Who Rules the World? An Interview with DC Miller

 

The following is an interview with the author of Dracula Rules the World and Mark Zuckerberg is His Son, DC Miller. The book is a trip, skipping between reality and unreality? Where is the line. Discover for yourself.

 

Blurb: When generic millennial computer science graduate Nick Chip accepts a job as a tester for a shadowy Facebook affiliate, little does he realize he’s going to be the subject. Like a nightmarish hybrid of The Manchurian Candidate and your own alienated existence, Dracula Rules the World grabs you by the eyeballs like an algorithm, and doesn’t let them go.

 

First of let’s talk about the cover. Where did it come from?

I didn’t have a lot do with that. Vincente Guedes, the publisher at Empresa Ibis, found the artist, she made the image, and they designed the book together. ‘Dracula’ ultimately is a pulp science fiction novel, and Guedes wanted to capture the classic look of the genre. The artist is http://annasebastian.com and she’s taking commissions.

 

The book is told as a recounting, a story being stated to the reader. Where does the inspiration come for this? Lovecraft? You namedrop Ligotti (i.e. ‘The bar was called Ligeti’s, or Ligotti’s’) as well. Do you think it’s quite a simple method or does it take some skill to pull off? 

The inspiration came initially from a phrase in Dylan’s memoir – he briefly lives with someone in New York whom he reports as saying ‘crazy things that made sense in a cryptic way like “Dracula rules the world and Gutenberg is his son.”‘ I really just updated it. I read a lot of media theory some point, people like Régis Debray and Friedrich Kittler, where the idea is media controls the planet, by controlling our perceptions of it, and the most important form of media today is social media. I was also always interested in writing produced by the insane, people preaching on the street, ‘outsider’ writing you could call it, and I liked the thought of doing something in this vein. So the first of all I wrote a Chinese Dada version of the book with a friend of mine from Shanghai, as a kind of joke. But I was in Iceland a few years ago, working on another project, and it occurred me that it would be an even better joke if I could make a case for it, so I wrote this one as well. As for how much skill it takes, or took, I couldn’t say.

 

Well let’s just call it natural talent then. Another inspiration is of course Orwell (the last line). Given it does focus on Facebook and Zuckerberg, do you think people actually appreciate how Orwellian everything is becoming? This part towards the end of the book is emblematic: ‘I took another sip of wine. Zuckerberg was continuing to stare at me intensively but not aggressively. “We’ve found in tests that this wine is the most liked,” he said. “How did you find that out?” I asked. “We look at a lot of data. Especially to do with user entry and exit points. Does the question bother you?”‘

It’s been pretty amazing in the last few years to observe people who I previously assumed were at least of reasonable intelligence going completely off the rails, and I think that social media has had a lot to do with that. Zuckerberg embodies it, but it isn’t only him – it’s the model of engagement, and relation to the world, therefore of consciousness, which social media promotes, this kind of very basic, quantitative, mesmerizing structure. What’s your brand? Do you like X, or not? It’s an extremely superficial mode of being, and that’s the mode of thought which today is being reinforced across the world. With respect to Orwell perhaps that reference has been overplayed, and also misconstrued, there are parallels but also differences. The falsification and rewriting of history and the manipulation of language is a commonality, obviously, but the tyrannical power which characterizes the current regime is also in certain ways extremely pathetic – Antifa, for example, who are funded and controlled by the State, are violent masked criminals, but they also pitiable losers, the people who work at CNN are not smart people.

 

I definitely take your point about him being misconstrued, I think that’s important. It’s interesting, your knowledge of media theory plays through the actual plot with finesse. The story itself is quite contemporary, featuring figures like Julian Assange. But the messages, I suppose never come across as forced.

Like I said, the title came first, and then my ambition after that was just writing something that was entertaining, and wasn’t absolutely stupid. A little stupid, fine, just not completely. I also thought that the outlandish title and the highly contemporary theme would make it easier to publish, but this wasn’t the case. I probably wrote to three dozen of them. Nobody was interested, and very few responded, before I heard back from Empresa Ibis.

 

Yeah, trust me, publishers have a very small bandwidth of allowable projects. Moving on, what are your reading habits, and are they in anyway linked to your writing habits? 

I mainly read the Bible.

 

I have to say that surprises me, but cool. You do what a lot of writers are incapable of doing, and that’s subtlety. There’s a bit where the female character gets naked, then you jump 20 minutes ahead. Then a few paragraphs later you reveal she and the MC had sex. Why do you think writers are so obsessed with explaining everything?

Perhaps to conceal the fact they have nothing to say.

 

There was a paragraph that grabbed me when you were describing the VR environment the MC works in. ‘It had become a second nature – a living, swimming cloud. I was simultaneously inside it, and it was inside me, composed of me, soaked with information, arriving through a flow which it was possible to enlarge or to taper.’ Are you describing Intelligence here? I think it’s interesting in that it could be taken as a description of the Holy Spirit. 

The underlying question of the book is really, at what point does Nick Chip enter virtual reality, or indeed, at what point does he leave? And we can ask this question of ourselves. To what extent are we free of the synthetic discourse that envelopes us, at what point, and how? I think the answer to that question is religious.

 

I can see the blurring of the lines…Can you elaborate on that? Do you think perhaps that people reject their religious impulse because they want to remain in the matrix, so to speak?

I think we’re living in a fundamentally Satanic culture, and it isn’t necessarily easy to know how to escape. The devil, probably, is man.

 

There is a lengthy section about the Carthaginians and their darker practices. Do you think all suitably advanced civilizations are doomed to sacrifice their children?

There’s an interview where Michel Serres describes the parallels between the Carthaginian religion and the space program in which he describes the Challenger disaster as a kind of disavowed sacrifice: ‘Baal is in the Challenger, and the Challenger is in Baal; religion is in technology; the pagan god is in the rocket; the rocket is in the statue; the rocket on its launching pad is in the ancient idol – and our sophisticated knowledge is in our archaic fascinations.’ I basically agree; enlightenment is our myth. Ultimately, the structures of our technological, modern society are mythical, not rational, the capacity to exercise independent judgement is extremely rare, and even dangerous. The majority, especially the majority of the educated, which is really, the indoctrinated, are superstitious and conformist, and sacrificial violence underpins everything we do. The only question is who, in our society, opposed to others, can be murdered with impunity, and for what. Seventy million American women have had abortions since Roe vs Wade in 1973, this is very unusual historically, and people think’s it normal. As Chelsea Clinton said recently, it was good for GDP.

 

Dracula, Nosferatu, Baphomet. The book seems to creepily skirt around possible occult issues which are generally linked to abortion, sacrifice. Recently there was an academic woman who said that mass Aztec sacrifice was ‘culturally’ relative and so not necessarily a bad. Maybe the book answers this, but do you think people deliberately flirt with demons, or are simply naive? Or even malicious?

There’s no doubt in my mind that demons walk the Earth, but again, this proposition is more banal then people realize. The most obvious form that they take is addiction, and addiction defines a lot of forms of contemporary behavior – addiction to drugs, addiction to sex, addiction to images, addiction to status. There’s a singer I like called Willis Earl Beale, I remember, he did a great interview where he talked about pursuing things that ‘don’t exist and have never existed.’ How many people are doing that? A good friend of mine put it really nicely lately: ‘If addiction were a person, they would be in a prison.’ And Dracula is the king of addiction.

 

Literally sucking the life out of you. There’s the hint of conspiracy in the bit about Carthaginians so I want to ask about conspiracies. Who are the people that believe in them? Low, mid or high IQ? Why are there so many conspiracies flavored for both left and right? How can we both be fully aware of conspiracies and yet indulge them? Is the main problem with conspiracies that people never consider that they might be wrong?

Again, I think that this is normal. Conspiracies have always existed, and there’s no reason to think they aren’t active today. The question is how much we can know about them, and, I guess, do about them, which in most cases is probably nothing. I have a professional interest in trying to understand what’s going on, and it seems to me that the important facts are mostly there to see, if you’re prepared to look, but the question also is why. Why are they doing this? Arguably, any sufficiently regressed intelligence is indistinguishable from malice. But I’ve also always liked the idea of a good conspiracy – like the Rosicrucians, for example – lurking in the shadows, but benevolently. But I can’t say any more about this now.

 

Moving on then. What do you think the role of fiction is in the wider cultural sphere, and dare I say its role in politics? So much of fiction is super liberal. Booksellers are progs, publishers are progs, authors are progs. Is there space for right wing literature or is it just that people towards the right are uncreative?

I don’t find the output of the contemporary publishing industry too compelling, and I don’t pay much attention to it, same as with contemporary art. In my opinion, fiction has to tell the truth, and it seems to me that’s something that contemporary publishing can’t do.

 

Let’s talk about Phillip Kindred Dick. I want to have my interviewees pick one book they either love or want to read, and then we discuss it. But you chose an author so I read both A Maze of Death and The Man in the High Castle. I’m sure I will read more though. Tell me, what do you think of PKD himself, as a writer? 

I read pretty much everything Dick wrote as a teenager, and then in my twenties I was involved with academics like Mark Fisher, who came out of the CCRU at Warwick and were interested in theory-fiction, which is one way you can read Dick. I think Fisher had his problems but he probably summarized Dick as well as anyone when he wrote, ‘It increasingly seems as if Dick did not so much predict the future as dream it in advance.’ His books describe flattening subjectivities and affects, incoherent and contradictory transmissions, social and psychological disintegration, which is the world that we’re in now. The central point is Dick was somehow something different to a writer, even though he also was an archetypal writer, to the extent the focus of interest was really metaphysical and speculative, and fiction was his method for exploring that. And that’s also the case here.

 

Certainly he seems to be another source of inspiration for Dracula Rules the World, where you explore the nature of reality, characters that seem duplicitous, interpretation of history, etc. Would you say his style effects your writing? This quote in particular is a good example of that exploration: ‘Because a nation was also a semi-imaginary place. Just like cyberspace. “The idea of a nation,” he said. “The myth. Its shape in the imagination. Its relationship to ritual. Its feelings. Because my mother’s family were from the Crimea. So they’d never even visited Armenia! Yet still it exerted this powerful force.”‘

The main character in Dracula Rules the World is called Nick Chip, after the main character in Ubik, and the novel basically adopts Dick’s signature theme, of multiple shifting and unstable realities, but I’m really interested in why they shift, and what that looks like. The idea of a nation as an ‘imaginary community’ is a dogma on the left today, but imaginary is usually taken as a synonym for fake, or non-existent, which is an extremely superficial viewpoint on the subject. The truth is that reality and the imagination can’t easily be distinguished, at least not straightforwardly, and the relationship to ritual in that respect is crucial, because it’s really repetition that sustains sustains realities through time. I read last week that, on average, people touch their phones two thousand times a day.

 

Dick plays hard and fast with the nature of reality. The obvious one is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but for this interview I read A Maze of Death, and that does a massive switcheroo at the end, and also The Man in the High Castle of course plays with an alternative world where the Nazis won World War 2. Do you consider this one of his strengths, that all his books focus on one theme, namely ‘reality’?

Dick says somewhere that all of his fiction is motivated by two main questions: ‘What is Real?’ and ‘What is Human?’ What’s interesting to me is how these questions are connected. What can we, as humans, as human individuals, know about reality? What’s our relation to it? Personally, the moments in Dick’s writing, and his biography, that really stick with me are the moments of humanity, like his soulful androids, the fact that in Monopoly he was always the shoe, or his habit when he lived in Orange County of taking midnight breaks from writing to get a roast beef sandwich and an Orange Crush from Trader’s Joe. Dick also said, ‘Reality is whatever, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.’

 

Some people say PKD is a bad writer, but I didn’t pick that up at all from his writing. It’s very clear, the characters seem real, and best of all his book are short and punchy. Do you have any thoughts on the strength of his prose?

People talk about bad writing as if there was a clear consensus on it, but the polite, polished writing that comes out of writing programs – well, I don’t read those books personally, and I don’t respect people who do. Dick, in my opinion, wasn’t boring, which is the only real sin.

 

Most writing today is either written about minorities, whether that is refugees or the ultra-rich, but never really about the common people like with PKD. Do you think people who say he is a bad writer just don’t like the people he writes about, or him as a person, or are they jealous?

I don’t care about minorities or refugees.

 

What about women?

Not as such. But let me put this more precisely – I don’t accept this blackmail, that is, the prostitution of literature to political propaganda. It’s normal today to hear about marginalized voices, privileged by their marginalization, ironically, whether imaginary or real, but fiction isn’t a democracy, and I don’t read out of a misdirected sense of charity, but because I want to understand something about what living on this planet, right now, means. If someone wrote a book from the perspective of a Muslim taxi driver in a generic northern British town, an honest book, you understand, which would also be a brutal book, I might read that.

 

Exactly, so you want to read stories about real people, not imagined oppression or hierarchies. Not people’s personal paranoia or projections (unless it’s drug-induced paranoia, I suppose). Finally, what’s your favorite PKD and why? What do should the reader here pick up next?

I think The Dark-Haired Girl. It’s a strange book, compiled mainly out of letters Dick writes from Vancouver to a series of dark haired girls, telling each of them how special and important they were, in the exact same way. It’s the book of a man on the edge of a breakdown, which is indeed what happened next: Dick tried to kill himself. I’m also a screenwriter and I’m working currently on an adaptation.

 

You can buy Dracula Rules the World and Mark Zuckerberg is His Son here.

Unable to See the Majority For the Minority

As I keep noting on this blog, publishing is gripped by diversity mania. There is an obsession with inclusion and stories from outside the realm of White Man territory. The Man Booker Prize is not safe from this either, and indeed the world’s biggest literary prize is a locus point of SJW energy. And as usual it is The Guardian that leads the way with its ‘unique’ criticisms of authors, publishers and prizes.

But why is diversity such a big deal? Aside from the obvious acceleration towards ‘equality’ across the entirety of popular culture, the reason is people. The real question should be why it has taken so long for the voices within publishing to get so loud. Publishing is 70% female across the Western world, though men do make up a sizeable chunk of senior management. In the last few years young women with gender studies degrees have probably managed to get a foot in the door, and are starting to shift the focus at a faster pace. They bring with them the usual baggage of intersectionality and the need to have perfectly balanced gender ratios. I have plenty of my own horror stories from listening to these young female ‘professionals’. But despite ‘improvements’ it is, of course, never enough.

Literary prizes are the perfect grounds to attack white privilege. Not enough BAME authors are getting recognition. The situation is so bad that The Guardian recently posted an article titled How Many Man Bookers Must Writers of Colour Win Before They’re Accepted? (which kept in theme with last years article called Man Booker Prize Longlist is a Disappointment for Diversity). But I want to focus on the former piece and why exactly this is all madness.

The author, a creative writing professor, makes a number of spurious claims. The main gist of the piece though is that despite the last two winners of the Man Booker being black, readers still don’t recognise books written by minorities as literature. Of course, the reality is that there are much bigger issues at stake than her hyperbolic theory. She uses this study, a study that states that, ‘90% of people who have read a novel in the last 6 months consider that novel to be literature.’ Let’s keep in mind that about 75% of the general population has read ONE book in the last YEAR, and that men read far less than women. Here are some of the authors these people consider ‘literature’:

  • Jeffrey Archer
  • Danielle Steel
  • Lee Child
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Agatha Christie
  • Catherine Cookson
  • James Patterson
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Dan Brown
  • J R R Tolkien
  • Enid Blyton
  • The Brontë sisters
  • George Orwell
  • Stephen King
  • Jane Austen
  • Roald Dahl
  • J K Rowling
  • Charles Dickens
  • William Shakespeare

I’ve marked in bold those that are actually literature. William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens probably count, but at the time of their writing they were ‘popular’ literature. However, if you are looking at these results and complaining about the lack of brown people, you have an agenda. The true problem is that people read shit books by shit authors. They read the same authors over and over. The real problem is that if we consider J K Rowling, Dan Brown and Lee fucking Child as literature, then we as a civilisation are lost. (Oh yeah, and one twat called Reza Aslan a writer of literature.) If you look at the full list of authors, there are clearly some real writers there, and also some minorities. These names were probably given by REAL readers, ones who appreciate and understand what literature is. So the author of The Guardian piece is cherry picking the data and coming to absurd, and frankly frightening conclusions.

Is it really a surprise though? You are polling the general public, of course the results are going to skew towards popular literature. Look at the stats for the full list of authors:

  • 31% are female
  • 7% are Black, Asian or Mixed Race in ethnicity
  • 44% are non-British (mostly American)
  • 51% are living writers.

The fact is that most people are going to consider old, dead authors (who, shock of shocks, will be mostly white) as literature. Americans feature heavily because American culture is so ingrained across the world. 7% minority is pretty good given the statistics for readers (from the same study):

raceandreading

If you have fewer readers of literature, then you’re going to have fewer writers. The fact of the matter is that the majority of readers in Britain (and indeed in the Western world) are white, female and educated. Shockingly, this is also the largest demographic for social justice warriors, which I’m sure is not a coincidence.

The author of the piece has issues she wants to make relevant, so fuck the actual problem. She makes some infuriating claims, such as:

Without doubt, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens and many more men of letters have done Britain proud. But times have moved on.

Given she is a professor of creative writing, I find her beliefs disturbing. Literature is not a moving object, one that floats with the tide. It is quite fixed, in that what most people consider literature is writing that has stood the test of time (hence Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dickens). That’s what makes it capital L literature. And while the writer can make claims about the stupidity of readers and their inability to consider minorities as writers of literature, she herself is too dumb to read into the numbers, saying:

A misconception prevails that books penned by non-white writers have limited relevance to the population at large.

If the audience is mostly white, female and educated, then unsurprisingly books written by POC authors about POC themes are probably not going to appeal to all of them.

She then cites a 2013 study about literature and empathy, which of course is a line that geeky SJWs love to throw out at every opportunity. ‘Reading makes you a better person!’ the headlines scream whenever a new study linking literature to altruism/empathy/long life/better memory/clear skin comes out. Not only are the studies dubious (like most studies you find written about in the MSM) but the notion that you can magically read a book and become a Good Person is absurd, and is not a line that should be pushed by anyone, least of all a creative writing lecturer. That said, I’ve never met a group more self-righteous and sure of themselves than those undertaking or teaching a creative writing degree. Books do not make you more humble, it seems.

Then she tries to link this idea with real life events. Mentioning both hate crimes and Brexit, she actually has the audacity to pose the question that perhaps if more people had read literature by minorities the Grenfell Tower tragedy would never have happened. Fake news gets a mention, saying:

But judging from the lack of nuanced real-life stories in circulation about marginalised groups, cultural deprivation is a pretty apt description for the condition members of mainstream society find themselves in. Consider, for instance the report of the Christian girl fostered by a Muslim family spun into a far-right fantasy; a story fuelled by paranoia and an evident lack of awareness about the lives of others.

Correct me if I am wrong, but that is a true story that actually happened? Or is she referring only to the dumb Photoshop job by the paper that originally reported on it? Whatever. She decries race elitism while displaying her own elitism and disdain. The only conclusion I can draw is that the writer wants to eliminate white written culture and force minority writing on the majority. Perhaps she’s just mad she can’t get her novel published.

 

No Award

It’s official. Literary awards mean nothing and are little more than political plays. The actual content of a book and whether it meets the criteria of the award is irrelevant. Let’s review the evidence.

  • Last years Man Booker Prize went to The Sellout, a book about prejudice against blacks in America, in the year that Black Lives Matter dominated the headlines.
  • Underground Railroad, another racial fantasy tale, won the Pulitzer and, more worryingly, the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
  • This years Women’s Prize for Fiction went to The Power, which dares ask the question, ‘What if the power were in women’s hands?’

Now, hold that thought.

It was just announced that the 2017 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize was won by Cordelia Fine’s Testosterone Rex, and this is the point where I have decided that something is fishy in the publishing waters. Not only did Testosterone Rex, which has a rating of 3.73 on Goodreads, win against such books as In Pursuit of Memory (4.17 from 18 ratings) and I Contain Multitudes (4.21 from 3,730), but one of the judges on the panel was Naomi Alderman, the author of The Power. What a coincidence.

There have already been a number of writers pointing out the flaws with Cordelia’s work, but this goes a step further. When it is so clear that a book was chosen for its political point-scoring alone, how can you ever take this award seriously? And you can’t use the popularity line. People are fascinated by the microbes inside us (and they should be educated about this topic) and are obsessed by the brains of the octopus, as written about in the shortlisted book, Other Minds. It clearly isn’t a particularly good book. The only reason it won is because of the explicitly political line it is trying to push.

If you look at the reasons the judges give for these awards it speaks plainly to their intention. Underground Railroad was chosen for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for a number of reasons, but without a doubt the main one was to give the award itself some literary prestige. It is somehow vitally important that science fiction be taken seriously by mainstream writers. And what did the judges have to say about the book?

And finally, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, which takes literally Samuel Delany’s notion about sf literalising the metaphors. If you look at the Wikipedia entry on the system that helped slaves, you’ll find the statement that “The escape network was not literally underground nor a railroad.” Here it resolutely is, and we follow one slave’s attempt to get to safety, as well as some of those on her trail. It is, the judges say, “a deeply subversive alternate history” and personally I was left wondering if this novel is set just before the civil war or closer to our present time. One judge noted how the novel argues “even before oppression exists, resistance exists.”

The first novel to win the Clarke Award, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, was also about an individual in an oppressive society asserting their humanity and agency. It has spoken to us and haunted us for over three decades now. It became a film and now a television series, and protestors have been dressing up as handmaids in America.

Of course, speaking of The Handmaid’s Tale, the judges had this to say about Testosterone Rex:

Every man and woman should read this book on gender bias. Testosterone Rex is an important, yet wickedly witty, book about the 21st century which touches on the current debates around identity and turns everything on its head. Pressingly contemporary, it’s the ideal companion read to sit alongside The Handmaid’s Tale and The Power.

All these books are connected by a thread. Can you pull at it?

The theme with all of them is political correctness. And is it any wonder when politics has infested every corner of publishing? Just look at the blogroll on the front of The Bookseller’s homepage:

booksellerpolitics

And for a more personal example, the other day a colleague told me that she was turned off a book because she looked up the author, and he looked too ‘Right’. What does this even mean? This is where we are at.

There is without a doubt a bigger issue at work here. With the Man Booker Prize coming up, it will pay to take heed of what ideology is in the air. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this article, but the main point it tries to make is that publishing is increasingly at the behest of corporations. As we see every day, companies fall over themselves trying to prove their diversity/equality credentials. Awards are actually a few steps ahead of the publishing companies. This is not a conspiracy nor a concerted effort. It is the natural flow as everybody tries to follow each other. There is money to be made, after all.

Fear of an Amazonian Future

For a good number of years now pundits have discussed the ominous rise of tech companies. Google, Facebook, Apple: all of them groping for control in different ways. But personally, particularly because of the industry I work in, I have always been most fearful – and most in awe of – Amazon.

Amazon grew off the back of selling books. At the time during the 1990s this would have seemed ludicrous. How could this internet upstart challenge Barnes & Noble or Borders? But challenge them – and win – it did. If you can systemise and sell a product as varied as books, you can sell anything. Books come in all shapes, sizes, and page lengths. The added bonus is that nothing is as intimate as a book, and as the old adage goes, you can tell a lot about a person from their bookshelf. 

So while Google, Facebook and Apple were all gathering data on you via your direct interaction with platforms, Amazon was analysing your buying habits – a far scarier prospect. For years they went hard on scale, with massive investments in warehouses, and monetarily never made much profit, with hard discounts and reinvestment of revenue back into R&D. This strategy  paid off like little else. From books they have expanded to general goods, groceries, cloud computing and more. Heck, Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. They’ve got their fingers in so many content pies that they come across as anything other than humble. Sinister is the word I would use.

See, the key to Amazon is content. If they have all (relatively speaking) of the content, then it doesn’t even matter if they have the ‘best’ content. Amazon are now the biggest publisher of translated books. Did you even know they have publishing houses? Not only do they have a monopoly on ebooks, print books, and self-published books, they now have a majority share in foreign language translations. Content is king. The more you have, the more you sell. It’s simple physics. And the more you sell, the more customers you have with which to sell other products to. There is nothing scarier, in my eyes, than a Singular Retailer, one that can almost literally spoon feed you products. Science fiction writers showed us the horrors of a consumer dystopia; I’m just surprised horrorfied by how easily we took it up. Their tactics are truly forward-facing, and truly evil if you are a small business. And it’s all because of books.

The easiest and most frightening future I can imagine is one where civilians watch their Amazon TV, read on their Kindle (or maybe just listen to the books on Audible), receive their groceries via Amazon drones and then skip down the street to their local Amazon coffee house. And then, latte in hand, you go to your work – at the District Amazon Mega Warehouse. The local is dead and the globocorp is real. 

How can one combat this juggernaut? Not very easily, because convenience is key to the heart of the consumer, and Amazon thrives on making everything as not-difficult as possible. The fact is, most people in cities have grown up buying from corporations. We are indoctrinated into getting things cheaply, easily and nastily. Amazon promises to deliver that in spades, and in doing so destroy its competitors. We will barely notice the shift.

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.
card_41
Current Year!
card_48
Marginalising version of ‘Current Year’
card_471
Because of Blasian babies? Da fuck?

Tracking the Decline #2: Diversity in Literature

The previous Current Year wasn’t a great one for literature. First of all, let’s take stock that America publishes basically one new book per person. That’s one totally new book for every living person in the U.S. of A. That doesn’t include books published elsewhere (though of course issues of translation come in). That definitely does not include the endless dirge of self published titles that continue to be churned out. So, all in all, there are more books than ever and of course that means it’s harder to make it than ever. Average Is Over.

But what’s going on in publishing? First, the goldmine that was self-pubbing seems to be in decline, for a variety of reasons with the quantity being a main one, and Amazon being dodgy buggers being another. If you look at that report indie authors are actually suffering, and Amazon seems to be making the most gains. The glut is over, as was inevitable.

So we have a huge diversity of books, right? Well, no we don’t, apparently. The problem is that there are just too many books by White Males. UK publishers are getting ‘slammed‘ for a lack of diversity. Publishing risks becoming irrelevant if they don’t start publishing more books by and for POC and LGBTQWIFX. One publisher (Kamila Shamssie I believe) suggested having a whole year where not a single white male was published. It’s all too much. Of course, the only reason the English language market would become irrelevant in this sense is because of the Western immigration plan. Quelle surprise. Pandering to minorities is an absurd idea in this industry. Take Australia. Still a largely white population, POC books just don’t sell in great quantities. Shit stories don’t sell, and people don’t care about your identity politics. If you’re in business you want to sell to the largest demographic. Publishing profit margins are already pretty shithouse, and trust me, publishers take bigger risks than they should. I guess in the UK that the market is increasingly not white English speakers, but that’s a whole something else that plenty of others have talked about.

We don’t even want a diversity of books, especially when it comes to raw numbers. For one, you tend to get self-published authors pumping out generic stories and becoming marketing whores. There’s no diversity there except for the amount, because formulas work. This is not an environment that is conducive for literature or original thought. Sure, those types of books still get made, but they do tend to get drowned out. Very few of the best are both lucrative and thought-provoking. This is a worldwide problem where literature is largely ignored. People don’t read. They are on their phones, they are watching Netflix or they are getting hideously drunk.

It seems to me that publishing thinks that diversifying will somehow be a magic bullet. That if they publish and promote books by POCs and cover topics that are bound up in social justice and identity politics they will finally make great sales. The entire industry is complicit.

Kirkus Prize 2016: the book that won the fiction category is a bloated postmodern mess that links horse racing with race (genetics and class). The non-fiction winner deals with trans issues. Need I say more?

Man Booker Prize 2016: The Sellout definitely did not deserve to win, and indeed the only reason I can think that it did win is that a) it’s humorous and satirical, so ‘something different’, b) it’s postmodern, the aesthetic of decline and c) it’s about racial inequality in America. It is not a book for the ages, nor even a particularly pertinent one for the moment. The shortlist as a whole wasn’t outstanding, but for The Sellout to win shows that the judges do not care a white for quality.

National Book Awards 2016: Again, plenty of good books to choose from, but of course the book that deals with an alternative history of slavery in America won.

So three major prizes where the books won because of politics. You can’t say that there isn’t an agenda. Even in science fiction the politics is real. The Hugo winner is by a black woman, and by all accounts it’s a good book, but science fiction has clearly been appropriated by SJWs and liberals, something the stalwarts tried and failed to fight. The Arthur C Clarke award was also political. Children of Time is a good book, but didn’t deserve to win (Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson wasn’t even nominated for the shortlist, which kind of says it all) and indeed it probably won because of the political ‘niceness’ of the ending.

This doesn’t feel like diversity to me; this feels like collusion.

So writers, publishers and almost everyone in the industry are entirely for diversity of numbers when we really don’t need more books, and diversity of race/gender/*insert minority here* so long as it pushes the liberal agenda. But when it comes to publishing a book by Milo Yiannopoulos something that is merely a different opinion, it must be shut down. Authors don’t want to be published by a company that supports freedom of speech. Personally I think that is a helluva brave publishing decision given the political climate. It’s a bit of a gamble, and I don’t think it will pay off immensely, but I also don’t think it will bomb. This is another example of the group think in the mainly liberal industry (and at the same time 1984 is again a bestseller).

The awards, the discussions of diversity, the outrage over Milo: these are all examples of the industry floating ever Leftward. Education is where minds are won, and books are part of that.

 

Tracking the Decline #1: The Stories We Tell Ourselves

The question I find myself asking is,’what can I bring to the conversation?’ The greatest utilisation of your time and effort is to work at changing areas that are typically underrepresented. If we look at Bloody Shovel’s five reactionary raison d’etres the only space I find to be underrepresented is ‘Aesthetic taste has collapsed’. The other four components of reaction are well covered by people far more intelligent than I. And so what I want to try and achieve with Tracking the Decline is to delve into how it is our sources of art and entertainment have declined and are declining further. This will be slow and never-ending. Where are the bastions of hope? How fast does it all slip into the abyss? I have particular insight into books and publishing, but there are similar stories across the board of media. 

The economist Robin Hanson makes the astute observation that, ‘Most who think they like the future really just like where their favourite stories took place.’ Specifically this questions the motives of people who fall for their favourite book. But there’s a bit more to it than the one sentence. On a deeper level it means that people will  read/hear/see a story (could be fictional or real) about how the future will play out and, if they agree with it on a political level, believe that is exactly how everything will unfold. This manifests in multiple ways. We have the story of Hitler’s rise, and so Trump will be the next Hitler. We read a novel like the Mars Trilogy, and we believe travel to Mars will occur within a generation, maybe two. Whatever narrative we prefer, we believe.

This quirk of human psychology is not restricted to the future. It plays out daily. On an individual level, we have stories about our own lives, where we are going and what our actions mean. There are also stories about how society works and breaking out of the narrative is part of ingesting the red pill. The problem today is that these internal narratives are breaking down. But the soul needs a story, and so it latches on to what it can.

Tracking the decline through aesthetics is necessary. Across the board we see complete fragmentation of the arts, as we see the complete fragmentation of society, the family and the individual. It is all connected. It is the combination of modernist mentality combined with corporate power. What this means for movies, music, books and more is that we are essentially dealing with a decrease in quality combined with an increase in maleficence. Something has been lost.

The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast should be mandatory listening for everyone. He isn’t particularly political but he is stringently against PC culture. In addition, he searches for meaning in film and TV, and repeatedly discusses the notion of decline in film and the ‘rise’ of television (at least in popularity and zeitgeist). Bret knows what a good film should be, and finds the current moment wanting.

The episode featuring Owen Gleiberman is a good locus point of a number of issues. First, Bret begins by discussing a drama created by a ‘journalist’ who took Bret out of context on the topic of the upcoming Batman film. This is a great microcosm of society at large: fake news, internet drama, fanboyism, and a general sense of over-blowing the whole thing (Ben Affleck ended up emailing Bret about the ‘issue’). The rest of the episode is mostly discussing various films and influences, but I want to pick out one particular part that relates back to the notion of storytelling.

Owen at about to 30 minutes mark says, ‘This is a larger thing than movies’ before relating the ‘demystification of movies’ to a concurrent collapse of the religious narrative. He’s also suspect about the obsession of superhero movies. If you wanted a giant red flag that signals the decline of film going, it’s superhero movies. It’s Star Wars. It’s a slew of fanboy fodder. Owen calls it an ‘encyclopedia culture’, which is apt. The movie doesn’t matter. The themes, the art, none of that matters. What matters is the information that viewers can get. This is clearly evident in the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a prequel-ish offshoot movie from the Harry Potter universe. It winks and nods to the other films, and it provides fans with ‘background stories’. It’s nothing more than a money making exercise. The same can be said for the new Star Wars, of course. The internet has provided us with endless information, and so that is what our media has become. Nothing radically new, always a reinvention of the wheel.

It’s when this leaks into real life that it becomes a problem.

We’re All Conspiracy Theorists Now

As with all postmodern thought, everything is political. This includes the aforementioned movie franchises. During the 2016 US election this resulted in a swathe of Harry Potter and Star Wars related political hot takes. See below for a mere handful:

A Harvard law professor reveals what ‘Star Wars’ teaches us about Donald Trump

Harry Potter ‘could stop Donald Trump’, says researcher into readers’ views

Donald The Dementor: How ‘Harry Potter’ Explains Trump’s Destructive Power

Twitter Responses to Trump’s Election

These are real adults using their favourite stories to explain the present and in some cases the future. They are suddenly the Resistance, Dumbledore’s Army, the Avengers. They can only explain life through another narrative, and it just happens to be a very tidy one of good versus evil.

As humans we like to find connections to explain when things go wrong. This leads to conspiracy theories. Whether it’s anti-vaxxers or 9/11 truthers, conspiracy theorists run the entire political gauntlet. We love to tell ourselves lies. However, it is connected to story telling, and you can see an origin of it in the current geek culture. How many articles on io9 are about ‘fan theories’? Today it all bleeds into real life. Everyone is guilty of believing conspiracies, and because it began in something as innocuous as Star Trek or Dr Who, potential bullshit moves into the Overton Window. Modern liberals don’t believe in gender roles, they think there is an evil force called The Patriarchy that rules behind the veil, and science must be decolonised to accommodate the black race. When you stand for nothing, you fall for anything. That is postmodernism, that is geek culture and that is where we now sit, politically, in 2016. And we can blame Star Wars for everything.

We need new stories. And by that I mean we need to reject new stories and return to the books of the past, the films of yesterday and the poetry of a better time. Today, books are trash, films are abominations and poetry is a mess. We can’t rely on simplistic and naive bad guys versus good guys narratives, not when you can read The Iliad. We can’t look for conspiracy theories in everything. We can’t let an informational forest stop us from seeing the aesthetic of individual trees. But the only way to do that is to track the decline and note where we went wrong.