Auditions for Twin Stars 208 are up!

Auditions for Twin stars 208 are up and posted over on the Audio Drama Talk forums, anyone and everyone are welcome to try out! Auditions end January 11th.

More auditions will be coming in the next few weeks.


Review of Twin Stars

I don’t remember paying Alexa Chipman, but I guess I must have, because she just wrote the most amazing review of Twin Stars over on her blog. Every now and then there are moments as a producer when you think “this made all the work worth it”, and this is clearly one of those moments. If you have a chance, go read it, or better yet (since you probably already listen to Twin Stars) go tell a friend to read it! She writes some of the best audio reviews around and her blog is always worth checking out. 🙂


A Hillarious Tour of Akihabara’s Maid Cafes

Another great find brought to you by MadUnkieG!

A progressively stranger journey into Tokyo’s Maid Cafe scene, as a newbie does the tour with an old hand. I heard there’s at least one of these cafes in Toronto now too!

A little Pieck me up!

Courtesy of MadUnkieG, some wonderful illustrations to help with the holiday blues:

From Wikipedia:

Anton Franciscus Pieck (Den Helder, Netherlands, 19 April 1895 – Overveen, Netherlands, 25 November 1987), a Dutch painter, artist and graphic artist. His works are noted for their nostalgic or fairytale-like character and are widely popular, appearing regularly on cards and calendars.

The art of Anton Pieck

Why aren’t there more women in…

As someone who is getting really tired of “why aren’t there more women in artform X” discussions on blogs like Io9, I decided to answer that question. Now despite what some of you may think the answer has less to do with discrimination, and a whole lot more to do with biology. Yes, I said it- biology. I am totally going there, so be warned now.

Let’s start with men.

Men are biologically designed to be single-minded hunter-gathers. We (since I am a male) have an inbuilt trait of hyperfocussing on whatever we consider the most important aspect of what we are doing or interested in. This is a survival trait designed to allow us to do things like spend days hunting animals for food, or single-mindedly pursuing a mate.  In addition to this, we are also designed (by god, or more likely  evolution) to be risk-takers who explore new things and take chances in the pursuit of greater success. (There’s a reason it isn’t “she who dares, wins”.)

Women, on the other hand, are designed to focus on the big picture, and to cover many small details at once. Again, this is a survival trait, since that’s what is needed to raise a family and maintain societal ties. Woman are also oriented towards being more practical and realistic than men- more things that benefit survival. The successful women in ancient times were ones who kept the family unit/tribe stable and maintained social order; unsurprisingly, they were also the ones who produced lots of children and thus had their genes carried on.

Now, none of this is to say that either group is superior or inferior, just that evolution has primed each of the sexes for different roles in continuing the existence of our species. These are also “traits”, which means that how strong they are in a gender varies greatly (some men really suck at focussing on tasks, for example) and they also cross gender lines as well (some women can hyperfocus quite well, thank you very much).  However, the whole risk-taking hyperfocussing thing seems to be a point of male biology, and women who have it also tend to be ones who have other more masculine traits. (Perhaps due to higher levels of testosterone than the normal female population.)

Clear? Good, let’s move on to how this connects with certain creative pursuits.

Because of this hyperfocussing, men tend to be extremely detail oriented about the tasks they consider important, and in the modern world (where this trait isn’t useful for survival) it usually gets oriented towards other things. We call these “hobbies” if you don’t get paid for them, and “professions” if you do. This results in things like men who can tell you the statistics of every man who every wore the uniform of their favourite sports team, men who can know where every single last nail is on a house they’re building, and men who know every inch of their restored and customized 1957 Chevy.  Their hyperfocus has found a direction, and it gives them incredible acuity over everything related to that direction. You will also notice these are things that very few women are interested in doing, but is that lack of interest really a lack of interest, or a lack of ability, or both?

To take this another final step, I see this trait (or its absence) as being the reason why there are so few prominent female film directors, writers, computer programmers, engineers, scientists, and less women in a great many other fields. There isn’t some massive conspiracy going on to keep women down, but in reality a biological leaning that simply tends to give men an advantage in those areas that require extreme levels of focus and detail.  Be it opening up a human skull for brain surgery, or spending days without eating as you code a new plugin for Firefox, that natural ability to focus in extreme is a masculine trait and that’s why there are more men doing those roles.

Now, of course most of you can probably quickly leap to suggest women who are brain surgeons, programmers, directors, writers, and so on. I can too, but that doesn’t disprove what I’m saying, because as I said I’m talking about traits, not absolutes. Of course some women can do those things, and a great many do them very well. But, are they the norm? If we line them up next to the number of males successful in their fields, what percentages will we find? I suspect we’ll find, even accounting for discrimination and other social factors, that the number of men skilled in those areas tends to far outnumber the number of women for the simple reason that men have a biological advantage when it comes to certain tasks. (As do women, but not the same tasks.)

Let’s take a look at Fantasy Writers, for example. Now Fantasy is a genre that despite its male-oriented roots has become one dominated by women in a lot of ways. Women are the main readers of fantasy fiction, and you would think they’d be most of its writers as well, but if we actually look at the list of “names” when it comes to Fantasy fiction we’ll find some strong patterns very quickly emerge. There is an area of Fantasy where women do dominate in the extreme- Urban (Modern) Fantasy, a sub-genre that includes both the Harry Potter series, the Twlight books, the Sookie Stackhouse (Tru Blood) novels, and countless other tales of modern magic.  Here is where women shine, and considering how Harry Potter and Twilight have literally been the heart of the publishing industry during the past decade it’s not a stretch to say women can make great fantasy writers.

But, here’s where that hyperfocussing thing comes back into play. While women do indeed dominate Urban Fantasy (where the setting is modern), when it comes to Fantasy set in alternate worlds the names pretty quickly become majority male. With the exception of perhaps a few like Jacqueline Carey, Ursala K. Le Guin and Robin Hobb we end up with a long list of male names whenever it’s about otherworldly Fantasy, and even when women do work in these other worlds from what I’ve seen they tend to actually strip out many of the fantasy elements. For example they often they write in settings that are not only human dominated, but often human only in terms of common mortal races.  (ie Vampires and Dragons are not mortal or common)  Their stories are still stories about interactions between people, not so much about building a new world.

On the flipside we have Tolkien, Jordan, Howard, Martin (and the list goes on and on) and a whole host of male writers who are beloved for their complex worlds and creative visions. We’re back to that hyperfocussing again- that intense drive and sense of detail that once let men hunt is now being used to produce richly described worlds of fantasy and wonder that carry the readers off into new lands. Has there ever been a female writer who successfully wove a world as complex as Middle Earth? I doubt it, because it’s just not where the female talents lie. Women’s talents in fantasy tend to rest with characters, whereas men’s talents tend to rest with setting. Women soar in Urban Fantasy exactly because they’re not really creating a setting, they’re just using an existing one to backdrop their characters, and on the converse the more important the setting is, the more the male advantage of being able to assemble and build that setting’s details becomes.

I also think this is why the majority of fanfiction writers tend to be female– women are good at making connections, and so they like to play with existing sets of characters and settings rather than create new ones. I guess you could say that men are set up to hunt/create new territory, while women are set up to make the best of what they’ve got. Both are equally important tasks, but both genders are not equal when it comes to them.

For further reading on this topic try this article which goes into the hardware side of things a little more than I do.

Best and Funniest Review of Star Wars Episode 1 you’re ever going to see!

Actually, this is great lesson in both how to tell a story, and how not to do it. Worth watching if you can get over the annoying guy’s voice.

Status Update

Finished rough draft of Little Gou and the Cook (aka Little Gou and the Poisoner). On to Twin Stars 209!

A Slave’s Revenge

Today I was discussing a piece in a TOEFL prep-book about the American Civil War with a student, and one the points that the article suggested was that it was the economic differences between the slave-owning South and anti-Slave North that led to the civil war occurring. The article itself mentioned that the Northerners tended to own machines to do their work, and the South of course used the slaves.

Towards the end of this discussion I brought up a point that I remembered struck me while listening to Dan Carlin’s podcast, Hardcore History, and it’s episode on slavery. Dan posited that because slaves were such universal tools and in easy supply that the ownership of slaves by ancient societies tended to retard their actual growth technologically. An idea I think may actually have some merit. If you have slaves to do everything, why do you need to develop machinery and advanced sciences to do it?

As a counterpoint, my first thought was that the Romans had slaves, and were quite developed in their own ways. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized they were developed in art and architecture, but considering how long they were around did they really advance that much? Similar things can be said of China’s many civilizations (China also has a long history of slavery), they advanced, but would they have advanced faster if the slaves weren’t there, and the peasantry weren’t kept in such a poor condition?

Of course, the Europeans had slaves too, for a very long time. However, in England slavery was ruled illegal in 1102, and in doing this they cut themselves off from the large workforces that some societies who did have slavery had access to. The rest of Europe would eventually follow. Perhaps it was this that forced many of the innovations that have allowed us to achieve our modern societies? Or, as my student today put it at the end of the conversation: “They didn’t have slaves, so they built their own.”

It was often said by those against slavery that slave-owning societies were evil and decadent, and that the owning of slaves corrupts the souls of the owners. You only have to listen to that podcast I linked to above to see there’s a lot of truth in that, and slaves throughout history have been treated horribly. Usually, however, the idea is that the slave-owning society was decadent and thus they owned slaves, but what if the truth is that the ownership of slaves is what made those societies decadent in the first place? If you have someone else to do everything for you, you don’t exercise your abilities, and you become soft and weak. Isn’t that what eventually happened to most of those societies that relied heavily on slaves?

Something to consider for us as well- aren’t we becoming too reliant on our slaves? (machines) And, if so, what will become of us in the future? Already we (the First World nations) are not having children because we have others to care for us when we’re old. So in the end, won’t slaves also lead to our eventual collapse as well?

The Numercy of Caring

Today I was listening to NPR’s On the Media, a great show that I sum up as “how is the media lying to us this week?”. It is an analysis of the weekly top media stories from a more critical perspective and I highly recommend everyone give it a listen some times. It’s funny, interesting and eye-opening in all too many ways.

The one that got me today was this segment (OTM tends to be broken down into 10-minute segments) about the psychology of getting people to care, and this particular piece of the interview with Nicolas Kristof:

Well, I came across social psychologist Paul Slovic who has done a great deal of work in this area, and the experiments typically involve exposing people to a particular scenario and then seeing if they will contribute.

One of the classic experiments involves a seven-year-old girl from the country of Mali who’s starving and asking if people will help her out. Everybody wants to help Rokia. But if you ask people to help 21 million hungry people in Africa, nobody particularly wants to help them.

Maybe what I found even more depressing is that the moment you even provide more background information to Rokia, if you say that she is hungry because of a famine in her country, then interest in helping her tends to drop.

You know, we all know that at some point people tend to get numbed and tune out, but [LAUGHS] one of the things that I found fascinating was the number at which we tend to tune out. It’s not a million, it’s not a thousand, it’s not even a hundred – it’s two.

(Find the whole thing here)

Can you imagine that? We tend to stop caring as soon as more than two people are involved. As soon as it hits a number higher than one we decide it’s not worth the time and effort to help our fellow man and just shut down. Another piece of the curtain torn aside.

I have to wonder, though, if this can also be applied to writing. As the interview notes, we tend to find it easy to care about individuals, but groups quickly become too abstract. I guess this is why we often need an “anchor” character to make a story work- a focus on whom the audience attaches themselves and views the world from. This is also probably why it’s hard to make large-cast dramas work unless there’s a clear focal character as I talked about in this post a while back.

We need someone to care about, or simply put- we don’t care. And we care about individuals, not groups.