Shared posts

21 Jan 19:04

Snow Job

by Jack Graham
To me, the most striking thing about the racist Christmas card circulated by the British National Party (or the Keystone Stormtroopers, as I like to call them), is how utterly mainstream it looks.

There is clearly a racist message here because

a) it's being circulated by a racist party of fascist Nazi racist racists,


b) because of the oh-so-clever hidden subtext of the phrase 'white Christmas' that Cyclops/Fuhrer Dickibegyourpardonnick Griffin's reichschancellory full of political geniuses have cryptically woven into it.

But, as Metro have pointed out, it's an altered stock image, also used by thoroughly mainstream publications.

The Aryan child - pale and blonde and blue-eyed - is still the vanilla standard of beauty and innocence in the aesthetic system that capitalism calls Christmas.  Mainstream adverts and cards will engage in tokenism so as to simperingly hook in with sentimenal one-world platitudes, and sell to more than just white people, but non-white faces are still the variety sprinkled around the white standard.

It's not the young model's fault, of course.  She's just peddled her own image in a system of bodily commodification (as we all must peddle ourselves, one way or another, in order to get by) only to find her image purchased and used by a bunch of evil, twisted, shambolic fascist pisswizards.

(BTW, my derision may reflect the current state of the BNP, but I don't mean to dismiss them as an archaic or dormant threat.  They're still Nazi filth and they still hurt people.)
13 Jan 08:48

Linus, nauseated

by Michael Leddy

[Peanuts, January 8, 1967, reappearing as today’s strip. The pink background is well chosen.]

Lucy has made a piece of toast for her brother and has extracted from him ever more fulsome expressions of gratitude: “Thank you, dear sister.” “Thank you, dear sister . . greatest of all sisters.” “Thank you, dear sister, greatest of all sisters, without whom I’d never survive!” If anyone in the comics is going to observe a distinction between nauseated and nauseous, it would be Linus van Pelt.

I learned about this distinction — if it is one — from David Foster Wallace: “Nauseous for nauseated” is one entry in the page-long catalogue of bad usage that prefaces Wallace’s essay “Tense Present.” In Infinite Jest, Kate Gompert speaks of feeling nauseous. Her doctor refers to feeling nauseated. The novel’s third-person narrator also distinguishes between the words.

This distinction — if it is one — has a long history for snoots and sticklers. There’s no entry for it in the original Fowler’s. Nor is there one in the 1959 edition of The Elements of Style. But Theodore Bernstein’s The Careful Writer (1965) has it:
A thing is nauseous if it makes one sick to the stomach; the unfortunate victim of this malaise is nauseated. The common misuse of nauseous appears in this passage: “When he sits too long, turns his head too abruptly, or walks any distance, he gets dizzy, loses balance, and becomes nauseous.” He doesn’t become nauseous unless he turns other people’s stomachs; he becomes nauseated. A person who feel sick is no more nauseous than a person who has been poisoned is poisonous.
Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage (1967) makes a brief mention:
When, for example, we have two adjectives, nauseous and nauseated, it should be clear that the first applies to the substance that causes the state named in the second. To call oneself nauseous except in self-depreciation is to ignore the point of view of the word.
I wonder: could the language of advertising have prompted attention to these words? Were people in mid-’60s Pepto-Bismol commercials proclaiming themselves to be nauseous? I have a vague memory of such commercials — “I . . . feel . . . nauseous.” Or was it “I . . . feel . . . awful”? Did such commercials precede these books? I don’t know.

E. B. White caught up in the third (1979) edition of The Elements of Style:
Nauseous. Nauseated. The first means “sickening to contemplate”; the second means “sick at the stomach.” Do not, therefore, say, “I feel nauseous,” unless you are sure you have that effect on others.
And Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009) says that the use of nauseous for nauseated
is becoming so common that to call it an error is to exaggerate. Even so, careful writers tend to be sickened by the slippage and to follow the traditional distinction in formal writing: what is nauseous makes one feel nauseated.
And examples of careful use follow, the first of which comes from — yes, from David Foster Wallace. In Bryan Garner’s Language-Change Index, nauseous for nauseated is at Stage 4, meaning that use is “virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots).”

The repeated if it is one in this post signals my skepticism about this distinction. There are many -ous words that can describe people (cantankerous, flirtatious, generous, outrageous); nauseous is easily at home among them. And we do have nauseating to describe whatever makes one nauseous.

The curious thing, which I find in no discussion of this distinction: the Oxford English Dictionary has this earliest (now obsolete) meaning for nauseous (1613): “Of a person, the stomach, etc.: inclined to sickness or nausea; squeamish.” Look at that: the word first described people. And according to the OED, nauseous in American usage has applied to people since 1885: “affected with nausea; having an unsettled stomach; (fig .) disgusted, affected with distaste or loathing.” That makes the nauseated/nauseous distinction — if it is one — look tenuous indeed. There are other matters of usage more deserving of attention. Some of them have me climbing the walls. Literally!

This post is an instance of what can happen when I read the comics.

[“Thank you, dear sister . . greatest of all sisters”: not a typo. Just as many a cartoon hand has only four fingers, a cartoon ellipsis may have only two dots. The first edition of the OED gives the earliest meaning of nauseous as “inclined to nausea; fastidious” and does not address American usage.]

You’re reading a post from Michael Leddy’s blog Orange Crate Art. Your reader may not display this post as its writer intended.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.
13 Jan 08:37

I found a script for Doctor Who.

by stavvers

Untitled document - Google Drive


I mean I know I’m not Moff’s biggest fan, but that was an unmitigated pile of shite, yes?

07 Jan 14:46

CINDY & BISCUIT no.4 is here!

by The Beast Must Die!

Now available:


28 b+w pages, colour cover

After it’s debut at this year’s Thought Bubble, Cindy & Biscuit no.4 is finally available. 28 pages, comprised of all of the Cindy & Biscuit one-pagers, Cindy & Biscuit and Mr Andrews, as well as the brand new strip ‘Cindy & Biscuit in Abominable’.

I’m super proud of this work – it’s the densest, most formally playful work I’ve ever done, but still includes plenty of hitting and smashing. Don’t forget that Cindy & Biscuit were also nominated for Best Young Person’s Comic at this year’s British Comic Awards!

You can buy it over at the Milk The Cat Shop, along with their other adventures

Check out some sample images:

07 Jan 08:43

Derek's Weekly 45: Beverley - Happy New Year b/w Where The Good Times Are

by Dereksdaily45

Beverley happy new yearThere's not a whole lot of songs that focus on New Year's celebrations besides the perennial what-are-the-words-no-one-knows-the-words Auld Lang Syne.

Young Randy Newman penned this charming ode back before he began own solo career, and the song certainly lends a positive feeling for a new year or, simply, a new beginning.

While 'Happy New Year' is the side of honor considering the date, it's the flip side that REALLY cooks, and has a quite remarkable sotry as well.

The "Beverley" here in question at the time was Beverley Kutner. A few short years later, she married legendary (and superb) British folkie John Martyn where the two recorded some lovely music together.

HOWEVER, just a few short years earlier (1966), we find 19 year old Beverley backed in the studio by Jimmy Page (laying down some of his finest ever guitar workings, with a chunking riff that's virtually the blueprint for "Communication Breakdown") as well as John Paul Jones (making this one of the earliest sessions that these two played on which is heavily proto-Zeppelin-esque). This was also the debut release from Deram records, the highly influential London beat/psychedelic/ progressive label.

This record is hypnotic; the lulling piano (played by Nicky Hopkins) juxtaposed with the heavy guitar, Beverley's confident, swaggering vocal and the always fantastic British drumming.

Happy New Year

Where The Good Times Are


07 Jan 08:36

My Own Little Boxing Match: Conflicting Emotions On Evander Holyfield

by (Jae Kay)
Just yesterday I was ranting on Twitter about people who "suffer from same-sex attraction". Their odd beliefs that they or, in the minds of their allies, others "suffer" from something akin to a "disability" because they are attracted to people of the same-sex are worthy of strong bouts of derisory laughter.

Sadly yet another example of this appeared within hours when Evander Holyfield put forward the Christian perspective on same-sex attraction: Holyfield remarked that finding someone of the same-sex attractive was akin to having a birth defect that needed medical attention.

This is enough for anyone to recognise he hasn't a clue about the subject at hand. Sexuality is a complicated and fluid thing and the dangerous idea it needs to be policed when it harms none is one should be mocked and vigorously argued against. (And for those who would point out "Well it does harm people" I would ask them to explain in what way touching another member of the same-sex's genitals in a consensual setting could possibly harm another as a general rule [i.e. sexually transmitted diseases, not unique to same-sex couplings, don't quite cover it]).

All well and good so far, I'm fighting on the side of the "angels" (for which read the leftie, liberal progressive worldview).

But the reaction from Channel 5 and Ofcom, with dodgy wordings from Big Brother such as:

"While Big Brother understands these are the views you hold, they aren't the views that are held by a large section of society, and expressing these views will be extremely offensive to many people. 
Do you understand why?"
Exactly what point are they trying to get at? Homosexuality has, for a great deal of time, offended a large section of society. That didn't mean homosexuality was wrong. If I were to base my moral and ethical judgments on what a "large section of society" believes I think I would be far less moral and ethical than I currently am (for which see people who think boxing is a suitable sport to watch or participate in).

And Ofcom's suggestion that it might investigate Celebrity Big Brother over the remarks stinks of the sort moralistic mothering that crushed LGBT people's freedom of expression for years.

I hate to do this but I, for the most part, find myself agreeing with Brendan O'Neill (a man whose career is partially based on supporting every homophobic remark or campaign he comes across out of a sense of contrarianism) when he calls attitudes towards Holyfield "intolerant".

I wholeheartedly believe that Evander Holyfield is an idiot. I completely oppose his position that same-sex attraction is in any way worthy of shame or correction. But, just as when I've stated I'm not opposed to LGBT folk seeking ex-gay or ex-trans therapy regardless of its efficacy or lack thereof, I cannot see any reason (he makes no threat of violence nor demands action against others) to censure or censor his remarks officially.

Let the anti-LGBT folk hang themselves with their words. My office was filled with derisory laughter today over his remarks. They were hardly eloquent or thought-provoking enough to have engendered any other reaction from most reasonable people. We must argue forcefully against such people. But let's try to be the better people whilst doing it.

07 Jan 08:31


As I’ve discussed before in this space, I am not one for New Year’s resolutions.  They are, like most last-minute life-changing decisions, made in haste and repented in leisure.  They generally set their sights unrealistically high, which is an easy and delicious recipe for chicken-fried failure, or they’re so easily attainable as to not be worthwhile in the first place.  Besides, there’s something about tying your acts of will to a turn of the calendar that makes it seem as though you’re helpless to get your shit together without the assistance of an entire centuries-old system of marking time.  If you want to do something, just do it; you never hear anyone say “This is the year I’m finally going to do something about my house being on fire.”

This isn’t to say I never even attempt to flap my arms hard enough to direct my life’s tailspin towards a nice dramatic mountainside instead of an anonymous flat patch of earth.  Like most people, I go through periods of wanting to eat better, dress better, make halfway-decent use of my health insurance, or finally comb the rust out of my beard.  But I don’t really trust the efficacy of publicly announced resolutions, because who gives a shit if I live up to them or not?  If there was a Supreme Soviet of Resolutions that would send me to a prison farm if I didn’t use my parks pass at least once a month, that would be one thing, but most of the things I care enough to make myself do, I, well, care enough to make myself do.  All my writing-related resolutions are just forms of self-discipline, which one needn’t fancy up with holiday frills; they’re just things you’re going to do or you aren’t, and if you lack even that level of drive, then probably a creative life is not for you.  (I had planned on writing a blog entry for every movie I saw this year, but, illustrating the level of intense devotion I bring to all my projects, it only lasted four days into 2014, at which point I got zooted and watched Good Burger.  No one needs to read a thousand words about that.)

Worse than that, though, is the fact that most New Year’s resolutions are just so…trite.  The United States government, which apparently has taken care of that pesky unemployment problem we were having a while back, collected the most popular resolutions for 2013, and a more dreary lot of vows I have not heard since I narrowly escaped joining the holy orders as a member of the Flabby Brothers of the Impertinent Scowl.  I know many of you have taken these very vows, and bless you for it; I don’t even know who you are reading this, but I am sure that you are a better person than I am, and I am equally sure that 2015 will find you having lived up to these impossibly tedious resolutions.  I won’t be joining you, however, and here, aside from the fact that they are depressingly dull, is why.

DRINK LESS.  Nope.  I won’t be doing this.  I’m getting up in years, and a lot of my friends who were once head-in-the-toilet drunks are taking the primrose path of sobriety.  I am happy for that if it lets them live longer, and I’m sure their clean-and-sober stories will be much more interesting than the thousand other ones I have heard over the years, but I will not be joining them on that path.  Here’s why:  I enjoy drinking.  I enjoy being drunk.  For reasons too terrifying to contemplate, I no longer get hangovers.  And best of all, I’m good at drinking.  I’m better now than I ever was.  I can glug down gin like iced tea and wake up the next morning ready to watch other people run a marathon.  It’s safe to say that I am not good at nearly enough things that I can afford to give one of them up so easily.  ”But Leonard,” I hear some of you nosey Parkers saying, “Your father was an alcoholic.”  Exactly!  Which is why it’s such a miracle that I’m not, and why it’s vital that I continue the mission of drinking myself stupid for as long as I possibly can.

FURTHER MY EDUCATION.  I could do this, or I could take all the money I get paid from my job and set it on fire.  It might be tempting if I had something to further, but I never even graduated from high school; even if there was some payoff for me going back to school, I wouldn’t get a degree worth wiping up ketchup stains with until I was in my mid-50s, and I’m pretty sure by that time the highest-paying career for proletarian scum like myself will be selling limbs for food.  Besides, if I had the knack for education, I wouldn’t have hit the rocks when I was fifteen.

GET A BETTER JOB.  I like my job, but even if I had designs in that direction, this is on the level of “win the lottery” as something you can attain through sheer personal determination.  I can barely compete with 20-year-olds for parking spaces.

GET FIT.  Uggggh.  So dreary.  Look, I have nothing against getting fit.  My body appears to have a constitutional disinclination for it, but I will admit to missing the days when I weighed in at a lean 235 instead of being a beer gut surrounded by a human donut hole.  But there is nothing remotely interesting about working out, losing weight, getting fit, fat-shaming, paying thousands of dollars to the weight loss industry, or doing any of the things you have to do to live three years longer than I will.  I always want to eat better, but hearing people talk about their dietary habits is exactly as depressing and futile as hearing retirees discuss their own failing health, which is exactly what today’s fitness enthusiasts will be doing when they’re that age.  Luckily, their obsession with the contours of their own mortality will leave them ill-equipped for any painful speculation about why they didn’t focus on getting their minds in better shape, or being better people instead of thinner people.  (Side note to vegetarians:  on most of the key elements of your argument, you are 100% right — probably even righter than you’d be comfortable with.  It’s just that I don’t care.)

ANYTHING INVOLVING MY FINANCIAL SITUATION.  I’ve discussed at length my deep distrust of any gesture towards ‘maturity’ or ‘being an adult’ that involves a massive transfer of my already meager income into the coffers of multi-billion-dollar financial institutions, so there’s no need to belabor that point.  Twice before I’ve made resolutions to save money towards my retirement, but the stock market did not make a matching resolution to not collapse due the the machinations of greedy scumbags, so it was a wasted effort both times.  Indeed, most of my financial problems come down to being under the thumb of the Man, so it seems like he’s the one who should be changing his behavior, not me.  I am working on my debt situation through the tried-and-true measure of ceaselessly avoiding my creditors, and if you check back with me in about six or seven years, I reckon it will have worked out quite nicely; and I’m well on my way towards saving a lot more money this year than I usually do, but that’s just so I can spend it later on things I like.  Unforgivably juvenile, I know.

TAKE LESS DRUGS.  Look, I’ve spend literally my entire adult life wishing I could live somewhere with a sane drug policy.  Now that I finally do, it would be terribly hypocritical to cut back on my THC intake.

TAKE FEWER DRUGS.  I won’t be doing that either, but I do have some suggestions for a few of you anent being an insufferable grammar pedant.

Basically, I plan to spend as much of 2014 as possible relaxing, reading, watching movies, listening to music, hanging out with my friends, spending time with the people I love, traveling aimlessly, maximizing my enjoyment of life, and making sport of mankind’s hilarious delusions that it will last forever and that it controls its own destiny.  But I do look forward to your end-of-year equivocations, so please do cc: me on those.  Happy new calendar, everybody!


05 Jan 22:55

The SNP is determined to track down every last Yes vote

by Jonathan Calder
05 Jan 21:23

Why we should give free money to everyone.

Why we should give free money to everyone.
04 Jan 22:19

Lord Ashcroft’s mega poll has UKIP on 16pc – the highest his surveys have ever recorded

by MikeSmithson

The latest Lord Ashcroft mega poll has just been published as part of a study on how the Tories could win at GE2015. The poll was carried out online amongst a sample of 8,053 more than a month ago.

Unlike the regular YouGov and Populus online polls Lord Ashcroft doesn’t use party ID weighting which tends to depress the UKIP voting numbers. To me it is striking that the 16% UKIP share is very close to tonight’s 17% share from Opinium which also doesn’t use such a weighting.

The big problem for the Tories is that even though Dave rates ahead of Ed as “Best PM” and the Tories have a lead on managing the economy a total of 37% of those who voted blue in May 2010 say they won’t next time

In his commentary on the poll Lord Ashctoft highlights the fact that many voters doubt the Tories on fairness and public services.

LAB majority drops 5% as preferred GE2015 outcome

The big change in the above chart is the 5% drop in those wanting a LAB majority and the increase in those who’s like either a CON-LD or LAB-LD coalition.

On the economy Cameron/Osborne beat Two Eds 57-43 but there is a big question mark highlighted in the following finding.

Will “Me and my family” matter more to voters than “Country as a whole”

I’m sure there are lots of goodies in the poll detail which I’ll be writing about when the datasets become available.

Mike Smithson

Blogging from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble 2004-2014

Follow @MSmithsonPB

04 Jan 22:06

The Most Beautiful Fraud: Her

Even if you’d never heard of him before, you’d know from seeing Spike Jonze’s latest, Her, that he isn’t a first-time director.  Visually speaking, it’s powerfully effective, verging on masterful; he manages to set up almost every shot, even relatively inconsequential place-setting ones, in the most precise manner to deliver whatever mood he’s trying for at the moment.  Her is, as befits a movie about computerized intelligence, saturated in its own artificiality; it looks like it was made by a high-profile advertising agency.  That would be a complaint for a lot of movies, but for Her, which often seems like a blend of a tragicomic romance and an informercial for a future that hasn’t quite arrived yet, it’s perfect; Jonze’s mise en scène is calculated to perfectly fit a movie where commercial products are designed to fill emotional voids.  He gets why advertising works so well on our neuroses and desires, and everything about Her, from its IKEA-clean apartment towers to its high-waisted pants of the future, looks like it was developed to nurture those desires.

Just as obviously, though, is the fact that Jonze is a first-time screenwriter.  Her has a lot of problems, and they’re ones that might easily have been solved by a more experienced collaborator having a go at the script; it’s hard to imagine, for example, Charlie Kaufman delivering a finished product with as many nagging problems as this movie has.  Among the mistakes made here — rookie miscalculations, all of them — are widening the focus when keeping the view narrow would have worked better; miscalculating the right moment to switch from comedy to drama; and, most fatally of all, creating a world full of questions and then failing to answer most of them.  This is an error common to a lot of genre specialists (which it is to be sincerely hoped Jonze does not become); though it’s presumptuous of a critic to outline the film he wanted to watch instead of the one he actually saw, the inescapable sensation at the end of Her is that it would have worked just as well or better without the sci-fi trappings.

Her is the story of Theodore Twombly, a gifted writer who’s given up on art and now directs his special empathy towards working at a tech company that artificially hand-crafts personal letters for people unable to express their own feelings.  Despite this gift, he’s incapable of truly committing to a relationship himself, and his marriage has recently collapsed — a reality he’s entirely unwilling to face.  (This predictive aspect of the plot and the film’s constant exercise of the theme of people being incapable of saying what they really want puts Her in the company of the mumblecore crypto-movement; thankfully, nothing else does.)  He lives and works in a near-future Los Angeles that is so similar to our own that it seems immediately disruptive when we’re introduced to the concept of an artificially intelligent computer operating system that is so indistinguishable from a human being that Twombly finds himself falling in love with his — and having to deal with the consequences when it develops more rapidly than he can cope with.

There’s a lot to love in this story.  The acting is excellent across the board; Joaquin Phoenix fully lives in the role of the gregarious but reticent Twombly, Amy Adams is predictably excellent as an old friend of his, Chris Pratt is his usual scene-stealing self as a co-worker, and Scarlett Johannson does perhaps the best acting of her career as Samantha, Twombly’s OS.  (She does so while never appearing on screen, which is, depending on your perspective, either to her credit or her detriment.)  There are some genuinely surprising and fascinating moments, especially when Samantha engages the services of a sexual surrogate in a deeply misguided attempt to step up her relationship with Twombly.  It’s pretty funny in several places, and it’s never less than visually engaging.  And like very few other romance movies, for I think it’s fair to call Her that despite the myriad distractions, it tries to deliver a lot of emotional truth, and more than a few times, it succeeds.

The biggest problem is that when it doesn’t succeed, it’s usually because the science fiction gimmick gets in the way of the story.  Time after time, aspects of Samantha’s nature are questioned when convenient and ignored when it would be difficult to provide answers.  Twombly confronts her about the artificiality of her sighs but not of her orgasms; she makes huge leaps forward in her intelligence and perception when the plot requires it to happen (that is, when it is needed to become an artificial barrier to their relationship), but why didn’t it happen when she first came on line?  Didn’t anyone beta-test this thing?  Twombly is presented as a realistically flawed but human character when the movie wants us to feel for him, but the inherently creepy quality of the whole relationship is never addressed — after all, if Samantha has true emotions and intelligence, being someone else’s property introduces a highly questionable power dynamic; and if she doesn’t, then who cares?  This all comes to ahead in the film’s final half-hour, when an aspect of her nature becomes clear when it should have been a factor all along.  This clearly was done for plot reasons, to throw a largely arbitrary roadblock into the path of their relationship; so it becomes necessary to ask, why not just make her an actual woman in the first place?  By trying to have it both ways, Jonze avoids the most essential of the emotional issues he’s spent a lot of time setting up.

All this might have been a moot point — or at least one a lot easier to ignore — if Her kept its focus just on the relationship between Twombly and Samantha.  But like a lot of neophyte writers, Jonze is enamored of his own ideas, and opens up the world to show us that everywhere you go in this bleached-white world, people are developing friendships and romances with their OSs.  All this accomplishes is to muddle the plot, suggest dozens of questions to which no answers are forthcoming, and set up conflicts that are never resolved.  It changes what could have been a very good movie into a tremendously flawed one; what remains is worth watching, but it sinks under the weight of its own elaborate conceit.  Lucky for us, Jonze is already a great director, and he can always get better as a writer.  When Kaufman went solo, his first directorial effort was Synecdoche, New York; Jonze may have a masterpiece in him on the level of his former collaborator’s debut, but Her isn’t it.


04 Jan 17:46

by Lawrence
03 Jan 20:36

Outside the Gobernment 15: Newtons Sleep

by (Philip Sandifer)
Unnoun unwrites an unpost about Faction Paradox.

Newtons Sleep is the only Faction Paradox book published by Random Static. It's available to download as a free e-book, but please donate to help them out!

It's 1666 A.D. A spittle’s-worth of dark humour has responded to the drawing power of matter and impacted with a young man's head; the struggle between the holy houses of Christ and their eternal Adversary has erupted among the living

It's January 12th 2008 C.E. A small printing company has just released a book as part of a bizarre sci-fi series supposedly about a Time Traveling Voodoo cult. The bizarre sci-fi series is the true successor to the legacy of that cultural giant Doctor Who.

It's 1807. 1802 actually, but close enough for our purposes. Major hit songs of the year include Ludwig van Beethoven's Mass in C, the ballet Hélène and Paris, the operas Joseph and La Vestale, and Thomas Moore's publication of Irish Melodies. Again, actually it's 1802. So replace those with Beethoven's Second Symphony, the opera Urania, and Franz Kommer's Concerto for 2 Clarinets in E flat major, Op. 35. Sorry. I don't have many sources other than Wikipedia. Phil was kinda lucky with that one. 1807 was pretty good for music. 1802 sucked. While in non-musical news, Napoleon makes an attack on Russia, Aaron Burr is acquitted of conspiracy, the England/Argentina soccer rivalry has pre-season friendly as Britain mounts a disastrous attack on Buenos Aires, and Robert Fulton launches his first American steamboat. And I tried looking up other stuff in 1802 and couldn't find any in the five minutes it took to write this bit. Sorry.

While in London, William Blake abandons his masterpiece actually he's just sent a letter to his friend Thomas Butt. Heh. Butt.

Meanwhile, in the time between this story and the last, (or, at least, the last one we've so far covered,) there's been a bit of a scuffle primarily in the Middle East, one in which the United States and United Kingdomand royal sympathies – so often clothed as though of a part with gentle living and good government – conceal the actions of those true and monstrous traitors who have suckled their love of slavery from the teat of theShe-Wolf. All Earthly affairs thus lightly conceal the true conflict that shapes the cosmos, and all occurrences are as portents of the divine, or of the damned.

It's November 15th 2013. A 30-something Faction Paradox fan has just been asked to help a friend she's never met in person with an emergency by writing a guest post for his blog that she's grown obsessed with.

It is March 26th 2005. Despite what anyone else will tell you, a terrible calamity has occurred. The impossible dream of a thousand alchemists has been snatched away, smothered in the crib. An imposter has laid claim to the mantle of Material Social Progress forcing the true heir to the throne into hiding Yet as the divine recedes, it seems also terribly closer.

War on Earth presages War in Heaven Round 2. If you believe anything, believe this: As above, so below.

Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except in so far as it is compelled to change its state by forces impressed.

A change in motion is proportional to the motive force impressed and takes place along the straight line in which that force is impressed.

To any action there is always an opposite and equal reaction; in other words, the action of two bodies upon each other are always equal and always opposite in direction.

Hello. I'll be your guest poster for the day.

"Now I a fourfold vision see And a fourfold vision is given to me"

A friend of mine, Laura, wasn't quite able to get into Newtons Sleep. The prose style was a bit too difficult for her, and she wasn't entirely sure what it was talking about in the admittedly ostentatious prologue. But I think we might have an idea. This stuff is old hat to us by now. We know what it's all about, and we have all the answers. Don't we?

Well. Probably not, no. I mean, really.

Lately cannonballs have flown their arcs, leaving the crystal sky unbroken, while on Earth their traces are all too visible: Englishmen reduced to piles of offal and powdered bone; the ruins of fastnesses, once impregnable, now shattered and exposed; the earth ripped asunder and scorched by sizzling violent impacts. The glass dome of the sky is undisturbed, and Heaven has never seemed so far away. So are proved the observations of the Europeans; of Copernicus, Galileo, Brahe, Kepler, and of freshly-dead Cartesius (whose worlds whirl not by the command of the primum mobile but on dimly-imagined vortices): the celestial spheres are of a distance only God can conceive.

Wow. "Gothically overwritten" doesn't quite seem to begin to cover it.

That last link brings us to one point regarding Newtons Sleep. We've seen the writer's work before. Which is oddly helpful and unhelpful. And the worst part is that this book isn't actually about Sir Isaac Newton or even William Blake. Probably. Fuck it, I have no idea. Spoilers if I'm right.

The extraordinary pretension of the prose style aside however, the book is actually rather fantastically good. It's one of those period pieces that really captures the time period involved, and the prose style helps serve this aspect. The book is about the aftermath of the Second English Civil War, and the roles of three individuals in it: Nathaniel Silver, a former soldier, an idealist and a philosopher, who is quite curious about his return from the grave and his visions of "angels" responsible for his survival, Aphra Behn, a playright and spy caught up in a significant amount of intrigue, and Mistress Piper, who has been recruited by that most delightful of the War-Time powers, the one and only Faction Paradox.

The characters of the book, especially our mains, are really well-done, especially Aphra Behn. Who, incidentally, was actually a real person. Bringing to light some of the more obscure figures of history is always worth doing, especially women. I mean, a female dramatist and spymaster in the Restoration. More people need to know about this. There need to be more of these types of stories being told. Faction Paradox, fitting given its status as the more obscure bud of Doctor Who, has a tendency to tell these sorts of stories about history's obscurities.

The novel itself is a story of historical political intrigue. On multiple levels. On the one hand, you have the scale of England in the mid 1600s, with all of the backstabbing that implies. On the other, you have the War in Heaven, as the "Angels" of both sides rewrite history and time around them. Our protagonists, being natives to the time period, have little understanding or conceptualization of time travel or other worlds. And since most of the novel is from their perspective, this obviously presents difficulties to the reader in understanding what the bleeding hell is going on.

So that's where we are with the book itself. Sorry, I know it's not supposed to be a review blog, but just had to get this out of the way. We have a book with a plot primarily about political intrigue and a time traveling war, with a prose style that is so purple it has effectively gone ultraviolet. Of course it's a bit of a difficult read for those either unwilling or unable to meet the book halfway on its own terms. And I feel just a tad disappointed for those that are unwilling because wow is it good.

But we aren't especially worried purely about the quality of these sorts of things, now are we? So let's look at this from a cultural standpoint. And from a cultural standpoint, this is Faction Paradox. A spin off of a spin off. And of Doctor Who no less. Nay, of Classic Doctor Who, with all that that implies. Just take a look at this review for an example. So what kind of cultural object is Newtons Sleep perceived as?

Well. For those without the experience of the cancellations and The Wilderness Years, the only frame of reference is Classic Who. An it is an invocation in the same manner as the foul and pernicious murder that robbed the Faction of its birthright. The cultural legacy of the wobbling sets and evil bubblewrap condoms still stands strong, swallowing everything that followed. Credit to my friend Null for the immediately previous sentence. And the review's own comment is even more striking: "O'Mahony does his best with the material available, but a few of the cracks still show."

Well. As previously mentioned, we've seen O'Mahony's work before. And, well. The idea that the material itself is flawed, and O'Mahony's writing is the saving grace is rather difficult to swallow given our previous experience. O'Mahony is, after all, the type of writer who tries to portray a character from the sixties in light of the seventies, that tries to, excuse me, "retcon" in aspects of portrayal that nobody in their right mind would ever otherwise attempt to. Because, quite clearly, the writer is not in his right mind. He is clearly a bearer of but a single vision. And his Sleep is not his own.

So Faction Paradox, as a cultural object, is about a bunch of low-budget crappy sci-fi bubble wrap monsters for those without any frame of reference for the cancellation and The Wilderness Years. For those of us with that frame of reference, it's a spin-off of that period, which has itself been relegated to the realm of spin-off, which is most certainly not what it was considered at the time. In the eyes of the Fan, this book and the series commit the sin of being non-canon.

So this book and all the others are in the position of, on the one hand, from the perspective of the culture at large, being too connected to the source material, which casts a shadow on the whole proceeding. And on the other hand, from the perspective of Fandom, the book isn't connected enough to the source material, and it's splintered, unofficial origins cast a shadow on the proceedings. It's a paradox. The Faction itself almost certainly loves it.

Newtons Sleep is another myth to be told. The book holds a rather impressive cultural significance. Something is stirring. The era of the usurper is drawing to a close. Over the next year or so, The True History Of Faction Paradox slowly emerges.

"Tis fourfold in my supreme delight And three fold in soft Beulahs night And twofold Always.

My earliest memory was the Five Faces Of Doctor Who repeat of An Unearthly Child. I can safely say that it has driven me throughout my entire life. My story started before then, however. I was born in the United States to United States citizens. An extremely short amount of time after my birth, my entire family packed up and moved to the United Kingdom. My childhood can safely be said to have been a troubled one.

In spite or because of this, Doctor Who was one of my objects of devotion. A means of escape. When Ian and Barbara fell out of the world, so did I, because I found a great deal of the world to be hostile. A family friend, a godfather, was a fan of the show as well, and recorded episodes on tape as they aired. He had recorded the show for a while, and my memory is vivid with episodes and serials that are now numbered among the lost. I haven't actually had contact with the man in a while, so I'm afraid I can't answer why he never turned them in. I do remember that he was in debt a lot, so I speculate some may have been sold, and they may be circulating somewhere. (For the record, I always loved The Enemy Of The World, and loathed The Celestial Toymaker.)

As for the rest of my family, my father and brother were ambivalent to my interests, but always supportive of my choices. I had a friend from school I was always close to, and she, my brother and I would get into no end of trouble. And my mother always kept a keen watch on us, for when we strayed from her vision for us, or partook in philosophies she was threatened by. Always ready to take action, for our sake. The fact that we couldn't see her vision was irrelevant, and neither was the fact that it was never explained to us. Neither was the explanation of what was so wrong with the the Kabbalah or alchemy.

...Sorry, there was going to be a whole section here about my early years, but I cut it because it was too triggering to myself, and I felt uncomfortable with the amount of sincerity I was capable of on various issues important to this blog. "The memory cheats" afterall. It's all fair for this blog to draw the connections between Logopolis and The Kabbalah or between The Daemons and Ace Of Wands, but as a childhood fan of Doctor Who as well as all manner of mystical bullshit, while reading this blog helps in some ways by connecting these disparate childhood interests, overall this approach seems arrogant. Insisting on holding on to the ego while attempting to cross the Abyss.

The other issue of sincerity is that I really don't want to start talking about being abused by a parent, because if I did I might not stop. I don't want to go down that road. Going too far down this rabbit-hole is too all-consuming. Going back would be too destructive.

Which brings us back to Faction Paradox. Which is all about communicating horror without actually depicting it.

One of the key things about Faction Paradox is that it is always capable of going anywhere, of doing anything. Period drama, prison breakouts, political intrigue, sci-fi. This is made even more clear from the sorts of people that have written for the line. No lesser personages than Simon Bucher-Jones, Ian McIntire, Mags L. Halliday, Philip Purser-Hallad, Kelly Hale, Lance Parkin, Kate Orman, Andrew Hickey and so many more. All of them with roots in the gray tradition. All with roots in Doctor Who.

Doctor Who as native mythology. Faction Paradox provides an additional perspective on Doctor Who, and Doctor Who provides an additional perspective on Faction Paradox. The one is a distortion of the other, and it can be difficult to determine which is which. Unfortunately, it seems clear that Faction Paradox must stay relegated to the background here. If Doctor Who's purpose is to place the weird and unusual into the cultural mainstream, then by this stage of the historical process, the Welsh series has undoubtedly won the game. Statues that move when you blink, the entirety of Love and Monsters, and Daleks In Manhattan. Faction Paradox, by virtue of not being mainstream, cannot fulfill that directive.

...But then, what about the other side of Doctor Who's history? As above, so below. What is the solution to the problem of the alchemists? Material. Social. Progress. Does the Welsh Series of Doctor Who provide there? And even if it does, does it match up to what Faction Paradox provides?

Loaded question of course. I linked to Liberating Earth deliberately after all. A whole book written just to get female, transfemale, and genderqueer writers out there, in their own space. And the content of the series itself certainly helps, with most books having at least one well-rounded female protagonist. Newtons Sleep in particular illustrates one of the real women in history's narrative that so often gets overlooked.

Doctor Who has never had a good relationship with feminism. To this date, the Welsh Series has had exactly one female writer. Faction Paradox has at least two female writers with their own independent novels. And there are a lot fewer Faction Paradox novels then there have been episodes on television. But there are a lot less novels of Faction Paradox then there have been episodes on television. And many of the books are short-story collections, with several female contributors. Liberating Earth consists entirely of female writers. And is being edited by Kate Orman, one of the people that first introduced feminism to Doctor Who. Most if not all of the Faction Paradox writers are publicly devoted to Social Justice in some capacity.

As, indeed, is much of their work. Nathaniel Silver, the liberal, enlightened, alchemical and philosophical man seemingly meant to be our Isaac Newton analog, starts off trying to establish a small commune to develop ideas of a decidedly proto-marxist nature, although not referred to as such. Indeed, the chosen virtue of the Silverites, love, owes decidedly more to some interpretations of Christianity, in particular the first century. (Of course, there are more than a few conceptions of Jesus of Nazareth as a sort of proto-marxist himself, but that's another story entirely.) Silver's first speech makes a statement representative of the desires of most social movements. Not to create a perfect world, merely a better one.

Nathaniel Silver
...And yet even this expression of ideology is poisoned when he says, in the very next breath, the words that in the mind of Blake represented the downfall of the historical Isaac Newton: Single Vision. With those two words, the Silverites are damned. Single vision can do nothing else.

Single vision is what it sounds like. The vision and the visionary are essential to Blake, and to see but a single vision is to see on only one level, to see one perspective, one side, one dimension. It is canon, which sees things only in terms of what happened and what didn't, in spite of the fact that all works are equally fictional. It ignores the way that fiction represents things and understands fiction to be, "gossip about imaginary people". The monomyth of Joseph Campbell is single-visioned, in the claim that that all stories represent some primal ideal of human nature. A single structure. Single vision also leads to the danger of a single story, that only one kind of person is the norm, that there are worlds that cannot exist in literature. Single vision gives rise to preconceptions and stereotypes, blinding us to truth, to the world around us, to people.

Because ultimately, all prejudice is born from Single Vision. All racism, all classism, all sexism, all born from a single perspective of the world, a perspective which itself affirms that it is right and all others are wrong. To some extent this is only natural, as, under postmodern liberalism, the goal is to weed out the worst views and perspectives. But single vision itself is more under the lines of enlightenment liberalism, the perspective that will win out and be shown to be right is the perspective that will guide us to reason.

The single vision of Mary Whitehouse brought down the Hinchecliffe era. Nothing will bring down the Davies era as it stands. Doctor Who, as it exists now, is a cultural giant, always on the rise. Since its second series, the show has been toying with this, trying to both celebrate and cast doubt on itself. And this is no more evident then in the personages of the current Doctor Evil Renegade, and the companions he takes with him.

The series, thankfully, has adopted at least a two-fold vision for a great deal of this run. But the stories themselves, and the characters, do no always seem to share this commitment. Especially our renegade and his latest emanation. The Tenth Doctor. As portrayed by David Tennant. Ten. Decem. A fallen figure who seems not to have realized it, who glories in it and in himself. His ego is only overcome by his singularity of vision, a focus that would put Blake's Newton or Silver himself to shame.

In an odd way, hypocrisy is a form of single vision, but one that seems at odds with itself. To be a hypocrite is to have a single vision that faces only outward, because to reflect the self is to gaze inward, even for an instant.

It is helpful to pause, and take stock of some of the principles of this project. We do not take stock with "suspension of disbelief" here. We do not consider the series to be "gossip about imaginary people". The Doctor, even and his "Tenth" persona and portrayal, is fictional. Albeit, fiction's land's Lord and Master. As our host has mentioned, however, we don't need suspension of disbelief account for the feeling of betrayal at a particular inconsistency. An understanding of narrative based entirely on tropes, expectations, and interpretation is more than up to the task of accounting for that. What's disruptive isn't any sense of ambiguity in the "reality" of the story, but the status audience expectations. A viewer operating under the assumption that some aspect of reality was in play is surprised by the sudden intrusion of the unreal.

This is the basic flaw of suspension of disbelief and its singleness of vision. It's not that it is incapable of explaining anything. It's that anything it explains can be explained by a model capable of dealing with the fact that there's usually no way to account for a narrative without relying on knowledge that is extra-narrative.

And this is the problem with the Doctor as he is now: The story often refuses to provide an explanation for the frequent about-faces in his morality, nor does it provide a reason why people within the story don't react with confusion or irritation or, in some cases, even anger to the fact that the Doctor pretends to moral absolutism and yet his actual code changes from episode to episode. The Tenth Doctor is not characterized as a hypocrite, he's barely coherently characterized at all, and thus it becomes impossible to interpret his actions in any scene in which he moralizes.

We have no way to track how the Tenth Doctor will respond to any given situation. Therefore his narrative is uninterpretable, and we're well within our rights to reject the story.

Let us now gaze upon his introduction. As so helpfully outlined, he triggers his own downfall with an arrogant, angry petulance, and rewrites history. He shows off, humiliating a woman that has thus far been his ally, and that he knows full well is capable of better. He has no regard for his own responsibility for the events that take place, from his absence to his own actions, the fear he instills in his speeches and his own failures driving Harriet to desperation. However justified his outrage over her attack of the fleeing ship is, the fact is that the only alternative is relying on him and solely him for the protection of Harriet's entire planet. And mercury does tend towards unreliability.

Let us look at the formation of Torchwood. And here, it seems, our host makes some major missteps. Even if we accept that Tooth And Claw is not a bad episode, and this quality is somehow an indication that the Doctor is in the right. For which a counter may be that if Tooth and Claw was a good episode it would have definitively shown where the Doctor might have been in the wrong. Let us also accept that the Queen may not have been the viewpoint character, and her turn on the characters his shocking because the audience has been expected to be enjoying themselves through the romp. Fair enough. Except possibly for the fact that the audience may not have enjoyed a thing. And the fact that the Doctor and Rose are unaffected indicates that the criticism was in the wrong. When it could simply be that singleness of vision, whether hubris or love, has blinded them to any flaws in themselves, or each other.

Alright. Fine. As far as it goes. The counterpoints aren't as compelling as the originals. But then the most glaring mistake of all rears itself. The adventure doesn't cause anyone to die. Because this is fiction. And fiction isn't real, and it's alright to delight in death and carnage for the sake of the game. There are no issues with the killing of imaginary people, because fiction's power is in its imitative power.

But that imitative power is, in fact, the real source of moral outrage. Fictional people are imitations of real people. Fictional death is an imitation of real death. And the Doctor is and has been the true heir, the traitor of, the lord and master of the Land Of Fiction. And Tooth And Claw demonstrates how little he cares for his subjects. Queen Victoria's problem is that she doesn't realize she's in a fictional story. The Doctor and Rose do. Queen Victoria is under the single vision that they are peasants in her domain, when the truth is that she is the peasant in theirs.

"May God us keep From Single vision & Newtons sleep"

It's January 2 2014. A 30-something Faction Paradox fan is in about doubt how to end this meandering post.

There's a real problem with being the Master of the Land Of Fiction, and with being a Lord, of Time or War or what have you. Namely that, to quote longtime commenter Andrew Hickey Lordship and Mastery are based on hereditary aristocracy, the entire point of which is being superior to others because of breeding and background. Racism and snobbery are the purpose of Lordship. From this standpoint, the way the Doctor treats Martha Jones is deeply problematic, as this fixation on Rose Tyler and overlooking of the next companion becomes all of the worst aspects of single vision, race, and class all tied together as nastily as possible. (As a side note, this truth of the aristocracy also brings up the fact that he's looked like a white bloke for fifty years, in turn providing a more than adequate explanation for why acting like he owns the place "works for him").

Of course, the fact of the matter is that the aristocracy emerged from a system of feudalism unfamiliar to us today. I admit to not being an expert on the subject, my field of study is the science of biology. But the basic fact is that the first "lords" were the warriors and knights, ruling the peasantry from the safety of their citadels and demanding tribute in return for "protection". It was a twelfth millennium extortion racket.

To be a lord is to be a warrior. Whether the war is of class, or of time.

The Time Lords have been described as the Guardians of the Arc of History. This is apparently meant to mean that, rather than control over time, they merely guide the social processes of history along certain paths, towards certain ends, and this is apparently the more interesting conception of the Time Lords. It's meant to show that social progress of this nature is inevitable.

Of course, if it was so inevitable it begs the question of why the Time Lords are needed at all. And the idea that progression along these same lines is shown throughout all of history is single-visioned and a perfect example of Enlightenment Liberalism. That the right view is the one that will win out. Not that the worst view is the one that will die. And, of course, there's the ever-present imperialism involved.

Imperialism is rather at the heart of Lordship of course. "Do I have the right?" Says Thomas Stewart Baker. "I'm a Time Lord. I have that right." Says John Ronald Simm. There are Laws. And people in charge of those laws. The laws are theirs. And the laws will obey them. Not the other way around.

It's 2008. Though nobody knows it yet, the world is heading into financial crisis and recession. The bank lords were faced with the same Enemy every Lord and every Great House must face: a process of reevaluation of the meaning of symbols. One based purely on the material realities. Their vast empires built on elaborate mathematical models of money disconnected from any real assets instantly came crashing down.

But we saw this story before already. As above, so below. The Doctor's love story with Rose, their jokes, their hubris, the idea that it would never have to end. Just the excitement, just the excess, nevermind the realities, nevermind the material impact on others. A single visioned romp through space and time. Not too dissimilar from the single visioned romp through the stock and housing markets that had been ongoing the entire time, and finally came to the same end a year later. Of course, the Lords want us to think that their problems are our problems too. When they aren't. Our problem is them.

David Tennant
But, finally, someone is able to recognize it. To see injustice and identify it. They get together, they organize, they start moving. From many backgrounds, many visions, they speak out. They say "No more". Occupy Gallifrey. With a skull mask, and a smile.

Or, better yet, Occupy the TARDIS. Doctor Who's Single Vision has dominated the mainstream. Not even a narrative collapse can kill it. Faction Paradox lurks, and it waits, and it tries to show the alternative. It presents four-fold visions, and brings forth tenfold visionaries.

It can't beat the number one thing on television. It can't present any meaningful alternative to something with 10.6 million viewers. And in trying to do so, it can only gain scorn in return.

The problem with single vision is that in the absence of any other way to see, it can see everything. It's the abyss gazing also, and to look at it for too long is to become it. Some other tactic is required.

02 Jan 19:00

Irrelovence – the paradox of the stance of the SNP

by Iain Donaldson

I have, until now, remained neutral in the debate over whether Scotland should remain in the UK or become an insignificant independent country entirely dependent on UK trade links, UK technologies and UK financial systems but without any say in the policies that determine its place in the world or the future of its people.

I have maintained the view that the choice between or is entirely a matter for the Scottish people.

However, reports on a poll conducted by the SNP indicate support in the rest of the UK for an SNP led independent Scotland to remain in Sterling and hold common passports with unrestricted travel throughout the UK.

The problem with this poll though, is that the hypothesis on which it is based is entirely unfounded because in the event that Scotland votes for independence she will be voting herself out of the European Union, whilst the United Kingdom will remain a member of the European Union.

The moment Scotland leaves the EU she will lose her right to free movement in the rest of the UK by default, she will need to establish an independent Passport and there will need to be border controls both at the English/Scottish borders and at our airports and ports.  This isn’t a matter of choice for the rest of the UK, this is a matter of requirement under the UK’s membership of the EU.

Herein lies the paradox that the SNP have failed to address in their case for an independent Scotland remaining in the Sterling Zone.  Under European membership rules the Sterling Zone  can not extend beyond the European Union.  Scotland must be a member of the European Union if she is to remain in the Sterling Zone, and to become a member of the European Union an independent Scotland must first apply for membership and demonstrate that she meets the economic conditions for entry.

Whilst Scotland is achieving those economic conditions she can not remain in Sterling because she is not in the European Union.

Therefore the paradox of the position now being taken by the SNP is that in order for Scotland to remain in Sterling and retain free movement throughout the rest of the UK, Scotland must remain in the UK.

It is just a pity that the SNP have spent so many years campaigning clearly for electoral success only to demonstrate when they get it that their position has always been impossible to achieve.

With remaining in Sterling and free movement throughout the UK now the stated policies of the SNP they face the paradox of campaigning for Scottish Independence on a platform that can only be achieved if Scotland remains in the UK.

02 Jan 01:19

BIT PLAYERS now online at Subterranean Magazine

My new story "Bit Players" is now online, as part of Subterranean Magazine's Winter 2014 issue.
02 Jan 01:18

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate

by Passive Guy

From Wait But Why:

pro-cras-ti-na-tion |prəˌkrastəˈnāSHən, prō-|
the action of delaying or postponing something: your first tip is to avoid procrastination.

Who would have thought that after decades of struggle with procrastination, the dictionary, of all places, would hold the solution.

Avoid procrastination. So elegant in its simplicity.

While we’re here, let’s make sure obese people avoid overeating, depressed people avoid apathy, and someone please tell beached whales that they should avoid being out of the ocean.

No, “avoid procrastination” is only good advice for fake procrastinators—those people that are like, “I totally go on Facebook a few times every day at work—I’m such a procrastinator!” The same people that will say to a real procrastinator something like, “Just don’t procrastinate and you’ll be fine.”

. . . .

It seems the Rational Decision-Maker in the procrastinator’s brain is coexisting with a pet—the Instant Gratification Monkey.

This would be fine—cute, even—if the Rational Decision-Maker knew the first thing about how to own a monkey. But unfortunately, it wasn’t a part of his training and he’s left completely helpless as the monkey makes it impossible for him to do his job.

. . . .

The fact is, the Instant Gratification Monkey is the last creature who should be in charge of decisions—he thinks only about the present, ignoring lessons from the past and disregarding the future altogether, and he concerns himself entirely with maximizing the ease and pleasure of the current moment. He doesn’t understand the Rational Decision-Maker any better than the Rational Decision-Maker understands him—why would we continue doing this jog, he thinks, when we could stop, which would feel better. Why would we practice that instrument when it’s not fun? Why would we ever use a computer for work when the internet is sitting right there waiting to be played with? He thinks humans are insane.

In the monkey world, he’s got it all figured out—if you eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and don’t do anything difficult, you’re a pretty successful monkey. The problem for the procrastinator is that he happens to live in the human world, making the Instant Gratification Monkey a highly unqualified navigator. Meanwhile, the Rational Decision-Maker, who was trained to make rational decisions, not to deal with competition over the controls, doesn’t know how to put up an effective fight—he just feels worse and worse about himself the more he fails and the more the suffering procrastinator whose head he’s in berates him.

. . . .

The Dark Playground is a place every procrastinator knows well. It’s a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun because it’s completely unearned and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread. Sometimes the Rational Decision-Maker puts his foot down and refuses to let you waste time doing normal leisure things, and since the Instant Gratification Monkey sure as hell isn’t gonna let you work, you find yourself in a bizarre purgatory of weird activities where everyone loses.

Link to the rest at Wait But Why and thanks to C.R. for the tip.

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01 Jan 23:40

U.S. Pays $1 Billion for black farmer discrimination

by Tobias Buckell

Decades of this. Racism is still dogging things. And for everyone who says everyone should be able to self-bootstrap, how the fuck were the black farmers supposed to do that when the field was literally tilted against them?

“The U.S. makes loans and grants to small farms to help them buy the seeds and other items they need to get started with a new year’s crop, to expand their land, or to buy equipment. The program can be a life-line for family farms.

But that isn’t how it has worked for black farmers. While whites submit applications and receive decisions within the 30 days allowed by law, black farmers like Lloyd Shaffer get nothing but humiliation, as Yes! Magazine reports. A white loan officer left Shaffer, who farms in Mississippi, ignored in a waiting room for an entire business day — eight hours — while white farmers who arrived after him went in and out. Three other times, the loan officer took Shaffer’s application from him and dropped it right into the trash.”

(Via U.S. Pays $1 Billion for Years of Discriminating Against Black Farmers | Care2 Causes.)

01 Jan 15:26

A busy year: Lord Bonkers in 2013

by (Jonathan Calder)
As they year draws to its close, it is time to look back in Lord Bonkers' adventures in 2013.


In the February issue of Liberator, his lordship reported his experience of taking part in Call Clegg on LBC:
PRESENTER: Our next call is, er, Lord from Rutland. 
ME: What this I hear about you supporting secret courts, man? Have you taken leave of your senses? What the devil is behind this ridiculous idea? 
CLEGG: I can’t tell you that. 
ME: Why not? 
CLEGG: It’s a secret.

By the time of the April issue, an archaeological dig was taking place in the car park of the Bonkers' Arms:
"Having seen how well Leicester is doing out of Richard III, I have decided that we need to find a body of a king here in Rutland too ... I am saddened by this lack of progress, and a complicating factor is that we have to have everything put back by Friday because that is the day the Smithson & Greaves lorry comes. If it cannot make its deliveries, we shall all be reduced to drinking the dreadful gassy Dahrendorf lager."

In May there was a Liberator's blog exclusive as Jo Swinson visited the Hall. As the boys had gone off to try the vaulting horse they had just made, she addressed the girls:
I have to report that I am somewhat surprised by Jo’s approach. “Blimey,” she says to one girl, “you’ve been stirred in the ugly wok, haven’t you?” before describing another as “a bit of a munter”. Others are dismissed as “mingers”, “butters” and “complete double-baggers”. 
One wonders whether this is quite the way to attract the fairer sex into politics. I suspect the first Lady Bonkers would have clocked Jo one if she had addressed her like that.

June saw Lord Bonkers taking a party of tourists around the East End haunts of Violent Bonham-Carter:
I tell them of Bonham-Carter’s early struggles and patronage of Barbara Windsor (the black sheep of the royal family and, when they first met, a promising bantamweight) and take them for a drink at the Lame Deliverer – the very pub where Violent is said to have done away with the biscuit magnate Jack “The Hat” McVitie. 
The landlord, who witnessed this notorious incident whilst enjoying a ginger beer in short trousers, is quick to point out that McVitie was widely thought to be “getting lairy” and to be “well out of order” – it was, after all, Violent’s manor. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the affair, a good time is had by all and I depart for St Pancras with enough in tips to keep me in Auld Johnston for another year.

A month later and Lord Bonkers was posting a video of the Dalai Lama's monk blessing the turf at Lord's:
I generally ask the Elves of Rockingham Forest to do this here at the Hall. I forgot to pay them one year and it turned square before lunch on the first day.

In August he gave someone asylum:
Meadowcroft finds a youth, dishevelled and wet through, sleeping in his potting shed and hales him before me for judgment. 
“Please don’t send me back,” sobs the accused, “I have escaped from the Liberal Youth Activate weekend. I thought it would be fun, but all we got was endless canvassing drill and lectures on the perils of self-abuse.” 
I give him a hot bath, square meal, suit of clothes and ten bob for the train, but am left troubled. “What has happened to the Spirit of Liberalism, which was first brought to these shores by Joseph of Arimathea?” I ask.

A month later I made an exciting discovery: Earl Russell really did have a big band.

Also in September, Lord Bonkers contributed his usual foreword to the new Liberator Songbook:
Risselty-rosselty, hey, pomposity
Nickety nackety noo, noo, noo. 
There is no denying it: the Scots have a way with a lyric.

In September Sir Alan Beith made an important discovery:
“Good heavens man! You’ve found the spirit of Liberalism. I shall have it cleaned and polished at once.” 
“I expect you will give it to Clegg when you have done that.”
I consider Beith for a moment and then reply: “No, old fellow. I think you had better look after it.”

Which book should ambitious young Liberal Democrats read? In November Lord Bonkers recommended  A Fortunate Life: The Autobiography of Paddy Ashdown - "which is by Paddy Ashdown, incidentally".
I know of no book that sets out half so clearly what is needed to win an election campaign. I don’t mean the chapter on "The Winning of Yeovil" that was made available free on the electric internet recently, excellent though it is In Its Way: no, I am thinking about the section on jungle warfare in Sarawak where Ashplant explains how to mount patrols, the best way to lay an ambush and how to treat an open wound using red ants. It was no surprise to me when, armed with this knowledge, we took control of South Somerset District Council.

Also late in the year, Lord Bonkers recounted his meetings with great philosophers, while I made an important archaeological discovery that casts light on his ancestry.

01 Jan 15:10

Mrs Wibbsey's Festive Diary - Part 7

by (Paul Magrs)



Christmas Day

Even with all the goings-on in the night I’m feeling unusually festive when I go downstairs on Christmas morning. I shall treat myself to hedgerow jam on my toast and cream in my coffee. Let’s push the boat out.

In a way, it would be nice if there was a knock at the door and someone was calling. It would be lovely to have a surprise.

Down in the dining room before the hearth that strange devil dog is waiting to greet me. Cheery tone as he wishes me a Merry Christmas. Taking me aback somewhat.

I make coffee on the stove and when I return he’s looking at those books again. I sit and watch him. He uses a fuzzy kind of torch beam that comes out of his nose to turn the page and memorize everything he sees.

They look like kids’ books to me. Lurid illustrations. Very peculiar stories. They remind me of the only book I had as a child – The Wonder Book. I haven’t thought of that in years. Its cover was black and gold and I used to polish it up, I was so proud of having a book of my own.

‘Shall I read to you?’ asks the metal dog.

‘Why not?’ I smile and sip my cooling coffee. The Doctor used to sit here and tell me outlandish tales, whenever the mood took him. Outrageous things he claimed had happened to him on the journeys he made into the Omniverse in the days before he knew me or the days when he slipped off and left me here to mind the cottage.

The dog tells me about a queer kind of place. A world the Doctor once visited with his friends Sarah and Harry. A world where the men went off to live in the jungle. They actually lived within the fleshy leaves of huge cabbages. They were hiding from the women, who had turned rebellious and noisy, having fallen under the influence of a terrible yellowish-green monster. It was a cloud of vapour that approached from the horizon under a sky the colour of tomato soup.

‘The Sinister Sponge!’ I interrupt excitedly. And then I roll my eyes. ‘Oh, I know all about that awful old thing. The Doctor brought one back in the Tardis and kept it in the downstairs bathroom for more than a month. He was supposed to be returning it to its own dimension, somewhere or other. Then he forgot all about it and the ghastly thing just hung there behind the shower curtain in a horrible mood. I had to clean up after the wretched monster. Even after it had tried to take over my mind…’

The fire crackles and the grandfather clock ticks. It must be telling the wrong time. Surely it’s later than six in the morning. Outside it’s light, but a very muzzy, unclear sort of light that sparkles the frost. There’s no one out and about. The windows around the village green are all dark still.

The dog is telling me a tale about a world of spiders. They were bigger than even the spiders of Metebelis Three. And what’s worse, these spiders of Pergross had large, staring eyes for bodies. They built webs inside intricate, slime-filled jungles and they lured their victims by mesmerizing them with their spiraling irises. Their victims walk straight down a dark, all-seeing tunnel into the mind of the spider itself and there they find a sofa and a television set. And on the television set plays films of their whole lives and everything they ever did wrong…

‘Yes,’ I murmur. ‘I think I’ve heard of them… I think we even went to see the Eye-Spiders of Pergross once, the Doctor and I…’

But the dog has moved on and he’s describing the shrieking Sto-Cat: a robot made of bricks that floated through space boasting on many frequencies. And the Doctor’s friend Swee, who’d gone to the bad. Like so many old friends who’ve gone to the bad. And wasn’t it me – Fenella Wibbsey - standing in that alien desert, looking up to see the face of a Sphinx and realizing the thing was alive? Then it woke and looked down at me with the oldest eyes imaginable and I felt so tiny, having these adventures in space.

Do I remember these things because I was there, or do I just remember the Doctor’s voice telling me all about them? We were sitting in front of this fire when he told me improbable stuff and I always scoffed, though I knew there was a germ of truth in everything he said. But maybe I actually was there in the psychic jungle with his friend who looked like a cheetah? And I was in the Neuronic Nightmare world ruled by the man whose face was on fire. And the blue baboons who flew about the place on ships that looked like spoons and I laughed at first when I saw them and the Doctor said: hush! We’re at the very edge of the universe and those are the Thousand and One Doors to Elsewhere, Mrs Wibbsey.

Or was I just here in Nest Cottage? Peeling spuds, carrying out the rubbish and feeding the rabbits?

All at once the dog jerks into life. He’s off. The books he’s spread out on the floor slam shut of their own accord and he reverses across the stone flags, back into the hall. He bumps into the elephant foot umbrella stand and opens the front door wide.

‘Mistress Wibbsey!’ the dog calls me, and I hurry to catch up as he sets off down the garden path into the crisp morning. I’m on his trail, into the lane, and my slippered feet hardly touch the ground.

‘Dog? Where are we going?’

Now he’s running across the Green and the frost crackles underfoot. He’s gliding and I’m accelerating too… Nothing aches. Nothing breaks. I’m running like I used to when I was a girl.

01 Jan 15:02

Go Gamecocks

by LP

“Coach Ryan, if you want to fight me on this, I’m absolutely prepared to go over your head.”

“Jennifer, I can assure you, it’s…”

“Remember, you’re just the athletic director. If you think I’m not willing to talk to the president of the university, you’re sadly mistaken.”

“I just don’t feel it’s an appropriate sport for a co-educational college.”

“Oh, so this is a boy’s club thing!”

“No, no! I just meant that…”

“That’s not why they call it cockfighting, you know, Coach.”

“I know. I know. I meant it’s not the sort of…”

“I assume you’ve heard of a little thing called Title IX.”

Title IX? We don’t even have a men’s cockfighting team!”

“And I suppose you’re going to blame that on the women’s cockfighting team draining your funding away. Look, it may not be a big-money sport like football or baseball, but it’s got a very proud and noble tradition.”

“But…well, look, I…”

“If it’s the money that worries you, I even have a sponsorship deal lined up.”

“Sponsorship? From who?”

“Quaker Oats Full-O-Pep Growing Mash. They’ve promised us five grand and little jerseys for the bantams. Plus, there’ll be the television money.”


“Cockfighting doesn’t really play on the radio, Coach.”

“No, I mean…who’s going to televise it?”

“ESPN2. They’re pretty desperate for programming. Apparently the Magic: The Gathering tourneys aren’t drawing a big viewership like they used to.”

“Look, Jennifer, you’ve obviously put a lot of work into this, and it’s something you clearly care about a great deal…”

“You’re damn right, Coach Ryan. My family has raised champion blood-bantams and fighting hens since before the American Civil War.”

“It’s just that, well, cockfighting is…isn’t it illegal?”

“Not in three states. Of which we just happen to be one.”

“But, I mean, there aren’t a lot of schools that have cockfighting programs, are there?”

“Sure there are! At least 23 Division III schools in those three states.”

“But we’re a Division I school.”

“What’s your point?”

“Even if I were to allow this, who would we play?”

“That’s the beauty of it, Coach Ryan. We’re guaranteed a championship at least the first two, three years. By the time the other DI schools catch up to us, we’ll already be in the history books.”



“Show me the little jerseys.”

01 Jan 14:29

The New World of Publishing: How to Get Started Selling in 2014

by dwsmith

In the old days, meaning more than four years ago, the path to becoming a professional fiction writer was pretty simple to understand. You wrote stories and novels and mailed them to traditional publishers directly. When the story was rejected, you kept the story (or novel) in the mail until someone bought it. 

Well, not so much anymore. Fiction writers now have that dreaded word: Choice. And so, the path to being a successful fiction writer isn’t so clear anymore. In fact, I would call it downright muddy.

So I’m going to update this article that I did last year because there are so many people coming to this place now that weren’t coming last year, I figure it wouldn’t hurt. If you read this last year, you might want to read it again for updates. I will put two other articles here on this same topic over the next two days.

Warning: Some of you early-career fiction writers may not like my suggestions or observations. Just remember that there is no right way and there is no one way for all writers to take.

I’m just going to try to put some road markers up to keep a few of you out of the ditch. Follow or not follow. It’s your career. Your choice.

The Major Choices

Let me detail out what I see as the six major paths that a fiction writer can take in 2014 when starting out.

1… Follow the myths, write one novel, rewrite it to death, then spend all your time tracking down an agent.

This path seldom leads to a decent sale or decent writing, but most beginning writers still follow this path like blind sheep. I keep hoping I will see signs of this changing, but alas, I just don’t.

2… Write a novel and mail a submission package for your book directly to editors. Then while that book is in the mail, write more novels and mail them as well while working on becoming a better storyteller.

Keep learning from everywhere. This is the way it’s been done forever in publishing and is still valid. (Only difference now from ten years ago is that now you need an IP attorney to work on your contract instead of an agent. Contracts are much more difficult these days and if you get a small deal, chances are they will want all rights forever. But you can worry about that after you get the offer.)

3… Follow the myths that have developed over the last few years. Write a novel, rewrite it to death, pay a gad-zillion bucks to have someone put it up electronically for you and then take a percentage of your work, then you promote it to your 200 friends on Facebook until they start fleeing out of disgust.

This path seldom works, but it is part of the promotion myths.

4… Write a novel, learn how to do your own covers and formatting, put the novel up yourself electronically and in POD and then write the next novel and work on learning and becoming a better storyteller. Repeat. Do not promote other than telling your friends once each book is out.

This is more of a standard, traditional path that will work, but takes time as you learn how to tell better stories that people want to read. Plus there is a learning curve on learning how to do covers and layout interiors that many find very scary, even though not once in the process can anyone come to your house and threaten you with an ax.

5… Follow #4 and #2 at the same exact time, telling the editors in the submission package that the book is published by your press and send them a copy of the paperback in the package.

Very few beginning writers are trying this method because they are afraid traditional editors will come to their houses and break their fingers (or some other fear just as stupid.)

6… Forget novels completely and only write short stories, selling to traditional magazines as well as publishing indie.

This method has a lot quicker feedback loops and is a good way to learn how to tell great stories, but it takes a mind set most beginning writers do not have or will ever have. And you must learn how to do all the indie publishing work yourself. This method was never a path to making a living writing fiction, but now it is possible if you really, really, really love short fiction. Otherwise, just write a few stories here and there to help your novels. Remember, unless you are scary creative in marketing, short fiction does not sell well indie.

That’s the six major paths I see toward making a living selling fiction in 2014. (You won’t make a living starting in 2014, but they are all paths toward making a living in five to ten years time.)

Or you can come up with your own slight variation on those paths.

#1 and #3 don’t work unless you get fantastically lucky.

#2 and #4 lead to long careers, but take time to build.

#5 might get you to making coffee money a little faster, but it will still take years, as it should.

#6 only if you love short fiction with a passion that not even your friends understand..

In my opinion, all writers these days should be writing, selling, and publishing some short fiction along with writing novels. The short fiction market is booming and short fiction should just be a part of any business plan for a fiction writer. (Yeah, yeah, I know, you can’t write short fiction. So learn and stop whining.)

The Problems New Writers Face in 2014

Let me list a few of the big ones.

1) Myths.

These are everywhere, and are mostly flat stupid. But all beginning fiction writers (me included in my day) buy into myths because beginning writers look for the secret handshake, the shortcut, the way to sell books without learning how to tell good stories.


The truth is that the best way to sell books is write a lot, work on learning how to be a better storyteller constantly, get your work in front of editors or readers or both, and plan for the long haul. But new writers ignore that advice, especially the long haul advice.

I have an entire book coming out called Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing. I put them all up here for free, but here are some examples (not all by a long ways) of some major myths in 2014.

a) You need an agent to sell a book.

b) You need an agent to sell a book overseas.

c) You need an agent to sell to Hollywood.

d) Traditional publishing gives you better quality in production and editing.

e) If you lower your price on your only novel, you will make more money.

f) As an indie publisher, you can’t get your books into bookstores.

g) You can pay someone to help you sell a lot of books.

h) You need to promote your book.

Again, there are many more, but those are what I consider the top eight killer myths for writers starting off in 2014.

2) Reactions to information.

In this high-speed world of the information age, any person can offer an opinion. This blog is no exception. The problem early fiction writers face is what to believe, what to listen to, and what to ignore. Now granted, this was the problem when I came in as well back in the 1970s, but now the information is out for everyone to see no matter the source. In my day, we only had to sort out what the established professionals were saying. Now anyone who has a few short stories up can blog about how they did it and what everyone should do.

And there are scammers out there who have never written a word of fiction, but think they can teach you how to write fiction.

How to solve this problem of where to get good information? I have no easy solution.

One suggestion is set up a writing computer that is only for creation of new words. Have no games, no email, no internet connection on that computer. Make it only a writing computer. That way the creative side of things has a line between it and the information overload and opinions flooding at you from everywhere. It honestly will help and be worth the few hundred bucks for a new computer.

Second suggestion is to only listen to people who have more than twenty or thirty or more novels in print and who have been in the business for more than twenty years. Also, make sure this person is also versed in both sides of the business of publishing, both traditional and indie. Some of the old professionals still have their heads in the sand and can hurt you worse than listening to a person with a few titles out indie only. Find the balance between the two extremes.

Third suggestion is listen to your little voice. If it sounds wrong to you, it might be. But if the advice coming at you makes business sense for you, then explore it.

In other words, it’s your career and there are no right answers. Learn to think for yourself. And learn business as fast as you can.

3) Getting in a hurry.

This is the area that is also normal for early fiction writers. And I honestly don’t know the reason why, but I was no exception to this problem when I started out. Now, with the indie publishing, this problem is no longer hidden in each writer’s office, but is out on full display for the world to see.

When watched from the outside, and from a point of distance like I now have, this all seems laughingly funny to me. I watch new writers, who have managed to complete their first novel, promoting the life out of their “book” because they believe they should (myths), and then complaining when there are very few sales.

From a place of perspective, this is like watching a brand new violin player stride onto the stage at Carnage Hall with their very first recital piece and wondering why no one showed up to listen even though they advertised their concert to everyone they knew. Let me simply say, “Duh.”

So one of the worst problems new fiction writers have now is that inability to see that the fiction writing profession is an international profession and it takes years to learn, both on the craft side and the business side. Yes, I said YEARS!!!

And, oh yeah, it takes years of practice as well. (Lost all English majors right there.)

The solution to this is take a deep breath, focus on the writing and learning to write better stories and put the books out either indie or to editors or both and leave them alone. If you get a few buyers, great. If not, no big deal. Trust the audience and the editors to decide when you have graduated to professional-level storytelling.

Again, to be clear, mail or publish your first work and then keep learning. And publish the second and the third and so on. Follow Heinlein’s Rules right from the very first story.

They might not sell, but the problem comes is when you, the writer, EXPECT them to sell. Just put them out after you do the best job you can and move on. They can not hurt you. (It’s a myth that they can kill your career because you don’t have a career. Duh.)

 The Path in 2014

I’m going to give flat out advice right now. Please understand this is only my opinion and please take or leave what you want.

My advice to fiction writers starting out for 2014:

1) Spend 80% of your focus and time on producing new fiction. Not rewriting, not researching, but producing new words on the page. Period. (Follow Heinlein’s Rules to the letter.)

2) Spend 15% of your time on learning craft and business. Both a little at a time. In any way you can. We do a lot of business workshops here besides craft workshops. So do other major fiction writers.

3) Spend the remaining 5% of your time mailing finished work to editors or getting your work up indie published or both. (The #5 path above I believe in 2014 is the best if you have the courage, but most won’t try it.)

4) Think five and ten years out and set production goals. (Not selling goals, you are not in charge of those, but you are in charge of your own production and how much you learn.)

That’s it.


The writers who follow my suggestions are following a path well-worn by generations of professional writers. All of us did it just slightly different in the details and time depending on our background, but we all walked that same basic road.

Even with the indie publishing side of things, which can help cash flow a little, this new world has not varied from the time it takes to learn how to tell a decent story.

Telling a good story is an art form. As with any art, the art takes time to learn.

Make writing new words your main focus.  Make learning business and craft your secondary focus. And get your work out for people to read right from word one.

Don’t get in a hurry.

It really, honestly, is that simple.

And that hard.


Copyright © 2013 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery.  I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling (licensing) any of the pie. 

I make my living with my writing. Sometimes I write these for fun, to entertain myself, sometimes I write these to help others.

Either way, if you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery. Or maybe subscribe to Smith’s Monthly

If you can’t afford to donate or subscribe, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. I don’t always get a chance to respond, but the donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Tip Jar: Go To Paypal


01 Jan 14:22

The New World of Publishing: How to Keep Your Writing Going for All of 2014

by dwsmith

This an almost complete update of a post I had here in late 2012.

I figured it was worth my time and energy to get this updated and out again, especially since so many of you have been watching me with my “Writing in Public” posts and some of you are even subscribing to Smith’s Monthly to read what I actually write.

Thank you, everyone, for that support over the last year. It’s made this all great fun.

Some basics to start:

Any business and production plan you decide to set up for yourself is made up of goals that can be attained with work.

The focus of the goals you set is to attain a dream.

A dream is what you work toward with a series of goals.

Setting Up For Failure: A Warning

I’m starting this post with a couple of warnings: Understand what is failure in a goal and what isn’t failure.

Every time I talk with writers at the end of the year, I hear goals being set that are seemingly impossible when you do the math. I’ve set a few of them myself, to be honest, over the decades.

I honestly have no problem at all with impossible goals. None, as long as the person setting the goal understands that the likely failure can also be deemed a success. But most writers I know don’t understand that simple detail.

For example: Three years ago here I set a goal to write from titles and publish here and online 100 short stories. And even though slightly behind, I felt I was pretty much on schedule to hit that goal when one of my best friends died and I took over his estate. I turned away from writing almost completely to do the estate and only did what deadline work I had.

So did I fail? Nope. I wrote and got out over thirty original short stories that year, plus a number of stories for original anthologies that didn’t count in the challenge. Not the year I hoped, or even my best year, but not a bad year considering all the factors. It would have been far, far worse without the challenge.

But most writers I know, when faced with actually missing their goal, just stop completely. The problem is that the goal sets them up for a failure, and then they use the failure or life issue as an excuse to stop writing.

So caution when setting goals so extreme you can’t make them in any fashion. And if you do set an extreme goal, have fall-back success levels.

The first steps needed…

— I assume you have done the math to know how many original words you can produce of fiction per hour.

— I assume you have figured out how many hours you have each week to write original fiction outside of your family and job requirements.

— I assume you have set up a writing space, and have told your family and friends how important your writing is to you.

— I assume you will protect your work, your time, your art in the new year.

Goals must be set from a position of knowledge, not from a position of wishful thinking.

A Sign of the Classic Want-To-Be-Writer: Another Warning

Every long-term professional fiction writer can spot a hopeless want-to-be fiction writer easily.

— They are the fiction writers who talk about writing, but never finish anything.

— They are the fiction writers who feel jealous of all your writing time because they can never find the time.

— They are the fiction writers who come up with one idea and spend years on it, talking about it, researching it, workshopping parts of it, but never finishing it and moving on.

— They are the fiction writers who believe they will never succeed because they don’t have a major fan base like a major writer, so why bother. Or worse, they finish one thing and spend all year “promoting it.”

— They are the fiction writers who decide they are going to write in the new year, but set no plans, no goals, no structure.

— They are the writers who just get to their fiction writing when they can, when the muse strikes, because ideas are hard and writing is hard.  They “just can’t find the time.” And then the following year they try the same thing that didn’t work every year before.

If you don’t want to be one of those “writers,” be a writer who makes your production of new words important.

 How to Set Fiction Writing Goals in 2014

I’m just tossing out suggestions here. There is no one way for every writer, or only one way for the same writer from year-to-year. Use what strikes you in these ideas, alter them to suit your needs, and set the goals for yourself.

And also I think it would be fine to combine some of these suggestions.

Idea #1

Set your plan to strictly follow Heinlein’s Rules.

The rules are:


1) Write

2) Finish what you write

3) Do not rewrite unless to editorial demand. (Meaning New York book editors who can buy your work, not someone who you hire. It is fine to fix mistakes first readers find and spelling mistakes.)

4) Put it on the market for someone to buy it. (Either a New York editor or readers indie published.)

5) Keep it on the market. (For indie publishers, this means leave it alone.)

If you are one of the very few who have the courage to even try this, let alone succeed with the attempt for an entire year, you will be stunned at how far you will move toward your writing dreams and how much fun you will have. If you don’t understand Heinlein’s Rules, I did an entire lecture explaining why they work. You can find it under the lecture tab above.

Warning on this one. Deceptively simple looking rules, fantastically difficult to actually follow because of all the myths that swirl around fiction writing. You will find yourself spending a ton of time coming up with excuses to not follow them. (Please, don’t comment on your excuses here. These rules are a Yoda situation. Either do. Or Don’t.)

As Robert Heinlein said about his own rules. “But they are amazingly hard to follow — which is why there are so few professional writers and so many aspirants…”

Idea #2

Set a new word count you would like to hit for the year.

“New words” means finished words that can be either indie published or sent to traditional editors. Rewriting, researching, and all the other excuses you have do not count. New words only.

(If you hear yourself say right there, “But…” you may have an issue to deal with.)

Here is how to do this:

Say you would like to finish a quarter of a million new words this year.  A very solid, but scary goal. A very large elephant.

1…. So divide the total word count desired into 50 weekly parts. (Two weeks off for vacation.) Example: 250,000 words divided by 50 weeks = 5,000 new words per week.

2… You have determined you can do about 1,000 words per hour.  So divide the 5,000 words by 1,000 = 5 hours of writing per week.

3… Look at the fiction writing time you have figured you have each week and find about eight hours total to get those five hours of writing done safely in your schedule. (The extra three will give you a cushion.)

4… Then protect those eight hours and write during that time every week to make sure you get the 5,000 minimum words per week done.

At the end of the year you will look back and have finished one quarter of a million words. And trust me, you will be a much better fiction writer at the end of the year with that much practice, and if you finished and mailed or indie published everything, you will be on your way.

A quarter of a million words a year sounds like a great big elephant. But 5 hours of writing per week does not. Yet one equals the other. Weird how that happens, isn’t it?

Idea #3

Set up a production goal.

A lot of people, me included, like production goals more than word-count goals.

When I started seriously writing, I set up a production goal to write and mail one short story per week. That sort of breaks down to the same word count as Idea #2 of 5,000 words per week. But the focus for me was on the finishing and mailing. (I was following Heinlein’s Rules religiously also during the challenge and still do, which is why I am still a professional writer.)

My ongoing challenge is also production based if you notice. I need to write enough to not only fill outside work, but fill Smith’s Monthly every month.

The reason production-based goals sometimes work better is because of the end date. If your goal is to finish one short story every week, that keeps your mind off of the larger goal. You only focus down on one project at a time.

If you are writing novels, I would highly suggest you break it down into smaller goals, such as finishing a scene per day or a chapter per week. And then only focus on that small bite.

Again the key with eating an elephant is to not think of the task, just chew up one bite at a time, only thinking of the bite.

Idea #4

Get one new book up indie published every two weeks. (Take two weeks off, so you are aiming for 25 by the end of the year.)

This is a great challenge a friend of mine is running and a lot of people are taking part on a private list. Set up your own group.

The idea is that the book can be a short story or a collection or a novel. And the key is to have the total at the end of the year.

So if writing a novel, a month or so will go by with nothing new up, then do some short fiction and then a collection before going back to the next novel.

Also, if you have some stories you have written and haven’t sold, or backlist of stories that were published and you now have the rights back, get those up as well. They would count.

There are lots of ways of doing this, and it really works. And having 25 new books in print by the end of the year is something you are going to be very happy about. Trust me.

Reporting In To Someone

Here is the key to success for every major method of goal-setting. You must have someone, or some method, or some way to keep you on track.

If you don’t make your weekly goal or word count, you must tell someone you didn’t make it. If you did make it, you must tell someone you did.

When I started writing fiction seriously with my short-story-per-week challenge, I actually had a bet going with Nina Kiriki Hoffman. If I missed my story for the week, I had to buy her a steak dinner. I couldn’t afford a steak dinner.

Sometimes you can put your progress on your web site as a weekly update. Even if not that many people show up to your web site, you know some will and your failure or success will be out there in the open. You can even use one of those word counters that you can get as a plugin for your site if you are doing a word-based goal.

(Interestingly enough, my posting of my Writing in Public blogs don’t really push me. It’s getting Smith’s Monthly content that pushes me. The Writing in Public daily blogs I can miss writing on some days and it’s no big deal. I don’t want to miss a Smith’s Monthly. Subscribers paid money for those. Remember, every writer is different. You would think that people coming to this blog would push me. Nope. I just hope the posts help other writers at times, and people tell me they do, so I’ll keep going for a while on them. But Smith’s Monthly will continue for a long time into the future.)

When I was writing media novels, I had very hard and fast deadlines. Sometimes I was trying to beat the movie out when I wrote novelizations. There could be no excuses. (I have done about twelve movie novelizations, including Rundown, The Core, 10th Kingdom, Final Fantasy, and so on.)

And with ghost novels, it was the same way.

Sometimes this person you report to is just another writer, sometimes it is a family member, sometimes a post on your blog. But with every small goal achieved or missed, report to someone or post it somewhere where people will see it. Set it up ahead so that person knows what you are doing. (No I will not be that person for anyone and you can’t use these post messages for the task either. Sorry.)

And if you don’t report to the person you have set up, make sure they know to ask you how it is going.

If you hate this idea of reporting in some fashion or another, check in with yourself to see where the fear is coming from. And then use that fear to drive you even more.

An important reminder right here. NEVER SHOW A WORK IN PROGRESS TO ANYONE. Protect your art. You can say you finished chapter 52, but don’t show it until you are ready to release the entire book to the world.

 What Happens When You Fail?

Everyone with a family and a day job and a life will fail on short-term goals set at the beginning of the year. There are almost no exceptions to that rule. And if you think you will be the exception in 2014, you are delusional, I’m afraid.

So what do you do when life derails you?

Climb back on the next week. Or as soon as you can.

Say you are doing a short story per week with the intent of getting to fifty by the end of the year. Suddenly life gets in your way and you miss three weeks in April.

DON’T TRY TO CATCH UP. Just get back on the focus of the weekly goal and keep going. Trust me, at the end of the year you will be very happy with 47 stories finished.

But if you let it stop you cold, you won’t be happy by the time the end of the year rolls around.

And these year-end check-in-points just keep happening every year.

So here are my suggestions when life derails you and you miss your short-term goal.

1… Don’t even once think about catching up. Can’t happen and will make things worse.

2… Climb back onto your production challenge or weekly page goal as soon as you are able.

3… If life alters so much as to make the original weekly pace impossible, stop and reset a new goal for the year and for each week and then stick to that.

4… Somehow, with help or with some mechanism, remember these suggestions.

Chances are you will not remember.  Sadly.

You will be buried in a life crisis and then when that clears you will be mad at yourself for not doing the impossible and protecting your writing time and meeting your weekly goals. And you will be swirling in the failure instead of just focusing on being successful the following week.

Wow, was that easy for me to type and so hard for any of us to do. (grin)

The real key to having a successful year (writing fiction) is that when you get stopped, and you will, to start back up as soon as you can.

In Summary

— Get your available writing hours figured.

— Get your writing speed per hour figured.

— Tell your family and friends around you how important what you are going to do is. Be prepared to remind them all the time.

— Get ready to protect your time. Set up an office without distractions and a computer without e-mail or games only used for fiction writing.

— Figure out a yearly goal for words or production, then back it down into weekly goals that will get to your yearly goal. Make sure your weekly goals have extra time in them for small life events.

— Plan in time to keep learning, to go to a conference or two, to take some classes, to read some writing books, to read other novels and stories for pleasure.

— Set up someone or some place to report your progress and failures to.

— Then decide to have fun.

That’s right, I said have fun.

If the act of fiction writing isn’t fun for you, get out of this chase now.

If you aren’t excited and scared about the coming year and the learning and writing, get out of this chase now.

Fiction writing isn’t brain surgery. It is entertainment.

You are trying to be an entertainer in 2014.

For heaven’s sake, have fun doing it.

2014 is a brand new year. The world didn’t end. Traditional publishing didn’t fail. More fiction writers than ever are making money with their fiction.

It’s a new golden age for fiction writers.

Have fun. Happy New Year.


Copyright © 2014 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime


01 Jan 13:31

Recommended Reading

by evanier

Politifact offers up The Top 10 most viewed fact checks of 2013 and also, with some overlap, The Top 16 myths about health care law.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Politifact, it's a fact-checking project offered by the Tampa Bay Times. When it tells you that your political allies are correct and that your opponents are lying, it's a valuable, unbiased service whose integrity is beyond question. And when it tells you the opposite, it's a dishonest smear machine working for the opposition.

01 Jan 04:52

#541 Cross Sites

by (treelobsters)
01 Jan 03:43

How to Give Someone An Intangible Gift (rerun)

by Scott Meyer

As always, thanks for using my Amazon Affiliate links (USUKCanada).

01 Jan 03:28

Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea 74: Merlin

by (Philip Sandifer)
Jack Graham, of Shabogan Grafitti, asked me a month or so ago if I'd seen Merlin. I said I hadn't, but it was on the list to cover before Season Two of Sarah Jane Adventures. He then proceeded to tell me how appalling it was, and I decided that I'd rather read him writing about Merlin than actually watch it. 

The Dragon, the Villain and the Closet

Whoah… where am I?  I was just rummaging around in the back of the wardrobe and suddenly here I am, surrounded by fractal paisley.  

Ah, I remember.  I was supposed to come to this land of hallucinogenic monochrome and talk about… get this… Merlin.  

Yes, Merlin, the extremely popular series – made by BBC Wales and Freemantle - which ran from 2008 to 2012.  I recently watched it all the way through, for reasons that defy rational explication.

Okay, first the background.  I’ll do this stuff in bullet points, so to speak, because it doesn’t really interest me.

BBC Wales.  Julie Gardner (among others).  Family show based on Arthurian legends.  Various attempts prior to this (one involving Chris Chibnall).  Tone based on Russell T. Davies’ mega-successful reinvention of Doctor Who, and on Smallville (i.e. the adventures of a famous hero when still a teenager).  Openly and obviously a post-Who-revival show… not least because the two leads (Colin Morgan as Merlin and Bradley James as Arthur) look like they’re agents of the Remote, remembered into existence by people thinking about David Tennant.  Morgan was created by someone who concentrated on Tennant’s lean and dark geekiness while James was constructed by someone more impressed by his cheekbones and pout.  

Basic set-up.  It’s the Middle Ages (sort of).  In Camelot (which, in this version, is a kingdom rather than just a castle), magic is banned - and by magic we also mean Druidism and anything falling under the rather vague category of ‘the old religion’.  Uther Pendragon, the king, has persecuted the sorcerers out of Camelot, and burns any he finds still within his borders.  This doesn’t stop him trusting various random strangers who turn up wearing long magician-robes and long magician-beards, carrying magicky-looking staffs covered in runes and zodiacal symbols… because he’s a doofus.  (He’s also played by Anthony Stewart Head, an actor whose immense popularity I find utterly baffling.  Honestly, he’s not even talented enough to do coffee commercials.)  Merlin is a young sorcerer.  Naturally, he goes to live in Camelot, right by the king’s castle.  Because that’s what I’d do if I was magic: head straight for the nearest genocidal tyrant who likes burning magic people alive.   It later transpires that his mother sent him to Camelot for his safety.  Let’s say that again: they lived outside Camelot, and when she discovered her son was magic, she sent him into Camelot… for his safety.  (This gives you some idea of the writing.)  Merlin promptly gets a job as the (only) personal servant to young, arrogant Prince Arthur.  They become best friends in about a day.  Merlin, however, must hide his true nature from his new best friend.  Merlin also befriends a badly animated CGI dragon, who periodically gives him cryptic instructions in John Hurt’s voice.  The dragon tells Merlin that it his destiny to shepherd Arthur to kingship (a tad puzzling, given that Arthur is already the sole heir), thus bringing Albion into existence.  Beyond that, I’m just going talk about it like you’ve all seen it.  So beware spoilers… if you’re the kind of person who thinks knowing about plot developments in advance ‘spoils’ things, as if drama is somehow about surprises.

One other thing to wave my hand at first: magic.  There’s any entire essay to be written about Merlin’s attitude to mythology, faeries, druidism, Samhainn, etc.  Jane needs to write that one, not me.  Not my bailiwick.  I’ll simply note that Merlin is blithely post-Potter about its magpie use of magical concepts, characters, legends and stories.  It takes what it likes from where it likes, generally recycling pre-existing mythological entities rather than creating its own out of whole cloth, regardless of context, adding its own twist - usually flatulence jokes or some kind of jaw-dropping racefail.  

Okay, on with the real stuff.  

As you’ll have gathered from my brief summary above, Merlin pays scant attention to Arthurian ‘canon’.  It basically just uses the names and then does what it likes with them.  Guinevere is Morgana’s personal maid before she gets promoted to Queen.  Stuff like that.  But that’s okay.  Just about every iteration of the Arthurian legend has done this to some extent.  Every version is a palimpsest.  It was always that way.  Geoffrey of Monmouth himself paid no attention to his own past works about Merlin every time he wrote a new one.  (Geoffrey of Monmouth is a character in Merlin, by the way, cheekily implying that his books were based on memories of things he witnessed… odd, given that the events of the show bear little or no relation to Geoffery’s tales of Merlin.)

It’s probably needless to remark that the series rarely makes any effort to refer to actual feudal social and economic relations.  At the best of times, TV tends to depict pre-capitalist epochs as capitalism in period costume (that relative newcomer capitalism is always claiming to be eternal and universal), and Merlin is very much at the extreme end of this, with the early Middle Ages as little more than a notional backdrop, evoked by putting the cast in vaguely old-fashioned clothes and taking away their mobiles.  Indeed, it’s hardly possible to say with certainty that this version of the legend is even supposed to be set in the Middle Ages, given the number of anachronisms.  The characters seem to know about the germ theory of disease, for example.  But then, our entire popular idea of ‘the Middle Ages’ is itself a massive post-facto construction, largely fabricated from anachronisms.  The castle where they filmed the Camelot scenes is itself an example of this.  The Château de Pierrefonds is another palimpsest, a rewritten temporal mish-mash, as are so many ‘old’ buildings.  (I live near a Cathedral that is basically a Victorian copy of itself.)  Begun in the 12th century, Pierrefonds was partly demolished in the 17th century, and was left as a ruin until the 19th century, when Napoleon III (he of Eighteenth Brumaire fame) ordered it restored.  They ran out of money, and the place was left partly rebuilt in the style of the 14th century.  So a good portion of the look of the building consists of hamfisted 19th century attempts to ‘do’ the late Middle Ages for their own modern sensibilities.   Which is precisely what the entire Merlin TV series resembles: a happily hamfisted attempt to ‘do’ the Middle Ages (i.e. to romantically and licentiously evoke the style) for modern consumption.  I’m striking a disapproving tone but, in fairness, this is just how the past is constructed by the present.  It is remembered into existence.  And memory is something we construct.  It carries the sense of construction within it.  ‘Remember’ means to put pieces back together, as though stitching arms and legs back onto a torso.  You remember what was dismembered.  The past is rebuilt.  And when you rebuild old things, you make them in the image of your own time.  (This is exacerbated by modernity, which is the age of capitalism – the ultimate assimilator.)  The task is to understand what the rewriting, the remembering and the reiteration tells us about the society doing it.  

In line with this, Merlin pays no attention to the actual mechanics of how social hierarchy worked in the early Middle Ages.  Arthur and his servant become friends, banter with each other, exchange sitcom put-downs, etc.  Arthur has a romance with Guinevere, who is a servant in this version of the legend.  There is much agonizing about this, with traditionalist Uther objecting to the match and progressive young Arthur promising Guinevere that one day, when he’s king, things will be different (i.e. medieval kings will no longer care about social class distinctions, or need marital alliances with other potentates).  Uther is the only character who ever, even occasionally, acts like he might be from the Middle Ages.  Mainly, his adherence to a nebulous old-fashionedness translates into him being wrong about everything all the time.  He vaguely resembles something faintly like a genuine medieval king; dramatically, this is represented as stubborn idiocy.  People in the past were stupid, in other words, because they failed to think like we think we do.

Another issue is the fact that Guinevere is played by Angel Coulby, a woman of colour.  (This is in line with the admirable convention of colour blind casting which sees black actors playing Shakespearean kings at the Globe theatre.)  Most black Britons arrived from the 16th century and after (i.e. from the Early Modern Period onwards), and especially after the rise of the slave trade.  But it isn’t infeasible that there might have been black Britons during the Middle Ages.  We know there were people of colour and ‘mixed-race’ people in Roman Britain.  In any case, the fact that Guinevere and her family are black, and nobody ever mentions it, is an issue only in so far as it demonstrates the project of depicting the past as the present with the electricity taken away… and thus, in this version, depicting the present as post-racial, or nearly so.  Indeed, sometimes you watch the ructions about Arthur’s romance with Guinevere and wonder if it isn’t all in code.  Is what’s really being depicted here an inter-racial romance facing objections from racists?  If so, the trajectory depicted by the series represents a panglossian liberal view of how racism can be (probably already has been) overcome.  Progress will work its magic.  The crusty, bigoted old traditionalists will fall away, leaving the way clear for a younger generation who just don’t care about such old prejudices.  Even if social status isn’t code for race, the picture remains the same.  The younger generation will do away with distinctions.  Arthur is best buds with Merlin, for example.  He makes Guinevere’s brother into a knight.  He actually populates the Round Table almost completely from the ranks of worthy commoners.  Uther is the old world, stubbornly clinging on; Arthur is the new, liberal, classless, post-racial, meritocratic utopia (i.e. now) waiting to be born.  Hooray for Arthur (i.e. us).

In Merlin, this imminent liberal utopia is called Albion.  This is what Merlin exists to bring about.  This is the future that the Dragon schemes to midwife into being.  This is simultaneously destined to happen all by itself and is dependant upon the actions of a few key enlightened men – most especially Merlin and Arthur.  This is the ‘great man’ theory of history, but it’s also the Whiggish march of ineluctable upward progress, temporally relocated to the (notional) Middle Ages.  And we know what came after the Middle Ages, don’t we?  After medievalism came modernity; after feudalism came capitalism.  This set of inbuilt assumptions, so implicit as to be utterly silent and unconscious, is hardly unique to Merlin.  On the contrary, such assumptions are endemic.  As mentioned, capitalism likes to pretend it has always existed, but it also likes to present itself as the summit of human social and moral development, the apex towards which history was always headed.  Nobody ever said ideology had to be consistent.  

But all of this is to ignore the dragon in the room.  Because there’s one thing that Merlin is about that eclipses anything about class or race.  Merlin is about gay people and homophobia.  It is openly about this.  It can barely even be called a subtext.  It’s just the text.  

Merlin himself never has a single heterosexual relationship throughout the whole five year run.  Okay, he has a rather sweet little dalliance with a persecuted girl (she turns into a winged panther every now and again… hey, nobody’s perfect) but it never gets anywhere near transcending friendship before she dies.  (Parenthetically, she later comes back from the dead to help Merlin out of a very sticky situation, simply because he was kind to her… which is lovely.  I just love it when the hero wins because he has help that he earned via an act of selfless kindness.  That sort of thing doesn’t happen often enough.  It never happens to Harry Potter, for instance, who is never selfless.  Ever.)  There’s no Vivien for Merlin in this version.  He is sometimes thought by Arthur to have crushes on various female characters but the assumption is always wrong.  The non-magic Arthur, by contrast, is matched with a series of eligible princesses before settling down with Guinevere.  Merlin himself never responds to Guinevere’s early interest in him.  I’m not going to pretend that no magic person in the show ever has a heterosexual relationship, but it always seems like an afterthought.  Merlin himself is clearly fixated upon Arthur to the exclusion of everyone else.  They are so obviously designed to be slashable that slashing them hardly seems worth bothering with (though I daresay it’s been done).  Merlin’s guardian and fellow sorcerer, Gaius, lives as a batchelor.  Magic Morgana has no heterosexual relationship either, and when she turns evil it is largely under the instigation and influence of Morgause, a beautiful sorceress to whom Morgana becomes devoted and whom she calls ‘Sister’ (they are notionally related).  Morgause, it should be noted, is first seen in male battle dress, and never has a heterosexual relationship, murdering her ally Cenred when he tries to claims sex with her as a reward.

But the most important marker in all this is secrecy.  Morgana is closeted, fearful that Uther will discover her secret: that she’s a seer.  Merlin is closeted.  There is repeated talk of how he has to ‘hide his true nature’ from his best friend.  He must hide it, of course, because he lives in a society that fears, persecutes and legislates against ‘his kind’.  Moreover, his best friend is the son of the ruler of that society, and he props up the regime that would burn Merlin alive!  This is an active threat: several times during the series, ‘goodie’ characters are threatened with execution on charges of sorcery.  Arthur is conflicted over the rights and wrongs of his father’s persecution of magic, flip-flopping back and forth so that Merlin can get his hopes up before the status quo is restored ready for next week’s episode.  But there’s no doubt that Arthur would react badly to the knowledge that Merlin has magic.  He is furious when he finally finds out (though, of course, they make it up).

This leads me to something else, which alters the whole picture.  Merlin’s project to bring about Arthur’s kingship, and thus Albion, is inherently a project to bring about a new society in which ‘magic’ is tolerated and ‘his kind’ no longer have to stay in the closet.  Yet Arthur is by no means unequivocally a supporter of what we might call ‘magic rights’.  On the contrary, whatever his periodic qualms, he’s an extremely effective enforcer for Uther’s regime.  At one point he holds a sword to a child’s throat in order to force information out of a peaceful band of druids.  Uther’s regime is, let’s not forget, openly genocidal.  He has ethnically cleansed sorcerers, druids and the religiously recalcitrant out of his kingdom, and literally exterminated the stragglers.  Arthur helps him.  Actively.  Repeatedly.  Continuously.  And Merlin is Arthur’s best friend.  He helps Arthur.  He helps Uther.  He protects their regime.  Actively.  Repeatedly.  Continuously.  Merlin helps them frustrate attempts by sorcerers, witches, faeries and druids to topple their state.  Merlin is a comprador.  A collaborator.  He’s a gay man who has allied himself with murderous persecutors of gay people.  He’s a Jew voluntarily working for Eichmann.  And he’s the hero.  Uther’s policies, and Arthur’s complicity, are not left unchallenged by the series, but ultimately Arthur is absolved and supported.  He’s a goodie, despite what he does, because he’s Arthur.  His goodness is declared by fiat.

This is not only silencing of gay people who actively fight homophobia on the grounds that society as it stands is inherently homophobic.  The ultimate message is that the oppressed should not try to liberate themselves, or fight their oppressors, or topple genocidal tyrants; rather they should wait for liberals from within (and at the top of) the system to eventually hand down reforms out of the goodness of their hearts.  Shut up, stay at home, keep quiet, don’t fight, just wait for things to change all by themselves.  At length, the system will right itself.  Any attempt - and according to Merlin it really is any attempt at all – to oppose the system instantly collapses into villainy.  All the magic opponents of Uther and Arthur are evil.  Every last one of them.  Only the magic allies of Uther and Arthur (Merlin and Gaius) are allowed to be good people.

Look where the utter detachment from real history leads.  It leads to pusillanimous guff like this.  It leads to the idea that justice comes from above, a gift from the same people who rule an unjust society.  It forgets that universal male suffrage in Britain could’ve waited forever if it’d depended upon Gladstone’s conscience, and that it was only when Chartists started taking over Hyde Park that the establishment caved in.  It forgets that it was the civil rights movement that brought civil rights, not benevolent Presidents acting from unpressured principle.  It forgets that it was the Suffragists who made female suffrage an unignorable issue.  It forgets that it was the Abolitionist movement, and the slaves who stole themselves from their masters and joined the Union armies, that brought Lincoln to the point where he started issuing proclamations.  It forgets that it was Watt Tyler and John Ball, and the thousands who backed them, who helped start the decline of feudalism in England, and that it was the Levellers and Diggers and the New Model Army who pushed it further.  It forgets that it was a Europe-wide surge of revolution that ended the First World War.  It forgets Tahrir Square.  It forgets Stonewall.  It forgets that every last scintilla of real progress and justice has had to be wrenched from the clenched teeth and grasping claws of the ruling classes since the dawn of civilisation, fought for and won by the oppressed themselves, by ordinary people fighting and shouting and refusing to obey – and yes, sometimes, killing kings.

Instead, in Merlin, as in so many other products of the capitalist culture industries, the oppressed in revolt become evil and more powerful than the oppressors.  The oppressors become the victims of the oppressed.  The oppressed become the aggressors.  They become machiavellian schemers.  They become simultaneously cynical demagogues, fanatical zealots and amoral nihilists.  The various villains that Arthur and Merlin face are all representatives of the groups that Uther has ruthlessly persecuted.  They are engaged in antagonism because Uther has persecuted them, but they are depicted as the evil victimisers of the poor tyrant who just wants to live in peace.  Their behaviour – disproportionately ruthless and destructive - justifies the structural violence of Uther’s regime.  It’s perhaps unfair to hold Merlin up as a whipping boy.  This is a very common and old strategy.  On screen, it’s as old as Stagecoach and Birth of a Nation.  And it goes back much further than moving pictures.  

It’s worth remembering the origin of the word ‘villain’.  It comes from villein.  The villeins were pretty much the lowest of the low in feudal Europe.  The scum of the earth.  The serfs.  Peasants, tied to the land.  Effectively, the property of the landowner.  And they were in the majority.  Our word for ‘evil person’ or ‘antagonist’ comes from the word that described the great masses of oppressed, bullied, exploited working people in feudal Europe, the people who created all the wealth that the kings ate and wore and traded and stored and administered and fought wars with and sat their fat arses on.  

As ever, in Merlin, the oppressed and persecuted are both depicted as baser and nastier than anyone else and held to a higher moral standard.  They must shut up and put up, and wait forebearingly in hope for reform, or they become malignant.  To resist is to become wicked, by definition.  Look what happens to Morgana.  She discovers that she has magical abilities; she comes to empathise with people victimised by Uther’s regime; she becomes disgusted by Uther’s cruelty; she is approached by people fighting back; she eventually goes over to their side.  But, of course, the druids and sorcerers she meets are cynical and machiavellian and cruel… because revolutionaries always are.  Morgause uses and manipulates Morgana.  She allies herself with a vicious warlord.  She slaughters the innocent.  Morgana’s ethical awakening, her rejection of the system from which she has previously benefitted, and her identification with the oppressed, is specifically shown to stem from empathy and moral outrage at injustice… and yet, somehow, without any rhyme or reason, when she finally departs Camelot and openly goes over to the other side, she becomes a sadistic psychopath with no regard for the suffering of the innocent, acting from motives of thwarted ambition, petty jealousy and irrational vindictiveness.  Her political awakening comes from compassion and simultaneously nullifies that compassion.  It couldn’t be clearer: political outrage, no matter how well intentioned, instantly becomes dangerous the moment it steps beyond the boundaries of the state, of the mainstream, of the legal, of reformism, of consensus political normality.  

In the conversation that led to this guest post, Phil told me that he thinks of the X-Men comics as a continual attempt to evade the issue that a population targeted for genocide because of super powers would be within their rights to use those powers to attack their oppressors.  He has an issue with the idea that Professor Xavier (the good mutant) is Martin Luther King and Magneto (the bad mutant) is Malcolm X.  I agree with him.  Firstly, MLK wasn’t the cuddly reformist that everyone makes him out to be nowadays as they all clamour to share in his reflected glory (same thing now happening with Mandela).  And Malcolm X wasn’t evil because he was radically antagonistic to white society.  To the extent that Magneto is meant to represent a rejection of Malcolm X, to hell with him.  But, Magneto also gives Malcolm X an avatar within the story.  He, and ‘villains’ like him, allow the radical point of view in through a crack in the ideology.

I’ve always cheered for the baddies.  I've always empathised and sympathised with them more than the heroes, the lovers, the plucky kids, the brave dogs, etc.  It’s quite startling how often the ‘baddies’ are considerably more sympathetic, how often they are declared bad by authorial fiat, how often they have a good point.

I was watching Clash of the Titans recently.  I don't give a flying toss about Perseus or Andromeda.  So far, so uncontroversial.  Perseus is just a way for the audience to meet monsters, and Andromeda is wetter than Ian Duncan Smith's pants when he secretly fantasises about setting up extermination centres for the poor.  But, I also sympathise with Calibos, Thetis and Medusa.  Calibos is made "abhorrent to human sight" (which, of course, entails dark skin and tightly curled hair) by Zeus for... what?  All we're told is that he all but wiped out Zeus' flying horses.  So... he was a hunter.  Okay, that's not to my taste, but it would hardly be unusual.  The problem is that he irritates Zeus.  Isn't his punishment a tad excessive?  Yes, he curses Joppa and starts ordering the burning of men who can't solve his riddles... but there's no indication that he was like that before he was punished with ugliness and loneliness.  And I’m pretty sure Joppa had capital punishment anyway; Calibos’ curse is probably just the first time they’ve ever burned any rich people.  Thetis, his mother (who instantly scores points with me by being Maggie Smith), is also supposed to be dodgy... yet, what does she do?  She resents the excessive punishment meted out to her son in contrast with the pampering Zeus gives his own son Perseus.  Medusa too.  Why is she evil?  Apparently, simply because she’s ugly.  Well, I’m ugly.  Why should I side with bronzed, muscle-bound, entitled, jock meat-head Perseus over Medusa?  Yeah, she kills loads of guys… who are invading her home, trying to kill her and steal her cranium.  This is evil?  (I guess so, by the standards of a world that – to choose an example at random from many possibilities - thinks the Cubans are evil for being Communists but the Americans are noble for invading, attacking and impoverishing Cuba relentlessly over decades.)  I realise, by the way, that the capriciousness of Zeus is recognised by the film, but even so the film sides with him and his boy.  Just as Merlin, while formally frowning on Uther, also implicitly champions his kingship.  I sympathise more with the unjustly tortured Calibos, who inflicts revenge on the ruling classes of Joppa, who attacks them with their own values.  I sympathise with Thetis who tries to frustrate Zeus’ plans.  I sympathise with Medusa, who defends herself against the headhunters.  They may be evil within the schema of the text, but they have a better objective moral position, as far as I can see.  The text may condemn them, but they allow radical antagonism to the established order in through a crack.

There’s funny way in which villains are often not nearly as bad as the narrative tells us they are.  They are often simply declared to be bad.  They are marked by baddie music and baddie lighting and baddie costumes, and by the opinions of the heroes, yet never do anything particularly evil… or, at least, no more evil than the heroes and their establishment.  The structural violence of the established order vanishes from view because it is naturalised by power, but it’s there to be seen if you look for it.  Is Joppa any better than Calibos?  Is Camelot really any better than Morgause and Cenred?  The goodies are often simply declared to be good, and we’re expected to take it for granted.

This goes right back.  What is Grendel but an outsider, driven mad by loneliness and exclusion?  If you’re not keen on the rule of King Hrothgar, Grendel’s rampages might not look so bad.  You might understand his motivation, get his grievance, and not be too upset by his attacks upon Heorot.  It is really so easy to see why the inside should be allowed to tyrannise the people on the outside?  It is really so hard to see why the excluded, chased-away and disavowed shouldn’t breach the barriers that have been erected to keep them out in the cold?  Is it really so automatic and axiomatic that the reactive crime should be deemed worse than the original crime?  Isn’t it, rather, that villainy is constructed from any attack upon established power?

There’s something else about villains that makes me sympathise with them.  They exist to be defeated.  Their challenge is only there so that it can be knocked down and then held up for ridicule.  Well, again, I know that feeling.  Aren’t villains just the eternal paupers of fiction, fiction’s homeless, fiction’s reserve army of labour, there to provide a buffer and foil, there to keep the other characters in line, there to be used to make stories work, and to be ritually defeated to make stories end with the restoration of order?  Villains are living embodiments of the social outcast.  Doomed to ugliness, loneliness, exclusion and defeat.  

Yet, when villains attack, they’re often a just punishment.  Like the capriciousness of the gods or the cruelty of Uther, this is something that fiction acknowledges for spice and then disavows.  Look at Richard III.  His play is often seen alone, heavily cut.  Seen in full however, and especially when seen as the culmination of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ tetralogy, Richard looks less like an aberrant monster and more like the wrath of god visited upon a rabble of scumsucking hypocrites who have richly deserved him.  If you haven’t seen the earlier plays in the series, and if loads of his reflective and guilt-ridden lines are cut, Clarence looks like an innocent victim of a pointlessly perfidious brother.  If you know the full story however, you know that Clarence is turncoat, a traitor, a perjurer, a power-hungry machiavel himself.  Same with Richard’s other brother, Edward.  Same with Margaret.  She goes on and on about how evil Richard is… and she had his father murdered after offering him a handkerchief smeared with the blood of his murdered youngest son! 

Like the villains in Merlin, Richard must be ritually defeated in order that a new, happy millennium can be ushered in.  For the British culture industries in the early-21st century, the happy millennium is that of liberal capitalism.  For Shakespeare, it was the rule of the Tudors.  As I said, the past is always reconstructed according to the priorities – the ruling ideology – of the present.
The terrible challenge that the villain represents is the challenge of the system knowing itself.  Richard plays the same game as the rest of the Yorkists and Lancastrians, but he plays it with an awareness of what a cynical, pitiless, specious game it is.  Clarence and Edward play self-flattering games of repentance and redemption.  Richard knows how false and vain that stuff is.  Consequently, he can’t see the social system that has brought him to power as anything other than what it truly is: an unjust sham.  This is where Morgana comes to… and, like Richard, it turns her into a psychopath, because to oppose the established order, to be outside like Grendel, is inherently to become a monster.  This is the story that power tells us.

This is the same challenge that villains keep being made to raise before they are smacked down and silenced for our collective thrill of relief.  The Nolan Batman films do this three times over, most openly in the third movie, in which the villain is a revolutionary who presents Gotham City with a challenge to its specious morality and openly acknowledges the class war that has made Bruce Wayne both beneficiary and vigilante.  Bane is a machiavel, a fanatic, a nihilist, a demagogue… all the usual stuff, because the challenge exists to be discredited.  But, as noted, like Grendel and Richard and Magneto and Morgause, he also lets the radical argument in through the cracks in the façade.
Voldemort does the same thing.  He exploits the injustices upon which the Wizarding World is based – the oppression of elves, goblins, giants, etc. – but which it never talks about or faces up to.  He acknowledges the existence of social class, aristocracy, biological racism and unaccountable, undemocratic politics within Wizarding society – something that beneficent wizards like Dumbledore are prepared to countenance in silence, with the occasional homily about how wizards have behaved badly.  Like Richard, his villainy stems from his awareness and his lack of hypocrisy.  Like the others, he exists to be silenced.  Like the others, he lets the radical howl be heard, even if in a distant and garbled form.

These characters exist to raise challenges that cannot be safely ignored forever, then to be ritually crushed and silenced so that the status quo can be resumed with an untroubled feeling of virtue triumphant.  The challenge is assimilated and digested, made into nutrition and the excreted, keeping the organism going.  The wizards keep their house elves; Gotham City gets the chance to build some new orphanages and stave off its reckoning indefinitely.  Sauron brings back the king.  Shinzon tries to lead his people to freedom and just ends up helping the Federation make peace with the Empire that enslaved him.  We should be allowed to sympathise with the leader of a slave rebellion against an empire, but Star Trek Nemesis makes Spartacus into a mass-murderer and a rapist.  But even so, it lets Spartacus in – just for a moment.  (This is very much what happens in ‘The Time Warrior’ by the way – the Saxon rebel is depicted as the Norman imperialist ruling class would have seen him, the way the Western media sees the Iraqi resistance.  This is unfortunate, since one of the things I love about Doctor Who is that its villains very often represent the powerful rather than the powerless, and thus can be properly hated.)

The life of the villain is a lonely one, a life of angrily confronting hypocrisy and injustice, and being despised for it, only to be squashed so that the hypocrisy and injustice can continue.  I can sympathise with that.  I can sympathise with the people who say to Merlin ‘hang on, Uther’s a bloody tyrant and supporting him doesn’t help anyone that he persecutes – you should fight him, like we’re doing!’.  Especially since those people always, inevitably, get beaten – but keep trying anyway.  They’re not just the poor of the Land of Fiction; they’re the demonstrators and activists and strikers and rebels, soldiering on the face of certain defeat, unaware that they’ve already lost.  Being such people, they are monstered and calumniated.  And they are never allowed to have any viable solutions to offer, just incoherent rage that can be shouted down.  But at least they’re there.
Wait, the goodies tell us.  Wait for Albion.  It’ll arrive.  Just be patient.  Well, Albion is a very old promise… and, whatever the panglossian liberal morality plays we call family entertainment may say, we’re still bloody waiting.  At least the villains, unlike Merlin, are trying to kick up a stink about the delay.
01 Jan 02:25

Viral sharing and truth in journalism.

Viral sharing and truth in journalism.
30 Dec 17:22

Nine lies about fat that ruined the western world's health.

Nine lies about fat that ruined the western world's health.
30 Dec 17:22

On geek culture.

On geek culture.
30 Dec 17:20

#476; In which Suffering was a Waste

by David Malki !

All that factory work has been real character-building for little Billy, you know?

This Classic Wondermark was originally published December 30, 2008!