Title: The Fall
Subtext: A companion piece.
Date: 05 Jan 16 (Tuesday in the PM)
Time: 1 minute
Replies: 35
Revisions: 2
Publicity: Workshop

The United States named its space explorers “astronauts,” which means “star sailors” in Greek. The Russians named their space explorers “cosmonauts,” which means “universe sailors.” There is no name for a man who plunges to Earth from twenty-five miles in the air so Red Bull named Felix Baumgartner, the man they hired to do just that, “the fastest man alive.”

Which is technically true. During his record-breaking freefall Baumgartner reached a speed of 833.9 miles per hour. Only with the aid of machines have humans traveled faster.

For instance the space shuttle, which doesn’t achieve escape velocity, flies at 17,500 miles per hour. The Apollo Saturn V rockets blasted out of Earth orbit at 25,000 miles per hour.

At the height of his powers Superman could travel faster than the speed of light. Over 186,000 miles per second. Over 671,000,000 miles per hour.

Vladimir Komarov, the first man to die in a spacecraft, fell from orbit and hit the Earth at 125 miles per hour.

Baumgartner rode a specially designed balloon into the upper stratosphere. There, dressed in a cutting-edge pressure suit, he stepped onto a narrow ledge outside his capsule. To the eight million viewers watching live on YouTube, he said, “Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are.”

Then he jumped.

Baumgartner disappears from the capsule-mounted camera within seconds. He adds speed quickly. This is because the air in the stratosphere is thin and produces less friction. Even so it takes him nearly five minutes to reach Earth. His chute deploys correctly, one mile above the ground, and he lands standing up.

The fastest man alive.

A few months later Baumgartner is convicted of battery for striking a Greek truck driver. He’s fined 1,500 Euros but avoids incarceration.


Mako » Authorship
Mako » 8:59 PM 05 Jan 16
Mako » 8:59 PM 05 Jan 16

The Thread (35)

 Author's voice in grey. 

  1. The Rooster’s crow appears in the ending.

    How much of this comes from one source (i.e. one article)? How many sources are relied on, total? And what percentage of it comes from Wikipedia?

  2. Let’s see:

    I typed “what does astronaut mean” into Google and scrolled down until I found a site that translated the word; I did the same with “cosmonaut.” (That’s bad internet search technique, I know. Usually I’m more specific.) I got the technical stuff about Baumgartner from the Red Bull site. I read a book about the US space program, which is where I got the information about the shuttle and Saturn V rockets (Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth). I just know that at one time Superman could fly faster than the speed of light; I also know that the group of miniature Kandorians who occasionally helped Superman in the 60s were known as the Superman Emergency Squad. I read a book about the Russian space program, which is where I found out about Komarov (Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin). I watched the YouTube video of Baumgartner’s fall (link). And I found out about Baumgartner’s arrest when I looked him up on Wikipedia.

    But honestly I could have found all of this on Wikipedia. Except then I wouldn’t have read those books, which I give my highest recommendation. Especially Moondust.

  3. Research summary greatly appreciated. That seems sufficient to justify its own legitimate (i.e. publishable) article. Though it did feel like a Wiki piece, perhaps tied to Baumgartner, which is partly why I asked. I can’t tell yet if Wiki is net good/bad for situations like this. Does it cheapen or heighten the deal?

  4. Well, here’s my perspective. A lot of the information in my non-fiction and more info-heavy fiction pieces is common knowledge. Technical data, dates, historical facts, etc. That’s the kind of information that Wikipedia is full of, but it’s also the kind of information in various books, documentaries, old filmstrips, old textbooks, TV shows, vintage instruction booklets, encyclopedias, magazines, and so on. In other words, it’s the knowledge of the world. I think it’s a little cheap to point to that body of information and say, “Well, that’s just Wikipedia.”

    In other words, how information is obtained isn’t the value of that information.

    And here’s my point. That information is available to everyone, but not everyone curated it into a piece of non-fiction that makes a point about human fallibility versus human achievement and explores the role of machines and technology in human accomplishment. Curate isn’t even the right word because each word of each presentation of each fact in my piece is an artistic choice. I’m not writing a report; I’m expressing something.

    Ideally, that would be obvious. And, personally, I think it is. But you might feel differently.

    Elk, have you ever read anything by David Markson? He was writing pre-Wikipedia, but I think you’d find yourself asking a lot of the same questions.

    One last thing. This is also a companion to the Superman piece I wrote. Knowing that might create some resonance for you that enlivens the Baumgartner stuff.

  5. Awesome, @mako. Love your depth of analysis on these topics. The piece is so well done that I had to ask whether it might have all come from a single Wikipedia article, kind of like a summary of sorts.

    Have you read Alexander Christian Centro? It’s classic Bear, and a little bit of a take on this vein.

    Oddly, there’s also this in the Bear piece:

    [W]hen his father died of gravity in 1877 (having plunged from the island’s only cliff while attempting flight), the town’s population was reduced by one third.

  6. I agree with Mako and support his/her/its approach. The curation is evident.

  7. I read The Last Novel by Markson. It’s like a series of Wikipedia entries, each at vignette length, woven into a narrative. Quite well done, too.

  8. We could use “their” as gender-neutral pronouns.

  9. I’ve been using “it”, as if animals have no gender, which is of course ridiculous. I’ve got to say, gender is a complete and total annoyance as a grammatical matter.

  10. Things were easier as a prescriptive-grammar-based society when you could safely default to the all-purpose masculine singular. “Their” would follow the descriptivist school, which I look upon as nothing but a bunch of lazy rapscallion know-nothings, and I just can’t look past its inherent plural incorrectitude.

    Maybe I’ll treat this like the names of my in-laws and structure replies to avoid the issue altogether.

  11. For what it’s worth, Finnish has no gender-indicative pronouns, and Farsi only distinguishes “it” and a genderless “he/she”. Maybe we should convert Rooster Land to one of those?

  12. Agree with some sort of Finnish/Farsi solution.

    And with this:

    Maybe I’ll treat this like the names of my in-laws and structure replies to avoid the issue altogether.

  13. I’m enrolling in an intensive twelve-step Farsi course. I’m also kicking sugar and barbituates.

  14. Is everyone here that conservative when it comes to gender-neutral pronouns? If this site were to expand and become more inclusive, then I think future writers would be concerned about this.

  15. Weird circumstance for The Land, which I have come to love as an apolitical haven.

  16. Is “their” the liberal stance in the gendered pronoun wars?

  17. I don’t think such a stance is liberal, and calling the use of gender-neutral pronouns political strikes me as unfair to anyone who would request one. It has to do with how language is used and how it makes people feel.

    I brought up the word “conservative” because I think that adjective has to do with wanting to keep things the way they’ve been, despite the fact that that past excludes viewpoints and ways of being human.

  18. I understand, and the general fix I’ve seen in the modern world is to simply alternate, sometimes using “her” and sometimes “him”. Seems simply an instance of language lagging behind culture, both of which are changing faster now than ever before but culture clearly with a few more foot-pounds of energy per second. Mrs. v. Miss v. Ms. is a good example that hits right in the same area of concern. We eventually settled on a “correct” one that shrugged off the weight of historical connotations (with the all-important caveat that there’s a correct and decidedly incorrect pronunciation). The same will happen with his v. her, I just don’t think “their” is the answer.

  19. Maybe I’m some kind of backwater rube, but why not “his or her”? Or “her or his”?

  20. Bear, you ignorant slut.

  21. I resemble that remark.

  22. Saying it’s above politics is the liberal position. The liberal position often fails to appreciate what logic there may be in the conservative position – and most certainly vice versa. Not that I’m one or the other. I can see what logic and what ignorance there is in any/every position. It’s a kind of curse.

  23. Of course the Swedes are one step ahead of us.

  24. I’m often left unsure about what Rooster Land is trying to be or accomplish, but one thing I know for sure is that Rooster Land isn’t running for office. Or attempting to get a particular candidate elected. In other words, unless a piece specifically deals with political issues, Rooster Land isn’t politics.

    It is, however, a place that has chosen to have a conversation about the nuts and bolts of identity in language. Why? Because we’re all anonymous — or at least we’re supposed to be. And anonymity just so happens to reveal a shortcoming of the English language: the gender-neutral singular pronoun.

    And since Rooster Land is supposed to be a community built to foster and celebrate the act of communication (I think?), it doesn’t get the choice of ignoring the issue. Rooster Land has to figure this out.

    I don’t think “it” is a viable solution. I speak only for myself here, but I’m pretty sure I’d stop talking to anyone who referred to me as “it.” And although “his and her” and “s/he” and all the other makeshift solutions might sort of work, they’re unwieldy and tend to resist consistency.

    So unless anyone has any other solutions, I see two choices. One, we create our own pronoun to be used specifically on the site. “Ta” for the singular personal pronoun; “tay” for the singular possessive pronoun. Two, we use “they/their.” I mean, the only real reason not to use “they/their” is because it’s grammatically wrong, but if the other option is making up our own words . . .

    Actually, yes, please, let’s make up our own words. That’s one vote for Sweden.

  25. I’m often left unsure about what Rooster Land is trying to be or accomplish . . .

    This feeling is warranted and not isolated. As a new project, developed from scratch, that’s inherently artistic, and growing organically, by more than one hand, paw, claw, hoof, talon, fin, and wing — it is evolving.

    We met on 12/12 and 12/13 to review the year, discuss direction, and make plans. As most projects do, this one tends to get treated in conversation, daily, a lot, about day-to-day execution of stuff we plan in less frequent intervals. That’s where the evolution occurs (by definition, in fact). While everyone is generally privy to larger interval thinking, not everyone is privy to the day-to-day evolution. I do try to keep the various “about” sections of the site updated. But the feeling is warranted, so please never hesitate to ask me what’s up or help us plan the direction of RL to whatever extent you’re interested, be it greatly or less so.

    Evolved milestones have recently been planned. What we must do continuously at these early stages is justify the work, and that, at the moment, means revenue. A copywriting agency is forming among some on the side, and that is giving a sustainable purpose to Rooster Land — as a set of tools, a workshop, and a farm of creativity. This is why new tools and labels and channels sometimes pop up on the site — to aid the creative processes of animals hunting revenue.

    We are also considering publishing a hardbound, archival-quality annual yearbook of vignettes (possibly with illustrated color plates). This would either run through RL itself, the agency, or a major publisher. All animals would have a voice in the content selection process (and do note that any writer currently can nominate something to be superfed for public viewership). All writers with published vignettes would share in book revenue, of course.

    There are offline collaborations among pairs and trios of animals, too — like scripts, other forms of media, and other business altogether.

    One thing that comes and goes, as Myna alluded to, is the introduction of more or many animals to the site. We’ve certainly considered making RL a platform, like an app, and that’s not entirely off the table, but unless we meet an angel, we’ve decided to pursue more immediate revenue, and grow from where we are with what we have, doing what we love to do, rather than stake a bunch of capital on a software play and find ourselves in the tech business instead of the writing business — at least for now.

    But, RL does need animals to fertilize the site (we finally got to that level of the metaphor). So please continue making select, vetted introductions. This is an important obligation of being a writer in The Land, one that benefits each of us as individuals, and the group as a whole.

    You are all going to heaven.

  26. While “his or her” might be unwieldy, it is, for the most part accurate and grammatically correct. “Their” is more neutral and inclusive but not correct. “It” is both inclusive and correct but tends to diminish our humanity (to which I say, who cares?). Making up our own pronoun is a way to go, but are “ta” and “tay” used elsewhere? Why those particular words?

    Rooster Land, as I see it, is simply a public or semi-public place to write and share work. I don’t think it was ever intended to be political or solve the world’s problems.

    We might change the rules about anonymity. That might solve this problem (addressing each other in workshop) in a more immediate way. I can see reasons not to, but I just thought I’d throw that out there.

    As I’ve always said, to each tay own.

    To each its own.

    To each their own.

    To each his or her own.

  27. We can also avoid the complication by addressing each other in second person.

    But I do see why Mako and Myna are advocating change. I’m not trying to downplay that.

  28. Anonymity is a discussive point of return. I think most writers want it — and I think it has aggregate/independent value apart from writerly desire. But as the project evolves, this will certainly be something we continually consider.

  29. I’m Spartacus.

  30. We are all Spartacus.

  31. Take cover, ladies and gentlemen. American Dialect Society is coming in hot.

  32. Can’t say I’m particularly opposed. I’m actually rather neutral on the issue. Let democracy do its thing on this one.

  33. Descriptivist malarkey. I bet they’ve got this place bugged.

  34. That would be awesome — bring the sting, literary edition.

  35. RL doesn’t need a workshop-wide policy. This can be addressed writer to writer, piece by piece, as and what’s prerogative.

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