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Sunday 29 December 2019

It Means Workhorse

So I really enjoyed The Mandalorian, but it isn't my favourite scifi TV series of the past few years.

I mean in terms of actual sheer quality, the best TV show I can remember is actually Chernobyl. It was mindblowing. I will also never let go of the candles I hold for Firefly and MST3K.

The best series I watched this year, though?

Well, that would be The Expanse.

Based on a series of books by James S. A. Corey - 8 books out so far with various supplemental novellas and shorts, the 9th and final book coming out TBA 2020 - the TV series was always going to have a hard time actually capturing the characters that the books so masterfully brought into existence.

It isn't just the characters, of course. The actual scifi elements of it - the ship design, the way the physics works, the way society and politics have arranged themselves in this future that Corey has imagined - masterful. Everything from the cultural boundaries between the Earth folks, the Martians and the Belters, even down to their language and accents and their attitude to life in general. How conflict in space is handled, in the most reasonable and common-sense way I can imagine - almost always conducted at long range with torpedoes and point-defence countermeasures, with occasional need for railguns.

It's the characters I come back for, though.

Like this guy. Jim Holden.

Yes, I know he looks a bit like Jon Snow, and yes, I know a random white guy with facial hair is a boring main character, but hear me out:

Jim Holden is fantastic.

In a show about all of the choices having potential costs and consequences and the politics of situations making no-win scenarios increasingly likely, the best arc you can see is a man who is determined to do the right thing, or the best thing, or - hopefully - both.

In a world full of grit and shades-of-grey and meaningful sideways looks, to have a protagonist that you can trust to just do the right thing and tilt at the windmills that need tilting at, even if he thinks he will lose... that's valuable.

(That's why the ship is named the Rocinante, by the way. Well, that and because Amos liked it because he knew someone called that once. It means workhorse.)

But of course a man needs a crew, and that crew needs a technician, and thus you have Naomi Nagata.

Now Jim is from Earth, the son of a collective family of seven parents; Naomi is from the Belt. She spent her entire life in the void, and doesn't trust planets. "Nothing to hold the sky in, it's weird," she says at least once.

Naomi is brilliant. Literally a genius. Fearless, too, but rarely will she conflate that lack of fear with foolishness. She is Jim's externalised common sense. She knows the systems of the Roci like she knows the back of her hand, better probably, and she's never afraid to put her foot down if necessary.

And boy does she love Jim. And he loves her. And when you watch the series, it will make sense as to why. Suffice to say there's some actual development rather than "because the scriptwriters said so".

Every good crew needs a pilot. You could do a lot worse than Alex Kamal.

Martian by birth, Alex speaks with an affected Texan drawl, because everyone from that bit of Mars tends to. Yes, it's odd, but it's also now an indelible part of their culture - as is the pride of adapting and overcoming a hostile environment. He's ex-military (so is Jim), and that shows, at times.

He's a lovable guy. Like, you can't help but like Alex. He's a great dude. He's made his mistakes, of course, and he'll be the first to admit it - part of his draw. He's under precious little illusions as to how life works and his place in it. When it comes down to it, though, he's reliable and trustworthy, and the Rocinante couldn't ask for a better pilot.

And then there's this guy.

Amos Burton, who puts bits of the ship back together that break, and breaks people that need breaking.

He's a lot of people's favourite. He's from a difficult and somewhat shrouded past, which has left him with an abiding need to protect and look after kids, an amiable smile that sits on his face almost all the time, and a hair-trigger willingness to kill you with his bare hands if you need killed.

His favourite technique appears to be to snap you in half backwards over a table.

Seriously though - Amos is immune to bullshit, incapable of lying, and as long as you're doing the right or the smart thing, you want this man at your back. He's the most dependable man in the galaxy.

He'd so easily be my favourite, were it not for the existence of...

Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Draper.

Power armoured Martian marine badass. There is nothing not to love. Her approach to problems is direct but she is far from stupid. She takes pride in who she is and what she does, and she does it better than anyone else. I love Bobbie.

Like yeah, the show has a lot of asses that need kicked, and Bobbie is capable of doling out most of those. Her and Amos together are a fearsome combination.

And that's just... like, five of the characters. Perhaps the main five.

I haven't even talked about Miller, the detective who looks how I feel, who wears a hat in an orbital habitat to "keep the rain off". Chrisjen Avasarala, the politician, who is definitely not a protagonist but you definitely kind of want her to win anyway. Camina Drummer and Klaes Ashford. Shed. Murtry. Praxideke Meng. The Mao family. Elvi Okoye. There's just so much good character here that you love seeing them being on the screen, let alone reading them on the page.

I am evangelical about this show. Perhaps that is why I like it more. Like, The Mandalorian is good, but it doesn't need me to talk about it. It doesn't have hidden depths, it is what you think it is. The Expanse has so much more to it than any trailer can prepare you for.

Watch it.

Make it your 2020 New Year Resolution.

Watch it, read it, catch the last book.

You will thank me later.

Might do a blog on New Year's Eve, might not. If not - happy new year.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday 22 December 2019

Whamhalla Awaits

Can you hear this picture?


Now as it is a certain time of year I bet a fair few of you have heard this song. Recently even. I bet that at least one of you have heard it today, even.

There is a certain amount of creep, when it comes to Christmas. It somewhat feels like the Christmas-branded guff comes out earlier and earlier every year, and the eagerness for people to start being their happy little elf-selves is palpable by the beginning of October. I've personally always held to the Halloween rule - after that, do what you want, the big holiday of the year is already over.

There is also a common link between how early Christmas decorations start being put up and generalised depression within a community, but yanno.

Perhaps a more visceral indication of the oncoming festivities is when the music starts playing on the radio and such - the first creeping out of your Wizzards and your Pogues and your Slades and such. Then you have your songs that have the word "Christmas" in them so they are automatically Christmassy, and songs that have bells in them so they are also Christmassy for no apperent reason, like East 17.

And then you have this little yuletide ditty, too - this little tune by pop lads Wham, from back in 1984. Last Christmas. A song and a video in combination that tell us of a man who is terrified of being alone but also can't let go of the girl that apparently randomly seduced him the Christmas before and then dumped him immediately.

The video doesn't seem to convey this angle. It more seems to be that the band and their friends all hang out in a ski lodge over Christmas, and that Andrew Ridgeley is now going out with George Michael's ex, but they still all hang out together anyway, a situation I would literally shoot myself in the foot to not have to deal with.

How do you deal with the unavoidable, inexorable Christmas creep? (No, not that guy in the office that you really should report to HR.)

You turn it into a game, of course.

Whamageddon. It's been running for years, now - the rules have been formalised. It begins at midnight, at the very beginning of December, and the goal is to make it to midnight Christmas Eve without hearing Last Christmas by Wham. If you hear it, and you recognise it, you have to declare it. You're out of the game, and consigned to Whamhalla. If you make it? You have achieved glory - feel free to blast the tune first thing on Christmas morning to celebrate (and wake up your neighbours).

Covers are okay. Remixes are okay. They aren't the original song, so by definition, they don't count. A lot of folks who like this song but play Whamageddon anyhow stave off  "Wham Cravings" by this method. It isn't illegal to sabotage your friends - adding it to a community playlist, sneaking it into the youtube queue at a party, literally walking up to people while playing it on your phone - but it is considered a serious breach of etiquette and a total dick move.

I lost Whamageddon this year at the work Christmas party, which is probably true for most people. I was out early. I don't know if anyone else that I know is still in, at this point. Maybe. We live in hope.

It's this kind of little game - this constant social game that other people know about and participate in - that can make life a little better. Like injokes with your friends (37!), or like The Game (which you just lost), or THIS nonsense, before insecure racists turned it into their little feel-better symbol (assholes).

I hope you have your own little games to play this Christmas - your own little things to do, ways to stay sane.

Look after yourselves.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Friday 13 December 2019

Putting Down A Marker

This will, in all likelihood, be the last post I make about British politics for a long time, if only because I simply don't have the heart for it any more.

So rather than look back at the events of 12th December 2019, I will instead present predictions for us as a nation moving forward.

Things will begin to get worse for, well, normal people. People like you and me. People that need prescription medication. People that use public transport. People that rent places to live.

It won't become a lot worse, all at once; but over the next few years, prices will increase with no commensurate increase in pay. Likewise, services will degrade, with no commensurate decrease in cost.

Taxes for the wealthy will be reduced. Taxes for corporations will be reduced. The savings will not be passed down to their employees.

Homelessness statistics will increase. If enough people notice and object, perhaps the definition will be changed, showing a sudden dramatic decrease in those that tick the "Homeless" box on a spreadsheet. Likewise, poverty - more people will slip below the poverty line until the line is redrawn.

Support will be cut for the vulnerable, resulting in an increased mortality in those specific sectors.

Another tower block may burn down due to having cheaper cladding, deaths perhaps reaching triple figures. Parallels will be drawn. Nothing will come of it.

There will not be fifty thousand more nurses. There will not be twenty thousand more police officers.

Hate crimes will increase. There will be less recourse for those who are victims of aforementioned crimes.

The economy will suffer. The stock market will not. Our national debt will continue increasing, despite the cuts in public spending.

There will be talk of a skills gap. News reports about a lack of people being trained to cover shortfalls in necessary services. This will be waved away as scaremongering, before the service is handed off to a private contractor.

Throughout all of this, there will be precious little protest. There will be no general strike. There may be an attempt but it will come to nothing. If a protest does happen, it will be heavily covered by half of the media outlets in this country and denigrated by the rest, and then forgotten about a week later.

There will be calls for us to put our differences aside and help people, because that is what will be needed, now. Not recriminations - support.

There will be those who are confused as to why others they know are willing to part from friends over their voting choices. There will be those who respond with vitriol because those voting choices have negatively impacted their lives.

There will be calls to change the system of voting. They will gain little traction, simply due to apathy. Statistics won't make much of a dent in this apathy.

Then Brexit will happen, and that is where my speculation will come to an end.

I hope - I truly hope - that I am wrong.

I hope that none of this comes to pass. I hope that everything is just fine, and that the hits to the country that we've suffered since 2010 are as bad as it gets. I hope that everything from here on in is up-and-up.

In a long while, I will look back, and I will see if any of this turned out to be true.

For now, though, I'm taking a big step back from following politics.

I just don't have it in me.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday 8 December 2019

Where I Stand, And Why

I doubt you have failed to notice, if you are one of my UK readers, that there is an election around the corner.

In fact I dare say some of you are sick of it already.

Those of you who follow this blog might notice that I have leaned away from the politics more recently - because it has become increasingly hard to present a point that I haven't already addressed, and to not succumb to rage or despair. That is very easy - rage or despair, that is. Having seen some of the ways in which those in established power have utilised that power.

I'm not going to give in to that.

Most of you reading this have already decided who you are voting for - or if you are voting at all. I'm not going to exhort you. I make no demands.

I'm just going to get back to basics here, and tell you the decision-making process for why I vote the way I vote.

The French Revolution, 1789. During the meetings of the French National Assembly, to determine the extent of the powers King Louis XVI should have, there was a division in the assembly hall - a literal physical one. To surround themselves with those who would agree with them, those who wanted the supreme executive power of the entire nation to rest in the hands of one man - the King - sat to the right of the assembly hall. Those who wanted the executive power to be divided among the people sat to the left.

The press caught on rather quickly, and political groups themselves adopted the phrasing for rapid shorthand of where they stood - power in the hands of the few, or power in the hands of the many. A stratified, vertical society, or a wide, horizontal society.

I am part of the lower rungs of society. I am not one of the lucky few that a right-wing attitude is meant to help. Don't get me wrong - I acknowledge that I am privileged in several distinct areas, and that I have it better off than many - I just also have to acknowledge that my income alone puts me below the line of interest to the right.

That means that if it helps out the stock exchange and not the people that have to clean it after it closes, I'm not interested.

There are lots of arguments as to magic money trees and where the money is going to come from. These discussions always seem to come up when talking about paying for something that someone doesn't want to see paid for - and always seem to ignore the fact that there is seemingly endless money to pay for other things.

The fact is, governments don't spend money like people do. They don't work like a kid's piggy bank, and anyone that tries to convince you that they do is not fully informed on the process. It is not as simple as having a pound in your pocket and knowing how many apples you can buy with it. I will concede, however, it is good to have a large amount of income into the treasury - because then the treasury can be used to help those that need it, and can't be opposed with the argument of a lack of the aforementioned magic money tree.

Once upon a time, a significant proportion of this country's industries were national. They were run by the government, and any profits they made were put into the public purse. If they didn't make a profit, that was a thing that was easy to absorb - because their running was tied to the national finances, not their own bank account.

Then they were sold - and significantly undervalued - to private investment. Companies that answered to shareholders and upper management. The argument was that doing so would mean the companies would have to compete and that would keep prices low - this has been proven objectively false, as anyone who buys rail tickets will tell you.

The list includes BP (70s-80s), Rolls Royce (1987), British Gas (1986), British Airways (1987), British Rail (1995-1996), local bus companies (1988 onward), National Express (1988), the local water companies (1989), British Shipbuilders (1985-1989), all the regional electrical companies (1990), Royal Mail (2013) - all of these utilities and industries that you will no doubt have noticed have increased vastly in cost since their privatisation, while not necessarily increasing commensurately in terms of service provided.

Which means the money flows up, and not back down. Meaning that while wages slowly increase the cost of living increases a lot faster, meaning less money in the pockets of normal people, and less money in the government budget.

If political decisions empower shareholders over people using services, I'm not interested.

And speaking of increasing costs and support.

Homelessness and poverty are both on the increase, currently. There are ways to prevent both. This requires actual work, actual spending, and actual attention. It cannot be waved off as a non-issue. People, human beings, are made to suffer because of policy for a variety of reasons and excuses. This can't be allowed to continue.

Perhaps I am naive. Perhaps I am a sap, because I would be willing to put help in the hands of people who "don't deserve it" rather than prevent it being delivered to those who "do deserve it" - and you will find that what people mean when they use specific terms will vary.

If fiscal burdens are eased, people spend more money. If people spend more money, companies do better as a whole, rather than just the companies who have positioned themselves to force you to partake in their services - see above about privatising gas, water and electricity. If people and companies do better they spend more tax. Which means the country does better.

If fiscal burdens are made heavier, people spend less money. If people spend less money, companies do less well as a whole. This means less taxes. This means less for everyone.

Either way, those who can ensure their income is maintained, will do so. You will often find people in that position are more the kind of people that sit on the right hand side of the chamber.

If political decisions impoverish people rather than supporting them, I'm not interested.

There's more but I don't think I need to necessarily go into any further detail.

I won't get into debates as to which leader I believe is the nicest person. I won't get into Brexit - that horse is already dead, and I won't beat it any further. I won't get into voter suppression and the outdated first-past-the-post system. I won't get into the treatment of minority groups, not because they aren't worthy but because that is two or three blogs in and of itself, and all of it pretty damned partisan, which I am trying to avoid here.

It's just that simple. I can't support a government that will sell off our country's goods for a quick profit and leverage the subsequent losses on the people. I can't support a government that has overseen a hundred thousand children in poverty just before Christmas despite us being one of the six richest nations on earth.

You make your choice.

Just ask yourself if you can look your fellow human being in the eye after you put that X in the box.

If you are concerned about whose party best suits your political beliefs, I have shared this website before. It is called Vote For Policies. It goes off what the parties have said they will do. If you wish to see whether or not the party actually stands by what it says, you can use TheyWorkForYou to check the representatives voting records; no matter what a politician says, it is their vote in Parliament that counts.

See you down the pub on Friday, yeah?

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday 1 December 2019

December Again

So November draws to an end for another year, and with it, National Novel Writing Month 2019.

There's a feeling I talk about, which is that hollowness when you finish reading a really good book. It's this slight ache, a moment wherein you feel two things very keenly.

The first is: This came to an end, and the rest of the world just moved on, how can that be?

The second is: The space that this occupied was so great, and so full; how can I possibly fill it again?

It's not just reading a book that leaves you like this, though.

For a month, half a million of us - or pretty close, anyway, I don't have the official stats for this year yet - lived in the worlds we'd made.

It occupied space in our brains. We were distracted, not quite fully with it, because our thoughts kept drifting back to that thing that we were creating. Characters and scenes and dialogue and themes and literary tricks and a thousand other little aspects of the work we were undertaking, constantly ticking over - for some of us set solid in stone, for others, roiling like a cloud of plasma. Either way - always present, always taking up space.

I can tell you how my characters smile.

Like, I can see it in my head. I can put each of them right in front of me, bid them smile - even imagine the thing that makes them smile - and see how they do it.

I can tell you the thing that each of them is worried about. I can tell you the person they are thinking about, right now, and in what context. I can describe to you how they would deal with a hundred different problems and situations...

...and then I stopped typing, and put the novel down, and there it is.

Sure, it can do with a second draft. That's the work of it. Taking the first draft and sweeping it into something better; but the skeleton is there, the shape, the clay of the object. It exists, and it was brought into existence out of my brain.

Now my brain sits there with a hole in it that is novel-shaped.

You may wonder why I am telling you all this.

I am telling you because, despite how generally draining it can all be - how disheartening it is to not make word count for a day, or to realise that you may not make it to 50,000 by the end of the month, or how frustrating it is to encounter writer's block...

Each ache, each moment's lost sleep, each frustration, is a piece of stone that you chip away. And you chip all of those away, until you are left with sculpture. With art. Beautiful, and yours.

Every hour you spend typing (punching the keys, for those that recognised the first image) is an hour's worth of work that you have put into something that is yours. A thing you created. A story. A novel. And it probably isn't the best thing ever written, because very few things are - but you made it. You made a thing, that you probably didn't think you'd ever make.

Sure, you told yourself you would, one day. After this. After that. One day. When you had that idea. One day. But until then it is time to obsess over detail, over whether or not you are a good enough writer to carry it off, if you have time, if you are creative enough, and so, and so, and so, until we manage to mentally talk ourselves out of it - again.

So why do I talk about it so much? Why do I post about it on my social media, blog about it, tell other people about it?

Because, folks, I want to share this with you.

I want you to join in, to feel the way I feel, to write the story that you have in your skull. I want you to get to the end of December and have stories you can tell people about that novel you just wrote. I want you to be able to talk to other writers and understand how it feels to make a thing and let it stand. To be able to read your own work, and even if you spend 99% of the time finding flaws in it, seeing at least one or two lines that you think..., that's actually really good.

And then thinking:

I wrote that.

It's a good kind of mental tired.

My NaNoWriMo project this year was called Phase Shift, also styalised as [PHaSe/SHiFT] because I am that kind of dickhead. It's a transhuman scifi coming of age slash thriller. It's set in the Eclipse Phase RPG setting because I love it.

I set myself the challenge of having every chapter title be a song lyric, and have it be relevant to that chapter. Here's a playlist of all those songs in order - it's not a bad list if I do say so myself.

If you want to read it, just get in touch. I even made two cuts - one of them with all the smut cut out, in case it isn't your thing.

And when it comes around to the end of next year? Will you maybe consider joining me on this most novel of months?

I hope so.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.