10 Lessons From Real-Life Revolutions That Fictional Dystopias Ignore

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Esther Inglis-Arkell lists 10 lessons from real-life revolutions that fictional dystopias ignore:

The Enemy of Your Enemy Is Not Your Friend. And even though smugglers who deal in that contraband may seem to oppose their government, they’re actually part of a stable system.

The Top Guy Isn’t Always the Problem. There were, and are, plenty of dictators who brutally check every attempt at reform. There have also been kings who supported the cause of justice and attempted reform, only to be stopped by a large group of people who had enough power and wealth to topple the monarchy more quickly than peasants could.

Sometimes Making Concessions Leads To Rebellion. Authors are concerned with making dictators frightening, rather than frightened. Remember that sometimes a “reasonable response” is not actually a reasonable response. Dictators are morally wrong — but they might be, practically speaking, right not to compromise.

Two Downtrodden Groups Will Usually Be Fighting Each Other. Both the Union and the Confederacy passed conscription acts. Exceptions to both conscription acts were contingent upon wealth.

Never Neglect the Practicalities. Women rioting for bread got the ball rolling on both the French and the Russian revolutions.

New Regimes Come With Crazy Ideology. Sometimes these radicalization plans are horrific, like China’s Great Leap Forward. The program was meant to modernize the nation, but was planned and executed by non-experts. As a result the modernization plans included asking farmers and urban neighborhoods to make steel in “backyard furnaces,” build aqueducts with no training, and kill every sparrow. The resulting insect plague and irrigation disaster caused a food shortage that resulted in between 18 and 45 million deaths.

Revolutions Take Place on a World Stage. When Americans rebelled against Britain, they didn’t do it alone. The French enacted devastatingly effective naval warfare against the British, committing 32,000 sailors to the cause. They also contributed soldiers, supplies, and money. Which made it awkward when France underwent its own revolution, and both the royalists and the republicans expected the United States to be on their side.

Violent Conflicts Keep Cropping Up From Within. Every revolution starts out by employing the “we are all brothers and sisters” ideology to get people on board.

Fear Alone Can Precipitate the Explosion. The French revolution was exported from Paris to the provinces because peasants, coming off a bad harvest and looking forward to a good one, were worried that their local nobility would sabotage their food supply in retaliation for the goings-on in Paris. Terrified, they took to the country houses, demanding food, cash, and rights. They took the Revolution nation-wide not because any particular event sparked retaliation, but because they feared it soon would.

Afterwards There Will Be Mythology for the Losing Side. There are very few regimes so terrible that they can’t be romanticized. This is especially true after they have been defeated. It’s easy to be sentimental about something when nobody has to deal with it anymore.

How to Write a Thriller

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

Ian Fleming explains how to write a thriller:

People often ask me, “How do you manage to think of that? What an extraordinary (or sometimes extraordinarily dirty) mind you must have.” I certainly have got vivid powers of imagination, but I don’t think there is anything very odd about that.

We are all fed fairy stories and adventure stories and ghost stories for the first 20 years of our lives, and the only difference between me and perhaps you is that my imagination earns me money. But, to revert to my first book, Casino Royale, there are strong incidents in the book which are all based on fact. I extracted them from my wartime memories of the Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty, dolled them up, attached a hero, a villain and a heroine, and there was the book.

The first was the attempt on Bond’s life outside the Hotel Splendide. SMERSH had given two Bulgarian assassins box camera cases to hang over their shoulders. One was of red leather and the other one blue. SMERSH told the Bulgarians that the red one con-tained a bomb and the blue one a powerful smoke screen, under cover of which they could escape.

One was to throw the red bomb and the other was then to press the button on the blue case. But the Bulgars mistrusted the plan and decided to press the button on the blue case and envelop themselves in the smoke screen before throwing the bomb. In fact, the blue case also contained a bomb powerful enough to blow both the Bulgars to fragments and remove all evidence which might point to SMERSH.

Farfetched, you might say. In fact, this was the method used in the Russian attempt on Von Papen’s life in Ankara in the middle of the war. On that occasion the assassins were also Bulgarians and they were blown to nothing while Von Papen and his wife, walking from their house to the embassy; were only bruised by the blast.

So you see the line between fact and fantasy is a very narrow one. I think I could trace most of the central incidents in my books to some real happenings.

We thus come to the final and supreme hurdle in the writing of a thriller. You must know thrilling things before you can write about them. Imagination alone isn’t enough, but stories you hear from friends or read in the papers can be built up by a fertile imagination and a certain amount of research and documentation into incidents that will also ring true in fiction.

Having assimilated all this encouraging advice, your heart will nevertheless quail at the physical effort involved in writing even a thriller. I warmly sympathise with you. I too, am lazy My heart sinks when I contemplate the two or three hundred virgin sheets of foolscap I have to besmirch with more or less well chosen words in order to produce a 60,000 word book.

One of the essentials is to create a vacuum in my life which can only be satisfactorily filled by some form of creative work – whether it be writing, painting, sculpting, composing or just building a boat – I was about to get married – a prospect which filled me with terror and mental fidget. To give my hands something to do, and as an antibody to my qualms about the marriage state after 43 years as a bachelor, I decided one day to damned well sit down and write a book.

The therapy was successful. And while I still do a certain amount of writing in the midst of my London Life, it is on my annual visits to Jamaica that all my books have been written.

But, failing a hideaway such as I possess, I can recommend hotel bedrooms as far removed from your usual “life” as possible. Your anonymity in these drab surroundings and your lack of friends and distractions will create a vacuum which should force you into a writing mood and, if your pocket is shallow, into a mood which will also make you write fast and with application. I do it all on the typewriter, using six fingers. The act of typing is far less exhausting than the act of writing, and you end up with a more or less clean manuscript The next essential is to keep strictly to a routine.

I write for about three hours in the morning – from about 9:30 till 12:30and I do another hour’s work between six and seven in the evening. At the end of this I reward myself by numbering the pages and putting them away in a spring-back folder. The whole of this four hours of daily work is devoted to writing narrative.

I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used “terrible” six times on one page? And so forth. If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day and you aren’t disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be in about six weeks.

I don’t even pause from writing to choose the right word or to verify spelling or a fact. All this can be done when your book is finished.

When my book is completed I spend about a week going through it and correcting the most glaring errors and rewriting passages. I then have it properly typed with chapter headings and all the rest of the trimmings. I then go through it again, have the worst pages retyped and send it off to my publisher.

They are a sharp-eyed bunch at Jonathan Cape and, apart from commenting on the book as a whole, they make detailed suggestions which I either embody or discard. Then the final typescript goes to the printer and in due course the galley or page proofs are there and you can go over them with a fresh eye. Then the book is published and you start getting letters from people saying that Vent Vert is made by Balmain and not by Dior, that the Orient Express has vacuum and not hydraulic brakes, and that you have mousseline sauce and not Bearnaise with asparagus.

Such mistakes are really nobody’s fault except the author’s, and they make him blush furiously when he sees them in print. But the majority of the public does not mind them or, worse, does not even notice them, and it is a dig at the author’s vanity to realise how quickly the reader’s eye skips across the words which it has taken him so many months to try to arrange in the right sequence.

But what, after all these labours, are the rewards of writing and, in my case, of writing thrillers?

First of all, they are financial. You don’t make a great deal of money from royalties and translation rights and so forth and, unless you are very industrious and successful, you could only just about live on these profits, but if you sell the serial rights and the film rights, you do very well. Above all, being a successful writer is a good life. You don’t have to work at it all the time and you carry your office around in your head. And you are far more aware of the world around you.

Writing makes you more alive to your surroundings and, since the main ingredient of living, though you might not think so to look at most human beings, is to be alive, this is quite a worthwhile by-product of writing.

Creating a Nation of Readers

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Publishers gave away over 100 million books during World War IIgood books, in a disposable format:

Serious books were hard to find before the war. An industry study in 1931 highlighted the book trade’s limited audience. Nineteen out of every 20 books sold by the major publishing houses cost more than two dollars, a luxury even before the Depression. Those who could afford them often struggled to find them. Two out of three counties in America lacked any bookstore, or even so much as a department store, drugstore, or other retailer selling enough books to have an account with a publishing house. In rural areas, small towns, and even mid-sized cities, dedicated customers bought their books the way they bought other household goods, picking the titles out of mail-order catalogs. Most did not bother.

There was another, less-reputable class of books, though, that enjoyed broader distribution. Cheap mysteries, westerns, and comics could be snapped up at newsstands in paperbound editions that cost far less to produce than hardcover books. Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, publishers tried to take advantage of this format to publish a wider range of books. Most efforts failed. Then, in 1939, two new entrants changed the equation. Pocket Books and Penguin Books each offered a mix of new titles and reprints of hardcover books, including some of a literary bent. More importantly, they sold these paperback books on magazine racks.

Americans could put down a quarter and pick up a book all over town, from train stations and drugstores. Within a year, Americans bought 6 million paperback books. By 1943, Pocket Books alone printed 38 million copies. “It’s unbelievable,” said the head of Random House. “It’s frightening.”

Old-line publishers had good reason to be scared. They were in the business of selling a premium product to an affluent audience. The sudden flood of paperbacks threatened to swamp their refined trade and erode its prestige. The cheap, disposable format seemed best suited to works of little lasting value. That Penguin and Pocket Books included some distinguished titles on their lists threatened the stability of these categories, even as their sales still tilted heavily toward the lower end of the spectrum. Paperbacks were expanding the market for books, but that market remained divided.

Then, war intervened. The key actors in the book trade organized themselves into the Council on Books in Wartime, hoping to use books to advance the war effort. In February of 1943, they circulated an audacious proposal. They proposed to print and sell millions of books to the army, for just six cents a volume.

Hardcover books could not possibly be produced so cheaply. But magazines could. So the Council decided to use magazine presses, printing two copies on each page, and then slicing the book in half perpendicular to the binding. The result was a book wider than it was tall, featuring two columns of text for easier reading in low light. The real innovation, though, was less technological than ideological. The publishers proposed to take books available only in hardcover form, and produce them in this disposable format.

The plan, breathtaking in its ambition, was sure to engender skepticism among publishers asked to donate the rights to some of their most valuable property. So the chair of the committee, W.W. Norton, took care to appeal not just to the patriotism of his fellow publishers, but also to their pursuit of profits. “The net result to the industry and to the future of book reading can only be helpful,” he explained. “The very fact that millions of men will have the opportunity to learn what a book is and what it can mean is likely now and in postwar years to exert a tremendous influence on the postwar course of the industry.”

The program turned The Great Gatsby into a success. Apparently A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was hugely popular with the troops.

(Hat tip to Steve Sailer.)

Jack and Jack

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Being famous in the age of social media means you can have a giant tour bus with your face on it and a line of screaming teenage fans, even if no one else in the world cares:

Jack and Jack — as their Vine fans affectionately call them — represent your classic new millennial celebrities. [...] At the end of their junior year in high school, they started filming Vines together as a comedy duo, without bigger intentions of fame. But one breakout clip of theirs — “The Nerd Vandals” — went viral. That was all it took to get the celebrity train going.

[...]

After that clip, Johnson and Gilinsky’s fan base started growing of its own volition. They had 1,000 followers when Jack Johnson went away to summer camp, and when he returned they hit 25,000. Now, roughly a year later, they’re up to 4.4 million followers on Vine, half a million subscribers on YouTube, and more than a million followers apiece on Instagram.

[...]

At the time of publishing this story, their biggest hit, “Tides,” is currently number 7 on the iTunes charts, behind Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and newcomer Meghan Trainor’s surprise summer hit “All About that Bass.” The only other artists in front of Johnson and Gilinsky are major names like Maroon 5 and Ariana Grande. In other words, the two teen boys are killing it.

[...]

“It’s so weird,” Johnson says. “We have this fan base of millions of teenage girls, but no one knows it. It stays between these teenage girls.”

Archeofuturist Dune

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

If science fiction is progressive, and fantasy is reactionary, then Frank Herbert’s Dune is archeofuturist, Greg Johnson suggests:

Herbert shows how religion can be cynically used by the powerful as a tool of social control. But he also shows how sincere religious fanaticism can revolutionize societies. For instance, more than 10,000 years before the setting of the first novel, a religious war, the Butlerian Jihad, destroyed all artificial intelligences and banned the creation of thinking machines. Herbert explores how ecumenical ideas — like the Traditionalist notion of the transcendental unity of religions — can be used to promote peace and tolerance, whereas exclusive forms of monotheism lead to intolerance and conflict. Finally, Herbert is very aware of the importance of religion and rituals of hierarchy and initiation in bonding together hierarchical societies, especially secret societies.

[...]

The idea of a Spacing Guild, as well as hierarchical-initiatic orders like the Bene Tleilax and the Bene Gesserit, all of which are medieval institutions which wield what are in effect magical powers, place Dune firmly in the archaic and magical cosmos of fantasy literature.

But there is swordplay as well as sorcery in the Dune universe: the galaxy is ruled by a Padishah Emperor, while many of the planets are ruled by dukes, counts, and barons who form a “Landsraad” — a college of noble houses. (Other planets, like Bene Tleilax, Ix, and Richese are equivalents of the medieval free cities.) It is an essentially feudal system.

Herbert, moreover, did not bemoan this system as repressive and unfair. Indeed, he regarded feudalism as a superior form of government and one uniquely suited for mankind’s expansion throughout the galaxy. Feudalism, unlike liberal democracy, is a highly decentralized system, which is suited to widely scattered planets and high transportation costs. Furthermore, feudalism, unlike liberal democracy, is capable of pursuing grand strategies over the vast spans of time necessary for space travel and colonization.

Because of the decentralization of power and costs of transportation, the different planets of the Empire evolve very different cultures, some free, martial, and gallant (such as Caladan, ruled by the Atreides dukes — who trace their descent to the ancient house of Atreus), others despotic, sybaritic, and cruel (like Giedi Prime, ruled by the Harkonnen barons). But all planets have hierarchical, aristocratic forms of government. Herbert never has a kind word for liberalism or democracy.

In the Dune universe, martial and aristocratic values are dominant, and commercial values, although unavoidable and widespread, are regarded with aristocratic disdain. Great houses compete and ally with each other in accordance with iron codes of honor. Atomic weapons are outlawed. Laser and projectile weapons are seldom used because of the existence of energy shields, which can stop any projectile and destroy both attacker and target when they come in contact with a laser. Shields are, however, unable to protect from slow blades at close range, so high-tech shields are actually conducive to swashbuckling combat with swords and knives. Vendettas are governed by the iron code of kanly and can be settled through treachery or duels to the death.

Now, before I discuss the main characters and plot of Dune, we must pause to ask why these novels have such a powerful appeal on the Right. The answer, of course, is that Frank Herbert was no liberal. No liberal praises feudalism over democracy, hierarchy over equality, and martial virtues over bourgeois ones — but Frank Herbert does. No liberal attaches great weight to heredity, speaks of racial memories, praises eugenics, and explains the Darwinian benefits of subjecting human populations to the ruthless culling of harsh environments — but Frank Herbert does.

Herbert believes in essential differences between men and women, which was uncontroversial when he began writing Dune more than 50 years ago, but today it is considered the height of reaction.

Herbert’s novels are deeply and disquietingly anti-humanist and anti-individualist. He thinks in terms of the evolution of the human race over vast spans of time. He looks at history like a general on a battlefield, coolly sacrificing individual lives for the greater good. His novels are filled with well-drawn individuals, but that just makes it all the more poignant when they go willy nilly to their doom — or are resurrected as gholas to play another part in a larger drama.

Herbert traces the rise and fall of civilizations through great cycles, moving from vital and heroic barbarism to cynical, sclerotic, and decadent civilizations, which are then liquidated by fresh barbarians. (His view of historical cycles is closer to Giambattista Vico and Oswald Spengler, both of whom see vital barbarism as the first phase of history, as opposed to the Golden Age of the Traditionalists.)

For the sentimental and humanistic, the overall effect can be bleak, depressing, and distasteful.

Aspects of Dune do, of course, appeal to the Left. When it first appeared in 1965, its ideas of mind-expanding drugs and sprinkling of Hindu terms found receptive ears in the counter-culture.

Dune can also be read as an anti-colonial allegory. Arrakis produces the most valuable commodity in the universe, but its people — particularly the Fremen of the desert — live in utter deprivation. Yet they dream of one day seizing control of Arrakis through guerrilla warfare and using its wealth to improve their lives.

This leads to a third theme in Dune which is popular with the Left, namely ecology, for the Fremen’s dream is the creation of the Kynes family, both father and son, the Imperial Planetologists of Arrakis who set in motion plans to reclaim parts of Arrakis from the desert and create an earthly paradise.

None of these themes appeal to the Republican or libertarian Right. But the New Right can and does embrace deep ecology, Eastern spirituality, anti-colonialism/anti-capitalism, and even a bit of spice — together with Herbert’s anti-egalitarian biopolitics — in a wider synthesis.

Saul Bass does Game of Thrones

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Saul Bass made his name doing title sequences for films, such as The Man with the Golden Arm, North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Psycho — oh, and Game of Thrones:

Weekend at the Asylum

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Most steampunk is neither steam nor punk:

In the mid-80s, the hip new movement in science fiction was cyberpunk, which stood utopian science fiction on its head, emphasizing “high tech and low life” — cybernetics and punk — and how “the street finds its own uses for things.”

Authors who weren’t part of the hip new movement naturally resented that fact. I assume that’s what Jeter was getting at when he quipped, “I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term…like ‘steampunks,’ perhaps.”

The Difference Engine, on the other hand, actually transferred the cyberpunk ethos to the Age of Steam — where it didn’t belong, I might add — to create a true steampunk story — if not a reasonable projection of how Babbage’s analytical engine might have influenced history had it worked. Since then, the term has evolved to cover just about anything involving “retro” technology — or Victorian fashion.

The movement has also evolved in exactly the manner Robert Conquest would have expected — as the inmates at the Weekend at the Asylum explain:

“We actually have a lot to say about the modern world, recycling, upcycling, multiculturalism and inclusion,” says Rosa. “Steampunks are always really nice people, really eccentric people, and everybody is welcome, whoever you are.

“A lot of it is about social justice and freedom of expression. And eating crumpets.”

[...]

Loosely speaking, “steampunk” refers to a mash-up of 19th-century ephemera and science fiction, underpinned by 21st-century liberal values, to create a “retro-futurist vision of Victorian England”.

(Hat tip to Outside In.)

Behind The Squirm

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Silicon Valley co-executive producer Clay Tarver talks about getting things right:

Mike had heard some comment from Dr. Dre, I believe, where Dre said, “If it plays in the hood, it plays everywhere.” That meant to us that if the people who actually know this world deem it accurate and genuine and funny to them then so will everybody else. It’s the Spinal Tap effect. Nobody loved Spinal Tap more than rock bands. (I know. I played in bands.) They knew it got the shit right and it was a joy to see it on screen.

I’d had no interest in tech, actually. But the more I learned — the more everyone doing the show learned — the more it became glaringly clear to us that we had to be as accurate as possible. It’s a fucking crazy world as it is. That’s the point. So you can’t take shortcuts or liberties. It really is a matter of trust that you build with an audience. And if you’re bullshitting them every once in a while or, worse, if you’re getting things wrong, then why should they believe anything you do?

Personally, I’ve written many feature scripts based on “worlds.” From hunting to barbershop singing to surfing to basketball. And the strange thing is the real details are always funnier than a bunch of shit a comedy writer would think up. The deeper you dig the more interesting things get.

Furthermore, one of this show’s biggest strengths, I think, is the satire. And maybe satire means something different to other people. But to me it means showing things for how they are by looking at it through a different lens or different point of view. Accuracy and authenticity are critical to pulling that off.

Scientist Shamans

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Frank Herbert based the Bene Gesserit “witches” of Dune in part on the scientific wizards of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.

Herbert’s judgment on them is implicit in the way he has reversed the roles played by such scientists in Dune.

Asimov’s trilogy is set in a crumbling galactic empire, in which a “psychohistorian” named Han Seldon has analyzed with mathematical precision the forces acting upon masses of people and can predict nearly exactly what will happen hundreds and even thousands of years in the future. Seldon has set up a foundation to act in accordance with the statistical laws of psychohistory and take the necessary steps to bring about a new order from the ruins of the old. In Seldon’s vision, the Foundation will enable the rebuilding of galactic civilization in 1,000 years instead of the 10,000 years of turmoil that would otherwise be required.

The trilogy chronicles the successes of the Foundation and the complete accuracy of the long-dead Seldon’s scientific predictions, until a freak mutant is born. An empathetic superman, called “the Mule” because he is sterile, he was completely unexpected by Seldon, whose science could predict only mass dynamics and not the truly exceptional individual. The Mule shatters the Foundation’s precious new civilization in his own hungry grab for power, and is stopped only by a mysterious “second foundation” established by Seldon to study the science of the mind and to prepare for such unforeseen emergencies as the material science of the first foundation could not handle.

Herbert questioned the assumptions about science that he saw at work in Asimov’s trilogy. In a recent essay, he wrote:

History… is manipulated for larger ends and for the greater good as determined by a scientific aristocracy. It is assumed, then, that the scientist-shamans know best which course humankind should take…. While surprises may appear in these stories (e.g., the Mule mutant), it is assumed that no surprise will be too great or too unexpected to overcome the firm grasp of science upon human destiny. This is essentially the assumption that science can produce a surprise-free future for humankind.

Dune is clearly a commentary on the Foundation trilogy. Herbert has taken a look at the same imaginative situation that provoked Asimov’s classic — the decay of a galactic empire — and restated it in a way that draws on different assumptions and suggests radically different conclusions. The twist he has introduced into Dune is that the Mule, not the Foundation, is his hero.

The Bene Gesserit are clearly parallel to the “scientist-shamans” of the Foundation. Their science of prediction and control is biological rather than statistical, but their intentions are similar to those of Asimov’s psychohistorians. In a crumbling empire, they seek to grasp the reins of change. The Sisterhood sees the need for genetic redistribution — which ultimately motivates the jihad — and has tried to control that redistribution by means of their breeding program. The Kwisatz Haderach, the capstone of their plan, is not its only goal. Their overall intention is to manage the future of the race. Paul, like the Mule, is the unexpected betrayal of their planned future.

The irony is that Paul is not a freak but an inevitable product of the Bene Gesserit’s own schemes. Although he has come a generation early in the plan due to Jessica’s willfulness in bearing a son instead of a daughter, the real surprise is not his early birth but the paradox of the Sisterhood’s achievement: the planned instrument of perfect control, the Kwisatz Haderach, was designed to see further than his creators, He could not help but know the emptiness of their dreams. The universe cannot be managed; the vitality of the human race lies in its random generation of new possibilities. The only real surety is that surprises will occur. In contrast to the Foundation trilogy’s exaltation of rationality’s march to predicted victory, Dune proclaims the power and primacy of the unconscious and the unexpected in human affairs. Paul’s wild ride on the jihad, not the careful Bene Gesserit gene manipulation, provides the answer to the Empire’s needs.

Even though Dune so clearly undercuts the assumptions about science applauded in the Foundation trilogy, such antirationalism was the culmination of a long struggle. Early on, Herbert saw that the same assumptions pervaded much of science fiction, including his own. In order to embody his visions of the future, he needed to untangle himself from their hold.

Contemporary Wisdom Reflected Back

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

In Dune, Tim O’Reilly notes, Frank Herbert puts contemporary wisdom in the mouths of his characters, so that the reader hears the insights of his own age reflected back at him out of the imagined future:

Kierkegaard’s “life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced” becomes a Bene Gesserit aphorism. Ecologist Paul B. Sears’s statement, “the highest function of science is to give us an understanding of consequences” is expressed by Kynes as a fundamental ecological principle; and his “respect for truth comes close to being the basis for all morality” is recalled as a lesson Paul had received from his father. Such statements are used without acknowledgment, reflecting the supposition that truly profound thoughts may, over time, lose their authors and become a part of the wisdom of the race. Such borrowings give the distant flights of science fiction a foundation on the solidity of contemporary fact. A feeling of familiarity is thus attached to situations that are overtly strange.

Creativity Hack

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

A popular creativity hack, Scott Adams (Dilbert) notes, is to use distractions that don’t distract — by working in a coffee shop, or taking a walk, a drive, or a shower:

My armchair guess about what is going on with the brain distractions is that we evolved to keep some important part of the brain on high alert for danger, food, and mating opportunities. If you distract that part of the brain with driving, walking, showering, and background noise it loosens its hold on the creative processing part of your brain.

This supports my hypothesis that creativity is something that happens naturally so long as your brain is not actively suppressing it for some sort of survival advantage. That makes sense because creative thinking usually isn’t helpful in immediately dangerous situations. If we were cave dwellers I would be the one that didn’t see the mastodon stampede heading my way because I was daydreaming and inventing new stone tools in my head. Sometimes you don’t need creative ideas so much as you just need to run.

Putting it in simpler terms, creativity is a mental luxury that your brain will not allow until it feels safe or until the watchdog part of your brain gets busy handling some routine task such as driving the car.

World Of PeaceCraft

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

“You’ve fought terrorists in Call of Duty and alien hordes in Gears of War. Well, now get ready for the opposite of that“:

(From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.)

Usagi Yojimbo Short

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

This is the proof of concept short film that Lintika Films created and presented to Stan Sakai to secure the feature-film rights to Usagi Yojimbo:

Usagi, by the way, is Japanese for rabbit, and yojimbo means bodyguard. Yojimbo is also, of course, the famous a 1961 jidaigeki (period drama) film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It was based, indirectly, on Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Harvest” and inspired Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars.

The Real League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Friday, August 15th, 2014

Florian Liedtke has produced an opening sequence for a hypothetical League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie based on the original comics:

Did the writer of “True Detective” plagiarize Thomas Ligotti and others?

Friday, August 15th, 2014

When I saw a headline asking, Did the writer of True Detective plagiarize Thomas Ligotti and others?, I distinctly remembered that Nic Pizzolatto had explicitly mentioned Ligotti as a major influence in interviews:

MD: But isn’t it true that Pizzolatto acknowledged Ligotti’s influence on True Detective and praised his work?

JP: In the many interviews Pizzolatto gave in the lead up to episode three, the show’s influences were discussed by the show’s creator at great length. You know who wasn’t mentioned by Pizzolatto until days after episode three aired? Ligotti.

MD: But in this Wall Street Journal interview, Pizzolatto does talk at length about Ligotti’s influence on the show.

JP: Only under pressure. Here’s what was happening behind the scenes: WSJ reporter Michael Calia and I (and plenty of other Ligotti readers) had already noticed that Rust Cohle’s monologues and other dialogue were peculiarly Ligottian (his prose is very distinctive). In an interview with the True Detective creator, Arkham Digest editor Justin Steele even brought up Cohle’s “Ligottian wordview”, and I was frustrated when Pizzolatto evaded his question, at least as it concerned Thomas Ligotti or his work. Three of nine commenters on that interview page also noticed that Pizzolatto appeared to be evasive in dealing with the Ligotti influence question. At that point, I tried to get an interview with Pizzolatto about Ligotti’s influence on True Detective — writing to his agent — but I was told politely that Pizzolatto was “up to his ears in post-production and working on season two of True Detective.”

Then I started digging. Mr. Calia was coincidentally already working on an article centering on the influence by past and present masters of weird horror tales on True Detective, so I decided to analyze Cohle’s familiar dialogue and compare it side by side with Ligotti’s prose in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. I quickly sent Mr. Calia the results of my research, and he used just the tip of the iceberg of evidence I had uncovered in his article — perhaps cannily implying that “The Most Shocking Thing About HBO’s ‘True Detective’” was that Pizzolatto lifted text and ideas from an author he had hitherto explicitly refused to acknowledge as an influence.

Shortly after the article’s publication, Calia interviewed Pizzolatto in a follow-up to his original article. It seems that the “too busy” writer suddenly had time for an interview mostly about, you guessed it, Thomas Ligotti. Usually I would give any kind of writer who appeared so praising of Ligotti the benefit of the doubt, but I knew how deep the plagiarism issue ran, and I had no illusions that Pizzolatto suddenly and coincidentally wanted to talk about Ligotti after already having dozens and dozens of opportunities to do so before. Was Pizzolatto in damage control mode (i.e., “I don’t want to get in legal trouble” mode)? Quite suddenly Thomas Ligotti was one of his top literary influences, an acknowledgement that would never be repeated again in a full-length interview or, to my knowledge, elsewhere.

MD: Wait, that interview was the only time Pizzolatto mentioned Ligotti as an influence?

JP: Not quite. He sent Justin Steele a follow-up paragraph clarifying Ligotti’s influence on True Detective just days after Calia’s first article on the connection between the show and Ligotti’s work was published. But after that, Pizzolatto hasn’t mentioned a word about Ligotti. Not one word. Nothing in interviews. Nothing on the DVD commentaries. Nothing. In how many interviews total does Pizzolatto mention Thomas Ligotti or his work? Two — the two I’ve mentioned.

MD: During the one WSJ interview, though, Pizzolatto states that “In episode one [of ‘True Detective’] there are two lines in particular (and it would have been nothing to re-word them) that were specifically phrased in such a way as to signal Ligotti admirers. Which, of course, you got.” How do you respond to his claim?

JP: I consider that justification absurd and disingenuous.