"Strictly speaking, I suspect there’s an analysis of THREE that would argue I fridged Tyrtaois. Depends how you’d define fridging, really. If it’s any character’s death being used to forward another character’s emotional arc, then sure.
"To be honest, I’m ambivalent to a definition that strong. Gratuitous death of a prop character with no life outside of their relationship with the lead to give cheap and nasty motivation for that lead would be my preferred one. The problem with a definition as strong as the first one is that it’s basically in denial of the fact people care about other people." -- Kieron Gillen
Continuing from the previous issue...
( Read more... )
Access and Fandom: Disability Studies From a Feminist Science Fiction Perspective
Review by Katie Wagner and Alexis Lothian.
The point of having monthly posts is, basically, to have a sort of reminder so that I'm not only pointing out that donations would help when I'm in a panic due to onrushing financial catastrophe. If someday I'm financially secure enough that I'm not just on the edge of everything falling apart, I'll be sure to tell you all.
I’d missed drawing Mal, even if he’s in his awful hair phase.
A snail is climbing up the window-sill
into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see, and I explain
that it would be unkind to leave it there:
it might crawl to the floor; we must take care
that no one squashes it. You understand,
and carry it outside, with careful hand,
to eat a daffodil.
I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
your gentleness is moulded still by words
from me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
from me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
your closest relatives, and who purveyed
the harshest kind of truth to many another.
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
and we are kind to snails.
Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 231-234
When you’re writing an adventure story in which the hero is fleeing from Country A to Country B, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep track of which country is which. It should be even easier in a book like Nicolae, in which the entire world has been simplified down to only two countries.
Yet here we are with Buck Williams, making a run for the border with his friend, the fugitive former rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah. Jerry Jenkins aims for a bit of suspense with an old reliable set piece: the bit where the man on the run encounters a policeman who seems not to recognize him. You’ve likely seen this scene many, many times, but I wouldn’t call it a cliché, because as often as this scene is portrayed, it still works. That’s why it’s so common and so popular, because when it’s done capably, it still creates a palpable tension. On the surface there’s a polite conversation, but the possibility of sudden violence simmers beneath. Even Jenkins is almost able to make this work.
Almost. There are bits of this scene that might have been suspenseful and exciting, except that Jenkins — who prides himself on being the fastest novelist in the business — finds a novel way to screw up even this tried-and-true stock scene. And he does so in a way that turns this entire Tsion Ben-Judah subplot into complete nonsense.
Jenkins gets Country A and Country B mixed up. Buck Williams, fleeing Country A for the safety of Country B, gets stopped by a policeman from Country B.
Buck is driving an old school bus toward the southern border of Israel, when “In the wee hours of the morning, about ten kilometers south of Beersheba, Buck noticed the heat gauge rising” and remembered Michael’s advice to make sure he kept the radiator full.
Buck pulled far off the road onto the gravel shoulder. He found a rag and climbed out. Once he got the hood popped up, he gingerly opened the radiator cap. It was steaming, but he was able to dump a couple of liters of water in before the thing boiled over.
Buck’s sudden shift to the metric system seems odd. Buck and the authors have, before now, always referred to miles and gallons. These books were written by Americans and for Americans, and here in America no one uses the metric system except for the sciences, soda and the drug trade. We tried switching to the metric system back in the 1970s, but such a switch proved culturally impossible at the same time that millions of Americans were reading Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. The use of such internationalist measurements was seen as a stepping-stone toward the Antichrist’s coming one-world government. Today it’s kilometers and liters, tomorrow it’s the Mark of the Beast.
While he was working he noticed a [police] car slowly drive past. Buck tried to look casual and took a deep breath.
He wiped his hands and dropped the rag into his water can, noticing the squad car had pulled over about a hundred feet in front of the bus and was slowly backing up. Trying not to look suspicious, Buck tossed the water can into the bus and came back around to shut the hood. Before he shut it, the squad car backed onto the road and turned to face him on the shoulder. With the headlights shining in his eyes, Buck heard the [policeman] say something to him in Hebrew over his loudspeaker.
Buck held out both arms and hollered, “English!”
In a heavy accent, the [policeman] said, “Please to remain outside your vehicle.”
That would all be pretty standard stuff and a decent set-up for this kind of scene, except that the bits I’ve put in brackets there actually say something different in the book. It doesn’t say “policeman,” it says “peacekeeper.” And it doesn’t say “police car,” it says “Global Community peacekeeping force squad car.”
And that just doesn’t make any sense at all.
The Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia, has been elected/assumed/acclaimed as the dictator of the entire world — except for Israel. Every other nation has been dissolved and subsumed into the Global Community, a one-world government united by a single leader, a single (new) religion, a single currency (dollars) and a single language (American English). But not Israel.
Israel’s exceptional sovereignty is a major plot point and a cornerstone of Tim LaHaye’s “Bible prophecy” scheme. The seven-year Great Tribulation could not officially begin, according to LaHaye, until the Antichrist signed a peace treaty with the separate, distinct nation of Israel. And the entire prophecy timeline of that Great Tribulation is based on the status of that peace treaty. For the first three and a half years of the Tribulation, the Antichrist must honor that treaty — respecting Israel’s security and sovereignty. And then the treaty will be broken and a war of Israel vs. Everybody Else will begin, culminating in the battle of Armageddon and the End of the World.
So at this point in the story, LaHaye’s whole prophecy scheme requires that Israel and Israel alone be sovereign, independent and separate from the regime of the Antichrist. And the current subplot involving Tsion’s flight from Zion only makes sense if Israel is a sovereign, independent state separate from the regime of the Antichrist.
But here we see that it isn’t. “Global Community peacekeeping force squad cars” routinely patrol the highways within Israel’s borders, cooperating with Israeli police to hunt down fugitives from Israeli law. Hebrew-speaking Israelis serve as GCPF officers — apparently having been granted a special exemption from the one-world language requirement imposed on the rest of that paramilitary secret police force.
If all of that is true, then what good will it do Buck and Tsion to make it across the border, out of Israel and into the OWG of the Global Community? If the border doesn’t mean anything to the Global Community peacekeeping force, then why should it mean anything to Buck and Tsion?
This is another example of the authors’ rejection of continuity — a dizzying approach to storytelling that weirdly winds up being less intrusive than the kind of smaller contradictions we usually think of as continuity errors. If, say, the Range Rover Buck Williams drove in one scene suddenly became an Escalade in the next scene, readers would notice the mistake and find it jarring. That kind of mistake is comprehensible because it’s not comprehensive. Readers are able to notice it because readers are able to understand how it ought to be corrected. “That shouldn’t be an Escalade,” we think, “that should be a Range Rover.” We’re able to identify the error because we’re able to identify the solution.
But larger mistakes like this one baffle our attempts to correct them. Their ramifications are so broad, so all-encompassing, that mentally correcting them would involve reconstructing the entire world of the novel, the mechanics of LaHaye’s prophetic plan, and most of the plot of these books. That’s a lot of work. We can’t do that work while also continuing to read and to turn the following pages of the book, so when we encounter such nonsense, we quite sensibly opt not to notice it. Rather than allowing ourselves to be completely derailed, we tend to just embrace it the way we do the logic of dreams, hoping to get past it by reading faster and less carefully until we wind up reading as fast and as carelessly as Jenkins himself worked when typing these books.
In this particular case, the familiarity of the wanted-man-at-a-traffic-stop scene offers us enough momentum to carry us through these pages. We already know what we’re supposed to be thinking and feeling. We’re supposed to be wondering if the policeman will recognize Buck, if the Good Guys will get away. So we keep our end of the bargain and do just that.
I’m fascinated by our capacity to do this as readers or viewers. This goes beyond the simple willing suspension of disbelief to something more like the willing abandonment of the expectation of sense. I suppose part of it, at this point, is a form of the sunk-cost fallacy — we’re 200-some pages into the third book of a series and if we stop now we’ll never get to the rewards we were implicitly promised as a storytelling audience. We should at least keep going until we get to the earthquakes and demon locusts and such, right? And maybe something in the chapters or volumes ahead will somehow make sense of all this nonsense.
For the fans of these books, though, the stakes are even higher. They have to believe that this story makes sense because this story is a vehicle for the theology they rely on to make sense of their own lives. I suspect that, too, is a big part of why those fans are able to keep reading here without getting thrown off by the absurdity of this Hebrew-speaking “Global Community peacekeeping force” officer shredding the plot by showing up in the wrong jurisdiction. LaHaye’s disciples can acknowledge and forgive minor continuity errors because they don’t reflect on the validity of that core theology. But they cannot afford to acknowledge the way these books repeatedly reject continuity and logic because to allow themselves to notice that would force them to confront the fact that LaHaye’s theology, like his story, just plain doesn’t make any sense.
Buck shrugged and stood awkwardly, hands at his sides. The officer spoke into his radio. Finally the young man emerged. “Happy evening to you, sir,” he said.
“Thank you,” Buck said. “Just had some overheating problems is all.”
The officer was dark and slender, wearing the gaudy uniform of the Global Community. Buck wished he’d had his own passport and papers. Nothing sent a GC operative running more quickly than Buck’s 2-A clearance.
Jenkins’ non-descript description has me picturing this officer as a young Muammar Gaddafi, wearing epaulettes and a sash festooned with ribbons and medals.
“Are you alone?” the officer asked.
“Name’s Herb Katz,” Buck said.
“I asked are you alone?”
“I’m an American businessman, here on pleasure.”
“Your papers, please.”
LaHaye and Jenkins really should have sorted out the whole “when is it OK to lie?” business before they started this story. I think they realized that appearing to condone lying to the Antichrist’s police would draw criticism from some in their target audience. In the white evangelical subculture, “situational ethics” is an all-purpose epithet — a dimly understood slogan meant to condemn liberals and hippies and various other infidels. So even when it seems prudent and unavoidable for Buck to lie, they have him relying on a weirdly evasive casuistry. He doesn’t want to lie by offering a direct answer to the officer’s direct question, “Are you alone?” And even when he’s traveling under false names, he likes to say, “The name’s Herb Katz” instead of “My name is Herb Katz,” because the latter would be a lie, while the former might not quite be, in some technical sense.
The result is that whenever Buck needs to lie to escape the Antichrist’s forces, he winds up sounding squirrelly and suspicious.
“Mr. Katz, can you tell me where you got this vehicle?”
“I bought it tonight. Just before midnight.”
“And you bought it from?”
“I have the papers. I can’t pronounce his name. I’m an American.”
“Sir, the plates on this vehicle trace to a resident of Jericho.”
Buck, still playing dumb, said, “Well, there you go! That’s where I bought it, in Jericho.”
… “Are you aware of a manhunt in this country?”
“Tell me,” Buck said.
That phrase “in this country” underlines the strangeness here of a Global Community policeman patrolling “in this country” — the one country in the whole world where he has no jurisdiction. Or maybe it’s meant to suggest that GC police are only participating in that manhunt within this country, and that GC officers on the other side of the border won’t care about the hunt for Tsion. Or …
No, we can’t make sense of it. We just have to plow ahead.
The officer tells Buck that the original “owner of this vehicle was detained, just over an hour ago, in connection with aiding and abetting a murder suspect.”
“You don’t say?” Buck said. “I just took a boat ride with this man. He runs a tour boat. I told him I needed a vehicle just to get me from Israel to Egypt so I could fly home to America.”
Buck shows him the ownership papers for the school bus that Michael had given him. The officer — whom I now picture as looking and speaking like a young Maj. Strasser from Casablanca — examines them and says:
“We have reason to believe that the man who sold you this vehicle has been harboring a murderer. He was found with the suspect’s papers and those of an American. It will not be long before we persuade him to tell us where he has harbored the suspect.” The officer looked at his own notes. “Are you familiar with a Cameron Williams, an American?”
“Doesn’t sound like the name of any friend I’ve got. I’m from Chicago.”
“And you are leaving tonight, from Egypt?”
“Why? –” Buck repeated.
“Why do you need to leave through Egypt? Why do you not fly out of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?”
It’s not Buck’s fault that he isn’t readily able to answer that question. All he knows is that God/the authors gave him a dream within a dream in which he was Joseph from the Christmas story, having the same dream Joseph had in that story, in which he (Joseph/Buck) was told to flee to Egypt. That’s the only reason he’s headed for Israel’s far border with Egypt.
Buck explains that he wants to leave for home that night, and he was able to charter a flight out of Egypt. Buying the old school bus, he says, turned out to be cheaper than hiring a driver for the trip. That seems vaguely plausible.
Or, rather, it might seem plausible if this conversation weren’t occurring just three days after the Global Community Air Force had nuked both Chicago and Egypt.
See how that works? That’s how powerful our defensive mechanism is as readers when we encounter the rejection of continuity. We’re so instinctively determined to keep up our side of the storytelling bargain that we have to actively, consciously force ourselves not to forget a nuclear war.
Not knowing the honeycomb stretched
Between lath and plaster of the outer wall.
For a century
The bees had wintered there,
Prisoning sugar in the virgin wax.
At times of transition,
Spring and autumn,
Their vibration swelled the room.
Laying his hand against the plaster
In the May sunrise,
He felt the faint frequency of their arousal,
Nor winters later, burning the beeswax candle,
Could he forget his tremulous first loving
Into the humming dawn.
I've been spending a little time lately asking myself questions about the near future. And in particular—this is especially relevant if you're planning on writing a near-future SF novel set maybe 15-30 years hence—what it's going to be like as an experience for, well, not for my generation (I'll be 65-80 if I live that long: of declining relevance) but for the next generation on. And I suspect it'll be pretty shitty.
I was born in late 1964, the youngest child of older-than-average parents who married late: my cousins are (or were) part of the baby boom generation, but culturally I'm an early type specimen of Generation X.
My generation (in the UK) benefited from free university education, as long as we got in before 1992. From 1992 onwards, the student grant (subsistence payments for living, roughly comparable to being on the dole) were phased out, replaced completely by repayable loans by 1996. Then tuition fees were brought in, replacing the previously-free education framework as the universities were de facto privatised and turned into profit-making diploma mills. No sheepskin means no job if you don't have an employment track record, so Generations Y and subsequent were condemned to go heavily into debt to acquire the magic credentials without which an HR department won't look at them. Today's students expect to graduate with a burden of over £40,000 in loans on their back.
When I came out of university and post-graduate training in the late 80s, a housing bubble was inflating rapidly. I bought my first home, a one bedroom apartment in a modern development, with parking and a box room and an airy living room, for a little under £28,000. It seemed like a lot of money at the time: an elder sibling, 8 years before me, had bought their first home (a 2 bedroom house in Nottingham) for around £12,000. Housing in the 1970s was unimaginably cheap by today's standards. Just over 15 months later after I bought my flat I sold it for £40,000 and used the profits to put myself back into university, having decided that my original career choice was rather unfortunate. Someone born just a decade after me wouldn't have had that option. By the late 90s the bubble was reinflating: a decade on from my purchase, apartments like that one were changing hands for on the order of £100,000, well above the creditworthiness of a new graduate in their first job with a 100% mortgage, even if they weren't burdened by a pre-existing education loan larger than the cost of my first mortgage.
Since 2008, the UK economy has stagnated drastically. It's still producing jobs—this hasn't been called the "unemployment-free recession" for nothing—but they're mostly low-paid jobs at the bottom of the pile. We can still manufacture stuff, it seems, but manufacturing no longer provides mass employment. And service jobs are rapidly being automated, as witness the spread of self-service checkouts and ATMs and lights-out warehouses. (You know the pack drill: I'm not going to repeat the reasons for this here.) The important news is that wage growth is finally overtaking inflation for the first time in 5 years, after a period of net decline in personal income (unless you're in the 1% at the top of the 1%, of course).
I'm not even going to anatomize the new housing bubble: it's just plain depressing to contemplate.
So: low or stagnant income, the services my generation depended on and took for granted will no longer exist or be private monopolies, you either take on a crushing debt burden or consign yourself to unskilled labour for life, the cost of housing is an unsuperable barrier. To that you can add childcare costs: it's estimated that the cost of day care for one infant is around 70-80% of the average female wage. One ray of hope for Generation Y is rising life expectancy—but by the same token the retirement age is rising, because there's no way that working for 40 years can cover the costs of education and housing debt and a pension or annuity that will support you for another 25-30 years. Generation Y will probably work until they become too infirm, some time in their late 70s to early 80s, then experience the final 3-5 year period of decline in poor health and poverty if this goes on (because of course we're talking about the state of the nation between 2060 and 2080).
If you follow this blog you already know my views on how we have created a security panopticon surveillance state the like of which would have given the East German Stasi wet dreams. Generation Y have come of age in this state; to the Millennial generation, East Germany probably looks like a near-utopia. (You have a 90% chance of your phone conversations not being bugged, and the state will pay for your education, housing, and healthcare! What's not to like?)
There has been a boom market in dystopian young adult fiction over the past decade. There is a reason for this. Play and recreation is an important training mechanism in young mammals by which they practice or rehearse activities that will fit them for later adult life experiences. (It's also fun, but bear with me while I discuss the more ploddingly puritan angle for a moment.) Could it be that the popularity of YA dystopias reflects the fact that our youngest generation of readers expect to live out their lives in dystopia? (The alternative explanations hold that (a) high school in the age of helicopter parenting, fingerprint readers in the library, and CCTV in the corridors is an authoritarian dystopia anyway, and YA dys-fic helps kids understand their environment; and (b) that worse, their parents (who influence their reading) think this.)
On a global scale, things are improving. The absolute number of people living in poverty has remained static or actually declined over two decades during which our population rose dramatically. Wars affect fewer people than ever before. Huge swathes of the developing world are actually developing, and are now within sight of catching up with our declining developed world standard of living. But that's scant consolation to those of us who are trapped in the middle. And the way things are looking now, I expect the 30 year old Brits of 2030, people whose grandparents were buying houses and starting families on a single breadwinner's wages in the 1960s, will be envying the living standards of the average Malaysian citizen.
This decline has not of course gone unnoticed by the elite. There's a reason for the increasing militarization of police and security organizations in the United States and the UK: widespread civil disorder escalating to revolution along the lines of the Arab Spring is no longer unimaginable by 2030 if current trends continue. The oligarchs can hold the lid down by force for quite a considerable time, but the longer this continues the worse the eventual explosion will be, as witness the upheavals in Egypt or Ukraine.
So there's the problem in a nutshell. What should we be doing about it? And what is it feasible for us to do? (For example: I'd love to see a UK government deflate the housing market by around 80% and renationalize a bunch of infrastructure that should never have been sold off in the first place, but I recognize that it would be political suicide for any party that tried it).
Forget the “waltzing water,” check out that humongous half-invisible family pointing and staring off in the opposite direction of the stage. That’s the real attraction.
This image was found on this site. Thanks, Amy!
It’s overcast here at Slacktivist world headquarters, which is interfering with my viewing the lunar eclipse that started just before 2 a.m. Maybe it’ll be a clearer night for the next one, in October, or the one next April or in September of 2015. Yeah, four eclipses in less than two years — pretty cool.
Unless you’re a “Bible prophecy scholar.” In that case, four lunar eclipses in less than two years isn’t just a neat series of astronomical events – it’s a sign of the End Times. But of course, if you’re a “Bible prophecy scholar,” then everything is a sign of the End Times — eclipses, earthquakes, floods, droughts, Wednesdays, dandelions, war in the Middle East, peace in the Middle East, Middle Eastern restaurants in the Midwest. …
“Prophecy” enthusiast, mega-church pastor and pretty good saxophonist John Hagee of San Antonio — who has been preaching an imminent Rapture for more than a generation — sees great prophetic significance in these eclipses occurring around four Jewish holy days. In his view, that must mean … something. Seriously, that’s what he says in the title of his book: Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change.
I don’t often agree with Hagee, but I’ll give him that one. I, too, believe that “something” will “change” between now and September of next year. Maybe even more than one something.
This is a prophecy with solid precedent. We’ve had total lunar eclipses before, and after every one of them, something changed.
Hagee says he’s just applying a “literal” interpretation of a passage from the book of Joel: “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord.” (That passage may be familiar since it is quoted again in the Bible, in the book of Acts. And because L. Frank Baum borrowed a bit of it for The Wizard of Oz.) During a lunar eclipse, the moon appears to turn red — just like that verse “prophesies.” The verse also seems to mention a solar eclipse, but folks like Hagee are quite skilled at ignoring the bits that don’t fit into their “prophecies.”
I’m less impressed than Hagee is with the prophetic significance of a lunar eclipse in April coinciding with Passover. Lunar eclipses only occur when there’s a full moon. And Passover starts with, yes, the full moon.
Hagee’s “prophecy” also seems a bit parochial. Yes, tonight’s lunar eclipse will be visible in San Antonio — throughout most of North and South America, in Australia and in the Far East — but you know where it won’t be visible? Jerusalem. Over there in Bible Prophecy Central, the sun will be shining. That’s how lunar eclipses work — they only appear in the parts of the Earth where it’s nighttime.
That’s an inconvenient fact for anyone attempting to glean some global prophecy based on the appearance of a lunar eclipse. Lunar eclipses can’t be global. Perhaps, then, this series of lunar eclipses in 2014-2015 doesn’t mean the End of the World, but only the end of San Antonio.
Anyway, in the spirit of tonight’s lunar event, here’s Bonnie Tyler and her Dancing Ninjas:
That video came out in 1983, so I’ve now had more than 30 years to try — and fail — to understand what it’s supposed to mean. Fun fact, though: That’s E Streeters Roy Bittan on piano and Max Weinberg on drums.