When Books Haven’t Aged Well

There seems to a growing issue in this current day and age in which some feel ashamed that they would consider recommending work that was published in the 20th Century or prior and in the case of the article here written by Matt Mikalatos. This relates to the novel, The Once and Future King by T.H White.

At first glance, his issue with it, now ties back to White’s references to usage of the phrase Red Indians. Which does stand out, however, as a descriptive element it does appear to work in regards to how the American Indians were often stereotyped by those back in the early to mid-1900s. It’s not inoffensive but as a piece of fiction, it’s like most things harmless.

Whilst the content of the book from my own initial observations do provide commentary on the state of the world, they are entirely related to that period of time. I do intend to fully read the novel but for the sake of this initial point, I searched the bits are referenced.

Matt’s next issue ties back to characters saying ‘nigger‘, and at the end of the day no matter how I dissect this, the term is always going to carry weight to it. But as these are stories written prior to the civil rights movement. The use either to reflect a character’s personality or how they see others isn’t entirely to be unexpected.

Most of us who love speculative fiction run into this problem at some point. There are classics of the genre that are uncomfortable for various reasons. Some of them are straight-out racist, or unrepentantly misogynistic, or homophobic, or all of the above.

It’s easy to forget how much has changed just in the last century and even before that. I’m only twenty-four and technology is already far ahead of what I used back in the early 2000s. A person growing up in the eighties will see the world in an entirely different light to me. Writers of the past often do pull on their own experiences and even prejudices. Can we judge them? Sure but what does that achieve except painting you as some kind of moral crusader.

We can have a debate in the comments about whether Tolkien’s world is racist, but in general, if someone in Middle-earth has black skin (the Uruk-hai, at least some other orcs, the Southrons) or are described as “swarthy” (the Easterlings, the Dunlendings), then you better believe they’re going to be bad guys, with very few exceptions. Sure, there are plenty of white, non-swarthy bad guys, too, but it’s hard to escape the sense that it’s the people of colour you need to keep an eye on, in these books. (Yes, I know Samwise sees a dead enemy soldier in The Two Towers and reflects on whether he might have been a good person who was lied to. This shows, I think, Tolkien’s empathy for people and desire to humanize and complicate the Haradrim and other dark-complexioned combatants, but this is one brief paragraph in a massive trilogy.

There’s a lot to unpack here and there’s obviously parts of the LoTR lore that I’m not all that well versed in. It’s a series I do plan on reading as my only real insight is the films and reading the lore online. However, its no secret that the orcs are evil and how they look has very little to do with that fact. And other depiction of evil in that series can be tied back to the rings corrupting influence over men, elves, dwarves etc. Regardless of skin. It is a force impossible to resist. Assuming anything about Tolkien just ignores the context and setup of the universe he has built.

Of course, Matt dances around Lovecraft’s work because he’s already been bludgeoned by this view that we should shun past authors. I don’t care personally for Lovecraft’s views. Because I’m more invested in the story. It takes anyone a few seconds to delve into Lovecrafts life and you can see where that horror manifests. Although why he named his cat ‘nigger-man’ I will never know.

As for whether I’d recommend a story written in the past that may reveal an authors prejudice. Yes, I would. Because the person I’m recommending to is an individual capable of making their own decisions and I imagine can separate fiction from reality.

With folks like White, Tolkien, and Lewis, we see people who are steeped in colonialism and racist assumptions. Thus the defence that gets trotted out whenever these problems are discussed: “They were a product of their time.” This is one of the challenges for all of us as we delve further into the past reading the classics—of course, there are assumptions and cultural practices and beliefs that are at odds with our own. Where is the tipping point of not being able to look past these differences, the point where we can no longer enjoy reading these works?

That’s entirely on you Matt. Nothing else needs to be said. If you can’t treat this writing as mere fiction then that says a lot about you. We as readers get it. Colonialism is viewed very negatively but in the end its the very reason you probably exist. Complaining about it achieves nothing. As for its depiction in fiction. Well, that’s entirely on the author and the characters they bring to life.

As a whole whether your like Matt and can’t stomach the writers of the past. That’s on you. Sure as he says you can write ‘corrective’ pieces but then even that can be viewed as problematic. It also risks indicating that you are more interested in correcting the past then telling a story.

Remember folks a fictional world may draw from our own but its conventions, lore, history, can quite often be at odds with our beliefs. It may make us uncomfortable. And that’s okay because these are only stories. No two authors will be the same. They may have the same idea. But the execution will always be profoundly different.

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Branching out

I’ve created world a anvil page in order to keep track of all things happening on Infinitum Earth. I’ll be updating it as time goes by. You will also find a few stories dotted around there too following the escapades of those that may only make a small appearance in the main set of stories.

The Infinitum Earth

My patreon is more of an experiment. I’m considering of using it to reveal content early to those interested in the universe as well as providing support for those who may be sitting on an idea and don’t quite know where to take it.

Mr Mad Writer

The Man Who Sold the World

Can you guess what inspired me to write this short piece of fiction during three years at university? 

I stand on uneven ground, the cracks of time show, but under shallow moonlight, I see the old world. Skyscrapers, tower blocks, a once bustling city of activity. It died a long time ago. Yet it feels like this happened only yesterday.

Weather the storm. Who said that again. I vaguely recall my old life, the only memory of it I have… is Him.  

He stands beside me, prying at my mind, he is the curious, the innocent, and the megalomaniac all rolled into one single package. Yet despite this facade, I see a calm, resolute figure. We stare at each other briefly.

He should be dead, and so should I. I laugh and he joins. It ends as quickly as it began.

I like to think I run away from him simply because he is the man who sold the world. There is this air of hostility between us, for am I the one born in that fire.  Fire still raw and burning in my mind.

What have I become? two centuries have passed and I am still no closer to that answer.

As if seeing my thoughts he says, “Regret, I am the match, and you are the regret. You are the light that blanketed this planet. Before the silence fell.”

The man who regrets. It seems fitting when I think about it.

“I am a man forged in atomic fire,” I answer.

“And you will burn for all of the time,” he adds.

I merely nod, not wishing to speak further. He disappears from my vision, like a magician at the end of a magic act. Two hundred years of suspension and this gets no easier, each time I see what it was before. Memories I can’t begin to suppress, as much as I’d rather forget. It is sad, I still see Humanity as it was and as it is currently. I see us still locked in the cruel snare that one day will leave this world empty. All because I sold the world. All because I made the choice and caused the end of many a life. Finality. It will never come. For I know even now. I am not done.

I am the man who sold the world, and I have been reborn.

The Forge

A flash of light,
piece of clay,
Warping, twisting,
In the light of old forges,
History written,
Ever evolving.

Death and demise,
And hate,
Victims of imperfection.
Fulfilment beckoned,
One mind,
Body and soul
Humanity, joining to unite under
one singular conscious

But
The string is unravelling
Loosening its shackles
Liberating the sense of self.

Humanity’s bane and blessing
lies with its uniqueness

In the end
It does not matter
What we do
What the consequences are
For our life is tiny
Nature will roll on
With or without us.

We are one small tale.
And someday it will end.

The Last Jedi: A Deconstruction (Part Two)

There’s no point pretending I can cover the entirety of this movie, but hopefully, the first part puts perspective on how out of sync it is with the rest of the Star War series. Now I’m going to focus on the characters in the new trilogy, specifically Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren. The three of them are entirely one dimensional. Most two dimensional characters I’ve observed have more character than these three combined. Rey’s overpowered nature is exacerbated in the Last Jedi making it clear that she will never have to face a real threat. The only character that I had some hope for was Finn but sadly he was butchered unceremoniously in this mess of a movie. His character was dead as soon as Rian conveniently forget the man had been sliced in the back with a lightsaber in the last movie. Not only that, we must sit through an awfully done romance subplot that makes me rather endure Twilight’s equally cringe-worthy attempt at romance.

Now I’m not pretending to be the expert on the romance genre but even as I continually practise my own abilities as a writer, developing character relationships overtime is the hardest part of any story. If things go to too quick then it becomes unrealistic, but to slow and you risk affecting the overall pace of the story. The problem with romance in the Last Jedi is that it absolutely has no right to exist and I hate to say it but Rose Tico could quite easily be removed from this story and nothing would be lost. If anything it would give us room to rework the weakest part of the story that is everything related to Canto Bight. The problem is if you take out Canto Bight then the story just falls apart. It doesn’t help that suddenly fuel is a problem in a universe that has seldom seen such issues arise.

But Canto aside what purpose does Rose serve? She’s just as much if it not more a Mary Sue than Rey. She takes centre stage in a story that didn’t need her. Only existing because her nameless sister dies blowing up a dreadnought.  Rose also undermines the arc of Finn before butchering what could have been a redeeming send off for him. The master of subversion couldn’t have a plot point resolve in a satisfying way. No that’s too easy. Subversion is the future even if it makes a subplot resolve in a way that nearly wipes the rebellion out for good. Rose’s cringe-inducing line about saving what you love is delightfully ironic as the death star laser penetrates the only thing separating the First Order from their goal of wiping out the Rebellion or Resistance because even that’s not entirely consistent in this movie.

Rey’s training in this movie can be summed up as three days of swinging a light sword around and magically becoming good. At least in a show like One Punch Man, Saitama is aware of how overpowered he is and almost resents that fact. Yet Rey had no sense of agency. She goes where the plot demands and is the forced hero no one wants. In the Force Awakens, she magically became good using the force after what? Getting inside Kylo’s head. It’s even harder to stomach that she could go toe to toe with a man that had been tutored first by Luke Skywalker and second by Snoke. She had absolutely no right to win her first match or even come off as strong as she did. At times a lot of what happens in the Force Awakens makes me wonder was Finn meant to be the main character all along. Because we never really see what it is like for a conditioned stormtrooper to adapt to being free. In fact, Rian just disregards that too. Forget the Last Jedi just call this movie, the Last Retcon because it throws out so much characterisation in order to inflate Rian’s ego in order for him to tell the story he wants and not the one that would benefit the new trilogy.

The two main bad guys in this trilogy are Kylo ‘how the hell is he worthy of leading’ Ren and the ominous Snoke. I literally have nothing on Snoke. We all know how ‘subversive’ his death was. And since Rian didn’t give a damn. Neither will I. As for our little angsty wannabe Sith Lord. He makes me yearn for even Darth Maul. The Darth’s in the star war universe have nearly always had a presence to them, something that makes them imposing on others. Vader had presence and power, while Sidious could just sound intimidating and you would listen. Now Kylo isn’t a Darth, why? Because we can’t have any of that common sense in this movie. Now the Knights of Ren you say, who are they? Well rather like Accrington Stanley. No one has a damn clue because this is the Last Retcon, that means everything Abrams set up needs to be trashed for the good of Star Wars. Which finally leads me to finish on the most tragic deaths I’ve seen in any film. Not so much because it came at the hands of a certain character but because it came at the hand of the Director.

Even if you’ve only seen the original trilogy, it’s not hard to fathom that Luke’s character in the Last Jedi makes no sense. Now I have no issue with him pulling an Obi-Wan and biding his time. That’s fine, when Yoda and Obi-Wan went into exile they had little choice otherwise the Empire would put an end to them. They had to hide as for all they knew the Jedi were no more. But Luke’s reasoning for being on Ahch-To directly contradicts the Force Awakens. We can assume originally, he was seeking to understand why he failed to rebuild the Jedi and was wanting to also find a way to combat the dark shadow that was sweeping across the galaxy hence why he left a map in the first place. But what we get instead is a man disconnected from the force, whose actual reason for being in such remote place is to die. Not only does he not realise Han is dead, we get no chance to share this moment with him. Almost like Rian just doesn’t understand what an audience wants. And even when he eventually trains Rey if you could even call it that, it simply turns out that she’s already surpassed him. We also find out that Luke tried to kill Kylo when we already know that Luke went so far as hand himself over to Darth Vader in a futile effort to redeem his father. In reality surely, Luke would seek to reconcile Kylo’s temptation to fall into darkness. In my honest opinion, it should have been Kylo trying to kill Luke. Which forces Luke into hiding. But again that would have been ‘sensible’. And Rian obviously isn’t going for that nonsense.

I guess as closure I could talk about Leia surviving in space and the breach of continuity regarding space and the opening of any door that leads into a vacuum. But it’s pretty obvious at this point that there’s really nothing more to say. In my next part, I’ll touch a little on why the Canto Bight side of things just doesn’t work.

The Infinitum’s Final Tale: Prologue

Monika’s pink-tipped white uwabaki slippers echoed against the reflective black floor that made up this particular corridor. The walls were a faded grey and lacked the vibrancy of other sectors she had previously visited.

Up until recently, she had only ever known a lonely existence inside the video game Doki Doki Literature Club. When he came along it all changed. It wasn’t quite the reality she hoped for but it was as close as she would get to the mysterious player that had controlled the actions of the one she knew only as Mr Mad.

Although Mad preferred to use the title Lord in most cases he was a recluse nihilist with a fatalist view of his world. It was a view born of his influence over others. Those characters could not change their fate, not as long as he continued to watch and manipulate the events present in their stories.

“It’s a different reality, but the story remains unchanged,” muttered Monika as she continued onward humming the song she had dedicated to the player.

She eventually reached a rounded solid inky black vault door. There was no signpost stating what was on the other side but she couldn’t deny that it peaked her interest. It took some time for her to turn the vault wheel but eventually, she heard something click and the door opened outward forcing her to take a few steps back before she could look inside.

What she could see on the other side of that vault door was nothingness. An eternal void stretching as far as the eye can see. But to her surprise, she could see something out there kneeling down. She outstretched a foot and brought it down carefully in order to test the existence of an actual floor. She felt relief when her foot met the solid ground. After a few hesitant steps inside she soon found herself before the kneeling being. From behind they looked like a woman. However, she was unlike others in the Infinitum. This person’s skin was pure white. It had no other colour to it.
“Almost like you were unfinished. Is that what you are?” Asked Monika.
The woman turned a little to look up at her.
Her eyes are like his. Only hers are black with white dots. Her hair is blacker than night too. It might as well be part of this room.
Monika placed her hands on her hips and looked down at this helpless girl. She sighed. “At least tell me who you are?”
The woman seemed to think on that a while before getting to her feet. The woman ended up being taller than Monika expected. She looked incredibly anxious as she tapped two fingers together.
“Who am I? It’s been so long I almost forgot… Yes, I remember now, the name that he gave me,” said the woman managing a small smile before it fell away. “Patience… He called me Patience.”

Deus Ex: Critics Divide

(The following is a post made a while back defending Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.)

Deus Ex has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism for the lore surrounding it’s newest game Mankind Divided. Deus Ex is a favourite among gamers not just for the immersive world you are placed in but for the underlying commentary.

Deus Ex is known for tackling hard issues, and as far as fiction goes, in my opinion, it is one of the best pieces of science fiction to date. Now games journalists want games to be regarded more for their art and message, as evidenced by games like Gone Home and Sunset. Widely acclaimed by a media supposedly representing the gamer. However, for all their talk of wanting social issues tackled in video games. They appear rather shy of Deus Ex.

The first critical articles came up regarding the term mechanical apartheid. Its relevance in the Deus Ex universe relates to the division amongst Augs and non-Augs. Most Augs are seen as the lower half of society and as human revolution demonstrated they are often demonised and as the story progressed, they were hacked leading to them attacking and possibly killing other people with no way of restraining themselves. In later missions, some of the living conditions for Augs can be seen as appalling. They are held to ransom by the black market that makes a living off of their prosthetic limbs.

Polygons criticism of the term begins with the definition of Apartheid;

Apartheid (literally “separateness” in Afrikaans) was the brutal governmental system of political oppression and racial segregation used by white rulers in South Africa throughout much of the last century.

In truth, there is more to that definition. Apartheid is also the segregation on grounds other than race.’ Therefore it can be used to define the separation of natural people from the augmented people as shown in Mankind Divided.

The writer Colin Campbell quotes a series of tweets made by Austin Walker stating “How might we feel if they called it ‘Robot Jim Crow Laws’” and “Apartheid isn’t just a general term, it references a specific period of great trauma and oppression.”

The general consensus is that it’s the wrong choice of term. This ignores the fact as fiction goes, the use makes sense as a reflection of the oppression faced by the Augmented. If we as writers hesitate over terms then how can fiction ever develop as a literary form? This approach by critics reflects how some regarded the Reader, a novel that later was made into a movie. The controversy spawned from the movie as publications moved to slam it and deny Kate Winslet an Oscar she was nominated for. The Telegraph reported at the time;

‘Movie critics are divided on whether Winslet should receive the best actress Oscar for the role. Voting closes at 5pm on Tuesday and supporters of rival films are said to be emailing Jewish members of the Academy in a last-minute campaign to ruin The Reader’s chances.’

And one critic Gabrielle Burton accepted that the film was “flawlessly crafted” with fine performances but went on to say how ‘it was too close to that scary genre ‘Holocaust palatable’’.

Is it too much to say that this fear of dark fiction is what leads critics to get on a bandwagon of hate? Whether it’s Mankind Divided or even the Killing Joke. What stands out is how the ‘intended’ audience reacts. And usually, it’s positive because they, unlike some critics, realise perhaps that fiction should be allowed to tackle dark subject matters. Because it can serve as a way of reflection on our past, as well as looking to our future whilst also exploring our flaws as human beings.

This isn’t to say that people can’t criticise the term ‘Mechanical Apartheid’ but I feel in their haste to push a story, journalists and especially game journalists usually overlook key details in favour of pushing the story to publication. The message conveyed by some of these people is that they want its removal. Campbell does refer to Giles Matouba’s rant on Reddit. Giles formally worked on Mankind Divided and goes into detail on why the term was chosen over other things.

‘When we decided to go all-in on delivering the experience to play as Adam Jensen, an Augmented, in a world aggressively segregating his own kind, we actually wanted to offer to our audience something unique. Something that was close and very personal to us: The experience of being torn between 2 worlds and 2 identities. Augs calling you the ‘uncle Tom’ of the non-Augs, non-Augs always insecure when you’re around, always deeply being scared or appalled by your mechanical body.’

Campbell’s criticism points at how segregation affected those native to South Africa, he also refers to gender apartheid and states that in regards to Mankind Divided;

‘The Augmented in Mankind Divided are a privileged and wealthy elite who mostly choose to put themselves above their fellow human beings through expensive technological enhancements. When these enhancements are manipulated by evil forces, millions of people are killed.’

This statement is misrepresentative of how many Augs are well below the poverty line and struggle even to survive. It also ignores the fact that Augmentation saved a lot of lives, especially that of a woman of colour who is mentioned in a newspaper if the player chooses to read it. The revulsion and forced separation of Augs and Non-Augs by any means necessary is without a doubt a form of Apartheid that literally afflicts everyone who for whatever reason, whether wealthy or otherwise was deemed too dangerous for society. The trailers shown so far clearly conveys a world divided to the break point.

Despite the terms relevance, this hasn’t stopped other notable figures coming out against it. Zoe Quinn’s comments ignore that the man who coined the phrase Mechanical Apartheid and who formerly worked as one of the Directors on the game, Giles Matouba is actually a person of colour. However, she is not the only one critical of the game, Mass Effect developer, Manveer Heir in response to the use of ‘Aug Lives Matter’ among other things tweeted ‘Also, let’s pretend for a minute there was a ton of diversity on that Deus Ex team. It doesn’t mean they understand the issues well enough’ which in turn led to a response from one of the writers that the term Aug Lives Matter was purely coincidental.

Essentially we now live in a world where a critic can basically say ‘sod the content’ attack the creators. It’s why I personally worry that some people need step back and realise they are acting morally superior. Talent for writing is not and I repeat not decided by your gender or your skin colour. Perhaps Manveer should first realise this.

Inevitably, Jonathan McIntosh formerly associated with Feminist Frequency went on his own personal tirade against the game stating that ‘Sometimes when game designers set up “player choices,” the choice itself is immoral because it shouldn’t be up to the player to make it.’ To which I ask should the player be given any choice. Whilst true the game has programmed responses to every action, every consequence is shaped by how you play the game. It’s what makes RPGs so popular with gamers.

The problem with McIntosh’s approach is that it leads to conflating fiction with reality to the point they are indistinguishable when they are two separate entities entirely. Inspiration is natural by product of the writing process. In the end, the only way we will know that Mankind Divided is a success is how it sells and how the actual players respond to the game. Because sometimes I get the feeling that its critics who are actually out of touch with their audience.