Father’s Day

There is no perfect father, there are only imperfect fathers trying to be their best. What makes a person a good father is open to people’s interpretation and social norms of the time. I was born in 1986 and both my parents worked, my dad worked two jobs, his civilian job and as Captain in the Army Reserve. I remember my dad working evenings and my younger brother and I, along with our mother, bringing ice cream to him. As young kids we didn’t know the difference between active and reserve Army, and when dad went away for annual training it felt like forever. I vaguely remember bits and pieces of conversations dad had during the 1991 Gulf War. He never got deployed but having that possibility, that feeling of him going away for whose know how long, felt heavy.

My relationship with my father since then has been amicable but strained, we do not see eye to eye on politics (myself being a moderate to progressive, him being conservative). I believe because of his past in the military and the way his step-father is, he was taught to be in control and follow a patriarchal-dominated viewpoint. Years after my parents divorced and I was living on my own, I was digging through my notebooks and stumbled across a journal of his. In the writings I saw how he struggled to come to terms with the divorce but also attempted to manipulate religion to try and not get divorced.

Why am I sharing this? Part of it is because it helps bring additional context to what I’ve written. I grew up in a generation between Star Wars, the Episode 4, 5 and 6 had already been released but Episode 1, 2 and 3 didn’t start coming in 1999 when I was 13 years old. I was always intrigued by the father-son dynamic of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and the mystery around it. I would have preferred the backstory of Anakin becoming Vader to be shrouded in mystery because the prequel trilogy sucks and is filled with plot holes and contradictions.

In my teenage years I started what would become Within the Grasp of Ordinary, which really did not explore a father-son dynamic. However, as an adult when I returned to the story’s universe, much had changed and I felt comfortable incorporating and exploring the father-son dynamic and presenting some what ifs in my own life. I’ve always wondered what if my father went active Army instead of Army Reserves – would my parents still have divorced – most probably given the current divorce rate in the military is higher than the civilian population.

There are different father-son relationships than Philip (mostly based off me) and his father Thomas, there is the relationship of Tristan and his recently deceased father. Lastly there is Nathan and his father David who is running to become the next President. By including father-son dynamics, the story morphed away from “pure” science fiction to a coming of age, political thriller set in a science fiction environment.

Though my father and my relationship is strained, he did play an active part in the story (he is more than a character and influencer), he lent me the Babylon 5 DVDs I bought him years prior. He discussed other elements of science fiction and his thoughts on futuristic political environments, planetary colonization, etc. I ended up sharing a copy with him and after he read a few chapters, he asked if he was the “bad guy”.

I answered along the lines that it depends on whose perspective the question is asked from as every character interprets their actions and the actions of others differently.

 

More than Science Fiction

What do you think of when somebody says science fiction? Do you instantly think of ships in space, space battles, far away planets and all that jazz? I once had the privilege to attend a hand-selected workshop with an award-winning author from Kansas who has written numerous short stories and non-fiction work.  The author requested a longer submission, approximately 10,000 words, give or take a little if there would be an unnatural ending point. I combed through what I had written and corrected obvious mistakes and submitted the work. A total of three other students were selected in this process, all of whom I remain good friends and in touch with.

After two weeks, the author from Kansas arrived on campus and we had our one on one sit downs. My first friend, an older non-traditional student, ended up taking over two hours in her meeting, and would have been longer had the Department Chair who organized this and selected us not intervened. I was up next and went in and immediately was red with fury but bit my tongue. The guest of honor admitted he did not like science fiction and wasn’t really drawn into a first-person narrative. When submitting the work, I described it as a coming of age, political thriller set in a science fiction environment. I tried to steer the conversation towards thoughts on character development, the story so far and didn’t get much except he didn’t trust the narration of the characters (which is one of the points of first person narration).

I politely endured the hour-long one-on-one because I thought I would gain insight but instead mostly heard him talk down science fiction and say it needed to be more grounded. There is one positive from this awful experience, I changed the prologue’s narration from one character, Philip, to his mother.

Science fiction lets writers explore contemporary issues in a different setting. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactic is more than about the last vestiges of humanity of trying to find Earth, it was a critique of the post-9/11 world and insurgencies where the supposed enemy looks and acts like us. Star Trek the Original Series is more than exploring new worlds and civilizations, it is about bringing together humanity (a mixed cast and other ground-breaking norms for the time).

If the award-winning author took time to read my submission without prejudging it, he would have seen the prologue and first three chapters are about family strife. Philip’s father is away at Mars and in command of bringing an end to a rebellion / insurgency movement (based upon my coming of age of Iraq). Nathan’s father, a Senator is running for President. Tristan, Philip’s best friend, has recently lost his father in a boating accident, which has also scared Nathan and Philip.

The science fiction environment allows for a more open story, one which is unconstrained by traditional environments. Imagine trying to write a story about the effects of not combating climate change in set in the 1970s. Very few people know about climate change in this environment. Or a more current, every day topic, writing about a corrupt, criminal chief executive in the current environment of the second decade of the 21st century.

Why does science fiction explore the past in a futuristic setting? I believe it because there will always be timeless issues which need to be explored and discussed – dysfunctional families, the rise and fall of politicians, independence movements, terrorist organizations, insurgencies, the desire to explore new worlds and star systems, espionage and grappling with right and wrong.

Guns: The Past and the Future

There are over 300 million guns in America or roughly one gun per person. The world average for guns per 100 people is 10.2, the United States average is 101 per 100 people. A large majority of American citizens do not own guns. Rather a small minority of the citizenry own multiple guns. This is not a blog about taking away a person’s Second Amendment rights, rather it is about the absurdity of owning a gun in defending yourself against a “tyrannical government”.

The average citizen is not well trained in firearms, I highly doubt they can hit 23 of 40 targets which range from 5 to 300 meters (8 to 327 yards) away. There are 3 positions in which to shoot from, supported prone, unsupported prone, and foxhole. Twenty-three shots is the bare minimum in order to receive a passing grade, which is 57.5% of rounds fired hitting target. NYPD is reported to have around a 30% chance of a round being fired, hitting the intended target. If the people who are trained to specifically handle guns have an abysmal hit rate, the average citizen is bound to have far worse percentage.

A common claim in owning a gun or an arsenal of guns is to defend oneself against a tyrannical government. The concept of everybody having the right to bear arms (a musket) worked in the days when the army carried a musket. Yes, the army had a few cannons but cannons can be easily captured and learning how to fire a cannon is not a difficult skill to master. Even with their own weapons, the American Revolutionaries were unable to defeat the British Army without the massive financial backing of France, along with the military support provided.

Weapons have significantly advanced since the Revolutionary War, muskets gave way to repeating rifles, the semi-automatic, full-automatic rifles and machine guns capable of firing hundreds of rounds of ammunition a minute. Let’s not forget armored fighting vehicles, helicopters, aircraft, and nuclear and non-nuclear missiles. None of the weaponry of war are easily mastered by citizens, it takes dozens of weeks of training be labeled minimally proficient at the task of controlling one of these weapons.

But wait, insurgent movements have defeated (Vietnam, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) or caused significant headaches in occupations (US in Iraq and Afghanistan). Yes, but the issue of average citizens dealing blows to powerful militaries is way more complex. In Vietnam there was a vested interest by China and Soviet Russia to weaken the United States, thus both countries provided weapons and training on said weapons. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US returned the favor it received during Vietnam. In the US occupations of Afghanistan, the Taliban government had been hardened by war and along with Al Qaeda had a strong cadre of fighters which to train new recruits to fight the US. In Iraq, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army left well-trained people willing to be mercenaries and fight against the US forces.

It is capable to defeat or significantly harm government forces but owning a single gun or multiple guns will not even make the fight remotely fair.

In the Ordinary series, guns are present but they are not commonplace amongst the civilian population. There are a few criminals who have guns, there are terrorist organizations which can compete against the military. Law enforcement is well trained in non-lethal maneuvers and uses guns as a last resort. A civilian can own a weapon but there are stringent requirements to own one. There is nothing wrong with owning a weapon, it is your Constitutional right, but there needs to be an equal responsibility by the gun-owner to make sure they are proficiently trained in handling their weapon(s).

Reform, Centralize, (un)Militarize the Police

            I recently tweeted:

            “Watching Flint Town and I cannot help but think of respect. Respect towards the citizens that law enforcement are sworn to protect and serve. Then respect of citizens toward law enforcement. But respect is not automatic, it has to be earned by both sides.”

            Growing up in today’s age, it is not hard to see civility between public organizations and the private citizens they serve is at or close to an all-time low. The citizens, especially people of color, are rightfully concerned about if their actions will get them killed. The police are rightfully concerned about when going out on patrol if this will be their last patrol. Citizens and police get into heated verbal clashes. There are neighborhoods out there that when the police show up, the first words out of the citizenries’ mouths is “Fuck the police,”.

            There is a systemic problem in how citizens and law enforcement act towards each other, while the first amendment protects free speech like saying “fuck the police,” it will not earn you accolades or respect when dealing with law enforcement. When it appears that people with white pigmentation get treated more fairly by law enforcement, it easy to see why people of different pigmentation act apprehensively when police are around. The culture between law enforcement and citizenry needs to change. I don’t know all the answers and won’t pretend to but here are some ideas.

            The first simple one fairly simple, the amount of training the average US police department receives is 13-16 weeks of “basic” training then the rookie gets partnered with a veteran cop for an average of 21 weeks. Overall, a cop receives less than 1 year of training. This varies by department (local town, city, state). I believe the US police departments need to borrow from a few western European countries which require lengthy training times of the police and offer them specialized training in how to deal with all citizens. I personally believe all police should receive a degree in psychology so they can understand how people react.

            Riding off the coattails of the first idea, I think the number of police departments needs to be drastically trimmed, remove small town and county police departments. I grew up around Fort Calhoun, Nebraska (about 800 people at the time). We did not have a local police department, county sheriff department provided the town’s needs. Where I live now, there is a nearby town about the size of Fort Calhoun, which has 3 full-time officers and 2 part-time officers, on top of county sheriff and state troopers.

            My adolescent years were spent in Omaha, Nebraska’s largest city and largest law enforcement department (bigger than the State Patrol also). Omaha covers most of Douglas County, which still maintains a sheriff’s department that covers what the OPD does not. The state trooper’s still assist. Either way, there is still 3 police departments which operate in Omaha.

            I would suggest a consolidation of departments, closer to the Canadian model where the RCMP is “leased” out by a lot of the provinces to act as the law enforcement – but large cities maintain their own police departments which assist the RCMP in that area. In America, this would be the State Patrol / Troopers as the “primary” police force and large cities maintaining their own police departments. The state and city police would have to maintain equally rigorous training regimen and standards, including how to deal with mental health issues.

            In fiction, the police in my universe of Within the Grasp of Ordinary are a completely federalized service. There are no local or regional police forces, everybody is part of the same organization which is obviously broken down into sub-sections etc. This crafted world is far more ideal, the ordinary law enforcement officer does not carry a gun, rather is well trained in non-lethal means in how to perform crowd control and take down a suspect. The guns are left to a specially trained sub-section, basically SWAT.

            The civilian side of the imagined universe is a lot more respectful towards police, everybody is treated equally but there are instances where the system may be abused – (not spoiling that, must read the book to find out).

            One of the core problems America faces right now, which I think is glossed over in most science fiction environments, is the lack of respect between law enforcement officers and the civilian population they are sworn to protect and serve. There needs to be a bigger discussion about reforming the system, one which will not be changed overnight but through gradual change into how policing is performed. I look forward to a time when all people, regardless of their socioeconomic status, their skin pigmentation, and all other differences, are treated equally before the law and our encounters with the police. No matter our differences, we are all human and deserve to be treated as such.

Political Ideology and Writing

            I best define myself as a person who is center-left, a progressive, a liberal, however my ideology is not a firm hard stop. I have read many different works by authors who have different political beliefs than me and their works and thoughts do influence my thought process – if their arguments are made using facts from reputable sources. My father is a diehard Republican and him and I have had numerous civil discussions. My former step-dad is a moderate Republican, a principled one, which though I have disagreed with, deeply respect. He is challenging of my beliefs and supportive of a wide world view.

            When it comes to writing, I do not favor one political ideology over another. I’ve written a character who works with the Nazis but plots to overthrow them. His own political viewpoint is constitutional monarchy like Great Britain’s. I’ve delved into the inner workings of Hitler’s regime and style of government which was highly fractured and everybody in the inner circle battling to get a bigger slice of the pie. Hitler ruled by a whim, which is no way to run a government efficiently.

            In the Ordinary Universe, major and mid-major characters’ political leanings are slowly revealed through the chapters. There is a General who once believed in democracy but has become disillusioned by it and wants to install a government very similar to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, where only veterans can vote and run government. A Senator running for President, strongly believes in democracy and believes while it has flaws, it can only be made a better system of government through reform. Meanwhile, the current President (in the story) battles against the limitations of democracy while fighting off a insurgency movement clamoring for planetary independence.

            There are characters who harbor no political leanings, like Nathan, the youngest son of Senator Welch, but is trotted out to help his father attempt to win the Presidency. There is Philip, who is just beginning to develop his own sense of political views before his career military father trots in and attempts to reconnect. There are people who harbor different political ideologies who work together (shocking in this day and ages environment).

            The point I’m trying to make is, it is okay to harbor political leanings – we are entitled to our thoughts and opinions. We can share them and if people want to listen, that is their right. It is their right not to listen. As an author and writer though, when I make a work though, I don’t right from one ideological position because the world is simply far more complex than that. We will never be a species which sees eye to eye on everything and the stories and worlds which we create should reflect that.