Be seeing you …
Who, what, where, when, why – the Five Ws. In the previous post I told you why I decided to start this blog. Now, with your indulgence, I would like to tell you what I want accomplish.
I once read an article (sadly I do not recall who wrote it) that discussed the ease with which our minds accept certain contrafactual situations, but not others. For example let’s say that I suggest that you imagine that you are a pilot. Now unless you are a pilot, this would be contrafactual to your state of being. I have made one change only. I am suggesting that instead of imagining yourself as you are, that you imagine yourself as a pilot. Most readers have no problem with this.
Next assume that you are flying a commercial airliner from New York to Amsterdam. Any one who has flown can probably hold this mental image. Even someone who has never flown can probably imagine themselves to be this pilot. Now assume that you (as this pilot) are suddenly in a terrible storm. Visibility is poor, the aircraft rocks violently from side to side, suddenly you hit a severe downdraft and it feels as if the bottom has fallen out of the plane. Are with me so far?
You black out momentarily only to discover that your copilot is now a goat. In great confusion you bolt from the cockpit to discover that your passengers are actually various large fish, dolphins, and the odd whale or two. All happily singing Kumbaya.
At what point did I loose you? Now if I intended to be writing humor, the above passage could be quite humorous – in a Douglas Adams sort of way. In fact Adams used this type of humor to great effect in his writings. But what if I meant to be deadly serious? Well, in that case, I have obviously pushed the envelope too far.
What’s my point? My point is that fiction is a study of the contrafactual. It is a dance wherein the author changes just enough to make it interesting, but not so much that it becomes unpalatable. The readers can easily imagine themselves to be in the position of the protagonist or any of the other characters.
Science fiction pushes the boundaries a bit further. A higher level of contrafactuality is imposed. The worlds of science fiction are not our worlds, but generally the Laws of Physics still apply. Seventy year-old green-skinned human soldiers can be accepted as long as the reader can imagine a possible future where genetic modification makes this possible. If you can’t imagine such kinds of things, then perhaps sci-fi is not for you.
Fantasy pushes the level of contrafactuality even further. Now the Laws of Physics can be bent, broken, or even thrown away entirely. This is a world of pure imagination where the author is free to set the ground rules. Many people love fantasy for just this reason. Me, not so much.
Final we have the Absurd. In this case the author changes too much or just the wrong things. In the case of Douglas Adams it results in good humor – but not everyone can appreciate this. I am sure that there is a non-zero set of folks who find his work to be just plain stupid. I however find it quite entertaining.
The intended focus of this blog is the contrafactual. That is to say – fiction. Yet there is much that I want to talk about that is non-fiction, viewpoint, observations, etc. Sadly, I admit that I chose the name Contrafactual, in part because other, cooler names that I wanted to use were already taken. But make no mistake, I fully intend to explore the contrafactual … so please be patient.
This blog is dedicated to John Scalzi. He is the reason I am writing this and as such deserves some of the blame for what I may soon be inflicting upon you, my dear readers. For those of you who do not know of John Scalzi, I direct you to his blog Whatever and his Wikipedia page. There you will find more info on him than I could ever hope to catalog here.
Scalzi is an accomplished professional writer (by his own account he makes a good living at it). I discovered him via Red Shirts and continued on through the Old Man’s War series. If you like sci-fi you probably already know of him. I highly recommend him. His books and eBooks are available at all of the usual places.
In addition to writing sci-fi and non-fiction, he is one of the web’s earliest bloggers. His blog Whatever has been active since 1998. In it he pretty much writes about whatever he wants (hence the name) – using it as a tool to hone his writing skills. He also offers frequent advice to would-be writers as summarized in his books:
- You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing (2007),
- Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998–2008 (2008),
- and the upcoming Mallet of Loving Correction.
I highly recommend these books to anyone considering a career in writing and to anyone else with a sense of humor.
In his writings, Scalzi repeatedly recommends blogging as a way of perfecting one’s writing skills and creating a following. I am taking his advice to heart. Although I have a lucrative day job, I have fantasies of one day becoming a writer. I use the word fantasies because terms like hopes, dreams, plans, etc. are way too concrete. My fantasies of writing do not even include the “paid” part. At this point in time I am curious to know if anything I write is interesting to anyone else. I don’t know if I will have the time or the fortitude to make the time to write on a daily basis. Heck, I am posting this a day late as it is. Be that as it may, I am jumping head-first into the blogosphere. I hope it’s not too cold.