Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cell Phone

I was writing a paragraph today and something that I’d written struck me as being strange, bordering on the bizarre.
Like many of you, I’m an avid reader of science fiction, having started when I was just twelve years old. That was fifty-six years ago.
I was always amazed at the technology the authors dreamed up, remembering descriptions of what today could only be interpreted as modern e-readers and personal communicators and frequently wondered when these things would come to pass. Those weren’t the only wonders science fiction authors wrote about, but since FTL space ships don’t seem to be on the drawing boards (speaking of that phrase, I suppose I should change it to read “CAD programs”) I suppose the afore mentioned technology will suffice to illustrate my point.
I can’t help but feel like Captain Kirk, communicating with the Enterprise, every time I flip open my cell phone, and that little marvel is the reason for this blog post.
A new character in “Shadow Twins”, a beautiful, saucy, Italian woman named, Dani, makes an innocent move in the novel. The sentence reads: “Dani removed a cell from her pocket and slid it across the table.”
That’s weird. If I’d written that ten years ago it would have been interpreted as the woman actually plucked a cell from her body and slid it on the table, as unlikely as that might seem.
Actually to avoid misinterpretation, I probably should have written “cell phone” rather than “cell” but even with the short version I doubt anyone will wonder what I meant. The previous paragraph is about a cell phone and a modern reader will understand it. Besides, the epiphany it conjured in my mind led to this post.
We’re living in a science fiction world minus the space ships and space colonies and we don’t register it except for rare occasions.
I learned engineering on a slide rule. Any of you know what that is? If you don’t, read some of the old Robert Heinlein novels and pay attention to the phrase “slip-stick”. That’s a slide rule. It’s not a ruler; it’s a calculator, an analog calculator. No electronics, no batteries, and horribly inaccurate. We used to carry them in holsters, like a sword strapped to our waists. You were lucky if you could perform a calculation to two decimal places, but that device and others like it allowed us to travel to the moon and back. Heinlein understood it perfectly, but a modern reader would be confused.
Given the technology we possess today, how much further we can progress? The sky is within our reach folks, I think we should grab it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

PayPal and Censorship (and how it affects me)

A lot of blogs and comments have been written about the outrage over PayPal's edict to Smashwords and other online publishers prohibiting the sale of certain erotic content. I wish that PayPal would extend that to the sale of illegal firearms, but that's unlikely, because the NRA would quickly destroy their business. Since we writers are a small group with little clout they'll likely get away with this kind of censorship and one can only wonder what's next. Both firearms and freedom of speech are Constitutionally protected, but it seems that death is more palatable to PayPal than sex.
As I said before, a huge quantity of words have been expended to question the validity of PayPal's actions, so rather than repeat them, I'll confine my comments to how this decision will affect me personally as an author.
I have two books on Smashwords that may fall under scrutiny. One of them listed as erotic but completely lacking in prohibited content and the other contains a reference to incest but listed as romance.
Ironically I received an email from Smashwords because I had the one book categorized as erotic, and that book contains no prohibited content at all. The second book will not be subjected to the microscope because it's listed as romance, and that's the book that might be interpreted as having content possibly prohibited by PayPal.
The romance novel tells the story of two couples who fall in love and have sexual encounters. One couple are older, in the twilight of their years, and the other couple are younger, just starting out. After I'd written much of the novel, I realized I had placed the characters into a situation that might be described as a stepbrother and stepsister engaged in an incestuous affair. In fact, I wrote one or two paragraphs in which the young couple joke that since their parents ran off to Las Vegas and married, they might be committing incest.
Curious as to the laws surrounding incest, I researched the topic and found to my dismay a bewildering range of laws, varying from state to state and country to country, some of which provide twenty years imprisonment and some with no penalty at all. Some define incest as relations between blood relatives, some even include step-siblings, and some allow marriage between first cousins. In at least one case, the relationship is considered incestuous even if the couple was married, and their parents subsequently married later. During my research I read articles from respected scientists that argued against certain incest laws saying that the reasons for them were more religious rather than scientific, and that genetic counseling could determine if the union held any dangers from recessive genes.
In other words the whole thing is a jumble of dumb laws with no relation to reality. Realizing that, and knowing that the issue deserved to be addressed, I left it in the novel to showcase how stupid it was. I'm not addressing the issue of incest between stepfather and minor stepdaughter (or vice-versa) because that relationship is rape and child abuse, both of which I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.
Having said that, I will admit that after sixty-eight years of experience and numerous girls friends, a disproportionate number of them confided they'd had sexual encounters with stepfathers, either unwanted or instigated by the minor stepdaughter. So, the problem seems widespread and mostly hidden and deserves to be brought out in a factual manner or through fiction. Unfortunately PayPal blushes at the mention of sex even though it's the driving force that keeps the human race alive.
Now, I wonder if I'll have to withdraw one of my best novels from publication.