Hysterical Women: The Fortress

Hysterical Women: The Fortress by S.A. Jones

‘Don’t let the bitches grind you down.’ – Margaret Atwood’s first husband, probably.

If you haven’t noticed, women are getting more hysterical by the day. I mean that very much in the general. I’m sure some specific women have managed to keep their heads, but in between all the abortion praising and hand-wringing over misogyny, it’s getting a little out of hand. And what do women do when they’re breaking down in hysterics? They project. And the novel is a brilliant medium through which to project. The ur-text of the hysterical woman is most definitely The Handmaid’s Tale. While not the first, it is the contemporary Schelling point (consider, a Schelling point is ‘a solution that people will tend to use in the absence of communication’ which perfectly sums up the state of modern politics) when it comes to discussing female bodies. This series of book reviews will explore the aftermath of a post-Trump world. Specifically, just what are women complaining about now?

Imagine a world where women ruled. No, not a world, as such, but a neocameral state, a patch for the feminine to flourish. In this patch women are in control, and their histrionics are on full display. Their every desire, fulfilled. Their every fear, confronted. Men are literally bent over and ass-fucked if the women so desire, and all for the benefit of the man. It’s enlightening, you see. Welcome to the world imagined by S. A. Jones in her novel, The Fortress.

Where to begin with this convoluted raving? Our protagonist is called Jonathan and we are first introduced to him when he is entering and subjecting himself to the Fortress. This is a place separated off from civil society. The whole set up makes very little sense. On the one hand it appears the Jonathan comes from our world, a world of corporations and families. But on the other, the use of made-up words and history makes it seem like a poorly wrought fantasy world. Compounding this phony feeling world, the entire novel takes place over the course of a year, dipping back in time to showcase what a reprehensible little sod Jonathan was, and why he has to repent for his crimes against the feminine. This arbitrary time period again sets up the whole book as nothing more than a diatribe – Jonathan has a year to change! Spoiler alert: he does. Nothing in the entire set-up feels authentic, and the author relies on caricatures and clichés, whether directly or frail attempts to ‘flip’ the narrative.

I think women writers have forgotten that fantasy should be used as a metaphor, not a stand-in. The book begs many questions. Is there a purpose to this mish-mash of real and unreal? Is the author trying to make a comment on modernity, where our world is just a step away from a fantasy? The reader won’t be able to tell. Instead, both possibilities are juxtaposed weakly, and the world never feels real enough to care. In addition, the author employs a horrible fantasy trope, that of coming up with random words in place of what it’s actually called. In between words like ‘goosen’ and ‘oorsel’ – make-believe plants – are sentences discussing credit cards. It’s bizarrely forced, a female creation in which to inject her politics. It’s also lazy. For example, when Jonathan first enters he is told, ‘Every eleventh day you will have half a day to spend according to your inclination and wishes. This is known as “the half”.’ So imaginative. When the author does try to add a little flair, she trips over herself – my eyes bugged out when I read, ‘He could feel her concentration from the seat next to him. Empires rose and fell in the seconds before she answered.’ How can women expect us to not call them melodramatic? The author also has a real problem with the obvious, in particular her over reliance on exposition. I suppose being a woman does mean that she feels the need to explain herself. The lengthy opening segment lays it all out in the first chapter, a pandering attempt to build a world. ‘Here is how everything works,’ she seems to be saying, ‘Now with that out of the way, let me preach.’ And boy, does she preach.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter that there is little coherence to the world of The Fortress because the author is trying to make a point. Take for example the credo of the women. Work. History. Sex. Justice. That’s it. That is literally what they believe in. But it’s worse than that, because of course they pervert all four. So far as I could tell they take sex the most seriously, and instead of a world where (apparently) men have complete control over the sexual marketplace, the women of the Fortress are ravenous sluts on the constant prowl for a good dicking. There’s so much sex in this book, it’s like the author is saying, ‘See, women like to bang too!’ I mean, sure, but the depravity is ridiculous. Either it’s the least subtle gender reversal of all time, or the author is really randy. But mostly it’s distracting, these constant digressions to (honestly, rather vanilla) sex scenes. As I mentioned earlier it all ends with man-on-man butt sex (‘Breathe, Jonathan. You need to breathe.’). It’s clear to me the author is trying to humiliate the male characters (‘It hurt and it was strange and it was also…good.’) by subverting at every opportunity how ‘men see themselves’ (in quotes because I don’t think the author actually understands that in the slightest). Isn’t it obvious that the only way for a lady’s man to repent is to be on the receiving end of rape and sexual manipulation? Geez, duh!

And as for the other quadrants that make up the Vaik outlook (Vaik is the name for the women of the Fortress)? Their sense of work: let the men do it, and make it as meaningless and/or painful as possible. Their understanding of history: men are evil and sisters have always done it for themselves. The justice they hand down: typically indeterminate and mysterious – maybe this, or maybe that. Oh yeah, and they definitely don’t believe in God! (‘The Vaik had no god and worshipped no supreme beings, but they did believe in the infinite nature of life.’ Damn pagans are at it again.) Perhaps the author is trying to say that even with women in control, the world wouldn’t be perfect, that if women had control they’d still be power hungry and sex-craving lunatics. That seems like the least feminist take possible. This doesn’t stop her denigrating men in the process. Of work, she notes that Jonathan, ‘…had a horror of timelessness, those marshy spaces between deadlines. He must always be attaining the next goal or he felt himself dematerializing, a science-fiction character stuck in a malfunctioning teleport.’ Aside from the awful (again, forced) metaphor, the assumption of course is that men only think about work and goals, never love. Like most women the author doesn’t understand that any obsession with the job is solely down to providing for family, and so this comes across as a self-own, particularly since the Vaik are so heartless when it comes to the day-to-day ordering of life. These four quadrants are meant to be some grand theory of women, but it comes across as lame and poorly thought out.

Overall it is painfully clear that the book wants to be a social commentary, but instead it makes women look terrible. What woman would let her husband be used as a sex toy to make up his extra marital affairs? The illogical nature of this punishment of course belies the utterly female narrative: revenge for revenges sake. Where is the justice in that? You, the reader, are never going to touch a book like this, but for your sake it is good to know what women are writing about, and what is being published. Ideology trumps aesthetics in the modern world, and The Fortress is a great example.

Gender Inequality in Publishing

One thing that always gets me is why exactly do women want to receive the same pay as men? I’m not talking about the same pay for the same work; I’m talking about the very clear fact that women are now demanding that over the length of their ‘careers’ they want to receive the same amount of money.

But why would they need to? The only reason is if they plan on being independent their whole lives, never having children and making sure that if there is ever a divorce (which, statistically, there will be) they will have a job to keep them going. If you are in a relationship, the normal approach should be to have only one partner work full-time. In addition, if all relationships have two people working full-time that means, inevitably, that prices go up (as they have over the last few decades). There seems no logical reason why a woman should get as much money as a man over their lifetime. In particular the cry for ‘equal pay’ seems most noticeable in publishing.

Publishing is predominantly female-driven. Anywhere from 70-80% of employees are female, and yet most of the top-level jobs are given to men. CEOs, head of sales and head of finance are still run by men! There are many legitimate reasons why this would be the case (hint: you have to accept that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses) but the argument never seems to go away. Take this recent article from the Guardian:

‘Why’d he get promoted? Because he has a dick’: sexism in publishing survey reveals widespread frustration

Forgetting the overtly sexist headline, let’s dive into the meat of the argument.

Jenny, who works in corporate publishing, said: “The new hire in my company – who is on exactly the same level and job description as me – was offered £8,000 more than me as his starting salary.” While admitting that she felt her male colleague had more experience, she described the pay differential as “insulting”.

What does this show? That women are, as we know, inherently emotional. The facts say that the male colleague is more experienced, but emotionally she feels hard done by, and that is all that matters.

Penny, who works in editorial at a non-managerial level for a “massive company”, recounted the situation of two junior colleagues, one male and one female in the same role, both of whom had no previous experience. “The man was given a pay rise to ‘recognise’ his work on a specific project,” she said. “He revealed this at the Christmas party to another colleague. Of course word spread, and it became apparent from this that the women, who had all worked equally well (and in some cases better) on other projects, received no pay rise.”

Aside from the fact that this stupid man should have kept his mouth shut, this is nothing more than hearsay and a subjective opinion, completely inadmissible in a court of law.

Adele, who has worked in publishing for more than a decade and now holds a senior editorial role, said: “There’s a perception that women are fine for creative and arty jobs but aren’t as business-minded as men so less suitable for upper management.”

Is there any evidence to support the claim that this perception is wrong? This statement completely begs the question and leaves an assumed answer in the reader’s head.

The belief that pregnancy was a career killer was widely held. Naomi, who holds a managerial role in the editorial department of one of the “Big Five” corporate publishers, said the discrimination was often subtle. For instance, she said that when commissioning editors returned from maternity leave to work part-time, they were expected to commission fewer books, but their sales targets remained the same. Others reported seeing colleagues being demoted while on maternity leave.

The experience might be different in Australia to the UK, but downunder I’ve seen nothing but support for female employees who have children. Conversely, I have heard unappreciative remarks from women, asking why the full 12 month period of leave (you get 6 weeks paid maternity leave, plus however much unpaid) doesn’t count to long service leave. Um, sweetie, it’s because you aren’t working. Having children is an admirable decision, but don’t be surprised if, because you aren’t there, promotions don’t come your way and you don’t get extra leave because you’re ‘loyal’. If anything, there is a constant undercurrent of resentment and entitlement among the women I work with.

Not a single woman I know has had to accept a lesser role, and indeed they get to work either one day from home or just a straight four-day week. Another anecdotal story is the woman who fell pregnant for the second time who decided to quit. One of the assistants said that she would continue to blog about books, as if raising children was not a noble enough undertaking and she had to do something with her time as mundane as blogging (yes, I am perfectly self-aware in this moment). Of course, this is also one of the many assistants who out-rightly say they do not want children. But despite this mentality, there is nothing but making room for women who decide to have a family.

Many women felt frustrated at their lack of promotion because it effectively excludes them from decision-making roles – a point acknowledged by Ian, one of the few men to respond to the survey. “In my experience, I’m usually commissioned by a man, I’m briefed by a man, I report to a man, the tech guy is a man, but the person that sorts out all the HR stuff is a woman,” he said.

I’ve worked and interned at four different publishers. Two had female CEOs, all were majority female, and most of the managerial roles in publicity, publishing, design and marketing at all four publishers were headed by women. You have to ask yourself: is this really a patriarchal dominance, or is this just how the cards lie? Sure, the CEO is in ‘charge’ but that just means he has the responsibility of guiding the company as a whole, and cops shit when it goes wrong. The actual decision makers – what gets published and how – end up being overwhelmingly women.

I really can’t take articles like this as anything other than propaganda. Apparently the sexism is ‘widespread’, but in a survey of only 92 people, 67% felt they were treated differently, and this was not sorted for bias. A final anecdote: I literally got my first job because my female boss was sick of female assistants. The last two she’d had had been useless. Thank the Lord for discrimination.

Neoreaction is True Acceptance

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The first sentence is how the world in general sees life. ‘This is good, and that is bad’ is the general mantra of the government and populace. An obvious example is immigration, and specifically Islamic immigration. Acceptance doesn’t mean you rollover and take it, pretending it is beneficial.

Acceptance should be acknowledgement of negative elements and either working at the margins to create a better reality, or to create an alternative reality for when ‘acceptance’ collapses in on itself. This is neoreaction. The two strands sit together: one for change, one for what comes next.

The above image is a quote from a book on CBT, which on first principles looks to me like little more than a more engaged form of Stoicism. So, thinking through negative thoughts and combating them with acceptance (not the kind where you pass it off as good). This manifests itself in so many ways and facets of life. But the bad form of acceptance is directly linked to the thought processes of the democratic society we live in. There is a deluge of bad things happening as it all breaks apart, and the majority accept and endorse this collapse. They don’t take the time to think through their reactions. And that is where NRx steps in.

Keep thinking of alternatives and what comes next.

You Must Be By The Book

When it comes to pop culture fame, the fans are fickle. Especially in the modern age where SJW-ism can lead to turns of fate that would be unrealistic in any novel. Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham and more have all been thrown under the bus the moment they speak out of turn. The revolution eats its children, because if it didn’t how would it progress?

Let’s take a recent example: Veronica Roth. This young author shot to fame with her Divergent series and the accompanying movies. This is the type of meteoric rise we saw for other series like Twilight and The Hunger Games. And who is the main audience of YA? Young females, 15-30, and therefore almost definitely woke as fuck.

Back to Roth. Her latest book, Carve the Mark, recently came out, and sales are definitely not on the level of Divergent. Compare to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (a goddamn theatre script) which brought fans back in droves to make it one of the bestsellers, worldwide, of the year. Now as to why Carve the Mark has certainly performed below expectations (Divergent was one of those phenomena books, selling hundreds of thousands across the globe) is difficult to pinpoint: previous sales were based on the movie, not releasing the book for Christmas, any number of seasonal reasons. But if you look through the Goodreads page, we discover another narrative.

The fans are not impressed with Ms Roth. Here is a smattering of comments.

But now instead of telling you why this book is racist, as there are better voices, I will direct you to Justina Ireland who has spoken out about this book –
http://justinaireland.com/dammit-this…

What I want to address is the ableism. Recently Veronica Roth did an interview with NPR where they discussed how the current gifts in CtM were inspired by chronic pain. The interviewer says that chronic pain can be a gift, to which Roth agrees and goes on to say that part of the book is Cyra figuring out why her and others are worthy of pain.

This to me was so upsetting. I have lived with chronic pain now for 7 years. It is something that has taken over my life and caused a lot of harm. Some days it is so bad I can barely sit up, let alone get out of bed. And to see someone equate it with a gift or say people are worthy of it makes me feel sick. Whether or not Roth has chronic pain herself, I am not one to say she is lying, that does not take away the harm. It is not a magical shield to be pulled out when you’ve hurt people.

*I want to note that this book has problematic issues within it that I didn’t pick up on while first reading it. Learn more about these issues here:http://justinaireland.com/dammit-this…

I’m sorry that I didn’t recognize these issues. I’m listening and learning and will strive to do better in the future.

I don’t feel comfortable supporting this book anymore despite initially enjoying the story. I’m leaving my rating blank & adding this disclaimer after all of the controversy so people can be informed to make their own decision:

My original understanding was that both cultures viewed each other as “savages” and that the Shotet were far more powerful and advanced, but it’s extremely possible that I misunderstood the worldbuilding — you can see in my original review that I was suuuuuper confused. (The worldbuilding was unclear to begin with and then the ARCs had a giant “uncorrected proof” printed diagonally across each page that made it very challenging for me to read/focus on). So I won’t be going back to read this and think it’s sufficient to throw the warning out there that the way race and chronic pain are handled here have upset a lot of people. And I do apologize if my support of this book made you feel disregarded in any way.

Personally, this was the first word of harmful representation of POC that I had heard & as it was brought to light after I had posted my reviews, I was not aware of these issues when I originally read the book. If you would like to read my apology on not recognizing/addressing these issues in my own reviews, you can find that here: https://twitter.com/emmmabooks/status…

There are SO MANY MORE sources on information regarding the problematic content of Carve The Mark that are so easy to find, but I wanted to provide you with a few that helped spark this important discussion. Do with this information what you will, but I am just asking that you take the voices of those who may have been harmed by the racism & ableism expressed in this novel into consideration before making you decisions about reading/purchasing this book. It’s crucial that we listen to the marginalized voices in our community if we hope to make a change, and I hope that you all take the time to educate yourselves on an issue that has massive effects on the publishing world and our beloved book community.

I am removing my rating from this book because of the harmful nature of the book. At first I felt compelled to keep it intact because I was paid to review it, but at this time, I don’t feel comfortable rating the book highly when it has hurt and offended so many of my followers and readers in general. I’m sorry to anyone who saw my previous rating and was shocked or disappointed in me for giving it support.

1/18/17 Update
It was brought to my attention that this previous update may have been construed that I was paid to rate the book highly. This is untrue. The way that I rated the book originally (4 stars) was not because I was paid. I would have rated the book 1 star even if I was being paid (or, ideally, I would have canceled or backed out of the sponsorship completely), but at the time that I was reading it, I didn’t recognize any of the problematic aspects and therefore somewhat enjoyed it enough to give it a 3.5-4 star rating. I debated removing my rating after all of the criticisms of CtM broke out, but I was paid to post a review, not necessarily a positive one, and I had thought that removing my rating would be discontinuous with the video I had made for CtM, which was also paid. Long story short, if I were to delete any of the reviews or posts about CtM that I made, I would be breaking a contract, and I had lumped the rating I gave the book into that group of un-deleteable content, lest there be consequences. Now, however, I feel it’s best to remove the rating because my original review is still available for reading and viewing and I don’t want to give false promotion to a book that makes me uncomfortable and that has hurt so many people.
I definitely didn’t rate it highly because I was being paid, and I didn’t remove the rating sooner because I was weary that I would be breaking a contract. Now, however, being transparent with my audience takes more of a priority and I will keep the book unrated unless the publisher raises concerns about it.

**A NOTE- It was brought to my attention via twitter (link:https://twitter.com/justinaireland/st…) that this book plays into some potentially harmful tropes regarding race and portrayals of antagonism. I deeply regret that I did not pick up on this when I first read the book, but I wanted to edit my review in order to alert my viewers that POC in this book may be portrayed in a toxic light. Please proceed with wariness if you intend to read this, and bear in mind the consequences that Roth’s writing may have on marginalized people. Additionally bear in mind that supporting an author who writes about problematic themes potentially takes away money and readership from authors who write #ownvoices books, so you may considering reading one of these instead if you have now become skeptical about this book:
Muslim authors: https://twitter.com/AvidReaderBlog/st…
Diverse/#ownvoices reads: https://twitter.com/novelparadise/sta…
Diverse recommendations: https://twitter.com/chasingfaes/statu…
LGBTQIA+ books: https://twitter.com/Bookishwithtea/st…
Diverse books: https://twitter.com/thebookvoyagers/s…

I could go on. But these people really do labour whatever point they are trying to make. Honestly, the amount of times these reviews say something like, ‘I didn’t notice it at first, but then I totally saw it when some Marginalised Sufferer pointed it out, so I am so like sorry,’ makes me sick. Maybe if you didn’t see it, it a) wasn’t there, or b) doesn’t matter. The hand wringing that goes into appeasing uppity minorities really is overdone.

For a breakdown of the issues at stake, see here:

The bottom line is that books like Carve the Mark and TheContinent both utilize AND reinforce cultural white supremacy. It’s only because of cultural white supremacy that readers are able to code these cultures as evil. And because readers code brown-skinned people as evil in a literary context the cognitive paths for them to code brown-skinned people as evil in a real are reinforced.

There’s more to be said about the way the plot elements reinforce the initial worldbuilding truths in both books (Cyra of Carve the Mark is the perfect example of a talented tenth Negro or an educated savage, the person who manages to rise above their genetics and culture) but I think there’s already enough here for readers and writers to chew on. We should all be critical readers and writers who consider the implications of our worldbuilding more fully, by reading more broadly and understanding the impact of the story frames we use.

Key here is the inability to face up to reality. I could perhaps criticise the writers for being lazy in transposing real world facts to a fantasy world (but then, why couldn’t it be the case) but this clawing for facts about White Supremacy are unjustified. White Supremacy does not code anything. If an author lazily uses facts to build their world, so be it, but to read racism into it denies reality. People and groups of people are seen in relation to others. Stereotypes exist for a reason. Getting on your high horse won’t change a thing.

But all this could have been avoided if only the publishers had hired keen readers to pick up on all examples of racism, sexism and ableism!

“Sensitivity reader” is a person who, for a small fee, will provide feedback about the book based on self-ascribed areas of expertise like “dealing with terminal illness,” “racial dynamics in Muslim communities” or “transgender issues”, according to The Chicago Tribune.

 

That Chicago Tribune article sums it up:

Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate – fueled in part by social media – in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.

This potential for offense has some writers scared. Young-adult author Susan Dennard recently hired a fan to review her portrayal of a transgender character in her “Truthwitch” series.

More great quotes:

“Books for me are supposed to be vehicles for pleasure, they’re supposed to be escapist and fun,” she says. They’re not supposed to be a place where readers “encounter harmful versions” and stereotypes of people like them.

Still, some sensitivity readers feel they are in part contributing to the problem. Clayton said she’s unsettled by the idea that she’s being paid for her expertise, but also is helping white authors write black characters for books from which they reap profit and praise.

Cue the ‘rehhhhhhing’.

As we’ve seen though, diversity and equality is getting its mendacious claws into everything. Just the other day I was told of a UK publisher who had to undergo diversity training, and were told not to use ‘African covers’ for their books written by African authors. Referring to one particular example, the book did not sell well without the African cover. Those bloody racist consumers!

Entertainment, specifically the book industry, is besieged on all sides by the forces of diversity, equality and Otherness. As the English speaking world becomes increasingly less white (and the biggest book market in the world is the English language market) we will see greater and more powerful forces arrayed against literature. Do not publish White Men. Do not even think of reading White Men, you heathen. Only publish books with minorities that are written by minorities. Only publish books about white culture written by POCs! Publishers, a tiny industry as it is, is having to hire more than just White Women. This is spreading out the power. Just when Amazon is atomising the industry, Others want to atomise it further. Publishing is dead, cannibalised by Amazon with the remains picked at by opportunistic and selfish SJWs. It may not be visible, but just give it a few years.

reality
Reality isn’t comfortable, darling.
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Current Year!
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Marginalising version of ‘Current Year’
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Because of Blasian babies? Da fuck?

Every Planet We Reach is Dead #3

‘So let’s be clear: you have no memory of what happened?’

Rigel stands across from the rescued man – now known as Walcot thanks to the onboard data files – who sits on a stripped down bed. The medbay glows with cleanliness. Walcot’s eyes focus on the floor, his hands mashing together. He doesn’t answer. Rigel’s teeth grind.

It’s been hours since they rescued this extra body from the hulk, which is still attached precariously. The engineers are going back and forth, checking the systems and data. It’s all proceeding as it should.

‘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. This is meant to be a one way trip, though…’ He stops himself, his mouth still moving but the words cut off. Realigning, he continues, ‘I would appreciate if you told me what you can remember.’

Walcot looks up, straight into Rigel’s eyes.

‘Nothing. Absolutely nothing, except who I am, and even that’s vague… barest memories of before I even signed up. I…’ He chokes. Emotions or getting used to speaking again, one or the other.

Rigel grunts. He was a kid when this corpse went quiet. The last outpost. Snuffed out after such a long wait, literally centuries and generations went by waiting for them to reach the Vega system. Joan’s in the Bulb getting all data on every other rescue mission, which all should, theoretically, be arriving in their designated systems about the same time.

The door slides open with a hiss. Lin walks in, her eyes tracing charts as the patient’s results roll past her retinas.

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

Rigel nods, fingers squeezing his lips.

‘Trauma… Bring up his ship records.’

Lin’s eyes twitch.

‘Ari Walcot. Brought along to… document the settlement of the Vega system. You’re a journalist?’

Walcot smiles. ‘If you say so.’

‘Great, so now not only do I have an extra corpse on my hands, but he’s useless too.’ Rigel throws his hands up in the air, kicks a bed.

A voice in his ear.

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

What is it Joan?’ Lin snaps a look at Rigel. Joan’s talking directly to him.

I think I know what happened here.

***

Vega, the star, bulges at its equator. Parallel to the equator the light is a duller blue-white than at the poles. Junko’s ‘eyes’ are all focused on this point. An object has appeared in Vega’s orbit.

Joan stares down the barrel of an optic station. She flips between spectra, observing the object in each. It appears 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 pulls away from the optics and looks straight at Rigel.

‘So you’re saying, potentially, that the Indomitable ran into… aliens, maybe, 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.’

‘Probes, now. Keep quiet, no radio, reduce our radiation, and don’t tell any -’

Captain. I assume you’ve spotted the anomaly.

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

‘Major. 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 was gone. Rigel’s jaw clenched.

‘At least we’ve got a clue as to why she’s here. Pilot, 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 shoot from Junko, pacifist torpedoes hunting for knowledge. They cross the gap between sentient ship and anomaly quickly, dodging debris yet keeping formation. They begin to relay imagery back to Junko, who feeds it on to the crew.

As they already know, it is massive. A large sphere, a small moon even. Its skin is layered with crevices and mountains. Spires shoot up, ugly spikes into space. Valleys and bunkers. The drones split up.

They shoot across the horizons, scanners slowly bringing the anomaly into a 3D rendition in Junko’s database. In the background Vega burns, flames lapping at edges of the system, the haziness of which diffuses the light to a romantic glow. But there is no light from the anomaly. It orbits in silence.

***

Rigel stares at the stump where Walcot’s left leg should be.

‘Your injury. No recollection of what happened?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Did your team board the anomaly?’

‘I don’t know, sir.’

‘Right. What I think we are going to have to do is jolt your memory. Lin, you can hook him up to memory retrieval right?’

Lin nods, eyes averted.

‘It induces a dream state, and then we look for memories,’ Lin says to Walcot. ‘We can read the feedback your brain provides. In the lucid state we can sort out dreams from reality.’

‘I… I don’t think I particularly want to dream.’

‘You don’t really have a choice, I’m afraid.’ Rigel stares down the man with that comment, daring him to challenge. Walcot just looks at his leg.

His mouth moves, barely a whisper.

‘What did you say?’ says Rigel.

‘I said, “What happened to the rest of them?”’

A pause.

‘All of them.’

‘We’re getting feedback from the other missions. It appears there are no survivors, and so the secondary teams are all in the process of picking up where the first teams left off. As for your team specifically, we have no idea. From what we are gathering in each of the other systems, the bodies are mostly accounted for, suicides in the majority. The only exception is Vega. No bodies. One soul back from the dead. And one alien structure. We’ve already relayed this back to Earth. Can you imagine, this is the first sign of alien intelligence we’ve yet to discover? You’ve slept for centuries and managed to keep it quiet.’

Walcot twitches, a full-body jerk. Rigel takes a step back, Lin goes to help the man. He manages to right himself, hands gripping the bed hard. Visible sweat rivulets sweep across his skin.

‘It can’t be good if we never told you about it.’

‘That’s what I’m afraid of.’

Maelstrom

Morality was a chemical.

I believe it is the prescience of a work of science fiction that makes it a classic. The only way for this to happen is not by correctly predicting the future technology (though that can help), but by interweaving a strong philosophical core into the usual elements of plot, character and setting. I can think of no modern writer who does this better than Peter Watts (and perhaps Cixin Liu), who is quite simply an under-appreciated genius.

Maelstrom is the sequel to Starfish, and while it does continue the story and themes, it brings a lot more to the table. In some cases this harasses the main story, where too many characters are introduced, and too much is going on. But as a whole it still provides a nihilistic look at the world, this time without constraints. Because while Starfish was contained on the bottom of the ocean, Maelstrom takes the chaos to the surface.

Spoiler alert: Behemoth, the ancient microbe that gobbles sulphur like there’s no tomorrow (which, there won’t be) is loose and being spread by Lenie Clarke, our genetically modified and physiologically fucked-up protagonist. It’s a grim story where really grim things happen. Refugees, food shortages, technological breakdown, you name it, it’s happening. And then the apocalypse walks out of the ocean.

Even just as a science fiction story it’s a fatalistic romp, but it’s more than that. It describes the situation we find ourselves in now.

Watts discusses memes before they became cool, and indeed we can look at the memes in the book as a reflection of the memes that lead to the rise of Donald Trump. Whoa, where did that come from? It’s quite clear.

There were exceptions, of course. Every now and then a single thread persisted, grew thick and gnarled and unkillable: conspiracy theories and urban legends, the hooks embedded in popular songs, the comforting Easter-bunny lies of religious doctrine. These were the memes: viral concepts, infections of conscious thought. Some flared and died like mayflies. Others lasted a thousand years or more, tricked billions into the endless propagation of parasitic half-truths.”

Memes play an important role. Not only is there the biological agency of memes, such as in Behemoth or general evolution, but there are the sociological memes we are so used to today. Lenie Clarke is essentially hi-jacked by a computer program that vomits out memes until one sticks: that of doombringer. Isn’t that EXACTLY what has happened with Trump? Isn’t that a huge part of his popularity? When everything is fucked up, we want it to end. Another quote describing the end:

 

“What happens is, the dog’s a social animal, and it gets so lonely it actually looks forward to the shit-kicking. It asks to be kicked. It begs.”

“What are you saying?”

“Maybe everyone’s just so used to being kicked around they’ll help out anyone they think has a big enough boot.”

“Or maybe,” Perreault said, “we’re so fucking tired of being kicked that we’re finally lining up with anyone who kicks back.”

“Yeah? At what cost?”

“What do we have to lose?”

“You have no idea.”

This idea is reflected both by the general populace’s embrace of doom, but also in Lenie Clarke’s embrace of sadism. She looks to be raped, she looks to be harmed, but only to further her own end, a weird perversion of schadenfreude. She doesn’t give a fuck about a world that treated her so badly, so she’s going to return the favour. That idea of embracing the end because what do we have to lose? Well, with Trump we have no idea. (As an aside, with Hilary we have a pretty good picture.)

To further hone in on what is happening, let me take a recent quote from Ran Prieur, renowned doomer:

When people lack that skill, when they know how to focus down into “us-vs-them” but not focus back out, then there’s a ratcheting effect where former allies fight each other about ever smaller disagreements. This is socially unstable, like a black hole collapsing in on itself, or maybe like a forest fire. If you see this happening, the first move is to put the fire out, to make peace; if that fails, the second move is to isolate it and let it burn itself out, to let the enemies fight in a way that doesn’t harm the world around them; and the emergency third move is to run away.

Us vs Them is what the current American (global?) situation represents. This is very much what is happening in Maelstrom, though it is simply Order vs Chaos. Indeed, a large part of the book involves putting out fires, and when it inevitably fails as Lenie marches onward, we move towards isolation (as happens in all outbreak stories). Then, right at the end, the forces of order literally run away (in the most ironic fashion possible). Maelstrom is a book written 15 years ago that represents the very problems we face right now. That is what I call a science fiction classic.

Some more choice quotes:

“Perhaps they’d been conditioned by all the quarantines and blackouts, all the invisible boundaries CSIRA erected on a moment’s notice. The rules changed from one second to the next, the rug could get pulled out just because the wind blew some exotic weed outside its acceptable home range. You couldn’t fight something like that, you couldn’t fight the wind. All you could do was adapt. People were evolving into herd animals.

Or maybe just accepting that that’s what they’d always been.”

“It’s the pattern that matters, you see. Not the choice of building materials. Life is information, shaped by natural selection. Carbon’s just fashion, nucleic acids mere optional accessories. Electrons can do all that stuff, if they’re coded the right way. It’s all just pattern.”

 

“Sometimes she really pissed him off. ‘There’s a war going on,’ he wanted to shout. ‘And it’s not against corpses or bureaucrats or your imaginary Evil Empires; we’re fighting against a whole indifferent universe that’s coming down around our ears and you’re shitting on me because sometimes we have to accept casualties?’

Oh, and it’s depiction of a future internet is just fucking perfect.