Horror and Structure in A Prayer Before Dawn

‘Love is the one thing stronger than desire and the only proper reason to resist temptation.” – Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

Before I go into the structure of A Prayer Before Dawn I want to make a proposal. The proposal is that boxing movies are horror movies, and horror movies require much more than a literal monster. Horror is, after all, related to disgust and revulsion.

But first I have to prove that boxing movies are the male equivalent of erotica for women, or at least the classic idea of a ‘romance’. What? Where am I going with this? As Tiffany Reisz puts it in her book The Siren:

Romance is sex plus love. Erotica is sex plus fear.

Erotica of course deals with all the temptations of the flesh. Where a classic romance must end on a happy ending and deals with love, erotica delves into various fears, mostly those of temptation, ‘losing’ the body to the orgasmic excesses and being caught. Facing up to these fears drives the story. A boxing movie can be seen in the same light. Usually the protagonist has a lot to lose and is fearful of this loss and of grievous harm. Mots of all he is afraid of losing The Fight and thereby being caught out as a fraud. There are always key scenes of fleshy entanglement that end in a climactic win (or loss, no need for a happy ending). Technique and special moves are key. Sweat drips. The dull thud thud thud of fist hitting pad. Boxing and sex are the male and female sides of the same coin.

Still don’t believe me? They even share the same sub-genres:

So if boxing movies are erotic, or of the body, then they are also horrific. Horror lies squarely in the body and the damage that can be done to it. In a boxing movie we see swollen eyes and bleeding ears, we see jaws knocked out of place and people comatose. All of these are visceral in A Prayer Before Dawn and I have never seen a boxing movie as horrific as this. You think Videodrome is body horror? Almost every shot of A Prayer Before Dawn lingers over vile male bodies. The prisoners are covered head-to-foot in lurid, detailed tatts. There is a rape scene that feels like we are being forced to watch, the camera close and personal. The love interest is a ladyboy and we hang over the sex scene like trailing fingers over a breast. Billy, the protagonist, is lathered up and massaged multiple times and it would be sexual if it weren’t so vigorous. The boxing match scenes zoom in and out on the combatants, squeezing past and showing every blow in full detail. I have never seen a movie this fleshy and it leaves the viewer feeling dirty.

It isn’t only the camera that works so hard to provide this intimacy of horror. There is barely any dialogue. Our hero, Billy Moore, is imprisoned in Thailand and he is a stranger among aliens, everyone speaking gibberish he barely understands. He doesn’t comprehend the prison yard rules at first, except that he must posture in order to avoid being someone’s bitch. The sound weaves in and out, adding to the disorientation we feel while watching. This is a masterfully crafted movie.

In fact, we can learn a lot about plot from its structure. It cleaves very close to the classic Blake Snyder Save-The-Cat structure.

Opening Image – Billy preparing for a fight. We know he is a boxer.

Set-up – Involves a boxing fight he loses, and then him dealing drugs. His life before it goes to shit.

BONUS – Save the cat moment is when Billy attacks the referee for throwing off his fighting aid.

Theme Stated – There is barely any dialogue and I think the theme is stated when Billy swallows the drugs.

Catalyst – Being admitted to the Thai jail.

Debate – Does he ally himself with the prison kingpin and drug dealing guard?

Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – Billy chooses to take drugs and get involved in the seedy side of the prison.

B Story – Falls in love with the ladyboy

Midpoint – False defeat where Billy tries to kill himself

Bad Guys Close In – Joins the boxing team.

All is Lost – Prison gang threaten him if he doesn’t win the big boxing match.

Dark Night of the Soul – Is vomiting blood and is told his body has taken too much trauma.

Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – Chooses to fight.

Finale – Using his training delivers a killer  blow to his opponent.

Final Image – At the start Billy lost a match, then he won at the end. But more so, the first shot is him being massaged by his young apprentice, and the last shot is of him and his father.

The movie essentially is a series of defeats until the mid-point where, with nothing to lose, Billy tries to kill himself. After trying to do this he has a series of wins once he joins the boxing team and gets the ‘girl’ until the final victory against the odds. It is the perfect redemption narrative. The whole movie there are people trying to drag him up, even if he won’t let them. The theme of opening yourself up and not lying is depicted by trying to hide the drugs when the police raid his house (literally internalising them) and we see him overcome this when, given the opportunity to evade police at the end, he instead goes back to prison. If you need an example of a well constructed plot this is a great film to study, especially because it manages to show so much without dialogue.

The Winds of Diversity Sweep Through the Halls of Publishing

“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”
― Socrates

Gossip kills. Or at least it kills careers. Whispering Hit Men have taken out a hit on publishing in the last week with another round of so-called scandals, but really are they any different to the ‘news’ that a Virginian democrat wore blackface thirty years ago? These sorts of stories are indicative of society at large. Whether it is fake news or personal vendettas, the news has been weaponised. They are simulacra, problems that merely look like problems and that resemble problems more with every angry Tweet and opinion piece. What has got everyone so riled up now?

First there is the sad case of Amelie Wen Zhao. She had a fantasy novel coming out, hotly contested by publishers at auction. Last week a Twitter mob attacked her, accusing the book of perpetuating racism, enabling ableism and other crimes against humanity. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before, and in fact I have previously written about such cases. The difference now is that Amelie is Chinese herself and should have plenty of experience with censorship. What is scarier about Western censorship is that we do it to ourselves. The mob looks for any discrepancy they can find and amplify it to such a degree if only to show in-group adherence. Amelie has now decided not to publish the novel and publicly apologised for her atrocious and unthoughtful behaviour. It is clear that many people were enraged but never even read the book (this selective fact finding is indicative of all  ‘important”political’ discussions) and merely jumped on a hate wagon to complain about, among other things, plagiarism (apparently whole sections were stripped from The Hunger Games). The fact these people don’t know their history and cannot see the similarities between this and being denounced by the Red Guard is not surprising, but it is frightening. This was her public apology, the equivalent of being made to stand in the town square with a board around your neck as your neighbors hurl rotten fruit at you.

From what I can tell the book seemed to be trying to tackle the issue of slavery from her unique perspective, but it seems blacks and black history is still top of the hierarchy and she didn’t do a good enough job. Oh well, live and learn, Amelie! May your dreams never be crushed again.

The second major case of gossip is the ‘unmasking’ of Dan Mallory. Author of bestselling book The Woman in the Window under the pseudonym A J Finn, he has had a tell-all hit piece published in The New Yorker by a journalist who not only digs up dirt on his publishing career, accuses the book of plagiarism and harasses his family, but takes way too long to read. Seriously, this could have been edited down just a bit. This kind of gossip masquerading as news is the new normal, and reminiscent of the Russian collusion stories that come out every now and then. Heck, both stories even involve urine which of course had the entire publishing industry giggling like schoolchildren. Of course, besides the fact that no one takes any of it with a grain of salt (how true is it, and how can we know when all we have to go on is the article), it was immediately picked up as an example of ‘mediocre white men failing up’. No, not of a literal psychopath scheming and getting what he wanted, but it was generalized to all white men in the industry, and presumably all industries. Like you could call this sort of heist mediocre, anyway. Bitches.

Events like this allow those with an agenda to beat their war drums and march on the White Man. Wei Ming Kam and others are calling for a witch hunt, stating that if Mallory was able to do this, then just think about how many others like him are out there. Of course, all this does is stoke paranoia rather than seeing it as an exception. Mallory has come out and said the lying about the brain cancer did happen, which means that some of his other tall tales are probably somewhat true, but overall does it take away from his book success? Don’t you get paid well and climb the corporate ladder by bullshitting anyway? What exactly did he do wrong except make some social faux pas most probably as a result of serious mental issues? That is for the crowd to decide. I am reminded of Jon Ronson’s book on shaming and events like the dentist whose business was destroyed on Yelp because he was a big game hunter. Things are much worse now.

The flip side to all this shouting down White Men is the articles and essays complaining about how hard it is to be in the industry if you aren’t a White Man. Take for example this quote:

But at her new company, Scholastic, she was one of few queer women of color.

No shit, that by its very definition is going to be a rare bird. Exactly how many queer woman of colour does a company need to be diverse? You want to give me a quota, sweet cheeks?  Now check out this delicious sentence:

A Black former editorial assistant says she was satisfied with her starting salary until she discovered a few months later that other women of color in the same role were getting paid more, even though they had less experience.

Don’t you just love the infighting? Newsflash, people, you get paid for what extra you bring to the table, not your ability to complete a set of tasks. And we notoriously overestimate our own ability anyway.

Complaining about the supposed inequalities is a deliberate tactic because suddenly the reader of articles such as this is made to think that this is a Bad Thing in and of itself. It’s insidious and constant and publishing is slowly succumbing. Just yesterday I walked past the meeting being held by our Diversity Committee (all white girls) and I shuddered as I felt their collective psychic energy wash over me. If it is deemed that there is a problem, well, you have to fix that problem! But is it about representation or do these women just want more money?

“I don’t think promotions correspond to someone else’s other life choices,” says Yee, who now works in San Francisco, Calif., as an editorial coordinator for a different academic publisher. “How well I do at my job should be based off of how I’m doing, not whether someone else takes maternity leave.”

The trope of the promotion is people competing for it. That is, competing for an opening. Promotions are not just handed out because you did a gold star job. Publishing budgets are tight, the competition for jobs is fierce and yet these brown girls think they deserve handouts for doing what essentially anyone could do and plenty of others want to do. They don’t want to pay you more because the big houses are beholden to shareholder profits, and the small houses literally don’t have the money. When someone like Mallory is earning $200,000 a year it’s because they are signing significant authors.

Fundamentally, Dan Mallory got promoted because he’s extremely clever and charismatic. Brown girls don’t get a promotion because they are none of those things, and in fact probably create resentment. Feeling entitled won’t help, but maybe being loud enough will.

That said, publishing houses are famously cumbersome beasts, giant tanker ships that take forever to take a new direction. That’s why companies like Wattpad are going to start to tackle this diversity issue head-on. They have started their own publishing imprint based on algorithms and with an eye on inclusivity. I say good luck to them, especially with those pesky racist AIs. But if small publishers and start-ups are going to take this market, why should the big houses bother? I don’t see much potential in the woke market. I mean, sure the white population that makes up the huge markets of the US, Canada and Commonwealth rights is slowly declining and being edged out by endless brown people, but as we see in the case of Amelie, they will eat themselves. There are too many markets to attend to. Yes, there are the odd foreign or immigrant stories that take off, but by and large men like to read thrillers and women like to read Liane Moriarty. Like a democracy, publishing requires a homogeneous reading public in order to work at scale. In order for this to work in the shifting demography of the West, expect books to get even more bland and inoffensive.

Publishing is legacy media, but it is and will outlast the news industry. Thankfully profits were never high in the book trade, so it’s not hard to keep expectations reasonable. But there is still a worry that publishing will follow the same mistakes as newspapers and digital media companies like Buzzfeed. Publishing is counter-intuitively safehoused because they offer one thing and one thing only: stories. The internet has too much noise at times to sell those stories, too little prestige to make them worth picking up. The technology of a paper book is yet to be surpassed. The only worry is that publishing houses will try to move outside of what they do best. The more you try to push LGBTQI themes or refugee sob stories, the more people you are going to push offside. Don’t get political; it is not our job to push a political agenda. It is our job to publish good books. This reminds me of a wonderful anecdote I overheard the other day. A WOC I work with (try saying that five times fast) said that her friend in another house voiced their opinion over the publication of a book about the First Fleet. This friend was told by management to ‘keep your politics to yourself’. There is hope out there, after all.

This is all to say that nothing above is new. Authors have always been censored. Publishing frauds are a dime a dozen. What is new is that a supposedly diverse book is self-censored, and a fraud is exposed that has nothing to do with the book itself. (The hit on Mallory seems more fit for the likes of a gossip rag if you ask me. The word ‘schadenfreude’ springs to mind.)  Publishing houses will always move into new markets but they need to keep scale in mind. Gossip hurts and it will end up hurting not just individual authors, but bottom lines too. If these examples are anything to go by the voices crying out to white-ant publishing are only going to get louder and meaner.

Every Planet We Reach Is Dead: Part 1

Joan Lewis sweated despite the cold. Suspended in the Bulb, she didn’t even notice: her focus was elsewhere. A dozen displays surrounded her and others moved into her vision when needed. A stream of information bounced off her retina, a data feed that was half visual and half fed into her mind. The onboard computer, Junko, worked diligently to keep her completely up-to-date while maintaining the life support systems of Salvation. Drugs surged through Joan’s veins with the purpose of overclocking her body as they heightened her reaction times and thought processes. Her hands rushed around like erratic moons, and her facial expressions did the rest. Her feet were locked on the pilot’s platform which rotated and twisted her body to suit her needs. Joan slipped into the connection with Junko, the outside completely forgotten as she reached perfect symbiosis.

Behind her the captain observed. When he needed to, he stepped in to bring up information. His eyes darted back to Joan and a smirk broke out as he watched her mad dance. He acknowledged that her work was far better than his ever was. His body suit was warm, but he has his face free to feel the cold of the Bulb. He could see the void of space just beyond the screens and the frenetic Joan. Endless vacuum. Vega crept into the peripheral burning its blue-white brightness. Sputtering and spurting its gases, waves of radiation washed off Vega in random bursts, as had happened for millennia. At its core it rumbled. Rigel wondered if it would be enough to sustain them.

The time came. Rigel noticed Joan’s movements became longer and more attuned. He imagined the scene outside the ship from far away: two specks closing in like mating bugs, one a luminescent dominator, the other a silent receiver. The ship they were docking with was ancient and its batteries long dormant. A single ring surrounded its engine, immobile before the life-giving connection. The incoming arrival was long and slender, two rings at either end, one contracted and waiting. To the ignorant it would look like the two ships were about to collide, but Rigel knew better. They would elegantly become one if Joan had anything to do with it.

Rigel has watched Joan do this a hundred times in the sims, but it was always impressive, more so now that it was for real. He could make out the other ship, The Indomitable, as they came perpendicular to it. They have come knocking to discover what conquered the unconquerable.

‘How does the airlock look?’ Rigel said to Joan. She didn’t look up, instead shooting off a data byte. He brought up the info.

The Indomitable was intact, no holes or damage. The only noticeable exception was the airlock. Signs of expulsion were evident and pipes drifted lazily out of the opening like an anemone. There were scars where heavy objects would have struck as they were jettisoned. Was it from error or on purpose? Rigel couldn’t see anything that told him one way or the other. If the hulk had been ripped open it was going to make boarding difficult.

‘I can still make it; the lock gates are compatible with ours. I’m going in.’

Rigel threw down the scans.

Joan’s movements sped up and red lights flashed as she went too far one way, then too far the other. On the hull spurts of gas popped seemingly at random. The warning lights ceased and there was a moment of silence.

‘Bingo,’ Joan said right before she made contact.

In the weightlessness of the Bulb it wasn’t an issue but the ship shuddered around them. In the next moment the ship became rigid again, only this time with an additional appendage. They had become one vessel.

‘Easy,’ said Joan. ‘Now comes the really fun part.’

She disengaged from the various wires and inputs and pushed off towards Rigel. She glided towards him, her eyes locked on his and intent on only one thing. Rigel caught her as she came close.

‘We’ve got an hour before the rest of the crew wake up,’ Joan said, a mischievous smile plastered on her face. ‘I’m all worked up.’

Rigel grinned. She grabbed his hand and pushed off back down towards the tunnel and the bunks. He loved it when she took control.

***

The crew woke up, slowly. While Joan came down off the amphetamine and hormonal cocktail, she watched her fellow passengers on a screen in the lower corner of her retina. The crews’ bodies shook as they were reanimated, blood pumping back through empty veins and stirring organs. The worst part was the full-body paraesthesia that accompanied the rejuvenation. Thankfully it only took a few hours before the body was back to full capacity.

Joan stretched, bones cracking for the first time in decades. Rigel lay in bed, his eyes glazed over as he flicked through pre-boarding checks.

‘Come, play a game with me,’ she said. He came back to reality. ‘We’ve got a little time.’

She sat down at the table and brought up a game of chess. The pieces materialised and she chose white. Rigel sauntered over, his skin suit crawling over him. The ship was still cold from the eons.

‘I’ll probably be rusty, even if you give my AI a handicap,’ he said, coughing and easing himself into the seat.

‘It’s not about winning, my dear,’ Joan said, even though a competitive glint was etched into her eyes. They began rapidly before slowing into a rhythm.

‘Do you know how chess first spread?’ Rigel asked his lover. When she rolled her eyes he continued. ‘It spread out of India, then over the centuries it was found in more and more countries. One of the oldest games every invented.’

‘Fascinating story, though I think you should pay more attention to your moves than your anecdotes.’

‘I was just thinking that now we have the chance to take chess to the stars some 2,000 years from its origins.’

‘If there are other species out there, do you think they invented chess independently?’

‘Let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised.’

They turned back to the game at hand and Rigel’s brow became more and more furrowed.

‘Ah, you’ve got a response to every move I make,’ said Rigel. ‘Never mind two steps ahead, you’re at least five. One tiny error and it just cascades into defeat from there. For such a mirrored game it becomes asymmetrical so quickly.’

‘No different to any other game, or really anything at all. Think about it. There’s an equal and opposite reaction for everything. Nature adores its arms races. You only have to be ready to step up to the challenge.’

Rigel grunted in amusement.

‘I just need to think outside the box. Beat you with randomness.’

‘I’m plenty used to randomness.’

The AIs they were using threw out endless moves per turn, a thousand calculations a second. Junko watched from a distance, mostly disapproving of all moves chosen by both Rigel and Joan.

‘Have you ever played vanilla chess?’

Joan looked up. ‘No, I haven’t actually. No point.’

‘I have. It’s remarkable the patterns a computer chooses over a human. For one, humans prefer repetition, familiarity. But it’s all a simulation. It’s the same principle as docking this ship, just a tad more complicated in the types of calculations that an AI or Junko throws up. That right, Junk?’

The lights dim in response.

‘Such a quiet machine. Sometimes I wonder what Junk thinks about in the downtime.’

‘What downtime? Me, I wonder if the AI can distinguish between a game and real life, or if both have equal weighting.’

‘Either way, they offer us the best possible result. We just have the courage to take it. Check.’

‘Such the inspiration, Rigel. But we’re all pieces in the larger game. Us in particular. Moved to the farthest reaches of known space on some vague hope that there’ll be something at the end of it for us.’

‘Sometimes I don’t mind being manipulated. We’ve got the chance to change the future after all.’ He gave a half-hearted chuckle.

‘You know as well as I do that the only reason we’re here is that it’s better than home. And that it gives the only people worth a shit a slight chance of a better life.’

‘Hey, I think you’re worth a shit. That’s why I brought you with me.’

‘Don’t kid yourself, I came because you’re useless without me.’

He laughed at that.

‘Checkmate,’ Joan said, leaning back with a satisfied smirk.

‘Well, fuck me.’

‘Is that request?’

‘What?’

‘To fuck you,’ she said as she launched herself at him again,

***

The bright, fluorescent light of Junko’s airlock painted everyone in unnatural shades. Lin Pei stepped onto her suit printer before the others and froze. Her lungs were still pumping back to life, her joints ached, and the cold was taking a long time to her body. After decades in suspended animation, wrapped tighter than a newborn baby, she was about to be covered up again. She had barely had time to breathe before being sent out on mission.

The printer coil surrounded Lin from the boots up, producing a warm synthetic material that slowly covered her skin. She didn’t flinch. It was a similar consistency to body paint, but provided a vitality-giving inner layer for their spacesuits. The machine finished with Lin first and she stepped back to receive the exosuit. Junko was soft in her touch as she slottd and clipped the suit around Lin’s limbs and torso. It was over in thirty seconds. Lin reached into the collar, retrieved the earpiece and slipped it in.

‘You’re live, Lin,’ Joan said into her microphone. She had been watching this all through her various screens. As the others suited up, Joan read all their vitals the nanotech of the inner layer of their suits was feeding her. She checked them off one by one. Cams, audio, heartbeats – they were all available to her instantaneously, placed on to her heads-up display by Junko.

We ready to do this?

Rigel’s voice cut in. He was part of the forward team. It was him, Lin and the twins, Hotham and Jay. Like a good leader he walked between them and checked their suits. He straightened up and faced the other three.

–Alright crew, this it. It’s been a long time coming but, heck, it just feels like we woke up from a particularly good sleep. No worries. I hope you’ve all gone over our training procedures. We’re entering a hulk, no atmosphere, so we take it easy until we can boot her.

As Rigel spoke, Joan flicked cameras to the Major, who had retreated to her station immediately after waking. Joan brought the screen closer. More machine than person, the Major was connected to her personal hub, lost in her own objectives. Behind her the massive 3D printer constructed a series of mechanical golems, its materialisers working back and forth in rapid, measured strikes. Joan already tried to dig into the Major’s past and reasons for being here, but it was dead zone after dead zone as she trawled through the feed. The woman was untouchable, a complete ghost. As she mused on this, a voice called into her ear.

–Joan?

She switched her camera feed back to the airlock.

‘Yes, captain?’

–Nodding off up there? I need you alert. I know you’re good but you’re not do-it-in-your-sleep good.

Someone laughed.

‘Even if I were out cold, I’d still do a better job than you, sir.’

He looked directly at the cam and flashed a thumbs up.

–Right, are we ready to do this? Hotham, Jay, take point. I’ll follow and Lin, you’re last. Joan, hit it when you’re ready.

The boarding party moved into formation, sleek suits ready for their first run, bulky equipment in strength-enhanced arms. Joan hit the airlock release.

***

Lin watched her compatriots disappear into the yawning dark ahead of her, the separation of life and death. She stepped in behind them automatically, not wanting to but because she had to. That was what she was paid to do. She’d signed the contract to go boldly where no person had been before. Or at least to discover why those that had gone before never came.

Her headlamps came on automatically as she crossed into the lifeless hulk. The light captured her crewmates before she turned to look around. It looked like the evil twin of Salvation, a leviathan with the life crushed out of it. They crossed into the living area.

It was a similar space to their own rec space, but smaller. The tech was older, less sophisticated. They could only dock because all ships were made retroactive. Lin veered slightly, head going light. She shook it off quickly, forcing a release of hormones to focus. Rigel’s voice suddenly came over the comms.

Looks like everything is mostly intact. Joan, are you receiving vid? Anything loose will have gone to the suck, but I don’t think the control panels are damaged. Hotham, can you get her started?

Lin took it all on board and wandered through the ship. It was like being under water, like training all those years ago. Wires waved at her as she moved slowly through, her grav boots operating in time with her movements.

OK Jay, close down the hatch. Joan, we’ve done a sweep and there doesn’t appear to be any hull breaches. We’re closing the doors and going to boot her.

Lin snapped out of her reveries and looked around. She found herself in the cryo-chamber. No doubt these versions were wildly out of date, and the discomfort Lin had felt when she first woke up would be nothing compared to what it was like in the past. A dull thrum started beneath the static and her breathing. Vibrations started to travel up her leg with each step. She walked past each chamber, the glass exteriors covered in ice that hadn’t melted in centuries. It had frozen instantaneously as soon as the hull breach occurred. Lin came to the last one just as the lights turned on and she wiped her gloved hand across the ice.

Something moved. Lin blinked, looked again. The chamber hummed and jived, lighting up along the sides. And inside. Something moved again. Lin’s eyes went wide but she took a quick step back as the door of the chamber in front of her burst open, whatever gases were trapped inside escaping and freezing in mid-air.

A body fell out, or more precisely rolled out, performing somersaults on exit. Lin stared at the man who writhed in front of her. Suspended in mid-air, his body wriggled in a ball. Lin’s fingers twitched at her side. She almost took another step back, almost ran. Instead she rushed at the man as fast as her grav boots allowed, oxygenator in hand.

–GET IN HERE

She screamed into her vox. Her body took over from her mind. She reached for the man and tried to pull his limbs apart so she could wrestle the oxygenator on to his face. The power might have turned on but the air was going to take a little while, if there even was air left in the throttled ship. Lights flickered and the scene in front of Lin was like a nightmare. She forced her suited arm between the man’s limbs and finally managed to get the device over his mouth. As she did, his eyes shot open.

***

‘Just to be clear: you have no memory of what happened?’

Rigel stood across from the man they rescued from The Indomitable. Thanks to the onboard data files they determined that he was one Ari Walcot. He sat on a stripped-down bed. The medbay glowed with cleanliness. Walcot’s eyes focused on the floor and his hands mashed together, fingers weaving in and out of each other. He didn’t answer and Rigel ground his teeth.

Rigel had been quite reserved and let the new arrival recuperate, but it had been hours since they rescued him from the hulk, which was still attached precariously to the Salvation. The engineers were going back and forth as they checked the systems and data. That part of their mission was working as it should. There was damage and nothing obviously wrong. The main problem Rigel had was the living corpse back from the dead.

‘Let me explain this to you, again. We – and I mean humanity – lost contact with you, The Indomitable, not long after your first arrival in the system. It’s been a long time.’ He stops himself momentarily. That was an understatement. ‘I would appreciate if you told me what you can remember.’

Walcot looked up, straight into Rigel’s eyes.

‘Nothing. Absolutely nothing, except who I am, and even that’s vague. I’ve the barest memories of before I even signed up. I…’ He choked. It was either emotions or his vocal muscles that caught him.

Rigel grunted. He had been a kid when The Indomitable went quiet. It was the last outpost. Humanity had waited centuries, generations, waiting for The Indomitable to reach the Vega system. They’d learned about every expedition at school, though not so much detail as knowing about each member of each crew. The Vega expedition had been the last one not yet established when Rigel came of age.

The excitement was huge. He remembered the day at school, an address from the President and everything. But it was all for nothing in the end. It took years for the communications to come back to Earth, and they started off positive. But the government censored the last desperate may day calls. The only thing people could think about was the fact that while they had celebrated the arrival of the crew, that same crew had already been dead for years.

A door slid open with a hiss and Lin walked in. Her eyes traced over charts as the patient’s results rolled past her retinas.

‘He appears healthy, though over-exposed to the cryosleep, obviously. No long term effects. But the memory loss can happen, quite often actually. Especially in the case of trauma.’

Rigel nodded and his fingers squeezed his lips as he thought.

‘I imagine losing all the rest of your crew would be quite traumatic. Can you bring up his ship records?’

Lin’s eyes twitched.

‘Here you are. As you know, his name is Ari Walcot. He was brought along to document the settlement of the Vega system.

‘You’re a journalist?’ said Rigel.

Walcot smiled uneasily and rubbed the back of his head. ‘If you say so.’

‘Great, so now not only do I have an extra body on my hands, but he’s useless too.’ Rigel threw rows his hands up in the air and kicked the nearest bed.

A voice chirped up in his ear.

–Captain. You’re needed in the Bulb. Now.

What is it Joan?’

–I think I know what happened here.

***

Vega bulged at the equator. Parallel to the equator the light was a duller blue-white than at the poles. Junko’s many eyes focused on this point. An object had appeared in Vega’s orbit.

Joan stared down the barrel of an optic station. She flipped between spectrums and checked the object in each. It appeared to her as a small black smudge. A freckle against the mighty sun.

‘It’s a ship?’

‘It’s something technological. It’s far too small for a planet, and the orbit is wrong anyway.’ Joan pulled away from the optics and looked straight at Rigel.

‘So you’re saying, potentially, that The Indomitable ran into aliens – again, potentially – and we’ve come 25 light years to meet the same fate?’

‘Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t get any energy readings from it. It appears dormant.’

‘Have you checked any comms from Earth or the other expedition systems?

‘It’s still transferring, it’s a lot of data for Junko to analyse on top of immediate duties.’

‘Yeah, I know that, I just want to make sure if this is going to be a first contact situation, or if we’ve already been beaten to it. In the mean time, rack up some probes to send out for investigation. Keep quiet, no radio, reduce our radiation, and don’t tell any–’

–Captain. I assume you’ve spotted the anomaly.

The Major. Her voice crackled through the all-purpose frequency, the robotic shifts of her mechanized voice box magnified through the vox.

‘Indeed we have. We’re coming up with a plan of action now. It appears quiet for now.’

–I’m already putting together a drone team for reconnaissance. I suggest you work through the data banks of The Indomitable more efficiently.

With a click the Major signed off. Rigel’s jaw clenched.

‘Ok so now we have a clue as to why the Major was signed up for this mission. Joan, I want you to keep working on data from The Indomitable and to keep scanning the system for clues. Get those probes out quickly. I’m going back to talk to our guest.’

***

One, two, three probes launched by Junko, pacifist torpedoes hunting for knowledge. They crossed the gap between sentient ship and anomaly quickly, dodging debris and maintaining formation. They relayed imagery back to Junko, who fed it on to the crew.

As they already knew, the anomaly was massive. A large sphere maybe the size of a small moon. Its skin was layered with crevices and mountains. Spires reached up off its surface, ugly spikes and deformities. There were valleys and bunkers as well, indented facades across the whole thing. The drones split up.

They zoomed across the horizons and the scanners slowly brought the anomaly into a 3D rendition in Junko’s database. In the background Vega burned and its flames lapped at edges of the system. The haziness diffused the light to a romantic glow. But there was no light from the anomaly. It orbited in silence.

Marie Kondo and the Echoes of Outrage

“We are improved by reading books not by owning them.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

It’s hard to be a pundit. Heck, it’s hard to be an Average Joe scrolling through your social media feeds. Whether it’s the #TenYearChallenge on Instagram, the smirking kid on Facebook or Marie Kondo’s cleaning advice on Twitter, there is some form of outrage for you. This is our life. This is our consumption habit. Mobs have been around forever, but social media allows you to partake in multiple mobs simultaneously, cross pollinating the outrage into a storm of fury. But it is time to stop. As per Proverbs 20:3 –

Congratulations to the rightists who got the Vulture writer fired over the smirking boy. Congratulations to the conservative pundits and IDW lackeys who argue ceaselessly every day. But what for? Wherefore art thou holiness? It is certainly not to be found in outrage.

The Kondo Effect

Book porn. Shelfies. Reading memes. Social media is awash with the ideal of books, that is, fantasies and hazy recollections of a certain feeling that comes with being a book owner. Without it the book industry would surely collapse.

This ‘shelfie’ did the rounds on right-wing Twitter, with people mocking the absolute state of the woman’s ‘taste’. Overall it was but a blip on the outrage scale, but let me make my point.

Aside from the endless YA and Stephen King there are also a number of popular ‘must have’ books. The Nix, The Idiot, Michelle Obama’s biography, Bridge of Clay and many more are simply flavours of the month. This is much more an advertising space than it is personal collection. These are books that publishing houses have pushed hard (because they have paid million dollar advances). There’s nothing wrong with a bit of entertainment, but the self-righteousness of young women and their bookshelves is something beyond your usual narcissist. Since when was a colour-coded bookshelf made up of the latest pulp better than this?

Why does any of this matter though? Why did this blow up into a whirlwind of tweet storms for maybe 12 hours? The problem comes down to how we view books. For many on the right they are a form of knowledge and connection with the past, not a fleeting consumer choice. Shelfies on the other hand are shameless displays of books as objects, contrary to what the book fanatics would have you believe. For them it is about whether it is popular, or woke, or ‘takes them to another world’. What isn’t important is that a book introduces them to alternative points of view or new knowledge. It is this materialism that irked the Right.

Then Marie Kondo showed up.

A few years ago Kondo published bestselling books that expressed her philosophy, namely Spark Joy and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. This year her Netflix show came out where she went to people’s houses and tidied them up. Naturally, given that television is far more culturally important than books (this is actually what we should be outraged about), this sparked the conversation around keeping or hoarding books.

Leftists – the ones likely to have colour-coded bookshelves – came out to bat for keeping every book, such as the author of this opinion piece. Of course what they all missed is Kondo’s underlying reasoning. To keep a book it must spark joy. That is, we must appreciate it, not lust over it, not enjoy its pretty cover, none of these superficial things. It’s a much deeper, religious understanding of ‘joy’ where the meaning is closer to ‘grace’. What did the book teach us? Is this one you want to keep to be reminded of its lessons, or one you will re-read? This comes from Kondo’s Shinto background, and it not surprising that secular Westerners completely missed this. Instead people like Matt Haig go completely off the deep-end about books being portals to other worlds, which is much more grounded than the idea that objects must be respected. Secularists are both grounded in the act of materialist consumerism, yet justify it with lofty spirituality. The death of God, yadda, yadda.

The outrage was not just based on a misunderstanding of what Kondo believes, but also literally from fake news around what she said. At no point has Kondo insisted that ’30 books is ideal’ and yet this became a meme that further promoted outrage, disgust and incredulity. The echoes of outrage reverberated outward further and further from the truth. I’m sure the Bible says somewhere that when we are struck with the truth (in this case, that we are hoarders and own too many useless books that we will never actually read) we will cry out in pain, deny it and in fact try to justify obvious lies. The entire Marie Kondo affair, from the irony of the discussion emanating from TV and not the book, to the fake news and urgent hand-wringing, smacks of a culture gone completely wrong.

To lay it to rest, it is a fact that most books are bad. Most authors are not very good, and given that more and more books are being published every year, we should be wary about what we purchase. This is why the Right focuses on old books. They are tried and true. They are objective in that they are not speaking from the current milieu from which one cannot get any perspective. Do not buy books in the vague hope of reading them in the future. Buy, read, decide on its level of joy that it has sparked, and then keep, discard or giveaway.

The Smirking Boy Cometh

Mere moments after the Marie Kondo Twitter outrage had calmed down did we have yet more fake news events, and these were much more serious (apparently). First, Buzzfeed through shoddy reporting was rebuked by Mueller’s team regarding information from Michael Cohen. That another Russiagate scandal was quickly shot down is not surprising. More odious was the events surrounding a group of boys from Covington Catholic School.

For posterity, a quick rundown of events: video footage goes viral showing white boy in MAGA hat purportedly standing down Native American; journalists condemn boys; multiple death and violence threats appear on Twitter against the boys; more footage comes out debunking the initial take by showing that the Native American approached the boys and that the boys were being harassed; some journalists back down (including conservative outlets); some journalists and celebrity progs double down and dig into the background of the boys and their school; accusations of black face; accusations of black face proven false; accusations of throwing up white power sign; accusations of throwing up white power sign proven both ridiculous but also false. That’s not even all of it, but you get the picture.

The point I am driving at here is that we quickly move from one outrage to another. It doesn’t even have to be a different outrage. It just needs to be a new perspective on the same outrage. Think of the Smirking Boy saga as a film scene in reverse (so, a bad film). We started with a close up shot. People jumped to the wrong conclusions. Then we were allowed the long or establishing shot which changed the context. Then a bunch of subplots were uncovered that would have helped set up the story even further. It was a train wreck. Left and Right jumped from talking point to talking point. Whataboutisms and gotchas cascaded. It is far from over. Will this be a turning point?

I think not. The ‘echoes of outrage’ will diminish on this particular incident and be rung fresh and vibrant again on another. Dopamine needs new stimuli and the mob does not like stasis. Do you remember what the first example of outrage I used in this post was? I rest my case.

What I suggest is that we take our time, because if we take our time and process things properly we avoid the risk of anger and of memory holing. The worst thing is to forget what has come before.

2018 in Review

2018 was a big year, but I don’t want to talk about politics, the news or anything else that sends Twitter into a black pill spiral.

On a personal front, my page views tripled over last year. That’s bit motivation to post more as people are obviously interested (or outraged) by what I have to say. The three biggest posts were:

1 – Jacobite is the Jacobin of the Right

Unsurprisingly a piece of slander is the most viewed article for the year.

2 – We Are All Communist Countries

I’m happy with this. I completely stand by my convictions as put out in the essay, and it managed to rile up a whole slew of different people.

3 – Pulling Threads

It is only appropriate that an essay dealing with the controversial Robin Hanson (who has really outdone himself in 2018) got so many hits.

I wasn’t just on my personal blog. One particular Medium article went off all thanks to Clementine Ford. You can count it as a good year if you get the arch-feminist of Australia to respond to you. Spoiler alert: I checked and no one went out and bought the book. Thanks for the views, Clem! I’m thinking of reviewing her books next year – guaranteed hits!

It’s also a time to review what happened in Australian publishing. What are people reading? I can tell you a few trends.

First, the bro self-help market is still strong, with Jordan Peterson and Mark Manson making a kill this year. I saw many bookstores with both books stacked up alongside each other. The most interesting thing is that publishers completely underestimated this trend. Penguin, the publisher of 12 Rules For Life, didn’t even have a decent print run up until almost three weeks after publication. Almost everyone in publishing dismisses Jordan, despite the sales and obvious hunger for his writing and words, because almost everyone in publishing is a card-carrying communist, or at least a sympathizer. This is not to say that self-help books for women aren’t selling, they are, but there is obvious institutional support for these. I’ve already seen two manuscripts for 2019 releases that make me sick due to the vapid nature. Woke Capital in action.

Second, once solid authors are crumbling. Jamie Oliver isn’t doing what he used to, usurped by the charismatic Ottolenghi. Shane Warne was a waste of a million dollar advance. Fiction mainstays seem to stay strong, but the most surprising thing of the year was the sheer amount of books by debuts. People want whatever is new. That is where we are at with books; people only want to read about what is hot and trending. Thankfully there seems to be a lot of space for multiple books in this space. In the meantime I’m just waiting for the new Houellebeq and McCarthy.

For the new year I plan to write some more longform blog posts synthesizing multiple books, start a podcast interviewing dissident fiction writers and post more review to Goodreads. Here’s to a good year.

The Strawberry That Broke the Camels Back

Here’s a story that might not have made it across the oceans and interrupted your usual feed of anti-Trump, pro-globalism propaganda. In September of 2018 tiny needles were discovered in strawberries around Australia and a massive recall was instigated. Now a suspect has been arrested and it looks to be the doing of one 50-year-old Viet woman.

Before we discovered the culprit this was all us Australians could talk about. It was the word on everyone’s lips in every office in Australia. Why would someone do this? Who would do this? As the contamination spread we asked if it was a conspiracy, an army of agile-handed needle implanters working diligently to give Australians appendicitis. Thankfully only one man went to hospital, but the fear that our beloved fruit, our staple pavlova topping, could contain sharp objects put the fear in us all. Like with all conspiracies the truth is more mundane than we could imagine.

Take stock of this. One old woman with a little bit of spite managed to throw a big old spanner into the works and caused a national news cycle that lasted longer than your typical terrorist attack. The escapade prompted our Prime Minister to announce that, ‘If you do that sort of thing in this country we will come after you,’ and come after them we did, with a very large police operation set-up to sniff out the criminal. What can we learn from this?

That it doesn’t take much to upset the apple cart. Accelerationists, anarchists and other protestors talk about disruption, but how often do they upend an entire industry? As ISIL and the Strawberry Needler have proven the future of terrorism is isolated lone wolf attacks. Like blockchain attacks could be carried out on lines of trust, each cell separated from the larger body but able to put fuel on the fire wherever needed. This example was a haphazard revenge attack by a disgruntled worker; imagine a coordinated effort with the sole purpose of hijacking the news cycle. It is completely surprising that groups haven’t made an effort to impact the system in any meaningful way. Instead we get Occupy Wall Street.

Is it because the average protestor doesn’t want to risk hurting their fellow citizen? Surely our Strawberry Needler only went ahead with the plan because she reasoned the chances of actually hurting someone were slim. It now seems so easy that with such a complex system such as the one we have courtesy of global neoliberalism an individual effort can have much larger consequences. Ted K might have thought he was doing something by targeting and killing certain people, but it appears to me that he would have been better off actually disrupting the faceless, inhumane system (the fact that he didn’t perhaps points to his egoism). What other ways can the pine trees break down technological society? It must be non-harmful methods. Perhaps people could burn down post boxes. Breed cats and just let them go wild until there is an utter infestation of ferals in your neighbourhood. Or as I saw on Twitter, plant bamboo shoots in random places. And never forget Sky King who proved just how much one man can do. Things that are achievable alone but will definitely but stressors on various systems.

This is all purely hypothetical and theoretical, an interesting study of the ‘lone wolf’. I would be very interested in the psychology behind such cases. Mass shootings, terrorist attacks and needless in berries: what is the connection? Resentment? Is it that simple? That must be the only common thread between all three. You can blame Islam, and access to guns, but how do you blame an old woman? It’s almost as if you have to sympathize with her, just a little. We all know how much work sucks.

The future seems to belong to the lone wolf, the individual who has just had enough.

Jacobite Is the Jacobin of the Right

‘When you see the genuine, you don’t deal with the fakes anymore.’ ― Nima davani

I want to be as open as possible with this short barrage against Jacobite. I am inspired by BAP who gives me the confidence to come forth with this. Nothing following is particularly incisiveness, though it is indicative of what we are dealing with. My sincerest request echoes BAP: do not submit to Jacobite.

My experience has been lackluster. I submitted two article ideas, one on dystopias and one on UBI. Mariani was more interested in the dystopian piece which was good since that is more in my wheelhouse. I got to reading and researching, including four novels and a very long non-fiction title so I had my head around the topic. You can see the blog article here. I’ve edited and added to it for the blog, but it is essentially the same piece. I made sure not to be biased in any way and cut anything that seemed a little too pro-right, as I had already sniffed out that Jacobite would be a hard sell on anything that veered too close to reaction. With that in mind I sent my first draft.

Now, Marinara is a competent editor, no doubt. He bashed my first draft quickly into place and made some astute editorial decisions. I listened and adapted. But given I was trying to avoid my own bias, I want to address what I see as a clear bias coming from the editorial process. Mariana took issue with my writing being too ‘spittle-flecked’ and too ‘wearing-a-cape-ish’ [sic]. Fine, but it would pay for a little consistency. If the issue is that too much opinion is coming through then I’d like to see the same standards across published articles. This article on NPCs essentially reads as follows: Personal anecdote; diatribe against right wingers; quotes from the Frankfurt school. That’s it. The point I’m making is that middle bit where the writer just goes off, completely opinionated, and yet here I am being told to remove an adjective. An interesting data point to note.

To call my use of the adjective ‘obnoxious’ spittle-flecked is, well, obnoxious. And OK, my opening allegory comparing modern publishing to dystopias is a little whimsical and I agreed to cut it, but it’s hardly worse than a lame, drawn-out story about some guy playing World of Warcraft. I get Mariani wants to come across as a legitimate journalist, but this is also the guy who hired Milo to write an opinion column. And we all know Milo ain’t right-wing.

I reject these rude comments, and I can confirm with confidence that there was no spittle around my mouth as I typed, nor did I laugh manically while twirling a shitty mustache (*cough*). What’s even worse is the professionalism around this editing as Mariani decided to subtweet my writing.

Hyperbole sure does get a lot of Likes. Clearly he is not a fan of my writing, and clearly I did not try hard enough to remove the bias. What he seems to like is very simply worded, straightforward articles. There is also this crutch for the articles to pick a philosophical/political text or two and quote bits and pieces to form an ‘argument’. These two pieces are good examples, and while I do not want to take away from the writers (both of whom are fine) they showcase the very narrow space that Jacobite articles want to inhibit (that is, shallow exegesis of possibly right-wing thinkers you might have heard of).  To be blunt, I used plenty of quotes and examples to back up my own conclusions and it is frustrating to be told that it is editorialized while other articles published on Jacobite lay on the opinion. It is quite rich to be told that my own conclusions are merely ‘bare assertion’ after I’ve spent a paragraph backing up the claim.

Even Kantbot will side with me, and below he’s talking about The Handmaid’s Tale while my example was as rip-off of that. Bare assertion my ass, Mariani.

While I do think Mariani is quite a good editor, at times it seemed he had trouble following my line of thinking (open to it being my fault, but as the process went on my doubts grew). If you look at the changes made below, the repetition of the word ‘state’ is a pretty obvious blunder, and the cliche to open the article is unimaginative to say the least.

I fully expect to be reprimanded in some way as a result of this exposé and I will no doubt be accused of ressentiment for not being published. I reject that claim; I am merely airing some dirty laundry. If you want to talk about ressentiment let us look no further than Mariani himself. That is, the WQ.

This piece by a mutual was published quickly, no discussion and little editing. Again, not to say it isn’t good, but notice what the subject matter is: women. More on women. Mariani’s piece on Kavanaugh, which was followed by another piece on the event.

Is it all a joke? Or an obsession? Well, there’s a little truth in every joke. And while you can find some truth on Jacobite, do not believe the gag that it is part of the dissident right.

Jacobite is really nothing more than a egotistical prank, a publication that purports to be above it all (the clue is in the nonsensical ‘post-political’ which implies they are better than mere politics) while wanting to feign its allegiance to the right. The whole project probably came from the whole Daily Caller incident and when Marianne discovered that Jacobites weren’t Jacobins (imagine the lightbulb moment). And like how Jacobin is just milquetoast articles from the left, Jacobite does the same for the right. Regarding Jacobin, the origin of its name ‘derives from the book The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by C. L. R. James in which James ascribes the Black Haitian revolutionists a greater purity in regards to their attachment to the ideals of the French Revolution than the French Jacobins.’ That is to say, more left than left. That is hardly the case as there are plenty of extreme leftist ideas they avoid publishing, much punching left (which might be a little to the right?) and even some articles that are downright reactionary.

Jacobite does the same for the right. It wants to coddle up, but can’t go too far, such as the aforementioned article on NPCs and the ‘review’ of BAP’s book. The excuse of overlapping ideas is weak, a ready-made escape pod should anything get too heated. Heck, even Quillette has more teeth than Jacobite (plus, they got an interview with Camille Paglia and Jacobite got another Logo review). Jacobite used Nick Land to get some early cred, but since then it’s been an constant litany of libertarian types and edgy communists. It’s unfathomable how anyone can read a McCrumplar piece without an aneurysm, yet I’m unintelligible? Fundamentally I think what Jacobite lacks is a sense of purpose. For example, Palladium Magazine appears to have purpose and it might do what Jacobite started out to do, but far better. If we look at Jacobite’s birth, it said that it wanted to feature articles on ‘…culture, politics and philosophy with a focus on “exit” — that is, building alternatives to systems rather than trying to lobby within them.’ Jacobite has lost its bearing. It isn’t rigorous with its science like Quillette. It does not care for the right like Social Matter. It does not fill any particular niche, and as such is little more than an outlet for various egos.

Do not be like me and follow your ego. It would be nice to have a byline somewhere, especially somewhere with considerable reach like Jacobite. But that’s just it. In order to have reach, it has settled somewhere towards the middle. Continue to blog and share and read fellow rightists work. Just don’t succumb to the lure of any false gatekeepers.  There is something to be said of false prophets, and as BAP says we do not need outsider curators.

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