I remember having several English teachers, especially early in my schooling, who spent a great deal of time talking about how important a good opening line is. As they likely did for many of you, they called this opening line a “hook,” and explained how the entire fate of the universe, or at least my essay, rests on having a “hook,” a first line that will draw readers in and make them desperately excited to learn more about what I have to say on such fascinating topics as Lyme’s disease, Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home, or the intelligence of dolphins.
Over the past few months, I've been slowly making my way through the extensive historical archives of the Peanuts comic strip, starting all the way back at its inception in 1950. I don't usually get a lot out of comics, graphic novels, and other, similar forms - my patience and interpretive abilities for these visual media are only somewhat higher than my abilities to create in such media - but Peanuts was enough a part of my childhood that I am enjoying reading through them all from beginning to end. This rather esoteric project began from a random curiosity about how the strip originated, and while I continued with it in part because I was enjoying them, and out of curiosity, it also became something of a writing exercise.
One wonders what other common facts about everyday life we tend to ignore because of how seamlessly our technology helps us overcome those difficulties. Since most fantasy stories take place in pre-industrial settings that would not have most of these kinds of aides, it is worth considering working these kinds of facts of the human condition into stories.
These arguments look at the published statistics, showing that the virus is apparently under control in Eastern nations, and isn't in Western nations, and suggest that perhaps the supposedly example-setting Western democracies need to take a lesson from these Eastern countries. I have even seen some essays suggesting that the progress of the pandemic in the East and the West demonstrates that the time for Western-style democracy has passed. What is left unspoken in all of these arguments is that these discussions are assuming the primacy of utilitarian morality.
If you follow the news, you've probably heard something about 5G. It's been billed as the foundation of a new technology revolution, as the next thing that is going to change the way people do everything. I'm always cautious of people trying to make predictions like that, since it's notoriously challenging, and we have a tendency to only remember the people who were right about what happened in the past, but even if half of what is being hyped about 5G comes to be, it would change a lot...on the backend. Users might not even notice much of a different in daily life. Yet for all that this is supposedly a world-changing technology, it seems that most people have no idea what it actually means.
In philosophy, there is a concept called moral relativism. It was particularly popular in the mid-twentieth century, but has fallen out of favor in many circles today. Aristotle's famous question - "is conduct right because the gods demand it, or do the gods demand it because it is right" - is answered in moral relativism with a resounding no, to both alternatives. Instead, moral relativism asserts that conduct is right so long as it is in keeping with the conventions of the culture within that conduct takes place, and conduct should only be judged within that context.
In any book, the author must introduce the characters, the situation, and the basic elements of the setting, but in fantasy and science fiction you might have a viewpoint character in the first chapter who isn't even human, living on a planet that isn't even in this universe. The very laws of physics might be different, never mind the differences in culture, history, civilization, and everything that goes along with that: systems of measurement, idioms, naming conventions, philosophical principles, mathematics, science...speculative fiction strives to introduce and immerse a reader in a world that might be completely different from that with which we are familiar.
One of these days, I intend to write an essay on the origin and nature of morality. It is a topic that has fascinated people throughout history, and arguably one that underpins some of the most remarkable accomplishments of this species. Anything with such a lengthy history that has already been tackled by so many other people is full of risk - what peculiar hubris is it to think that I have anything original to contribute to such a supersaturated field? - so for now I continue to think and ponder, without putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard on the broader topic. Yet that does not stop me from occasionally exploring a subset of that larger framework, as I intend to do here.
I am excited to announce that for 2021, IGC Publishing will be hosting a Sententia discussion series. This is something that I've wanted to do for quite some time, and have attempted before in various formats to varying degrees of success, so hopefully this forum will help finally promote the concept. Twice a month, I will post a "Sententia" here on the site, and it will be open for comments and discussion, the idea being to foster original thought and productive conversation about complex, relevant, and interesting topics.
A few weeks back, we posted about how NASA was planning to contract with commercial entities to obtain material from the lunar surface, known as lunar regolith. I came across an article on NASA's website this morning (which may or may not be my internet browser's homepage) that announced they had made selections for that exact mission.