Not The Prometheans: The Just City Part 1

As many of you will have seen, I’ve been working for a while on a series of essays on books that won the Prometheus Awards. I believe this essay series, when it’s completed, will be an important work, at least by my standards — it’s dealing both with literary criticism and with political thinking. And I am determined to complete that work.

But… it’s also a bit of a slog. Some good works have won the Prometheus, but not many did in the early years, and ploughing through these endless slogs about how affirmative action and desegregation are anti-liberty, about how the gold standard is the only rational monetary system, and about how Thomas Jefferson was totally better than boring old Alexander Hamilton, has led me to slow down my reading to a crawl. Later on we’ll get to some books by genuinely good writers — people like Jo Walton, Terry Pratchett, Charles Stross, and Neal Stephenson — and the “hall of fame” entries also get more interesting once they stop being dominated by Ayn Rand (who I detest) and Robert Heinlein (with whose writing I have a more complicated relationship, but who is definitely vastly overrepresented in the Prometheus), but right now, The Prometheans is *hard work*.

So, I’ve decided to do an in-depth dive into a book that didn’t win the Prometheus, but *was* shortlisted for it last year, Jo Walton’s The Just City. I’m also going to read the two sequels, which I’ve not yet got round to (The Philosopher Kings and Necessity), and try to find stuff to say about them. This is going to be quite a long series of essays (I’m currently thinking about five, but that may change) and I’m going to stick these in as an appendix to the finished Prometheans book.

For those who haven’t read it, the basic high concept of The Just City is one I’m amazed hadn’t been done before — the goddess Athene decides she’s going to set up Plato’s Republic to see what happens. She gathers everyone throughout history (including the future) who’s ever prayed to live in the Republic (including famous people like Boethius, Pico della Mirandola, Lucrezia Borgia, Plotinus, and Cicero) from the moments before their death and places them — along with a few robots in place of slaves — on an island in the distant past; one that’s due to be destroyed in a volcanic eruption later and fall into the sea so it won’t leave evidence that will mess up history (and, as Apollo says to Athene, “Also, doing Plato’s Republic on Atlantis is . . . recursive. In a way that’s very like you.”)

From there, we see the story of how the people taken out of time first set up their society according to the rules Plato laid out, and later find that their utopia is broken in ways they couldn’t have foreseen.

There are two reasons I’m going to look at The Just City in depth. The first is… well, if you must know, it’s quite a silly reason, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot since The Good Place came out over here in September. Not only are the titles similar, but there are other interesting similarities — both are about people being taken to a seeming utopia at the time of their death; both feature a great deal of discussion of philosophy; in both the people in the utopia are actually being experimented on by godlike figures; and in both the experiment does not go as planned at all.

I’d been thinking of doing a compare/contrast of the two for a while — and possibly throwing in other books that make for an interesting contrast (I’m thinking in particular of Of the City of the Saved… by Philip Purser-Hallard, Permutation City by Greg Egan, and some of Borges’ work) and I may still talk about some of that stuff in a future post. But then the Weinstein scandal and the various subsequent outings of powerful men as being sexual predators made that less topical than a discussion of the book in itself, because this is a book which, while it’s thematically dense and rich with meaning, is more than anything about consent, about how to deal with predators who otherwise have admirable qualities, about how to navigate social rules that cause harm, and about the way powerful men can be abusers without even realising it.

One of the reasons I’m writing The Prometheans is that in recent years the science fiction community has been slightly ahead of the curve in having these issues come to the fore — just as the Sad and Rabid Puppies used propaganda and finding loopholes in systems to subvert a democratic vote to promote fascism a couple of years before Donald Trump and the Brexiters did the same thing, and can be seen as a rehearsal for those nominally-democratic fascist takeovers, so the way that the SF community has been dealing (and notably not dealing) with prominent abusers is now being reflected in the news about larger society too. And Walton’s book seems, at least in part, to be a reaction to those scandals.

So it is *not* a book I can recommend unreservedly. There are numerous rape scenes in it, some of them deeply disturbing. One of the three viewpoint characters, the god Apollo, is a rapist and enters the story (and largely causes the story) because he doesn’t understand why rape is bad or that consent is at all necessary. And yet he’s portrayed sympathetically. So there may be many people who simply shouldn’t read this book if you’re someone who has had to deal with sexual violence and doesn’t want those painful memories bringing back to the surface.

But if you can cope with that, there is a huge amount here to be enthralled by. This is a book with the trappings both of high fantasy (gods and magic) and science fiction (time travel and robots), but one which also does what all good books in either genre should do, but which too many don’t — it deals with important ideas, about society, about people, and about the nature of reality. And it does so in a way which demands active engagement. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how.

My blog posts are funded by monthly donations by my readers on Patreon. If you like this post, why not consider becoming one of my backers?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


(Inspired by this tweet, and with apologies to Gerry Davis)

From the War Diaries of Jolly the Elf

It all began, unsurprisingly enough, with a present.

Well, I say “unsurprisingly enough”, but at the North Pole we don’t tend to receive presents. Indeed, we’re known for delivering them, not receiving them.

Nonetheless, it turned up on the sixth of December. St. Nicholas’ Day. It was wrapped in red paper and green bows, and had “happy deathday” written on the tag. So of course Merry thought it was a gift for Santa, and he opened it. The old man doesn’t have time to look at all of his own mail, and Merry, God help him, was the elf on post duty that day.

The explosion took out half of the east wing. Luckily for us, that part of the factory’s not got any workers in any more — turns out that kids don’t tend to want wooden rocking horses any more, and that was all that area was geared up to build. If Merry had decided to open it near the area where we make the mobile phones or the Batman Lego, that could have had catastrophic consequences. As it was, Merry was the only casualty. At least, for then.

The explosion was big enough to shake all of us, though, and enough to sober up Santa, who rushed to the scene and broke down in tears when he saw Merry’s body. Somehow, some of the wrapping had survived, and the “happy deathday” card was still in Merry’s hand.

When Santa saw it, that big voice boomed out in a way I’d never heard before, sending rumbles through my guts and striking terror into my heart. “Who did this?” he yelled. “Was it that bastard Arius? I won’t slap him this time; I’ll punch him so hard his head and body separate and become different substances!”
I eventually got him calmed down, and explained that no, it wasn’t Arius. Santa’s usually a good boss, but he has a bee in his bonnet about Arius ever since the Nicea Incident, as we call it — and he won’t believe the old heretic’s been dead nearly seventeen hundred years. Every year, he still puts him on the Naughty List, “Just In Case”, he always says, capital letters firmly in place.

But if it wasn’t Arius, maybe it was something worse.

We’d always worried about the possibility of a war on Christmas — there were, after all, reports of it every year in the newspapers, and we’d even had NORAD tracking the Sleigh for the last sixty-plus years in case the worst happened — but we’d always thought it a remote possibility at best. No-one could really be mad enough to want to go to war against an abstract concept, could they? But apparently they could. And worse, they’d nearly succeeded. If that parcel bomb had reached its intended recipient, if Santa had been assassinated, they would have cut off the head of the whole operation. Christmas would have been cancelled forever.

(Yes, Santa can die. He’s not immortal, just very, very, very old. He even has a Deathday celebration every year on the sixth, though that’s a kind of joke — he didn’t really die in 343AD, he just came North.)

We had to assume the worst. We had less than three weeks left until the big day, and we could take no chances. The North Pole had to go into complete lockdown, of course, until the Eve itself, and all mail was immediately diverted to the Lapland branch office, where Joulupukki had his tonttu sort through the letters and compile the lists for us, which they then sent over by fax. Santa’s not keen on modern technology — he still doesn’t really see what’s wrong with vellum — but we had an old fax machine that had been made in the eighties for a child who had ended up on the Naughty List, so we’d kept it and used it occasionally.

The big man fretted about all this, of course — he doesn’t trust Joulupukki to do a proper job, says he has “idolatrous Pagan leanings” — but the Elfin Safety department pointed out we simply couldn’t allow the risk of another bomb getting into HQ, and he reluctantly agreed.

We had to assume that this wasn’t an isolated incident, so we had to look for suspects. We called on all our undercover shelf agents to report back on any Naughty List activity, but they sent back no reports of any substance. Whoever this was, they weren’t on our radar at all. We were beginning to wonder, even, if this might be the work of someone on the Nice List.

What we hadn’t guessed, and what we could never have accounted for, was that we might have an infiltrator in our own ranks. We’d assumed we were free of Humbuggers and Grinches, but we’d not been careful enough to weed out potential saboteurs. And we didn’t realise our error until the night of the eighteenth, just one week before Christmas.

We’d not had any major incidents since the St Nicholas Day attack, and we were beginning to get off our guard just slightly. Maybe, we thought, it had been a one-off. A crank, perhaps, or maybe someone visited by the Ghosts who had realised the folly of his actions. We were still on edge, of course, but we thought we’d taken precautions that would prevent anything too awful.

We still thought that until we were woken to the sound of a terrible clanking from the Vintage Toy Warehouse, where Santa insisted we keep what he called “the proper toys” in case they ever came back into fashion again. We rushed to the warehouse door, and stood there in the snow in our nightgowns and caps, watching in horror as the door bulged, buckled, and strained under the impact of a fearsome pounding.

The door crashed open, and we peered at the interior, barely visible in the dark of the cold polar night, the only light coming from the silent stars going by, and their reflections on the snow, which cast a bluish haze. At first, all we saw was the utter blackness inside the warehouse, but slowly the silhouettes resolved themselves into something at once familiar and horrifying. There before us were familiar figures, somehow grown to full human size and become uncanny in the process. Slowly they lifted up their arms, pointed them at us, and moved forward, clanking with every step. Their large, silver bodies seemed practically indestructible and their ruthless drive seemed untempered by any consideration other than basic logic.

The tin soldiers were on the march.

The huge silver monsters that had once been toys had achieved their first objective — to make us panic and run screaming, scattering in all directions, As we screamed, dashing through the snow, I saw my friends Happy and Joyful heading in the same direction as I was. They’d clearly had the same idea — to get to the chemical plant where we made the Dad Presents.

You might not know this, if you’ve not spent much time at the Pole, but Dads all get the same presents — a few cans of smelly stuff, in a cardboard box. The smelly stuff is called things like “aftershave lotion” and “shaving cream”, and is all to do with a strange ritual that Dads have, where they scrape their beards off every morning. Quite why Dads do that, no-one knows — certainly none of us Elves would dream of such a thing, and obviously the Big Man himself doesn’t — but they do, and they do it every day. And so once a year, at Christmas, the Dads all get a box of stink to make them smell after they’ve scraped themselves.

This stink-stuff, like all presents, is made in our factories at the North Pole, but unlike most of the toys, it’s made using quite volatile chemicals, and so we keep it in a big stone building with very thick walls and doors, so that any explosions are contained. If anywhere was going to be safe from the tin soldiers, it was going to be there.

I ran towards Happy and Joyful, but as I did so I tripped on the point of one of my shoes, and went tumbling head over heels. I ended up sliding on my stomach over the smooth snow, but luckily I came to a halt at the door to the Dad Plant. Happy and Joyful arrived a few seconds later, and thankfully Joyful had the keys on her, because I’d not thought to pick mine up when running out of bed. As she opened the door, I dusted myself down — I was only slightly scraped, not seriously injured — and tried to think about the beauty of the stars twinkling in the Christmas sky, rather than about the screams of my friends coming from all around us, or the ominous clanking sound that grew ever closer.

Eventually Joyful managed to get the thick wooden door open and we ran inside, quickly barring it behind us. None of the other elves had run this way, and we had to hope that they wouldn’t try now, because there’d be no way to let them in without also letting the tin soldiers in with us.

I looked around the plant. I’d never really been in this part of Santa’s Workshop before, and it was far less joyful than the rest. Instead of candy canes and dolls’ houses, there were just giant vats labelled with things like “potassium hydroxide”, “propolene glycol” and “triethanolamine”, along with rows of empty aerosol cans and spray bottles. The whole place smelled horrid, and I wished I could be back in my nice warm bed, instead of shivering in my nightgown in a room full of horrible smells.

Unfortunately my nice warm bed was in my nice warm bedroom, and to get to my nice warm bedroom I’d have had to go through the not-so-nice marching monstrosities, which seemed somehow to have sensed that we were in the plant, and were converging on us. I could hear them clanking around outside, with the clanks coming from every direction. We couldn’t see them — there were no windows, so it could maintain structural integrity — but we could hear them, the noises coming first from one stone wall, then another. And there was a terrible banging at the door. When it didn’t break down, they started firing their guns at it, and we could see the wood shaking under the pressure, though thankfully it was thick enough that the bullets didn’t penetrate it.

And then… there was silence for a moment, and then something worse. A sort of sliding, shrieking, sound, like nails on a chalkboard, but magnified a thousandfold. The whole building was full of the metallic screech, which seemed slowly to be moving upward.

“What are they doing?” Happy asked, terrified.

“I don’t know,” replied Joyful.

“I do.” I said. I’d just realised what they were doing. I pointed upwards, to the one entry point in the entire building. “They’re going to come through the chimney.”

Happy fell on his knees and started praying, while Joyful ran for the door. I pulled her back. “No, we can’t go out there. They’re still out there as well.”

“What can we do?” Joyful cried.

“I’m trying to think.”

And then it hit me.

“Quickly, get as many spray bottles as you can! And cover your mouths. It’s going to get smelly in here!”

We gathered together about twenty spray bottles, and started filling them with potassium hydroxide from the vat. We got the first one done just in time — the first tin soldier fell out of the chimney with a clank just as I got the top on.

“Keep filling them. I’ll deal with this!”

I grabbed the spray bottle, pointed it at the soldier, and started spraying the potassium hydroxide at its chest. It let out an unearthly shriek and collapsed to its knees, its chest bubbling and liquefying, as a foul odour rose up from it.

“What happened?” Happy asked.

I smiled. “Call it a Jolly cocktail. Tin reacts with hydrogen peroxide. We’re melting them like the Wicked Witch of the West!”

We ran to the door, opened it a crack, and started spraying the peroxide at the arms which clawed to get in. The shrieks of the wounded tin soldiers rose to a cacophonous peak, and we were able to get the door open wider and start spraying the monsters. It only seemed to take a little corrosion before each one would fall down, defeated, and we were soon able to escape and make our way across the frozen ground to the central hall.

Normally we only gathered in the hall for joyous occasions, but this time we all gathered there, almost instinctively, to try to discover what was going on. Santa got up on the stage, where he usually gave his farewell speech before embarking on his yearly voyage. Like all of us, he was still in his nightgown, and he looked shaken.

“My dear, dear, friends,” he said, “I must bring you the most terrible news. We are being attacked by an aggressor of a type we have never known before. This is not a mere denial of the spirit of Christmas, this is a perversion of it, by someone who understands it as well as any of us.

“This attack has been put together by someone who can use and manipulate Christmas magic as well as even I can, and whose only goal is to destroy Christmas altogether. Someone who can ensure he is not on the Naughty List. Someone who can perform the Nutcracker spell to animate toy soldiers. I am afraid there’s only one possibility.”

We all knew what he was going to say, but we still waited in hope of something other than the worst.

“We are facing an attack from the Krampus.”

The next few days were filled with work, even more than usual. Not only did we have to create all the toys and the journey plan as always, and do it short-staffed because of the elves who had been injured in the tin soldier attack, but we also had to build fortifications, set up defences, and use up most of our magic on counterspells, to ensure that no further misuse of Christmas magic could happen. We only had to get through to the twenty-fourth, and then the flight itself, but we knew that that would be the time when Krampus was most likely to make his move.

As always, when Santa took off, I sat next to him and elfed the NORAD hotline. The US missile defence organisation always tracked Santa, every year, and I had to stay in constant contact with them, and with mission control at the North Pole, throughout, so that they would be informed of any deviation from the planned course, and not worry that Santa had somehow gone rogue. Santa’s sleigh weighs several hundred thousand tons when fully laden with presents, and travels at six hundred and fifty miles per second — should a suicide bomber gain control of the sleigh, they could cause an explosion on the same scale as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs (and in fact some elf scientists have occasionally hypothesised that some sort of dinosaurian Santa figure — a santaclausus rex — may have inadvertantly been responsible for that event), so NORAD remain ever-ready to take the most extreme emergency measures.

So I was there, with my headset on, looking at the screen which superimposed NORAD’s radar feed, our own planned trajectory, and local weather systems, more nervous than I’d ever been in my life. This was it. If the Krampus was going to attack at all, it was going to be now.

And then I saw it. The trajectory itself. “Santa, who set up this trajectory.”

“You did, didn’t you?”

“No. I didn’t do this. Mine was like this, but not… not quite the same…”

“Oh, that’s right!” Santa said, “NORAD said they’d made some changes, something to do with air traffic. Why?”

“Abort the mission now, and head straight to NORAD HQ!” I yelled. “The Krampus is there!”

I looked again at the map. There was no doubt at all — that trajectory was no normal trajectory. It was a sigil that would have been completed at the precise moment we got to the first child’s house. The magic powering the sleigh would have stopped, and the sleigh would instantly have disintegrated.

We arrived NORAD HQ at Peterson Air Force Base, and after some argument with the armed guards at the perimeter we were allowed inside, but there was no sign of the Krampus. In fact, they claimed they’d never seen him there.

“The only unusual occurrence today has been the President’s visit,” the General in charge of the installation told Santa. “He came along with some of his staff. He said he’d always wanted to see how we track you, and that that’s why he ran for office. He said, and I quote, that he’s a big league fan of yours.”

That rang alarm bells for me, because I knew we’d had that particular President on the naughty list every year since he’d been born — indeed, all US Presidents have been on the naughty list every year, except for Jimmy Carter once.

“The President is working with the Krampus!” I said. “Get back on the sleigh and get to the White House!”

We got there, and burst into the Oval Office, again after several rounds of negotiation with bemused staffers who insisted on pulling Santa’s beard even after he’d shown them his ID. But when we got in there, we were in for a shock.

The Krampus was there, as was the President, who was sat at his desk, looking at his phone. But the Krampus was struggling in the grips of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

“What’s going on here?” asked Santa. “We don’t normally ever see you three together, and… what’s going on?”

“We wouldn’t normally be together, no,” said the Ghost of Christmas Past. “But when I came to haunt the President, he didn’t even look up. Just said ‘Fake news’ and carried on looking at his phone.”

Christmas Future pointed at the phone.

“That’s right,” said Present, “so I come in an hour later and there’s Past, still trying to talk to him and getting nowhere. So I try it myself, and he just mutters something about how this is going to be the biggest Christmas ever.”

Christmas Future pointed at himself.

“Yeah,” said Past, “we spent another hour trying to get through to him, and just nothing. And then Future arrived — and then the Krampus turned up!”

We left the President to his tweeting and dragged the Krampus out. The Ghosts took him off to keep him safe in their netherworld while we made the deliveries, a little behind schedule but within normal mission parameters. We returned to the North Pole exhausted but satisfied. Christmas had been saved, at least for this year.

And then I saw the tweet. “Some bony spirit tells me that next year there will be no Christmas at all! Fake news! Under my presidency, next Christmas will be even better! Don’t believe the very wrong lying ghosts.”

I shuddered. We’d only won a battle. The war on Christmas was clearly still to come.

My blog posts are funded by monthly donations by my readers on Patreon. If you like this post, why not consider becoming one of my backers?

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Final Final (Definitely) Post on this Patreon Mess

OK, so I’ve switched the Patreon to monthly payments instead of per-work. So far some people have switched their backing to a higher tier, but most haven’t yet — though it’s only been a few days. Of the small number of people who’ve commented, most of you prefer the monthly payments anyway, so that’s no great hardship.

However, some people are wanting to switch from Patreon altogether, unsurprisingly, so I thought I’d lay out what my current plans are for alternative crowdfunding.

For the rest of this month, I won’t be doing anything — I’ll be in the US for a big chunk of it, and frankly I don’t have the spoons to mess with anything further.

After that, I do not plan to leave Patreon unless they mess anything further up, but I plan to *add* other crowdfunding options. The problem is that no other organisation has Patreon’s exact model, combining funding for free content like this blog with backer rewards. It looks like Drip might, and I intend to set up a Drip account as soon as that goes wide, but I’m not relying on that until it goes properly public.

So I’ll be adding accounts on two other crowdfunding sites. Liberapay is a site that allows people to back only free online content — it doesn’t have the community-building stuff like Patreon, and doesn’t allow any kind of backer rewards. In fact I won’t even know at all who, if anyone, backs me on there, just how much I’ll get.

Gumroad, on the other hand, is *only* about the backer rewards, and doesn’t (that I can see) have a “donate to keep the blog going” kind of option. So what I *may* do there is to offer my “book of the month club” idea, as a five-pound-a-month subscription service for ebooks (and maybe higher for paper books). I *believe* I can produce thirty thousand words a month for that, but I won’t guarantee that that won’t change — so I’ll say that any month I can’t, you’ll get a free copy of one of my previous books instead. I have written about twenty now, so that should keep that going.

Both of those, though, are imperfect solutions to the Patreon problem, so I *hope* Patreon realises what they’ve done wrong and course-corrects, so I can keep using that.

Whether they do or not, of course, it’ll still be a good idea for me to have more options on more platforms. And of course people can always buy my books, as well, if they want to support this blog.

And also whatever happens, everything on this blog will *always* be free, and *NONE* of my readers are under any obligation to pay a penny for it. I am more grateful than you can know that some do, and… I am *really fucking distressed* that I have had to talk about this stuff. I know some of you feel guilty that you can’t give me money, others are angry that I ask for it at all, others give a small amount and feel like talking about this stuff is asking for more.

Please, please, please know that whenever I reflect upon the fact that people value my writing enough to pay me, whether with Patreon backing or buying my books or things like the one-off Paypal donation someone gave me yesterday (thank you! I’m not going to say your name in case you don’t want it publicising, but thank you!) I become overwhelmed and tearful. My writing is now how I earn my living, but I don’t really think of it as a business thing, but as my interactions with a community of people, and I hate that I’ve had to do three blog posts this week looking at it in a commercial manner which is the antithesis of everything I do here.

Thank you all for ever reading my posts.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Beach Boys Copyright Extension Releases

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… the time when the Beach Boys’ vaults open, and we get digital copyright-extension releases!

For those who are unaware, a few years ago the EU changed its copyright rules surrounding audio recordings. Where up until the end of 2012 recordings went out of copyright after fifty years, from 2013 on (entirely coincidentally, I’m sure, the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles’ first LP) that was extended to seventy years — but with a “lose it or use it” provision. Any recordings which don’t get publicly released by the end of the fiftieth calendar year after they were recorded get released into the public domain.

Now, I’m utterly against this extension of copyright, but one fortunate side-effect has been that every year since then the Beach Boys have put out at least one, usually multiple, digital-only releases of archive material in December, as well as physical media releases (usually during the summer) like 2015’s The Beach Boys Party! Live and Unplugged, last year’s revamped Pet Sounds box set, and this year’s 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow.

This year we have an absolute cornucopia. Following on 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow, which I reviewed at the time, we have 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow 2 — The Studio Sessions and the massive 1967: Live Sunshine. And in Britain, we also finally have the release of last year’s set, Graduation Day: Live in Michigan, which accidentally didn’t get a UK release when it was released elsewhere.

To start with the least interesting of these, Graduation Day is a nice release of two widely-booted shows from 1966, both of them half an hour long. The band, without Brian (except on the last song, a cover of “Johnny B Goode” — he’d flown in to coach the band through their rehearsals of new song “Good Vibrations”) perform a set consisting almost entirely of their 1965 and 66 hits — the surf and car material is dealt with in a rather perfunctory medley — with very nice versions of “You’re So Good To Me” and “God Only Knows”. Surprisingly, though, the highlight of the shows is Dennis’ solo turn, covering the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”. It’s a nice set, and the most enjoyable of the many early-60s Beach Boys shows now available thanks to these releases, but nothing massively eye-opening. If you’re looking for fun live versions of “California Girls”, “Good Vibrations”, “God Only Knows” and the rest it’s a perfectly decent option, though.

Sunshine Tomorrow volume two is much more interesting, though likely much less appealing to the casual listener. Sunshine Tomorrow itself was a double-CD collection of outtakes and alternate mixes from the Beach Boys’ 1967 albums Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, along with their live-in-the-studio album Lei’d In Hawaii. Sunshine Tomorrow volume two is more of the same, which makes it absolutely fascinating for those who, like me, think Smiley Smile is the peak of the Beach Boys’ creativity and arguably of recorded sound itself. This is a minority view, even among Beach Boys fans, and largely one that cuts along generational lines — those who were buying the Beach Boys’ music as it came out mostly think Smiley Smile is worthless crap, while many of us who grew up after punk see it as a masterpiece of minimalist psychedelia and outsider music.

Frankly, for anyone who doesn’t already deeply, obsessively, love the Beach Boys’ 1967 output, Sunshine Tomorrow volume 2 is going to sound like a confusing mess. “Vegetables (track and backing vocals)”, for example, is two minutes of a bass throbbing, with occasional sounds of someone blowing a jug or crunching on carrots — if you don’t actually already know and love the original, it would be hard to describe it even as music (at least until the joyous last few seconds, when there’s an astonishing cascade of backing vocals out of nowhere). And there’s lots more like that — “Good News” (which for a while was a legendary unreleased track that fans built up in their heads into something special) is Al Jardine strumming the chords of a Kingston Trio song on an acoustic guitar for a minute. This is, after all, a collection of the stuff that wasn’t considered good enough to release on a double-CD of outtakes which themselves were from albums that were generally considered disappointing and confusing. If you quite liked “Kokomo” but don’t really know anything else about the Beach Boys, this is absolutely not, in any way, shape, or form, the place to start with the Beach Boys.

But if you do love that strange, ethereal, music that the Beach Boys made in 1967, there’s a lot of stuff here that is absolutely, without reservation, worth getting hold of. The a capella mix of “Heroes and Villains”, while it frustratingly misses parts of the lead vocal that no longer exist on the multitrack master, is possibly the most astonishing vocal performance you’ll ever hear — until you hear this without any of the instruments (other than an organ that leaks in at one point, presumably recorded onto one of the vocal tracks during an overdubbing session, and a small amount of harpsichord that sounds like bleed from their headphones) it’s hard to really comprehend just how much of that track is vocal rather than instrumental, and how much is going on in those vocal parts.

There’s tons of this stuff, from the beautiful backing track to “Time to Get Alone”, to an a capella version of “Little Pad”, or the instrumental and backing vocals of “Wind Chimes”. There’s also Dennis’ hard-rocking garage instrumental “Tune L”, which sounds very inspired by the title track to “Sgt Pepper”, and which reminds me very much of the Monkees’ music of the time in its weird balance between LA pop slickness and garage-punk sloppiness. There are also studio backing tracks from the Lei’d in Hawaii sessions, for which vocals weren’t recorded — these versions of “Surfin'” and “Barbara Ann” are all fuzz organ and distorted guitar, and are ridiculously exciting compared to the versions we know. This version of “Barbara Ann”, indeed, without any vocals, makes for a far better surf-rock instrumental than any of the Beach Boys’ actual attempts at that style ever did.

And finally, we have Live Sunshine, which is an absolutely massive release. Unlike the others, this is not yet available to buy as a download in the UK, except on iTunes, where you have to buy every song separately, but it should soon be available — *all 109 tracks of it*. It is, however, available on Spotify right now

This starts with more Lei’d in Hawaii material. For those who don’t know, Lei’d in Hawaii was an attempt to record a live album, playing the band’s hits in the style of Smiley Smile, all minimalist arrangements concentrating on vocals and Baldwin organ. The band, minus Bruce but with Brian, played two shows in that style in Hawaii. When those shows weren’t as successful as they hoped, they recorded (with Bruce) a live-in-the-studio set, which was abandoned. That set was often bootlegged as being the “rehearsals” for the shows, but it was intended as the live album, and it eventually saw release this year on Sunshine Tomorrow.

Live Sunshine contains the actual rehearsals, only parts of which have ever been bootlegged, and while they’re obviously rehearsals with all that that entails, some of the performances are absolutely lovely, with gorgeous minimalist versions of things like “Heroes and Villains” or “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring” — there are twenty-four rehearsal tracks in total, and most of them are at least interesting.

It also contains the two Hawaii shows themselves. These are, frankly, sloppy, but enjoyably so — and also, they’re the last ever recordings of the five original Beach Boys performing as a band, without additional members. The setlists are *weird* — a mixture of then-recent stuff like “Gettin’ Hungry” and “Heroes & Villains” and throwbacks to their very early years (in the performances of “Surfin'”, which the band hadn’t performed live in years even then, Brian sings the melody to another surfing song from that time, “Underwater” by the Frogmen — the next year he’d reuse that melody for “Do It Again”). The sets are only short — twelve songs the first night and thirteen the second — but there’s a strange beauty to the performances, which sound like a stoned collision between a garage-rock band like the Kingsmen and a heavenly choir, performing in front of a crowd of confused teenyboppers.

(A note there, I say they sound stoned, but I don’t mean that in the bad critic, “they sound like U2… but on drugs!” way as a marker for anything even slightly weird. I mean it in the sense that these performances sound like people who have smoked entirely too much marijuana before going on stage).

After these Hawaii performances, there are five (!) further shows, this time featuring the band’s then-normal touring lineup (with Bruce Johnston, but without Brian Wilson) performing their normal live set. These sets are all much more professional sounding, and have similar setlists to each other, all being recorded in a one-week period — they’re all very similar to Graduation Day, except with “Wild Honey”, and “Darlin'” added in place of “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and the surf medley (and sometimes with other changes — there’s one performance each of “Country Air” and “How She Boogalooed It”).

Unless you are actually me, or have a similar level of Beach Boys obsession, you don’t actually *need* these new recordings. But if, like me, you love the Beach Boys’ late-60s recordings, you’ll find a hell of a lot here to bring you a lot of pleasure.

My blog posts are funded by monthly donations by my readers on Patreon. If you like this post, why not consider becoming one of my backers?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Final Update on the Patreon Stuff

I’ll have a proper post up later today, but for now, here’s a final thing about it.

Patreon have done a blog post, explaining the reasoning behind their changes, and… it actually makes sense, and *is* driven by stuff that *some* creators wanted. Unfortunately, I am not one of those creators. This model will actually work better for anyone who is producing predictable, regular, work, especially higher-value work. It’s not so great for people like myself, or Andrew Rilstone, or… well, most of the people I back, who are mostly producing irregular blog posts and things of that nature.

I’m too sleep-deprived right now to go into why, but Alexandra Erin has done a Twitter thread here that explains it.

My solution, which I explained yesterday, appears to be the one that fits the model Patreon are going to be pushing, assuming I can do that. But this transition period will be *hard*, and I hope backers will bear with me (and I hope some new backers will come along and sign up for my Patreon — right now I’m astonished to see that I’ve not lost any backers over this, and overwhelmed by people’s generosity, but while some people have updated to the new suggested pledge levels, most haven’t and so I’ll still be down more than $200 a month on what I was making. *THERE IS NO PRESSURE ON ANY BACKERS TO DO THIS* — I am grateful for every penny. And likewise there is no pressure on any non-backers to sign up — I am more than aware of how difficult it is to afford to back people, and there are many, many, worthy people whose crowdfunding I can’t afford to back myself. )

This is not the total miscalculation on Patreon’s part that it initially seemed — it was “only” a massive, massive, avoidable communications blunder — but it will still negatively affect people like myself, and people like my backers, in the short term.

Later today I’ll be posting a proper blog post, on the new Beach Boys copyright-extension release, and either today or tomorrow I’ll be doing a Patreon-exclusive short story.

For now, thanks all for bearing with these dull posts that will be of no interest to the majority of you — and thanks again to my backers who allow me to keep doing what I do.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Changing Patreon Structure: And Announcing “Book of the Month Club”

I got a response from Patreon to my request for information about how they will be charging people who pledge per post. It turns out that each pledge will incur a separate thirty-five-cent charge. That clearly makes my current structure unacceptable — if I do ten posts in a month then someone paying $1 per post will be charged $3.50 on top of their $10 payment, which is frankly absurd.

So as of today I am switching my Patreon to a per-month setting. This means that the paid posts I have done this month so far become free posts, and Patreons will just get a single charge at the end of the month. As I’ve been getting, on average, around $400 a month from the per-post setting, and as it currently says I get $85 per post (this is incorrect on Patreon’s part — I get significantly less than that) I’m going to multiply all the reward tiers by five — so the $1-per-post tier will become a $5-per-month one (though I’ll keep a $1-per-month “thank you” tier, as people can cap their donations at the moment and I don’t want people to think they *can’t* just give me $1 per month).

I’m changing my goals to a single one — $400 per month, the point at which I’ll not be losing money compared to before the change-over. At that point I’ll be bringing in something I was planning to do without announcing it, in case I fuck the plan up — my “book of the month club” on Patreon. I’m planning that in at least ten of the next twelve months I’ll be putting out at least one ebook of novella length or longer. The initial plans are to have the second Sarah Turner Mystery out next month, with the books on Harry Nilsson, Roy Wood, and The Prometheans (the book on SF libertarianism) all to come out over the year. Backers would also get my ebook about The Strange World of Gurney Slade which will be released by Obverse next year. The third Sarah book will come out in a year, with luck.

That would make up five of the books, and those will be in paper too (apart from the Gurney Slade one, which will be ebook-only for backers, although it will be available to purchase in paper from Obverse) — the other five (or more) will be in a series of novellas I’m planning to put out, which will be standalone stories that build up into a bigger story. Those will be ebook-only at first, though I’ll probably put out paper collections of say three novellas at a time. There may be other books if I accidentally a book, which happens sometimes, and I may do one ebook of “my best essays of the year” or something.

I wasn’t actually going to announce this, as I’m better at making ambitious plans than on following through with them, but I’m pretty sure I can do this, at least for one year — I’ve got a lot of these things in fairly advanced stages of planning (the second Sarah book is basically done and just needs some rewriting to take out a small subplot I don’t like), and thanks to my use of 4thewords I’m now averaging between three and five thousand words of good writing per day, and never less than 1500 in a day, when previously I was averaging 1000 a day if that.

That also means that I will be able to do more commissioned posts, so the rest of this month is going to be Patreon-commissioned posts. If you’re a backer, and you want me to write about anything at all, comment and let me know, and between now and January 1 I will post about it.

So, that’s my plan for dealing with this massive change. I have also signed up to be notified when Kickstarter’s new platform, Drip, opens up to creators (“early next year” apparently). I will almost certainly set up a parallel crowdfunding site there, and maybe shut the Patreon down depending on how many people migrate over there.

For Patreons wondering what level to set your payments at: on average (with caps etc) backers were paying for roughly five posts per month (some of you were only paying for one, others were paying for all of them). So depending on your financial situation, I’d *suggest* either multiplying your donation by five, looking at what you’ve paid out recently and setting it to that, or setting your donation to what your monthly cap was. Doing whatever you want is still an option, and I am not going to guilt you if you choose to lower your donations, and thank you for whatever you’ve given, if anything, in the past.

I am seriously furious at Patreon for this, but not at my backers for how they choose to respond.

If you’re a backer and want to change your settings — or if you’re not and feel like helping make up for the inevitable loss of income this will cause me — you can find my Patreon here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

On Patreon Changes

“Great news, kids!”

And right before fucking Christmas, too…

As you may have seen, Patreon have just announced that they are changing their funding structure as of December 18, so that creators get a larger percentage of their pledges (about 17% currently goes to Patreon rather than the creator — this will change to 5%). BUT they’re adding a flat fee of thirty-five cents per pledge to each pledge, whatever the level (along with a 2% processing fee) *which will be paid by the patron on top*. (Full details here).

This means that if you pledge to someone at the $1 level, they will now get ninety-five cents, while you will be paying one dollar thirty-eight. On the other hand, if you pledge at the ten dollar level, they will get nine dollars fifty, and you’ll be paying ten dollars fifty-eight. This seems designed to incentivise making large payments to a few creators, rather than small payments to a lot of them.

Importantly, I do not know how this will affect my backers, and am trying to get clarification on this, because they talk about “per pledge”. If you’re pledging $1 per post to me, and I do ten posts in a month, does that count as one ten-dollar pledge or ten one-dollar pledges, because that’s a VERY different financial reality for you — that makes the difference between you paying $10.58 instead of $10 and you paying $13.80. I’m trying to get clarification from Patreon Support on Twitter on this, and will let you know if I hear anything.

I would *very much* appreciate the thoughts of my backers — and potential backers — on this. Would you rather I switch to a per-month charge rather than a per-post one? If so, how much would you be prepared to pay per month, and for what extras? (I’ve been thinking of changing my reward tiers and adding more anyway). Would you like to back my writing through an alternative crowdfunding platform instead? If so, which one?

This is a serious, serious, issue for me. The change is being made with almost no notice, and Patreon makes up the single largest source of income for me (I made $404.91 from it last month, after the various fees) although book sales are doing better than they were a year or so ago. I need to know what will work best for you, my readers and backers.

If you do back me, keep an eye on my feed for the next few days, until I get some clarity on what exactly they mean by charging “per pledge”. And let me know what would be best for you once we have that clarity.

I *will not* be upset at anyone who deletes their pledge, lowers their per-pledge amount, or adds a maximum cap on their pledged amount per month because of this. I’m poor myself, and know that people have a very limited entertainment budget. There is no guilt here.

But on the other hand, I *do* expect my income to take a hit from this, at least in the short term, so if you’ve been considering backing me but unsure about it, now would be a really good time to back my Patreon.

Or to buy my books (UK) or (US)

And if you’d like to just tip me through Paypal, I wouldn’t say no.

And if you happen to be able to commission me to write short stories, essays, reviews, or scripts for pro rates, I’d appreciate the commission…

Please let me know, in comments either here or on the mirror of this post on my Patreon account, what would be the best option for you in future given this change. And as always, thank you, everyone who has ever backed me or bought any of my books. You are the people who allow me to eat.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments