Bookish Pet Peeves

confused old lady meme

I see a lot of ‘pet peeves’ posts complaining about things like insta-love, people letting out breaths they didn’t know they were holding, love triangles, etc. These bug me too when they happen, but they’re not the things I notice most and that get on my nerves most often.

After some thinking, here are five things in books that get my goat but I don’t see mentioned that much.

Unpronounceable gibberish

This mainly comes up in fantasy – maybe it’s a spell, a character name, a country, a line of dialogue in a fictional language. But it’s an impossible garble of consonants.

I loved Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle when I was younger, but if I skim through the prologue of Eragon again now this is one of the things that pops out at me. ‘The Shade jumped out from behind the tree, raised his right hand, and shouted, “Garjzla!”’

Garjzla? What the hell is that?

OK, the Ancient Language isn’t English and doesn’t have to follow the exact same pronunciation style, granted. But ‘brisingr’ is another word in it, and it has the courtesy to be readable. Or he could’ve been inspired by French, and shoved way too many voweuls ein theeire. At least it wouldn’t be a mess of consonants.

Difficulty for the sake of it

I can take some difficulty in form and language for the sake of a good effect. Jon McGregor does some cool stuff, Infinite Jest is my jam, I liked Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, that sort of thing.

Sometimes, though, they’re just taking the piss.

Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller was super meta and the concept was great, but it didn’t have to be so thorny and pretentious. I gave up on Henry James’s What Maisie Knew because the bloke forgot how to use full stops properly: every sentence was a whole bunch of clauses, impossible to keep the train of thought together until you get to the end – anyone in that class who finished the thing deserves a medal. Even with Infinite Jest – why did he use ‘aleatory’ when ‘random’ is a perfectly fine word that means literally the same thing?

I can take a bit of a challenge when it pays off, but come on! There’s nothing inherently good about being difficult. If your book has to come with complimentary aspirin and a reader’s guide, that’s a bad thing, you numskull! It doesn’t make you clever!

Weird creepy sex stuff

I’m not opposed at all to books dealing with this side of life. Plenty handle it well and are better for it; and if you like reading romance, that’s not my cuppa but all power to you. But sometimes it’s just the author being unexpectedly weird and creepy out of nowhere. Sometimes books honestly make me worry if their authors are okay, y’know? Like, if I shook their hand I’d have to wash mine.

This was something I complained about in B. Catling’s The Vorrh – I don’t need to know all about a woman made of Bakelite’s kelp-lined vagina, thank you. Move on from that and back to the story.

It comes up most in ‘literary’ books. Ian McEwans Black Dogs is great, but who asks their mother in law about what their late father in law was packing below the belt? That’s not a normal question. I didn’t sign up for this cringe.

I found the ‘TNP’ (don’t ask) stuff in Julian Barnes’s England, England okay, because although it was really weird it actually fit in with the plot and the satirical mood of the book. The brief histories of the MCs sex lives were comparatively more normal, but felt a lot creepier to me with the way it was handled and there for no reason.

J.G. Ballard’s The Unlimited Dream Factory was the peak of this: pretty much all about a chap jacking it all over a village, literally. And when I looked at the blurb of another book by him in a shop recently, it seemed to be the same thing again. That’s a yikes from me.

Description dumps

We all love to hate infodumps. But its annoying cousin is the description dump, stopping a plot in its tracks to drone on about every detail in the layout of a house, to wax purple prose about how the cold winds coming down from the mountains rustle leaves in front of the house, to describe what a character is wearing in so much detail that I forget what colour their shoes are by the time it’s got up to the species of bird that provided the feather in their hat.

Sometimes extended description can genuinely add something. But a lot of the time, nobody cares. Paint the scene and move on.

Something getting overused

mentioned the constant references to Kerri’s supposedly inconceivably amazing hair in Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids. It’s just hair! Lots of people are ginger, get over it mate!

Or in Jo Walton’s Among Others, a decent book, but hey, what’s the narrator doing now? Oh yeah, she’s reading another book, somehow finding time to devour the entire SFF canon while attending school and dealing with the magic stuff. And now she’s joined a book club!

Or, as in another series I liked when I was younger, Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. What’s the inciting incident in this one? Oh, it’s Wolf missing/in trouble again. Of course it is.

Maybe it’s a phrase the author really likes, maybe it’s a gimmick overstaying its welcome, maybe it’s a weird preoccupation, maybe it’s not trusting the reader to remember something. Gah.

So, five pet peeves. Do these annoy you too?

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Character Archetypes – A Sword Isn’t a Personality

sword

A skim through TV Tropes (warning – enormous time sink) will show that, whatever you do, you’ll follow some patterns that’ve come before. Conforming to the odd trope is fine, because it’s inevitable and things are often popular for a reason.

But if a character is made of pretty much only tropes and gaffer tape, that’s an issue. A character like this doesn’t stand out, isn’t realistic, and isn’t nearly as fresh as the first few times they were written. They aren’t a person, they’re an archetype.

Examples:

  • The strong female character whose only trait is being a badass. They’re not like the other girls – they have a sword!
  • Brooding YA hero.
  • The wise old mentor who dies just before the Chosen One can complete their training.
  • The Chosen One.
  • A cynical hardboiled detective, lighting up a cigarette as they walk out of the morgue into the rain, going into a dark corner of a bar to drink straight bourbon, then musing on the incident (probably a woman’s death) that killed the bright-eyed optimism they’d had when they left the academy.
  • The comedy sidekick.
  • The ‘end the world for some reason, I guess’ villain.
  • Adorkable clumsy cinnamon roll.
  • Mary Sue/Gary Stu.

Characters are liable to become shallow archetypes for two reasons – unrealistic features, and a lack of depth.

Make sure the character has a mix of strengths and weaknesses. Real people usually aren’t completely useless, nor can they do everything better than people who’ve been at it for far longer than them. Let them slip up, struggle, succeed occasionally – the plot will be more exciting, and the character will be more real.

Here’s Connie J. Jasperson advising how to do a character sketch. This can help flesh out a person’s motives and backstory. Especially with a villain, it’s important to know what they’re actually trying to achieve.

A meaningful motivation comes from a developed personality. Think a bit about their backstory – how have their experiences led them to be the people they are and do the things they do? Not all of this has to be spelled out in the text. But the more you build an understanding of the character which gives each scene they’re in a distinct motivation, the less they’ll slip into the mould of an archetype.

Give characters features that don’t come in the stock package of an archetype. It’s fine to have a female character be a badass, or a detective be cynical, if they also have other sides that make them distinctive.

Brienne of Tarth is a dank fighter, but memorable for her strong code of loyalty. But more than that – she reacts like a human and says ‘fuck loyalty!’ when there are much bigger issues at play, and has some good bits of backstory adding to her character.

Then there are all the little things that add a lot. Coffee, tea, neither? How do they speak: talkative/quiet, assertive/hedging, slang/formal, direct/indirect, what style of humour? Fashion, gestures, habits, hobbies, music/book/TV taste, etc. It’s a small thing whether someone takes off their shoes at the door and lines them up exactly straight, kicks them off in the hall, or tracks mud over the carpet (unless you have to clean up): but that adds to the overall picture of who this person this.

The point is that a realistic character – a distinct individual with comprehensible motives, and a range of traits that make sense given their life – will tend to be more memorable, and make for a better plot, than a simple archetype.

The Coffee Machine

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

The office dipped briefly into darkness, as Orothein the Thousand-Limbed swarmed in front of the sun then returned to His nest on the moon.

‘Active today, aren’t they?’ Mark said, sipping coffee from a giant mug. ‘Reckon there’ll be some claims coming in soon.’ He ran a hand through his hair, leaning in close to the computer screen and squinting at the spreadsheet.

The return of the Old Ones had its impacts. Those hibernating under the earth or in the sea had caused earthquakes and tsunamis when they rose, with regions tainted and lost to madness, mutation, and decay. But humanity was permitted to exist, and the Red Box Insurance Company gained substantial market share by pioneering policies covering their influence.

Tom put his coat on the back of his chair, sitting next to Mark. ‘Ugh, chaos out there!’

‘Trouble on the Tube?’

‘Non-euclidean geometry at Bank. It’s like an Escher painting in there, bloody paradoxes.’

‘Hate when they’re antsy.’

‘Took ages to figure out. Had to go up the same escalator three times then run down it once to get to the exit.’ Tom sighed, switching on his computer. ‘Good weekend, Mark, Jill?’

‘Saw that new Tom Cruise one,’ Jill said, swiveling at the opposing desk. ‘He’s not been the same since he joined the Cult of Skartel.’

‘Yeah. Better off in Scientology, really.’

‘Something you’d never expect to say,’ Mark said. ‘I didn’t get up to much, just lazing about all weekend.’

‘Those are the best,’ Jill said. ‘Still no Sandra, by the way.’

‘Hope she’s okay,’ Tom said. ‘I knew she had financial worries, but… ah, shit. Forget I said that.’

‘What?’ Mark said.

‘Stumbled into her rat-arsed at a club a few weeks back and she said something about it. Forget it, I wasn’t supposed to say.’

‘She’s in accounts, and she can’t…’

‘Mark,’ Jill said.

Mark put his hands up. ‘Say no more.’ He put in his headphones and got to work.

Jill made eye contact with Tom, glanced at Mark, then rolled her eyes. Tom smiled and shrugged. ‘I need coffee,’ he announced, getting up.

‘Same,’ Jill said, following to the machine.

‘Don’t pay too much attention to Mark,’ Tom said, rooting through cupboards for mugs. He passed one to Jill, gesturing for her to go first.

‘Thanks. He’s a bit of a dick, isn’t he?’ she said, pressing buttons.

‘Yeah, that’s just his way, his sense of humour.’ Coffee poured into her mug. She leaned on the counter blowing to cool it down while Tom set up his mug.

‘Had enough edgy comedians at my last job. The woman’s got a problem and hasn’t showed up for a while, you ought to feel bad… I heard some people downstairs saying she’d joined the Old Ones.’

Tom snorted. ‘Office gossip.’ The machine whined, struggling to trickle out at half the usual speed. ‘Damn thing acting up again.’

*

Signs put up in and around Bank Tube Station by the Human Defence Force told commuters how to travel through the distortion to their destinations, while they waited for an HDF squad to restore normality.

Sandra ignored the signs, barging against the stream of the crowd. She walked with purpose up a set of stairs, arriving at the bottom of the same set of stairs but with a new door on the left, went through the door and appeared on a ceiling, took a set of stairs back to the top of the original staircase, and went down them again. She went to the right and knocked on the wall, appearing in a cavern inaccessible through the three dimensions.

Water lit green by bacteria dripped on her head, splashes and footsteps on rock echoing around the chamber as she walked to the lectern at its centre. Her breath steamed in the cold, the only heat coming from the book. As she got closer the water became warmer, and she felt like she was getting sunburn.

Sandra stood by the rough-hewn stone lectern, water steaming at her feet, staring at the book. An item so ancient, its mistress sleeping from before the dawn of man until recently, yet bound in a patchwork of human skin.

She touched it with her finger, expecting her skin to burn. A tentacle slithered into her mind, filling it with a language older than the tongue. She opened the book and began to read aloud.

*

Mark was on the phone with a client when darkness fell again. ‘I’m sorry, Mr McCarthy, but your policy doesn’t cover second-hand mutations caused by thralls of Solowen.’ Mark glanced out the window, listening, as Orothein floated in front of the sun longer than usual, the gaps between his tendrils backlit red as they swayed.

‘Because it’s an exponentially growing effect. We can’t realistically provide that sort of cover in your region unless the premiums are astronomical.’ People were starting to gather at the window. Mark watched them whispering to each other, while Mr McCarthy continued. Cars below turned their lights on.

‘I’m sorry you’ve got extra ears, but I don’t see what I can do for you. I’m looking at the emails here, and I can see it was clearly stated what you were and weren’t getting covered for. I can pass you on to another claims operator if you like, but they’ll tell you the same thing.’

Orothein roared, a roar that somehow passed through the vacuum of space to buffet the earth. Everyone flinched. It was starting to get cool from the impromptu eclipse. ‘Okay, Mr McCarthy. Thanks, have a nice day.’ Mark passed the call up to someone else. ‘Today’ll be a tough one, I can feel it.’ He went for another coffee.

‘Glad I got one of these,’ Jill said to Tom, flashing an HDF self-defense pamphlet.

‘Ah,’ Tom said. ‘What sort of stuff is it?’

‘Nothing too hardcore. Simple glyphs for holding thralls off, preventing them speaking, the basic cross-running-water stuff.’

‘I’ve got one stuck in the sofa somewhere.’ Orothein allowed daylight to return.

‘Well, you never know.’

The coffee machine made a whirring sound, pouring out warm water. Mark groaned. ‘Come on!’ He fiddled around with it, not noticing the reaction of the office as Sandra strode from the lift.

He yelped, thinking boiling water had splashed on his hand, and saw Sandra, hair lanky and eyes too focused, her shoes dripping with green muck, holding a book close to him. He backed away, knocking a glass from the counter, the heat reducing as he got away from her.

She opened it and read out barbarous words that made the coffee machine shiver and spark, her hair turn into snakes, and everyone in the office see a vision of the earth forming as Orothein nudged fragments together with a thousand limbs, a swarm of Old Ones assembling from beyond the stars to bear witness. The carpet became sodden in cold water, beginning to glow green.

‘Behold!’ Sandra said. ‘Emeris, Lady of Secrets, calls on you to know Her wisdom, the forbidden, the ancient, the unspeakable truths kept from the eyes of man, the-’

She stopped talking as Jill slashed her hand with a pocketknife and drew a symbol in blood on the wall, then was rooted to the spot as she drew another. Tom gave Jill some paper towel and rang 999, asked for the HDF, and said they had a thrall with a book.

Mark straightened, nudged the glass shards to a corner with his foot, and said, ‘Nice one, Jill.’ He tried the machine again – which worked perfectly – and took the steaming mug back to his desk, his hands shaking a little, shoes squelching on the wet carpet.

An HDF team swiftly arrived to cart Sandra away, gagging her and packing the book inside a lead-lined case. They scoured the taint of Emeris with a rite before they left, the carpet steaming dry. Gradually people returned to work.

After a while, Mark spotted something on a spreadsheet. ‘Holy crap.’

‘What?’ Tom said.

‘Sandra took out a policy, last month. Juicy payout too. Unless it’s dismissed for fraud.’

‘Seriously?’

‘It’s right here.’

Jill inspected her cut hand. ‘You think she arranged-’

Mark sipped coffee. ‘Maybe. I said there’d be claims coming in, didn’t I?’

The Myth of Pre-Trump Civility

Drone

I’ve discussed the topic of civility before, but I’ve realised I could have gone further. Here goes…

So, I really don’t like Trump.

I see a lot of people nostalgic for Obama. To them he represents a better time, when Americans were less divided and reasonable discourse reigned. People look back to charismatic Obama, then think, ‘how did we get here?’. I can understand that.

I can understand the nostalgia for Obama – though I think his administration needs to be viewed much more critically. What I can’t understand is nostalgia for Bush.

As Nathan J. Robinson says:

This view of Bush as a “likable and sincere man who blundered catastrophically” seems to be increasingly popular among some American liberals. They are horrified by Donald Trump, and Bush is beginning to seem vastly preferable by comparison.[…]

Nostalgia takes root easily, because history is easy to forget. But in Bush’s case, the history is easily accessible and extremely well-documented. George W. Bush did not make a simple miscalculation or error. He deliberately perpetrated a war crime, intentionally misleading the public in order to do so, and showed callous indifference to the suffering that would obviously result. His government oversaw a regime of brutal torture and indefinite detention, violating every conceivable standard for the humane treatment of prisoners.

Robinson says elsewhere, I think rightly, that ‘The Bush presidency caused the deaths of 500,000 Iraqis. I don’t miss it, I’m never going to miss it, and nor should anyone else.’

(As a Brit, Blair also belongs in prison. Please don’t think I’m just savaging the US and exempting my own country. My underlying points apply on both sides of the pond.)

But what about Obama? Obama was surely better than Trump… but I think an excessively rosy view of his administration is quite disturbing. He was a capable figure who said and did some good things during his time in office, but the bad things ought to be shocking to anyone with a conscience.

For example, a ‘torture ban’ sounds great, but the approach doesn’t quite square up under scrutiny. As Allan Nairn wrote at the time:

When President Obama declared flatly this week that “the United States will not torture” many people wrongly believed that he’d shut the practice down, when in fact he’d merely repositioned it.

Obama’s Executive Order bans some — not all — US officials from torturing but it does not ban any of them, himself included, from sponsoring torture overseas. […]

What the Obama dictum ostensibly knocks off is that small percentage of torture now done by Americans while retaining the overwhelming bulk of the system’s torture, which is done by foreigners under US patronage.

Obama could stop backing foreign forces that torture, but he has chosen not to do so.

His Executive Order instead merely pertains to treatment of “…an individual in the custody or under the effective control of an officer, employee, or other agent of the United States Government, or detained within a facility owned, operated, or controlled by a department or agency of the United States, in any armed conflict…” which means that it doesn’t even prohibit direct torture by Americans outside environments of “armed conflict,” which is where much torture happens anyway since many repressive regimes aren’t in armed conflict.

And even if, as Obama says, “the United States will not torture,” it can still pay, train, equip and guide foreign torturers, and see to it that they, and their US patrons, don’t face local or international justice.

This is a return to the status quo ante, the torture regime of Ford through Clinton, which, year by year, often produced more US-backed strapped-down agony than was produced during the Bush/Cheney years.

And any criticism of his administration has to mention the looming beast of drone strikes and assassinations. Obama dropped the equivalent of a bomb every 20 minutes for 8 years. Here’s Chomsky commenting on this enormous topic:

Military analyst Yochi Dreazen observes in the Atlantic that Bush’s policy was to capture (and torture) suspects, while Obama simply assassinates them, with a rapid increase in terror weapons (drones) and the use of Special Forces, many of them assassination teams. Special Forces are scheduled to operate in 120 countries. Now as large as Canada’s entire military, these forces are, in effect, a private army of the president[…]

Jo Becker and Scott Shane, reporting on drones and the ‘kill list’ in the New York Times in 2012, disclose a staggering piece of information:

Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.[…]

This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

Obama was better than Trump, sure. But can’t the moral bar be raised above the level where torture and extrajudicial assassination are acceptable so long as you aren’t a blatant bigot, so long as you ‘act presidential’, so long as the body count isn’t too high?

As Trump points out, ‘anyone can act presidential’. Here he is putting on the gentleman act. He’s an awful idiot, yet he’s recognised something that seemingly escapes the entire liberal media class. Does the civil mask really make a difference? No.

Many liberals see Trump as a diversion from previously respectable norms – ‘this isn’t normal! This isn’t America! Cheeto Man bad!’. But I don’t see Trump as an aberration from ‘normal, civil, respectable’ presidents before him. His recent predecessors followed a broadly similar right-wing economic programme abandoning citizens to poverty for the sake of Wall Street, and oversaw similar imperial and domestic crimes. The difference is a matter of scale and civility. He doesn’t have the grace to keep the mask on, he says the quiet part loud, he’s that notch more outrageous.

The Trump spectacle is utterly reprehensible. But turning back the clock to what came before him is not the answer. It wasn’t so great, and after all, it led to him!

America, when Trump leaves office, please don’t settle for a neoliberal warmonger who performs bipartisan civility, sigh in relief, and say ‘things are back to normal’.

Book Reviews (7)

reviews7

Pact – Wildbow

(Webserial: read it here)

‘Blake Thorburn was driven away from home and family by a vicious fight over inheritance, returning only for a deathbed visit with the grandmother who set it in motion. Blake soon finds himself next in line to inherit the property, a trove of dark supernatural knowledge, and the many enemies his grandmother left behind her in the small town of Jacob’s Bell.’

Considering it’s basically a first draft, another impressive work from the writer of the acclaimed and massive superhero serial Worm. Pact successfully brings the Wildbow disturbed imagination and fast pace to urban fantasy.

The magic system and worldbuilding are great fun, following rules while allowing for clever use of them. The demons have real menace – in many horror films they’re basically just strong and possess people, while here they have abilities like ‘permanently block access to higher realms upon death’ or ‘delete you and all memory of you from existence’. It’s speculated that the universe wouldn’t be so empty if not for them. Heck.

Which makes it disappointing there aren’t more demons. The plot goes in some really interesting directions, but also misses opportunities to show things it should have. Making the reader expect one thing then swerving course can be a boss move, but what if I still really want to see what I was expecting to? The other key quibble is that all the conflict/treachery/let’s-screw-with-Blake can get tiring, and too many characters are just awful people.

There are some incredible ideas, characters, and nice flourishes like the ‘group chat chapter’. I have complaints, but this was basically a first draft written at breakneck speed – and it’s still well worth a shot if you aren’t too squeamish.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

A compelling and charming work of magical realism, set mainly in an intricately realised 1884 London.

Thaniel Steepleton, a Home Office telegraphist living his life on autopilot, is saved from a bomb by a pocketwatch someone placed in his room. He becomes entangled with its maker, the enigmatic Japanese immigrant Keita Mori, and Grace Carrow, a woman trying to prove the existence of ether before she is forced to marry – events spiralling out between possible futures and opposing geniuses.

The characters jump off the page, and the plot is full of surprises, the various elements coming together elegantly. The magical realist element was unexpected, but makes a lot of sense and is used to great effect. The different ways Thaniel and Grace respond to it drives tensions, resting on a strong bedrock of psychological realism in which both their perspectives are highly believable, making the reader question who’s right.

Recommended!

Meddling Kids – Edgar Cantero

The concept of a Lovecraftian riff on Scooby-Doo where the grown-up (and messed-up) meddling kids reunite and return to a case that wasn’t just a guy in a mask – hell yes. The execution… is a very mixed bag.

When it gets going it’s pretty fun, and the characters are generally entertaining (albeit one-dimensional), particularly the dog, Tim. If this were a film it’d be the sort of bad but good one that’s dumb as hell but keeps you watching, like a Sharknado or Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes. The book randomly veers off into script format sometimes, leaning into that atmosphere – but it’s still a distracting stylistic choice.

Some of the writing is definitely more ‘bad’ than ‘bad but good’:

Bruises sprawled throughout his slender chest and arms like industrial developments in nineteenth-century Britain.

The night was cold but gentle like an X-rated metaphor.

Kerri’s hand was warm and white and so rarely soft like one of the only three species of flowers native to Antarctica.

She was joyfully drowning in Kerri’s hair, its fragrance and softness pounding on her senses like a cheerful Mongol army banging on the gates of Baghdad.

Kerri’s hair did get tiresome, and Andy (Andrea’s) attraction to her wasn’t handled that well: it was a bit creepy and more than a bit male-gazey. There’s also some trans comments that strike as ill-conceived. It’s unfortunate, because early in it feels like Cantero was trying to be #woke (Kerri tells Andy she thought she might have been trans, Andy clarifies she’s just a woman who doesn’t do traditional femininity).

Overall, I found this a fun ‘bad but good’ read with groan-worthy points here and there. Great concept, mixed execution.

Exodus Project Application

FORM 14B

BUREAU OF EXODUS AFFAIRS

APPLICANT INFORMATION

#

NAME                Kelsey Graham
AGE                    43
GENDER           Female
PROFESSION   Biologist
ID CODE            A467B/ZQ9

#

APPLICANT STATEMENT (MAX. 500 WORDS)

#

I know this form won’t get read, but it’s something to do on the commute. Most of the people on this train also work at the Bureau, but don’t know the AI’s already decided. It’s gone through everybody’s records and decided who gets a ticket, but it’s better for morale to let people ‘apply’.

Will I get a spot? Feels like I deserve it. We wouldn’t have the hibernation cracked yet without me. But is my science rating high enough to make up for the age? There’s bound to be a bunch of damn biology genius/artist teenagers with six-packs and zen monk psych profiles more worth keeping.

If I thought this form was real, what would I write? Listing achievements and personal qualities for a job application is one thing, but when it’s for the chance to live? To live, instead of a million other people? I’m alright, but am I better than a million people? What sort of person could believe they are?

Shinzen quit to be with his family. Not a bad choice if you have one. The pods are pretty much done anyway. It’d be good to have time to properly test long-term hibernation. Hopefully the lucky few will still have their marbles at the other end!

Even with modern automation, it’s a miracle enough people are still working to keep civilisation going. Going quite well, for the most part. Money is worthless now, so people just get what they need. If a job is worthless, which a lot were, people don’t do it and the useful ones get divided up. People have more time, but they’re filling it with things. It’s easy to forget what’s coming sometimes. Why did it take this to make us collectively get it together?

Not that it’s all kumbaya until the end. Tensions come out. Like Grace broke down today, demanding a ticket for her kid. Had to be sedated. No idea how she got the gun in there. Far as she knows the Director selects who from this sector gets on board. She’s been seeing him in the office every day, thinking he could save her kid. Of course she’d be willing to shoot a bureaucrat to flip that ‘no’ to ‘yes’.

Of course no person can choose. There’s far too many people to sift through. And the AI isn’t biased. Shouldn’t be. Hopefully the programmers didn’t put their own issues in there.

Too much of this relies on hope.

I’m thinking of quitting myself. See if I can patch things up with my sister. Time I sat back with her and Bob and the nephews and niece. They’re in Hawaii. Warm sun and sand and surf.

If you are reading this, AI, I hope you know what you’re doing.

a

a

a

#

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST. THE BUREAU AIMS TO RESPOND BY T-3 MONTHS.

#BELOW FOR OFFICE USE ONLY#

CULTURAL    1   2   3   4   5
SCIENTIFIC   1   2   3   4   5
PHYSICAL      1   2   3   4   5
PSYCH            1    2   3    4   5

DECISION      YES   NO

spaceship icon

BUREAU OF EXODUS AFFAIRS

Franzen’s 10 Rules: You What, Mate?

Jonathan Franzen has suggested 10 rules for novelists. Some of his points are quite interesting, some are more questionable, and some seem to be from fortune cookies. Let’s take a look!

1) The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

OK. This sounds like a good perspective, letting readers have their reactions to the text without swooping in with NO WHAT I MEANT WAS or IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT YOU’RE TOO DUMB TO GET IT. It’s a bit vague though.

2) Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.

Well, getting outside comfort zones and exploring topics and styles is a good thing to do. But can we not reinforce the whole ‘starving artist’ thing? Poverty for the sake of art isn’t romantic. Unfortunately, people need cash.

3) Never use the word then as a conjunction—we have and for this purpose. Substituting then is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many ands on the page.

Haha, no.

‘Then’ does have a subtly different meaning from ‘and’. ‘The character did this, then did that’ is actually distinct from ‘The character did this, and did that.’ The former places more emphasis on only one thing happening at a time, each being fully finished before starting the next; while with the latter the character could be multitasking.

I take the point that conjunctions can be misused to paper over awkwardness, perceived or real. The solution isn’t to ban certain conjunctions.

4) Write in third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.

The nugget of insight here is that a first-person narrative needs a strong voice to bring the character to life. However, POV can’t be reduced to a sentence.

Here’s a whole post I wrote on it. Here’s one by Michael James, K.M. Allan , Marcha,  M.L. Davis, and Meg Dowell.

5) When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

When I’m reading something that obviously had good research behind it, I don’t appreciate it less because the author used google. It would be impressive if they got their research by sneaking into the hidden catacombs under the Vatican, fighting off corrupt cardinals perverting the power of a fragment of the True Cross and the undead Templar knights raised using it… but it doesn’t make the actual book any better than if they got the same information online or in a library.

6) The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than The Metamorphosis.

Some element of the writer is bound to come up in what they write, but this seems taken a bit far for the sake of a hot take. Probably some of Kafka’s thoughts and life experience are in there, but Anne Frank’s diary or Russell Brand’s Booky Wook is likely more autobiographical than a story about a dude turning into a giant beetle.

It is a cool story – you can read it here.

7) You see more sitting still than chasing after.

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8) It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

The internet can be procrastination, yes, but… luddite much? Also, ‘his workplace’. Huh. Either that second X chromosome has the useful ‘no, get off twitter you’re meant to be writing’ gene, or women don’t write, or something.

9) Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

I agree. Verbs pulled from a thesaurus can be a lazy way to try to give an event more pizzaz without actually presenting it differently. The important word here is ‘seldom’ – thinking back to Writing Tips Are Just Suggestions. So long as we don’t go mad here, this is solid advice.

10) You have to love before you can be relentless.

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