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Fantasy Maps and Cevalon

There’s an entire subculture of fantasy map-making and world-building, because Tolkein and Gygax together hammered into the genre of epic fantasy literature and gaming the need for a world to have an all-encompassing backstory, including a theogyny.

I’ve been farting around with a fantasy world of my own devising, known as Cevalon, since I was about 14. I’ve even written a novel set in that universe, which I still find interesting, and may, with some extensive editing, see the light of day. More likely, the first novel of that series will be set several thousand years before that. Because I’ve got backstory. I’ve even got the theogyny. It’s a riff off the Hindu Trimurti, with a Mother/Creator Goddess, a Protector God of Craft and Knowledge, and a Destroyer God of Fire and Renewal. There’s a bit of family drama between them, and the Destroyer God is that touch more Satanic, but…

Some of the stories I’ve written for Unnamed Journal, the Tygg and Drea stories — The Dying GoddessThe Barbarian on the Shore, and most recently The Sword in the Cave — are set in this universe. They take place on the periphery, so I’ve kind of expanded the geography of the world. This is as it should be.

For my birthday I got a How-To guide for drawing fantasy maps, which has inspired me to go back to my old maps and kind of rejuvenate them. This has been in my mind for  a while, but I will enjoy nerding out all over it.

I think that’s the trick.

Chaia Nov21 09-32
A totally random map made from Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator. https://azgaar.github.io/Fantasy-Map-Generator/

The Three Laws of Politics

Robert Conquest was a historian of note in the middle of the last century. He is best known for his books about the Soviet Union and the purges thereunto pertaining. He is routinely quoted by those on the right (of which he was one) for his Three Laws of Politics:

  1. Everyone is a conservative about what he knows best.
  2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
  3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

I don’t know how serious the Third Law is, but it’s a pretty droll commentary on large institutions. The Second seems often to be dead-on-balls accurate (it’s an industry term).

I’m not sure about the First. It sounds nice, but I’ve always observed that on the things people really and truly care about, most people want a Big Government solution. But that’s fear, which is the antithesis of knowledge, so it’s not really a refutation. I shall have to ponder the matter.

We Have to Be Liked

Bret Easton Ellis, writing in his essay collection White, on the social-corporate demand of inclusivity:

Most people of a certain age probably noticed this when they joined their very first corporation. Facebook encouraged its users to “like” things, and because this platform is where they branded themselves on the social Web for the first time, their umpulse was to follow the Facebook dictum and present an idealized portrait of themselves — or or a nicer, friendlier, duller self. And this is where the twin ideas of likability and “relatability” were born, which together began to reduce all of us, ultimately, to a neutered clockwork orange, enslafed to yet another corporate version of the status quo. To be accepted, we had to follow an upbeat morality code under which everything had to be liked and everybody’s voice had to be respected, and anyone who held negative or unpopular opinions that weren’t inclusive — in other words, a simple dislike — would be shut out of the conversation and ruthlessly shamed. Absurd doses of invective were often hurled at the supposed troll, to the poitn where the original “offense” or “transgression” or “insensitive dickish joke” or “idea” seemed negligible by comparison. In the new post-Empire age we’re accustomed to rating TV shows, Restaurants, video games, books, even doctors, and we mostly give positive reviews because nobody wants to look like a hater. And even if you aren’t one, that’s what you’re labeled as if you steer away from the herd.

I like this because it’s a take obverse from the usual complaint about the internet and social media: a festering boil of rage and uncouthery. I myself have described Twitter as “both the tape recorder and the riot”. But this suggests that really everything is pushing the other way, as social media purges those lacking social credit, as the Chinese put it. Skynet turned out to be far more seductive than we thought.

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The Surprising Cause of the Second World War

Per historian A.J.P. Taylor’s The Origins of the Second World War, which was something of a classic when it came out, but has since passed on, due to its somewhat nuanced take.

The first thing that Taylor argues, rather effectively, is that no one was more surprised than Hitler to find himself at war with Britain and France in September 1939. Unlike in 1914, when Germany directly attacked France as a strategic corollary to fighting Russia, German in 1939 dismembered Poland with Soviet assistance only to have Britain and France declare war on it. Taylor makes the strong point that Hitler, while certainly being a wicked man, was not a lunatic or a fool until the hubris of success in 1940 caught up with him. Rather, Hitler aimed for diplomatic, not military success, playing his opponents off each other with patience and skill. Every move he made in the late 1930’s, from the Rhineland to the Anchluss to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, was accomplished without a shot being fired in anger, and with the acquiescence or even active support of significant sections of the local populations (Discovering the role that Poland, Hungary, and the Slovaks played in the Czech collapse alone makes this book worth it).

So what changed? Hitler pushed his success too far in Czechoslovakia, souring the goodwill of the British people. For it was Britain that was the key player in the crises of the 30’s. France refused to act without Britain, and so in every crisis the British line became the dominant one. Until the Czech crisis, Britain was chiefly concerned with preventing war, on the grounds that war would be the primary evil, and France was chiefly concerned with restraining Germany in order to maintain her own security.

After the Czech crisis, this polarity reversed. Britain gave Poland a guaruntee in order to prevent Hitler from doing to Poland what he did to Czechoslovakia. But there’s a strong argument that Hitler never intended that; that he was serious about only undoing the last Versailles stricture regarding Danzig and East Prussia, and that he expected the same old game: make diplomatic noise and let the Allies bring him a deal. That’s how the Rhineland, the Anschluss, and the Czech crisis worked.

It never occurred to Hitler that Britain had reached its limit, and feeling betrayed by the seizure of Prague, had no desire to accomodate him any further. At the same time, the desire to avoid war had not left them. Instead, they tried to restrain Hitler while keeping Stalin at arm’s length and threaten a war without really wanting to fight one.

As Taylor has it:

The British were overwhelmed by the difficulties of their position — devising policy for a World Power [The Soviet Union], which wanted to turn its back on Europe and yet had to take the lead in European affairs. They distributed guarantees in eastern Europe, and aspired to build up true military alliances. Yet what they wanted in Europe was peace and peaceful revision at the expense of the states which they had guaranteed. They distrusted both Hitler and Stalin; yet strove for peace with the one and for alliance with the other. It is not surprising that they failed in both aims.

The Origins of the Second World War, pg. 221

It is important to note that once war came and the restraints were taken off of Hitler, he embarked on Total Conquest without a qualm, and devoured states that had never been involved with the crises of the 30’s, such as Norway and Greece. Neither Taylor nor myself intends this as apologetics for the Third Reich, which was manifestly wicked and deservedly crushed. But it’s always worth pointing out the gap between grand strategy and diplomatic policy. The British were playing against themselves and their interests throughout the 1930’s, and so found themselves forced to declare the war they had never wanted.

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Let’s Not Go To the Movies: A Continuing Series of Curmudeoning at the Debased Art of Cinema

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Here’s what’s playing at My local Regal tonight:

  • Charlie’s Angels 2019. Because if you keep scraping, the barrell has no bottom, right?
  • Ford vs. Ferrari.  Days of Thunder made palatable to critics by historical place-setting.
  • The Good Liar. Old people intrigue, prompting a new generation to ask “Hey did you know Helen Mirren had her boobs out in some British movies in the Sixties? Seriously, I’ve seen the gifs. She was hot, bro.”
  • Doktor Sleep. Is this the longest wait for a sequel that no one asked for? Unless they crank out Citizen Kane 2: Mark of Kane, I mean?
  • Last Christmas, Game of Thrones had my trust, and the very next spring, they gave it away. This year, Emilia’s in this, and it won’t be very special, special.
  • Midway. Not gonna lie, I wouldn’t mind seeing this. It’s supposed to be decent. So if I decide to completely ignore the title of this post, it will be for this. The odds are … enh.
  • Playing With Fire. The movie that, to the question “Is John Leguizamo still alive?”, provides the answer “Sort of.”
  • Harriet. Is it just me, or is this playing more like an action movie and less like “12 Years a Slave?” I mean, if anyone deserves an adventurous biopic, it’s Harriet Tubman, but I’m getting weird vibes off this one.
  • Terminator: Dark Fate. I’ve done this already. Begone to the ash-heap of multiple histories, you degraded piece of cyberpunk.
  • Countdown. There’s basic, there’s stupid basic, and then there’s PG-13 horror.
  • Malificent: Mistress of Evil. If Disney really wanted to be subversive here, they’d have cast Cassandra Thompson in the lead. The title fits.
  • Zombieland: Double Tap. As much as I liked the original, I am wary of this. I have a feeling it won’t be incompetent, just uninteresting.
  • Joker. This must be doing well to still be commanding theater space, and I’ve heard enough good things about it that I might check it out when it comes to Netflix. But I still don’t think the Joker should have a movie, so I might not.

So I think I’ll just stay home and finish my rewatch of Breaking Bad so I can finally see El Camino. I can have beer on my couch.

I Don’t Feel At Home in Pop Culture Anymore

Probably that’s not news. I haven’t felt at home in some time, really. Maybe that’s just getting old, but even when I was young I’ve found the pseudo-devotion off-putting. One thing I’ve said for years is that the reason I never became a Trekkie wasn’t because I didn’t like Star Trek, but because I didn’t want to have conversations with nerds about it.

Nerds are the absolute worst. I never felt comfortable as one. I refused to dig deep into comic books, D&D, or anything else, because having to devote that much mental energy about being right about something that doesn’t matter felt strange to me.

But Andrew, you say, there’s like fifteen essays scatterered around this blog about Star Wars. You’re absolutely a Warsie.

No, I’m absolutely not. I tried to be. I found it distasteful. I loved Star Wars when I was a kid, wanted to transfer that love to new movies, and couldn’t. The idea of raging at someone on Twitter about it seems like dumb games for dumb prizes. Star Wars is over. Even Disney has said so. It will exist as a niche market for streaming content on the Disney+ app, until the cost overlays get to be too much, and then it’s over, it’s done.

And don’t get me wrong, I’ve got some comic books. If you want to have a chat about Watchmen, or From Hell, or Superman: Red Son, or a handful of others, I’m your guy. I’ve got no animus against the MCU. If those fans are happy, great. Keep doing more of that, or whatever.

But this I do not get:

Again, nothing against Stan Lee. I always reckoned him a cool dude, and have since he showed up in Mallrats for no particular reason. And it’s fine to admire him as an artist and creator. But crafting icons on his feast day is bizzarre, creepy, and kind of blasphemous. Yet this is what so-called “nerd culture” seems to bring out of people: the glorification of the mundane.

And quite frankly, I find this boring, and much of the conversation about his creation: stupid games for stupid prizes. That’s why I’ll ignore everyone who tries to get me to care about Mandalorians. It’s not that I’m prejudging it as being poor quality: I don’t even care if it’s good.

I want something else. I want to make something else.

That’s why this exists.

It Appears Disney Is Going All-In on Streaming

So suggests Variety.

This explains what I’ve been wondering about, both here on the blog and on my podcast: Disney’s current strategy of “nothing but live-action reboots and Frozen 2.” It also jibes with the news that they’re done making Star Wars films for the time being (and with the rumors that the test screening for Episode 9 have not been going well).

In a nutshell, movies are too expensive and risky to make when there’s a cheapier method to getting content onto the screen.

If you spend $250 on a movie, you’ve got a single run in theaters plus home-video sales to make your money back. If the movie doesn’t find an audience, that’s a bunch of sales you aren’t going to get.

But if you have a captive audience of people throwing down $7 a month for all of your content, you don’t need to worry so hard. They’re paying, and you just have to keep putting half-way decent content up, and they’ll be happy.

So it appears that the Spielbergs and Scorseses are wrong: this is what cinema is going to be. If a powerhouse like Disney decides it’s not worth it to put Star Wars movies in theaters, then movie theaters are going the way of the dodo.