Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Books Are Judged by Their Covers

A recent public spat between an insensitive author and a somewhat touchy visual artist who created a cover for the author's book has led to some thoughts, the ghost of a plan, and an incipient invitation/proposition to an as-yet-unidentified artist. Below you'll find all three.


I'm an author with one 'officially' published, and another 'indie' published novels. More info on who I am is available freely in this eBook from

Total earnings for my books, paperback and eBook, are minuscule. I have outlined possible reasons for this in the eBook near the end. Take them for what they're worth.

Yet I keep on telling stories. Why? Also in the eBook. Plus a a lot of other answers. And the Smashwords page with the book also has a bio.

By the way, the reason why I keep referring to that eBook is that only those who are actually interested in my proposition below are likely to want to find our more about me. No point repeating everything.

Right now the covers for the novels in the Tethys Series—which is what most of my fiction was focused on until I started thinking about multiverse and AI and related matters—were produced by me, mainly because I (a) don't earn enough from the books to be able to afford a good cover artist and (b) work as a full-time technical writing contractor; which leaves me just enough time for the storytelling part and cobbling together some amateurish covers. If I had the time to do the art I would, because I can, but like writing, visual art needs practice practice practice and I haven't got the time for that in my life on top of work, family and writing.

One thing I've noticed since joining Facebook years ago—and I don't do Instagram, by the way, though I often browse through Pinterest—is that there are a staggering number of unbelievable talented visual artists in this world—working in digital, mixed media, or just using plain old beautiful paint! Their work covers everything, from fantasy/SF/gaming/AI to traditional landscapes/nature scenes and portraits that would put Jeffrey Jones to shame; or Frank Cho, or Luis Royo, or any of the big names extant these days.

And so many of them, like me, aren't going to make any money out of it. Like me they do it because it's a passion, and maybe also because, like i, the case for myself, it's some weird kind of free and possibly very enjoyable psychotherapy. Compulsive creatives. I understand that. Been there, and once I was there, it was and remains like a drug that I can't give up. Nor do I want to.

Once upon a time these artists would maybe have become reasonably well known, but nowadays the best the vast majority of them can do is follow their passion and share their work on social media and in artists' hangouts. I know that's better than nothing, and it creates 'community'; which is another thing that keep us going. I, too, have 'fans', who love my books, and I do appreciate them and their encouragement. But it's a narrow scope. Visual art, like stories, wants to be 'out' there; beyond the echo chambers of the like-minded. That's what it's for.

Money... No, it isn't everything. If it were I wouldn't be writing novels. Not would those amazing visual artists continue to do their stuff. Us creatives would like to make money out of our work, so we can do what we love. But maybe it's better that we're not getting rich. As I explain in the eBook, 'getting published' isn't what a lot of people think it is. Besides, it's going to go out of fashion anyway; at least the traditional industrial method that had me publish Keaen, before I went indie.

There is a freedom in 'indie' that's quite heady. The drawback is that you'll end up with having to proof-read yourself as well, and for an author that's a dog. I still find the occasional errors in books I have published years ago, and which have been re-proofed several times. I do that on a yearly basis, because it creates a distance and makes you find stuff you missed before.

On the other hand, not having an editor is freedom. And it is my considered opinion that I'd rather write what I want to write and structure the story as I want to, than having a editor tell me to do it this way and not that. I like my stories and my characters and I don't want them messed with by someone who doesn't have the relationship with them that I have.

Covers... For me, the cover of a real book is a part of the book; part of the story; a nudge for the reader into the world of the story; something that captures a part of the essence of this story. This can be done in many ways. I'll add images below to demonstrate what works for me and what doesn't.

The artist who was pissed off about the insensitive author's comments does amazing work. But the cover in question wasn't his best. And he stated that he couldn't have been bothered to read the novel to begin with. And it was the publisher who provided the brief for the cover. A recipe for disaster of course, as evidenced by the initial cover for Keaen (see eBook). But that's the way of 'industry', which is about making money and lacks passion and engagement. And publishers' cover designers are probably worse even than editors when it comes to realizing a novel's vision. They just want a cover; not a part of an artwork that actually makes it whole. Of course, sometimes even cover artists who have read a book do not understand its tenor and spirit. The disaster that is the first Keaen cover makes that amply clear. And, no, nobody asked me about it before they ran a print run with that. And I was so grateful that I had found a publisher at all, that I would have said nothing anyway.

No more of that, thank you! Indie is good. It may not be profitable, but at least we can keep our integrity intact.

Which brings me to...

The Ghost of a Plan

'Starving' writers—here's one; not starving per se, but not doing it for the money either!
'Starving' artists. Those who do it because they need to and get something out of it by doing it.

I suck at covers.
There are a gazillion amazing artists out there who don't.

I've worked with an artist friend of mine before, who produced the map for Keaen. It was a collaborative process, with me providing an initial map done in a truly primitive ancient drawing program on a Macintosh LC. From there we went to the final map below.

Unfortunately Paul was too busy with other matters, like life, to do some maps for me for subsequent books, which meant that I, with his assent, shamelessly copied his style—except for the labels, which generated in Photoshop—and produced some more maps for the sequels, of which currently there are four.


Not to the standard of Paul's drawing, but close enough.

The ghost of a plan is that I need a way to produce a total of ten cover images, which will end up on wraparound trade paperback covers published via CreateSpace.

Right now the books in existence have the covers as shown below. The front parts of the covers are extracted from the original images, and they were designed to have a uniform look, so that they can be immediately identified as part of the series. The prequel covers—prequels came later publication-wise and started off as eBooks only—only have images on the front. Done with eBooks in mind and the design qualifies as 'very parse'. Just enough to have a cover. Not good enough to satisfy me though. Neither do my other covers.


   ... next in line

    ... in progress (soon to be published)

... next in line

An Invitation/Proposition

I don't know if I'm so far off the reservation that people who read this are going to get pissed off at me, or if the main reaction is suspicion. Which I would understand given the current climate of use and abuse of intellectual and artistic property.

But I'm in that minefield myself, and I'm also a photographer, who does occasional professional work; and photo robbery is a curse as well, so I do understand. And when I work with models—as I occasionally do, just because I like photographing people and this is my realizable 'visual art' I suppose—they also have rights, which I am at pains to document and have duly signed by everybody involved.

So, with that in mind, I'm looking ten (10) images for these books.

Important: Doesn't have to be just one artist for all ten! Different books have different themes and may be more conducive to different artists.

Upfront: There won't be any pay. I don't earn any money worth mentioning with my books, and I can't afford to pay anyone.So, if you, dear reader aren't interested, please spend time on another blog or wherever. Didn't mean to waste your time.

For those still with me, here's my reasoning...

You produce great art that may look great as a book cover. You do this out of passion and you have followers on social media and the plethora of websites of people who do similar things. And you collect praise and likes and so on, but with so much good work out there, yours, like most good work, gets lost in an ocean. "Like tears in rain."

And you produce stuff that others do as well, because that's what attracts 'likes' and attention, but that's that.

Well, how about changing your work method and motivation and motives and themes?

  • How about creating something that will have a story associated with it? I will provide an outline of the book itself, the spirit of it, and the emotional and approximate visual content I had in mind for the cover, to make it and the story in the book an organic, seamless 'whole'.
  • How about doing ten of those? They all will end up as covers to books that actually are published as trade paperbacks?
  • You will retain—and there will be a contract, duly signed by everybody, and controlled by applicable Australian legislation—all rights to your image, to use as you see fit. 
  • The only thing you provide to me is a high resolution TIFF copy of the work, suitable for a book cover, in landscape format with aspect ratio of 1(h):1.5(w), at least 4000 px (h).
  • You will also assign to me the rights to use this image in connection with the cover of the respective book and any associated materials, such as promotional—with the proviso that whenever the image is used, you are credited in some form. In the book, this would be on the copyright page: "Cover image by YOU. Cover design by the author.
  • I also have to be allowed to modify the image, such as monochroming, color-adjusting or cropping it as I find necessary for the purposes it is used.
What do I get out of it?
  • Great covers. From you. 
  • Proof that the internet doesn't have to be a place of artistic and intellectual exploitation, but that people can work together on something, making it into something better than it was before. I know this can be done, because I was one of the collaborators and international proofing team managers and e-zine editors for the Vance Integral Edition, which was a seven-year labor of love and international collaboration; and ended up with amazing outcomes (including inevitably eBooks!)
What do you get out of it?
  • Ideas for motifs and scenes. 
  • New challenges.
  • Another compulsive creative to work with.
  • Your images on printed book covers. 
  • A free copy of each book that uses your cover image, and up to 10 additional books at the prices Amazon charges me for author copies. 
  • A risk-free project. If you don't do an image or I don't like it; well, it's yours anyway, so you lose nothing.
  • Promotion, for what it's worth, on my FB pages and blog, with more praise than you would believe. If I use your work it will be because I love it; and I'll tell everyone about it.
 What do I provide:
  • A brief of what the book and existing covers are all about. The narrative that goes with it, including the role of the character(s) depicted. (Or the book, if you want to read it. eBook format, ePub and/or Kindle).
  • Some of my own images for those who work digitally. Like the globular cluster image that appears in a lot of places, the image I made of the planet itself, anything that will help create a starry, distant-galaxy background and which I've used. 
  • Communication whenever necessary, via Messenger, Skype, email (probably best for image samples), etc. 
  • Photos I've used to create the current cover images, including some with models, who posed, and whose images I was going to use in place of what I have; but found no time as yet to do all the rework.
  • Whatever else it takes to make this work.
What aligns with the kind of vision that I have for the covers—and what doesn't.

This is a difficult area, but maybe I'll show you a tiny collection of covers and digital work that I like. If some of that resonates with you, then we may have something to talk about. If it doesn't then maybe better leave it, but thanks for reading this far.

Images and Covers I LIKE (mainly because they capture the essence of a story)




The novels in the Tethys series have fantasy-distant-planet, near-future dystopia, and distant future 'spacey' components, so there's a wide range for someone's creativity here. The only thing I ask for is that the style matches the theme of the book, and qualifies as 'realism' with a touch of the surreal maybe. Mild, but not explicit sexuality may be appropriate in some parts; such as implied in certain costumes. But nothing that will rile Amazon or conflict with the spirit of the books, which are all 'adult content', but that's not their essence.

I'd love to discuss this more with someone who's interested in this collaboration.



Free eBook links at
Keaen:  (needs 'adult content' turned ON)
The Long Path to Tethys:

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Why I Admire Jack Vance

Cover of the deluxe limited edition by Underwood Miller (1996)

I admire Jack Vance. Really do. Have for as long as I can remember, and still do. And having observed what's going on in the the field of SF&F  right now—for some time, actually—my admiration for Jack has reached new heights as of recent. The reasons for the admiration have also changed, because looking at him in the light of 'today' I discovered things that indeed make him into the brightest star in a firmament of lesser, transient lights. Of which there are aplenty!

I could start a tirade about how I feel about contemporary SF&F, but shall refrain from doing so. It wouldn't be pretty and create me more grief than I care to deal with. So, let me focus on Jack Vance.

Don't know what originally attracted me to him. The issue is murky, partially because the first time I read his stories in German translations; which carry little if anything of the magic of his word-smithery. And since a lot of the praise heaped on Jack by other writers and the odd literary critic relates to the English versions of his writings, it appears fair to suggest that English is kind of important here. Well, maybe. As I'll try to explain below, there's more to it; though language, and specifically English, has a lot to do with it.

People commenting favorably on Jack's work tend to focus on certain limited aspects. Even if they criticize other elements, the following tend to be found in the 'praise' category—and I'm leaving out all 'language-related' components, including his power of description, facility with words, sentence structure, and style:
  • Irony.
  • Picaresque characters and stories.
  • Mordant observations of human nature and the structure of society.
  • Creation of droll/remarkable/unusual social settings and cultures.
Even those who suggest that Jack's characters have a certain one- or two-dimensionality about them, tend to be full of praise with regards to the points above.

Also, a lot tends to be made of the major influence of J B Cabell. While this is no doubt correct, said 'influence' was there primarily in Jack's initial works. It continues as an undercurrent and provides contextual elements throughout his writing, but this fades away in his later works as the focus 'characters' becomes more pronounced. This is unsurprising, because as a writer's narrative skill increases and matures, it tends to become character-oriented, with everything else, including social commentary and technology, serving to provide context and MacGuffins, rather than being at the heart of the story.

Over the years I have increasingly become aware that, unsurprisingly perhaps, the observations of Vance fans and critics alike are woefully incomplete (as no doubt are mine). They are also made, by and large, by a particular type of white male somewhere between the age of 30 and demise-time.

Is this relevant? Possibly. Jack's fiction is by and large a fiction for men. That may sound like an strange observation, but the fact is that when you look at Jack's fan clubs and his literary admirers, you'll find that they are predominantly male. That's not because females are excluded but because, I would suggest, Jack's themes as well as his style of writing resonates more in one gender than another.

That's a pity. His later major works especially contain much that would appeal to both genders, even though it might be argued that the current Zeitgeist, with its post-post-modernist quirks, fashions and screwed-up philosophies and sensibilities, may not provide a congenial ambience for the appreciation of Jack's genius; leaving it to a very few to continue to try and promote his work and preserve his legacy.

Of course, I'm prejudiced.  Also, I'm a male, always have been, and I have no intention of changing anytime soon—or ever. And I started liking Jack's stories when I was in my teens; which is quite a few years back now. His philosophy has profoundly influenced my way of looking at the world, and his style has equally profoundly affected my writing, though over the years that has become much more my own. Still, Jack remains that bright star in the firmament of lesser lights, and without him my English—not being my native tongue—would probably be even worse than it is.

But let's forget about the marvel of his language for a moment. What Vance fans are missing—and what his critics just plainly don't understand, mainly because of his chosen 'genre'—is that Jack had certain preoccupations, concerns, and passions that ran deep indeed, and which filter into almost everything he wrote, right from day one.

These include:
  1. The nature of love and hate.
  2. The nature of good and evil.
  3. The tribulations, conflicts and joys of growing up. Like Joss Whedon he obviously never forgot that—socially speaking—school often is hell on Earth.
  4. The conflict between the individual and its desire to be or become a true 'individual' and how society works both for and against it.
  5. What is a 'complete' human being?
  6. Schizophrenia/multiple personalities.
  7. The nature of ugliness and beauty.
  8. The destructive nature of religion all all ideology.
  9. The evils of monomania/vanity/self-indulgence.
  10. The influence of the environment on culture/society/individuals. 
  11. The need of the individual for 'society', despite its propensity to try and de-individuate.
  12. What is justice?
  13. The law of "Cosmic Equipoise".
  14. The terrible beauty and magic inherent in the natural world, and our obligation to honor and preserve it.
  15. Death.
  16. Insanity.
  17. The inevitable failure of, and the folly of wanting to create, utopias. 
  18. The lure of exploration and 'vagabondism'; and its complementary urge, to set down roots.
In many of his short stories these themes run through as undercurrents, barely visible, but nonetheless present. In others, as well as most of his novels and series of novels they are made very explicit indeed. How can anybody miss it?

One of my favorite of his short stories is T'sais from The Dying Earth collection. It is the final story in a triplet, which also includes Turjan of Miir and Mazirian the Magician. In these pithy three tales, we find explicit treatments of just about every theme in the list above (except for  3, 8, 10, 17). Three stories whose profundity and elegance elevate Vance to the level of  a Shakespeare—even then; long before he really got going.

If another example is needed, one just needs to look at Nightlamp, written at the opposite site of Jack's writing life. Nowadays, if an unknown author were to submit the manuscript for Nightlamp to a publisher, it would go right from the slush-pile into the trash; with the author unlikely to receive more else than a form-email—if lucky. But Nightlamp is s a towering achievement by an author at the peak of his powers—despite being legally blind and severely diabetic—presenting the reader with a complex, involving, multi-faceted deeply human narrative, at times profoundly tragic and suffused by evil and twisted characters, at others by the best of human nature, friendship and love; as well as a scathing and merciless denouncement of the vanity of social striving, mixed in, ironically, with a depiction of how even most most individualistic of individuals need a social framework. The Cadwal Chronicles are another work that combines too many elements and subtexts to mention, all woven into a sweeping narrative of greed, murder, lust, betrayal and love.

Other works span a similar spectrum, and even if they do not rise to the level of Nightlamp, they still tower above what really are lesser works by other, often far more celebrated, authors. And that is not confined to the SF&F realm, even though in the literary space spanned by that genre, Jack, as a storyteller with a deep understanding of human nature, stands above them all. Looking for a novelist who deserves to be compared to Shakespeare, the playwright? Well, here he is.

My Vance favorites, next to the ones mentioned above?
  • The Lyonesse series.
  • The Demon Princes series.
  • Tschai.
  • The Alastor novels.
There's one more thing I love about Vance. Even though in the end he wrote an autobiography, unlike other writers growing old today, Jack never did grow old. When I met him in 2004, life had already become very difficult for him. Still he continued with what you might call 'deep writing'. No social media or blogging bullshit, or reversion to short stories; or maybe, like some others, giving up on writing fiction altogether. A true writer/storyteller, a man of words, whose fire was his passion, and for whom storytelling was probably the best therapy he could possibly have to deal with the body that betrayed him.

What's there not to admire for anybody who understands and shares the passion of storytelling? Maybe when Jack started he just wanted to earn a few dollars; but stories like T'sais indicate that already there was far more than that.

As I said, he's still my guiding light, even though he's no longer with us.

I mourn him still, and when I finished re-reading Nightlamp and Cadwal recently and I thought of him gone I wanted to cry. But, as someone once said "look back but don't stare". Only those whose minds are getting old will constantly look over their shoulders and reminisce, instead of looking ahead and into the future, no matter what it may bring.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How hard is writing?

I just came across this, shared on Google+ by a friend of mine. The post is by one Jayrod Garrett, who describes himself as a (and I quote verbatim from his blog post, including the mystery colon) "Storyteller: Novelist & Poet/Educator". The blog post in which the following line appears has had well over 46k visitors at the time I'm writing this (that's over a period of about 18 months). Another mystery—or maybe not. Or maybe it's the colon. Whatever.

The line: "Writing is the hardest thing you will ever choose to do."

Yes, I know I'm going to sound insensitive here to a lot of people; but seriously, if you believe that or even consider believing it, and if you are an aspiring or working storyteller, novelist, poet or anything else in that area, then maybe you're in the wrong metier. Go and do something else and save the world from your ruminations.

I'm saying this because I actually am a storyteller, as evidenced by the dozen+ novels and another dozen+ feature-length screenplays I've written, rewritten, sweated over, and even (in the case of one screenplay) made into a movie. The only thing I can think of that makes writing 'hard' is that it takes a lot of time away from other important things, like your family and friends, and that it can put you into situations where those around you wonder if you're slightly insane maybe, because you're never quite really where you should be in your head, but somewhere off in story-devising lala-land.

Writing takes more time away from such things than most activities in the 'art' domain*—all of which I consider 'optional', because ultimately their main aim is to make yourself happy and content and fulfilled and blahblahblah.

Depending on what you write, it may not take that much more time away.

For example, first drafts of screenplays have rarely taken me more than 40 hours to write; and these often are pretty close to the final product, since that's my methodology: I never write anything down that I haven't bounced around in my head for quite some time before sitting down and keyboarding it in.

Novels are a different proposition, because they have many more words; but when I'm on a roll, I can churn out 4k+ words per day no sweat. The main issue is my typing speed—I still can't touch-type after several million words written with typewriter or keyboard!—and the fact that I also have what's commonly known as a 'life'; i.e. family, obligations, day-jobs, etc.

If that sounds like I'm bragging, it gives the wrong impression. I'm just wanting to point out that this thing about writing being the hardest thing you'll ever choose to do is at the very least not absolute—and it shouldn't be stated that way. And anybody who states it as it it were some truth either hasn't got a clue what s/he's talking about or wants to sell you something.

Anybody for whom writing is the hardest thing to choose to do probably does not have a burning need to tell stories; because if you do have that need, writing may be difficult at times for all kinds of extraneous contingent reasons, but that's got nothing to do with writing per se. Instead, it's possibly because you don't have any story to tell that you believe in. Or maybe because you really, really want to be a writer, but you don't understand that that isn't enough. Because you don't understand that it's not about 'writing'—which is a mechanical thing that requires both skill and artistry, but these can be learned; the former more so, while the latter arguably requires a certain something in order to provide the fertile ground for the learning to take hold. It's about the need to communicate emotions and ideas through the medium of prose-fiction (or poetry, if you's so inclined; which I'm not) or maybe the 'play' or 'screenplay' format.

I know many writers, like a lot of other artists, like to cultivate the mystique of their self-fulfilling passions for the rest of the world. Like they were something special that lifts them above the common ruck.

 I do understand what it means to live a life where you're the only one who actually understand what drives you to do what you do. I've lived with it for more decades than many of you have been alive. But, let's be honest, doesn't that apply to everyone, really? No matter who you are, do you really think you're not, at least in some part of your psyche, an island, separated by an uncrossable ocean from everybody else; even those closest to you?

No, writing per se need not be 'hard' at all; even though the world might make actually finding time for it a quite difficult. But that's all.

Seriously: think about it for a moment and get a sense of perspective and douse your desire to indulge in self-flattery or whatever form of monomania might have a grip on you. There are literally billions of people in this world, who have much harder choices to make than you with your desire to be a writer; and the consequences of whose choices will have a far greater and profound impact on themselves, those close to them, and possibly the world as a whole.

* I'm also a photographer, and that also takes up a lot of time, but it is far less anti-social an activity.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Looking up at the universe

Been spending quite a bit of time over the last few days outside, trying to figure out the best way to take shots of that amazing view we get in the southern hemisphere of the galactic center riding high above at this time of the year.
Galactic Center (composite of ten images, Nikon D3200, 11mm wide-angle, f 4.0, ISO 3200, 25s)
Every exposure takes up to a minute (up to 30s/exposure + 30s/camera-noise-removal); and so there's plenty of time to just look up during those intervals between pushing the shutter-button and waiting for the process to finish and just be—well, I don't know what to call it. I guess it's a mix of amazement at what I see, an acute awareness of my size and utter physical insignificance, and an equal amazement at the sheer marvel of being alive and being able to experience whatever it is I'm experiencing. Plus all sorts of feelings I'm probably I'm not even conscious of.

I know, this all sounds like you've heard it all before; and it's obvious that my awe—I guess that's what it is—has probably been shared by millions of others at one time or other.

Something else is there, too, and oddly enough that is a measure of fear. Of what? I think it's mostly my utter helplessness when it comes to facing this cosmos and its power and utter indifference to what and who I am, or what I want or care about; about my utter inability to actually do anything that matters or protect those I care about, should this coldly indifferent universe unleash something lethal upon this tiny world of ours and snuff out our species and everything and everybody I hold dear.

But this fear is balanced by gratitude—to no one in particular; just 'existence' I guess—for all of these things that I am unable to protect; and which have been provided by that very same universe that might just wipe them out in a blink of an eyes. And I'd agree with those who  assert that even just a few fleeting moments of existence—or of the consciousness of existing!—are worth it, even if in those moments we may be forced into the awareness that it most certainly will end, and that we ultimately are powerless to prevent that.

I guess, looking out from the Earth like that is a bit like looking at it—like at Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot.

And, though it may seem...oh, I don't know... idealistic? unrealistic? just plain silly? ... it drives it home, at least to me, just how much people by and large have their priorities terribly, terribly wrong. Many of them of course have no choice about their priorities, but are forced by circumstances to focus on the basics of survival. But there are literally billions  who live in social and economic environments that do give them choices over what they consider important and how they choose to spend their money, what they require of their politicians, how invest their thinking time or treat their fellow humans, etc.

It is possible that we are the only form of "life' in the entire universe—at least as far as we can possibly understand it. Whatever else there is may be so different from us in form and context that contact, that is communication, with it may be utterly impossible. In that sense we, on our pale blue dot, may be completely alone among the billions and billions of galaxies in the universe—one of which we're partially seeing when we look up, like I do, when the skies are clear enough. I find that thought exhilarating and scary at the same time. And though we're just existing is less than a blink of time compared to the lifetime of the universe, that blink may indeed be the most miraculous instant in the entire history of this and any other cosmos.

Seriously, isn't it worth at least considering thinking about something else but—to name just a couple of random items from opposite ends of the human 'interest' spectrum—inane sports or plain-silly and utterly irrelevant philosophical or ideological disputes; and to focus our interest, attention and efforts on pursuits that will contribute to the goal of ensuring that we're not wiped out—just because, say, some big chunk of rock happens to be on a collision course with us or some virus has mutated into a deadly plague?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Amazon, Hechette and the Author

For those who're not in the loop about this, here are a couple of URLs you might want to catch up on first:

Amazon and Hachette: The dispute in 13 easy steps
Dear Mr. Bezos

So, what's this all about once you dig deeper into this and weed out the personal interests and agendas involved.

Let's talk about disputers' agendas first:
  • Amazon's: Make money.
  • Hachette's: Make money.
That's it. Everything else is bullshit, spin, obfuscation of the self-evident. Whatever rationales or rationalizations are provided by either side are self-serving and utterly hypocritical.

Anybody gonna argue with me about this? — I didn't think so.

So, what's the real issue here?

Let's start with Janet Fitch's letter to Mr. Bezos, and I quote:

"As a middle-aged woman who has had some luck as a writer, I’d like this profession of author to remain a possibility for young writers in the future—and not become an arena solely for the hobbyist or the well-heeled. What will be lost when working writers no longer can support themselves pursuing their ideas, their art? What will be lost to this country, if these most talented can no longer make a living? I am making this an open letter, because I believe we are at a crossroads, and decisions are being made now which will affect our country permanently."


Fitch's attitude is fairly representative of the rationalizations put forward by her peers, namely those people who consider themselves to be "professionals" and "writers" or "authors".What issues do I have with it? Well, here they are.

Writers of fiction—and even more so poets—usually consider themselves 'artists' of sort, and that may be ok. And being an 'artist' shouldn't be, at least not in my view, something that entitles anyone in any way to make the activity into a 'profession'. It may be a passion and a craft, but 'profession'? I don't think so. Art, while it may arguably be necessary for artists to be able to release their passion into 'art', and for culture to have 'art' to have some substance, should be subject to ruthless evolutionary pressures.

By the way, I'm saying this as someone who isn't anywhere close to being able to earn a living as a 'writer'. But it's a passion, and the desire to get far enough with this thing that I do—and have been doing for the greater part of my life—is a powerful drive to become better at it, and at the time retaining integrity, my voice, and what I write about; not for fashion but because I believe it matters. In other words it's character-building in so many ways, and the honing of the craft and the development it's provided me with as a human being has been indispensable in forming my character. 

And I genuinely don't believe that there is even a smidgen of entitlement for me or any other 'artist' to get a chance, provided by the actions of some outside agencies, to make it into a 'profession'. If it happens, so much the better and I'd be delighted, but it's not something I'd ever claim any kind of entitlement for. In fact, this whole notion is a fairly recent concept that has a lot to do with the general, influenza-like spread of "entitlement culture" in general.

I think it's rather self-serving to call upon the putative future writers that will be 'lost'—either they or some general "what", which is even more nebulous and undefined—to the world, merely because they might have to end up having to work really hard and for a really long time before they get—if ever they do!—to a point where they make a living out of it. And that's all this is really all about; and slapping the label 'profession' on it...well, lots of bodies of people who want to be acknowledged by society in some way, clamor for being recognized as 'professions'—and the educational sector is making a packet out of that. 

The literary production-democracy introduced into the world by modern technology and the internet scares the shits out of many people, I know. The notion that a horde of hacks has effectively been let loose on the world of publishing, uncontrolled by the still-twitching elite of literary gatekeepers, is daunting, I admit. But it could also be argued that we're merely dealing with a different process of evolution, not any more controlled by the publishing industry but by the reading public directly. 

Is that a good or a bad thing? Who can tell? is it 'bad' that a lot more shit is getting published than ever before? Could it not also mean that there are more pearls there than ever to be discovered; only that the discovery mechanism has changed? What has been removed is the pre-selection mechanism formerly provided by the gatekeeper elite.  

As someone who has been exposed to the light and the dark side of traditional publishing, I am of a mind to come down on the side of telling the gatekeepers to go and shove it. Get with the program and figure out how to survive in this new style of literary evolution. 

On the other hand, however, I'm also quite disgusted at Amazon's attempt to impose its own vision on the world of publishing. How about just seeing what the reading public is willing to pay for and how all that plays out in a fair marketplace? 

Amazon is no champion of the future of publishing. Smashwords and Lulu are. They enable everyone who thinks they have something to offer to the world to offer just that and to see if the world is interested enough to read it and pay for it.

It's not about low-cost publishing, but about the possibility of the simultaneous existence of the traditional gatekeeper-controlled model, as well as the "Indie" mode—once labeled as "vanity" publishing; but over the last years it has become so much more. 

Let's see who'll be left standing at the end! Who knows? Maybe both of them will. I think if that happens, it will be to the benefit of all, but especially for the readers—who are the ones that truly matter, right?

† In the interest of full disclosure of my own 'interests', I would like to point out that I, too, am an "author". I tend to avoid the "writer" label, because I also do movies and in general think of myself more as a "storyteller" who does a lot of his telling by writing stuff down, either in prose or as screenplays. I have had one novel published 'officially' and ten more using and; two organizations I can't praise highly enough for their approach to the business of indie-publishing.

†† Though if fiction writers thought more of themselves as storytellers, they probably wouldn't carry their noses quite as high up as they do. I'm saying this, because those who do, usually don't!

††† Not that this elite necessarily pre-selects on the merit of literary quality. Money always played a big part in the assessment criteria! Hypocrisy rules supreme here, too.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Brian Cox in Brisbane

Went to see Brian Cox at QPAC in Brisbane last Tuesday. Great evening. Cosmology, particle physics, life on the planets, plus a nice bit about Brian Cox himself. He's a natural presenter and his enthusiasm is infectious—unlike the dour Richard Dawkins, who is about as uninspiring as you'll get. (I know, I know: some people just can't get enough of Dawkins. People have the strangest inclinations and predilections...)

To my delight Brian Cox finished the evening with a reading of Carl Sagan's moving commentary on Voyager's famous 'pale blue dot' photo.

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

"Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

"The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

"It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

Death of a friend

Friend of mine died yesterday. Never actually met him in person, as happens these days, but he was my friend anyway. Was going to come visit us earlier this year, but then was diagnosed with cancer. A brief bout of hope for remission, but then those hopes were dashed by subsequent investigations.

Today I received an email from his daughter, telling his friends that he had died.

He was what you might call a 'God-fearing man', and I get the impression he was OK with dying; a notion incomprehensible to me, an avowed emortalist—but some people just are OK with it, and I can respect that. I have a sneaking suspicion that even if significant longevity were to become available, many people would continue to adhere to their faith. The consequences for society of this would be interesting to speculate about. (It's cropped up in my books quite a few times, for obvious reasons; especially in the Tethys prequels.)

Still, very few people will ever be truly 'comfortable' with dying, though they may talk themselves into denial of this simple but powerful instinctive reaction to the notion of their personal extinction. My friend wrote a poem that reminds us of this, and maybe also expresses our deep abiding fear of the worst thing that we can possibly imagine to happen to us after we're dead. (Yeah, I know, what can possibly happen to us at that point—right?) Still, ponder this poem, which I would find profoundly touching and revealing, even if it hadn't been my friend who wrote it.

The title says it all: what we most fear is that we are forgotten; that our death will not make a difference to the lives of those that mattered to us; that life will just carry on as if we'd never been. Of course, ultimately that will be the fate of everybody; if only because the universe won't leave us any choice.

Remember Me

I am not here, nor do I sleep
I walk not the ground beneath your feet
I breathe not the air in which you stand
No longer here, no longer man
Tis with these words I now depart
To lessen sorrow within your heart
My spirit soars now in Heaven high
For God has written that man must die
Remember me for good I’ve done
Remember me for battles won
Remember me
Remember me

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Three Most Dangerous Ideas

It's been a long time...

Well, here's something that came to mind and got onto the Want-To-Share list.

A bit of background.

I have this friend. Known him for longer than just abut anybody in Australia. In fact, the only person I've known longer is dead. That kind of puts my buddy, let's call him 'K', into the 'oldest living friend' category. He's almost exactly one year younger than I.

K has worked for all his life like a fiend. Now he's 'retired', a concept I find incomprehensible, as it implies that one's basically waiting for death. Well, I suppose, we all are in some way, whether it comes after the next heartbeat or in a much further-away future. But retirement seems to kind-of make it explicit As a seriously 'do-not-go-gentle' kind of guy, I'm not in that mind-set. In fact, I'd prefer not to go at all.

K has been 'creative' throughout his life. I'm not sure I can relate to the kinds of things he's spent his creativity on (much of it was in the public service, serving politicians), but that's none of my business. To each his own. I respect people's choices; mainly since I would like them to respect mine. Tit for tat.

In retirement, K's creative outlets have lain fallow. He immerses himself in activities, making himself so busy that he hasn't got time to breathe, but I know he's not happy doing what he's doing. (I know, I know: who is 'happy' anyway? And is happiness really a goal to aim for? A topic for another time. Maybe.) In fact, I think it's killing him; that and the smoking, which he's been trying to give up more times than I can count.

But creativity is something you can't keep down. Once you're in the habit of it (and yes, there's something like a 'habit of creativity', which is more addictive than smoking), you can't break it; unless you kill yourself, either physically or spiritually. And so, K nowadays is creative by having ideas. He just can't help it. They keep on coming. Good ideas and less edifying ideas. Most interestingly, ideas about stories that might make it into novels or screenplays. But ideas they are. No follow-through though, because somehow that's not just in him anymore.

I found myself getting angry thinking of all this. Why? Because I look at my friend and I get sad and frustrated and ultimately angry at the waste of it all. The waste of a life, which is slowly fading away, with those ideas just coming our of nowhere, only to become just another idea that'll eventually (as will all human ideas, of course) be dissipate in the endless sea of the ultimately-dying universe, together with everything that the uncounted billions, and maybe eventually even trillions, of human beings were, are and will be. Forgotten, dispersed, become nothingness.

But, damn it, until that happens, how about we shout as loud as we can and even though our defiance may be futile, it is defiance and an affirmation of our being alive.

Back to ideas, which is what this blog was supposed to be all about. Because as I was listenting to K yesterday, it suddenly occurred to me that while ideas may be powerful, some are more so than others; and I wondered what the most powerful ideas might be. And then I realized that maybe 'powerful' is harder to figure out than another category, namely 'dangerous'. In terms of human life in our world, what are the ideas that are most dangerous, in the sense that they carry within them the greatest potential for good and evil alike? The ideas that infuse the Force with power, that stir human beings into action; which, when abused, have the potential to do untold harm; and yet, in their highest expression, represent the very best our humanity has to offer.

And this, after some thought, are my top three; not in order of importance, because I'm not presumptuous enough to think I can make that judgement.

All of these ideas are at their core anti-authoritarian, anti-religious, anti-statist and focused on the individual.

Idea #1 is the concept of 'true love'.

Yeah, I know, this is Princess Bride stuff, but so bite me! It's all profound anarchistic, the notion that the obligations of love for another person (or persons) trump all the rules imposed by societies, states, ideologies, religions and what-have-you. This relates closely to...

Idea #2 is the concept of 'individual freedom' or 'liberty'.

Note that this is the 'negative' version liberty, that is, freedom from something (as opposed to its strange complement, 'positive' liberty, this being the freedom to do something.

Idea #3 is the notion that as individuals and physical beings we should live for as long as we choose, instead of being subjected to the whims of what biology appears to dictate.

This is closely associated with the idea of individual freedom, since it implies freedom from the necessity to die as ordained by evolution or by obstacles put in the way of this by others for whatever reason.

As I said before, I'm not offering a judgment on these ideas or their consequences; just as food for thought.

I know there are considerably more powerful ideas. For example the idea of 'God' in whatever incarnation (all equally daft) is very powerful indeed. It's also dangerous, but in a different way, mainly because it's grown to such monstrous proportions.

The first two ideas I mentioned on the other hand, can never become that way, because they are, in their very nature, inherently incompatible with such a development. In contrast, the last one might, one of these days, grow to significant size. In the process it will inevitably subvert fundamental assumptions about, and views of, ourselves as human beings. Should be interesting...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Facebook and School Shootings

"How are you feeling, Till?" 
You've got to be shitting me, right? I'm talking about the new prompt for Facebook's 'Update Status' box. Thing is, as T3 would say (with a thick Austrian accent of course, and sounding like a retard) "No, I am not shitting you!" 
 Because there it is, in plain sight. Not anymore "What's on your mind?" (Assuming that you have one, of course. A hairy assumption in many instances.) but about FEELINGS. Oh, man! FEELINGS! Could we get any more bleeech-blah??
"How are you feeling, Till?"

Well, I tell you how I'm feeling, Facebook! I feel combative, pugnacious, ready to rock and roll for some serious thinking—defying the urge to do some serious feeling and letting reasoned thought, the kind that takes into account the factors beyond the feelings-and-bullshit-thought, play second fiddle. Because you've got to ask the hard questions if you want to get a peek at the truth. The easy ones just give you shit. Stupid questions, stupid answers, stupid people.

In the spirit of that, I'd like to offer to those who actually want to think about stuff—instead of just rolling with the media, politicians, moralizers, know-it-alls, general speechfying and pontificating—the following two articles on a very touchy subject. Both come from writers with whose stances I often disagree, but with whom in this case I cannot disagree.

I have nothing to add to what they're saying regarding their topic, so let them speak for themselves.

But what I'd like to say—and this is my short post for today—is that the dumb-ass revision of the Facebook prompt is probably indicative of some of the real issues behind school shootings. Sounds like a long-shot connection? Well, think again. Think beyond the easy questions. Ask the next, harder question. Try anyway. It doesn't hurt as much as you might think.Indeed, you might find it liberating.

Oh, and following on from my previous post, here's another article for your edification. Makes you wonder about the Mayan calendar. The apocalypse comes in many guises. (Kidding! This isn't 'apocalypse'; just the predictable development of trends that have been in the making for many years.)

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Free Speech? Not! (How the West is helping others to bring itself crashing down.)

OK, so I should really be writing my next chunk of The League of Knights-Errant, but there's something on my mind that's killing me, and though it will make its way into my work, I want to take this time out to use my tiny, tinny, wheezy blog-soapbox-voice that nobody really pays any fucking attention to—and why should they, with all those blog voices clamoring for attention and another just drowning in the hellish din?—to add my 2¢ to the kitty.

So, I watched the video that occasioned lots of people to succumb to yet another bout of mass-hysteria—getting their adrenaline flowing and just finding that heady I'm-off-my-rocker buzz in the hubhub of others in similar states of self-intoxication—and after having forced myself to watch it to the end, despite it's complete lack of any quality, I said to myself: "Is that what the fuss is all about? WTF?"

At least Theo van Gogh's flick, the one that got him murdered by a religioid adrenaline-junkie in the street some years back, had some class, and it addressed a specific issue with a certain creed (see how politically correct I'm being here?), namely their medieval serious-dick-issues misogyny. But this one here? It's a joke. I know it isn't meant to be, except in bits and pieces; but it's funny, if for no other reason but that it's made by someone who couldn't put a dialogue together if you paid him a million bucks, had the technological film-making savvy of a flounder and whose editing capabilities would have made a baboon blush with shame.

Was it intended to be offensive? Probably. I'm guessing it was made by some fairly-low-intelligence and even-lower-competence adherent of a certain competing religion. No self-respecting atheist would have condescended to produce such an incompetent piece of shit. (On the other hand, there are some seriously stupid atheists around as well. Just sayin'. Nobody's immune.)

The French, not to be outdone by some American Idiot, decided to put the boot in and respond to the 'global outrage', or whatever you want to call it, by making a point. A satirical magazine regaled the world with a few cartoons that made those coming out of Denmark a while back appear positively benign and intellectual. Yes, I dared to have a look at the Charlie-Hebdo cartoons. So can you, thanks to Google images, though I advise against it, because I for one never ever in my whole, hopefully very long, life want to see an image of that scrotum again, even if it's is mock-censored!

However, the French, though French they may be, did make an excellent point, which I completely agree with (though they would say it if French, and probably not in direct translation):

What I say (write, draw, sing, etc) offends your tender religious or ideological sensibilities? Well, tough titty said the kitty. Cowboy the fuck up and live with it.

This is—or should be!—a fundamental tenet of that part of worldly civilization we call "Western". If there's anything concrete that we should be able to hold up and say to the rest of the world "we are worthy of being called 'civilized' because of..." it should be this.

It isn't.

We do pay lip service to it, of course—up to a point and, in the case of the recent kerfuffle there were some high-level voices using phrases including the words "freedom of speech". Of course, said phrases were always prefaced by a much more fervent declaration relating to the "deeply offensive" nature of that piece-of-incompetent-video-shit, with a direct implication that said "offensive" aspects are the reasons why it a) shouldn't have been made in the first place, and b) most certainly shouldn't have see the light of day. In comparison the subsequent advocacy of "freedom of speech" usually appears limp and emasculated (kind-of same thing, I know, but I'm trying to emphasize that, in the eyes of the major current opponents of freedom of speech a limp defense amounts to effective emasculation).

Before I go on with this, let's draw a baseline for mutual understanding here:

Complete 'freedom of speech' is unachievable.

And that's all right. Achieving it would be undesirable. Like 'freedom' itself it is a target. Not an 'ideal', though some might think of it that way, because ideals belong into another ontological category. Targets or goals, on the other hand, can be achieved, at least in principle, even though in practice they may never be. As far as freedom of speech is concerned, everybody with a modicum of intelligence should realize that 100% achievement isn't even desirable. And the oppressors might note that 0% is also unachievable and will ultimately turn out to be counterproductive to the oppressor's or oppressors' intentions.

Freedom of speech exists on a spectrum, and in different historical and cultural contexts it fluctuates between the two extremes. All this is pretty self-evident, but people seems to forget, as they tend to, especially when they defend the desirability of a state of affairs at either end of the spectrum. What really matters is how the reality of freedom of speech, or 'free speech' as it's usually abbreviated, is placed on the %-scale in any given context, and how it is trending; that is, is speech getting more or less free.

I'd also like to propose that the degree to which speech is 'free' in any given country is closely correlated to the much more complex issue of 'civil liberty'. Indeed, 'Freedom of Speech' should perhaps be better labeled as 'Liberty of Speech', since we're talking about 'negative liberty' here, that is, freedom from interference by others with our expression of a point of view—said expression being able to take a wide range of forms, from reasoned argument to cutting satire or outright mockery. The degree of (negative) liberty to express oneself is the canary in the mine of civil liberty.

Speaking from the point of view of someone living in Australia—which is, in most important aspects, representative of current trends in 'Western' culture—the current situation is iffy and the outlook is grim. Both versions of liberty are being inexorably eroded in so many insidious ways that it's hard to keep track of it all. It used to happen with glacial creep, but we're slowly getting to the point where the sheep that constitute the vast majority of all human societies are being pushed along at an ever-increasing pace, without apparently noticing it, or if they do notice they either live in a state of progressively strengthening denial or they're just too plain stupid, denialist, dull, apathetic and preoccupied with 50" LCD TVs, boats, cars with loud exhausts and sport to give a shit.


The erosion of the negative liberty to say freely what's one feels one needs to say, all in order, allegedly, to enhance the positive liberty of those potentially offended by said utterances, or going against what is 'publicly acceptable', is running pretty much amok. The of 'positive liberty' that really creates is one-sided. Stifling freedom of expression by imposing real or 'social' penalties upon those who would utter them if only they were allowed to stifles their freedom not only to speak out, but also to develop personally and to potentially make significant contributions to social progress. What society has ever progressed that's clamped down on its freedom of expression? I dare you to name a single instance.

My second example is 'education'. I'd absolutely hate to have young children nowadays and to have to send them to the brain-washing factories that call themselves schools, and then onward to what once upon were the bastions of learning, but which now have turned into production facilities for the kinds of people society wants to 'prosper'—all according to whatever econo-political or socio-political flavor of the day happens to rule the tax-grabbing roost. Anybody who wants to be something else, take a ticket and wait in line, possibly until you die. Anybody who thinks they can actually be different and pick some subject that would classically be associated with being different—the arts and humanities in particular—has better make sure that he or she tows the line, because even here what gets you anywhere is carefully circumscribed by, often subtly but sometimes with contemptuous obviousness, those who have the power to dictate what should be considered, say, of artistic or other cultural value.

The irony here is, of course, that this kind of crap interferes with people's negative liberties as much as it does with their positive ones; it imposes pressures on people's personal and social development that forces them to conform or else. What those in government tell the sheep their govern—in order to sell the progressive enforcement of what's risibly called 'modern education'—are prevarications and outright, deliberate, calculated, manipulative lies.

I know, I know, it's kind-of always been like that. True enough. But, looking back and comparing things to today, the degree of enforced conformity has reached grotesque proportions. That's because the power of control systems has come full circle. In the good old days you sent a bunch of thugs, disguised in uniforms, into a village or town, picked up the dissidents and their families, plus some more for good measure (maybe the whole damn village) and strung them up along the roadside on makeshift gibbets, there to rot for the scavengers to feast on. Nowadays you smother them in nanny-state care, put surveillance cameras everywhere you can, enact legislation and tools ostensibly aimed at creating 'security', force them to send their children into the public schooling system, brainwash the shits out of them until they're a bunch of declawed pussies (one of the most abhorrent, and completely legal, mutilations performed on cats).

And always—and this has not changed throughout the ages of man—make sure that the weapons of physical violence in the possession of the citizenry are pathetically ineffectual when compared to those in the hands of the 'authorities'—or preferably disarm the citizenry completely, and if that's not feasible, as much as they can be persuaded into tolerating. And in Australia the sheep by and large were only too prepared to do so, with the only weapons remaining in the hands of 'authority' and criminals (these including perfectly good people, who happen to have an unlicensed weapon of two stashed away somewhere for personal protection), plus such intellectuals as security guards and a small group of 'licenced' individuals (shooters, farmers, etc) whose bureaucratic license renewal process requirements tend to cross the line into the outright risible.

E.G.#3: One of the immediate responses to the recent random (and media-frenzy creating) killing of a lovely woman in Melbourne by a human predator instantly brought about, among other things, (a) calls for even more surveillance of public spaces in a country that already close on the heel of the UK and the US in the invasion of privacy in public spaces, and (b) a plethora of commentaries, the gist of which was that 'the authorities' basically are responsible for making sure that such things don't happen, because they shouldn't happen.

Well, of course they shouldn't happen. But they do. That's because some people are bad, dysfunctional, psychopathic, sociopathic, deluded, idiologically or religious fanatics or zealots of any kind; and there will always be such people, and unless we're going to—as it seems like we actually might and in some placed are very close to—progress into a world of Minority Report and Person of Interest, there's no way to protect personal safety except by people assuming personal responsibility for it. But, of course, it is exactly that which is systematically being bred out of us by the same 'leviathan' system that Stephen Pinker is so enamored with (The Better Angels of our Nature), because it appears, superficially at least, to continue reducing overall violence in the world. The problem that that is that the reduction of physical violence is—possibly inevitably, because of the control required to make human beings conform—accompanied by a commensurate and possibly disproportionate increase in violence being done to the very essence of what makes us human. Violence to our dignity, our freedom to speak our minds, to pursue what we feel an urge to pursue, to allow us ideals and values that aren't forced down our throats by self-righteous religious or ideological morons, self-serving opportunist politicians, or any damn do-gooder who happens to be in a position to impose his or her opinion and desires of how things should be upon the rest of us.

The bitter joke on all of us, who say that they want 'freedom' but instead act as it they really didn't—except maybe the freedom to choose what LCD TV or car to buy and how to spend their holidays— is that the we-are-entilted-to-some-damn-respect-or-else-we'll-just-kill-you bullies of the world do, in fact, have the full, albeit unwitting, cooperation of the western societies they are bullying. And I wonder if we can survive the onslaught of medievalism, since we're the ones who opened the drawbridges. And I also wonder if those amazing political documents (the only 'political manifestos' eliciting my personal respect and even admiration), the American Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are going to survive the current century.

Let's face it, their spirit has already pretty much gone POOF, and I suspect that most Americans, at least those still capable of independent thought, will pretty much recognize significant parallels between their own country in the snapshots of Australia above. What's currently putting the US ahead of Australia in the 'liberty' stakes is, I think, its lack of homogeneity. While that sometimes—actually quite often!—expresses itself in bizarre ways, it also keeps the country from sliding quite as fast as Australia is into mind-numbing social and political conformity.

Most Australians would claim the exact opposite, but they're wrong. The same elements that make the US so objectionable to many are also what may yet save it. Another of the great ironies of contemporary political life on Earth.

And you know something? I wonder if the one issue that remains a major cause of other western societies looking down on the US, namely the continuing battle between the pro- and the anti-gun lobbies—with the 'pro' still ahead, and I hope it stays that way!—isn't like a pillar, a solid, concrete symbol, of that wonderful, yet scary, mix of contradictions that made America great and may yet save it from going down the drain of the kind of BLAH conformity that's slowly choking the rest of the West into oblivion.

You can't have creativity and human progress without diversity and strife, differences and conflict. Period. I don't want the world to become the 'verse of Serenity, where only outlaws and anarchists keep the spirit of the human species alive.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tell a story to save your sanity

Writers will give you a lot of reasons why they "do it"; and, no, I'm not talking about "it" but "it", OK?

Speaking from experience, and as somebody who is considerably more aware of his own motivations, including the 'real' ones, than most people (no false modesty here!), I can assure you that the vast majority of those reasons qualify as 'reationalizations' and quite a lot of them are simply bogus. Almost all the reasons supplied though suffer from incompleteness, if only because people just don't know all the reasons that drive them to do whatever shit they're doing. Period.

In the spirit of disclosure then, I'm going to add another reason to the stack I've already unearthed for my addicion to story-telling: because it's saving my sanity.

Seriously! I have a terminal dependency on making up stories. Apart from allowing me to interact (sort of) with a whole bunch of interesting characters, they also let me imagine things that aren't real, but which are like I maybe would like things to be. They also, rather importantly, let me blow off steam about the lunacies of the world and its denizens.

Like, right now, I'm positively itching to rant and rave on about religioids and other idiots who think that they have some natural 'right' not to have their precious beliefs insulted and even ridiculed. I managed to scratch scratch the itch because I happened to have arrived at a conversation where I could let fly through the mouth of one of my characters. Much better putting it in the first draft, rather than wasting time putting it into a blog that'll piss everybody off.

Maybe it'll stay in there, or maybe it won't. That'll be up to my mood at re-write/edit time. But for right now I've written it out of my system, thus contributing to lowering my mental and physical blood-pressure. All good.

All good.

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Hurl words into this darkness"

"I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all." Richard Wright

I wish more writers felt that way about their craft. More storytellers in general; be they writers, film-makers; comic-book creators; actors (for they're storytellers, too); visual artists; and so on.

They do exist, of course, and some of them even qualify as 'famous'. When you read their work you get the sense that they do have what's commonly labeled as "something to say"; something significant that does indeed have to do with the "hunger for life" and the wonder of being alive. And you even hear them calling, like (to use a metaphor from the I Ching) "A crane calling in the shade. [Its young answers it.]", or maybe shouting—and nowadays it's likely that anybody shouting in the right places will find an echo in the vast spaces of the cyberverse; though it may turn out to be an echo produced by a smattering of lunatics. But who said that all echoes are created the same?

Wright was talking about 'words', and it is true enough: for tellers of stories, words are the tool of choice, if for no other reason but that words are the vehicles for propositional statements. Actions can only go so far, because they are proposition-less, though they may indicate propositions and may be interpreted as being 'statements'.

Interesting thing that: we need the words to make the propositions, but the words usually are about actions of some kind, though said actions in turn may contain the utterance of words, who in turn may refer to actions who in turn... You see where this is going.

The important thing here is that for a story to be told, words and actions are interlinked and interdependent. The telling of the story itself is an action to begin with, so I suppose in this chicken-egg story that's the egg. Or is it the chicken, since the storytellers had to have narrative first, running around in their heads so that the action of telling the story followed?

Back to words hurled into the darkness. It would be nice to think that most storytellers are motivated by an urge not dissimilar to that expressed by Wright. Alas, realism forces me to acknowledge otherwise. Still, maybe not everyone can be driven by such lofty motivators. For some of us it must be enough to be prompted by an inexplicable desire and need to "just do it". It's usually called a 'passion', and often taken to be a justification for the kind of narcissistic 'self'-realization that's been in fashion for some time now; in one form or another it's been around for a long time, but at the movement it appears to be reaching a peak of some kind.

I know I am driven by a 'passion', but I still haven't quite sorted out in my mind what that actually is! It's just one of those words that people use—and often those people are very intelligent, though they never appear to have the need to actually dig deeper into the word and find out where it is grounded. But what it actually represents, described, 'means'...

Being a good General Semanticist—well, my own variation upon the theme, since I always seem to find flaws in any system of thought, even the most cogent ones—I think I may have found my personal grounding of 'passion', in this is instance the one having to do with storytelling, that allows me to define at least one aspect of its meaning, and it is this: without it I am not complete. Something important and significant would be missing.

Whatever that is exactly, who knows? And ultimately, does it matter?

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Heart of a Man

"If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads." François Mauriac

Amen, my sisters and brothers!

Oddly enough I've been thinking of pruning down our collection of books to those that I, or my better half, are likely to re-read. And maybe our collection of DVDs (and P2P stuff) to those movies and TV series we'd re-watch (like The Unit, which is definitely on that list).

BTW, I know what (fiction) I re-read: Vance, Heinlein, Perry, Hiaasen, FABLES.

Can't think of anything more for a desert island. Plus I read my own stuff, of course, but this is usually done for proofing, though every now and then I like to revisit my characters just for the heck of it. The guilty privileges of an author: looking into his own soul, if you will.

Oddly enough there isn't much non-fiction in the re-read list, and the few included are Vance and Heinlein bios, and of course Alan Harrington's 'The Immortalist'.

So, that's some 'heart of a man' for you!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What is Love? (¿Amor? Qué es?)

Came across this...

  • Goodreads's Quote of the Day: Love is an abstract noun, something nebulous. And yet love turns out to be the only part of us that is solid, as the world turns upside down and the screen goes black. Martin Amis
  • An article in Psychology Today (here).
  • An article on 'Inner Marriage' in PT (here).
As a storyteller I'm all 'about' human relationships, and I admit that love is right up there within my scope of interest. Way I see it, most other stuff we do is pretty much bullshit. If we don't love living and preferably also at least one other person, and if we don't love these with a passion bordering on 'consuming', then what's the point of it all?

The only reason why 'life' is at the top of the list is, of course, that without it we couldn't love anyone else, or ourselves for that matter. On the other hand, loving another person tends to make us love life more, because it adds an obvious meaning to it. At least that's how I see it.

I think it's safe to say that much—most! almost all!—of what has been said and written about what love is, is bullshit. But I think that Martin Amis may have touched on something in that first quote. s 'love' is indeed just (as the song goes) a four-letter word; and in other languages it is another word, or maybe many words, or maybe just a grunt, or maybe the language doesn't even have a word for it (whatever 'it' is, in this case whatever we call 'love'). But when we experience it, it is hyper-real to those experiencing it—and I'm talking about all the varieties of it, ranging from the romantic kind to the love felt by a parent for their offspring (well, most parents, or so one would hope).

What I ask myself though is this: do we need language to have 'love'? I mean, do we have to have a tool for propositional thought—of which a language capable of propositions is one, and there may be no others, though that may just be my limited propositional scope, imposed by the limitations of 'language'—in order to actually experience 'love'. And is love different with people who think in other languages, and who have not only a different cultural context, but also different tools for propositional thought?

'Love' (and it's other-language equivalents) may be the most confusing concept(s) ever constructed and given a label by the human mind. The fact that almost all languages, and certainly all the dominant ones, have a term for this...whatever it is...could have been caused by history and intermingling of peoples. But it could also be an indication that there was a void in our human concept space that needed to be filled by some symbolic representation. And so, 'love' is kind of a placeholder for something that, in its manifold nature, we simply don't understand.

Have a look at the last article in the list above. It's a bit of narcissist claptrap that seems to me to be very indicative of the bullshit of our times (and other times as well, when you really think about it, only it was phrased a bit differently). I find it hard to believe that anybody with more than one neuron interacting with another can actually conceive of this kind of crap. What it all boils down to is this sentence at the end:

"...the need for a romantic partner wanes as the inner marriage approaches consummation, and harmonious relationships turn out to be a byproduct of this larger process."

This 'inner marriage' is supposed to be the union between the 'male' and 'female' part of our psyches, which is thought of as the ultimate goal of personal development—implying, apparently that personal development culminates in a lack of any need for a romantic partner to complete oneself. Relationships—'harmonious' ones, just like the one we're supposed to have achieved between our internal male and female selves—thus end up as a 'byproduct' of a 'larger' process.

Put plainly, this is pure narcissicm, period.

Unfortunately, it's a way of thinking that's widely accepted and built into a lot of pop-psychology and culture, and not just the 'western' variety.

There are a number of variations upon the theme of 'inner harmony', not just the conflicting-gender ones. Most come from religious traditions. Buddhism is one obvious and explicit example. Judaism and its perpetually-warring offsprings, Christianity and Islam are others. All the major religions, however, have at their core some notion that 'harmony' between conflicting aspects of one's being, or between one's being and some imagined deity, is and should be the ultimate goal of any personal development. And the conclusion, that in consequence human relationships will also end up harmonious, is almost invariably tacked on.

Of course, it gets out of hand here and there, because said 'harmony' is often considered to be achievable only by, for example, convincing others to think the same as oneself, and never mind how that is done.

The point I'm trying to make here—if a 'point' there is, and this isn't just some free consciousness flow thing—is that maybe we're tackling this all wrong, and romantic relationships are one obvious way of understanding this. I think that romantic relationships are a manner of completing ourselves by way of connecting to someone who provides that completion. There are a lot of aspects to that 'completion' and nobody says that, in any given relationship it will last. Indeed, transience is a frequent hallmark of 'romance'. But we don't require permanence to accept that completion may indeed come through a joining with others in a romantic relationship, which is the most intense form of 'relationship' that I, myself, can imagine. And I cannot conceive of any form of spiritual auto-eroticism that will ever come close to the completion I've felt and feel as the result of loving someone romantically.

Maybe it's just my limited capabilities for internal self-satisfaction, but I cannot see how spiritual auto-eroticism, and the spiritual orgasms found in states like religious ecstasy, can in any way compare to those of a satisfying and loving sexual encounter. I know, "it's all in the head", and, yes, that's no doubt true. But a connection with a real other human being, including all one's senses—for we are 'sensual' beings—and involving our bodies as well as our minds, must ultimately be more 'complete', if you will, than spiritual jerking off.

We are social beings and, all the so-called 'wisdom' of all those wise men—for men they usually were—over the ages, who told and keep telling us us that the mind ('soul', whatever) is greater and more significant than the body, to my, possibly limited, mind is just so much bullshit from people who actually lack some basic understanding of what 'human nature' really is. They've been carrying the flag of 'harmony' for a long time, and using that banner to try and lead us into a world that is ultimately solitary—though it may have a union with some imagined deity that may or may not be entirely benign, and often is just plain childish and very very narcissistic, as all monotheist deities are!—and very, very empty, because it is populated by just one.