Marginalia

Once when I was a boy I rode out in the general direction of the Twiceborn King, with some fantasy of burying my stolen sword up to the hilt in his undead flesh. I had only a vague idea of where I was going, and no idea of what I’d do once I got there. I made my way from village to hamlet, but before I got to see any battles or castles or magic, before I’d even crossed the river, my father caught up with me and wrestled me home. I’m glad he did. Farm work had made me more than strong enough to swing the sword around, but in my hands it was just a club. I had no coin. No plan. I’d have been just another rotting body in the Twiceborn army by the time the Protagonist arrived to destroy it.

Read about a character dissatisfied with his place in the story in Marginalia, reprinted in Spillwords. 🙂

How to Help

By Hook Or By Book

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Hi everyone. If you’re like me and are feeling sad, frustrated, and helpless over the continuing systemic racism in America, here are some ways to become proactive.

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#

https://www.thecut.com/2020/05/george-floyd-protests-how-to-help-where-to-donate.html

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https://www.splcenter.org/20170814/ten-ways-fight-hate-community-response-guide

https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/30/us/how-to-be-an-ally-guide-trnd/index.html

11 Terms You Should Know to Better Understand Structural Racism

Handshake of friendship and respect, racism concept

Defeating racism, tribalism, tolerance and all forms of discrimination will liberate us all, victim and perpetrator alike.

~ Ban…

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Dialogue, Lovecraft, Ellipses Out of Place

Lovecraftian image
Source: https://bit.ly/2UbtbS4

Stephen King’s On Writing mentions that H.P. Lovecraft ‘was a genius when it came to tales of the macabre, but a terrible dialogue writer.’ King quotes a passage from ‘The Colour Out of Space’:

Nothin’… nothin’… the colour… it burns… cold an’ wet… but it burns… it lived in the well… I seen it… a kind o’ smoke… jest like the flowers last spring […] it come from some place whar things ain’t as they is here… one o’ them professors said so…

King says, ‘And so on and so forth, in carefully constructed elliptical bursts of information,’ concluding Lovecraft wrote like this because he was a weird bigoted loner.

It’s not as painful a line as that Lovecraft, but I remembered a bit of my critique of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon’s prologue:

“Stop whoever is coming… or die.”

Ellipses in dialogue can be effective for showing a speaker trailing off or hesitant, or, as attempted here, giving the listener pause to register a threat. Pauses can be used to give the listener/reader time to embellish a vague hint for themselves. (‘Wouldn’t it be a shame if…’)

But the threat has to actually be threatening. I can’t imagine someone speaking this edgelord line. A pause doesn’t automatically add badass power.

I suspect this sort of forced drama is something a lot of beginner writers do. I remember using ellipses like that myself.

Possibly one reason why is the influence of film and TV. I can imagine a younger me writing a line like ‘Stop whoever is coming… or die,’ and picturing how it would work on camera. It’s still never a brilliant line (I mean, come on) but with a suitable soundtrack, camera work, good acting, scenery, it might end up forgivable.

So how can we add punch to dialogue without Lovecraftian Ellipses Out of Place?

A solid point for a lot of things in writing is Rachel Walton’s reminder to read out loud. If it’s unnatural to speak or makes you picture a 1960’s Batman villain, reconsider!

Pauses have their place, but use them consciously. Do they produce a natural rhythm that matches the tone and content of the dialogue, or would another tactic be more effective?

Perhaps Lovecraft’s dialogue above would’ve worked better as a manic ramble of run-on sentences. Perhaps the character would keep roaming off topic, or drift into a silent thousand-yard stare, and need to be re-prompted. There are many ways to use structure and interaction with other speakers. Consider this wild monologue.

And then there’s all the stuff around the dialogue. If you’re picturing a gesture that makes the ellipses work perfectly, other people won’t see that – lighting the cigarette, grabbing the lapel, gesturing to the henchman, etc – unless you prompt them to.

Dust

school football

A pile of dust on Tim’s desk. To make you feel at home!

It looked like he could jump over the wall. Aww. Too heavy?

Puffing through the corridors. So many kids.

How’s the weather up there, slenderman?

After school he went in the pool. Mum floated, rubbing her joints. ‘I know it’s hard now, Tim. We’ll all adjust. Don’t you like that sky? Listen to those birds.’

Go back to Mars. He lay in bed missing the colony, watching the shuttles at night.

Leaked Labour Report

These revelations should end any debate around whether Labour’s senior management team, including McNicol, were serious about a Labour government in 2017. To the contrary what this stunning cache of documents reveals is how McNicol – and a tight, unelected circle around him – made every effort to undermine and denigrate that year’s election campaign, frequently stating how they hoped it would fail while simultaneously planning to replace Jeremy Corbyn from as early as January. – Novara Media

A leaked report makes plain the extent to which anti-Corbyn staffers – including former general secretary McNicol – sabotaged the party, actively undermined it in the 2017 election, targeted those they deemed a ‘trot’ (‘anyone left of Gordon Brown’), and intentionally mishandled antisemitism complaints to tar the leadership with their own failures to properly respond to allegations.

This use of antisemitism as a factional football is, of course, grossly antisemitic. The report refers to a case of holocaust denial being sat on, all to help falsely brand the Corbyn wing as antisemitic.

Here is Novara Media’s selection of extracts regarding the 2017 election.

Here is Emilie Oldknow saying she had Tom Watson delay the expulsion of Ken Livingston (for antisemitism) to embarrass Jeremy Corbyn, despite his demanding a resolution.

Here are Rod Liddle’s (apparently he’s a member?) shameful public statements being ignored due to factional allegiance.

You’ll be able to find the full report, if you can stomach it.

This is a true test of Keir Starmer’s commitment to ‘unity’ and ‘fighting antisemitism’. Anyone complicit in this should have no place in politics.

Flying Away

balcony view

Leather creaked as Joe shifted on the couch. Waiting for my patient to settle, I watched a bird basking in the sun out on the balcony, the drapes billowing through the open door with a soft breeze.

‘Mary wants to see me tomorrow,’ he said.

‘Go on,’ I said.

‘I…’ He sighed. ‘It’s been a long time coming. I wanted to get to this place. But now we’re here I don’t know what I’m going to say. How do I make up for seven years?’ He waved a hand lazily. ‘I know, day by day. Still…’

‘What do you think brought Mary round?’

‘Matt wants to meet me. She’s not sure about that yet.’

‘So, he wants to. What do you think about that?’

‘Honestly, that just makes me more guilty about the whole thing. I was too much of a dick to be there from the start. There’s so much I’ve missed. But that’s what happens when you run.’

‘Last time you mentioned -’ I said, licking a finger and flicking through the file, ‘that avoiding difficult things actually just isolates you and takes away choices, you said you’re doing to yourself what you’re trying to avoid.’

‘I hear you. If I want to be free I have to not escape anything that feels like it might trap me. Avoiding complications or responsibilities just means they own me in a different way. I miss opportunities.’ He should’ve been his team captain by now. He’d turned down promotion twice.

‘You’ve come a long way since our first session.’

‘It’s simple. I’m not that scared kid any more: I have to face things, take charge. Simple doesn’t mean easy, though.’

That’s how it is with them. A need builds until it bursts into an outlet – escape, strength, control, recognition or anonymity, whatever. But that still leaves something unresolved. Joe’s father had died when London fell, yet the impact he’d made on his son lingered.

Leather creaked. ‘I mean, what do I say tomorrow?’

I watched the drapes fluttering, weighing up a response. I’m not his friend – I’m his therapist. My job is to enable him to help himself figure out what to say to someone he left pregnant at the altar. ‘You’re looking to re-establish a connection. It’s a case of being honest, patient -’

‘Answerable. Responsible.’ Said hesitantly, fishing for a confirmation.

‘That frightens you.’

‘Sort of my whole thing, isn’t it?’

‘Go on.’

‘I know I’m not my father. I won’t repeat those mistakes. Though when I vanished… that was just a mistake in the other direction. I’ve already done damage. Getting back into their lives… who is that really for?’

‘Matt wants to meet you.’

‘He wants to meet the guy behind the action figures. Not the guy on your couch.’

‘Does that idea come from him or Mary – or is it just you?’

‘He must have some sort of expectation. It’s only natural. I don’t know if I can live up to that.’

‘Is your worry that he will want you around, or that he won’t?’ I asked.

He lay there for a while, rolling that around. A cloud passed across the sun. ‘Huh. Oh, man. That’s… I’ll need to chew on that one.’

‘Let’s put a pin in that for next session, then.’

‘Mary did let me have a photo.’ He fished in his pocket, saying, ‘His thing affects photos though,’ as he passed it back over his head.

Matt looked a lot like Joe. The photo had been taken in a busy park, with everyone else in the shot washed out, vague. So second-generation cape. A need to be noticed? I noted that down – possibly something to bring up as things developed on the Matt front.

‘I see the resemblance,’ I said, trying to draw things out with a less intense approach. I returned the photo.

‘Yeah. It’s… I mean, he looks okay, doesn’t he? He’s decent in school.’

‘Go on.’

‘If he’s fine, I mean – that’s good. I can’t have done too much damage. He’s well-adjusted, it seems. I’m still a dick, obviously.’

Yes. ‘What matters is how you move forwards.’

Joe’s phone bleeped, insistent. He checked it and groaned, shooting to his feet. ‘Sorry, something’s come up. I must dash. But you’ve given me a lot to think about. Same time next week?’

‘I’ll see if I can tack some more time on the end.’

‘Great,’ he said, walking out into the sunlight.

Joe stood on the balcony, hair fluttering in the wind. Sparks trailed from his fingertips as he rose into the air, heels then toes lifting from the floor. For a moment it struck me, again, what my patients were to the rest of the world. How much more human the parahumans were to me, lying on my couch without the silly branded capes and masks. Then he shot into the sky with a discharge of lightning, leaving a sharp burst of ozone on the summer breeze.

I pressed the button to call the next patient.

#

#

(If you like this, go read Worm.)

Passengers – Viewpoint and Structure

[Spoilers]

In the film Passengers, Chris Pratt is accidentally woken from hibernation early into a long space voyage and deliberately wakes Jennifer Lawrence so he won’t be alone. It’s not bad, but it struggles with a predictable arc, and its unresolved tension between ‘creepy guy thriller’ and ‘sci-fi romance’.

I stumbled on this video about it, which makes a good argument Passengers would be better from Lawrence’s perspective.

With the plot shifted to allow the viewer to take a more active role picking up on clues, and be surprised as the reveals come with increasing tension, the arc would be more engaging. With a change in viewpoint character and suitable adjustments to the closing act, the story could begin as a mysterious sci-fi romance with hints of something untoward and develop a darker tone – rather than its confused mish-mash.

From all this, I think writers can draw some helpful questions to ask themselves:

  • Is this being told from the right viewpoint?
  • How is the chosen viewpoint shaping audience sympathy, and does this support or conflict with the themes?
  • Is the plot structure predictable?
  • Does the plot structure encourage the audience to passively take in the story, or to actively pick up on hints and form interpretations? (Though, too much of the latter can also be frustrating.)
  • Would there be a benefit to revealing certain things later?

Nine Types of Job Interviews

handshake

Phone call

A lot of people don’t like this, and I don’t get why. You can stay at home in pyjamas with notes in front of you, they’re the least cursed type.

Skype call

The second least cursed – only presentable from the waist up, no travel, notes out of frame.

You really made me come all this way for that?

I.e., recite your CV to us for five minutes. It’s obvious they haven’t read it, and there’s no reason for this not to be a call unless handshake quality is really important. Hopefully you didn’t have to go too far.

Scammy scheme

You turn up and there’s a crowd of other interviewees. You’re handed a little form to fill out, with more emphasis on your interests than your experience. They ask you almost nothing, but spend ten minutes giving you a spiel about their ‘training program’ or whatever – as though anybody actually believes they’ll become a manager in six months, seeing as the same job is advertised every three months. Commission only. The job advert was either cloyingly faux-ironic or outright misleading. Any sufficiently desperate extrovert can get it.

Standard

Just the standard type, they know what they’re doing. It’s fine.

Amateur interviewer

They’re more awkward than you are. Sort of refreshing, but it can be annoying.

Casual chat

You were probably told not to dress formal, and the first thing they say is not to worry, it’s only a chat. Much like the standard interview in practice, though a bit more relaxed, and the interviewer is usually better at asking useful follow-up questions.

Sherlock HR-olmes

If HR could put you in an MRI during the questioning, they would. A long tedious affair, more suited to a NASA application than an entry-level office job. What would you do in several scenarios? How do you schedule? What meme are you? (I got asked this, said salt bae because it was the first I thought of. They said, ‘oh, so you’re a salty person.’ Jfc, there’s a wrong answer to the meme question!?!) Where were you on the night in question? Feels like a malicious therapist.

Practical

You have to do a short test or example. Whether this is cursed or blessed depends on the field and the test’s actual relevance. It can be artificial and pointless, or it can be a chance to cut through all the bs and be judged on your ability to do the actual work for once. You’ll also realise how long it’s been since you used a pen to write more than a sentence or two.

Book Reviews (16)

Books 16

Earthsea: The First Four Books – Ursula Le Guin

Fantasy set on an archipelago world, with magic rooted in true names and the balance of the natural world. The first trilogy – A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore – covers the heroic exploits of the mage Ged, who starts out as a gifted, impatient, arrogant goat-herder. There’s action in there, but it’s a chill pleasant read. Would’ve liked more of the school on Roke. Le Guin’s Daoist influence is used well.

Tehanu changes tack in interesting ways. It’s good overall – the turn towards ordinary life and women counterbalances elements of the first books, and a weaker writer would’ve forced a way around The Farthest Shore’s ending. But the pacing is choppy, and sometimes it feels a bit like an essay poking through.

The character and worldbuilding are high-class.

Why You Should Be a Socialist – Nathan Robinson

Robinson’s arguments for democratic socialism emphasise core principles – solidarity, concern about class structures, commitment to democracy in the economy (e.g. the workplace) as well as in the usual political sphere. As with his work in Current Affairs, he draws a sharp divide between his politics – based in libertarian socialist  ideas – and the more gulag-y stuff.

One weakness is a lack of a clear distinction between social democracy and socialism, linked to his excessive reticence to define terms. He veers between arguing for (good) reforms within capitalism along the lines of Bernie Sanders – pointing out the successes of individual socialist mayors, etc – and calling for more radical systemic change. Many liberals could come out of this thinking ‘okay, the Democratic party needs reform and it might be good to have a few socialist voices here and there, but I’m still not convinced about seizing the means of production.’ But hey, that’s not a disaster.

He does, though, make a lot of good points for newcomers, especially hammering the points of real commitment to democracy beyond the limits of liberalism, that public ownership needn’t mean state ownership, and that libertarian socialism is a thing.

It’s very obvious, given that we live on a planet with finite resources, that endless growth is impossible. And yet we have created [corporations] that exist to pursue endless growth[.] This is a recipe for civilizational suicide.[…]

Whether people are free depends not just on whether they own themselves, but whether others have power over them in practice.[…]

We should probably focus less on the question of whether something is in [the public sector or private sector] than on questions about who gets the benefits and who holds decision-making power.[…]

Liberty without socialism means rule by CEOs, socialism without liberty means rule by bureaucrats.[…]

I can never understand why using an iPhone means you cannot object to the conditions under which iPhones are produced and sold and advocate for changing them. […] If a resident of the Soviet Union had gotten a free education in state schools and a job in the state bureaucracy, would they be a hypocrite if they criticized [the] structure of the Soviet economy?

The Toll – Neal Shusterman

At first I was a bit concerned about how this trilogy would be finishing – the initially ambiguous gap in time from Thunderhead was confusing, the Tonist interludes seemed too out-there, some fast perspective hopping, and thoughts of ‘really, this is a super-intelligent AI’s plan?’

But it does all come together! It’s a lot of fun, and works back through questions raised by the first two books to tie up in a story of enormous scale. Greyson and the Thunderhead have a great weird dynamic, all the characters are enjoyable (though Goddard is a little ‘mwah-ha-ha!-y’), the conclusion wraps up in a satisfying way without being too sugary. But I find it weird that people still struggle to understand people like Jeri?

A good ending to a refreshing, fast-paced take on (u/dys)topia and AI, with nice worldbuilding around post-mortality – albeit the themes on that are nothing new – and an interesting cast.

Deportation

deportation protesters
PA

There are many things wrong with the recent mass-deportation to Jamaica.

Recently ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid said: ‘We will always do what we can to protect the public. These are all foreign national offenders – they have all received custodial sentences of 12 months or more. They are responsible for crimes like manslaughter, rape, dealing in class A drugs.’

In a previous deportation to Jamaica last year, he’d also claimed that all deportees were convicted of ‘very serious crimes… like rape and murder, firearms offences and drug-trafficking.’ The article continues: ‘But the Home Office said on Wednesday that of the 29 people deported, just one had been found guilty of murder, while 14 had been convicted [f]or drug offences and one was jailed for dangerous driving.’

Similar patterns with the recent case, as the Morning Star reported leading up to the flight:

[A] man who has lived in Britain since he was 11 is set to be separated from his wife and baby daughter when deported on a charter flight to Jamaica tomorrow.

Reshawn Davis, 30, was detained on Friday and told he would be deported on the second charter flight to the Caribbean island since the Windrush scandal two years ago.

Fifty people are set to be on the flight after serving time for various crimes, the Star reported over the weekend. […]

Mr Davis is being removed from the country on the basis that he was convicted for robbery 10 years ago under the now unlawful “joint enterprise” rule — for which he spent two months in prison — according to the Independent.

He lives with his British wife Tonique Kerr and six-month-old daughter in London and has not committed any crime since his conviction.

The Home Office said that it did not believe his family ties were strong enough to warrant him continuing to live in Britain.

Mr Davis said he is terrified at the possibility of being taken away to Jamaica, where he has not been for nearly 20 years. […]

Shadow immigration secretary Bell Ribiero-Addy had told the Star when the charter flight was announced that people scheduled to be removed are “facing a triple punishment” that “would not be applied to their white peers — sentencing, detention and deportation.” […]

A draft copy of the Windrush Lessons Learned report, leaked to the media on Thursday, said ministers should consider ending the practice of deporting people who arrived in Britain as children.

A fellow blogger quotes Malorie Blackman: ‘As S[h]amima Begum has been stripped of her British citizenship despite being born here, if I refuse to pay my council tax or knock someone over – God forbid – and get done for manslaughter, will I then be deported as my mum was born in Barbados? When exactly did I become ‘temporarily British’?’

That someone like Mr Davis who has done their time, not re-offended, and now has a family here can be ejected elsewhere on a flimsy pretext of public safety should be concerning – exactly the sort of thing most people who complain about  ‘big government’ should but won’t be bothered about.

Members of the cabinet are guilty of drug offences, but their right to remain in the country won’t be in doubt. White British ex-cons – reformed or not, violent crime or not – won’t be separated from their families. You see, people are only such a threat to public safety if they can be made another public’s problem, which in turn justifies doing so. If all murderers and rapists were threats to public safety, not just deportable ones, then we’d have to fund probation services and other things that actually help – and extradite Prince Andrew for questioning!

(By the way, I’m not doing the lame thing of saying Gove, etc, should be punished for doing coke. Decriminalisation is still correct, but we can all see that there’s a hypocrisy around who does/n’t get criminalised, rooted in racial bias and elite power.)

In Rees-Mogg’s time – before he fell through that wormhole – hungry-bread-thieves and other vicious fiends could be shipped off to Australia in a neat imperialist double-whammy. These days all the viable landmasses are claimed by recognised states, which makes implementing systemic racism more complicated.