Dan Simmons Demonstrates There’s No Such Thing as Bad Publicity

Apparently he committed thoughtcrime by criticizing Little Angry Climate Girl, whereupon the usual gang of Two-Minute-Haters jumped up and down, whereupon his most well-known book shot up to #1 on Amazon. Larry Correia has the details.

Now, logically speaking, we must stipulate that Correlation is not Causality, so it’s entirely possible that the Legions of Woke were not the cause of Dan Simmons’ thirty-year-old book getting purchased by everyone who wearies of the Legions of Woke.

But if something else were the cause, then that might be even worse for the Neo-Puritans. Because that means their *INTERNET RAGE* had no power to derail … whatever that cause was. Incompetence or irrelevance, take your pick.

This reminds us that, absent a real armed struggle, the perpetually angry only have the power that you grant them. And once people realize that, realize that there are plenty of people who are sick as they are of the endless noise, then the noise retreats accordingly. As Rotten Chestnuts has it:

once the revolutionary fervor passed away with the first generation of fanatics, Puritanism was unsustainable.  In Massachusetts, for example, they were hanging witches in 1693; by 1698 Cotton Mather was being openly mocked, and by 1700 everyone was pretending that the whole sordid business never happened.

Stand Your Ground seems to be the operant principle.

 

Considering John O’Brien

The author of Leaving Las Vegas pretty well fit the cliche of the alcoholic writer. He embodied it so well, in fact, that it killed him.

O’Brien had been a hardcore alcoholic for much of his life. His sister, Erin O’Brien, said of his drinking: “John’s drinking problem started as soon as his drinking started. By the time he was 20, he was taking a clandestine flask to work. By the time he was 26, he was chugging vodka directly from the bottle at morning’s first light in order to stave off the shakes.”

In popular culture, it is often written that Leaving Las Vegas was the author’s suicide note, perhaps to try and make something ugly a tad bit prettier. His sister takes exception to that. “That story was the fantasy version of John’s exit,” says Erin, “The man who goes to Vegas and fades away in his sleep with a beautiful woman at his side? John’s death was nothing like that.”

Erin O’Brien has spent many years being the keeper of her brother legacy. “John was profoundly misunderstood by most people,” she told me. “There has been very little intelligent commentary out there on him and his work.”

This is relevant not just because Leaving Las Vegas is a masterpiece of prose style, albeit one that has drifted off the cultural radar in the last 20 years (virtually everything does, and if I can discover the novel 20 years later, there’s no reason anyone else can’t), but because of the promise destroyed. O’Brien had the talent to become a major American author, perhaps the best of his generation. Instead, he became the embodiment of what became his magnum opus by default. The true artist should always be larger than his work, not bound by it.

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Space Opera

If you define fantasy as “a story that cannot occur in the real world”, as this web site does, then you can include sci-fi in that, as sci-fi takes places in worlds unseen and with technology uninvented, and any technology sufficiently advanced functions more or less like magic in the minds of many people.

But I’m not quite sure about that.

There’s definitely a link between sci-fi and fantasy, as both tend to be adventure stories. But Fantasy is by definition “unreal”, while sci-fi is “could be real”. Technology can seem magical, but it isn’t magic.

Which is why people tend to say “Sci-Fi and Fantasy” rather than just “Fantasy”. Related, but not a subset of. Because you can mix them, and the result is known as “Space Opera”.

Or is it? Here’s Tor.com working themselves into a later on the virtues of Space Opera, but holding off on really defining it (or refuting the statement that it’s Fantasy in Space). They talk about color and style, and poetry, but that seems to me a question of style, which is not really ontological.

To me, Space Opera means that there are elements of the universe that rely on speculative technology, space travel, and other Future Tropes, and also elements of the magical and supernatural. Star Wars is the most commonly known expression of this, but I think Dune qualifies even more, because with Dune the mystical/supernatural stands apart, plot-wise, from the tech. The Bene Gesserit and the Bene Tleilaxu are the institutional expressions of the cleavage.

What’s operatic in Dune is the struggle of Paul to understand himself, as well as the struggle against the Emperor and the Harkonnens. The remainder of the novels deal with the consequences of that struggle through the generations, as the metaphysical singularity represented by Paul is worked through by his son, Leto II, the God-Emperor.

The spice is real, and has a life-cycle, but it’s no less magic for all of that. It enables a mind to fold space and time, to see without seeing. The Worm is God.

If you keep the spice and lose the space travel, you have a struggle amid houses for dominance of the magic thing, which will play out much like A Song of Ice and Fire. If you keep the space travel, and lose the Spice, you have a sci-fi story about assassins and feudal regimes, with human enemies instead of aliens. The elements of each make make the other greater, while remaining distinct.

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George R.R. Martin is Seriously Starting to Bore Me

In the last issue of UJ, I penned an essay about how I felt regarding the end of Game of Thrones. In that essay, I argued that the spirit of Martin’s work is essentially pagan, and the influence of Robert Howard is far more present than that of Tolkein, who filled his work with a Catholic ethos. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: Beowulf is at least as pagan as it is Christian (anyone who argues that it’s basically a pagan worldview with Christian seasoning won’t get much argument from me), and it’s a rich epic. But it ends on a down note, one of death and fear and cold. So does Game of Thrones, which has its one incorruptible hero cast aside like trash, basically so the show could pull one more sucker punch.

And here’s Martin, in his notablog, barbering on about this years Hugo awards, as if anyone cares:

I am not a believer in any afterlife, and I don’t think that Gardner was either… so as nice as it would be to think that he was looking down on us from the Secret Pro Party in the Sky, I can’t.

And there you have it, really. Death is a sleep. The Void is King. Jon Snow was always going to become Nothing, because there’s nothing out there to become.

Which makes me start to doubt about his commitment to finishing. Especially since he’s teasing his fans as to the damn prequel series for HBO. In some part of his mind, A Song of Ice and Fire is already finished, and the idea of putting in the work to actually finish it feels like a gigantic slog. This whole thing was over the minute the series overtook the books.

Garbage Pseudo-Psychology? Possibly. Despair? Definitely.

Doesn’t mean I’m wrong, though.

Some Books to Check Out

Since I mentioned it the other day, you can pick up a copy of Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful on Kindle for 99 cents.

It looks, based on the sample, to be properly formatted, too.

Additionally, the micro-press whose podcast I’ve been following, Dead Rabbit Books, has launched their first title, Emerald City by founder Brian Birnbaum. It’s something of a social novel and something of a thriller.

Just in case you’ve got nothing to read on a Tuesday.

What Even is a Novel?

A Novel is a book in most people’s minds. Saying “I wrote a novel,” and “I wrote a book” are synonymous with most of the population. Thus, saying “I wrote a novella” indulges in jargon, and jargon always sounds mildly pretentious to those outside of the group that invented it. Also, it sounds like “lesser novel”, which is what it is. Which is why I may start describing my novellas as “literary doodles”. It sounds more fun.

Dictionary.com ontologizes it as “a fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.” I’m a bit skeptical of the last bit, as that seems to be a trait of the literary or social novel. But then how much realism is “some”?

And the “of book length” seems to ask as many questions as it answers. How long is a book? If a book isn’t long enough, does it cease to be a book? Did Dr. Seuss write bookellas?

The word “novel” derives from the Latin for “new”, which suggests a focus on current things. This may be the reason Sir Walter Scott distinguished the novel from the romance, which was supposed to be about matters marvellous in nature. This would mean that The Lord of the Rings would properly be termed a “romance”, which would no doubt please Tolkien. However, other european languages, such as French, use the word “roman” (or its equivalent) to mean “novel.”

So we’re back to Long Prose Fictional Narrative. Which is what most people mean. I love it when a plan comes together.

The Disassociated Protagonist

There’s doubtless a more-approved critical term for this phenomenon, but I only took one lit-crit class in college, and also I don’t care. This is my term, and I’m finding it all over Play It As It Lays, which I’ve mentioned before I’m reading.

Observe:

In the care she counted the stiff bills. They stuck together and she missed one and she counted them four more times before she was certain she had them all. Since early morning she had been trying to remember something Les Goodwin had said to her, anything Les Goodwin had said to her. When she was not actually talking to him now she found it hard to keep him distinct from everyone else, everyone with whom she had ever slept or almost slept or refused to sleep or wanted to sleep. It had seems this past month as if they were all one, that her life had been a single sexual encounter, one dreamed fuck, no beginnings or ending, no point beyond itself. She tried to remember how it had been to drag Fremont Street in Vegas with Earl Lee Atkins when she was sixteen years old, how it had been to go out on the desert between Vegas and Boulder and drink beer from half-quart cans and feel her sunburn when he touched her and smell the chlorine from her own hair and the Lava soap from his and the sweet sharp smell of the starched cotton soaked with sweat. How High the Moon, the radio would play, Les Paul and Mary Ford. She tried to remember Ivan Costello, tried to fix in her mind the exact way the light came thought the shutters in his bedroom in New York, the exact colors of the striped sheets she had put on his bed and the way those sheets looked in the morning and the look of a motel room in which they had once spend a week in Maryland. She tried to remember Carter. She tried to remember Les Goodwin. She could remember it all but non of it seemed to come to anything. She had a sense the dream had ended and she had slept on.

This is from page 68-69 of my library copy, and most of the book is like this, the narrative of a woman who is almost out of her mind. She is utterly dissociated from the people in her life and acts out of inchoate impulses. And it strikes me that this reads much the way that anything by Bret Easton Ellis does. Less Than Zero is entirely in this vein, as is American Psycho. I’m not saying that Ellis is necessarily directly influenced by Didion, but I would not be surprised.

The primary difference is in what causes the dissociation. Less Than Zero is an exile observing the primal bestiality of Los Angeles, and American Psycho is capitalism atomising human beings into objects and body parts. Play It As It Lays‘ Maria seems to be dissociated by sex and the Men in her life. Something something Patriarchy something something.

There’s probably a lot of stories like this. I reckon I could crank one out if I wanted to.