With Twitter putting all its effort into making it easier to silence and marginalize conservative users and ideas, I can no longer countenance giving them free content.
I have many, many friends on Twitter, but the time has come for me to leave that platform before I (and those with whom I enjoy interacting) are deplatformed by Twitter policy.
I have my concerns about Gab.Ai. There are claims that the founders are white supremacists, or racists. There are certainly plenty of racists there who take advantage of Gab.Ai’s commitment to free speech to spread their idiotic nonsense. But I’ve also found some pro-Israel accounts, and hope to find more who push back against racism in general.
At the very least, I can be a voice for racial color-blindness there.
Maybe I’ll find my voice drowned out by racists. Maybe the accusation the site is full of racists is just another attempt to marginalize and silence anyone who dissents from the Left’s socially-indoctrinated consensus. I don’t know. I’m going to find out, I think.
It is my intent to craft a sub-community that reflects my commitment to liberty and my unique sense of humor.
I have changed my screen name to Gitabushi, and my user name remains brainfertilizer.
Peeking out through a slight gap in the curtains, I watched Craig pull into the motel parking lot in a shiny, brand-new BMW, as expected. I saw the front end dip as he braked, could almost imagine his eyes scanning for, and finding, the way to my room. Less than 100 yards, but the car surged forward as Craig floored the accelerator, then a squeal of tires as he swung the car into a parking place as if it were on rails.
Typical Craig. He tended to do things just because he could. It would get him in trouble someday, and that day was rapidly approaching. Maybe even tonight. My hands felt sweaty, and I went to wipe them on a guest towel.
Before heading out the door, I grabbed all the accoutrements of going out for the evening: keys, wallet, cellphone, Sig Sauer, knife. This wasn’t a concealed carry state, but every state is a concealed carry state if you aren’t caught, right? Besides, I’ve found the penalties for being caught with a pistol were far better than the consequences of being caught without one.
Craig saw me as soon as I came out my door. He rolled down his window, but said nothing and showed no warmth. His hair was perfect, though. It wasn’t until I slid into the passenger seat that he smiled and stuck out his hand. I grasped it firmly.
“Hey, Burke, it is really good to see. It has been a while, hasn’t it?” I agreed it had been.
“When was the last time? The 2015 State Championship game?” I made a non-committal grunt. Craig was technically correct, but you could also there wasn’t really a last time for us, because Craig was a changed man. Or perhaps a better word for it would be “a changing man.”
“You’re as talkative as ever. But it is good to see you. It really is.”
I thanked Craig for coming to pick me up, murmured something about saving Lyft fare. Craig made a “nothing to it” gesture, then pressed a button on the dash, and the familiar intro to Styx’ “Mr. Roboto” slammed into my ears, and my heart. For a moment, I was transported back to high school, the same tableau: Craig driving his convertible BMW, me sitting shotgun, listening to Styx on a cool October evening, heading to a party.
Then I returned to the present. I turned to Craig and gave him my best smile, to show I was still lost in the moment, that the years since high school had meant nothing, and that the ties of friendship still bound me. Which were, of course, all lies.
We arrived at the Homecoming Party, went in. Craig and I had been best friends, everyone expected to see us together, and he seemed as reluctant to shake me as I was to shake him. We caught on up the last few years of our lives, told stories of our passions, our disappointments. I had way too many of the latter, too few of the former. Craig apparently had experienced an unbroken series of successes. I believed him.
In between, we had a steady stream of friends, acquaintances, ex-girlfriends, rivals and teammates stop by our corner to say hello, to catch up, to touch base and assure each of us we were all still real.
The conversations were all the same: “How are you doing? You’re looking good! What have you been doing with yourself the last 20 years? Yeah, it was good to see you again, too!” For fun, I gave different answers to each person, just to see if Craig would catch on.
“Trash removal.” “Sanitation engineer, eh?” “No, I just take out trash.”
“Just filling out all the paperwork in triplicate and making sure the TPS reports have the cover sheet.”
After a few of those sorts of random-sounding answers, Craig shot me a side-eyed glance, a smile quirked on his face, and he began giving random answers as well:
“Strategic Evolutionary Theorist.”
“Body modification consultant.”
I gave no sign, other than to high five him for the most creative.
The night wound down. We’d reconnected. We’d had enough to drink. We headed out.
“Let’s head up to Round Top.”
‘Yeah, I’d like to see the moonrise from there myself.”
The road was maybe a little rough for the Beemer. Craig didn’t make it any easier on the car, taking the road at pretty much the maximum speed possible, even when the potholes and general deterioration of the surface made that barely better than a crawl.
We reached the summit. Craig switched the engine off. We sat in the silence, in the dark, hearing the tick and ping of the cooling engine.
Craig’s voice appeared in the darkness, like motion in the abyss.
“Burke, for the sake of old times, I’m going to tell you what’s going to happen. In a few minutes, the moon is going to rise. You’re going to see me, and after seeing me, you’re going to run…but here’s some advice for my old pal.“
“Shut up. Burke, you’re going to run, but you shouldn’t. You’ll only die tired, as the old saying goes. But either way, you’re going to die. If you run, I might not be able to control myself. I might not be able to make it quick and clean. But just remember, it isn’t personal.”
I said nothing.
“Okay, maybe it is personal.
“Burke, you were my best friend, but I learned to hate you. I used to look up to you so much. Everyone loved and admired you. Remember Eliza? All those hours I spent helping her pass math class until she moved away, and when she called back to talk to Crystal, all she said about us was to ask if your ass was still cute.
“You had everything going for you. You were at the top of the class for grades, and every teacher loved you. They pulled you up to the varsity basketball team your freshman year. You lettered in wrestling every year. If that weren’t enough, you made the All-State Band.
“So you ripped the heart out of all us when you disappeared. I’d say you especially hurt me, but you know you hurt someone else even worse. She loved you, Burke, she really loved you.
“After you left, I had to listen to her sob on the phone for hours. I had to listen to her spin ever-more-complex theories of why you left, why you never made contact again, all the great things you were doing.
“She died of a broken heart, you know. Nothing I did for her could fill the void you left.
“And I listened to you talk tonight. I know you were bullshitting. I know you well enough, even after all these years, to know you were covering for being embarrassed. For being ashamed. Whatever you left us all behind for, it wasn’t worth it, was it?”
I didn’t have anything to say in response. It was all true.
“Well, I made something of myself, Burke. I became something you could never imagine. I hold the power of life and death in my hands every month.
“Still, I’m pleased you stuck around for more than a few minutes, unlike the last time. I’m glad you got to see people, hear about all the moments you’ve missed out on. The number of people who came to pay tribute to your high school popularity should show you how important you were to us: the people you threw away. I’m glad you got a chance to see it for yourself. It gives everything a nice closure.”
We sat in silence.
I became aware of a slight increase in illumination. Craig sighed, sounding satisfied, or maybe frustrated.
“See that? The moon is coming up. It’s going to be a huge full moon tonight, almost bright enough to see color. If you’re going to run, you’d better get started now. And you know what? I hope you do.”
In the slowly-brightening dimness, I could see subtle changes in his face. His grin was less devil-may-care, more lupine. His incisors seemed longer, and he looked like he hadn’t shaved this morning.
I thrust with the knife. I was at a disadvantage in the dark. Before the knife could reach its mark, my hand was caught in a vice-like grip, bruising, crushing. He knew what he was doing: my bones didn’t –quite!—crack.
I fumbled with the door handle, managed to get it open. I pushed to tumble out backwards, dragging Craig with me. I landed on my back, and it knocked the wind out of me, the first unplanned moment of the evening. It was almost my undoing.
Craig got his other hand up, reaching for my throat. His strength was terrifying, as it always is when they change.
But like all of them, he has only two hands. One on my wrist, one on my throat. He had no other limbs to restrain my other hand, which was free to pull my pistol.
The silver bullet caught him in the ribs, and smashed through his heart. The silver was disruptive far beyond what a bullet would be to a human. He didn’t thrash, he didn’t gasp out any last words. He just stopped, mid-transformation, clearly no longer Craig…but just as clearly, recognizable as having been Craig.
This was my eighth werewolf. And the hardest because this was my first friend. Maybe I was ready for my next friend, who had become something even more horrible.
He leaned against the brick wall outside the funeral home and watched the wind blow the tall grass in the field across the parking lot. It was hot, always was this time of year back home in the swamp. That’s what it was: a swamp. He’d tell people he grew up on the water just because it sounded nicer, but it only fooled people that had never been here. He felt beads of sweat drip down his back, felt the nicely pressed dress shirt stick to his skin where the sweat and fabric connected. Always hated summer here. It was just Oppressive heat and humidity. Sometimes you’d get a breeze but it never helped, just moved the hot air around and made sure you never forgot the smell of decomposition. The suit he was wearing didn’t help either. Nothing helped. He needed to get out of this suit, needed to get out of this place.
“Been a long time.”
Charlie broke his field watching vigil and turned.
“Tommy? Yeah it has been a long time. Good to see you.”
“Want a smoke?”
“No I’m good.”
“Mind if I do?”
Tom pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a metal lighter and took up position next to Charlie on the brick wall. Now there was heat, humidity, rot, and smoke.
“How can you smoke when it’s so hot out here?”
“You get used to the heat. You’ve been away to long.”
“I didn’t like it back then either.”
Tom laughed. “Yeah I guess you didn’t. So how long you in town for this time?”
“I’ll be heading out tomorrow, just came for the funeral.”
“Yeah, terrible way to go. Didn’t find her until she’d been floating there for two days. You know what the swamp does to a body after that long? Didn’t even recognize her until they checked her teeth.”
Charlie said nothing. Tom inhaled more smoke.
“Anyway, you should come out later. Going to be a party down at the old park. Food, drinks, other stuff if you feel so inclined.”
“Maybe next time, I’m still tired from “
“Em might be there.”
Charlie paused and stared at Tom for a moment. “You serious?”
“Yeah, I saw her the other night. I invited her. Thought she’d be at the funeral, but I guess it was too much for her. They were close. Party should be easier to handle I imagine.”
Tom had him. He threw his cigarette down in the now empty parking lot and yelled back while walking away, “I’ll pick you up in an hour. Where you staying?”
“The only hotel in town.”
Tom laughed. “Right…right. See you. One hour.” Then he turned the corner and was gone.
Charlie could see the clouds rolling in on the horizon.
Maybe it’ll break the heat, he thought in vain.
He knew better than that. Hope always dies in the swamp.
I’m currently reading some stuff. Yes, my parents are very proud.
I’ve been reading some science fiction by some aspiring writers, but at the same time, I’m also working my way through Jin Yong’s “The Deer and the Cauldron” in Chinese.
Jin Yong is the Grand Master of Chinese martial arts pulp. To give you a sense of what I’m reading, the martial arts heroes of his genre are probably closest to our comic book superheroes. They were considered garbage literature as he wrote it, widely popular among the less-educated, not as illuminating or uplifting as the Four Great Novels or Lu Xun (the Mark Twain, perhaps, of Chinese literature). And yet, it was Jin Yong’s books that have inspired dozens of movies and television adaptations. His characters and stories are still found as pop culture references everywhere. And in retrospect, many consider Jin Yong’s books (and those he inspired) to actually be literature.
That’s why I consider his writings to be the Chinese version of pulp.
As such, I have multiple reasons to read the books: 1) they are good. 2) it’s great practice for my Chinese reading and general language ability. 3) they are well-structured stories of adventure and heroism.
One thing struck me in my last reading session: I haven’t even finished the introductory chapter, and the framing characters are still just discussing the back story, and yet, the villain fails twice in his attempt to create mischief!
The villain is an official who has earned the just desserts for his corruption: fired and penniless, he’s begging for money to get home. He flatters a rich man about his son’s manuscript in hopes of getting increased charity. The rich man realizes the official has never read the book, and tries to provide a financial incentive for the official to read and be transformed. The official, however, finds the gold leaf slipped into the pages without reading. And yet, the trick works, in a way: the official actually reads the book, but only in hopes of wheedling additional gold from the rich man. However, upon reading, he is not educated or enlightened, but actually recognizes the text of the book provides him with an outstanding opportunity for blackmail.
So, rather than using the gold leaf to return home and start his life over, he prepares his blackmail gambit by mailing the book and his accusations to a local administrator, and uses the money to remain in the area to wait for his plot to come to fruition. He waits a year. Nearly out of money, he discovers that the rich man was tipped off and sidestepped the blackmail peril by editing and republishing the book. The corrupt official scours all possible locations for the original book across the entire province, and can’t find a single one. Since he sent in the book with his accusations, he has no proof to continue the scheme, so finally heads home.
Nearly home, he stumbles on someone who has an original copy of the book. Without enough money to offer to purchase it, he steals it. Although he was nearly out of money, he economizes his life to stay in the area longer, and re-tries the gambit, but at the nation’s capital.
The rich man was ahead of him, however, and bribes the higher officials to only review the revised editions.
The corrupt official economizes once again, and puts everything into a public display of all his denouncements, so that it can’t be covered up by allies of the rich man at the right government positions.
I haven’t read far enough to see how it turns out, but since the blackmail has to work for there to be a story, I’m assuming this is where he finally succeeds in his nefarious schemes. I’m also fairly certain he doesn’t profit by it.
There is so much good here.
First, human nature: Good people do good, expecting there will be good results; they never realize that the evil will always find ways to turn good intent to serve their selfish urges. The evil people see goodness as weakness. And yet, the evil is simple, human-sized, and believable: love of comfort. The evil man could have taken the gold concealed in the book and lived the rest of his life at a level beyond the dreams of the multitudes of poor people. Or he could have economized his lifestyle fairly early and lived decently, although not terribly comfortably, for a few years while he improved his abilities or reputation for his next career opportunity. Instead, he lived large in expectations of future windfalls, for as long as he could, until he no longer could. And then when he realized the need for change, it was only to endure longer to bring about the windfall. He worked harder on a blackmail scheme for a big payoff than he would have to earn that same amount through hard work and diligence.
This makes the story more believable.
But the most important lesson to me here is obstacles.
This is backstory. This is a minor character who we will never see again. This is the key issue that will launch the oppression that forms the backdrop for the main story.
And yet the author *still* thwarts plans multiple times before finally allowing the realization of goals.
This is, as I said, a backstory, but it is very nearly a full novel of developments in itself…merely shrunk down into a condensed narrative that spans a handful of paragraphs.
Too many times I read stories where everything the heroes attempt, succeeds. Sure, we want to read stories where the heroes win. But it shouldn’t be direct. The Sci-Fi book I’m reading simultaneous to the “Deer and the Cauldron” has a *few* twists thrown in, but when they get a new mission, I know they’ll be successful at the mission, pretty much as planned. As such, in contrast to the “Deer and the Cauldron,” it comes across as too predictable for me.
One rule of writing I absorbed somewhere was: if you tell the readers the plan, it can’t succeed. If you want the plan to succeed, don’t tell them the plan.
Consider Ocean’s 11. They make you *think* you know what the plan is. Then so many things go wrong. It looks like they have no chance. And then they reveal that you never knew what the plan was at all. It actually worked to perfection. But that’s what made it good. If you were told what would happen, and then it happened exactly like that, you’d be bored.
What Jin Yong did here is closely related. But the writing lesson here is: nothing ever goes as planned. Nothing is simple, and nothing is straightforward. Even the bad guy will have most of his attempts thwarted. What makes him a bad guy is he persists at being bad until he succeeds. And therefore, what makes the good guy good is he persists at being a good guy until he succeeds.
Too often, I think, writers want their good guy to succeed, and they lack the patience (or insight into humanity?) to put them through very much. Early Edgar Rice Burroughs actually suffers from this, but within a few years, he’s doing a great job making his heroes’ plans fail the first few times they try.
But most writers, just like ERB, let their villains have it too easy: whatever scheme they hatch works fine, right up until the good guy defeats it. And that’s okay, I guess. You have opposition, you have suspense. But you know the good guy is going to win. You know the good guy is better/smarter/stronger than the bad guy, so the result is inevitable.
Jin Yong shows us another way.
The bad guy has it rough, too. The bad guy has to work for his goals, too. Life and perversity of people gets in the bad guy’s way, just like it gets in the good guy’s way.
And now, it really is a battle of equals. Anything can happen. Both are determined, persistent, and skilled enough to work past the normal obstacles of life. Now they are clashing in the final struggle. Who will win???
The good guy, of course. But now you have no idea how they will win. You want to see how, you *need* to see how. You have no idea what new wrinkles will be thrown at both the bad guy and the good guy, because both will encounter adversity.
It adds complexity, but requires more patience.
I need to be more patient as a writer to let my story develop, and not just skip over events and narrative details to get to the good parts. Even the background should have tension and good parts.
Remember that movie Waterworld? Of course you do. It gets blasted for being kinda crappy, but it’s got a lot of stuff I like – post-apocalyptic setting, Dennis Hopper getting an eye blown out, Kevin Costner playing Kevin Costner. It’s kinda like Mad Max on water instead of in Australia. Ok, it’s not a great film, but it’s entertaining scifi.
Well, imagine if instead of floating junk platforms and rusty barges, people lived on giant lily pads and harvested sea life for sustenance. And everyone was descended from criminals (kinda like Mad Max, being set in Australia). Oh and there was a giant sea monster named King Kragen that would roll up and eat all your home-grown sponges and if you made a fuss he’d wreck your shit. This is Jack Vance’s Blue World.
I wasn’t originally quite sure what to expect from this one, but it kept me engaged and wanting to pick it up whenever I could find the time (and often it was a choice between sleeping while the baby let me or else reading and heaping maledictions upon King Kragen – curse his name!).
There’s a lot going on here and it’s got a lot of Vance’s signature moves – a competent protagonist who is intelligent and brave yet no action hero (pay no attention to the cover-Fabio above), witty, dry dialogue, big words, science, and oh so much imagination.
One thing about the science of Jack Vance’s writing – it always feels “real” to me without getting too crunchy and boring. That is, it seems sufficiently detailed and plausible. Could you really burn off gallons of blood to gather iron for weapons and armor? I don’t know, but it’s a cool idea and sounds like it could be possible! Can you burn off plant matter to gather copper for crafting electrical conduits? Sure, why not? There’s something about stories like this that make me think of survival or colony-building video games and tech trees.
It’s also worth noting that Vance, though a noted proponent of tradition, is the ultimate shitlord, always willing to lampoon if it serves the story. I say this because my esteemed colleague Cirsova once pointed out to me that Vance has skewered tradition before. In the Blue World, Vance lays out a society that pays homage to a predatory monster that’s basically an overgrown octopus-crab (maybe? I kind of had trouble picturing it). The hero is the guy who finally gets sick of having his sponge-trees picked clean by the brute and decides to rouse some rabble.
The rabble itself is satisfying. Like in all of Vance’s other stories, many of the characters sound the same, speaking with honorifics and wield big fancy words and small difficult words. But the world is populated with both fools and those of superior intellect; the courageous and the cowardly; villains and heroes and those in between. In other words, I found the characters interesting sufficiently varied.
Potentially noteworthy – the hero gets the girl in the end, which isn’t always the case with Vance.
In conclusion, I’m a Vance fanboi and reading the Blue World has done nothing to shake my faith in his superior skill and unjust obscurity. 5/5.
Not much new to report! The little poop goblin continues to consume a majority of my time.
At mass yesterday, I heard a certain hymn. This seems to be in rotation recently at my parish, as I remember hearing it a month or so ago for the first time. It’s become one of my favorites.
“Now the Green Blade Rises” has a rather simple but stirring melody. Something about it just grips at me, especially when performed by a full choir. Not to mention the title is just really cool and evocative (it refers to a shoot of wheat, but conjures up the image of a sweet sword or something).
I’m beginning to think one of the problems in human society is we don’t know how to read facial expressions.
One fun fact is that facial expressions are cultural. I can sometimes tell whether a Chinese person was raised in the US or in China simply by what their resting face is. One aspect to guys with “yellow fever”is, I’m convinced, that they mis-read Chinese (or Asian) facial expressions: when the Chinese person is expressing shyness or discomfort, the American guy sees flirtation, or at least attraction.
But getting back to expressions. Let’s do an experiment. Try not to look at meta text (if any) Bonus points if you provide a sentence that helps clarify what their thoughts/emotions are (in your opinion):
What emotion is this man feeling?
2. What emotion is this woman feeling?
3. Are these people laughing or crying? What other possibilities are there?
4. Similar to number 1, I think. What do you think? Is she feeling the same as the first guy? If not, what?
Which of these girls are Asian? Can you name all three?
WONDER YEARS, Fred Savage, Danica McKellar, 1988-93