Is the World Forgetting How to Read? (It’s a familiar story: Old Man Yells At Cloud)

Recently I came to grips with the idea that I no longer read or enjoy fiction the same way as most other readers. By that I mean: what I call ‘good writing’ versus ‘bad’ is no longer mainstream. This is subjective, but I have to wonder how many others from my era (I’m a Gen-Xer) agree.

Here are the 4 things I look for (and how often they fail).

1. Are there any interesting characters (with both internal and external conflict to navigate) for me to sympathize with?

~~> About 1 in 5 stories, from any era, fail this. And I’m sure I’m not alone in using this metric. So far, so good. I’m still a norm-ie.

2. Does the author prioritize laying out a satisfying story (for example, is there a meaningful resolution and does it not use, say, nihilism or linguistic vagueness as a SAM [storytelling avoidance mechanism]?

~~> Again: about 1 in 5 stories, from any era, fail this for me.

3. Is any of this, in any way, original?

~~> Another 1 in 10 drop the ball here. You would think that this would either get harder over time (‘nothing new under the sun’) or easier over time (as the authorship has gotten more diverse); but, no, this turns out to be pretty constant tor me—regardless of era.

4. Is the author’s prose not, well, prosaic (ie, does the author commit to a/any kind of stylistic choices in support of the story)? Is a different POV used where it would’ve been a better choice? Does the author’s personal style infuse the prose? Is it not merely a polemic dressed up as fiction?

~~> This is where the modern era—by which I mean since, say, 2000—really stinks up the joint.

Before then, this was only a similar consideration to the others, maybe 1 in 4, which still left about 25% of stories that I’ll find captivating. Like, for Sci-Fi, I can walk into any used bookstore and pick up a couple old “Ace Double” two-in-one books and I’ll be set. They’ll all be interesting and I can be sure at least one tale will be amazing.

But, now the pedestrian writing (force-fed by industry editors, and copied by the ubiquitous self-publishers) kills virtually all the rest. Bottom-line: If it’s been published in the last twenty of so years, my chances of liking it are closer to 1-in-100 than 1-in-4. Yikes!

So what?

This might be too bad. But, if that was all only about me, it would be a ‘sucks to be you’ thing, right?

But the real tragedy for me is how this homogenization has affected the general reader. From my time in book clubs, online on Social Media, and in critique groups of all kinds, it seems that the general reader has been conditioned to accept the same old, same old (which, ironically, is actually quite new).

Conformity is demanded and creativity seems to be punished—a recent book promo that I was a part of listed “First Person” as a sub-genre. A sub-genre!!!

But, mostly, it’s not a conscious thing. It’s similar to what’s happened to the music industry. Listen to the top 100 pop songs on Spotify and you’ll hear essentially the same thing. No bridge, No pre-chorus—it’s been documented that key changes have essentially disappeared in modern music. In the decade of the 2010s, for example, only one “number one” hit, Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode”, (2018) had a key change.

I believe this is why the modern reader so often says they’re being “kicked out” of a story. I think this is a fairly new phenomenon. As I grew up, no one used that phrase. A story “grabbed us” (or not). Or we would “give up” on a story. But, “kicked out”? That’s a strange phrase. It’s violent and visceral, like a rubber band snapping or a door being slammed in our face. It turns reading from a conscious process into some kind of lizard-brain response. Like, what, exactly, are you so afraid of?


Truth in Advertising?

This Church has apparently been named “Church of Christ Meets Here.” (See, for example, both signs)

Now, you might think that’s a silly name, but I am here to tell you: it could be worse. For example—for a while, there—a splinter group actually broke off from this Church. And they opened up right next door!

But, that new congregation never really amounted to much. Because they named themselves:

“Second Church of Christ, We Meet Over There, Too”

Storytelling > Writing

“…I have always been so skeptical of the whole contemporary critical scene, in which the text is regarded as some immutable miracle, to be worshipped or dissected as if it were the story itself. What anyone trained as an editor and rewriter knows is that the text is not the story—the text is merely one attempt to place the story inside the memory of the audience. The text can be replaced by an infinite number of other attempts. Some will be better than others, but no text will be “right” for all audiences, nor will any one text be “perfect.” The story exists only in the memory of the reader, as an altered version of the story intended (consciously or not) by the author. It is possible for the audience to create for themselves a better story than the author could ever have created in the text. Thus audiences have taken to their hearts miserably-written stories like Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, because what they received transcended the text; while any number of beautifully written texts have been swallowed up without a trace, because the text, however lovely, did a miserable job of kindling a living story within the readers’ memories.”

—Orson Scott Card, from Maps In A Mirror

I don’t much like his politics, but OSC knows from writing.

Remembering the Pain

Even more so than kidney stones twelve years later, my peritonsillar abscess was the worst pain I’d ever experienced.

About twenty-five years ago, one of my tonsils died.

It became a lump of dead tissue, joined with the other, still living, tonsil only by their shared infection in and around my throat. In the middle of a Friday night, I looked in the mirror and they were touching. My airway was completely closed off.

My wife drove me to the emergency room, where I sat for the next six hours or so, until their ENT specialist could be reached (and, I speculate, sobered out, but I digress). When he arrived, that Saturday morning (looking a little bedraggled), he settled in and looked at my tonsils. He then told me it was an abscess and brought out a tool by which he intended to drain the puss out of the infected tonsils. For all the world, it looked like Toilet-Aid Tongs for Self-Wiping.

Tongs for the memories.

This was to be the first of those three surgeries that the doctor’s note mentioned. He was sitting on a little stool with wheels, while I was seated in one of those wide-metal based dentist’s chairs with the attached armature and lamp overhead. After warning me that it ‘might hurt a bit’, he then proceeded to reach into my throat with the tongs.

Continue reading “Remembering the Pain”

Jesus (progressive liberal)

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
—Matthew 25:40 NIV

Hidden Gems

“Rain and Tears” from Aphrodite’s Child (1968), featuring a young Vangelis.

This is back when they knew how to make music videos.
Actually, it’s about 15 years before they knew how to make music videos…

“In the Year 2525” from Zager and Evans (1968). This topped the charts during both the Moon Landing and Woodstock.

Okay, and now this is just creepy (prophetic lyrics).


When you cross your fingers, you’re either blindly hoping for the best, or you’re lying. Or both.

As a director for a media literacy non-profit who is in fairly regular contact with a couple big-tech/media leaders on the front lines in the AI field, I’ve been deep-diving into this for months, now, and here’s where I’m at:

I believe the proper analogy is: AI is crypto, social media algorithms, and nuclear tech all rolled into one.


Like crypto, the positives are over-hyped (in the case of AI, that’s due to the hallucination problem, which will require human oversight for anything important). But, the similarity is striking: in its current iteration, there turns out to be very few good use-cases, really…except to facilitate crimes. I’ve been told the answer to this (y’know, for self-driving cars or medical diagnoses) is to have, non-AI algorithms to supervise and quality control all AI decisions.

Uh, okay. But where do humans fit into all of this again? Tell me again how much of a hit in the job market this will cause and why it’s worth it?

Like Social Media algorithms, a really robust regulation regime might possibly leverage it into some real positives; but, instead, untested and unregulated prior to rollout, it will accelerate the deterioration of society (genocides and political lurching toward authoritarianism, genocides in places where institutions are already weakened, all Art will continue to regress toward the mean, and negative mental health outcomes will continue to spike…all while we continue to largely ignore other existential problems like Global Warming and Pandemic readiness).

And like Nuclear Tech—due to its sheer power, emergent ‘theory of mind’ properties and exponential growth—the downside is existential and probably no upside would really be worth it, anyway.

But, the genie is out of the bottle, so that’s where we’re at.

The (I think, obvious, and only truly ethical) answer is to use the “Precautionary Principle” and stop it as much as possible until its tested and a robust international regulatory regime is in place.

Meanwhile, AI tech leaders are asking for regulation even while they race to roll it out: Fingers Crossed, indeed.

No, no, no, no…

I was just recently introduced to the word “theytriarchy”.

And I must thank whoever showed it to me; because, I feel I have, now, been exposed to, in fact, the dumbest ****ing word ever created.


My writing practice (aka “The Fell Beast”), was, in fact, a beast that fell.

In a pre-Substack blog post last year , I set out the two big projects that The Fell Beast (the working moniker for my writing practice) would encapsulate: a suite of short stories and a sequel to my novel.

Then, over the holidays, my mom died—and my mind set about reshuffling the deck, until I was (once again) ready and able to deal the cards.

Suddenly, my writing brain was broken, except for poetry. Short stories sputtered and faded from consciousness. And the sequel was stalled, altogether. My writing practice became semi-random ministrations. In fact, as I look back, those efforts were more akin to menstruations—failing to give birth to something, I was left to periodically expel what I could.

But, times change. Progress pretends to happen. Or we happen upon some. Either way, recently, I’ve come to realize that the two projects I had planned were really just one project, a project that I was over-complicating. And so the sequel will be a mosaic novel.

Meanwhile, my poetry is still a thing (notice the elegant word choice—yeah, that’s right, I got game). As I mentioned in my Substack, a couple pieces have already been excepted by a journal for 2024.

And I’ve even been able to generate a couple of nifty, new short story ideas that are tentatively standing on their own like newborn foal.

The Fell Beast has awakened.

I’ve Already Noticed…

No AIs were harmed in the blogging of this post

…a degrading of content—in search engine answers and on forums—from #AI pollution.

And this is just the speck of black on the horizon. The storm is coming…