Author: Jeb Kinnison

Mostly harmless purveyor of gently-used memes.

“Nephilim” Review: “Great read, no matter your religious beliefs / background.”

Nephilim eBook Cover

Nephilim eBook Cover

Nephilim has been out for over a year and sales and reviews have almost stopped, but I just noticed this review at Goodreads:

[user] rated it: it was amazing!
Mormon YA Sci Fi?

Great story that was interesting and full of action, a bit on the pg-13 side…

The story nicely intertwined real Mormon / US history, with two teens fighting evil and temptation. The story was much better than I expected, and I’m glad I read it. I’m not Mormon, so I did not expect to enjoy the story this much. Great read, no matter your religious beliefs / background.

Some readers felt the history and religious background deterred them from reading, but others found it an important backdrop for the story. Can’t satisfy everyone — there are plenty of YA paranormal books that just borrow the supernatural background from previous works, and some readers just want to get to the action.

The book is available at Amazon:

Nephilim ebook

6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Amazon

Also as a trade paperback at Barnes & Noble:

6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Barnes & Noble

Jury Duty: Waiting

Jury Duty: Antiquated, Wasteful, and Unjust

Previously I’ve pointed out the high cost of justice (The Justice is Too Damn High! – Gawker, the High Cost of Litigation, and The Weapon Shops of Isher) and the consequent failure of the justice system to adequately protect citizens, both the accused and the victims of crime.

What’s free tends to be wasted. And when citizens are commanded to take days off from their work lives for jury duty, their compelled service is taken for granted by a system which pays next to nothing for their time ($15 a day in California, about 10% of the minimum wage in cities like LA and SF.)

As another monopoly government service, justice suffers from the lack of innovation and cost control seen in similarly bureaucratic services like schools. Each juror who has their time wasted could take this up with their city or county reps and agitate for reform, but it’s a small issue compared with the other reasons to vote, and so there’s effectively very little accountability. It’s much easier to claim prejudice or conflict to avoid serving. In many parts of the US, 70% or more of registered voters simply don’t answer their juror summons.

This results in jury pools that aren’t representative of populations. Poorer people, minorities, and young people are underrepresented. Justice for people culturally different from typical juries can suffer because there are fewer jurors likely to understand the cultural milieu of the defendants.

I recently served as an alternate juror for a murder trial — four men charged with gang-related murder with a possible sentence of life without parole. The case took ten days to wrap up, with the jury coming to a unanimous verdict of guilty after a day of deliberations. The cultural milieu was street gangs in a mostly-Latino area of the Coachella Valley (which includes both wealthy retiree communities like Palm Springs and Indian Wells and poor, higher-crime towns like Desert Hot Springs and Indio.)

Over 200 people were called in the first day — which was only to present the tentative trial schedule and ask for any reasons to be excused. Those who didn’t ask to be released could have stayed home and answered an email questionnaire, so around 100 people had one day wasted.

The next day the remaining 100 people arrived at 9 AM and spent the entire day watching a subset of 20 people answer voir dire questions. Hours later six or eight were excused and substitutes were questioned. By the end of the day selection of twelve jurors and four alternates was complete. The 80 or so not selected were excused.

So far we have around 200 workdays wasted, worth about $300 a day in salary and benefits (and costing even more in disruption, with the saving grace that some were retired.) Those 200 wasted jury duty days generated around 200 unnecessary commutes averaging 20 miles round-trip, for a total of 4000 miles, c. 200 gallons of gasoline at $3 a gallon, $600 and lots of greenhouse gas pollution. So that people could sit in a room trapped for hours. Call it upwards of $60,000 of wasted time and materials.

Many jurisdictions have rationalized this process, setting the trial schedule in advance and using email to preselect potential jurors for more extensive voir dire. While judges may worry there won’t be enough jurors after voir dire, the opposite extreme of abusing citizen resources by hauling in a hundred additional people is only possible because their time costs the system nothing (jurors get zero compensation for the first day in California.)

Harm to Justice

Seth Stevenson in the 3-5-19 Slate article “Guilty” (a very long read) writes:

In 1998, I helped convict two men of murder. I’ve regretted it ever since. The case was, in some ways, simple. Twenty-two–year-old Maurice Douglas and 17-year-old Dominic Gibson stood atop a hill in Washington, D.C., on a drizzly night in April 1997. Someone shot down the slope of the hill, killing an off-duty police officer who’d been standing at the bottom.

At first, I thought my job as a juror would be to figure out who’d fired a weapon. Was it Maurice? Dominic? Both of them? But then it became clear that the answer to this crucial question—who killed the police officer?—didn’t matter in the eyes of the court. And as the trial wrapped up, I realized I was about to convict two men of murder, only one of whom I thought was guilty.

The case I was on was similar if a little less ambiguous: the four accused left ample evidence of a joint plan to find and attack a member of another gang for revenge and to uphold the honor of the group and their friends. My jury was largely old, white-collar, and white. The defendants felt justified by honor considerations that made sense in their cultural milieu; like Italian-American communities of the last Prohibition era, their neighborhoods were largely working-class and “respectable,” but with enough criminal, fringe, and gang elements that nearly everyone had friends or relatives involved. Honor and respect (and violence to enforce the rules) were understood and within the community, their activities would be decried and whispered about but not openly opposed. Because police cannot protect everyone from reprisals.

Stevenson’s case also involved “aiding and abetting,” or joint enterprise theories of guilt. This is embedded in English common law and recognized as fair generally: if you knowingly help someone commit a crime, you are equally guilty. Stevenson feels all sorts of noblesse oblige white liberal guilt about convicting the accomplice of murder and putting him away for 30 years; he eventually turns it into a long story about his feelings, coming down against such severe sentences for passive participation in murder.

In the case I was on, the real jurors convicted in one day, and I think rightly so because three of the four showed ample evidence of planning to commit mayhem foreseeably ending in death. The fourth was a bit less certain, but there weren’t any other circumstances that would lead him to join the others in a car with loaded weapons ready that made any sense.

As an alternate I was not involved in deliberations. I think I would have wanted longer to crosscheck the evidence — some jurors may have just wanted to get it over with, but I would have wanted to be sure. Neither defendants nor victim were angels, and it’s possible that under different circumstances the victim would have been the one on trial — but he wasn’t. The tendency of the middle and upper-class jury to not see the accused through a dispassionate lens because of cultural differences wasn’t a factor in my case, though it may have been for Stevenson’s. For poorer people like these living in a lower-class neighborhood, less time and money is spent on the prosecution, and even less on defense. OJ would never have escaped a guilty verdict if this had been the standard.

The jury was provided with a package of evidence (including damning videos of the defendants meeting in convenience store parking lots, changing cars at a school nearby, and a glancing view of the attack on the victim’s house including muzzle flares and ricochets off the street.) No transcript was provided (I was surprised to hear the jury would have to request pieces of testimony to be *read back* to them rather than receiving a full transcript.) The partial and disorganized documentation would have made it a daunting task to really confirm everything, and the system just wants you to go along.

In most jurisdictions, courts prefer jurors hear live testimony once and never get to review it, but they pretend the jury can have pieces read back to them on request. Some verdicts have been overturned on the theory that reading (or reviewing video) of selected testimony is prejudicial, some have been overturned because the judge claimed there was no transcript available. A few places are experimenting with full video and giving the jury complete access to the recordings. It’s ridiculous that people are being (possibly) railroaded for the convenience of the system. This case was only easy because there was so much evidence of a conspiracy to kill. In other cases with limited money for investigation and defense, the temptation to go along with the prosecution quickly to escape jury hell must be enormous.

Heinlein suggested semi-pro jurors in The Moon is Harsh Mistress. This would be a corps of people who serve on juries for pay, possibly rated and qualified by other jurors so the “best” jurors get called more frequently. The schizophrenic attitude of our system where the ideal juror theoretically knows nothing and sees nothing but what the judge and attorneys tell them while supposedly acting as logical evidence-weighers really leads to superficial decisions. Jurors seem to be there only to legitimize the outcome, under duress. The *ideal* is moderately educated citizens free of prejudice, but forced service starts you off with a prejudice to go along to escape.

There have been suggestions to run trials by prepackaging depositions, video testimony, and arguments. Jurors now are not allowed to ask questions (in rare circumstances they can ask the judge to bring up a question on their behalf) or participate at all, so this loses almost nothing (the silly claim that live testimony viewing is somehow more authentic and that video can be prejudicial is belied by the number of times jurors are asleep or too uncomfortable to pay attention because they haven’t been allowed a bathroom break for two hours.)

The prepackaging would edit out the questions where the judge has sustained objections, wasted time could be edited out by agreement with defense, etc etc. The jury members in a complex case wouldn’t lose ten or more days of work, but get to review the evidence in a day or two then deliberate with full access to the record, which is released to the public (with bits redacted by the judge if necessary.) This packaging can be done by paralegals overseen by the judge at a cost paid for by savings in traditional court expenses.

The cost of trials is staggering and the results are sub-par, as is true with most traditional monopoly services. There’s little incentive to streamline or improve. Because full trials are so expensive and time-consuming, most convictions are by plea bargain, itself a blot on justice which forces the innocent to plead guilty to avoid far worse punishment and then puts them at risk of becoming permanently part of the criminal underclass and wards of the state, depriving them and the rest of us of their productive lives.

Streamlining trials and broadening the jury pool to be both more experienced and more motivated by making jury duty voluntary and well-paid will save everyone — prosecutors, judges, defendants, and defense attorneys — the deadly boring hours spent listening to testimony, jury instructions, waiting through recesses, and wrangling over schedules. And reducing the costs of trials will allow less use of plea bargaining and likely a better quality of justice.

Unfortunately, appeals courts have burned judges that made an effort to innovate by overturning verdicts on the pretense that any innovation or variation from traditional evidence presentation may somehow be prejudicial. Thus only broad reforms through legislation or commission guidelines can be adopted without risk to ongoing cases. And there seems to be little interest (as is typical in any bureaucracy) in process improvement that takes time and money now to streamline processing in later years. So we are stuck with a 19th-century process in the 21st century, avoided as much as possible through arbitration and regulation.

One detailed reform proposal for making jury service less wasteful and thus broadening participation for more working people is outlined in “A Juror Bill of Rights: A federal judge proposes a set of reforms to make serving on a jury more attractive,” Atlantic 9-11-2015 by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson:

One of the main complaints about jury service is the perceived waste of jurors’ time. Jurors wait to be selected, wait during legal arguments, wait during breaks, and then wait some more. To be fair, trials present difficult logistical challenges. For example, witnesses, lawyers, and judges have scheduling conflicts, and unexpected legal issues can arise. That’s not to say that time isn’t wasted when lawyers call a large pool of witnesses, ask repetitive questions, and seemingly value the jurors’ time less than their own. Bennett’s response therefore is to streamline the process—a strategy he’s put in practice in his own courtroom….

The institution of the jury trial has been remarkably resistant to innovation. Many courts use paper and pencil for voir dire questions, provide paper copies of exhibits, prevent jurors from asking questions, and ban summaries of evidence (even in lengthy cases). While some federal and state courts have begun experimenting with high-tech courtrooms that use video feeds and electronic displays, many trial procedures haven’t changed for decades. Bennett argues that judges should recognize that jurors’ technological expectations have shifted and different jurors, like Millennials and retirees, have very different learning styles. Visual learners, for example, might process information differently than those who learn by listening. To that end, courts should instruct by adopting all types of teaching tools. Among other innovations, Bennett suggests a visual voir dire using Powerpoint, and electronic evidence for deliberations. In his own courtroom, he also allows jurors to ask questions in all civil cases.

There were hints that the judge in the case I was assigned to was trying hard to limit delays — he appeared to have negotiated stipulations to replace all of the defense witness testimony that might have taken another few days. This may or may not have served the cause of justice — I don’t think it did any harm in this case, but it’s easy to imagine how it might in others. But clearly far too many citizens (200) spent a day or two at the courthouse unnecessarily when at most 40 were actually screened.


More reading on other topics:

Update: California High-Speed Rail Nearly Dead
Regulation Strangling Innovation: Planes, Trains, and Hyperloop
Captain America and Progressive Infantilization
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce

Short Reviews: Death of a Musketeer, A Star-Wheeled Sky, Night Without Stars

Recent reading, all recommended:

Death of a Musketeer by Sarah Hoyt (writing as Sarah D’Almeida).

This is not my usual reading material, but refreshing: a mystery set in the world of Dumas’ Three Musketeers, excellent in recreating the atmosphere. While I have not read the originals, the characters are striking and the pacing modern. Old-fashioned ideals of honor, faith, and loyalty live again.

The modernized version of courtly language and behavior is a key attraction here. I’m looking forward to reading more of this series. Timeless and suitable for escaping the modern age, yet featuring several strong female characters who are admirable or villainous yet period-realistic.


A Star-Wheeled Sky by Brad Torgersen.

Engaging, readable beginning to a series. Humanity has escaped the Earth on generation ships and stumbled upon the abandoned alien Waywork connecting a network of star systems. Earth long since lost, humanity has split into warring factions fighting over the 50-odd systems in the Waywork – until one day a new Waypoint appears, and the land rush is on.

Space battles, believable characters, intriguing worldbuilding. Interesting throughout and concluded as a free-standing story well enough, but it would have been more satisfying if the next in the series were already available.


A Night Without Stars by Peter F. Hamilton. A Commonwealth novel, sequel to The Abyss Beyond Dreams, more tightly-written and less digressive than peak Hamilton and the better for it. It would be better to have read the Night’s Dawn and Void trilogies first, but these two stand alone fairly well. I commend the author or his editors for cutting down the bloat of earlier works, which may have been the result of publisher pressure for longer works in the print era.

2018 LTUE LGBTQ Panel Video

This turned up a few days ago. I remember the camera (which apparently quit halfway through) and we had an interesting conversation about the representation of LGBTQ people in SF&F. The audience question period comes at the end.

In the Substrate Wars books, one major character is an older gay man who’s lost his partner to HIV, and a minor character is a young transgender black male whose primary interest is fashion and marketing, but who is not a victim type and refuses to toe anyone’s party line. The panel as a whole agreed characters need to be well-rounded, and LGBTQ characters are no different — it’s no longer ground-breaking just to include them (and hasn’t been for thirty years) so they need to be realistically detailed and have story problems just like anyone else. As for “sensitivity readers,” if you’re in doubt you can certainly have LGBTQ beta readers give you feedback, though I would be leery of anyone who bills themselves as such.

Like many people, I don’t like watching myself, and I’m so soft-spoken you can barely hear me in this, but if you really want to hear me talk… I haven’t watched the whole thing.

Arrival, the Movie

Why “Arrival” is Bad Science Fiction

Based on the novella “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (available in his collection Stories of Your Life and Others) last year’s Arrival is a glossy and nearly-perfect film version of the story.

And therein lies the problem. It’s a near-future look at First Contact, with a linguist hero using her skills to communicate with aliens. The aura of applied science would lead anyone not a linguist or scientist to believe in the story’s central premise: that learning the alien language enables one to see the future. Chiang invokes the so-called Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which suggests that the language you use determines what you can think. In its weakest form the hypothesis is inarguable (“inability to express a concept easily in a language makes that concept harder to think about”) but in its stronger form is largely discredited. Chiang leaps from “sees many things easily as blue because there is a word for blue” to “can see the future because the language treats all events as happening at once.” This is nonsense supported by fake science, and suggests determinism and lack of free will make all efforts to change the future futile. Just lay back and let disaster strike! There’s really no point in trying to escape your fate. This clanging lie is mixed in with exposition of valid and interesting linguistic ideas, so the story is an object lesson in how even a well-meaning literary figure who researches a field can commit Junk Science in trying to create Art.

Charlie Stross is one of the best science fiction writers still active today (and another post would discuss why so many science fiction writers have taken to fantasy or why young academic scientists no longer write much science fiction.) He wrote a grumpy post (“Why I barely read SF these days”) about what’s wrong with science fiction today which got to the root of the issues:

The implicit construction of an artificial but plausible world is what distinguishes a work of science fiction from any other form of literature. It’s an alternative type of underpinning to actually-existing reality, which is generally more substantial (and less plausible—reality is under no compulsion to make sense). Note the emphasis on implicit, though. Worldbuilding is like underwear: it needs to be there, but it shouldn’t be on display, unless you’re performing burlesque. Worldbuilding is the scaffolding that supports the costume to which our attention is directed. Without worldbuilding, the galactic emperor has no underpants to wear with his new suit, and runs the risk of leaving skidmarks on his story.

Storytelling is about humanity and its endless introspective quest to understand its own existence and meaning. But humans are social animals. We exist in a context provided by our culture and history and relationships, and if we’re going to write a fiction about people who live in circumstances other than our own, we need to understand our protagonists’ social context—otherwise, we’re looking at perspective-free cardboard cut-outs. And technology and environment inextricably dictate large parts of that context….

Simply put, plausible world-building in the twenty-first century is incredibly hard work. (One synonym for “plausible” in this sense is “internally consistent”.) A lot of authors seem to have responded to this by jettisoning consistency and abandoning any pretense at plausibility: it’s just too hard, and they want to focus on the characters or the exciting plot elements and get to the explosions without bothering to nerdishly wonder if the explosives are survivable by their protagonists at this particular range. To a generation raised on movie and TV special effects, plausible internal consistency is generally less of a priority than spectacle….

Next time you read a work of SF ask yourself whether the protagonists have a healthy work/life balance. No, really: what is this thing called a job, and what is it doing in my post-scarcity interplanetary future? Why is this side-effect of carbon energy economics clogging up my post-climate-change world? Where does the concept of a paid occupation whereby individuals auction some portion of their lifespan to third parties as labour in return for money come from historically? What is the social structure of a posthuman lifespan? What are the medical and demographic constraints upon what we do at different ages if our average life expectancy is 200? Why is gender? Where is the world of childhood?

Some of these things may feel like constants, but they’re really not. Humans are social organisms, our technologies are part of our cultures, and the way we live is largely determined by this stuff. Alienated labour as we know it today, distinct from identity, didn’t exist in its current form before the industrial revolution. Look back two centuries, to before the germ theory of disease brought vaccination and medical hygiene: about 50% of children died before reaching maturity and up to 10% of pregnancies ended in maternal death—childbearing killed a significant minority of women and consumed huge amounts of labour, just to maintain a stable population, at gigantic and horrible social cost. Energy economics depended on static power sources (windmills and water wheels: sails on boats), or on muscle power. To an English writer of the 18th century, these must have looked like inevitable constraints on the shape of any conceivable future—but they weren’t.

Much science fiction has always been pulpy — adventure stories with science and technology as plot devices and tarted-up futures with rayguns and powered armor but little attempt to describe new societies that would predictably result from such changes. In fact, most SF&F is now retro in that familiar feudal stereotypes of royalty, Chosen Ones, and quasi-military hierarchies are lazy backgrounds for stories that could just as well be told in medieval European or Chinese dynastic backgrounds. But the most challenging science fiction excelled in worldbuilding: in envisioning how societies, governments, and customs would change in response to new science and technology. And it was in making dramatically accessible and entertaining stories out of the effects of new knowledge and new worlds to explore that science fiction raised two generations of creative scientists and engineers that have changed the world for the better, lifting most of humanity out of extreme poverty.

Science is the practice of building a set of models of Nature and testing them continually. Natural laws are always seen as provisional, useful and valid until demonstrated to fail experimental test. The value of science to humanity: prediction via scientific knowledge leading to control via technology to modify Nature to enable human progress.

The value of science fiction: narratives predicting science and technology and effects on future society. Stories enabled by the new, that help readers grasp what is to come and where they might place themselves to affect the outcome of their own stories. These can be more or less inherently entertaining, but the fascination of young people (especially young men) for them is in dreaming of mastery: to understand and control Nature, to vanquish enemies and nurture their families through something other than brute force and violence (though a blend of both is often very popular!)

“Junk science” is those beliefs promoted to persuade or entertain that have either been shown to be false or are simply unsupported by empirical tests. The media world is flooded with it, with sober studies making one small data point on some topic oversimplified and promoted as a breakthrough, to get clicks or publicity for research funding. “Junk science fiction” is therefore a story that borrows the authority of science to make unsupported or frankly false claims as part of a narrative, which nonscientists will accept as plausible or possible. And Arrival is junk science fiction.

In Chiang’s collection, the story “Tower of Babylon” is more of a model of how to tell a literary story that is clearly fantasy but can make the same emotionally-resonant points without teaching the reader falsehoods. It’s set in an alternative universe where the ancient cosmology of a geocentric world surrounded by crystal spheres is true, and the tower builders reach the roof of the sky and punch through. It was his first published story and is very successful; if Arrival had been told as an alternative universe story, it would not have set off alarms.

Science fiction, like all fiction, is lies; junk science fiction is lies that are cloaked in pseudoscience. There is a huge difference between plausible and possible developments in future science like FTL (Faster Than Light) travel or wormhole gateways and “science” that violates laws of causality, which is really magic.

The value of a fictional world — whether fantasy or science fiction — depends on how entertaining and useful it is to the reader. Fantasy builds a world based on magic or clearly supernatural creatures and phenomena, and is not misleading because it’s clearly a fairy tale. Does this fantasy world work, on its own terms?

Is it a valid homomorphism, following rules of logic which allow story lessons from the fantasy world to apply to real life? Does the narrative map to the real world with some utility? Or does it mislead, leaving a pernicious idea with the reader that will cause failure if followed? Does it reinforce the will to live and build a better life for the reader and those around them?


Postscript: This post wasn’t intended to be widely circulated, but it got picked up as an item on File770 and sparked a lot of interesting discussion. As I rule I don’t comment there because of the hostility of some of the frequent commenters, but I did have further thoughts based on the better comments.

First, despite literally hating the anti-human aspect of the plot (“everything is predestined, you can’t save your child or avoid the pain of her death”), I would recommend both story and movie as beautiful and worth the effort. And I agree there was lots of interesting linguistics to be picked up along the way. My definition of “good fiction” is that it is not only entertaining, but enlightening — leaving the reader with greater understanding of the world and how it and societies within it work. Good science fiction imparts some extra scientific or technological knowledge, which if it includes novel science that might plausibly be discovered, at least is coherent with foundational principles and can be assigned some nonzero probability of actually being true. Young people thirsting for knowledge can almost painlessly pick a lot up by reading quality SF, and a child in the formative years who reads a lot of classic SF will gain a good background in the sciences, and more specifically why the sciences are important.

The “speculative” aspects writers introduce to allow, for example, star-spanning civilizations represent goals for science arising from goals for humanity. There is no purely rational basis to prefer a year 2500 where humanity is robustly diversifying to new worlds and spawning ever-more-interesting cultures — and the sentimental desire to restore voyages of exploration to a world where all corners have been explored and there are virtually no undiscovered wonders is a big reason why SF imagines those kinds of futures. The purely rational being, akin to the all-seeing aliens of “Arrival,” sees no reason to prefer that future over one of extinction, or its own death.

We invent plausible FTL, stargates, ansibles, witty AIs, and transhumans because we want them to be real to enable an expanded future and we love stories that let our imagination live there. And young readers who dream of them end up being the people who actually build them — we all have magic supercomputer slates now that connect us to all of the world’s knowledge, one of the many devices routinely seen in SF from decades before they became real. Similarly, we can expect direct neural interfaces not too far down the road, and the nightmare or dream of never being alone is already halfway here. Much of the attraction of SF lies in project planning for the future, to either instantiate or avoid futures brought about by new technology.

The aliens of “Arrival” could, through their language, see the future, so all of their knowledge was available to them early in their history. The complex system that is evolution provides the basic motivation for expansion and new life, and there would have been no reason to build complicated spaceships and visit other planets to impart wisdom other than it had already been written in the history they could see at a glance. Supposing the aliens developed normally until the point their language evolved to enable complete knowledge of the future — they might still retain the emotions and drives provided by evolution, but their actions from then on would be foreknown and inescapable.

I react against this because it is implausible in the extreme. Such a species would not have any motivation to continue, and even in a set deterministic world actions have to follow logically from a previous time. I object to the idea because it is demoralizing and weakens anyone who accepts it. It’s not like stories always have to cheerlead and can never be attractively nihilist, but this borrowing of many accepted elements of linguistics to justify a radically false extension of it, for the sake of an emotional response, can be harmful to people who would know not to take lessons from an openly alternative universe story.

2018 LTUE Report: Provo, Utah

View of Provo from Marriott

View of Provo from Marriott

This is my AAR (After Action report) on LTUE (Life, the Universe, and Everything) in Provo, a weekend starting February 15th, 2018.

LTUE is officially a “symposium,” not a con. The emphasis is on writers and prospective writers discussing all aspects of writing SF&F, so there is little cosplay or general game and comic book fandom material. The location at the Marriott conference center in Provo is a mile from BYU and at the center of the LDS-Mormon intellectual world, such as it is. I knew Provo was majority Mormon, but when I checked I discovered an astounding 88% of the city’s population is LDS-affiliated. But Mormons are disproportionately readers and writers of SF&F, as traditionally they are raised to value education and often encouraged to write journals.

Provo late afternoon

Provo late afternoon

In the photo above taken from our room, you can see the ‘Y’ on the mountainside overlooking BYU’s campus. The ‘Y’ is made of stone and a popular hiking destination.

LTUE conference room map

LTUE conference room map

Panels and presentations were scheduled from 9 AM to 6 PM Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I had registered last year, then applied to be a Guest. When they put me on three panels, I gave my registration to my husband Paul, who has just retired so is able to travel with me more often. Of course Registration had no record of that, but we straightened it out quickly.

LTUE: Registration

LTUE: Registration

LTUE hall

LTUE hall

The LibertyCon contingent was well-represented, with local writers Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen, and Sarah Hoyt in from Colorado. Baen did its roadshow and the infamous Lawdog attended. While I met Larry briefly at LibertyCon two years back, I saw a lot more of him and his charming wife Bridget this time. We had listened to the audiobook of “Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent” (written by Larry, read by Adam Baldwin) on the drive up. As Larry’s media empire has grown and the movie options for some of his worlds are pending, it’s kind of a thrill that he now knows who I am and lets me hug him (his excuse being his arm was injured and couldn’t take too many handshakes.)

"Lawdog" and Larry Correia

“Lawdog” and Larry Correia

It’s also nice to hang out with Dorothy and Peter, though they were under the weather some (in Dorothy’s case, she had a touch of altitude sickness. Provo’s at 4400 feet, and I didn’t sleep well, either.)

Peter and Dorothy Grant

Peter and Dorothy Grant

LTUE: Marriott lobby

LTUE: Marriott lobby

LTUE: Art in the hall

LTUE: Art in the hall

And it was great to touch base with Sarah Hoyt (and Dan, who I’d never met!) Jonathan La Force was as usual a forceful presence on panels and at the BBQ, making much of the great food for the post-LTUE party on Saturday night.

Sarah Hoyt and Jonathan La Force

Sarah Hoyt and Jonathan La Force

There were relatively small vendor and game rooms. One of the few complaints we all had is that some of the conference rooms were way too hot. But on the whole everything went very smoothly and most attendees say they will return.

LTUE: Game room

LTUE: Game room

LTUE: Game room

LTUE: Game room

LTUE: Game room

LTUE: Game room

LTUE: Vendor room

LTUE: Vendor room

LTUE: Xchyler book booth

LTUE: Xchyler book booth

Panels were wide-ranging and I didn’t get to go to enough of them. The schedule is here.

The first panel I was on was “Making Money.” We discussed all matters currency, though I never got to mention Charlie Stross’s “slow money.” Fellow panelists were: L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Roger Bourke White, Jr., Bob Defendi, and Alicia McIntire. This was my first encounter with L. E. Modesitt, an extremely impressive person who may actually know more than I do about many things. Roger Bourke White is a fellow MIT grad (a senior when I was a freshman), so we compared notes. We ended up spending more time emphasizing that credible worlds will have a worked-out economic system, whether it is AIs and replicators, conventional price systems and money as we know it now, or barter and ad-hoc tokens — the check was invented in ancient Sumeria as a clay token exchangeable for a certain quantity of grain!

The next day I was on the first LGBTQ panel ever for LTUE, moderated by local fantasy author Michael Jensen. With fellow panelists J. Scott Bronson and Scott R. Parkin, we went over some of the historical broadening of SF&F from cardboard characters whose conventional characteristics were secondary to adventure and technology stories to more cultural and psychological varieties of speculative fiction. Since I have been reading SF&F since the mid-1960s looking for stories about “odd” types, I spent some time reminding the younger people in the audience that since the mid-1950s at least, SF&F was one of the earliest genres to explore stories of unconventional gender roles and sexualities, at first among aliens, then as acceptance grew, among human societies. Today’s emphasis on representation of oppressed groups may be overdoing it a bit, and we discussed the importance of fully-rounded characters — it is no longer especially interesting or ground-breaking to have LGBTQ characters, and all characters need to have their many facets presented for involving storytelling. Many audience members were there to find out how they could write these characters when they had not directly experienced being LGBTQ; the answer (in the current climate of Twitter mobbing) would be “very carefully.” But we all agreed that using empathy and passing your work by a few beta readers more closely involved to check for errors of tone or language would probably work well, especially when the story is not centered on uniquely LGBTQ experiences but includes them as part of more realistic and complex characters.

We went off to lunch at the Indian buffet next door to continue the discussion.

Post-panel lunch

Post-panel lunch

Post-panel lunch

Post-panel lunch

My last panel was “Well-Developed Political Systems: Who Got It Right?” moderated by Gordon Frye and featuring M. A. Nichols, Luke Peterson, and L. E. Modesitt, Jr. I was late because I had misread my schedule since I didn’t have my reading glasses, so first went to the wrong room across the street. Again I was mostly echoing Modesitt. Luke Peterson is extremely knowledgeable and I practically squeed when he recommended Albion’s Seed by David Fischer, one of the great books on US political attitudes and culture — I had just written it into my latest book in a discussion of where Mormons came from (answer: they are a cut-off and isolated branch of New England Puritanism, evolving in a separate cultural bubble after the Exodus from the Midwest around 1847.)

The last day I attended the hot and crowded panel, “Writing Battle Scenes” with Kal Spriggs moderating, with Gordon Frye, L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Larry Correia, and Brad R. Torgersen. This was a fun group, with two panelists confessing they don’t really love writing battles but Larry telling us he lives to write them. I’m in the “They’re necessary but I don’t dwell on it” camp myself, and if you don’t love them, you probably won’t do long ones well.

LTUE: Panel on writing battle scenes

LTUE: Panel on writing battle scenes

LTUE: Panel on writing battle scenes

LTUE: Panel on writing battle scenes

LTUE: Cancellations board

LTUE: Cancellations board

The “symposium” wound down Saturday night. We had reservations for the banquet but chose to go to the informal afterparty at the AirBNB next door where many of our friends had stayed. It was a group effort, with attendees pitching in to get the BBQ and supplies brought by Jonathan La Force in and ready. The presence of many children and families, and locals who hadn’t been able to attend LTUE, made it a great party. It must have been very interesting for Paul, who’s heard a lot about my imaginary writer friends and finally met them en masse.

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty cooks

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty

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On the way back to Palm Springs, we stopped to see some of the sights featured in my latest book, Nephilim:

First we tried to find the Dream (also known as Relief) Mine, on a mountain overlooking Salem. There were two possible approaches and the one we tried was blocked by a security gate and “no trespassing” sign. Even though we couldn’t get very close to it, it was interesting seeing the countryside I had already written into fiction.

Near Dream / Relief Mine

Near Dream / Relief Mine

Landcape Near Salem, UT

Near Salem, UT

Valley view near Salem

Valley view near Salem

Then we checked into a motel near Zion National Park. The weather forecast was for a storm starting early AM, so instead of the planned trip into the park the next day, we decided to make an afternoon visit so we could leave before the onset of the storm the next day. We only had a few hours in the park, but the afternoon sun and blue skies made for some great views, and it was uncrowded — which was good since the main access road was half torn up with alternating one-way traffic.

Zion NP "Less Than Three Hours" sign

Zion NP

River in Zion NP

River in Zion NP

Mule deer in Zion NP

Mule deer in Zion NP

Zion NP

Zion NP

Zion NP

Zion NP

Cactus in Zion NP

Cactus in Zion NP

Zion, late afternoon

Zion, late afternoon

Zion NP

Zion NP

We left the park near sunset and had dinner at a terrific little Thai restaurant just outside the gate. Our table had a gorgeous view of the cliffs at sunset and a closer view of the road work and workers!

Zion NP: Thai place just outside gate

Zion NP: Thai place just outside gate

The next day we made good time through Las Vegas, where some scenes of Nephilim take place — the spirit driving Sara, Lailah, selects the Luxor as her headquarters, offhandedly noting that it felt good to have a pyramid of her own again.

Las Vegas: Strip from I-15

Las Vegas: Luxor from I-15

Las Vegas: Luxor from I-15

There was an hour-long backup near the California border at Primm, so after suffering through that we noted a similar backup on I-15 before LA and decided to take the back route through the Mohave reserve to Yucca Valley and home since the GPS said it would save over an hour; normally we wouldn’t because of the risk of having no cell service or road assistance in most of the area. But it was lovely and quiet as he storm hit and snow began to fall amongst the cactus and Joshua trees.

Mohave Reserve, Joshua trees

Mohave Reserve, Joshua trees

So the launch of Nephilim at LTUE went fairly well. One scarily intense fundamentalist Mormon man was unhappy, dropping by at the mass signing to tell me the Church does not support the idea of demonic possession. I pity the scared little girl he had in tow… and I understand why LDS authors keep their fantasy and SF safely away from any discussion of church doctrine. There are always holier-than-thou sorts waiting to find fault.

He hadn’t read the book, so he was unaware that it specifically makes that point — the angels Jared encounters (which the reader can choose to believe in or not, since an alternative explanation is also in the text) tell him he is free to choose. It’s Sara who is actually possessed, again by a spirit pretending to be from her Jewish heritage — but which might be something else entirely.

Nephilim

Nephilim

“Nephilim” Print Version Available

Nephilim Print Cover by Augusta Scarlett, Copyright © 2018 Jeb Kinnison

Nephilim Print Cover by Augusta Scarlett

Nephilim is already available in easy-to-read trade paperback. The cover was designed with artist Augusta Scarlett who put up with my suggestions and came up with a cool rendering of the Zion Mine buildings and the romantic duo at the heart of the story, Jared and Sara. The Seal of Melchidezek glowing red at the center and the angel’s wings hinting at the angelic influences at play are also her creation. The cover is supposed to suggest the genre and elements of the book, and I think this does a good job. Much of the junk fiction in paranormal romance these days comes with slick photographic-based covers that are cranked out by cover mills. This is a special book to me and worthy of a more artistic effort.

The trade paperback is available at these online stores, or you can ask for your local library to order a copy.

6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Amazon
6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Barnes & Noble

You can also pre-order (until Feb 8th when it is released) the ebook at any of these links:

Amazon link
B&N Nook
Kobo
Apple iBook

“Nephilim” First Review: “Read It Without Stopping”

Nephilim eBook Cover

Nephilim eBook Cover

Nephilim goes live Thursday Feb 8th, but there’s already a review at Amazon because the trade paperback snuck out of the system early (so you can buy that now!) I handed out review copies only a few days ago, so fast work.

5.0 out of 5 stars
Role Reversals
By Donald W. Campbell on February 6, 2018

This is a young adult novel, but us old folks can read it too. The ‘heroes’ are a little reversed from normal; she is a jaded Jewish New York City girl; he is a small-town Bible-belt Mormon boy. Junior/Senior in high school. Both bring some angst from their past, and both overcome it and remain true to each other. Somewhat fantasy (there are Angels and Devils in the plot), nevertheless, the Physics used in the background explanation is plausible, even if improbable. It is set in the current time, mostly in a small town in Utah.

The first half of the book weaves some incredible background information, as most YA probably have limited experience in small town rural America. What is incredible is this information is presented as part of the plot line, so it flows logically and doesn’t bog down.

The second half is exciting read it without stopping action. (Disclaimer: I had to walk the dog.) Now that background information brings extra understanding to the events.

We end with learning to be true to ourselves, experience is what you make of it, and more, but telling would be a spoiler.

Read and enjoy.

(This review is based on a pre-release electronic copy)

You can pre-order at any of these links:

Amazon link
B&N Nook
Kobo
Apple iBook

6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Amazon
6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Barnes & Noble

“Nephilim” Release Feb. 8th

Nephilim eBook Cover

Nephilim eBook Cover

I’ve been working on a new book, and it’s finally ready: Nephilim, a romance between a Mormon boy and Jewish girl in small-town Utah. Lots of Mormon and historical background, kind of like YA Michener combined with Twilight. But a better romance than Twilight!

Mt. Hermon, Utah, is the ideal small town—until forces of darkness from deep beneath the mountain lead its people astray. Sara just moved to town with her divorced mother from a wealthy Long Island suburb; her Jewish roots don’t protect her when a relentless angel comes calling. Jared has lived there all his life, and his addiction to online games and porn has his grades tumbling and his Mormon family worried. Together, Jared and Sara fight the battle of their lives against spirits from the Underworld.

Amazon link
B&N Nook
Kobo
Apple iBook

6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Amazon
6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Barnes & Noble

“Nephilim” — Call for Beta Readers

Nephalim cover mockup

Nephalim cover mockup

Call for beta readers for “Nephilim,” a short (72K words), sophisticated-YA (some mild sex, high school setting) Mormon Gothic (culturally appropriates Mormon history, doctrine, and mythology), paranormal (demons and angels) romance and adventure. With a science fictional wrapper.

If you’d like to beta-read the book and can have comments back to me about a week from now, email me at jebkinnison@gmail.com specifying the format you prefer (Word, pdf, ePub, kindle) and I’ll send you the beta.

Blurb:

Mt. Hermon, Utah, is the ideal small town — until forces of darkness from deep beneath the mountain lead its people astray.

Sara is the new kid in town — moved with her divorced mother from a wealthy Long Island town, her Jewish roots are no help when a relentless angel comes calling.

Jared has lived there all his life, and his addiction to online games and porn has his grades tumbling and his Mormon family worried.

Together Jared and Sara fight the battle of their lives against spirits from the Underworld who are trying to return to rule the world.