposition, and utimate resolution) without knowing that Javier Bardem’s hair had previously used his coin-toss shtick to oppose the goals of some other people to, you know, stay alive. Check it:

The actual conflict of that scene is nothing. (“Call it.” “What are the stakes?” “Just call it.” “I ain’t put nuthin’ up.” “Oh, yes, you have …” and so on. Just two peeps having a very low-key argument about one of them guessing the result of a coin toss.) ALL of the real conflict was injected into this scene when (a) the audience saw Javier Bardem’s hair flat-out murder people because he is a complete psychopath; and (b) when the gas station owner realizes there is something seriously wrong with the hairstyle in front of him.

It is genius (as is most all of the Coen Brothers and Cormac McCarthy), but its genius lies in its layering of conflict. There is so much going on here because of the earlier conflict of the story rather than the (still real and needed) conflict of their current conversation. All writers would do well to follow this movie’s lead.

In my award-winning novel Ain’t That America (recipient of the coveted “First Novel I Published” prize, given out by the voices in my head), I make it very clear from the first sentence that the viewpoint character Gordon is planning to kill his wife. The first scene starts out with him fantasizing about her untimely death. Then the actual conflict of the scene begins–Gordon haggles with a customer about the price of an RV–and, even though it has nothing to do with Gordon plotting a murder, every moment of that scene is rich with conflict and subtext. But what is the subtextual conflict in the scene, since it’s the first one of the book and therefore couldn’t be set up by an earlier conflict as in No Country For Old Men? It’s manifold and multifarious and mani-pedi and more by raising story questions in the reader’s mind:

  1. Wait, why is this admitted murderer wannabe working so hard to sell an RV?
  2. Where’s the wife?
  3. Why does he want to kill his wife, anyway?

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“She always makes fun of me for being monochrome.”

Take a look at your favorite movie, TV show episode, god-forbid-an-actual-book. You’ll see conflict in every scene, and the conflict from your big scenes will heighten the conflict in those scenes where the stakes aren’t as directly high.

Conflict in how things are said, not just what things are said

Finally, there are two kinds of conflict expressed in dialogue. The first is “verbal irony,” which is usually sarcasm.

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Suuuuuuuuure, all of Hollywood can’t wait to work with you again!”

The more interesting conflict expressed through dialogue–and remember, this is about the words being used in dialogue, not about the underlying conflict of the scene–is that shown through indirectness. When characters say exactly what they mean and mean exactly what they say, it is a recipe for absolute boring disaster. Pick up any professionally published book or any movie not directed by Uwe Boll or Tommy Wiseau. Or that’s called Sharknado.

If you pay attention, you’ll see that all of the dialogue is indirect. It’s at a slant to the speaker’s real meaning. The only time you will see a character speak with absolutely no indirectness is when they are lying or otherwise putting forth something that isn’t real. An example:

Direct: “You look pretty in that dress, Aunt Sadie.”
Indirect: “Say, did someone order a plate of hottie, extra old and wrinkly?”

Note how much more the indirect line conveys than does the direct line. It is playful, even a bit harsh in its jovial tone, but it is saying that Aunt Sadie, one hundred and six years old, is being complimented but also insulted. (I don’t know what situation one would use this particular line in, but you get me.) Another:

Direct: “I hate you and hope you die.”
Indirect: “When you’re playing around today, see if you can’t find an open manhole to fall into.”

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“But I don’t know what a ‘manhole’ is, Mommy.”

Using indirect dialogue for all your dialogue needs will make your fiction sparkle with conflict in an extremely satisfying way. As the immortal pre-Carbonite scene in The Empire Strikes Back put it:

Direct: “I love you, too.”
Indirect: “I know.”

The indirect line above says volumes more about Han and Leia and their relationship than it would have if they went with George Lucas’s original, direct line above. Moral of the story: Lucas needed to get out of his own goddamn way as far back as 1980.

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“How wude! But also twue!”

Next up: Part II of “Why You Need Conflict In Your Fiction”: Resolutions That Just Make It Worse

What have we learned? (IndieGoGo edition)

Both of the people who follow my blog may have noticed that my IndieGoGo campaign kind of took the trajectory of your town’s new mall in 1977: Opened with great fanfare, closed later amidst pain and fear and also FYE moved out, so what was the point of even GOING anymore? But, while your “former white people mall” took perhaps 25 years to go from ribbon-cutting to having its homeless denizens rounded up for their own safety, my IndieGoGo lasted just two days.

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Pictured: My soul.

I stopped the crowdfunding effort because I had … wait for it … AN ANXIETY ATTACK based around the thought that I was proving to be an opportunistic asshole to people good enough to be my friends. (It’s happened before, years ago. I was an unmedicated, and therefore bad, man then.) Several beautiful pals sent me a bit of cash to live on for a bit, and I am undyingly grateful to them. However, I am also grateful to all of you who kinda just endured my begging onslaught.

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Prose B4 hoes, bitchez!

Anyway, I come here not to praise IndieGoGo, but to bury the point of a Shakespeare quote. I need money desperately, yes, but goddamnit, I’m going to go about it with dignity and a minimum of stunt tattoos and videos of me creamed-corn wrestling. I am a great writer (no, stop, I’m making me blush) and an even better writing coach, so if you have a project you’ve always been wanting to do or have a manuscript sitting on a shelf–or virtual shelf, you get me–contact me and let’s get to work! If you want to be a published writer, I will help you.

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Okay, Photo Person, now you’re just being a jerk.

So what kinds of projects might one like coaching for? Oh, it runs the gamut and gums up the ranut! (Lewis Carroll, you got nuthin on me, son.) Let us go through them below, shall we?

One client is having me ghostwrite her memoirs, which is $2,000, half up front and half upon completion. (Note that this is in the present pluperfect BUT we await payment, so I could have written “One client is having me cook up a pot of goldfish legs” and be just as accurate. Still, hope springs eternal. And the rest of these fine folks are paid up.)

Another client has a finished draft that we are working to get into fighting shape. This means full coverage of both the draft and the subsequent rewrite, for $100 for a 4-week period, renewable indefinitely.

Yet another client had a screenplay draft that we overhauled for $200. The problems were mainly with the dialogue, action, and description. Other than that–in other words, the concept–it was sound. It reads goodly now and will be sent off to the Powers What Is in the industry.

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“Don’t say ‘industry.'”
“Sorry, I forgot.”

But it’s not just completed drafts that I can coach you on to make your writing not only a success, but open you up to a whole new way of looking at the writing process, one that will help you all the rest of your scribbling days. For example:

One client had a concept but nothing actually written. For $100 for 4 weeks, I coached him from concept to character to plot to outline. Now he is working on a first draft of the actual book, which he himself told me would never have happened without my advice.

Another client thought she wanted to do one thing but did another, even better thing. Again for the $100, I started coaching her on her novel concept, but midstream she remembered she wanted to do a short story fable. We explored the conventions of fables and also how to upend them to make something entirely new. She has sent her finished fable off to a literary magazine.

Still another client has half a book. For $200, we’re working together to complete it.

And so on and so on. There have been a few misses (one client found out she wanted to have written, not actually write, which is totally kosher by me but doesn’t lend itself to coaching. Still, we had helpful discussions and she was happy), but so far, ALMOST every client has expressed satisfaction with the coaching and where they were at the end of it, which also is reflected in some clients re-upping to work with me some more on their projects.

Then, full disclosure, there was the nightmare client. She didn’t care for the (extraordinarily) gentle critique she contracted me to do, then–before we even got started on the actual coaching–stiffed me for the fee. She will never be a professional writer. (But that’s okay–not everyone has to be a professional or published writer!)

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Or decent human being.

Anyway, you want me to coach you. I’m working on Books #2 and #3 of my awesomesauce 10-book contract, but no money will be coming from that for about nine months. Yay! (<– sarcasm) This means that I have the motivation and the love to get your book, screenplay, or short story finished, started, planned out, you name it. I also do polishes for dialogue and exposition, one to make it better and the other to make it gone.

Blog post to come:

CONFLICT! Why you need it in every line of your dramatic story.

Thanks for being you,
Me

 

 

99.9999% of philanthropic money is wasted by not being donated to me. That’s just stone-cold fact right there.

You may wonder, “How can I make a difference in a needy person’s life?” The obvious choice is to help support a Lovecraftian author as he pens the most magnificent epic in the epic history of epics. Also, let’s look at the drawbacks of some other, lesser charity efforts:

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY. Yes, living inside is totally a win for people who talk back to the voices in their heads as I do, or who are just victims of the American socioeconomic system — AS I AM! But donating to me instead of (or in addition to) those bunch of layabout journeymen carpenters makes you feel so darned good, PLUS no splinters!

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Nobody’s saying they don’t do good work.

THE HUMANE SOCIETY. Protecting animals is a priority for good people, I know that. But DID YOU KNOW that by supporting me in the IndieGoGo-ness of it all, you also will be helping to house THREE ADORABLE CATS and ONE HUNGRY AND COLD SPOUSE? It’s true!

UNICEF. How do you even know you want a CEF, let alone an all-powerful *UNI*CEF? Don’t take the chance — support me and my awesome novels.

THE SALVATION ARMY. With me, no bells and no high-pressure sales tactics outside your favorite discount stores. Also, you can oppose the increasing militarism of this “Army.”

Albigensian_Crusade_01

Pictured, l. to r.: Good Coptic, bad Coptic.

PLANT A TREE IN ISRAEL. Okay, if you’re old enough to get this, then the nice men from the rest home will be around shortly to collect you. (And me, obviously.) But why PLANT A TREE when you can help a writer GROW ROOTS in CREATIVE SOIL and … um … okay, I think I lost the thread here. But the point is: YAY HOADE! HERE’S SOME FINANCIAL SUPPORT!

To sum up, any place that asks you for your donation and is not me is suspect. I will use your money to live indoors while writing what could be the greatest Baikaiju story of all time PLUS you get copies and other kick-arse rewards at no additional charge.

Won’t you help a brother out? I’ll help you when you’re writing that opera you’re always on about!

cats

♫ O sole meeeeow … 

Here’s the link, my generous and brilliant friends! Also have you lost weight? Not that you needed to, but you look terrific!

Help keep a writer alive while he writes a Lovecraftian epic!

Love,
The Hoade