Out of Spoons Error: Redo From Start (Linkblogging For 28/2/17)

OK, so at the moment I’m putting the finishing touches on two separate books (my second novel, Devil in the Dark, and the final Beach Boys book), both of which I hope to have out in March. March will also see the release of the first new National Pep track in a decade — a cover version of “(I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love”. I’m also dealing (from a distance — it’s not me who’s directly affected, but close relatives are) with an ongoing family health crisis and two ongoing non-health-crisis-related family things, trying to be emotionally supportive of my wife as she simultaneously applies for UK citizenship and also has to deal with another stressful thing I can’t talk about (actually, I just remembered — two very different stressful things, neither of which I can talk about), trying to get some freelance work done, and dealing with low blood sugar because I’m trying to prevent myself becoming diabetic by radically changing my diet. Most of this has come to a head in the last week.

So I apologise for not being very up to date with my Patreon comic reviews — they *are* coming — if any other commitments I make fall into the cracks, and especially if I’ve been more than usually unpleasant to be around on social media. Most of this stuff will be resolved soon. For now, you get links.

Charles Stross on whether Britain is going to lose its nuclear weapons

Tegan at the Hurting, talking about teaching a course based on the 33 1/3 book about Celine Dion

The homeless man who stopped thousands of people becoming HIV positive

Lawrence Burton lists ten things that America doesn’t really do properly and ten which it does just fine

Mark Evanier explains the difference between voice casting for hand-drawn cartoon series and CGI ones.

The New Yorker on why the New Oxford Shakespeare is crediting far more of Shakespeare’s plays as being co-authored

And a long Twitter thread (my least favourite form of longform writing, but one which seems to be becoming the go-to for political essays, unfortunately) on the problems with mocking Trump for liking well-done steak

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Another New Mindless Ones Post

This time on Judge Dredd specifically

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2000AD post on Mindless Ones

Here’s me, talking about 2000AD on its fortieth birthday. Tomorrow, I write about a story that has a special resonance right now…

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I Shouldn’t Say “I Plan To Write Something Every Day”, Should I?

I said it on here a couple of days ago. Yesterday I couldn’t write because of a headache. Today, I can’t write because I only had four hours’ sleep last night (couldn’t sleep with the headache, and then the dog woke me up early in the morning, howling when my wife left the house), so now I’m exhausted, still have the headache because I couldn’t sleep it off, and now I also have an arthritis flare-up in my knuckles so can’t type much.
I’ll be back tomorrow.

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She Broke Gods

I’ve done a few of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges before, but haven’t in a while. I’m trying to write more fiction, so I decided to do the latest one. As always, I challenge myself to write it in one sitting, without a plan before I start.

There comes a time when a god has outlived its usefulness. We can all tell it’s coming — everyone except the god itself. It’s collapsing under the stress of not fitting into the world any more, and everyone can see the cracks, see the disjoint between what it symbolises and the world, but the god can’t see what’s happening. Sometimes the collapse takes hours, sometimes decades, but the final end always comes as a shock to them. You can see the utter astonishment on their faces, as their facade shatters, and the hollowness inside them is revealed.

Sometimes, if they crack the right way, the face remains whole during the disintegration. If you know where to look, you can sometimes find a godface where it landed, buried centuries ago. I like to go looking for them, and to wonder what they were god of, though of course I can never know. I’ve found a few, but have never reported them to a museum. I always leave them in peace. It seems the right thing to do.

But when you dig up the great, petrified, four-metre-tall faces, they all have the same expressions, as if in their last instant of life, they’d realised that every assumption they ever had about the way the universe worked was wrong.

Which is, of course, exactly what has happened. Anathema has whispered her word to them, and they’ve realised the truth.

Anathema, alone of the gods, understood the nature of their existence. The gods all convinced themselves that they were creative forces — that the god of thunder created thunder, or that the god of music invented melody. But Anathema knew the truth. They were neither creator, nor created, but byproducts. The existence of the concept necessitated the existence of a god associated with it. And that god would have power, but only so long as the concept had power.

And so the gods, despite their belief in their own immortality, all had limited lifespans. Some, like the god of the Sun, were measured in the billions of years, but a billion years is nothing to the eternity which the gods believed was theirs by right.

And so, as the concept with which they were associated became less useful, the god would be hollowed out, even while not realising it. And then one day, there would be no more city of Ur, and no-one alive who remembered the city, and no-one who even remembered the story of the city, and there would be nothing left of the god of Ur except a shell that thought itself a god. And then Anathema would come, and whisper her word, and that would be the end of it.

The other gods knew nothing of this, of course. They never thought to ask Anathema what it was she was god of (and she had ways to make sure the question would never occur to them), and when one of their fellows disappeared, they would forget it had ever existed. And so the gods were protected from the knowledge of their own mortality. Once a god has died, that god is totally forgotten.

Many have wondered what Anathema’s word might be. Over the millennia, there have been hundreds of cults and movements worshipping her. Philosophers have debated for centuries what word might have the power to destroy the gods, and theologians have discussed what language it might be in, and what effect it might have on a human who heard it. Would it, perhaps, destroy the human the same way it does a god? Or might it make humans immortal, by giving them knowledge kept from even the gods? Might it be incomprehensible to them? Might the universe itself be merely the echo of the word?

All these questions and more have been asked, over and again. And Anathema has let her worshippers continue, and her investigators query. And then, once the pious and the inquisitive have died a natural death, she ensures that they leave no trace upon the world. The books go out of print and rot on the shelves; the churches fall into disuse, their stones stolen and used to build nondescript hovels, and within a generation of each movement dedicated to her, she’s unknown again.

Some have said that there is a more secret movement dedicated to her, a movement which never has any more than two members at any time, and which keeps the hidden truths of her. Some say that the periodical waves of interest in her are inspired by this movement. Some say that her secret followers control the whole world. Others say that this secret movement consists of the real gods, the ones who created the gods we all know.

Some say a lot of things.

But no mortal will admit to ever having heard her word, and no god can possibly conceive of it. We can merely deduce its existence from its effects, much as one cannot see the wind, just the destruction caused by a hurricane.

We know that her word serves a purpose, and that eventually all gods would hear it. But we never thought what that would mean. Until today, when I was forced to.

A crack came from the sky — the sound of a dying god, directly overhead. I rushed to shelter myself, and saw the godface plummeting. It landed mere metres from me, and once the dust had settled, I went to investigate.

There, in front of me, twice my own size, was the first fresh godface I’d ever seen, parted from its god only minutes before. It was the face of Anathema. And her expression was different from any I’d seen. It was a look of perfect content and satisfaction.

I’d never thought, of course, about the fact that Anathema herself was a god, and must also one day die. But now I can think of nothing else, just about what happens now that the god-killer is dead. And what might have killed her.

When gods die, we’re meant to forget them. But I’ll never forget that face.

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Linkblogging for 17/2/17

Not done a linkblog for a while, have I? But I’m trying to make sure there’ll be *something* up here every day, now, and I’m uninspired, so you get links.
(I was going to do a review of Cerebus in Hell #1 for Mindless Ones, but it turned out, having read it, that the actual review would just be “it’s Wondermark but not as good”, which didn’t really seem worth a separate post).

Fred Clark has a Bonhoeffer quote which seems very appropriate at the moment

Millennium Elephant’s vision of a liberal future

Charles Stross on one possible worst-case scenario for the world right now

A law student’s guide to free speech (and what it isn’t)

Jess Nevins writes about his book on the history of costumed heroes

Kristine Rusch gives some advice on how to be a fiction writer in difficult political times

And my wife, Holly, does a guest blog for Scope (actually transcribed from a phone interview, so in “spoken English” rather than “written English” — I mention this because she’s felt a little odd about that herself) about her experiences trying to find employment as a disabled immigrant. Warning, contains photograph of me.

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Steve Bannon’s Plan to Save the World

I’m going to try something new here. I’m going to take a leaf from @alexandraerin’s book, sort of. Erin pointed out recently that Twitter threads get shared much more widely than blog posts, because each tweet acts as a pull quote. So I’m going to tweet (large excerpts of) this post as a thread, and may do the same with my other political blog posts. The full post is available in the link in the first tweet of the thread. Let me know what you think about this.

So. I recently learned something about President Bannon that made sense of quite a few things for me. What I discovered is that Bannon genuinely believes, for what he thinks are scientific reasons, that Donald Trump might save the world.

The reason he thinks this is the same reason the media is full of thinkpieces about “millennials”: a book published in 1991. Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe, and their sequel The Fourth Turning, were very influential books in their time – Al Gore gave copies of Generations to every member of Congress – but they’re largely regarded as pseudoscience now. But Bannon is a fan, especially of The Fourth Turning, which he made a documentary about.

In Generations, Strauss and Howe outline a hypothesis about how history works – basically, everyone is influenced by the events that happen in their childhood and young adulthood, everyone reacts against their parents’ generation, and so you get a new cohort of people coming up every twenty years or so who can, broadly, be talked about as a group.

Strauss and Howe claim that there are four types of generation – Idealists, Nomads, Heroes, and Artists. In terms of current generations, the “silents” born before the early forties would be artists, the boomers (early forties through 1960 or so) idealists, gen x (1960ish through 1980ish) nomads, and millennials heroes. (The generation now in their early teens and younger would be another artist generation).

What they claim is that these four types have been cyclical (with one exception) since at least the fifteenth century, and that this leads to a roughly eighty-year history cycle in British and later USian history. These cycles all culminate in a crisis which pulls everyone together.

(Of course, as with all these vast comprehensive hypotheses of history, the predictions and generalisations are so vague that it’s unfalsifiable. Hari Seldon only exists in books.)

The crisis usually happens when the idealists (who don’t remember the last crisis) are in their 50s through 70s, and in charge. The nomads (cynical, rootless, opportunists) are in their 30s through 50s, and making all the decisions about how to organise things in detail. And the heroes are in their late teens through early thirties.

With that generational lineup, Strauss and Howe say, you get visionaries giving the world direction, cynics making the uncomfortable hard decisions, and young heroes as willing cannon fodder. When there’s a crisis, that lineup pulls together to get through it and remake the world in their image.

(Note that they don’t talk about what particular ideals the visionaries have. The boomer generation has a lot of left-wing radicals, but also a lot of right-wing Christians. It’s that they have strong beliefs, not what the beliefs are, that matters.)

There is, however, one big exception that they admit to their hypothesis – the American Civil War. What they say there is that the big crisis happened too early, and so instead of coming together the idealist generation polarised.

Now, Strauss and Howe were writing in the 1990s, and what they said was that a crisis would come in the early decades of the 21st century. The example of a crisis they used was a massive terrorist attack on New York City. They gave examples of what the reaction would be if that happened in the early 2000s, the late 2010s, and so on, with their different generational makeups.

They got it roughly right, in that they said an attack in the early 2000s would lead to disaster – there would still be many silents in the upper echelon of government, and Xers don’t make very good foot soldiers in their view. The military adventure that resulted would lead to an increased polarisation in the boomers’ ideologies. And they said that a very likely result of this would be an eventual civil war in the US. An attack in 2001 would be the same kind of too-early crisis as the US civil war.

But an attack in the late 2010s would be a different matter. If the crisis came then, then the boomers would all put their political differences aside and lead the US to invade the Middle East and bring peace to it, in a war that would be like the USian War of Independence or World War II.

And a number of people who believe in Strauss and Howe’s work have come to the conclusion that the only way to save the US is if there’s another 9/11 style crisis in the next few years – if Afghanistan and Iraq turn out to be like WWI was for the US, a mere prelude to the real fight.

Now, again, I don’t think Strauss and Howe were right. But Bannon does. He made a film about their work a few years ago. That film’s last line: “history is seasonal and winter is coming”.

Bannon believes that the only way to save the US, and possibly the world, is to have a crisis in the next few years. One bigger than 9/11, which will pull the US together, to lead a global war. And this man is currently the most trusted advisor to a US President who is at best unqualified for the job.

Bannon’s malign influence may well yet turn Strauss and Howe’s books into self-fulfilling prophecy. Winter is coming, indeed.

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