New Summer Poetry

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Over the course of that rainy muddy monsoon that was the summer of 2018, I wrote some poems, cheap, messy, quick, and therefore true. I consider it an expression of this idea I call Suburban Zen, which I have not fully defined. It’s closer to Zen that way.

It’s a Kindle-exclusive, and it’s 99 cents. You know what to do.

This is my second such collection. The other one, Stir, was longer and composed over a longer period of time.

I am likely to keep doing this. There’s an ease an a gratification in making such small offerings. They keep the juices flowing.

The Coddling of the American Mind — Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff — The Story’s Story

A good discussion of the most modern of complaints: the University-as-therapy and the concomitant eradication of Free Speech.

Apart from its intellectual content and institutional structure descriptions, The Coddling of the American Mind makes being a contemporary college student in some schools sound like a terrible experience: Life in a call-out culture requires constant vigilance, fear, and self-censorship. Many in the audience may feel sympathy for the person being shamed but are afraid […]

via The Coddling of the American Mind — Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff — The Story’s Story

New Cover Art, Right of Revolution and Little Guerrilla Platoons

Pursuant to Yesterday’s post, here’s new covers for old works. One is a glorified essay, the other a “Long Short Story” (Novellette?). They’ve been published a while, but I’ve never liked their cover art. These are better:

ror I do the philosophical justifications of Rebellion, as understood by The Bible, by Jefferson, by Marx. It’s a pondering.Link Here
tlgp This is fiction, and what you might call Suburban Realism. I like it. Link here.

I’ve also updated my Books Published page to reflect these changes.

I Don’t NaNoWriMo, But I Do Self-Publish

I’m definitely an agnostic on National Novel-Writing Month. I’m not down on it, and if someone wants to take the moment as a inspiration to create, I’m the last guy to wrinkle my nose at such. Write, you guys. Write like the wind.

But I also don’t participate. I’ve got a few reasons for this:

  1. I Can’t Write a Novel in a Month. Based on past experience, it just doesn’t work for me. I’ve got a job and a house and a family. I consider having finished The Sword as fast as I did an achievement, and I had to abandon that several times, because reasons. Trying to squeeze one out in 30 days just isn’t realistic for me.
  2. I Don’t Like Being Told When to Create. Call it a mental habit or even a mental block, but trends annoy me. Jumping on a bandwagon because everyone else is doing it makes some part of me not want to. I want to create according to my own time and schedule. I want to set my own goals, and then meet them. Again, if you find NaNoWriMo useful, good for you. I personally don’t.

That being said, I have some plans for this November. First of all, I’m planning on rolling out some new covers on my back catalog, including giving Solar System Blues a hardcover edition. Second, I have some new poems I want to offer up in a ebook-exclusive collection, as it’s likely to be shorter than Stir. All of them were written this past year. Planned title: The Short Cool Summer.

Watch this space.

Caligulia, Dictatorship, and Monarchy

Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein had been ruling that country with an iron fist for over three decades. He had prepared the way for a dynasty: his second son Qusay was his intended successor, and by all reports, Qusay was a chip off the old man’s block. Had things proceeded according to plan, Qusay would have become President in much the same way that Kim Jong-Un, and his father before him, became President of North Korea.

The obvious statement is that these are monarchies in all but name, perversions of republican forms. They claim legitimacy from the people, but all power is held by one man, and then his children. We call these governments dictatorships, Aristotle called them tyrannies.

We’ve seen this movie before.

Ancient Rome began as a monarchy, and then removed the monarch and replaced his duties with elected magistrates, elected from and overseen by the Senate, which consisted of the aristocracy. This system worked well until the pressures of governing overseas provinces created opportunities for military adventurism. The legions, drawn from the lower classes, became political institutions, on whose support a successful general could rely on when it was time to cut the Gordian knot of Senatoria conspiracy. This reached its head in the dominance of Julius Caeser and Caeser Augustus.

But Augustus did not establish a monarchy. He very carefully preserved republican forms, holding “elections”, while gathering for himself a combination of political, military, and religious positions that ensure his perpetual authority. On his deathbed, according to Suetonius, he invited the gathered senators to “applaud the comedy”.

Already power has become dynastic. The Crisis Augustus inherited is long gone, replaced by peace and order, but the combination of offices passes down to the next of kin. First Tiberius, Augustus’ stepson. Then Caligulia, Augustus’ great-grandson. Then Claudius, Augtustus’ grandson. Then Nero, Augusus’ great-great-grandson.

Nero had no heir of his body, so this would have been a fine time to restore the Republic. But the Romans had become inured to tyranny. Instead a quick succession of generals and pretenders squabbled for Augustus’ position, until Vespasian, a general lately in charge of suppressing the Jewish Revolt, established himself. He passed down power to each of his two sons in turn. The second of these, Domitian, was assassinated in 96 AD.

File_001Domtian was also childless, and here was another opportunity to end the hidden monarchy. But they did not. Instead, the Five Good Emperors followed: who governed with wisdom, care, and benificence.

Rome, it seemed, wanted neither rex nor res publica. So the tyranny continued until Diocletian and Constantine established formal monarchy in the 4th century AD.

All of which means that in the next chapter of The Meditations of Caius Caligulia, our boy is going to get into his political theory. Look for it in the next issue of Unnamed Journal in January.

 

 

The Wheel of Time comes to Amazon

Cue all the “At least this series is finished” snark.

Set in an epic world where magic exists but only women can use it, “The Wheel of Time” follows Moiraine, a member of the shadowy and influential all-female organization called the “Aes Sedai,” as she embarks on a dangerous journey with five young men and women across the world. Moiraine is interested in these five “because she believes one of them might be the reincarnation of an incredibly powerful individual, who prophecies say will either save humanity or destroy it,” Amazon said in a statement.

The series draws on numerous elements of European and Asian culture and philosophy, especially Buddhism and Hinduism.

It also… kind of sucks.

Robert Jordan was the American Tolkein before George R.R. Martin was so dubbed, and the Wheel of Time series starts with a bang. It’s a fully realized world with a sprawling backstory, and the idea that magic has two components: one male, one female, but the male half has been poisoned and unusable for millenia, is a neat hook to hang an apocalyptic battle on. The first book was great.

The second book was good.

The third book was… I don’t remember. Let’s say goodish?

The fourth book I remember better than the third book. It was kind of interesting.

I don’t remember the fifth book at all.

I don’t remember the sixth book at all.

I gave up partway through the seventh book.

There are fourteen books in the series.

Jordan’s problem wasn’t production. He dropped 700+-page novels every 2-3 years, regular as clockwork. The longest fans had to wait for the next volume was four years, because Jordan died and Brandon Sanderson finished the series from Jordan’s notes. Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire fans would give bloodleeches to Melisandre for that kind of predictability.

The problem was, for all that production, the story moved hardly at all. Whole books would be spent on a single narrative involving a single character, while other characters stayed in limbo. By the time I checked out, halfway through, the Wheels of Time were spinning in the mud.

This reached its culmination in Crossroads of Twilight, the tenth book in the series, which focuses on what every character but the protagonist was doing (mostly: nothing) while the main character, Rand al-Thor, did a big thing in the previous book. Rand is present for two chapters in CoT, mostly brooding. Or, as one of the thousands (yes, thousands) of negative Amazon reviews has it:

Here is a list of things that DON”T happen in this book.

Mat does not marry Tuon. Perrin does not rescue Faile or Alliandre or Morgase, Rand does not do anything. Elayne does not gain the Rose Throne. Egwene does not re-unite the White Tower. Elaida does not defeat the rebels. No darkfriends are unmasked. No black ajah are unmasked. Morraine does not come back from wherever she has been for the last 8 books. Savanne does not get what is coming to her. No Forsaken are unmasked. Mazrim Taim’s plans do not become clear. Logain’s plans do not become clear. The Seanchan don’t gain victory/defeat on any front. The Great Lord does not break free. Gawain does not join Egwene. I could go on.
What does happen in this novel? Elayne drinks lots of watery tea. Egwene has lots of headaches, Rand lies in bed with Min and wishes he were dead. Loail explains again why he is not ready to settle down. Aviendha wanders around in the buff again. Mat continues to not understand women. Aes Sedai and the Sea Folk, and the Kin continue to argue with one another about every little thing. We continue to get a fashion review of what every woman is wearing, and how much bosom she is showing (typically a great deal). That’s about it.

So, despite the “productivity”, both Martin and Jordan had/have the same unwillingness to finish. Whether this is from greed or simple logorrhea, Jordan could not bring himself to enter the series’ third act. In the end he did not, and another author finished the series for him.

This may be a risky series for Amazon to adapt. On the one hand, the sheer length of the thing begs for a long-form, serial treatment. TV can dig into the nuances of this in a way that movies can’t. But the showrunners will have to make smart choices, or the TV series will get bogged down in the same way the books did. Some of the fluff will need to be cut away, or around Season 10 the fans will be as frustrated and bored with the plot slows and the encyclopedic panoply of minor characters as the readers were.

The other problem is the characters. The world in Wheel of Time is much more intricate and realized than the characters are. The characters barely stand out at all, in fact. All the male characters are varying degrees of dim, and all the female characters varying degrees of shrewish. The symphony of confused grimaces and braid-tugging becomes a chore pretty early in the series, and it never relents. Rand al-Thor doesn’t have Jon Snow’s dogged rectitude, and Egwene lacks Danaerys Targaryen’s heroic passion. The sense of decisions that matter and shift the characters, the sense of life-or-death hanging in the balance, is peculiarly absent. The characters just seem to keep going, and they don’t ever seem to change.

Granted, I checked out half-way through. It may be that a TV series can move credibly through the vast scope of Jordan’s universe and give the characters distinct lives. But I’m probably going to wait on word-of-mouth.

Break Over. Time for New Work.

When you finish a big project, you’re allowed some downtime. Now that The Sword is in the hands of readers, I’ve been letting myself do nothing. Now it’s time to get the juices flowing again.

I’ve got some stuff to write for the next UJ, and I might squeeze out a novella before the year’s out, while doing an edit on The Sword. That’s doable in the next few months, and doable gives me momentum for the next big project:

It’s sword and sorcery. It’s high fantasy with a Robert Howard flair. It’s going to be rad.

Stay tuned.