Wednesday, February 29, 2012


My current project The Justice Project depends heavily on a lot of complicated telepathic concepts. As a result I've done a lot of heavy thinking on the subject, as it should be written, and while I'm not entirely sure how much of it is helping me, I decided a comprehensive post was in order.

Mind-Speaking is the most basic form of telepathy, and is the one people most commonly associate with the term. You sit there, I sit here, and we talk to each other without moving our lips. Such conversations are typically written like ordinary dialogue, usually in italics.

Dude. I'm trapped in this prison cell, can you still hear me?
Yeah, dude, I'm in the one right next to you. 

Mind-speaking may or may not be achievable over long distances, depending on the writer, the world, and the rules of the world. Commonly used when communicating with dragons. Examples of books that use mind speaking are Eragon, and The DragonKeeper Chronicles.

Vulcan Mind-Meld
Mind-Reading is the next step up, the one usually found in more science fiction type works. There are two forms of mind-reading; the Touch Telepath, and the Intrusive Psychic.

The Touch Telepath requires physical touch in order to communicate with another's mind, and generally must obtain permission of the person who's mental privacy they're invading. There are certain safeguards allowing you to sheild some thoughts from the probing of the mind-reader, such as imagining a closed door. Examples of Touch Telepaths are the Doctor from Doctor Who, Spock from Star Trek: The Original Series, and (in this case a villain) the Wraith from Stargate: Atlantis.

The Intrusive Psychic has advanced mental abilities, and does not usually require any sort of physical contact to invade their victim's mind. The victim may or may not be aware that their mind is being read. The Intrusive Psychic rarely asks permission, and often uses their skills to impress others. Examples of media featuring Intrusive Psychics are Inception, and some episodes of SeaQuest; DSV.

Mind-Control is one form of telepathy that is universally acknowledged as wrong. Mind-Control is the result of a very powerful mind-reader, often with the aid of advanced technology or magic, taking over the mind of their victim, so that the victim is forced to do whatever the mind-reader tells them. Also a form of hypnosis. They may subtly alter how the mind functions so that the victim will act of their own free will in the interests of the mind-reader.

Memory-Sharing is an extremely powerful means of communication between two telepaths. The memories shared directly can be very strong, sometimes causing identity confusion. The only examples of Memory-Sharing that I've encountered is the fictional series The DarkTrench Saga

Group Memory
Group Memory is a phenomena observed only in telepathic races and cultures. While not yet forming a group mind each individual will have an awareness of their people as a whole, often being able to access memories seen by their ancestors. When a great devestation occurs most members of the race can usually sense it. Examples of telepathic races known to show these aspects are Vulcans (Star Trek), Time Lords (Doctor Who), and Na'vi (Avatar).

Group Minds
Group Minds are a more sinister aspect of being part of a telepathic culture. It is the biological equivalent of linking several ordinary computers together into one, huge supercomputer. Individuals loose a large part of their identity and, in some cases, may loose any sense of individualism at all. The minds function as one unit, with each member acting for the good of all. Examples of group minds are the Borg (Star Trek), the Cybermen (Doctor Who), and the Attic (Dollhouse - maybe be incorrectly categorized).

Other Aspects of Telepathy

Other aspects of telepathy are used in fiction, although, strictly speaking, they're not telepathy as such, but more of general psychic ability.

Matter Manipulation
The telepath who can manipulate matter into other shapes may or may not actually be channeling energy from another source. Also known as transmutation, this skill is fairly rare. It may also include the ability to cast an illusion.

Usually seen as a strictly technical or magical ability, teleportation can be achieved in some instances by telepaths. Usually by simply wishing themselves elsewhere they can succeed in changing their actual location. This is about as plausible as "lifting yourself by the seat of your pants" but by employing other senses such as television, super hearing, and telesmelling a strong enough telepath can move himself and anyone else who happens to be coming along to another location in a method very similar to many teleportation devices with much less trouble and expense. Examples: Harpist in the Wind (Riddle of the Stars).

Networking with Electronics
Often an aspect of being a Cyborg, this may or may not actually qualify as telepathy. The individual who can directly connect to a computer usually does so by means of a neural implant, rather than by more traditional telepathic methods. Yet it could be said that such implants are themselves a means of enabling lesser mind to achieve an aspect of telepathy they might not otherwise possess. Examples include R2D2 (Star Wars), and the DarkTrench Saga.

Usually an instinctive ability the individual is born with, shapeshifting can often be obtained by mental discipline. Often adopted by energy beings, it is sometimes seen as the ultimate victory of mind over matter. Examples of shapeshifting (or appearance altering): Riddle of the Stars, and Star Trek. Examples of energy beings: Stargate: SG-1, and The Adventures of Lucky Starr (Isaac Asimov). 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Kind of Horror

Horror is a genre often discussed among my Christian writer friends. They say: can horror be Christian? Is it edifying? Should we read it? What makes it horror rather than thriller? I do not participate in such topics. I stand on the other side of the room with a look in my eyes that says: "Stay away from me, you freaks."

I, obviously, don't like horror. As an example of this, the following conversation occurred recently:
Friend: Do you not like scary stuff?
Me: No. Hate it.
What I realized, upon reflection, is that this is a complete untruth. I love scary stuff. How many times have I been told "the ending was horrible!" or "don't you ever write anything happy?"

What is more "scary"? A creepy monster crawling out of a graveyard or the prospect of a loved one dying? Which is more horrifying; a ghost appearing in your bedroom or a paper you're forced to sign, agreeing to allow experiments to be conducted on your mind?

I write horror, of the most chilling kind. You won't find the unbelievable hair raising elements commonly associated with the genre, but what you will find won't be so easily forgotten. What you'll find is not the dark ravings of a lunatic but the cold calculations of a perfectly sane mind.
“You hate me,” she said finally. “Because of what I am. What I could do.”
“No,” he said swiftly. “Never. Don’t say that. It’s not your fault.”
“I’m not human,” she protested. “I’m just a… a thing.”
Dorus swore. “You’re far more than a thing,” he said brokenly. “What they did to you was an atrocity, an outrage, but it doesn’t change who you really are.”
That is my kind of horror; the brutal reality of what is, or could be. The perversion and wrong-doing that can be imagined by the human race. Ethical and moral dilemmas of the sort you hope never to have to face. Which would you rather face; a mad man wielding a blood stained sword or the betrayal of the person you trusted most in the world?

If we must die, let it be at the hands of strangers, for a friend can make us suffer so much more!

And what can be more truly horrifying than the prospect of Eternity... alone? 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tolstoy & Dostoevsky

Every time I mention either of those names an entire saga comes to mind that I feel compelled to tell. I never do, though. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are both Russian authors who had almost as huge an influence on my writing as Shakespeare, and that's not mentioning how they influenced my life. Their writing is absolutely incredible, if a little dark. It reflects Christianity perfectly, without being preachy. Even the preaching is intensely dramatic.

But first let me tell you how either name came first to be mentioned in my father's house. It was a stranger who moved into our area one day, and did a little fencing for my father. He became very interested in the local Mennonite community, but against my father's advice. He was smarter than most who were beguiled by their pretense at righteousness, but he couldn't resist their spell, either. He refused to accept their money or their aid, disdaining to be beholden to them, choosing rather a life of poverty for himself and his family.

Nothing in the bible is pointless, he told my father. Every last word is there for a reason.

He took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. - Matthew 8: 23-24
Even the reference to trees has significance, he said, if you know what to look for. It's not a random description. It has meaning.

He gave us a book, a marvelous book. It was purple and bore the title "Walk in the Light and Twenty Three Tales. By Leo Tolstoy." My father was captivated. Later I would be too. Amazed he looked up the publishing house, and discovered it was put out by a community known as the Bruderhof. Impressed he ordered a copy of the book for himself, and another: "The Gospel in Dostoevsky: Selections from his Works."

Tolstoy was impressive and endearing. Dostoyevsky has no equal. When my father later bought "Brothers Karamazov" I read it, all 800 pages. He found it boring and gave up half way through, but I was riveted, and forced him to finish it. He wouldn't let me read ahead of him, so we raced through the second half of the book, with me catching up on everything he read during the day, and waiting impatiently for more.

Fyodor Dostoevsky
Brothers Karamazov was good, but what I really wanted was "The Idiot." I stalked the library until I found it, a tiny trade paperback that was almost impossible to read with it's small print and huge page count. I read it anyway, caught in the pathos of the tale and marveling at the character of Myshkin; still one of the most sympathetic characters I know.

That was my introduction to Russian literature, and it marked a major change in my life. The Grand Inquisitor is an excerpt from Brothers Karamazov that I quote at every possible occasion, and was the main inspiration for my science fiction novel: "City of Lies." Both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky writing stories that I can go back and reread for ages, nevermind how long or short the tale.

What became of the remarkable man who brought this name into my life? He was baptized into the Mennonite church, and scarcely a month later he bitterly regretted his mistake. He attempted to leave then, but they brainwashed his wife and daughter into staying behind, and he would not leave them. The compromise he made was costly; he took his family half way across the country, promising to arrive in another Mennonite community, but never planning to arrive at his destination. He left abruptly, without fanfare, and we do not know for sure where he is today.

Two copies of Tolstoy sit on our library shelves. One is our own, and one is borrowed, still waiting to be returned to its owner. Every time I go in search of a book I see them there, side by side, identical, and it reminds me of this story, of that strange time in my life, and of how a little bit of Russian first crept into my writing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Parallel Superguys: Hal

I couldn't watch Green Lantern with a straight face. There were far too many similarities between the protagonist, Hal Jordan, and the villain of Megamind, Hal Stewart.

Let's start with the obvious: they're both named Hal. 

They both wear really dorky masks that don't really conceal their identity.

They both float down to the girl's railing in an eerily similar scene...

They're both made unwilling heroes.

They're both real life failures.

The differences, however, make up for it, since Green Hal makes all the right choices and Red Hal does not. Green Hal becomes a hero because he cares about the people around him, and Red Hal becomes a villain because he cares only about himself. But they started, essentially, at the same place.