The Winds of Diversity Sweep Through the Halls of Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marie Kondo and the Echoes of Outrage

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

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

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

The Kondo Effect

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

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

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

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

Then Marie Kondo showed up.

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

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

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

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

The Smirking Boy Cometh

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

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

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

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

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

2018 in Review

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

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

1 – Jacobite is the Jacobin of the Right

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

2 – We Are All Communist Countries

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

3 – Pulling Threads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.