Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Cliff-hanger Endings

When I finish a book I like to feel that the story is complete, or at least that the protagonist is done with this particular adventure.

I finished The Lost, by Sarah Beth Durst yesterday. The last words in the book, unfortunately, are followed immediately by:
* * * * *
Find out what Lauren discovers in
by Sarah Beth Durst
Coming soon!
Can't you give me at least the rest of the page to enjoy the ending of this book?

Then there is Blackveil (Book 4 of Green Rider), which ends with the heroine shut up alive and conscious inside a stone sarcophagus. This strikes me as an awkward place to end a book (she would have been better off hanging from a cliff). Three years later we finally get the next book, Mirror Sight, in which she is released from the sarcophagus.

I am also currently reading Susan Mallery's latest Fool's Gold book, Until We Touch. This is book 15 in the series and is a sequel to Before We Kiss, which even had the first couple of pages of this at the end as a teaser. But the Fool's Gold books, as well as Nalini Singh's Psy/Changling novels (I just got Shield of Winter, read it twice in the first week after I bought it, and am already looking forward to the next book), have given the characters a satisfactory ending, and the next book will focus on different characters in the same town or world. While both series certainly have a long-term story arc (Shield of Winter is book 13), what I want to know is what is going to happen next to the society.

In The Lost and Blackveil, the reader needs to know what happens next to the character. If the readers care about the character--and if they finished the book, they probably do--it's a bit tough to wait for years for her to get out of the trouble she's in. That's why I hate cliff-hanger endings.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Standards of Proof

In Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Strange Land, one of the characters, a Fair Witness, is asked what color a nearby house is painted. She replies, "It's white on this side," which is all she's willing to say, because she can't see the other sides. I believe this is the most extreme standard of proof I have ever encountered. There are different standards of proof for different things; the criminal "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard is stricter than the one for civil cases. There is yet another standard for genealogy, the Genealogical Proof Standard.

I remember learning to write a term paper in school: being required to keep a bibliography on 5 x 8 index cards; learning to cite my references, and learning the difference between primary and secondary sources. A secondary source in genealogy is often a book called something like The Upham Genealogy, or, to be accurate: Upham genealogy; the descendants of John Upham, of Massachusetts, who came from England in 1635, and lived in Weymouth and Malden. This book was published  in 1892, so it's not as if the author had first-hand knowledge of exactly what happened in Massachusetts in 1635.

Primary sources are things that were created for purposes other than genealogy: vital records (birth, marriage, death), census records, church records such as baptisms, cemetery records, and so forth. While these are certainly more reliable than genealogies that trace your ancestry to some illustrious historical person on the basis of a similar surname, they may not be entirely accurate either.

Using last week's example, Jesus would have been listed on the Roman census as the son of Joseph. I don't think anyone wanted to tell a Roman official that the baby was the son of God--or to answer the next obvious question (for a Roman): "which god?" But it does illustrate the weakness of a census: the data is only as good as what the person supplying it provides. During the 1960 census the enumerator did our street on a day when one of the families wasn't home. The man was desperate enough to question a group of us who were playing in the street. We played with the family's daughter, so we did know what the inside of the house looked like, but I don't remember what we said for occupation of head of household. When the census comes out in 2022, I'll have to look and see, but I bet we got it wrong. He was, among other things, one of the two inventors listed on a patent for "Method for improving the in-vivo strength of polyglycolic acid." I'm not sure I understand that now, and I certainly didn't when I was seven. All I could say then was what I knew, which was limited by what I could understand.

"What is truth?" was a good question 2000 years ago, and it's still a good one today.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Editing, Genealogy, and Bible Study

...or my work, my hobby, and my religion.

I have just received the last author contract for Sword and Sorceress 29. This year the postal service managed to lose two of them, so it took longer than usual. The next steps are to gather the author bios, decide what order to put the stories in, write all the introductions, assemble the book, and proofread, proofread, and proofread.

In my spare time, of which I have very little, I do genealogy, which is probably one of the world's most fascinating hobbies. I didn't know until recently that one of my Swedish great-great-grandmothers bore six illegitimate children, and I'm betting that my grandmother never knew that either. If you want to find out everything about your family that your family didn't want you to know, take up genealogy.

Editing and genealogy, however, are an unsettling foundation for reading the beginning of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Chapter 1 begins with something labelled "the genealogy of Jesus Christ." It starts with Abraham and ends with "Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born." Matthew spends the remainder of the chapter making it very clear that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus (he was married to Mary when Jesus was born, so he was presumably his legal father). In genealogy, this is called a non-paternal event. This does not necessarily imply illegitimacy; adoption is another example of a non-paternal event, as is marrying a widow and raising her children from the earlier marriage as your own.

Editing is changing the way that I read; I find that I notice typos, missing punctuation, and errors in grammar much more than I used to. My eyes used to skip right over what was on the page and just pick up the meaning, but I'm starting to fear those days are gone.

As I re-read Matthew, I just hope that God arranged for Jesus to look like Joseph. If he actually resembled the paintings that show him as blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, or all of the above, Mary would have had to make explanations to more than just her husband.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Passing the Torch

The Bible readings for the season are still going through Moses and his leading the Israelites to the promised land. Last Sunday's talk was about how hard it must have been for Moses to have to give up his job to Joshua and to know that he would not enter the new land. I imagine that the last part might have been a disappointment to him, but...

Moses was now 120 years old. He had spent the past forty years wandering in the desert trying to lead the Israelites. This involved repeated fasting and prayer to keep God from killing them when they disobeyed. I don't think I could fast for forty days (giving up chocolate is about my limit), but Moses had to do so repeatedly. After living like this from age 80 to 120, I would expect him to be ready to retire and pass the job on. Also, he was going to die within the year, which really does require you to give up your job.

There was also a problem with the "promised land." It already had people living there: people who wanted to keep it and were willing to fight to do so. What the Israelites needed now was a war-leader, not a superannuated prophet. They needed someone like Joshua. It was time for Moses to pass the burden on to someone else. If he wasn't totally exhausted and ready to do so by then, he would have to have been superhuman, and there's no suggestion anywhere in the Bible that Moses was anything but a fallible human whom God had chosen for this job.