Voidstrider Update

Voidstrider volume three is done!

I’m enjoying the fuck out of this celebratory glass of scotch and watching the kitten sleep in her basket. I haven’t had as much difficulty with a book since my first real novel. But the struggle is ended.

Revision is always an invigorating, fun process for me. It took longer than usual with this book, and I ended up cutting nearly 7% of the penultimate draft. It comes in at 79,000 words.

Pending cover art and some final formatting and, she’s ready to be released into the wild. The book, not the kitten. (Her name is Beans.)

I’m eager to get into book four, but I promised myself I’d take a break to work on Florida Man vs the Elder Gods. I’d also like to get in a couple short stories before the end of the year, maybe three or four. We shall see.

Abandoned AU

Plotting out Florida Man vs the Elder Gods, I decided to re-use a character/arc from a previous, unfinished project (Gods and Monsters). The character and his arc will both fit better with the current project than they did in the original. So what does that mean for Gods and Monsters? That project’s “trunk” status has probably just become permanent.

So, wanna hear about it?

Gods and Monsters was named after a line from Bride of Frankenstein (not the Ian McKellan film, which was a biopic of BoF and original Frankenstein director James Whale). One of the main characters was named for Whale and another director you may have heard about, Ed Wood, Jr.

The principals were Ed Whale, writer-director of low-budget films; his wife, Nora; her father Lester, a cranky former actor living in beachfront retirement; and Ed’s writing partner, a closeted homosexual Chicano.

The plot would have followed the four main characters slowly and independently of one another uncovering a pernicious cult (based on Scientology), eventually discovering the cult was started by evil aliens. The aliens would have no high-concept goals or ambitions. They were going to be the kind of pulpy alien monsters L. Ron Hubbard might have written, or the kind you’d see in a terrible 50s B-movie. They came to mate. There were going to be tentacles.

The setting was an alternate-history version of the early 2000s. (I never stated this directly, as I wanted readers to think it was set in the 1950s until they figured it out from in-universe historical context.)

In this parallel history, Russian spies managed to infiltrate the Manhattan Project and it was Stalin who deployed the first atomic bombs and ended WWII in the Pacific. Obviously this alters the post-war environment considerably. America doesn’t import Nazi scientists – the Soviets do. America doesn’t have a long and weird relationship with Japan – the Soviets do.

The entire Cold War goes a lot differently. By the story’s version of present day, the West is losing. Badly.

McCarthyism is the dominant political ideology of the United States. Blacklists and HUAC are still very much a thing. (The cult I mentioned earlier has been under a secret HUAC investigation, and during the story manages to infiltrate the committee.)

The seismic cultural shifts of the 1960s in America never happened.

This let me have a “modern” setting that looked, culturally and even to some extent technologically like the 1950s. Nora is trapped by marriage and social mores, and there was going to be this strong parallel between that and her mother (whom her father had committed to an insane asylum years earlier when he discovered her infidelity). There was going to be a serious yellow wallpaper component to the tale, which is one reason I quit working on it – I’m not the writer for that. (Another reason was Ed’s writing partner, whose homosexuality, if discovered, could land them both on the Hollywood blacklist. Also not my story to tell.)

Nora’s father. He was the biggest trip. Before becoming an actor, he’d been in the Army. During the Vietnam War (which lasted much longer in this AU) he’d been seconded to the CIA and worked on anti-Japanese propaganda. Remember, Japan is aligned with communism in this universe. It would eventually be revealed that his classified work there exposed him to the aliens first arrival.

In the present day, Lester is losing his fucking marbles. He starred in detective serials. When an old friend from the Hollywood days sends him an enigmatic letter, Lester goes to see him – and discovers he’s been murdered. As his grip on reality slides, Lester’s personality becomes increasingly eclipsed by the character he played in the serials. By the third act, he thinks he is that fictional detective and this is his biggest case yet.

I’d love to go back to this world someday. But I probably won’t.

Nothing in Particular

Voidstrider volume three is finished, essentially. I still have to do a final proof and edit run through, which I’ll get to in a week or two. In the meantime, I’ve been fleshing out the plot for Florida Man vs. the Elder Gods and hope to bang out a first draft over the next two or three months before getting on with the fourth Voidstrider book (which is about halfway plotted at this point).

There’s also some big stuff in the works that has no relation to my writing, and which I can’t talk about for at least another couple weeks, but it’s exciting.

I’m very busy, which is … well, it’s fucking weird because I’m also not working my day job and not going out and not traveling. So while I am legit very fucking busy, I’m also spending hours a day reading, binge-watching, and playing video games. I’m sitting on my ass a lot doing nothing, or more generously put I’m sitting here letting my mind wander and gather its harvest of thoughts, but either way it just seems so bizarre to reflect on how many things I’m actively working on at a time when I feel lazier than I ever have before.

A couple hours ago I spent some time hacking ten-foot polk salat plants with a machete, because I’m also undertaking a bit of a landscaping project involving a small area outside the back yard fence but still part of the property. It’s 91 degrees out (or about 33, for much of the world) and I’m hacking overgrown three meter weeds and I feel like a bum who does nothing. What a time to be alive, eh?

I’m tired. I’m so fucking tired. I’ve been trying to strictly cut off all outside stimuli after about 6 pm every day. I take the world in early in the day, over coffee. I’m on and off social media throughout the afternoon, a minute here or there, but I try to only consume news and commentary in the mornings. Along with checking my local health department’s daily update.

There’s a lot of absolutely horrific shit happening. Sometimes I feel like a background character in a David Lynch film.

It’s difficult most days to stave off depression. It has so many ways in these days.

Anyway, I have exciting projects to work on and to keep my mind occupied and I guess that’s something to be happy about. And my personal, individual circumstances are about as good as could be hoped in the weird, terrifying world of 2020.

At this point, I feel a pointless ramble coming on so I’ll be off. Take care of one another out there.

Another Reason Last Jedi Nailed It

Black Lives Matter. The following post has nothing to do with that, but I want it clear that I am not returning to normal. Systemic changes are necessary and we cannot lose sight of that. Nevertheless, multiple conversations may occur simultaneously. Black Lives Matter.

You know that part in The Last Jedi where Benicio del Toro introduces Finn to the Military Industrial Complex? The war profiteers who sell TIE fighters and X-wings and rake in the credits and therefore have a vested interest in continuing turmoil in the galaxy far, far away? Listen carefully: that is exactly what the sequel trilogy should have been about, it wasn’t too late, and if JJ had listened to Rian instead of the internet the Skywalker Saga could have had an amazing finale. Alas.

If you’re not familiar with President Eisenhower’s farewell address, you should read it. It’s really good. Delivered three days before John Kennedy took office in January 1961, among other things the speech addresses the fact that “…until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry,” and that “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

The original Star Wars trilogy, inasmuch as its plot relates to real world events, is steeped heavily in World War II. The dogfights in space are based on WWII footage. Defeating the Empire, which is clearly a fascist regime, equates to defeating the Nazis.

The prequel trilogy examines the rise of fascism in a crumbling Republic. It also spends an entire fucking movie on the creation of the Grand Army of the Republic. An entire movie dedicated to the Galactic Republic, which had no military, becoming a militarized state. Until the latest of our galactic conflicts, the Republic had no armaments industry.

Now, I get the urge to create the First Order for the sequel trilogy. Fascism is indeed resurgent in the world. But Star Wars at its best was entirely disconnected from current events. Lucas may have adjusted his prequel plans to crib inspiration from the second Bush administration, or that may be apocryphal nonsense, but everyone agrees the OT was better anyway and nothing of 1977-1983 intruded on that. The OT didn’t adapt the Cold War, it borrowed from WWII.

The Force Awakens didn’t make you fuckers happy. “It’s a retread,” “it’s just A New Hope with different characters,” “we want original storytelling.” You fucking liars. You fucking hypocrites.

The Last Jedi opened the doors to tell an original story. Yes, in a very real way, it dismantled what TFA had begun to construct. Empire did the same damn thing. Both films do so in ways that do not dismiss their predecessor. They don’t say “nevermind, that was bullshit, here’s this instead.” They are instead exercises in “Yes, And…”

Yes. The Empire blew up an entire planet and there’s a throwaway line about the Emperor cancelling representative democracy. Yes, the Empire is being run by a cabal of military governors and this badass evil space wizard. But did you also know the Emperor is himself an even more evil space wizard and the first evil space wizard would overthrow him given the chance because in the next movie we’ll demonstrate the more evil space wizard tricked the badass one into a life of evil he ultimately renounces?

So: Yes, the First Order is attempting to resurrect Imperial fascism. Yes, this evil space wizard has corrupted Han and Leia’s son. Yes, the First Order blew up a whole system. But did you also know that the wealthy elite are making bank off human suffering and conflict, and the same people who are selling arms to both New Republic and First Order are the same motherfuckers who sold arms to the Empire and Rebellion? And that in the next movie we could have shown how that industry is driving these successive conflicts and this needs to be addressed?

Would that third movie have been any good?

I mean, I doubt it honestly, but Rise of Skywalker is hot garbage too busy trying to actually dismantle and retcon its predecessor to ever go anywhere on its own so it just borrows a dead villain from the other two trilogies.

Given where TLJ left off, and ignoring the leaked Trevorrow script, one way it might have gone is this:

Kylo Ren is the new Supreme Leader. Hux is dead. Ren has purged the military command of any who are not completely loyal. The Knights of Ren are filling roles much like Governor Tarkin and Darth Vader combined. The First Order is engaged in consolidating the galaxy under Ren’s rule.

The Resistance is hiding, rebuilding. Rey, in communion with Luke as Force Ghost, completes her training and reveals her badass double bladed lightsaber. However, her journey is not complete until she faces her ultimate challenge – just as Luke’s training was complete in RoTJ but symbolically incomplete until he confronted Vader.

Kylo Ren finds he cannot simply do away with the wealthy elite who run the military industrial complex. Perhaps he tries a purge similar to Hux et al, but like a hydra the industry just sprouts new heads. Kylo Ren does not have the patience for the type of careful governance required to dismantle this system. He is petulant and prone to rage. His leadership is consequently terrible.

First Order and Resistance must still have their final battle, and Rey must confront Ren. But Rey has learned from Luke about the pre-Imperial Jedi and how they were misguided and ineffective. She has also learned how Anakin was failed by the Jedi just as much as he was groomed and cornered into a life of evil by Palpatine.

Through this understanding, both Rey and the audience can gain a deeper understanding of Kylo Ren. We can appreciate his tragedy and feel empathy without a ham-fisted redemption “arc.”

Rey’s true symbolic final conflict is not defeating Kylo Ren, nor is it redeeming him. It is finding a new path forward that is not the rigid dogma of the old school Jedi nor the selfish evil of the Sith. The “Gray Jedi/new meaning for the word Skywalker” a lot of fan theories mentioned.

She defeats Kylo Ren but does not kill him. She, with Luke’s help from the Force Afterlife, has learned how to cut someone off from the Force. Not herself, as Luke tried to do, but Kylo Ren. Let’s face it: you can’t put a Dark Jedi in prison. Won’t work. But by depowering him, she removes him from the board without killing him or being plot-constrained into participating in the shoddy redemption of her abuser.

Meanwhile, the Resistance manages to win their battle with the First Order. You can still have all those ships show up at the last.

As an ending, Rey announces that the real battle has not been won: that the military industrial complex needs to be dismantled to prevent future tensions and political arguments from inevitably spiralling into galaxy-wide war. She is founding the new Jedi order, except the Jedi sucked actually and she’s naming the new order for someone who didn’t: the Skywalkers. And the Skywalkers will dismantle the military industrial complex and finally live up to the first description of Jedi we ever heard:

“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice…”

The film ends on this promise, that the newly founded Skywalker Order will be guardians of peace and justice throughout the galaxy, and that they will dismantle the old systems that encourage warfare, and that they will actively work to make a better future. Closing-circle-wipe, fanfare, credits.

Would that have been good? Eh, I dunno. It’d have been better, I think. But TFA really did start the trilogy off wrong, and mostly for the reasons the haters whined about at the time. TLJ works in the same way Empire did, and the finale could have been on par with RoTJ

But the whole thing could have been better if, right from the start, there was a plan – not even a detailed one, just a general understanding that the Prequels show the Rise of Fascism, the OT shows the defeat of Fascism, and the Sequels have to move forward and deal with something like the Cold War and the rising influence of the military industrial complex.

In a forthcoming post, and at the risk of going on and on and on like certain whiny babies, I’m going to describe my idea of what that totally different Sequel Trilogy might have looked like.

Harry Potter and the Wizarding World of Systemic Racism

Pride Month is here, which means J.K. Rowling is on the internet being a bigot. I’m only kidding. She does it year round, it’s just that more people take note during June. Once more, I see friends and acquaintances on social media debating whether or not she is, in fact, a bigoted TERF piece of shit. Spoiler: yup, she is. Further spoiler: don’t read the rest of this if you don’t want me to ruin Harry Potter.

So here’s the thing, I loved the Harry Potter books. The craft of their construction is one of the more impressive literary feats I’ve ever seen. The way each book is a bit longer, the prose a bit more mature. These are books that grow up with you. As a series, it was best taken as it was released rather than in a month- or two month-long binge. Best of all if you were the same age or just slightly younger than the characters.

I liked the stories, too. The schoolyear-long mystery plots, the ways in which each of the three main characters were fully essential to the resolutions, and the way Harry and his friends stood up against the rise of Magic Fascism. There’s an issue, though. More on that in a sec.

Separating art from artist is a conversation we keep having. We had it about Michael Jackson, and look: I fucking love Thriller. We had it about Orson Scott Card, and look: Ender’s Game is brilliant, but also problematic in a number of ways. Witness also Dan Simmons, who created one of science fiction’s greatest works in Hyperion, but in real life is a toxic jerk who regularly erupts with severely bad takes.

And now, on to Rowling.

I’m not writing this to excoriate her unwavering TERF status or her repeated attempts to lock down a narrow and biologically inaccurate definition of “woman.”

I’m writing this because you probably misunderstood Harry Potter. We all did.

Look at this thing I came across the other day. It briefly and concisely sums up numerous ways in which Rowling’s personal prejudice expressed itself in the Wizarding World. The books are drawn with the tools of antisemitism and anti-abolitionism. There’s a pretty strong anti-trans message. And much more.

You might be forgiven for missing much of this. Particularly if you came to the story from a place of privilege, of never having directly experienced this particular bigotry or that. You might roll your eyes at names like “Cho Chang” and “Seamus Finnegan” while missing what should be blindingly obvious about a family of redheads with seven children living on modest means, even when the text comes out and explicitly says this:

My father told me all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles, and more children than they can afford.

Draco Malfoy, who presumably holidays in Ireland but never leaves the resort.

The French girls manage double-duty as coquettish Continental sex-pots and helpless damsels and I’ll bet you only remember one of their names. Do not Google it – what’s Fleur’s last name??

Viktor Krum is the most swarthy-Easterner-come-to-seduce-innocent-English-girls since goddamn Dracula.

But the Message of Harry Potter! Voldemort’s followers are racists and they’re the bad guys so obviously this is a story about anti-fascists and anti-racists overcoming the looming specter of Magic Hitler.

Except it just doesn’t fly like that.

You know that old canard about how a computer makes no mistakes, but can only carry out its programming and if it “malfunctions” that was just a failure of the programmer? Yeah, guess what.

Rowling’s various bigotries are baked into the world-building. The goblins are bad enough, but the house elves who don’t want to be free? Because really they like servitude, it’s just the beatings that are an issue. It’s oh so frustrating for Hermione, isn’t it. Isn’t it fucking just.

Take another look at Voldemort’s followers. Just the important ones, the ones who play large roles in the story. The Malfoys, Bellatrix, Crouch Jr… scions of old money families. The only Death Eaters who play important roles and aren’t the magic equivalent of Old Money are Useful Idiots or magically controlled.

Harry himself comes from that old money, as does Sirius Black. But Sirius grew up in it – and rejected its company. Harry grew up oblivious to it, only discovering that aspect of his heritage when he first went to Diagon Alley. See, he didn’t grow up with the money. He didn’t grow up in that society.

Neither, of course, did Voldemort. Tom Riddle was an orphan. More importantly, he’s half Muggle. His followers probably don’t know that, right? The Dark Lord despises his Muggle father and his own “mudblood” status.

Remember how it’s widely believed Hitler had at least some Jewish blood?

And how a large part of Hitler’s early biography revolves on his attempts at social climbing?

Harry Potter is about class. How very British.

Its hero, just like its author, did not grow up with wealth but attained it later (though Harry gets his much earlier than Rowling got hers). Its hero is upper class but grew up in a weird lower-class situation within a middle class family. Hermione and the Weasleys likewise represent the lower social strata.

Sirius grew up in the House of Black but rejected his family’s decadent, aristocratic bigotry. He, even moreso than Harry, is that time-honored British version of the White Savior: the Good Aristocrat.

Or, for the Americans in the room, the Good Master. You know, like the O’Haras of Gone With the Wind. That novel makes a lot out of Scarlett’s family not “mistreating” the human beings they bought and sold like cattle.

The central conflict of the entire series, in every single book, is Voldemort trying to kill Harry Potter. The rich, white, pureblood Boy Who Lived.

All the other stuff is secondary. It’s backdrop. It’s world building. Yes, the subtle and then blatant rise of fascism is very, very bad you know. But what matters, from the very first page, is the threat to Harry Potter.

All the bigotry – and I’m still talking about the prejudice built into the world itself, most of which does end up being espoused by the villains but which is undeniably hard-coded into the setting – is really just fine, thank you very much, right up until the rise of fascism threatens Harry.

It’s all fine until then.

Rowling must see the real world something like this. She doesn’t like people who aren’t like her, but the only way she’d ever stand up for them is if somebody threatened her along with them. She is the one there will be nobody left to speak up for when they finally come for her.

Harry goes on to become a cop, naturally. And you know he’s a good cop. He won’t do those evil things the Death Eaters did, and he won’t allow evil to stand unopposed as did the Ministry under Crouch.

But he also won’t free the house elves, because they were better off in servitude.