What I’ve been doing

Moving downstairs turned out to be a lot more strenuous and involved than even I expected. I still have tons of stuff to sort out. Well, it seems like tons of stuff to me. The major things are done, though, at least on my side. The roommate still has his giant collection of scholarly books and opera dvds and so on to finish sorting, and he can’t finish until certain things are done to the apartment, and the landlord is dragging his feet a bit. I don’t believe the upstairs has been rented yet, but on the up side the landlord said I did a good job cleaning up! I wasn’t too happy with my efforts, but really the place needs a team of professional cleaners, and things like floor-sanding and replacing that isn’t in our control.

On the writing front, I haven’t done much. I’ve been working on and off on a scifi thing for some years now, and decided that key elements have to be rewritten. It won’t disrupt the general structure that much, but the first draft of chapters one and half of two will need significant reworking. Let’s just say some of the setups and tropes I drew on that I thought were just fine now seem stale and clichéd, at the very least. For one thing, having my MC be able to bring a musical instrument, albeit a small, portable one (a viola, basically) across light years from space, and that voyage on prison ships where he was usually in stass, was unrealistic beyond the boundaries of science fiction. (It’s not some sort of virtual creation, it’s a real viola made of wood. My Used Future dystopian government would not by any means let a prisoner they were sending into exile across the galaxy take such a frivolous item with him.)

I’ve also been working out in my head a story or series of story set in a kind of alternate Earth though not really, where there are different countries and empires, and the level of technology sort of corresponds to the Victorian period (with a bit of steampunk for pretty, and also airships! for pretty), and one where wars and political intrigue and inequality is not unknown, but one where so far the scourge of colonial adventuring and conquest hasn’t destroyed large swathes of the population. However, into this other-Earth a disruptive, and as it turns out alien element will be introduced: one that aims to start yet another war of conquest and destruction and looting. Only things don’t go as planned… for one thing, medical science is more advanced than was true for our own history, because the history of this world did not produce situations and modes of thought that caused ancient medical knowledge to be lost here for a long time. (For one thing, none of the religions of this world produced the sort of mindset that called women who knew of healing herbs and so on “witches.”)

Anyway, that’s some of what I’ve been doing.

The Butchering: I Read Changes, Book Something Or Other of the Harry Dresden Files

So there’s this popular fantasy series about a “wizard detective” called Harry Dresden. I’d never read any of the books before; I don’t particularly care for “urban fantasy” — i.e., fantasy set in the more or less modern world. While I might have loved it when I was younger (and some of the fantasy I read in my teens and twenties had elements of what is now a fixed subgenre, namely magical things happening in the “real” world), now it strikes me as a subgenre suited for children and adults who never grew out of the childish desire to have magical things happen while never having to leave the comfort and safety of their bedrooms. You know, like wanting a tame dragon to be your pet, or a handsome rich vampire to marry you and settle down with you in a nicer neighborhood in your home town. But anyway, I was given the chance to read one of the books of this series, called Changes. I’m a couple chapters in, and frankly already I’m bored.

I’m also pissed off. Jim Butcher is an American dude, you can tell by the way the only thing his protagonist seems to care about is the fact that his ex-girlfriend didn’t tell him he had a daughter until said daughter was kidnapped by some of his enemies. Oh yes, the plot: Harry the Wizard gets a phone call (because despite the effects of his wizardly powers on computers, somehow he can get phone calls without the things fritzing — oh yes he talks about “receivers” and “the hook” but those old-fashioned things had electrical parts and computer bits in them since the 70s, and this story is not set in the 70s). Anyway he gets a phone call from his ex, who left him for Tragic Reasons (tl;dr: she was half-vamped by an enemy of his, and she’s okay only as long as she doesn’t drink any more blood, so she ran away south of the border so as not to be tempted to drink her boyfriend’s blood, and also to become a vampire fighter), and she tells him they had a daughter and the daughter’s been kidnapped by his vampire enemies. Anyway, you can tell that Butcher is an American male because he has his hero spend precious thinky time moaning about how awful it is he was never told about this daughter, even though as his ex has to point out (because hurt male ego and reason can’t share space in Harry’s head) they are both involved in dangerous evil-creature fighting which leaves no time to take care of a kid, so she had the kid fostered by a “normal” family. I will point out I can understand his ire but the question of just what can two vampire fighters with dangerous enemies do with a kid is left sort of hanging. I mean even if they retired until the child was grown, they’d always have to be in hiding… I dunno.

This fucking thing is longer than the Silmarillion so I’m just going put the rest under a more tag. You have been warned:

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I review “Heart of Darkness”

This story is supposed to be one of the Most Important Stories ever written. I’m not going to go into why (Western Civilization vs. the Primitive Jungly Darkness racism blah blah blah). I’d never bothered to read it, having gone to school during the education system’s brief hiatus from Dead White Malelandia. Anyway, I finally read it some time last year. Here is my review. (Full disclosure: this is elaborated from a comment I left on another website.)

I decided to finally read “Heart of Darkness” and found it on Gutenberg or some other free e-text website. I’m doing this catch-up thing with the so-called Western Canon; not because I think that all the works therein are the greatest things ever written, but because they’re part of my civilization’s history and if I’m going to fight certain aspects of Western culture I need to know where these ideas are coming from. So, to the story. I was… unimpressed. The plot is simple: a European guy goes to a country in Africa to look for another European guy. He takes a boat down a river through a jungle, finds the guy, the guy dies, the narrator returns. And that’s it. There’s not a lot of action. And I’m not sure why I should care about the characters: neurotic, coddled white guy leaves “civilization” for the scary jungle, realizes during the journey that he’s out of reach of warm beds, hot baths, and people who care about his feefees to the exclusion of all else, and doesn’t like it one bit. All the other white guys are typical of white guys in a white male supremacist society: they’ve always been on the top so have never had anything really difficult asked of them, and when they find themselves far away from the creature comforts they think they are entitled to they react like big babies and “go native” — that is, become supreme assholes that no actual “native” culture would tolerate from its own. Maybe in the 19th century this was a new, novel, horrifying concept, but now it’s old hat at the very least and I’ve never been interested in male characters who lose control. I think people who stay in control of themselves and are civilized and gracious no matter what their circumstances are so much more interesting.

The theme of the story is supposed to be about how civilization is a safe haven from the darkness that lurks within the human soul, and that it’s all too easy to leave civilization and go into the darkness, civilization is so fragile, etc. About that: actually, in the story the protagonist was on a boat (a steamboat I think or at least it wasn’t a native canoe or raft) built by his civilization, which could at any moment turn around and take him safely back home, and in fact (spoiler!) it did. His quarry, Kurtz, died from being old and sick (as far as I can tell, the text doesn’t elaborate), which totally could happen in the middle of Victorian London as well as the “uncivilized” jungle. And actually, the guy had built a house, so it wasn’t like he was living on the ground covered in mud and worms. I’m afraid that “no civilization” is represented mostly by the scary dark jungle (well, it’s a fucking bunch of trees at night, of course it’s going to be dark), and worst of all, by the scary “primitive” native tribespeople, especially the female chieftain or whoever she was supposed to be. (Which character, however, struck me as a perfectly normal woman grieving normally and in a rather dignified if non-European fashion for someone she apparently had come to esteem. If Conrad meant to write her as some savage dark earth goddess capable of eating men’s hearts raw or whatever, he failed with this one. This character — unnamed — came off as more civilized than the pathetic white guys.)

Anyway, I was rather bored with the story. At least Apocalypse Now, the film inspired by the story, had explosions and a tiger.

Random thoughts are random

Oh hai guyz. I just can’t seem to put any thoughts together into a coherent whole hey what was that noise you know I think my desk would work better in the other room. What?

Anyway, I’ve come off my twelve-hour day, and even though all it involved is sitting in an air-conditioned (actually, pretty refrigerated, so everyone has a space heater under their desks) office typing into into a keyboard and stapling papers together, it also involved me having to talk to people, not just in person but on the phone, which for some reason is more wearying than talking to them in person and I already find that a chore and a trial. So by the end of the day no matter how relaxed I started I end up by wanting to KILL ALL THE THINGS so yeah. And then I have to drive home on the roads of rural Virginia with the Virginia drivers who all have very important appointments with, I don’t know, their pigs or their tractors or something, so while I’m trying to chill out by admiring the pretty bucolic scenery and also not drive off the roads into a mess of cows and manure, they’re riding up my ass with their huge Dodge Dakotas.

So I was thinking. You know that thing where right wing bloggers start talking about “why aren’t there any” Asian or black or Hispanic people in some profession. Like, journalism, or investment banking. And then they link to an article with some stock photo off Stockphoto.com of a bunch of blond white people in a room, as if that were proof of anything. And it occurred to me why this irritated me so much was because it reminded me of a thing the boyfriend I had for about a year when I was trying out that normal heterosexual male/female thing did to me. He asked me “Why don’t you like to walk in the rain?”

Let me describe the scene where this took place. I’m sitting on the couch in the living room of the house we lived in with his parents. (He lived with his parents. No, I don’t think this means he was some sort of failure. Most people in the world think the way Americans expect children to move away from their families at a young age or any age to be bizarre and weird.) Anyway, I’m sitting on the couch, and reading something, and in general minding my own business and relaxing. Outside one of Central Florida’s apocalyptic rainstorms, complete with lightning and crashing thunder, is going on. Educational pause: Florida leads the nation, and probably the world, in lightning deaths. A lot of it is due to stupidity (no, in fact your golf cleats will not protect you from being hit by lightning) but lightning really is a danger. I’ve had lightning hit trees next to me as I was driving down the highway and my car was showered with hot blue sparks from the exploded trunk. I’ve lost a network card and usb port in a computer after lightning hit the supposedly protected cable box outside, which cable was connected to my computer. (I had been napping on the couch, because nothing relaxes me like violent storms. I slept through Hurricane Andrew, Charley, Irene, and Frances.) Anyway, in Florida it’s not generally a good idea to go for romantic walks in the rain… but that wasn’t even the issue.

What miffed me was the subject had never even fucking come up. We had never discussed walking in the rain, and we were the sort of pretentious hipsters that sneered at cheesy romantic things like walking in the rain and all those popular songs about walking in the rain. But still, it’s not even something we’d talked about, and I had no idea where this came from, and it really irritated me that he brought it up in such a classically passive aggressive when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife kind of way, and during an obviously dangerous storm where going out in the rain could actually get me killed.

That was the beginning of the end of the relationship, though it dragged on for a while after.

Anyway, this is what I think whenever I read my fellow tightey whiteys waxing supposedly wise about how this and that minority “doesn’t seem interested” in a certain profession or other and then attributing that non-interest to some brain inferiority (black people just can’t do journalism, which I guess is like nuclear physics only not easy) or some other pseudo-scientific evo-psych bullshit reason (“Asians aren’t individualistic enough to ask questions also blah blah face YELLOW SCARE SLY SLANT-EYED LIARS PARANOIA ARGH ARGH ARGH”). Never mind that there might be some very real obstacles in certain professions that rely on old-boy networks, knowing people who know people, secret handshakes and nepotism; in other words, there might be the equivalent of dangerous lightning storms keeping sensible non-white, non-upper-middle-class, non-part-of-the-club minorities from putting themselves through hell just so they can see their first column rewritten by some (white probably) editor into unreadable blandness, all the while being treated like some sort of interloper who “probably” got where you were through some sort of “unfair” quota system.

Not to mention which of course there are black journalists and Asian actors and so on and so forth, but what I don’t see is the fact that a real discussion ever took place. It’s just assumed such and such is the case and it must be due to so and so, while treating the actual supposed subject (minorities who are underrepresented in professions that upper-middle-class white people have chosen to elevate above all others, like journalist, politician, etc.) sitting on the couch being talked at like a child.

Anyway, that’s a thought I had.

Another thought is more something I realized, and that’s that when Western tourists go to supposedly poor, “backwards” “Third World” countries and then come back bragging about how they haggled “like a real native” in the markets there or for something else, that it’s not only incredibly rude and privileged (as if it mattered if a rich American paid five dollars instead of six for a rug that took months to weave), but probably makes said Western tourist look incredibly stupid. Or rather, reveals the stupidity of said tourist. Because, see, we don’t, in the West, in general, haggle for the price of everything. Yes, big ticket items like homes and cars are things you can negotiate the price of (and you are generally wise to do so), but everyday items, or even items that aren’t everyday but are just accessories, like rugs and trinkets, are something we just buy. Every once in a while there’s a chance you’ll get a bargain (a chair on clearance that you get a bit more off because there’s a stain you don’t really mind — I was able to buy a futon for 30 dollars off because it had a rip of about an inch long, which I didn’t care about because I had a cover), but really, we don’t do this showy haggling thing that we seem to think they do in those “exotic” foreign lands in all those “colorful” outdoor markets. So the result is we really have no experience in this sort of bargaining technique, and when most of us try it must literally hurt native-born experts who are forced to witness our clomping all over their centuries-old traditions (assuming this is even a culture that has such traditions and is not merely assumed to have them by some uneducated Westerner who learned everything about the Mysterious East from cartoons like Aladdin).

But that’s not all. The other insulting and stupid attitude I’ve seen and heard from a lot of my fellow Westerners who travel to Exoticastan and come back with a hold of loot (that they could have just bought off the internet but never mind) is that they have to do this sort of thing because if they don’t, they’ll be thought of as gullible tourists (and their otherwise perfect disguise will be broken!), and then those sly foreigners will take them for everything! Because you know how those people are. Sly and ever-eager to take advantage. I don’t even think I have to explain how utterly abhorrent this attitude is, especially coming from someone whose spare change found in the couch could feed a family of four in many countries.

So in short, if you find yourself in a bazaar in Marrakesh and really want that rug, and you’re a rich Westerner (and you are, don’t even argue), just pay the fucking asking price. Especially if it’s for something trivial like a trinket or a piece of cloth or a snack. I mean really.

Okay, I really need to work on this months thing I’m doing, which is another 50,000 worder for Campnanowrimo. I haven’t really done anything from November’s effort–it needs a lot of work, and I’m just not up to it now. Also I keep thinking of new stories. See you later.

Settings problem

I’ve been working on a story in my head and had it in some desert location, like Tucson. Problem: I’ve never actually been to the American Southwest. I complain at length when people get places I’ve lived wrong, so I don’t want to make someone who actually lives in Tucson go “say what now?”

So I thought maybe I’ll move it to Miami, where I was born and raised. Only I haven’t been home in about twelve years so it has probably changed enough to make any reference I make anachronistic. (My story is set in contemporary times or at the very least no more than “two months from now.”)

Then I realized I still think of Miami as “home” and I was all like nooooooooo…..! Just when I thought I was out… They pull me back in!

But the story doesn’t really “feel” Miami-ish. It feels like it belongs somewhere out west. (No. It’s not a western. God no. Go wash your brain out with soap.) Maybe I’ll put my characters in Los Angeles. I visited there for a few days and like every American who grew up in the Seventies lived there vicariously through television so I know it, yeah?


Maybe I’ll work on my other story, the sort of steampunk one though mostly it’s more airships. And bisexuals. No, the airships aren’t bisexual, the king is. So is his boyfriend so it all works out in the end. (I’m a big fan of happy endings, aren’t you?)

In knew it: Star Wars destroyed science fiction

Fortunately, our super future-tech-now internet will bring it back to life: this is the hopeful conclusion of this blog post by Mexican-American science fiction writer Ernest Hogan. I’ll say something longer about this (and how it calls back to my ideas that American culture went to shit — pastel-colored, shiny plastic shit — in the 80s) later.

100 Not Really Best First Lines From Novels

Oh, me and internet lists, here we go again. Anyway, something called “American Book Review” has decided these are 100 of the best first lines of novels. Let’s just say I don’t… entirely agree with all of them. Also, a warning: I haven’t read a lot of these novels. So I will be coming at most of these as someone who is picking up these books for the first time and deciding on whether or not I’ll read on. Let’s go:

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