Jonathan Herrera

Author of "Twine" and "Emma and the Minotaur."

Chicken sandwiches and the Fermi paradox

Something that always annoys me about science fiction is when the food of the distant future isn’t the food of the distant future. It’s always jarring when a world is full of technological and societal advances that completely change the lifestyle of its inhabitants but then they sit down to eat and oh, hey, here’s a chicken sandwich. It doesn’t make sense that in a world with flying car analogues, teleportation, faster than light travel, and the like, there is still someone who’s job it is to raise and butcher chickens.

What does food have to do with the Fermi paradox? The idea behind the paradox, paraphrased from the Wikipedia article, is as follows: The universe is vast and, even in our galaxy, there are billions of stars that are billions of years older than our sun. It’s likely that some of these stars have Earth-like planets and that some of these planets have developed intelligent life. Some of these intelligent civilizations must be at least millions of years older than we are, giving them enough time to became incredibly more advanced and even colonize part of the galaxy. But if this is the case, then where are they? So far, we have zero evidence of the existence of more advanced civilizations but, considering how much of a head start they must have had, it’s reasonable to assume that they would be everywhere or that, at least, there would be some trace of them. That’s the paradox.

There are many ways that have been proposed to solve the paradox. Some question the basic assumptions of the argument (maybe Earth-like planets are extremely rare); others propose that alien civilizations need not behave like we think they would (maybe it’s the fate of intelligent civilizations to always destroy themselves). I think it’s the chicken sandwiches.

Why would a civilization of non-humans want to make contact with us after seeing how we treat the non-humans already on our planet? We gather them up in the millions and keep them confined in factories where they suffer all their lives until the day when we take them out and murder them and eat them. It’s my assumption that an advanced civilization that makes it past the point where they are at risk of destroying themselves is able to do so because their cultural evolution has managed to surpass their technological one. We can see such a race taking place on our own planet right now. Right alongside our technological advances we can see that our society has become ever more tolerant and emotionally intelligent. Intolerance and cruelty do not belong in our future—if only we can survive long enough.

So when we see a fictional world where so many things about society are just so nearly perfect, it doesn’t make sense that someone somewhere murdered a cow, chopped it into pieces and burned these pieces so that someone else could stuff them into their face.

It’s not only how we treat non-humans that would dissuade an intelligent civilization from wanting to have anything to do with us. It’s also our incredible track record at being simply awful to each other and doing generally horrible things. There is no need for me to number all the atrocities that we have committed, but maybe I should point out that many of these horrible things are still happening. There are millions of humans in slavery all around the world right now as you read this. There are more slaves alive today than at any time in history. Millions of these slaves are children. This alone, I think, is enough to keep any decent species away from us, but we can always add things like war, poverty, hunger, and our mind-numbingly stupid and wilful destruction of the very environment that we depend on for our survival; this is something like setting fire to your own lifeboat . If I were an intelligent species, I would want nothing to do with us until we prove mature and intelligent enough to fix the mess that is our planet.

There is only deadlift day

There is only deadlift day.

All other days are worthless and pale in comparison. Monday? Pfft. Tuesday? Forget it. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? None of these days even have the word “dead” in them.

But what about squat day, you ask? Aren’t squats, like, totally awesome and about as important to human life as, say, oxygen?

Yes. Yes, they are.

So what about squat day? Well, every day is squat day, obviously. If you’re not squatting then I don’t know what it is you’re doing but I’m pretty sure it’s illegal. It’s animal cruelty because you’re an animal and you’re being cruel to yourself.

Depending on how often you deadlift (answer: all the time), there are days when squat day coincides with deadlift day. This is a day worthy of fireworks and fanfare. According to recent literary analysis, a full 80% of Shakespeare’s sonnets were actually about squat and deadlift day.

“Shall I compare thee to deadlift day?”

This day is like Christmas and New Year’s occuring within a week of each other. It’s like your birthday and the birthdays of two important people all rolled up into one. It’s as awesome as juggling chainsaws and fluffy kittens who are also juggling their own tiny chainsaws and miniature kittens.

Why is the deadlift so amazing? It makes you stronger. It makes you smarter. That’s right, it makes you more intelligent. It’s smart to deadlift and so if you deadlift then you are smarter by default. (I thought up this flawless bit of logic while deadlifting, providing further evidence for this point).

Now, let’s be realistic. Will deadlifting make you a better person? Will it make you wildly successful at everything you do? Will deadlifting improve your performance at work and school, even if you don’t go to school or do any work? Will deadlifting make you irrationally attractive? Will deadlifting grant you the power of levitation?

Yes. Absolutely.

There is only deadlift day.

Vegans don’t care what you eat

Words are important. Words have power. They are important because they are the means through which we convey meaning and concepts. It isn’t rare for people to argue because their interpretation of a certain word is different while they may, in reality, be in agreement.

What does it mean then to be “vegan”? A quick look at the Wikipedia entry reveals this:

“Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, as well as following an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of sentient animals.”

The word originated back in 1944 in reference to “the doctrine that that man should live without exploiting animals.” Much like the word “theory,” the actual meaning of what a “vegan” is has been distorted somewhat in popular perception. This isn’t surprising because it’s natural for it to happen with new, progressive ideas. What seems to me to be the main misconception is the idea that veganism is mostly about the stuff that you put in your mouth. At least this is what people seem to talk about when the word “vegan” comes up. This is missing the point of the thing. It’s not about food, really. Veganism is about not subjecting creatures who feel fear, pain, and distress to the horrors that we currently force them to go through.

There isn’t anything that I object to when it comes to the simple act of consuming meat or another product derived from animals. Though the health benefits acquired from practising veganism are enormous, these are of a secondary importance to me. The environmental benefits are merely a nice added bonus. But it’s the animals that really matter. What these creatures are put through is horrible and unnatural. I’m certain that in the future factory farming will be one of the things that we, as a species, will look back on in shame.

The point, however, is that whatever food you choose to put in your mouth really isn’t any concern or business of mine, nor of any vegan (at least it shouldn’t be). My concern is what millions of innocent creatures have to go through in order to get it there.

The boring and frustrating experience that is writing

Writing is awful…

I was asked the other day if I ever got bored of writing. This was in reference to novel-length work that can take weeks or, more likely, months to complete. How can you stick to writing one thing for so long a time without getting bored of it? I responded that it was because, of course, my writing is always thrilling and full of excitement. Obviously. It should be clear to anyone who has at the very least perused through one of my stories that I was only joking. Come to think of it, this piece itself is evidence of the statement’s falsity — unless you are so far thrilled and excited by it.

After pausing to seriously think about the question I realized that I already had the answer but had never put it in explicit terms. The answer is that I do get bored of my writing and of the act of writing. It happens all the time. Writing is, if done properly (loaded terms here), a demanding, frustrating, and often boring activity. The simple act of filling page upon page with your scribblings is a challenging task. Now, making your scribbles make sense and be, hopefully, somewhat interesting, is even harder. What a hopeless, awful thing writing is!

No, wait, writing is great!

It’s not always like that, of course. It isn’t even like that most of the time. The beginning of a new piece can bring elation as a multitude of paths open up before you promising wonders of the imagination everywhere you look. A new story can take you wherever you want to go and it promises marvels around every corner.

The ending of a story is also a time of great joy. Finally, all that you’ve built toward is coming to be and all the different threads are coming together as they race toward their conclusion. Once the story is finished, the rewards are immense. There comes a great feeling of accomplishment. You have made something out of nothing and given it life. This is the thrill of creation.

Alright, alright, it’s a bit of both

The stuff that happens in the middle is more of a mixed bag. There are parts that flow easily and that are a joy to write. There are necessary, but tolerable, sections that have to be written in order for those other parts to make sense. There are tedious bits that test your patience but don’t create any real problems.

And then there are parts that are frustrating and confusing and that seem to do their best to make you want to throw your laptop out the window. There are times when the whole project seems wrong and begs to be scrapped before anyone sees it and exposes you as the hack that you are. There are low, depressing times when you question your own ability and self-worth. Sometimes you can even find yourself in an existential crisis: What is this all for? Is it worth anything? Why am I doing this? Won’t these birds just please stop chirping outside?

Okay, it sounds terrible again

How does one deal with this? Here I would like to bring up the importance of the short story. I have heard that there are some out there who eschew the short story. I think short stories are an essential tool for learning and expanding your abilities as a writer. One of the great things about the short story is that it’s short. You don’t have to spend months writing them but they give you a preview of what the experience would be like. All the stages of joy and grief that I mentioned about the novel can manifest themselves in the short story in miniature form. I could go on about the short story for ages but they are relevant to this topic because, by writing a whole bunch of them before I started a novel, I was more prepared for what the experience would bring.

There is the key then, at least for me. This is how I deal with the bad parts in between the good parts when it comes to the novel-writing experience: I accept them as part of the deal. They are going to happen and there is nothing you can do about them. Among the fun bits that take you up to the clouds there will be parts that will bring you down to the pits of despair. The important thing is to understand that this happens to everyone. It is a part of making art and it’s not something that is limited to writing.

Frustration is a part of the deal

Creating art involves frustration and hard work but the rewards make it all worth it. It’s important to understand that there will be bad times and to acknowledge them and accept them. When they come, you will know that they’re only a momentary thing, that they pass, and that they will be followed by the enjoyable parts that are the reason why we do this in the first place.

Opinions, man

Of course one can simply hold an opinion, however nonsensical. Suppose I were to claim that it was my opinion that all beagles are purple. This is clearly absurd but there is nothing stopping me from claiming that it’s just my opinion, man.

Opinions, then, are essentially worthless. I mean this literally. They have no essence. What really matters is how one arrives at that opinion and it’s in explaining how one has done so that we all benefit.

This opinion of mine that I’m expressing in this very post was arrived at by unabashedly stealing it from Virginia Woolf who, in “A room of one’s own,” opines:

“At any rate, when a subject is highly controversial … one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold.”

Some Assembly Required

Henry is sitting inside a spaceship. As far as he knows, and in all probability, Henry is the last man in all the universe. Sometimes he remembers a time when he wasn’t alone, but other times he tries not to. Back when he wasn’t alone he often wished he was. Now he just doesn’t know.

Everything is space is really far away from everything else. Everything is so far apart that it’s incredibly difficult to even imagine it. Space things are so far apart that it’s almost certain, in a mathematical sense, that Henry in the spaceship will never, ever come anywhere near anything else.
Continue reading

CJ Sullivan Interview

CJ Sullivan was one of the first authors that I befriended when I started writing. She was then, and remains, a warm, helpful, kind person with lots of experience in writing and publishing.

The Divided

I’ve previously reviewed and recommended book one and book two of her epic The Divided Trilogy. The final installment, Song of the Divided, was released recently so I thought it would be a  good time to catch up on what she’s been up to and ask her about her future projects.

1. How does it feel now that your Divided Trilogy is finished?

It feels like I have wrapped up my 20s. That trilogy was such a big part of who I was in my 20s. I started writing it at 19, finished at 21, and then the trilogy went through periods of rest and revision over the coming years. I turned 30 this year, so it was all quite timely to wrap up this trilogy this year also.

2. What inspired Wings of the Divided? I understand that it was a stand-alone novel at first. How did it become a Trilogy?

I wanted to write something different, and at the time, angels hadn’t really been done much. I had been reading a lot of Anne Rice and watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the theater, so I wanted to do something dark and epic and original. When I finished the first book, I let it sit for a couple of months and then realized the story wasn’t finished. So the stand-alone I had planned became a trilogy.

3. What has the response to the trilogy been like? Is there an unexpected fan-favourite character? Continue reading

Excerpt From Emma and the Minotaur

The following excerpt is from Chapter 7: A Girl and a Tree.

***

Emma was sitting on a bench next to a bus stop.

It was morning on a busy street and the road in front of her was full of traffic. There was a bus shelter next to the bench and there were a few people inside. They were looking at her. A woman was sitting next to her but she stood up and walked away.

Emma glanced toward the people in the shelter and they all looked away at once and pretended that she wasn’t there.

She looked down at her lap and saw that she was holding a plain flute made of wood. She swung her feet back and forth as memories began to creep back to her. There was something about a forest. She hummed and waited patiently for all the memories to return.

A black cat came and jumped up on the bench beside her.

“Hello, Mr Cat,” she said as she watched him lick his paw.

The cat paused in mid-lick and looked straight at her and then at the people behind her in the bus shelter.

“They see a girl appear out of nowhere and that’s how they react,” he said. “They try to disappear her right back again.” Continue reading

SC Harrison Interview and Exclusive Preview

SC Harrison is one of those authors that impress with their ability to produce multiple works at the same time. It’s one thing to attempt to take on a lot of projects, but to consistently produce a variety of quality fiction at once is something extraordinary. This is what SC Harrison is able to do and it’s one of the reasons why I’m a big fan. If you haven’t read Planks yet, I suggest you drop everything right now and do so. I read it twice upon release and it’s now among my favourite works of short horror fiction.

I’m excited that SC Harrison was kind enough to answer a few questions for us. On top of it, she also provided an exclusive excerpt from her next book Sustain, which is due to come out on December 2nd. Sustain is book two in the Revive series.
Continue reading

Clock Tower

Tick and tock, so goes the clock,
It tocks and talks and stalks
The lively ones and mocks
The ones who try to run and balk
The walk on down the final dock.
This trip, this time, this life ends in a dive
Into a sea where sharks they flock, ‘n’
Overhead the hawks they squawk
When broken souls
They grate and knock against the rocks,
Fresh pickings are they
And stock anew from the building blocks,
From the lies and stones and double talk
That slips on past when’t the stars we gawk
And miss the outline made in chalk of
The capital stock,
The common dream,
The future promised, bored and pocked,
As dead as you, as on you
Walk your lastly walk on lastly dock.
And the clock looks on and
Tick, tick, tock,
And tock, and
Tick, and
Mock.

« Older posts

© 2014 Jonathan Herrera

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑