Wednesday, May 21, 2014


The internet is vast and deep. I had no idea such things as "neoreactionaries" or plans for a "Dark Enlightenment" existed until I read this article at The Baffler. Among the article's insights, these followers have an affection for Carlyle's essay on re-enslaving the recently freed slaves of the British in the Caribbean. But back in the day, another voice was heard from, a week later in the same magazine.

SIR,— Your last month's number contains a speech against the "rights of Negroes," the doctrines and spirit of which ought not to pass without remonstrance. The author issues his opinions, or rather ordinances, under imposing auspices no less than those of the "immortal gods." "The Powers," "the Destinies," announce, through him, not only what will be, but what shall be done; what they "have decided upon, passed their eternal act of parliament for." This is speaking "as one having authority;" but authority from whom l If by the quality of the message we may judge of those who sent it, not from any powers to whom just or good men acknowledge allegiance. This so-called "eternal act of parliament" is no new law, but the old law of the strongest — a law against which the great teachers of mankind have in all ages protested — it is the law of force and cunning; the law that whoever is more powerful than an other, is "born lord" of that other, the other being born his "servant," who must be "compelled to work" for him by "beneficent whip," if "other methods avail not." I see nothing divine in this injunction. If  "the gods" will this, it is the first duty of human beings to resist such gods. Omnipotent these "gods" are not, for powers which demand human tyranny and injustice cannot accomplish their purpose unless human beings coƶperate. The history of human improvement is the record of a struggle by which inch after inch of ground has been wrung from these maleficent powers, and more and more of human life rescued from the iniquitous dominion of the law of might. Much, very much of this work still remains to do; but the progress made in it is the best and greatest achievement yet performed by mankind, and it was hardly to be expected at this period of the world that we should be enjoined, by way of a great reform in human affair, to begin undoing it.
"The Negro Question"
by John Stuart Mill
Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country, 1850
It is an exhilarating thing to read, but you must make allowances for the 160 year old prose, which can seem dense at times. This is part of my  heritage as a progressive. We have deep roots.


Monday, May 12, 2014

George RR Martin, Game of Thrones, and Hollywood Sword-and-Sandalism

I've met George RR Martin. I like him, he's a nice guy. This is saying something in a set of genres - science fiction and fantasy -  that seem to attract assholes. Sometimes interacting with SF&F authors is a long wade into a deep cesspool full of adolescent behavior, alcoholism, preening, and rampant egotism. I've been called names and mocked by Harlan Ellison. I was spit on by a drunken Jerry Pournelle. I've been reviled by an apparently endless line of writers. So Martin stands out as a legitimate nice guy.

Personal aside: detective, mystery, and hardboiled writers have treated me like a prince. One of them, James Lee Burke, became one of my mentors in college. Even guys who write about hardcore gangsters doing the most despicable things have answered my letters with great kindness.

It pains me to say this. I mean, it really does. I can't stand anything George RR Martin writes. I wish I admired his writing, a nice guy deserves that. But I can't. I don't like his books. It isn't for lack of trying. I've read several of his SF novels. I forced myself through two of the Song of Fire and Ice novels, Storm of Swords and the next one, forgot its title. Hated them all. Most of the time, in order not to harm the gentleman - nice guys deserve to be treated nicely - I evade or dissemble when asked my opinion about "the Game of Thrones books." But now that the series has become a full-fledged cultural thing, I no long have to remain silent. The guy's sold over 24 million copies, he's set for the rest of his life. So with a light heart, knowing I won't be doing a nice guy any damage, I can shout at you, DON'T READ THESE BOOKS, THEY'RE TERRIBLE!

Read Fritz Leiber instead. He pursues the same themes of reality-in-fantasy, human cruelty, tragedy, and non-sensational magic as Martin does. His Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories are a complete joy to read. I'd also recommend Lin Carter, Robert E Howard, C. L. Moore, Karl Edward Wagner, and a bunch of other dead people from whom Martin has borrowed his themes and tone.

However...this essay ain't about my affection for George RR Martin despite my dislike of his work. It's about the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, the television series based on his series.

It was a very good episode, mostly because of the trial sequence at the end.  Peter Dinklage is the actor behind the portray of Tyrion Lannister. Dinklage is a freaking genius, an actor with more talent than any five other actors you could name. He managed to unleash the rage that character has been carrying around in his heart since birth. Wow.

The rest of the episode was up to par if not to the epic standards of the trial scene...with one very notable exception: the fight sequence in which Theon Greyjoy's sister tries to free him. The punk-torturer shows up essentially naked, armed only with an axe, and charges straight at a heavily armored Ironborn, who also has a shield and an axe. I summarize this for easy comprehension: NAKED GUY charges STRAIGHT AT an ARMORED soldier holding a SHIELD. The naked punk-torturer wins?  This is the worst sort of Hollywood Sword-and-Sandal heroic bullshit, this in a series supposedly claiming to be more "realistic," more "faithful to the true nature of the Middle Ages." LIKE FUCK.

We're to believe that a heavily armored man carrying a large shield, armed with either a sword or fighting axe, is to be overcome by a naked guy armed only with an axe running straight at him?  Maybe it could happen, if there were another thousand naked Celts right beside him. But there aren't. Everyone else is armored up. One cut from the naked guy's opponent, one deep cut, the naked guy's gonna bleed out. At the minimum, the naked guy will lose an ear, a nose, fingers, be crippled by a blow to the get the idea. It would take him time to overcome the shielded, armored soldier, time he doesn't have given that one cut coming at him. This is shit out of a kung fu movie, not one of the good ones, either, one with everyone flying around on wires. It's Hollywood Magical Armor, which looks like real armor, like a real helmet, like a real shield, but offers zero protection even from glancing blows. Armor as a fashion statement? This completely dilutes the great scene about armor and combat between Arya Stark and the Hound in the previous episode. It undermines a major plot element right there. Naked guy charging into a shield wall held by heavily armored soldiers? Who knew PCP existed in Westeros!

What's really going on, gotta fill up that fucking plot point. Never mind that one change in the scene would have made sense of everything. We've seen that the punk-torturer likes to kill helpless people. He isn't into putting himself at the least risk. We've fucking seen this in previous episodes!  So why isn't naked-torturer-guy AT THE BACK of his crowd of minions?

Goofy Hollywood shit strikes again, even undermining the drama and epic talent on display elsewhere in the series. This is why I both love and loathe the TV series. In one thirty minute stretch of the same episode, it can be both epically good and epically bad.  If I can see the bad parts coming, I walk away from the TV, do dishes, fold socks, something meaningless for five or ten minutes. It's back to being epic by then.

It's the way things are with fantasy and science fiction in film and on television. It's why we can't have nice things. Hollywood must have its way, even if it fucks everything up.
R. P. Bird: Professional writer since 1989. Author of the IN THE REALM OF THE GODS series and the SUZIE crime novels. Crazy, but highly reliable. Can fix about anything.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

The good, the bad, and a quotation

Plato supposedly said: "Good people don't need the law to act responsibly. Bad people will always find a way around the law." I saw it on a random graphic just today. The internet wouldn't lie to me, would it?

I don't remember this quotation from when I was reading Plato in college, perhaps it's right, perhaps it's a confabulation. Don't know. Please bear with me while I check wikiquotes...

The quotation itself is really from Ammon Hennacy, a Christian anarchist. Here is the original version: "Oh judge! Your damn laws! The good people don't need them, and the bad people don't obey them."

Plato did write something vaguely like this, but its meaning is completely different: "Laws are made to instruct the good, and in the hope that there may be no need of them; also to control the bad, whose hardness of heart will not be hindered from crime."
[source: Laws, Book IX. Do a search in Google Books with the quotation as the search phrase to confirm this. I'd also like to mention the Talk page for Plato at wikiquote.]

I disagree with Hennacy. There are a minority of truly good and truly bad people in the world. What he says about those extremes is true. But for those of us who are a mixture of good and bad, the vast majority of humanity, we need the law, we need instruction in good moral behavior by our parents, by our schools, and by our culture. We need to condition our minds so that we are not merely accidentally good. These observations come not from contemplating the good, but contemplating the bad. My conclusion from studying the Holocaust and the rescuers who opposed it: you can teach ethics, you can live your ethics...but this takes work, more work than most people are willing to put into it - which explains why the Nazis found so many willing hands for murder...and why the rescuers were so few.

R. P. Bird: Professional writer since 1989. Author of the IN THE REALM OF THE GODS series and the SUZIE crime novels. Crazy, but highly reliable. Can fix about anything.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Had to change hosting services today. I went with Arvixe for the next few months. It was my own fault for being so rushed, I didn't notice the going-out-of-business notice in my alternate email box. Not like I'm Amazon, I missed a few junk emails and one or two visitors. At least it was sorted out before I begin my big push on the novels.

Arvixe uses cPanel, which I'm very familiar with. Boom, it's done.

R. P. Bird: Professional writer since 1989. Author of the IN THE REALM OF THE GODS series and the SUZIE crime novels. Crazy, but highly reliable. Can fix about anything.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Another one of those WTF moments

In regards to self-advertisement, at least I'm not dressed up in a monster suit while trying to get you to buy my books. I had no idea such a thing as monster porn existed until Twitter inflicted a picture of a guy in a monster I have to describe it? I should sue Twitter for the permanent damage this has done to my respect for the internet. Monster porn? Are you kidding me? I guess it really is a real thing. Who knew? Who wanted to know?

R. P. Bird: Professional writer since 1989. Author of the IN THE REALM OF THE GODS series and the SUZIE crime novels. Crazy, but highly reliable. Can fix about anything.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Elysium Sinks

Elysium irritates me to no end. I saw it a week ago on cable TV. Neill Blomkamp was the writer and director, famed for his nuanced District 9. Elysium is an utter mess of a movie. For one, it cost 110 million dollars to make and yet none of that money is on the screen. Lincoln cost less to make, around $45 MILLION LESS. What the fuck?

Nothing makes sense to me. The protagonist has to have a chip implanted in his brain to hack data in another guy's brain chip, yet the data was put into the victim's brain chip by a computer...and another computer, a freaking palmtop, is used to get it out and transfer it into the protagonist's brain. Here's an idea, just keep the data in the palmtop!

But that would spoil the plot gimmicks later in the film.  This movie is all-plot-gimmicks-all-the-time. It has just enough action in it to earn its money back. Elysium would be a huge hit if it cost, say, ONLY $60 million, but as it is, it barely broke even.

Much of the future environment the movie is set in fails, as if a Lexus passes Lincoln's carriage or Union soldiers armed with AKs. An orbital ring habitat full of rich folks completely defenseless except for one guy on the ground with some RPGs. They'd have orbital defense platforms around that thing like jewels around an heiress's neck. An exosuit that is completely useless, worse than that, the protagonist has to wear it because the brain chip somehow depends on the suit...except the brain chip isn't necessary in the first place.

The soul of a good movie was in there, buried under lazy writing and plot devices so flimsy they can't hold water. What will the fate of humanity be under the 1%? We know from Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century that the wealth of the 1% will only become more dominant, more concentrated as the decades pass, to the point of complete tyranny at some point in the future. What will that future look like? That's the real question Blomkamp started with, but he failed to answer it. We can only assume two things, either his talent wasn't up to the job, or he was lazy. The question doesn't go away, how ruined will the lives of our descendants be?  The answer is the movie I wanted to see.

R. P. Bird: Professional writer since 1989. Author of the IN THE REALM OF THE GODS series and the SUZIE crime novels. Crazy, but highly reliable. Can fix about anything.