Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Prescient observations’ Category

#MilitarySFSunday: A Guest Post by Martin D. Hall

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Folks, a while back I wrote a guest post for Chris the Story-Reading Ape’s busy blog that I re-blogged here called “What is Military Science Fiction, Anyway?” I enjoyed writing that, and thought it might spark a conversation…and, fortunately, it has.

Writer Martin D. Hall (who often writes as M.D. Hall) wrote me a lovely essay, and sent it to me…so, for your Sunday delectation, here it is. Enjoy!

I read an interesting guest post here, entitled: “What is Military Science Fiction, Anyway?” As I explored its message, I thought about the nature of military science fiction. It occurred to me that most sci fi falls into “military”, regardless of whether the writer intends it. This can happen even when, at first sight, it isn’t a prime element, for example: “The Time Machine”, where our traveller ultimately encounters a military force of sorts. “2001” is set against a cold war backdrop. Our intrepid explorers are sent out, ostensibly, to seek contact with a sentient race, but isn’t it likely that those funding the expedition were seeking a military advantage? Once David Bowman metamorphoses into the ‘Star Child’, he returns to Earth, detonates an orbiting warhead, thereby de-escalating a global conflict; we’ll visit “3001” shortly.

In pondering the invasiveness of military elements throughout science fiction, I was like an archaeologist who unearths a first century Roman pot, I brushed away more loose soil, and there it was: the remains of a bronze age dagger. No, it wasn’t a real dagger, but my imagery might be apposite … I uncovered another question: what place does violence occupy in science fiction?

While I’m sure you will find examples of non-military science fiction, it’s hard to find non-violent science fiction … Not impossible, but rare. Invariably, the use of violence, or force, if you will, underpins most the genre, with some modern day readers demanding a quick hit, before their attention wanders. In the case of “2001” they get it when a sure sign of our hairy ancestor’s accelerated evolution – courtesy of the monolith – is to crush another hominid’s head with a club.

How is the violence most easily exploited? In a military scenario, of course. Naturally, for balance, there needs to be political intrigue, and character development within the military arc: the hardening of some characters and the softening of others; the blurring of lines demarcating good and evil; above all humour, but weaving through it all is the use, threat, or fear of violence.

Why is this? Perhaps it’s because, from the comfort of our computer chair/armchair/wheelchair/deckchair, we crave excitement from a safe distance. Like watching contact sports, we can enjoy them without personal risk. Unlike contact sports we can witness the destruction of starships, planetary systems, galaxies and even universes, before taking a break for a cup of coffee (or something a little stronger).

Is this a bad thing? Of course it isn’t and, unlike other genres, it’s highly unlikely that truth will mirror fiction – I know, Captain Kirk used a flip-top mobile phone, and yes, inconsiderate use of said phones leads to anger and, occasionally, violence, but give me a break!

I promised I would return to “3001”. Arthur C. Clarke had charted David Bowman’s rapid evolution into the ‘Star Child’ in “2001”. Yet, at the very end of this book, it’s the human remnant of this not-quite omnipotent being, together with the closer-to-human Hal who will form the bulwark against …? Surprise, surprise: the genocidal, albeit coldly reasoned, aggression of the deity-like beings who started the chain of events on an African plain three million years before. Even these farmers-of-the-Universe, portrayed as benign in “2001”, will ultimately resort to violence at some point beyond the end of this book.

What does all this say about us? It isn’t that we are bored by non-violence, merely that in certain genres, and science fiction is one, we expect violence. Going back to “Star Trek”, Roddenberry didn’t send his creations out to wreak havoc, but even when Kirk, et al, managed to avoid shooting or hitting anyone, a guest protagonist usually did – you can’t even exclude Tribbles because of the threat they posed if unrestrained.

Let me close with another imagining: an alternative reality version of Star Wars, Episode VI. In our reality, we have the ultimate villain – Palpatine – who comes to a violent end. Perhaps we needed to temper this by witnessing the redemption of throat-crusher Darth Vader, but only after we have observed him in the act of crushing throats, or Obi squishing.

The scene is set: over the course of the two earlier films, no one has died, no planets have been destroyed, and Vader hasn’t remodelled anyone’s windpipe. We are on the not-really Death Star for the final confrontation between Luke and Palpatine (with a non-violent Vader looking on):

Vader yawns and tries to scratch his head, but is non-aggressively frustrated by the helmet needed to: a) help him breathe, and b) provide that gloriously rich baritone … The helmet lends no visual aspect of dread, because it is coloured in a non-threatening pastel shade – I leave it to you to decide which shade.

Palpatine: “What do you suggest, young Jedi?”

Luke: “Perhaps we can chat about it over a cup of tea?”

Palpatine: “Earl Grey?”

Luke: “Of course, I’ll even throw in a slice of lemon.”

Palpatine: In an impeccable English accent touched with a soft Scottish burr, following a not-so-sinister chuckle: “No one, who is anyone, drinks Earl Grey with lemon.”

The two laugh, good-humouredly, while Vader pours the tea, and the credits roll to John Williams’ stirring theme.

Did that do it for you? 

I didn’t think so.

Nope, that definitely wouldn’t have worked for me. And I can’t imagine audiences watching the two other movies, either, no matter how good the acting or how good the storytelling, if there was no action-adventure, considering the venue. Great post, Martin! Hope to have you back here, soon.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 16, 2016 at 12:14 pm

More Thoughts on Love

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Folks, one of my friends asked me something just now that I thought I should respond to, so here goes.

I was asked if I believed I could find love again. My answer is yes, I do think so.

At first, I thought it was completely impossible. Love is a once in a lifetime thing, and it’s so rare, its delicacy has to be savored while you have it.

But I’ve had twelve years to think, since my late husband Michael died. And here’s the conclusions I’ve come to…

First, I think every person, every soul, has something to offer that’s unique and distinct and different. So it’s possible to see that, and appreciate that, and try to see if a true connection can be made down the line.

Second, while no one else can be Michael, it’s possible that someone else can be so uniquely himself, so very special and wonderful in his own right, that I’d have to stand up and take notice.

I don’t want to shut down opportunities before they present themselves, mind. But these two thoughts are still quite new. I am trying to figure out what I can bring to the table with anyone else, while still continuing on as myself — the woman who loved Michael B. Caffrey to distraction, and who will always love him.

I hope that down the line, someone special will see what I can give. And what I can receive. And what is possible…maybe is more than I initially thought.

Honestly, I have no idea what will happen next. But I do know this: Michael would kick my butt from here to Kingdom Come if I didn’t try to live my life, enjoy whatever I can wring from it, and do whatever I can to become the best person I can.

So he’d not want me to shut myself off, as I have done. Which is why I’m trying to stay open to possibility, and to choice…even though it’s not easy for me.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 11, 2016 at 11:55 am

A Letter to my Younger Self

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I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of writing a letter to my younger self. What would I say, and why?

Now, we all know the answer. Enjoy!

Dear younger Barb,

You’ve probably already figured out that life isn’t exactly a bowl of cherries. But in case you haven’t, let me assure you — it isn’t.

That said, there are very good people you’re going to get to know, including one very special and wonderful man who will be your husband and the other half of your soul. Don’t give up on finding love, whatever you do; you want to find this man, and experience what he has to offer.

Yeah, you’re going to have to kiss a lot of toads before you find him. That’s the tricky thing about love, you see…not everyone is honest about what they want, or what they’re going to want from you. The only way you learn how to fully understand who a person is and what he wants is to experience life in all its glory…and, unfortunately, all of its disaster.

You’re a realist, at this stage of the game, and somewhat of a cynic. (I do remember that much.) You don’t expect anyone to treat you well right now, and you barely believe that you deserve that. This is one reason it takes you extra time to find the right man, and it’s time I wish I could help you short-circuit.

But there’s something about life that must be felt, must be seen, must be shown, or you can’t fully understand the gift you will be given later on.

Lest you think your husband is the only good person in your life — the only extraordinary, one-of-a-kind person, that is — he’s not. You will have female friends to understand you, and a couple of interesting men who also seem to “get” you. Long-term friendships are something you have always valued, and you will indeed have these things.

You may notice I’m not saying much about family concerns. I can’t, because the way I see them and the way you see them may not necessarily make any sense.

And no, that’s not a cop-out. It’s that so many things have happened that I can’t properly explain it in a letter; it’s too complicated.

Will you become the musician you’d always hoped to be? Partly. Your education will stand you in good stead, though, so please don’t think you’re a failure, just because you never get to play Carnegie Hall like you always dreamed.

Will you become the writer you’d always hoped to be? Yes, you will. But not necessarily in the way you’d hoped, at first…(where are those sports-writing gigs, anyway?)

Will you do other things that bring you joy, help you find meaning, and give you serenity? Yes, indeed.

But there will be pain. Lots and lots and lots of it.

Know that your husband, and your friends, and your family, and your strengths and talents and abilities and perseverance will help you rise above it, and give you the ability to keep going.

That’s what matters, in life. Persistence matters just as much as talent does. You have to keep trying. You have to keep living, even though some days are very difficult. (I’ve never believed in lying, and I’m not going to start now.)

So, younger Barb, we’re down to this. The one life lesson I want you to consider, as you continue on your journey.

What can you learn from the pain, in order to better inform your music, writing, and other creativity?

If you can figure that out, you’re going to be a much happier, wiser, and kinder person — and a far less frustrated one, too.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 11, 2016 at 10:25 am

Why I Stand with Trek Against Trump…and for Hillary Clinton

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Folks, most of you know that I have been firmly in Hillary Clinton’s corner since 2008. I supported her then, I support her now, and I am voting for her for President.

But the reason I’m writing this post today is because of the actors, directors, producers, and writers of STAR TREK (various versions) who’ve identified themselves as Trek Against Trump, and have come out with a statement thereby.

Why is this so important to me? Well, early in my life, I learned to love the original STAR TREK series. That was the first time I saw a racially diverse crew take on all comers, survive and thrive, and live in harmony with each other. Even though there were setbacks, and the humans of the 23rd Century  (and later, 24th) were not perfect people by any means, they were hard-working, dedicated to self-improvement and a belief that scientific knowledge along with good common sense could get us anywhere — even the stars.

People could be of different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different gender-flavors, and still get along. Different races such as the Vulcans, Klingons, Andorians, and more could meet with human beings and find some common ground.

I took that knowledge and internalized it. And it certainly gave me more of a belief that I, too, could change the world…or at least myself, if I tried hard enough. It showed me that SF&F stories could make a positive difference, which was enormously important to me, especially as I grew up to become a SF&F writer (no matter how little-known).

One of the things I truly admired about STAR TREK from the get-go is that the crew of the Enterprise (or Deep Space Nine, or Voyager, etc.) were not afraid to stand up for what they believed in, even when it wasn’t popular and even when it was far ahead of its time. The various crews over the years always tried to do the best they possibly could, and learn from their mistakes, too — something more of us, even now, need to have reinforced from time to time.

At any rate, I’m very pleased to stand with Trek Against Trump, because I believe Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States.**

That Donald Trump can fire off a series of Tweets at a former contestant of one of his beauty pageants because he felt she was “too fat” when he, himself, is far from svelte is distracting enough, and shows completely unPresidential character. But that he says he wants to “Make America Great Again” by “knowing more about ISIS than the generals do” and consult mostly with himself (as he’s said over and over again in speeches) is profoundly disturbing.

As a student of history, I am appalled that Donald Trump has a legitimate chance to be the next President of the United States. He has the potential to be someone akin to Mussolini, Stalin, or Hitler — and those are not the personages the next POTUS should wish to emulate.

To those who believe that Hillary Clinton would be just as bad or worse in office, and who live in the United States, I must say this: What are you smoking?

No, she’s not perfect. Yes, there are things I wish she’d have done differently, like never having the private e-mail server.

But she’s a smart, tough, and tenacious woman, and she can work with anyone. If people hate her, she doesn’t care about that; she still goes in there and tries to get the best deal she can.

I also believe Hillary Clinton would work for all the people, even those who refuse to vote for her, even those misanthropic types who call her the “c-word,” even those who just don’t seem to get that this is the most important election in the United States that we’ve possibly ever had.

We have two major party candidates, folks. Chances are one of ’em is going to be the next POTUS…and for the sake of sanity, that person should not be Donald J. Trump.

I know full well that many of my friends can’t abide Hillary Clinton. I also know that most of those same friends can’t abide Donald Trump, either, even though they’re mostly for wildly different reasons. But those of you who aren’t scared to death at the possibility of a Donald Trump Presidency are lying to yourselves.


Note: I thought long and hard about writing this, too, but it needed to be said. I could not sit silent on this one, even though CHANGING FACES continues to hang fire. I know perfectly well that a big, beautiful woman who writes SF&F stories (including a story with two transgender protagonists like CF) is not someone Trump would even want in his conception of America. That is the main reason I spoke up now.

Second note: I am not quite as worried about people voting for Gary Johnson as the Trek Against Trump folks are for one reason. I think if you’ve always voted GOP or Lib, providing you vote against Trump, that’s a vote he’s expecting to get that he will not get. And a vote for Johnson is still a vote Trump does not get…thank the Deity Above.

**Third Note: The Cincinnati Enquirer said this before I did, last week, in this editorial where they endorsed Hillary Clinton after many years of only endorsing GOP candidates. I read that editorial after writing this blog post.

Monday Motivation: Write Your Story — and No One Else’s

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Sometimes, when you write, you worry about all sorts of stuff.

Will anyone ever like what I’m doing?

Will what I’m writing make any sense?

And, sometimes, this poisonous, midnight thought creeps in: What if what I write is too much like someone else’s work?

I call that a poisonous midnight thought because it saps your creativity something fierce. It makes you think that what you’re doing isn’t special, or vital, or interesting. And it makes you want to give up.

Want my advice?

Here it is: Don’t.

Refuse to give up. Keep writing, as long as it takes.

Never give up on your stories.

Now, as to why I say this? The simple fact is, you can give ten different writers one story prompt, and end up with ten wildly different stories. They might be in different genres; they might be in different voices; they might be in different time periods, even. So that one story-prompt, which you’d think would lead to a bunch of very similar stories, often leads to anything but.

Why is this?

It’s simple. Every person writes differently. Our minds are all different. Our stories are all different, too. And the way we tell the stories, much less how we tell the stories, is also all different.

That’s why you should not be afraid to write your story. No matter if everyone else has done vampires to death, if your story has a vampire heroine (or villain), go ahead and write it — ’cause it’s still your story, and it’ll be unique because of you.

Or if it’s military science fiction, say…there are a ton of great milSF writers out there, and maybe they’ve written a story very similar to the one you want to write already. But your characters are different, and you are different, too…you have to trust that your story will be different, and that you will not commit unintentional plagiarism.

Now, if you’re truly worried about unintentional plagiarism while you’re writing, just don’t read books in the same genre as the story you’re working on.

I realize this is a hardship, mind. Most of the time, you wouldn’t be writing in the genres you’ve picked unless you truly loved the work of other authors. (Cutting yourself off from these authors is quite difficult, but it’s not forever — it’s just until your own book is done and put to bed.) That helps protect you, and your writing, and may give you some peace of mind.

But if you can’t do that, you need to trust that your story will be different, because it has you at the heart of it rather than Other Writer.

So, please. Do yourself a favor, and set that worry aside. You don’t need it.

All you need is you, your belief in yourself, and enough time to work on your stories. Because they are important, as are you…but you won’t know that until you work through your fears, and just keep going. (Damn the torpedoes, eh?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 19, 2016 at 8:49 pm

Milwaukee Burning

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Folks, I started this evening by watching a Brewers game on TV, and am ending this evening watching live footage of at least three small businesses in Milwaukee go up in flames. There’s currently looting, burning, and much vandalism, and firefighters have had trouble getting to areas to fight the fires because of the crowds on the street.

I am horrified.

All of this started because earlier on Saturday, an officer stopped two people in a car. One went left, the other went right. The policeman followed one of them; that person ended up getting shot, and then later died. All of this was caught on camera, as the policeman was wearing a body camera.

A young man, who says he’s a relative (a brother) of the young man who was killed, says the police have failed to protect the people of Milwaukee, and that’s why the rioting, looting, and burning is going on. He says the police must do a better job keeping the peace — this is my best paraphrase, as I just heard the young man speak on CBS 58’s live newscast at approximately 1:45 AM CDT — and certainly seemed extremely upset.

Basically, this area is a powderkeg.

I live about twenty-five miles from the area that’s going up in flames right now. But I have to admit that I am deeply frightened.

When people become mobs, and mobs become violent, that is an extremely scary situation.

There are legitimate, long-standing problems in this area with poverty, underemployment/unemployment, a lack of education, and a lack of positive opportunities. I understand all of that, and agree fully that all of these problems must be addressed.

We need opportunities. We need positive change. We need help, and support, and healing.

Looting, rioting, and burning does not help any of that.

Now, fewer people will have jobs than before. What good does that do?

Some people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time will probably end up injured, perhaps may even die; how does that highlight economic inequality?

And at best, innocent people who probably don’t have much in the way of financial resources will lose their vehicles to the fires, as some already have. Lose their livelihoods, as a few already have. Or may even lose their homes.

How is this right or just?

Tonight, at least four small businesses and a bank branch have been either torched or seriously vandalized (to the point there may be no point to ever reopening the store that was once in that location). There’s much more looting going on than that; there’s much more destruction going on than that. I have seen traffic lights vandalized and bus stations completely demolished.

As the anchorwoman on WTMJ (channel 4 in Milwaukee) just said, these people are destroying their own neighborhoods. And that’s what is the saddest part of all.

My hope now is that we will somehow be able to stop the violence, stop the destruction, rebuild the businesses and heal the injured…but it’s extremely awful to see all of this happening.

My heart hurts.

Pray for Milwaukee, folks. Because I don’t know anything else that might do any good right now. (And when will the national news figure out that Milwaukee is burning? So far, they’re not paying any attention whatsoever…damn them. We’re not just flyover country!)

Skip the Self-Sabotage; Instead, Use Your Talents Today

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Folks, I’ve been pondering something, and here goes:

Why do we sabotage ourselves so much? Why do we use so much negative self-talk?

Worse, why do we listen to others who have nothing to say except negativity?

Look. As a creative person, I need to be able to create. It’s like air, to me; if I can’t create, it’s like I’m slowly getting smothered. (That’s one reason I’m so happy to report I wrote 1500 words tonight — yay! But I digress.) If I can successfully create something new, something all mine, something unique and different and real…well, I feel like I’ve cast a blow against the darkness of conformity, misunderstanding, and, of course, negativity.

Including self-sabotaging negative self-talk, mind.

See, it’s all too easy to get down on yourself. Life is difficult, frustrating, there’s never enough time in the day, it’s hard to get in the right frame of mind sometimes to write, and it’s even harder still to make yourself believe that it’s relevant sometimes.

I mean, in my case, I’m barely known. (Not that it matters for the purposes of discussion, after all, but sometimes that still matters to me. I’m human, and I have my egotistical moments. I freely admit that. But again, I digress.) It can be hard to tell myself, “Hey, Barb, what you do matters. Even if no one else but you will ever know it, it matters, OK?”

Why does it matter? Because I haven’t given up yet. I haven’t given up on my talents, or abilities…I haven’t stopped trying to use them, and I hope I never will.

Yes, life is damned difficult, sometimes. I’ve not had an easy road, and I’m betting very few of you out there have, either. But what we do with what we’ve learned, and how we use it to create with, matters very much.

So, for today — just for today, mind you! — when your mind tries to tell you that your writing, music, art, or other creative impulses don’t matter, tell your mind to go mind its own business.

Then go create.

Just use your talents, please, as best you can.

That is the winning strategy, whether anyone else knows it or not.


Written by Barb Caffrey

July 6, 2016 at 3:55 am