The Apocalypse Is No Longer Fun …

As a writer, I love stories about dystopia and grim-dark futures. I believe part of good fiction is a critical view of our humanity, especially in our capacity of creating truly monstrous consequences. Dystopic fiction is the pinnacle of this examination, stories where mankind has created their own unique hell our of hubris or ignorance. Reading about these futures, we can hopefully see the paths to those failures and avoid them ourselves. I feel it is one of the core aspects of reading or writing fiction, no matter what genre you are in: Why did the murderer kill? What caused the mutant virus to become so viral? Why did the countries go to war? How did the Galactic Empire rise to power? My own book revolves around an alternate historical British Empire rife with corruption, slavery, racism and class disparity and explores what these mean to my characters and how they maneuver through my dark, gritty world.

Experiencing these as a reader or exploring them as a writer can be both illuminating and rewarding because it teaches us something of ourselves. It helps us understand who we are as individuals and among the collective. For some, it can also be reassuring, comforting in the knowledge that our world could never be like that. We read George Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm or Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World or Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale and we tell ourselves ‘this is terrifying but could never happen to us. We’re too smart to let this happen.’

Should we be saying that?

1984 deals with a society where history has been rewritten to suit the government, to reinforce its narratives and manipulate public opinion. The very nature of history and definition of words can be changed on a whim by this insidious bureaucratic autocracy. Animal Farm is widely regarded as a treatise on Communist Russia, but tells a fundamentally broader allegory: the animals rise up and take control of the farm for the greater good in a government where all are considered equal. Over time, a ruling class emerges and eventually a single charismatic leader. While the ruling members promise a better life for all animals, the rulers are frequently the exclusive beneficiaries of any type of luxury or largess. Through the use of scapegoating and gas-lighting, the animals are convinced that those who do not agree with the ruler are at fault for their hardship. The same ruler falsely claims achievements that he either was not present for or that he was not responsible for, as well as exaggerating his own accomplishments. Over time, the animals and those they usurped are indistinguishable from one another.

Brave New World is the story of an America ruled by an authoritarian government, ruled by elites where media entertainment and social engineering have pacified the masses into accepting what we are told and shown as true. Fahrenheit 451 similarly detailed a world ruled by television and mass entertainment, where books are an illegal commodity and all that the individual knows is filtered through the prism of their televisions.

Finally, we focus on gender dystopia with The Handmaiden’s Tale. In this tale, infertility is rampant and only the socially elite are allowed to have children. As a result, fertile women are a commodity that only the rich and elite can afford as families are torn asunder and women lose all control of their own bodies and freedoms.

Unfortunately, these prescriptive tales are edging closer and closer to becoming real. A world where America is rule by an authoritarian demagogue, where history and facts that do not suit the needs of society’s elite or the government are labelled as lies and fake, where so much of our information is filtered through either imperfect or manipulative news sources and other forms of mass entertainment, where the government relies on diversions or clumsy appeals to our patriotism, where women are not viewed as worthy of controlling their own bodies and reproductive rights. This world, our world, was foretold by these apocalyptic books.

So, any enthusiasm I might feel about writing a novel featuring Britain’s decline from Victorian Decay to Victorian Dystopia is dulled somewhat by the ongoing demise of the American Dream. This country seems to be living the longest slow-motion multi-car wreck ever conceived. What’s worse is that you can see the other drivers and know that they can see the wreck coming, that they hopefully understand what choices led us to this point and what decisions must be made, what actions must be taken to mitigate the damage; yet they maintain their course. Worse, they seem to be accelerating towards their own Armageddon.

Almost as bad are the backseat passengers, unavoidably along for the ride and largely powerless to stop what is occurring but also undeniably responsible in many ways for who is at the wheel. Almost to a person, they claim to know how to drive better but always make the same mistakes once they’re behind the wheel. For some individuals, the accident is preferable for it presages change; they think things can only improve. Or they are convinced that this mad and deluded driver will swerve at the last minute, gaining insight and wisdom to reform and steward them to their preferred destination, unaware they while he might drive by familiar landmarks, he might have a totally different terminus in mind. That’s how it would work in fiction, in movies and in books. Just not in this book.

Let me talk about one last novel before I end this post, if I may: Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.  This novella is currently enjoying some renewed attention due to its adaption by Amazon into a television series.  Unfortunately, the televised series misses the mark in one, significant and crucial aspect, an aspect that is quite important to this discussion.  The plot of the novel and the show is that America lost World War Two and has been divided between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and now plucky Americans fight back against these two oppressive and totalitarian conquerors in a thoroughly dystopian world.  However, while the shows presents an unrelenting view of a sinister and horrific world complete with unabashedly stereotypical evil antagonists, the book takes a slightly different tact.  True, the Nazis have still systematically gassed nearly all of America’s Jewish population.  Slavery has still been reinstated in the South.  Yes, Nazi Germany is also waging a brutal and relentless campaign of extermination in Africa, just like in the show.  Yet, for most of the characters, life is not that different than today.  For most, the occupation only incurs slight losses and inconveniences.  Most Americans survive and even thrive in Nazi America.  And while one would expect a Nazi regime to be fundamentally racist itself, racism is also extremely pervasive in the general public as well.  One could say almost encouraged or expected.  For most, the atrocities and inhuman acts perpetrated by the Nazis and Imperial Japan are ignored, distant and inconsequential.  They enjoy a relatively good life, so why expect a higher moral code, why care about the suffering and deprivations experienced by those unseen others?  Why rebel against a racist and genocidal government when you are part of the accepted majority?  Why indeed?

We seem to be living in a dystopian novel too pitch perfect to be believed, something any writer would crave to have written but too fanciful and unrealistic to merit publication. Yet here we are, turning the page, not with excitement and anticipation, but with fear and dread. But – hopefully – not resignation.

The party told you to reject all evidence of your eyes    
and ears.  It was their final, most essential command.
~ George Orwell, 1984

RUWUEU,
Sean

Advertisements

We’re so VERY sorry, Carl Sagan…

As a writer, I see my ‘job’ as telling stories, sharing fanciful tales about fictional peoples in made-up places doing imaginary things. Nothing is real per se. Yet, the way I make that compelling is to root it in the tenets of reality, to infuse my specific voice into the story and to give it weight and meaning; I’m not here just to amuse or entertain but to evoke and inspire. These require a foundation, ample soil to root themselves in so they can grow into something real and affecting. So, my tales might be of swashbuckling airship captains or alien infections in the frigid antarctic or of demigods or the walking (and talking) dead but everything has to have some connection to this world, the real world.

Wise writers generally avoid risky topics, especially ones like politics and religion. Being overstated about your own personal feelings on these topics can have the tendency to alienate groups of potential fans. When one is trying to establish a reader base, avoiding be strident or overbearing is paramount. However, events in the country are reaching a point where I feel that not speaking, not expressing my confusion or outrage is even worse of an option. Damn the consequences.

With the election of Trump, we’ve seen a lot of commentary concerning the role of the press as well as its integrity or veracity. Pundits on the far right disclaim that the majority of news media sources are actively ‘lying’ to the American public, a statement repeatedly made as well by the current President. Additionally, we’ve seen aspects of life, like science and medicine, which should be apolitical becoming immensely politicized and their proof or effects called into question.

I’m no mewling babe, seeing this world anew. I know both science and medicine can be highly political. But they shouldn’t be. Science and medicine are methodical and disciplined. They have a set process to prove or disprove their veracity. While human error or intent can influence the results, science innately polices this: you can’t ‘prove’ something in science without peer review. That requires a rigid and documented process that can be tracked, examined, questioned and tested. You could claim that Pomeranians are actually a higher-intelligent alien race sent to conquer us, but to call it Science, you have to prove it with experiments and verifiable data. Once that is accomplished, once you can prove the substance of your hypothesis and peers can duplicte your results, then you hypothesis becomes scientifically true. It is Fact not Opinion. You might interpret what that means moving forward, but the numbers, statistics and calculations are not in question. They are true, no matter what political party you caucus with.

That’s why when I hear average people saying that science is opinion, I am both outraged and deeply concerned. Science can only be science if it is proven, as well as consistently and repeatedly probable. If 99% of the scientific populace says that the world is warming dangerously, that our ecology is in peril, that mankind is (at least partially) responsible for it, then the debate concerning what steps to take to remedy can definitely rage on, but not the very truth of where we stand, where we are at. The fact that the environment is in trouble is not debatable. You cannot decry that fact. Not without PROVING IT. If you’re going to wage a ‘science fight’, bring your charts and your figures, your thesis and your experiments; don’t bring faith or hunches or politics. They have no place in science.

The same is true for health and healthcare. You can argue that the government might have no place providing healthcare. But it currently does, imperfect though it might be. If you support people who want to take that away from your fellow Americans, people will needlessly get sick and suffer.  Some will die.  Limited to no access to health care can and does increase your chance of serious harm, even death.

I have been in a place many times when good healthcare was not available to me; I simply could not afford for it. Nearly a decade go, I had a fibrous cyst resting on my spine between my shoulder blades. It was not cancerous, but it was growing because it was infected and was pressing on my nerves. This began causing chronic pain as well as limited mobility. If it continued, the results could have been much worse.

I could not afford surgery, so all I was left with was visiting the much touted (by conservative voices) emergency room. All that they could do was to lay me on a gurney face down and have an attending ER doctor cut open my back and try to cut the cyst away from the muscle and tissue. And – of course – my SPINE. Beause it was an ER procedure, they could not give me general anesthetic and the local anesthetic that they could and did use simply mingled in my infected cyst.  So great was the pressure due to the infection that when the doctor nicked the cyst, it literally exploded onto the room and everything in it.  That included the anesthetic; I was treated to a 45 minute exploratory back surgery where I felt every slice, ever tug.

After all of that, I could not even pay for the ER, so all of my debt fell upon my fellow (at the time) New Yorkers. After the excision, I had a open wound on my back for nearly two months. Because I held a job that made at least a minimum wage (yet offered me no health care plans), I was not eligible for basic health care benefits from the state. I could not afford EITHER a pain reliever or ANTIBIOTICS. I had an open wound and was not able to ensure that I was preventing an infection or have any relief from pain.  I worked a 40-50 hour work week and could not afford nor was eligible for the more basic remedies for my health condition.

So, let’s recap: I was working a full time job, but my employer was too cheap to provide even basic health insurance and assistance (for those who would say ‘get a different job’: Walmart was the only major employer in a thoroughly rural upstate New York township). I had an existing condition that was potentially deadly and verifiably debilitating and painful. My only recourse was the emergency room and while – YES CONSERVATIVES! – they did have to provide medical aid, they were only obligated to do so for the bare minimum of expense. The resulting aid was painful and dangerous and created a danger of (for me) secondary infection and was a bio-hazard for the emergency room and for the nurses and doctor who were present. After the visit, I had to treat an open wound site for a several weeks but could not afford either pain management or preventative measures to ensure optimal healing.

That is the definition of a broken system. ObamaCare would have provided me some means for proper treatment, but this was too long ago. I will not say that the Affordable Care Act is perfect nor is it universally affordable to some. But it was better than nothing. After the House of Representative voted to repeal the ACA, that is precisely what it will soon become: nothing. No (or limited) aid for those in need.

At the very least, your representatives should be willing to meet you and hear your very real concerns. Most are simply avoiding their constituents, an act as cowardly as it is brazenly and unequivocally disrespectful. If they are willing to deny healthcare to the young, the old and the disadvantaged and disabled while simultaneously shuffling that money into tax breaks for those who have no issues obtaining healthcare due to their wealth, then they should do more than enjoy a barbecue and beers in celebration with their president. They should stand by their decisions and their goals and not brand the medical professionals, the financial professionals and the reporters who decry their actions as liars.

Worse than our representatives are their supporters. Not because they are fundamentally bad people, but because they simply do not question the explanation and excuses they are given. I have a frequent (and largely unproductive) argument with a family member who responds to every accusation or point I make against conservative goals and actions by pointing back at the Democrats and at the past election. While in many ways, his comments about the Democrats are not completely wrong, simply deflecting my comments with a mirror is not answering my comments; its ignoring them. Willfully ignoring them. This lack of critical questioning and moderate skepticism is dangerous and destabilizing. Neither point is 100% correct in this debate, but dismissing facts as ficiton or lies, choosing to not turn around and look at what is happening around you is perilous at best. It is letting go of the controls of freedom and democracy and hoping that someone else will maintain control and not wreck the entire thing.

With Trump as president … that’s a dangerous gamble, at best.

…tbc

RUWUEU,
Sean

An Assymetry of Kaiju

godzillaSo, along with the recently released Kong: Skull Island movie release, the Geekverse began buzzing with speculation as to what giant monsters might eventually be integrated into Legendary Pictures’ newly introduced Monsterverse, which is currently populated with Godzilla and King Kong, along with the soon-to-(possibly)-debut Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah in Godzilla: King of Monsters, slated for 2019. Along with suggesting the entire pantheon of monsters from the Japanese films and the (woefully optimistic) Pacific Rim kaiju, one other name kept coming up that I feel deeply opposed to: Cthulhu.

As a fan of Godzilla from my wee days and a consistent fan of Lovecraft’s works, I love both of these beasties. However, they are not nearly relative to one another; not in a physiological sense and definitely not in a narrative sense. Of course, on the surface, they both appear to share enough similarities: both are gigantic creatures, roughly the same size. Both are incredibly destructive. Both are as separate from the magnitude and control by mankind as an ant is from a man. However, any similarity stops there. Fundamentally, there represent two different types of narrative adversary and two totally different existential conflicts.

Godzilla was originally conceived as a physical presentation of the horrific effects of atomic weapons. Over time, his actual role in movies and his relationship with man have changed but he remains largely the same. At best, he is a beneficial yet irreconcilable force. At worst, he is a destructive, uncontrollable predator. In most cases he seems ignorant of mankind but even when we have his attention, he rarely is malevolent. Rather, Godzilla simply does not give us any regard and is not any more phased by our suffering or destruction than a tornado or hurricane or any other six hundred foot lizard.

The singularly important fact about Godzilla in this discussion is that he is ‘finite’. In the movies where he is an exclusively destructive force, like in Godzilla (1954) or Shin Godzilla (2017), man is shown to be clearly outclassed before ultimately rallying and developing a weapon that kills him or at least neutralizes his threat. The message: Godzilla is a monstrous, destructive force created by mankind and clearly out of control but not beyond the capabilities of man.

Even in the movies where he is a benevolent to man, or at least a balancing force of nature (as in the 2014 Legendary Godzilla movie), he can and does get hurt, sometimes severely. While he frequently is indestructible in most ways, he is never unable to be defeated. Godzilla, despite being the titular ‘King of the Monsters’ is still very much a tangible, physical being and while his story will always essentially be ‘mankind’s mistake terrorizes mankind’ it is also always ‘mankind can conquer anything with our ingenuity.’

Cthulhu_by_disse86-d9tq84iNot so with Cthulhu, the Sleeper of R’lyeh. Cthulhu is a Great Old One, one of a number of cosmic races with members whose lifespan stretch back to the birth of the universe and beyond. The Great Old Ones are vastly powerful, usually to a point where they are beyond comprehension and description. They are uniformly malign, reveling in chaos, destruction and oppression. While humans are generally below the Great Old Ones’ collective consideration, their zealous servants and cultists delight in corrupting and subverting us. If the Great Old Ones ever focused their attention on us, it would only be to destroy or to consume us with little care or concern for the outcome.

However when man focuses his eyes on Cthulhu or his abyssal peers, it is our undoing. Cthulhu is a ‘thing’ beyond our comprehension, beyond our ability to even describe or define, let alone defeat. Unlike Godzilla, it cannot be considered a ‘force of nature’ because nature has its rules; Godzilla has his rules. Cthulhu is beyond rules, beyond physics or the physical, beyond our concept of reality and of its paradigms. If Godzilla is a hurricane, Cthulhu is a black hole; we might not be able to permanently defeat Godzilla, but we can definitely combat him. In all literary instances currently available in the greater canon of the Cthulhu Mythos, The Great Old Ones – and their opposites, the Elder Gods – are beyond our sane comprehension, let alone our ability to defeat or even fight compentently.

I discuss this not as an intellectual exercise or out of some preference between the two but because these two entities represent a more fundamental and basic cultural and narrative concept: Us vs The Other. Godzilla and Cthulhu each assume a specific and different role in our cultural narrative. Godzilla is the ‘Greater Other’. He is the intimidating, mortal threat or foe, seemingly yet not completely insurmountable. Other narrative examples would be the Death Star, Goliath, Sauron, and even Satan. These are obstacles that seem unbeatable alone (or even with an entire army) but who are mortal or otherwise limited in an important way and therefore able to be conquered, even if only temporarily or in a very limited fashion. They are the Great Struggle, personified.

By contrast, Cthulhu is the Cosmic Unknown. It is beyond our understanding and influence. He is transcends our concepts of reality. It is a thing that can never be beaten, only merely – perhaps, maybe – delayed slightly. Cthulhu is the insurmountable, the inconceivable, the terminus. We cannot fight it, cannot approach the amplitude of power to cause it more than annoyance or confusion, let alone challenge its will or design. Other examples are The Abrahamic God and Death.  Simply put, Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones are The Terminal Event, the End of All Things.

So, why is this important? This surely seems like (at best) the nerdiest of ramblings or (at worst) the rantings of a fanboy. It’s not.  This goes past simply genre or mythos arguments, this speaks to a disturbing truth specifically in our niche subculture but in the general society as well. We’ve grown too jaded for subtleties and too proud for humility. This is especially true of Americans, but could be applied to a number of European cultures as well. I think that the British might actually be on the other side of the problem that we face, for they’ve witnessed first hand the waxing and waning of their culture and country and (to some degree) accepted or better understand it.

In short, we love to destroy our gods, to bring them down and grind our creators beneath the clay-infused heel of man. To a point, I agree that mankind has surpassed a need for Gods but a need for a thing and a respect or reverence for a thing are not the same. As we continually rush forward into the future, our minds and hands are always bent to the task of stealing the Fire from Heaven. One miraculous creation at a time, we grow in our disdain and resentment for things we do not or cannot fathom, so we demolish their temples and defame their priests.

We are so very rapidly losing our humility and with the loss of humility comes the surety of pride. Nothing can defeat us and we are always right; which means the Other is always wrong. There should be places where we fear to tread, where we solicit others’ opinions and more carefully consider our actions. We must still believe that there are some paths, some actions, some foes which we cannot overcome, which have the eventual consequence of destroying us utterly and our intervention perceived as nothing more than an inconsequential ripple.

Perhaps this is a far simpler issue than I’m allowing it to be. Perhaps its just a desire to see two giant creatures fight it out. That’s fine; there’s a simplicity to that which I can respect. Yet I’m still anxious about the pairing, about the need to quantify and qualify every mystery or magicks that our rich history of fiction has given us. The Force is no longer a cosmic force but a simple aspect of microbiology. Xenomorphs {spoilers!] are no longer alien and unknown but byproducts of our own attempts at creation. Man is increasingly at the center of existence, a loci of origination, all important and inseparable from causality.

Lovecraft fought against this, rebelled against the idea that man was all-important. He suggested a cosmos where we are insignificant, powerless and futile. This is a relentlessly nihilistic viewpoint, but accepting and even embracing it places you in a position to feel renewed wonder and awe in addition to just dread and terror. In humility and in self-effacement, we not only circumvent the perils of our own hubris and pride but regain an appreciation for the unknown and a need to open ourselves to new definitions of things we might have otherwise assumed we knew everything about. We find ourselves opening our minds and hearts again.

Until Cthulhu drives us insane and devours us, of course.

RUWUEU

-Sean

Daily Prophet, May 3rd, 2017

Here’s my latest post from my model railway blog; sort of a three-for-one. It’s a preliminary build-up towards the actual beginning of destruction and includes some interesting historical tidbits from the Harry Potter books. If you enjoy the series, it might be worth a look.

RUWUEU,

Sean

Burnesyd Magical Muggle Railway


Make sure to read our thrilling expose on the Muggle who would master the Magical Train! Is an American trying to steal a cultural icon of the Wizarding World? The Daily Prophet has come into possession of documentation that suggests an American Muggle is formulating plans to steal the Hogwarts Express. Our competitor The Quibbler and their investigative staff claim that this American is only making a ‘model train display’, but the editorial staff of The Daily Prophet feels something more nefarious is afoot and have formally requested that the MACUSA investigate this Muggle and his plans to steal the Hogwarts Express for his own means as well as determine if anyone in our own suspiciously Muggle-friendly Ministry of Magic is aiding him! CLICK HERE to investigate this conspiracy yourself.

ALSO! Rita Skeeter uncovers the secret origin of the Hogwarts Express! Is this yet another of Dumbledore’s secret agendas…

View original post 127 more words