I often see these twitter/blog/social media whatever posts pop up on various feeds from kind of successful authors and other marketers who spend a lot of time writing shit online to keep relevant. The kind I’m thinking of are those “TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER DO ON SOCIAL MEDIA IF YOU DON’T WANT THE ENTIRE WORLD TO WISH YOU’D NEVER BEEN BORN” sort of generic advice offerings.

I’m fairly certain I probably do all of them. I admit, I’m not that great about doing this kind of thing on demand, at least outside of professional life. If I don’t feel like talking, I won’t. And if I’m going to talk, it has to be something that actually interests me. The only things that interest me in this context are things other people haven’t done or talked about much.

Where dieselpunk is concerned, I can’t handle any conversations about home-made jetpack costumes. I just can’t. What I can talk about is the way this particular idiom fits into everyday cognitive life.

Today, that means writing a criticism of nostalgia.

The hell??? one might ask in this case. Well, being a dieselpunk author doesn’t give me a free pass for questionable thinking.

Midnight In Paris

A while ago my wife and I watched Midnight in Paris. Part of the reason was because it would be cool to see familiar places in a film, since we got married in Paris this May. In reality, this film was a fascinating study of what I think is a big factor in why people choose genres like steampunk or dieselpunk. This movie nailed in particular the way writers, intellectuals, and artists in general tend to look backward. The previous era has an intellectual and aesthetic halo-effect for thinkers. We get sucked into thinking the present is boring and crude. Maybe a psychotic version of this is responsible for end of the world prophecies. I mean what is an end of the world prophecy but “the present sucks, nothing of value exists beyond the golden age I’m stuck to” on bath salts?

By the way, normally Owen Wilson annoys me, but this movie made me respect him a whole lot more. And I totally got sucked into my modernist fetish when he went into Shakespeare’s bookstore and talked about Joyce . . . mostly because I did the exact same thing when I went into that place.

But fantasy authors don’t give a shit what Woody Allen thinks, right?

The Diesel Era (Not in Paris or New York though)

This line of thinking made me stop and look around my own environment. I saw no shortage of modernist wonders in Europe. Train stations and other banal things that had been built in my favourite era all had some kind of significance, and it reinforced the pedestal I had put this other era onto. However, in Western Canada, I noticed that the diesel era looked a lot different.

Western Canada functioned in three or four capacities at that time: mines, lumber, agriculture. Also training camps for soldiers during the wars. It was not a cultural centre. Engineering and technology might have piggybacked on the industrial things going on, but there was no Chrysler building or anything like it built anywhere East of Ontario. It was also pretty swell to build internment camps back then, and British Columbia had a few.

So my current town does have a palpable aftertaste of the era. I don’t know that it ever will shake that. It’s kind of cool, but the significance of this town lies in a wartime military camp (this is where my office is), and an internment camp.

The contribution of this training camp was huge. Not only did soldiers train here for both wars, but you can still see markings on the range to guide pilots practicing strafing runs. The lake and much of the undeveloped land is full of unexploded ordinance. There is a lot of history here.

It just looks nothing like what our ideal version of the era is. This goes for most historical buildings in the interior too. There’s very little steel, very little concrete, and nothing whatsoever that shows inspiring designs ripped from Howard Roark’s libidinal frustration. It’s all big wooden timbers–like seriously, you’ve never seen timbers this large. When you don’t know how to properly engineer a building, you just choose the biggest members you can find to be safe. Stuff was slapped together by cowboys, not heroically fashioned by an army of steel workers. You can go into a 600 year old palace in europe and it’s still just as fresh as it ever was. Here, you go into one of these structures and are instantly hit by a mouldy pong that refit after refit hasn’t been able to clear.

Now this doesn’t apply to all historical buildings or other issues. Victorian architecture is much stronger throughout, especially along the railway–see Banff Springs and several buildings in Winnipeg. Also there are quite a few impressive Victorian armouries across the country. It’s not like I’m accusing us of being behind or too poor, because that’s definitely not the case.

I just wonder: where were the architects, writers, surrealists, and petty-bourgeois adventurers? I have no idea, besides New York and Europe.

This leads me to ask myself: why spend so much mental energy in that era then? The look? Not really–as I frequently mention, I hate wearing costumes and don’t find myself wishing I could get away with wearing pants up to my goddamn nipples and putting axle grease in my hair. Maybe it’s the explosion of advances coupled with the traumatic shakeup of war–a kind of uncertainty that somehow warrants some optimism. But then again, you could say that about any time period. Everything is always moving towards nothing in particular. Unless, I guess, you’re one of those dudes who sell end of the world prophecies.

It would be interesting to ask people who are into *punk genres if they actually would like to live in the particular era they like to read about. You know, like Owen Wilson in that movie I was talking about.

Are these genres actual nostalgia in the pathological sense? Look, I realize that 99 percent of the people who read this and have read my book would just shrug and say “eh, they’re neat stories. I don’t think about it more than that.” Like I said though, I don’t like to do anything that isn’t interesting. If I wrote books just because they were neat and didn’t have some complicated structure of thoughts behind it, I’d have gotten bored with writing ten years ago.

In summary:

Nostalgia is a trap, but being human is full of such traps so it’s probably not something to worry about unless you’re thinking about ditching your wife for the 1920s. I guess. Well, thanks Woody Allen!

So what could make a post on a dead blog special? Well, the fact that I’m posting at all! Also, I’m writing this at a resort in Jamaica.

Seriously though, life as an actual person is more demanding than I had ever thought. With a popular wife, a new appreciation for the powerlifting end of the weight training spectrum, and a kickass 8 month construction management coop, free time is rare.

We’re at Sandals in Negril. It’s pretty awesome. I’m not a beach person, actually. But this isn’t like the beach in Canada. I learned this last year in Cuba, but it never ceases to amaze me: I still maintain my dislike of frittering away a summer weekend at a rocky gross Canadian beach teeming with stoned teenagers, but you can’t put that in the same category as the caribbean.

I think the main reason I’m enjoying this extraordinary resort is because of the aforementioned life as an actual person. As my indulgent author/musician self, I didn’t see the value of vacations because I was in complete control of 90 percent of my time. Not that being busy/responsible is a chore–it’s something I’ve craved and hadn’t found until getting into engineering and married life. I definitely understand the value of these seemingly vapid endeavpours now.

The beach in Negril is ideal, the service at sandals is absurdly good, and I’m super pumped to suspend the weight training for lying around, smoking Matterhorns (gasp!) and enjoying top shelf drinks for a week.

I’ve been somewhat more involved with some diesely things in my job lately. Things like old buildings, military history, and so on. It’s interesting to compare what the diesel era was like in real life where I am, versus the vision in my head that drives my fiction. Huh???? Am I still in fiction mode? Yes. I don’t get to write  at the moment, but it’s still there. Anyway, I want to do some posts about actual conditions in the diesel era as opposed to the idealized version that’s focused on pulp serials and high modernist architecture in big cities. The story is a bit different in western Canada to New York or Paris. The people here didn’t really give a shit about Gertrude Stein, Schoenberg, or the use of setbacks in the Chrysler building. It’s actually a really cool thing to delve into, and I can’t wait to write these “un-punking of dieselpunk” posts.

For now though, I have a lot of nothing to do!

 

I admit, I didn’t check the date of the last post. For sure one, if not both, of my readers have likely by now assumed that I’ve been completely swallowed by the non-writing world of contract management, never to be heard from again. This is so terribly overdue that it’s pretty embarrassing.

Well, I’m here at nearly midnight after a long day of renovating the condo I don’t live in and am not allowed to rent out to prove otherwise. Sort of.

 

Where did I leave off? Something about being in Europe and getting married and all that? Yeah, the awesome travelogue I’d planned didn’t pan out. This is a failure I’m happy to display to the world, because it’s the best failure possible: I was too busy travelling to be able to write enough. Sure, I amassed some haphazard notes, but the statute of limitations on turning them into something interesting has lapsed. And that’s okay–unless you’re travelling as a professional and part of the reason you’re doing it in the first place is because someone’s paying you to write about it, why the hell would you spend any significant amount of precious time abroad writing, even if it was one of your passions and few things you’re good at?

Robert Heinlein pulled off a great travelogue. Tramp Royale came out of an entirely different situation–I don’t think most people travel the way Heinlein did. The ones who kind-of-sort-of-do these days often seem insincere and tend to be weird social media personalities who use their fantastic travel plans to build up some YOLO-ish persona, often with some charitable lip-service thrown in just in case anyone is cynical enough to doubt their sincerity. No, Heinlein did it with genuine curiosity and enough intelligence to write something meaningful from it. You should probably put down whatever you’re reading and check it out.

Me? I just stumbled around Paris and Germany with my wife and had a good time. I didn’t even take many photos. Why would I? The way I see it is that the human eye has better resolution than any camera; therefore it is redundant and wasteful to spend time making digital images when all I have to do is sit back and chill for a bit if I want to revisit those experiences. Typical INTJ hubris, I know, but it is what it is . . .

Speaking of hubris, how about that title? Yeah, I don’t mean to invoke The Stephen King in a bad/stupid/clueless/ham-fisted way. But the point right now is that I’ve been sucked into the real world, or Babylon, or whatever you like to call it. Writing is always there, especially in my chosen field. This is probably something most people with adult jobs intuitively know, but since I’ve been writing “professionally” for so long, of course I’m going to view it more mechanically than my coworkers.

Part of my education included a technical communications course. Everyone hated it, but to me it was a refuge. It was the only course where I could sit back, enjoy a break, and occasionally pick up something new. Actually, I picked up more than anyone else in the class did . . . I guarantee this. The hubris didn’t last long, because soon it became obvious that writing at work was nowhere near the same as writing novels.

I kept a certain amount of cockiness, sure. But because I had a million words of fictional crap behind me, my weaknesses in real world writing soon magnified in my editor’s brain and I had to take it seriously. During my work term job interviews, I had to sell myself on communications skills because I’m a 30-something with average grades, and that was all I had to show for it. My pitch relied on this, and yet in reality, writing effectively in the real world is one of the most difficult things there is. It’s confusing because the standard is actually so low, yet the stakes are high: in the world of building things, legal contracts and specifications, one small oversight in precision can result in a bridge collapsing and reputations crushed, not to mention money and jobs lost.

These are all things our instructor told us. But it’s such a complicated thing that merely being told these things amounts to . . . not much. This is really the advantage being an experienced fiction writer gave me–the tools to see the value in being told I didn’t have a clue and why it was important. I don’t blame the other guys for thinking it was all bullshit. It’s not like calculating the point of failure on a column . . . if you haven’t written much, some guy telling you that writing in the workplace is important isn’t going to be all that convincing, especially if you’re a boss at math and aren’t intimidated by dynamics.

I should have gotten this clue a couple years ago when I’d first attempted to document travel. It was an obvious failure, but for some reason I didn’t take it seriously enough to analyze exactly why.

Going further–if you only have to deal with words, you’re lucky. Take drafting, for example. It’s writing too. Or, in the politically-correct parlance, “communication.” Now, talk to most draftsmen, and they’ll probably tell you to fuck off and stop talking about bullshit, but it’s true: drafting is a form of writing, and similar to what I’d learned above, isn’t about whether or not you can draw something. Beside me I have a small drawing of a very simple post and concrete pad setup. I volunteered to make an awesome CAD version of the sketch my coworker had made and used for a project. I’ve been staring at it for a couple days wondering just what exactly the best way to communicate the intention of the drawing is. Still haven’t drawn much. This isn’t a discussion about drafting so much as it is a reality check about non-fiction communication–I’m left with the same sense of bewilderment as when I need to write something detailed, fast, and simple for work. Just like I whipped up some crazy-assed psychoanalytically-based experimental fiction that was terrible, my final drafting project in school featured a feverish isometric drawing of a house. If you’ve ever dealt with building houses, you probably know that a complicated isometric drawing is about as useful as a weight-loss supplement. Like my experimental writing, it looked cool on the page and took a lot of technical thought and effort, but in the end meant nothing. My project overall earned a poor grade despite the effort, and all because I missed the point: to communicate the idea properly and nothing more.

 

But hey, I have a backlog of fiction ideas that I could (in theory) crank out in no time and with little effort. I have more ideas than I’ll be able to write in my lifetime if I were able to write fiction full-time. You’d think that some published fiction and the confidence that comes with that would make you an All-Encompassing-Great-Writer.

The point of this post is to assure you that such an assumption is horseshit.

 

The next time you read a good DVD player manual or see a good set of house blueprints, take a moment to appreciate real-world communication. It’s even harder to find than good fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

Kind of a strange title, I’ll give you that. But I don’t know how else to cram a bunch of things together that might not necessarily belong.

In two days I’m heading off to Paris to get married, then travelling down the Rhine over twelve days, wrapping up in Vienna on my birthday. I’ve gotten most of the things done that I need to—no easy task when also faced with a barrage of engineering exams. Seven of them, to be exact. Yet still, I feel the need to crank out one last post to both of my readers before I take off, even though I should probably be organizing our trip.

Why the hell am I thinking about the Distant Early Warning line at such a time? Well, I had spoken too soon in the earlier post where I’d assumed that I had missed the boat on a co-op position. I snagged a summer student position with Defence Construction Canada, which is the public corporation that manages construction projects and maintenance for the DND. This is the organization that played a major part in constructing the DEW line during the cold war. Now, I grew up at the tail end of that period, and I was also obsessed with aviation, so naturally this is something that fires me up.

I have to remind myself, since entering college with people a generation after me, that a lot of people might not even know what a cold war is or why establishing a line of radar stations across the arctic is an impressive feat. I don’t remember a lot of specifics from before the cold war ended, but I do remember the exact day the USSR collapsed, and recall the general vibe of the era. I was 8 or 9 when the USSR fell, and was at home with my grandmother. That side of my family is Russian—doukhobours who immigrated to Saskatchewan in the early 20th century. They spoke Russian up until my mother’s generation, and even then they learned a little, and might even still be able to pick up some words here and there. Given that, my grandmother had the news on when it happened. I remember watching her become riveted, and had no idea why.

I thought it was boring. There were a million other better things on TV than a bunch of old people in suits talking about stuff a kid didn’t even understand. The weather was crappy outside and we were a little stir-crazy, and this was before everyone had twenty televisions in the house. After an hour of this—okay let’s get real, it probably was ten minutes—I spoke up. I protested. What’s the big deal? Why are you watching this? Whatever it is, it sucks!

My grandmother just gave me a solemn look and said that it was “important.” This did nothing to help me understand it, but the sheer gravity did strike me. I shut up. And obviously, I remembered.

Even now, it’s only just striking me what exactly I had witnessed—the opening phrases of a tired narrative’s epilogue. An eight-decades-long modernist experiment crumbling, the driving force behind so much industry seizing and buckling and falling in a hail of rust.

The DEW line was of course built give advance warning of Russian bombers and ICBMs coming over the arctic circle. If you can believe it, we actually used to think that was likely to happen. And it was. The only thing that stopped such things from happening was the never-ending chess game of weapon buildups and countermeasures. Even now, we’re still reminded that a countermeasure like the DEW line is viewed as a de-facto weapon—the NATO missile shield proposed a few years back was enough to get Russia going again.

At that point, Canada’s air force looked quite different to now. The height of the cold war brought us sleek, fast-as-hell interceptors with internal weapons bays, designed for the sole purpose of scrambling within minutes to deliver long-range A-A missiles to take down Russian bombers or ballistic missiles, or equally as fast (and sometimes at the expense of manoeuverability, like the “Lawn Dart” CF-104) nuclear strike aircraft. My all time favourite was the CF-101 Voodoo, which came with a bizarre situation regarding its nuclear weapons. Obviously the politics surrounding nuclear weapons in Canada was complicated, and ended in Diefenbaker’s fall. Canada never officially acquired the nuclear missiles carried by the Voodoo, instead claiming that they remained property of the United States. We tend to think that Canada never really entered that game, but apparently we had jets carrying these things.

The terrorism narrative younger people brought surreal measures with it for sure, but I think we’ve already forgotten just how bizarre and intense the cold war actually was, and it dragged on for decades.

After all that, what was the point again? Well, my new employer, I guess. They’re currently in the process of decommissioning the DEW line. That’s nowhere near what I’ll be doing, but it’s still really cool to be involved with DCC. I lucked-out big time with this one. I could have ended up testing dirt . . . no offense to my friends who are pretty much all testing dirt for their work term. And if I am lucky enough to continue on with DCC, maybe there’d be a chance to see one of these radar stations being dismantled, or at least talk with someone who knows about it. I think it would be important to be able to witness the physical end of something that had such a huge impact on us all during that time.

With so much military hardware ready to go off at a second’s notice for decades, we’re still here. We no longer worry about mutually-assured destruction or build bomb shelters. We’re now legitimately afraid of pipe bombs filled with nails made in someone’s basement—and they’ve killed more people than nuclear weapons ever did when they were at the height of fashion. It’s crazy to think about.

 

Enough of that though. I’m off to Europe to get married and unwind after a crazy year in college. I’m going to make a solid effort this time to write about it—the last time I travelled, my writing was garbage and I put it in the round file. Hopefully it’ll turn out, but even if I never write anything good again, at least I’ll have the greatest wife in the world!

 

 

Oh yeah, it would be asinine to write the words Distant Early Warning without bringing Rush into it. It’s one of my favourite songs, and I love Alex Lifeson’s Floyd Rose equipped Les Paul in this video!

 

http://youtu.be/zUIjEYrojUg

 

 

 

So I fired off a knee-jerk tweet after reading a column on a local news website, and I figured I should expand a little. The column was about strata properties (I think in the USA they call them “homeowner’s associations?”) and, to be fair, was somewhat honest about how to know whether or not they are a right fit for you. Of course, since the person writing the column is quite involved with their own little political setup, the net message there was still overly positive.

When I bought a strata property, I didn’t think much of the politics. The reason is that my dad owns one and has never bothered with the process at all, and hasn’t needed to. It’s like the strata was a separate hobby for the old people who had nothing else to do. That is why I didn’t see a problem with the system, despite the ubiquity of strata horror stories. As for my situation, it doesn’t start in some dingy hall during general meetings. No, it’s far more sinister.

 

The Swimming Pool Interrogation

The retired ladies love our 70s kidney pool, and not necessarily for the sheer joy of lying on a concrete slab in the sun. As a young person who has just moved in, this is probably your most vulnerable position. You’re half naked, don’t know anyone, and just want to test out this pool to see if it really is worth the extra you pay on your monthly fees. The demographic here is stacked against you—as I said, they are mostly retirees. Nevertheless, they waste no time in flattering you and pretending to be interested in who you are. Once they warm you up, they’ll mention council-related matters. Oh yes, I totally agree, we need to fix the fences. Oh, I didn’t know that X problem was made worse by the previous council’s attempt to fix it. Wow. How interesting.

 

Then they start shit-talking the guy down the hall who was on last year’s council. And I mean they tore into him with some of the most vile language I’ve heard from “nice” old ladies.

 

Then comes the request for proxies. The proxy vote is at the root of the strata oligarchy. More on that later.

 

I play my cards pretty safe. That is, I don’t extend myself into any of this nonsense until I know what’s actually going on. What these people don’t know is that I know the guy they’re talking about and have heard the other side.

 

Later on, my fiancée goes to the pool while I’m at work. She’s the most charismatic girl in the world, so obviously she got on their good side right away. And once that happens—once these bitter, nasty people feel comfortable with you—they show their true colours readily. This time, they’re whispering to my fiancée about the two lesbians who had moved in. The things they are whispering are homophobic and wrong, and basically amount to that they shouldn’t be allowed to show affection in public. I guess people are free to have their own opinions, but strata law relies on sophomoric interpretations of the word “democracy,” more often simplified to the elementary-school phrase “majority rules.” If the majority are wrong, does the fact that it’s a majority make it right?

 

“Democracy”

 

My first attempt to vote in a general meeting began with 10 minutes of waiting in an Eagles hall before I realized that I had to go to the property manager and register. Once I did that, I was told that I could not vote because my account had been in “arrears.” Since my strata fees are automatically withdrawn from my bank account, this is absurd. But there was an inexplicable statement showing a charge of ten f-ing dollars, the description of which simply read “Levy.” I had no idea what it was for, and still don’t, but it was ten dollars and I wasn’t that concerned about the actual money. I even had cash to pay it right there—but no. The property manager denied me the right to vote because some bogus charge foisted upon my account for sudden and inexplicable reasons, which he then refused to allow me to even pay!

I left without saying anything mean or disgruntled, stopped by the gas station and bought a pack of cigarettes (I don’t actually smoke, except in times of extreme duress), and went home.

 

Later, I find out how voting actually works. Voter apathy isn’t seen as a public problem here—it’s actually the core of the oligarchy and encouraged. The one or two people actually in charge are pretty good at going around to collect proxy votes from people. When I first moved in and they did that to me, I thought it was nice—I had no time to deal with their meetings, and the person was giving me a chance to still (kind of) participate in a vote. Then I started to notice things and put it all together. The pool. The parking garage. The mailbox. The oligarchs—who are of course unemployed and have the time to do this—haunt those hubs and interrupt your day to get your proxy. When it’s time to vote, the oligarch has more proxies than there are actual voters, and there’s no hope of ever being in “the majority” that’s ruling.

The root of voter disenfranchisement seems to be how much of a life they have. Busy, young professionals seem to lose out the most, and incur most of the wrath of bad strata. I know very successful business owners—well-known, popular citizens who contribute a lot—who end up being badgered and harassed on a weekly basis by their strata, which is run by unemployed, retired, or underemployed people. And unlike myself, these guys often do get involved and try to change the strata, but end up having to give up because of the abject awfulness of The Majority.

 

The Philosophical Deadlock

 

To me, here’s where it gets interesting. The problems with common property are also general philosophical sticking points, and for some reason, I find those incredibly fascinating. It brings to light the issue of justice vs fairness, which in the philosophy world aren’t at all the same. As a side note, the engineering world hates philosophy, and so for the past two semesters I’ve had to pretend I’m not interested in it. However, when faced with this question, I can’t help but out myself as the well-rounded thinker I am.

 

Speaking of which, the justice vs fairness problem is also present in college, and in a big way. To me, “fairness” is a less-loaded way to say “equality.” We all know what that means, right? The specifics don’t matter—you’re a person (or student, or strata lot owner, or union member) who is fundamentally indistinguishable from the one next to you. You are equivalent. There is no you, but a metaphysical stand-in created by the notion of equality. Justice is not the same thing—what is right is not always what is “fair.” Justice is a reference to a set of societal norms and expectations, most of which aren’t always conducive to “equality” 100 percent of the time. These are far more realistic and important—and more in-line with our collective morals. This is how the law (usually) works. Judgment is key—without judgment, justice is not possible.

Good judgment is not easy to find. Fortunately, in the absence of good judgment, we have the blunt instrument of equality. No thought is required. This is a life saver for college instructors who hate philosophy and having to exercise their own judgment—when faced with a possible dilemma arising from a student’s grade and legitimate reasons to adjust it, they can easily whip out that machete and say “Nope. Can’t help you. It wouldn’t be fair, you see.” And all you can do is shrug and say to yourself, “yeah, I guess the guy is right. It wouldn’t be fair,” and deal with it.

Here’s an interesting one: where does my example of the lesbians at the pool fit in? Can there be overlap between justice and equality?

In some ways, I want to say that it still isn’t a case of equality because the offence of discrimination to our cultural norms is fairly precise and rooted in ideals of personal freedom. Outlawing discrimination in a wholesale manner based on ideas of need or equality doesn’t have the same flavour as the former description. The kind of just society we take for granted—private property, freedom, protection from discrimination–doesn’t come from a robotic, thoughtless process stemming from logic that amounts to A=B=C=D.

Did you ever screw up an algebra question and end up with something silly like 1/3=0?

It doesn’t make sense, does it? At the risk of sounding like a Randroid, that’s the logic of equality. The reason previously marginalized people have rights is not because someone said “we are all exactly the same.” It came from the fact that discriminating or harming someone on the basis that they’re not the same as you deeply offended our ideas of a just society.

This brings me to the problem with common property. We have a terrible attempt at collectivism here—it is outlined in poor language that cannot be supplemented with real-world judgment. The genetic origin of this is unclear to me—I don’t know from which tradition or social norm they base the laws. These orphan-laws give absolute power to a strata on the shaky basis of equality—they demand community at gunpoint. There are literally no limits placed on what these groups can do if they play-act “democracy.” But the truth is, strata corporations get away with things that any other democratically-elected component of society would never be able to.

 

The TL;DR On Strata Property

 

Strata properties are a good way to get that first home under your belt. For sure, it’s better than paying somebody rent in most cases. Now, the experts with their newspaper columns will spout off boring tips and caveats that we all know. I won’t get into those. But the problem with those boilerplate caveats is that even if you followed them all, you could still end up with a nightmare. Personally, my big mistake was simply assuming that I would be dealing with rational, intelligent people and that there was always a way to work out solutions that made sense. This is not possible. With strata property, you will be subject only to what is written down, and any attempt to change or interpret those written commandments will be futile.

The biggest factor that I can see though, is the life-stage of those in the development. If the place you’re looking at has a majority of people in your demographic, chances are it’ll be fine. If not, you’re screwed.

Make sure you know who is actually living there and don’t assume that you get the vibe of the place just by reading some minutes and walking around. There will always be more under the surface, and unless you do your homework on the other owners, it’ll be too late by the time you stumble upon the real dynamic.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Once again I’m finding it necessary to reiterate the fact that yes, I actually still am alive. I may even still be a writer—I guess we’ll see soon enough.

That’s it—24 weeks of 35 hours-per-week-plus-homework craziness. It’s hard to believe that the first half of my engineering technology program is done. I don’t even remember what I did with the extravagant amounts of time I must have had before this. Kind of a sobering thought, really.

If anyone reading this has/is considering one of these programs and is on the fence, I’d say just do it. When you look at all the cool stuff you get into versus the cost and time, it’s totally worth it. Now, on r/engineering, most of the guys will say otherwise and that you should just get a big engineering degree. Sure, if that’s what you’ve set out to do, by all means it’s obviously the best way. But I don’t think everyone interested in engineering necessarily wants or needs to get to that level. For myself, when I read the conversations about students fretting over turning town awesome jobs with huge companies because they want to “do research” or get a phd, my eyes glaze over and I start thinking about more interesting things like gear ratios or cats. Some of us just want a cool job and the scope of a technologist still has plenty of room to go pretty far. Not only that, but if you find you want to become a P.Eng after the fact, it’s easy to continue on with university.

The reason I mention this is because I wish I had done it a decade ago. When I was that young, I still believed the crap people had taught us about how everyone is meant to do this or that and that precious snowflakes should just follow their passion—as if 19-year-olds actually have a clue what that really is. And I think people still believe that, because in the few job interviews I’ve had, a sticking point seems to be the drastic shift in my career goals. If I had been pushed a little harder to look at programs like this, I would have realized that I liked it a lot and wouldn’t have to deal with that issue. It certainly was not at all on the radar back then. I didn’t even know it existed.

Ah yes, the co-op issue. So I didn’t end up with one. I’m on my own until January of next year—whether I find something I can count as a work term or just continue slaving away in the health racket, it’s a bit of a blow.

I used to get job interviews for fun in the health industry. I knew what I was doing, have a reputation here built around it, and had no problem taking control during an interview the way you’re supposed to. In career change land, not so much. Like I said, it looks like being an author is actually hurting me here. These are two worlds that definitely do not get along. I understand why, but the stereotyping is frustrating and something I don’t know how to navigate quite yet. A major reason I didn’t end up with a co-op position is that I can’t really move to where most of the work is. In that regard, not successfully competing in a tiny job market isn’t that big of a deal. But this is why I would plead that anyone thinking of doing this just stop hesitating and do it now—it’s so much harder to do when you have an adult life and can’t pack up and go to a camp for 8 months. I’d love to do it, but it’s just not feasible right now.

Anyway, yes, I’m still a writer. Already I’m starting to look past the current projects I have on the go—mainly a sequel and my serial. I’m thinking about diverging from dieselpunk after I finish those. Two things are getting me going these days when it comes to fiction:

 

  • The way Canadian literary fiction makes me thankful I have a calculus textbook now, because calculus a hell of a lot more interesting
  • Hard SF is full of really great writers, but seems stuck in the 90s.

 

Don’t get me wrong—being stuck in the 90s is awesome. But it’s those little gaps that make me want to write. It’s why I wrote dieselpunk before it was even a thing.

Dieselpunk is on its way to better things. I think it reaches a point where the rate of reproduction outgrows the artistic values that made me write it, and that even when I continue to write in the genre, it won’t necessarily be recognized as such. My vision of it isn’t going to change, but collectively it will.

 

Canadian literary fiction drives me up the wall. How did we go from Leonard Cohen to this? I’m seriously considering trying my hand at it again. It’s like being in a room with all the picture frames placed cockeyed and such. A lot of people would agree—this idea is nothing new. But I don’t get why a lot of writers trash literary fiction, focus on their own little corner, and don’t try to add anything to it. This is something that has constantly bothered me about the genre writing scene. I guess it’s fine to like what you like and stick to that, but I’ve never been able to limit my writing to one area.

Hard SF doesn’t bother me the way the above does, but there are definitely gaps to be filled. I have no idea if I’m capable of addressing either of these things, but hopefully I’ll get to try.

 

That is, after I wrap up some diesel projects of course!

I haven’t done a lot of interviews, but when I have done them, or had to prepare talking points about writing, one of the things I mull over beforehand is science fiction. For some reason, the topic always gets derailed and I’m left with a lot of things to say about it, even though I’m strictly a fantasy author with no real intent to challenge the hard SF guys. I mean the Aurora Award might as well just be named “National Robert Sawyer Appreciation Day.”

The weird thing is, sometimes I have way more to say about science fiction than I do fantasy. Why? It’s hard to say. Without wanting to sound like an elitist douchebag, I think some of my motivation to write fantasy is the fact that so much of it makes me want to jump out of my skin and throw the book into a vat of molten steel. But like the Skynet chip or whatever the hell it was they were trying to destroy at the end of whichever Terminator movie I’m thinking of, it would likely just keep coming back in different, more upsetting incarnations. I like a challenge, especially when I know it is within my grasp.

This post isn’t about things that drive me nuts about fantasy, but about why science fiction is so cool. And difficult.

Before I wrote Blightcross I wrote a lot of crappier novels. One of them was hard science fiction. It was doomed from the beginning, and part of me actually knew this as I wrote the first draft. But I also knew that abandoning projects in your first few attempts at writing is a good way to fail. So I pretended nothing was wrong and finished it, revised, revised again, and tried to sell. I describe it as “hard” science fiction but it probably wasn’t even close. It might have scraped by as hard SF in the 80s, but having been written in an entirely different millennium kind of made even that ridiculous.

So, let’s try to summarize the problem without getting into detail about the embarrassing story. See, one of the sins I had committed was writing from a place of opinion or protest. My opinions at the time meant nothing and weren’t based in much, and because I was young, were naturally pretty strong. The story was about some stupid trans-humanist fearmongering (on my part), and the objective of this novel was to tell people interested in transhumanism and the idea of the “singularity” that it was “bad” and should be stopped before it starts. Well, recently I read an article that outlined exactly why the “singularity” idea wouldn’t happen anyway. My understanding of the whole thing was embarrassingly outdated because I had been involved more in writing and music than I had been with computers and technology at the time, and had fallen way behind.

Anyway, I think the “singularity” idea came out in the 1970s, so it wasn’t exactly cutting-edge subject matter to begin with. I’m not entirely sure why I had become freaked out about the idea at the time.

Here’s the thing: you can make even an outdated premise work . . . with enough skill. Actually, you don’t even need that. You just need enough skill to barely make the material interesting PROVIDED THAT YOU HAVE EXPERTISE IN THE FIELD WITH WHICH YOU’RE TRYING TO BULLSHIT THE AUDIENCE.

To clarify: I knew nothing whatsoever about the topic. Well, except that for some reason it freaked me out.

Even John Ringo (if that is a real person, and I’m too lazy to research this but the one novel I read of his was so ridiculous I figured it had to be a joke . . . a really awesome, ironic joke) demonstrates some credible expertise that shockingly legitimizes the story’s bad taste. At that point in my life, I was offended that this guy was making money writing science fiction. Now I admire the guy’s chops. The books sell. They are definitely entertaining. I don’t care about his politics—not that you can tell from a writer’s fiction what those truly are.

A lot of hard SF drives me insane because it’s so boring, but at the same time really, really interesting because the author knows their stuff. I mean, the magnitude of boring some of these hard sf novels have is mind-blowing. The fact that they end up being good novels in spite of just how boring they are is a testament to the major chops these guys have. So when literary snobs trash genre fiction, they might have a point when it comes to hacks selling more stories about Jizznar the Elf Warrior, but they really need to examine just how amazing the hard sf writers are.

Flash forward to the present. I’m in a position that I never, ever would have dreamed could be possible: I have a good short haircut, lift weights, and . . . am in an engineering program. Suddenly the issue about expertise doesn’t seem like such foreign territory. And now, even with the most basic applied science education—barely scratching the surface—I’m seeing a clearer picture of what goes into good science fiction. Like I mentioned in the previous post, the amount of control and perception we actually have of the world is like magic. But it’s magic most people can learn, if they apply themselves.

When us fantasy writers debate the differences, we get all pissy and claim that oh yes, we had to make detailed worlds too! They had to be convincing and internally consistent. Yeah, that’s a tough thing to do. But not as hard as building a story around real technical knowledge. And a lot of fantasy writers still have that—there are a bunch who know every detail about medieval life and it’s equally impressive. But it’s not necessarily required. Fantasy authors, if they’re good at it, can fake it if they have enough intelligence and attention to detail. There’s rarely a hard sf author who can fake it. That was basically the approach I took in my attempt, and it was just awful.

At school, stuff that’s boring is still interesting. Instantly my imagination is triggered by dry technical material. It’s hard-wired to find a way to make this stuff into a story, and an awesome one at that. There was a thread on r/engineeringstudents about what job we all wanted. Of course I put the absolute ideal, which for me would be on Mars. I mean, of course, right? Doing even the most mundane geotechnical work would be fucking awesome on Mars. It’s not that far-fetched, since private companies are already trying to throw together a Mars colony. I wanted to do it, but being old and tied down now, I can’t sign up. Hell, I even debated with my fiancée the morality of steering one of our future children into going to Mars. Sadly, the consensus is that being concerned about having one of your children get to Mars is “not normal” and probably not something to talk about in everyday conversation. Anyway, I might not be able to do civil gruntwork on Mars, but I can damn well write a good, convincing story about it someday. That would be impossible if I had thought of the story idea and knew nothing.

Some pros can pick a storyline that needs fleshing out, then immerse themselves in the technical details it needs for a month and pull it off. I don’t know if that works with hard sf. Stephen King does well spending a week or whatever with a police department to do research, but hard sf needs something more. It needs to pick up on the drive the author has to pursue the technical knowledge in the first place. It does come through in the writing—but don’t mistake this for “passion.” On the list of things that ruin a story, an author who is merely writing about pet interests is close to the top.

Will I end up writing science fiction in the future? Hard to say. Archon has some sf elements in it but is still going to be fantasy, which actually might bother people. My fantasy writing is evolving with the technical knowledge, but I wonder what it would be like to try my hand at a good, classic hard sf story someday.

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