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Rebuttals & Reflections


The Lee Shore

  

Although this section will probably expand in future to cover various other issues (or a multitude of sins — depending on your perspective), it’s presently devoted to a few of the more knee-jerk reactions to my recent novel (See: Hot Off the Press).
      As I’ve already said, I feel the work should speak for itself — and, in this case, I went to a great deal of trouble attempting to compose a book eloquent enough to do so. Consequently, I was reluctant to even pen this rejoinder. What’s more, though modern audiences have become so shrewd (or the plots so predictable) that they can usually deduce a film’s conclusion by the end of the first reel, I truly feel this novel will repeatedly surprise a thoughtful reader — provided it is read from page one onward, without preconceptions or prior information. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to fend off criticisms without giving away plot points. Therefore, I also have to label this a SPOILER ALERT. So — whether you’ve already made up your mind to be offended by it…because you’ve been told that you should, or suspect you’ll be delighted with it…since it’s been suggested you will — I strongly urge you to actually read the novel for yourself first, prior to reading any of this. 

      Before I get on with it, let me remind my detractors and well-wishers alike that The Lee Shore is, fundamentally, a love story…albeit not the kind you’re used to.
      I must admit, however, that I expected a bit of outrage…so I’d already girded my loins, so to speak. Some of the book’s more controversial notions are responded to below.
      The most vehement fits of indignation tend to fall into a few general categories.
 

 

One of the broadest can be paraphrased as follows:

 

 Q: How many other novels employ terms like Möbius strip, Klein bottle, quantum mechanics, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle; use words like parthenogenesis, pan pan, and neuropeptides, polyandry, polygyny, and polygamy; refer to everything from Carl Jung to Druids, Alan Watts to Thoreau, the Upanishads to Shrödinger; quote an Irish ballad and the King James Bible in nearly the same breath; employ sailing and navigation precepts as metaphors for sex; present part of the dialogue in Spanish, expect the reader to look up one of the clues in a Latin dictionary, and hinge the whole thing on a phrase of Sanskrit? What am I to make of it?

A: None, to my knowledge. And make of it what you will.

 

Q: In my opinion, you use entirely too many semicolons, entire colons, parenthetical remarks, and big words. Not to mention, at the other end of the spectrum, obscene language in…well, more than one language. How do you expect people to digest all this?

A: Thoughtfully. And with pleasure…as they’d consume a meal prepared with some care. There are plenty of writers serving up fast food, like so many empty calories in drive-through restaurants. That fare isn’t hard to find. Perhaps I’m kidding myself, but I choose to believe there are still a few intelligent readers out there — despite the steady dilution of literacy today — hunkered down in their intellectual bunkers, somewhere in the Midwest, who’d appreciate something else.
     And words ought to be precise, whether they come from the gutter or with some etymological pedigree — not rejected for either cause out of hand, simply respected for their precision or condemned for their failure to achieve it. As for punctuation, it should always enhance clarity, never impede — like judicious seasoning in prose. (I’d refer you to the essay from which I lifted that simile: “What’s Punctuation, and Where Can I Get Some?”) The lack of it, frankly, due to the somewhat pedestrian tastes of the publishing industry in our lifetimes, has rendered much of what now passes for prose bland, its thoughts muddled and language flavorless. Either this, or the requirements for modern writing demand an utter directness and the utmost simplicity, precluding any complexity in either recipe or preparation. If you really prefer that sort of diet, try Mickey Spillane. Or, if you want at least salt and pepper on the meat and potatoes, there’s always Hemingway.

 

Q: Did you just disparage Ernest Hemingway?

A: Yeah, I b’lieve I did.

 

 

While some verge on more technical issues:

 

Q: Do you genuinely believe AI (artificial intelligence) could replicate human thought?

A: Probably not this week…but why not? Besides, I needed “a jar to keep a soul in.”

 

Q: I’m willing to “suspend my disbelief” up to a point, but wouldn’t I have to acknowledge the possibility of telekinesis in order to accept at least part of your premise?

A: I like to see healthy skepticism in a reader — almost as much as “suspension of disbelief.” Look at it this way. Neuroscience has already demonstrated that people with spinal cord injuries can actually transmit wireless thoughts — detailed motor skill commands, in other words — to external devices. All you have to do is extrapolate from there. What part bothers you most? The concept that thoughts can be transmitted and employed to effect physical results — which has already been proven? The lack of some mechanical intercession? Or is it simply the grand scale?

 

Q: The post-apocalyptic geology you depict is rather drastic, don’t you think?

A: An apocalypse tends to lose some its punch if it’s not actually apocalyptic. Wouldn’t you agree? Might as well go all the way, then. In for penny, in for a pound.
     At any rate, catastrophic change was generally accepted in geology before Darwin convinced us that all changes are slow and tedious. No offense to The Origin of Species (I’m certainly not knocking the premise), but pardon me if I harbor some doubts as to the uniformly slow nature of geophysical change. Go tell the Minoans drastic things don’t happen. Oh, that’s right — they virtually ceased to exist as a nation after Santorini blew up, didn’t they? Or ask someone in the relevant part of Indonesia why they decided to renumber their history beginning with the year Krakatoa exploded. Or you could simply check out the substrata under Yellowstone Park. Gradualism may be the dominant paradigm now, but how many more earthquakes and tsunamis will it take to shift it?
     Besides, we keep fucking with things. A few years ago, I didn’t think human beings had the capability to deforest the Amazon, or fish out the oceans, or melt a polar ice cap. Don’t underestimate just how dangerous our species is.
     Some scientific disciplines, like physics, remain marvelously open-minded, while others, like archeology, seem more intent on maintaining their dogma — somewhat akin to the attitude of the medieval church — rather than pursuing objective inquiry. But that’s another can of worms.
     Having said all that, it’s speculative, remember? What if…? I’m not telling you to lay in extra canned goods if you don’t want. That’s up to you. Personally, I just keep enough stuff on hand to get through the next hurricane.

 

Q: Did you really think it necessary to tilt the whole world on its axis?

A: Do you know a more effective method of knocking out GPS? Or did you mean that question to be metaphorical? Besides, the 2010 Chilean earthquake apparently shifted the axis of our planet by about 3 inches (approximately 8 centimeters). It’s really just a matter of degree.

 

 

Others focus, more or less, on this topic:

 

Q: Defending polygamy is inherently sexist. Well…isn’t it?

A: Polygamy may be sexist…or not, much like other forms of marriage. Polygyny, as practiced in some compounds in Utah, usually is. Polyandry, on the other hand, usually means that women have just remembered who’s actually in charge — which can, of course, be pretty sexist, too. If you don’t know the difference, get a dictionary.

 

Q: Are you advocating free love? Because this novel certainly seems to. And I don’t believe in that sort of thing.

A: If you don’t believe in free love, how much do you think it should cost?

 

Q: Are you married, and if so…?

A: That isn’t necessarily material to this discussion. But yes. Very much so. Read the dedication page of the novel if you don’t believe me.

 

 

Then, there’s a whole set of objections centered on religion.
(They’re usually not phrased as questions, however — more like diatribes.
And, no matter how dissimilar their complaints, they all begin to sound alike.)

 

For example:

 

Q: As a secular humanist, I’m somewhat offended by…

Q: As a fundamentalist, I’m somewhat offended by…

Q: As a practicing witch, I’m somewhat offended by…

Q: As a __________ (fill in the blank, at your own discretion), I’m offended by…(again, it’s your blank).

 

I generally answer these criticisms with questions.

 

Q: As a secular humanist, I’m somewhat offended by your apparent reverence for mysticism. Even though you seem to feel deity inhabits a scientific reality, that’s an anthropomorphic perspective.

A: Not precisely. Anthropomorphism tends to attribute human motivations to whatever intelligence permeates nature. I’m not nearly that ethnocentric. However, given that such intelligence may not operate on those narrow principles, can you rule out its existence entirely, and with scientific certainty? Are you so convinced your world is composed of senseless matter, devoid of some conscious spark, that it’s become an article of negative faith?

 

Q: As a fundamentalist, I’m somewhat offended by your irreverence toward traditional belief. Not only that, some Christians in this book are depicted as villains.

A: Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t contemporary fundamentalists the very ones who gave Jesus the most trouble? And, as to the rest — though that’s surely how they’d have described themselves — did you consider the villains to actually be Christians?

 

Q: As a practicing witch, I’m somewhat offended by the perpetuation of this poisoner stereotype, apparently started by Robert Heinlein, who….

A: Whoa… Perhaps you should practice a little harder. First of all, the quote from Exodus is precise, and the original translation happens to be essentially accurate — it was Heinlein who got it wrong, but… Don’t you realize he was on your side? And, secondly, there’s this: People sometimes resort to poison. Witches are people, too. Therefore… It’s a syllogism, get it? Not a slander on your lifestyle. Since one of your practitioners actually gets burnt at the stake by bigots in this plot, isn’t that enough empathy for you?

 

Q: As a __________ (fill in the blank), I’m offended by…

A: Do you normally get this distraught over works of fiction? It’s a novel, after all. I’d like to think it’s a good novel, but…

 

Q: Don’t you think God is offended by being conceptualized as female?

A: No, I doubt She is. Anyway, don’t you think God has better things to take offense at?

 

 

But sometimes they’re actually phrased
as questions, and are even more pointed.

(I tend to answer these with clear statements.)

 

Q: Have you found Jesus?

A: Jesus and I get along just fine, thank you. It’s some of his so-called “followers” I seem to have problems with.

 

 

Ah, well…there were several Taoists who liked it.

 

 

And finally, this:

 

Q: Are you trying to convince me of something or other with this book? Is your writing meant to sway my opinions?

A: I’m certainly not — though the characters in the book probably are. All I do is listen to them, then write it down. But a good story poses good questions.
     Obviously, no one else can do your thinking for you, so how you answer those questions is entirely up to you.
     Yet, a very good story might sometimes alter the way you do it.
     I’m not a missionary, however, merely a storyteller.
     But you have more of my sympathy than you’ll probably credit. As the years have gone by, I’ve consistently found I had fewer cut-and-dried answers myself…while the questions just kept getting better all the time.

 

 

On the other hand — once in a while — someone
seems genuinely concerned about my prospects:

 

Q: If you had to pitch this book to Hollywood, what the hell would you say?

A: I have no such intention. For a number of reasons, Hollywood couldn’t handle this book, and I’d be reluctant to see them even try. But if I had to? Sort of a cross between Blythe Spirit and Stranger in a Strange Land, I suppose. That oughta baffle ’em enough to put any thoughts of tinkering with it out of their hive mind.

 

 

Just a closing note to all those (Taoist or otherwise) who genuinely valued the book:

 

      Obviously, the preceding remarks weren’t directed at you…but you knew that already.
      I won’t attempt to paraphrase whatever compliments this novel has received — and sincere praise doesn’t require a reply, except to say that it’s deeply appreciated. For those of you who found this book thought-provoking, without suffering an aneurism, I’m very grateful. And, to those unbiased kindred spirits who actually found themselves moved by it, I’d like to say something else that you’re already aware of: it was written for you.

 

 



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