American Sniper

Iraq Violence

Iraq Violence

I know I’m way behind the curve on this, but I feel impelled to comment on American Sniper which I’ve only recently seen and is a film directed by Clint Eastwood. It deals with the experiences of a relatively ordinary American who becomes a hero in the Second Iraq War.

There’s a lot to be said about British and American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the best I’ve read about at least the latter is in this article by James Meek:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n24/james-meek/worse-than-a-defeat

In terms of the way in which the ill-advised engagements in the Middle East have both diminished the belligerents (principally the UK and the US) and how rather than alleviate the very real threat from Muslim extremists these obscenely expensive adventures have made things rather worse, I really have nothing to add.

Though what I was most aware of at the screening was how the movie in a real sense ‘worked’. The audience of extremely ordinary people (rather like the American protagonists) were moved by the film and probably took due note of what the film had to say.

But what makes great art doesn’t necessarily make moral truth.

A recent article about Birth of a Nation in the Guardian illustrates that what makes a great and affecting movie doesn’t necessarily make the world a better place. There were many admirers of Griffith’s epic movie and few who are now feted for their humanity and moral goodness.

So, is this the case with American Sniper? Is it really a propaganda victory for a US-centric view of the world where the good guys who are patriotic and selfless in the name of Truth, Justice and the American Way must triumph against the bad guys with their un-American ways and their faith in Islam?

Despite Clint Eastwood’s support for the people who in America I would characterise as a real force for evil, as promulgated by Fox News, the Koch Empire and the GOP, I’m not sure he really is a modern-day DW Griffith: at least not as far as racism is concerned. However, is he nevertheless still an apologist for American adventurism?

This is difficult to answer. Since I despise the American right-wing and the very great harm it is doing the rest of the world, it would be easy for me to say that the tendency in the movie to focus on good guys vs. bad guys and its faith in the essential goodness of America necessarily makes this movie, at least, something which should be condemned. On the other hand, Clint Eastwood, despite being a card-carrying chair-talking Republican and undeniably a Conservative, is too much of an artist to be so one-dimensional and propagandist to present an un-ambivalent message.

The movie’s focus is not on the politics and causes of war, but rather on how a patriotic response leads to a moral crusade that, whether right or wrong, becomes an us against them conflict which doesn’t reflect well at all on the motives behind it but does also highlight individual heroism and sacrifice. It is possible to see this film not as a recruitment film for American exceptionalism but more a parable of how war creeps up on a man, shapes his life and then, when free from its distraction and excitement, leaves a man deflated, perhaps even defeated, and possibly no longer without purpose.

And where now the Middle East?

Well, instead of two bad guys (Sadam Hussein and the Taliban) we now have many more bad guys of which the Islamic Republic, currently top of the list, didn’t exist and could have existed twelve years ago, After huge costs both in monetary (over a trillion dollars) and human terms, we are now in a worse place than we were in before. A battle of good against bad, played as if in some weird computer game or super-hero blockbuster movie, has not ended at all but continues as a blight on all humanity but especially those who think the world really is as simple and easy to understand as do the Muslim fundamentalists and their absolutely essential partners the American right wing.

Stories OnLine Blogs

Story Writer

Story Writer

The other day I noticed that almost all the blogs I’d written for Stories OnLine had been deleted. This wasn’t a total surprise. The site deletes them after a certain time and as I’d not contributed any blogs there since I started this one on WordPress it was inevitable that they would eventually disappear. However, to make sure that the link to this blog wasn’t lost I added a new blog with the necessary plug and made a few comments about what I thought about the majority of blogs on Stories OnLine.

And the outcome is that I’ve just had a flood of visitors to this blog. This is very gratifying (but bound to be a very temporary phenomenon). I also received a few e-mails from Stories OnLine readers in response to my almost rhetorical question: “So, what should I write about?”

First of all I should state that I have no complaint about the blog facility on Stories OnLine. It’s perfectly good for the purposes for which it’s intended and for many years was the only place where I posted any blogs. The reason I stopped contributing and why I opened this one is that I came to realise that it was the wrong kind of forum for me. And for evidence of that, all you need do is scan the blogs that are invariably featured. Almost all the blogs are pretty much of the nature I mentioned in my own little contribution. They are very narrow in their range and very inward-looking. There is little attempt to entertain the reader who isn’t especially bothered about the travails of the authors, who haven’t noticed an absence of stories from that writer and don’t really care about the progress (or otherwise) of the writer’s fiction. There have been only a few authors who’ve tried to buck the trend, including the late lamented rache and Anna Siciliana.

The advice I was given by the interested readers was essentially that I should write blogs that are exactly like the blogs currently featured. I have no intention of quoting from the e-mails as I guess the writers chose to write to me rather than the whole world, but the general gist is that the kind of blog I should write is no different from all the others (and I guess becomes indistinguishable from them and just as boring).

But let’s be fair. In the absence of any other mechanism, what should the Stories OnLine writer do if they wish to promote their fiction or pass on news about themselves that they consider the world should know. Probably not the Forum on Google Groups which has a quite different focus (in which the minutiae of grammar is expounded on in great length and writers rant about what’s they think is wrong about other writers’ stories).

But all this goes to show that if I want to write blogs that aren’t like all the others on Stories OnLine, unless my intention is to annoy the average sex fiction reader, I’m better off posting my blogs elsewhere.

And that elsewhere is, of course, here.

Fifty Shades of Movie Adaptation

Marm: Spanking

Marm: Spanking

It would be very easy to mock the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. And of course many rather better writers than me have beaten me in the rush. And the reliably hilarious Hadley Freeman has already written her interesting take on the movie in the Guardian.

However, I was rather taken by an article, also in the Guardian, which takes a rather different view of the BDSM aspect of the book and the movie, and, rather more intriguingly for me, an explanation as to why all this nonsense about restraint and spanking and so on has so much genuine erotic appeal for so many people. In fact, the way Brad Sagarin describes it rather makes me wonder what I’ve been missing. There is even an associated website, The Science of BDSM, which looks rather more worthy than titillating that presumably goes into the psychological attraction of all the rituals and the associated pleasure and pain.

So, I guess we can attribute the remarkable appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey, both book and film, to the even more remarkable appeal of Bondage, Domination and Submission.

However, I’ve produced fiction in a very similar world as EL James originally did when she self-published her novels namely on FanFiction.net and also published a novel under her original nym of Snowqueens Icedragon with the title Master of the Universe which is probably every bit as good as her final published work and that I doubt whether you can now easily download. So, I can be forgiven for fantasising who I’d like to have directing a film of any of my novels and who’d perform in it.

Well, I’ve not seen the film of Fifty Shades of Grey and I’m not sure I ever will, but the accounts seem to suggest that Sam Taylor-Johnson hasn’t done a bad job and that both Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan do better than could be expected with the source material. But I’m not sure that these are really the ideal people for a film of any of my books.

However, truth be told I’d be lucky to have even one of my books directed by the likes of Axel Braun or Nick Moore starring some C-list celebrities or aging porn stars and headed straight to DVD without ever gracing an Odeon or a Cineworld Multiplex.

So, EL James (aka Erika Mitchell) has clearly done far better than me in that regard and it would be wrong to say anything unkind either about her or her fiction.

But I can’t help wondering whether I could compile a rather better soundtrack for any movies made from my fiction than that collated on EL James’ website.

 

Winds of Change

Antistasis/Resistance by Jon

Antistasis/Resistance by Jon

 

I’m probably being a bit premature here, or perhaps my optimism is getting ahead of events (as it did when Barack Obama became President of the United States), but maybe the elections in Greece do, at last, signal a change in direction.

There is an old saying that when you’re digging yourself into a deep hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. I would say that the drive towards austerity imposed on most of the Western World and especially in Europe has been shown demonstrably not to work and the places recovering best from the recession brought onto us by the wild speculation of the financial sector are those that have most disregarded the mantra of public sector austerity. And the sector of society which has done best from the austerity measures are those who are already very well-off and have benefited disproportionately from the only expansion permitted under these regimes known as Quantitive Easing, which is essentially governments printing money for the benefit of those who can afford to sink vast amounts of money into bonds.

After all, there is a disconnect here.

It isn’t an opinion that the recession was caused by the reckless activities of the financial sector: it’s a well-documented fact. And it isn’t an opinion that the misdistribution of wealth has got worse in the last few years: that is also clearly apparent from the statistics. And it is not an opinion that those least able to shoulder the burden (and were in no way to blame for the recession) are those suffering the worst.

And yet economies throughout the world are still pursuing austerity measures as if in some mysterious way not made apparent by economic measurement of any kind it were somehow working.

So, Greece at least has said that enough is enough. The hole we’ve dug for ourselves hasn’t made things any better and indeed look likely to make things much much worse (especially if economies in the UK and elsewhere continue to squeeze the public sector while still doling out largesse to private companies who squirrel away their profits in tax havens of one kind or another).

And, of course, with regards to holes, it was John Maynard Keynes who famously advocated a policy of paying people to dig holes and fill them in again just to stimulate the job market and thereby the rest of the economy. So, why did the world economies ignore the lessons of the 1930s and choose instead to follow the monetarist creed which had failed us so spectacularly?

So, let’s hope that Syriza’s victory is the sign of things to come and that the fantasy world of monetarism and trickle-down economics can be put back into the toy cupboard where it belongs.

Nous sommes Charlie Hebdo

charlie_1420729678516970

As someone who writes fiction that would be banned in many (if not most) countries in the world, I’m obviously outraged and alarmed by the murder of the cartoonists and other staff of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

However, I think it is foolish to disregard the genuine outrage felt by many Muslims throughout the world to what they regard as blasphemy when the magazine printed a front cover that yet again features the Prophet Mohammed.

However, we should disentangle all this outrage and anger.

ISIS, Al Qaeda and countless other jihadist movements throughout the world are currently winning in their battle against the West. What they have done is needle and antagonise the West to overreact again and again in defence of its stated policies of tolerance and freedom of expression. And although it can be argued that the West’s response to the various terrorist attacks are proportionate, this is not how it is perceived by those in Pakistan, Afghanistan and throughout the Islamic world who are more concerned about the ever-present drones flying above their heads or whose mosques are attacked by right-wing extremists. And they may very well see the publication of images of the prophet Mohammed as a very direct assault on their faith.

So, from the point of view of devout Muslims, the West’s response is nothing more than an affront that is further antagonism which in turn acts as propaganda for ISIS, Boko Haram and the others. All these jihadist movements are now stronger, richer and more of a threat than they were before 2001. In fact, you could argue that the West’s response in invading countries and trampling over local sensitivities has been nothing but a trillion dollar recruitment campaign for the very organisations that it’s supposed to be attacking.

Nonetheless, there is a good reason to vigorously oppose the various jihadists. The main sufferers of these movements are actually other Muslims who for reasons of geography or being not exactly the right flavour of faith find themselves in the firing line. It can even be argued that the jihadists do not represent the Islamic faith. Most Muslims in the world (even in the Middle East and Pakistan) do not subscribe to the jihadists’ narrow interpretation and, furthermore, careful analysis of the history of Islam (i.e. Tom Holland’s In the Shadow of the Sword) casts at least as much doubt on the historical veracity of the Koran as countless other studies have for the Torah and the New Testament. And even within the bounds of a theological view of Islam, there is only a very weak case that Allah is especially bothered by illustrations of the Prophet (this is less to do with an explicit command and more to do with a conveniently extreme interpretation of the source texts).

It could be argued that the West has played into the hands of the extremists. After all, one of the stated aims of terrorism as a means of facilitating political change is to destabilise society and promote a response that sets the section of society that the terrorists represent against the government and state. It also has the aim of radicalising its own community and further nudging it towards a more extreme uncompromising position. And in this way, the terrorists have already won and, despite the protests in Paris and elsewhere, continue to do so even after its slaughter of unarmed cartoonists and satirists.

My own views are very much in line with the protestors who took to the streets in such large numbers in defence of the freedom of speech and expression while also being fairly sceptical that the protest has done anything more than further consolidate the artificial divide between Islam and the West. After all, it takes a fairly nuanced and subtle understanding of the situation to see the protest as a defence of liberal values rather than an attack on the principles of Islam.

And the words ‘subtle’ and ‘nuanced’ are not ones we would normally ascribe to the response encouraged and inculcated by either ISIS or Al Qaeda.

Sliding Sideways

Sliding Sideways

Sliding Sideways

If you’ve visited Lush Stories recently, you may well have noticed that my short story Sliding Sideways has recently been awarded a Recommended Read (Recommended Read) icon.

This honour has been awarded by SITTING who is one of the moderators on Lush Stories.

Obviously, I am very pleased to be awarded this honour.

Sliding Sideways was originally written for the now defunct website Ruthie’s Club (from which the above illustration by Brett Empty has come) and was also reviewed on Literotica. It’s a science fiction story that plays around with the idea of sliding though parallel universes and the loneliness and disorientation this produces. It obviously owes something to the movie Sliding Doors (although the parallels with the romance starring Gwyneth Paltrow is very limited other than for the science fiction premise).

So, what benefit has this award brought me?

In truth, very little. Although this story has so far been downloaded over 600 times and has been awarded top marks by seven readers, it is neither my top-ranking story on Lush Stories nor my most read (those honours go to Waiting for the Longships and Virgin Gold respectively). In fact, so far Virgin Gold has been downloaded by 30 times as many Lush Stories readers.

So, what does that say about the Recommended Read award?

Well, I think most readers on Lush Stories are looking for sex stories rather than Science Fiction and what they most like are relatively non-threatening stories which tease around the edges of what is more dangerous and taboo without actually diving in too deep or too dark.

And who can blame them for that?

 

 

 

Smoke and Soot

 

The Shape of Things to Come

The Shape of Things to Come

I am grateful to Wynn Parks who has written a further comment to my post No Future: Smashwords Review in which he quoted ‘a Greek song that sings about our lives as being sullied by the “smoke and soot” of living’. As he elaborates ‘The eyes of the self-righteous often over look the flame.’

My guess is that Wynn is expressing two things with regards to my reaction to Jim Bade‘s review. One is that life is never likely to be perfect, at least not in the way that many Americans seem to believe it should be, so writing an account of the world which illustrates that is a good thing. The other, I think, is that critics tend to see only the ‘smoke and soot’ in an account of the world that shows the bad things in life and disregard the ‘flame’ of (I guess) brilliance or illumination that generates this pollution.

Obviously, I agree with Wynn, otherwise I’d never write dystopian fiction. And I believe that Jim Bade would probably have preferred to read a book in which there was some strong central protagonist who either triumphs over nature or, if that were not possible, triumphs over the adversities of nature.

Instead, what we have are nearly a hundred almost self-contained chapters spread over each year in the next century or so which are loosely interlinked (either in terms of character or shared future history) and in which there are many protagonists of whom only a few are sympathetic in a conventional sense and where the general sense is of impending doom.

I have great sympathy for Jim Bade and indeed any reader of No Future. It is my most experimental novel and probably the one most difficult to get on with. I don’t think that’s because the writing style is obscure or difficult (which I don’t think it is), but simply because the novel’s structure is a string of short stories and vignettes that jump around in time where the normal narrative is subverted and where the focus is rather on how external events govern people’s lives. Furthermore, there is the immediate question of where the core of the novel lies.

In a sense, the central narrative is the life story of Alex who is a hugely fallible man seduced by power but more a happy beneficiary of chance who lives in a changing world but is barely touched by events, and a series of people both loosely and directly connected who either actively make things worse or try to prevent the worst happening and those who are mere victims. Some of these characters are the subject of only one or two chapters such as Phil or Chris, whilst others such as Iris (Alex’s daughter), Eden (Alex’s millionaire benefactor) and Eugenie (who is barely connected to Alex at all) are given more prominence.

I can’t really blame Jim Bade or other readers for not liking the novel given that his stated preferences are considerably more conventional, but in a sense this novel was probably not written for him in mind.

Who it was written for (other than myself) I’m not sure, but I’m gratified that Wynn has defended me against criticism and I hope that No Future is a novel that he’s enjoyed reading.