Sloppy Alternate Histories

Warrior by Mahirates

Warrior by Mahirates

 

I can’t disguise my pleasure when my fiction is mentioned on bulletin boards on the internet, especially when it’s on websites I really didn’t expect to find them.

And one such has been alternatehistory.com which advertises itself as “the largest gathering of alternate history fans on the internet”. And Alternate History as the site informs us is “the exercise of looking at the past and asking “what if”? What if some major historical event had gone differently, and how could that have changed the world?”.

And it is on this site that following the release of Thoroughly Modern Emancipation that I’ve been mentioned on one of the forum threads by one of the site’s frequent contributors VariantAberrant, but seeing that it is in a thread entitled The Sloppiest Alternate Histories Out There… inevitably it’s not the most flattering.

You can obviously follow the link, but what VariantAberrant says about me is the following:

A Briton of some flavour who writes erotic fiction, some of it nominally AH, but thought through only as much as would justify the nudity and sexual content. (I’m thinking of his recent piece “Thoroughly Modern Emancipation” and the older “Blessed by Nature”, neither of which gives a real sense of the POD.)


It’s nice to be mentioned as a ‘Briton of some flavour’ (though what flavour I don’t know: vanilla? chocolate? coffee?). And it’s nice to be promoted in this way.

Nevertheless, just how sloppy are my Alternate Histories (AH)?

Well, let’s be honest. They’re not that rigorous as far as alternate histories, but I don’t think they are exceptionally ill-informed. But where VariantAberrant is absolutely right is that I have deliberately avoided mentioning a Point Of Divergence (which is what I guess ‘POD’ stands for).

One reason for this is that it makes very clunky prose to mention it explicitly. For instance, how many characters are likely to say: “Things could have been so much different if the Ribbentrop-Malenkov Pact hadn’t lasted the entire three years of the Second World War” or “How would it have been if King Harold hadn’t defeated Duke William at the Battle of Hastings a thousand years ago?” or  “What if that meteorite hadn’t hit Earth 65 million years ago and the Dinosaurs hadn’t become extinct?”

Another is that I never envisaged a single Point of Divergence in either of Blessed by Nature or Thoroughly Modern Emancipation, though it is hinted. In the first short story, I guess the “what if” is just “What if the Thirteen American Colonies hadn’t rebelled?” and in the second is the “What if Slavery had never been repealed in the United States?”. But in both cases, I’m not sure that it’s easy to imagine how either of these scenarios might have played out in practice. I wonder whether the economic and social pressures that caused the European Empires to collapse wouldn’t have happened anyway, irrespective of events in North America. For instance, all the nations that once composed the Spanish and Portuguese Empires were independent well before the end of the 19th Century. And with  regards to Thoroughly Modern Emancipation, the institution of Slavery only survived in the Southern States of America for so long is because, like the sugar-growing colonies of France and Spain, these states only remained economically viable on such an inefficient model because it suited the financial capitals of New York and London who benefitted from the asymmetrical trade balance (as they still do from exploiting the nominally independent states of Africa).

I’ve always enjoyed Alternate Histories. My favourite are those books by Dougal Dixon especially The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution , but I’ve also read The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick and non-fictional speculative books like What If?. However, my main purpose in writing Alternate History (and then not that often) is for satirical purposes.

Nevertheless, since these stories have also been posted to Sex Fiction Websites, there has also been the obligation to wedge in some nudity and sex which is where (to be honest) I think I’ve been least successful in addressing my readers’ precise expectations.

 

 

 

Thoroughly Modern Emancipation

Thoroughly Modern Emancipation

Thoroughly Modern Emancipation

This post is essentially to promote my latest short story, Thoroughly Modern Emancipation. This story is one of several I’ve written which in one way or another projects an alternative present. These include Sliding Sideways, some of the chapters in Into the Unknowable but most of all Blessed by Nature. And like Blessed by Nature, this is a story that projects an alternative present day relating to the United States and its relation to the European Empires, most particularly the British Empire.

Whereas Blessed by Nature concerned a world where the growth of the great Empires of the eighteenth century, most particularly the British Empire, wasn’t troubled at all by any American War of Independence, Thoroughly Modern Emancipation concerns a modern America where there was no American Civil War and no end to the institution of slavery.

Of course, like almost all alternative histories, this story is a satire about the modern world as well as being fun speculation on how different things might have been. In this case, the title is an ironic borrowing from the 1967 film Thoroughly Modern Millie which in an age obsessed by its own modernity was a look back at an earlier age of self-celebration, namely the 1920s. In this film, Millie (played by Julie Andrews) is a flapper who struggles to be ‘thoroughly modern’. In my short story, there is a similar attempt by a slave mistress to be similarly ‘thoroughly modern’ in an age and a society which militates against it.

The moral of the story (amongst other things) is that in a society where the social norms are in favour of even insanely immoral institutions like slavery then it is very difficult (perhaps even impossible) to take much of a principled stand or to not somehow be corrupted by it. This is a theme I’ve explored in much of my fiction (notably Party Slave), but there are plenty of contemporary examples: particularly in the way that Fox News and the Daily Mail (and many other more respectable and almost as reprehensible beacons of the world media) can bare-facedly take positions relating to climate change, women’s roles, inequality, race, etc. that are morally indefensible and bundle it up in ways that are superficially attractive and conform to society’s norms.

But we don’t need the influence of the media to persuade us to follow immoral practices. Much of the evidence is that in the 1930s and 1940s very ordinary Germans were party to the extreme acts of violence and repression against gays, gypsies, communists, Slavs and Jews. And we can see, again, how similarly unethical and cruel practices can still be promulgated by Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Wahhabi Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and North Korea. Not to mention, the Soviet Union, Maoist China and Nazi Germany (and, let’s not forget, their willing satellites).

I don’t imagine this will be a popular story, especially not amongst my American readers, but I hope you’ll find it interesting and engaging.

 

ASS.SEXSTORYONLINE.COM

Cards Game by Dendory

Cards Game by Dendory

Some observant readers may have been aware when googling (or binging or safari-ing or whatever) for my stories that instead of finding them hosted on asstr.org, the charity-financed sex stories site, that they find them on a server called ass.sexstoryonline.com.

This may come as a bit of surprise to such users, who may on the one hand be pleased by the faster server speed, but frustrated by the tendency for windows to appear that re-direct them to pornographic pay websites (which would never be permitted by asstr.org).

So, what is ass.sexstoryonline.com? Well, I don’t know who the mastermind behind the site is, but it is easy to describe what it is. Basically, the entirety of asstr.org up to this very day has been copied to a new server and then presented as essentially the real thing with all its disclaimers, FAQs and pleas for donations.

However, it is more than just a copy. The process has also replaced every link to a page on asstr.org to one on ass.sexstoryonline.com and either inserted or replaced existing text in the html <script> section with some new script.

On my site, this has the effect that the javascript I used to, for instance, link to e-books or format the reviews as pop-up boxes, now does not work at all. What it means for all sites (including my own) is that all HTML pages, wherever they are, now offer the following features:

  1. A link to Literotica for iPad or iPhone users to advertise Literotica’s iPhone site (“… and let us know what you think.”)
  2. A page tracker to record where a user goes when they exit the site.
  3. A Google Tag Manager which I suspect is what drives the appearance of all the adverts.

So, what is the problem with this site?

The first is, of course, that it is pretending to be something that it isn’t, even though it might be offering readers a faster download speed while also taking off some of the load from asstr.org’s hard working server.

The second is that it now does what many users probably come to asstr.org to avoid, which is to be re-directed to sites they wouldn’t otherwise visit, and to be subject to adverts and tracking software.

The third is that in the case of the very few authors who provide more than static HTML the websites now basically don’t work the way they should do. There might be some people who’ve stumbled on http://ass.sexstoryonline.com/~Bradley_Stoke who might be somewhat frustrated at their inability to download any of my e-books.

However, whatever else this website can be described as, it is certainly fast at copying pages from the original site. While writing this blog I also uploaded a new version of one of my website’s pages to asstr.org and already (almost immediately) the equivalent page on ass.sexstoryonline.com has been refreshed although not all the links work properly yet.

So, what can we do about this pirate site?

I’m not sure, but I suspect that there are many people who would be much more irate than me about the site and they are the ones who may be most likely to make the necessary stink. And, besides the administrators of asstr.org (who labour for nothing) and the authors (many of which are exceptionally easy to rile) or readers (who mostly prefer to stay anonymous), this includes Literotica who may very well object to having their iPhone website advertised in this underhand manner.

Beef

Pascal Mohlmann

Pascal Mohlmann

I have recently posted my latest short story, Beef, to both my website and a few other story sites. It’s one of those stories of mine that are not about the kinds of person to whom most of us feel sympathetic. In this case, it’s about a narcissistic self-obsessed woman who is a success in her chosen career of marketing and sales and whose driven unreflective attitude in the workplace dominates her life outside: especially in the pursuit of sex.

Already, this story is attracting rather low votes but I guess this is inevitable. In Jim Bade’s review of No Future, he criticises the novel (amongst other things) because “there was not one character that I could identify with.” This highlights an issue I’d never considered before, which is that many readers in a sense prefer to identify with the protagonists of a story and their opinions reflect not so much the quality of the story but the extent to which they like or relate to the principal characters. In Beef, the protagonist, Lin, isn’t very nice at all and so, I presume, the story is disliked because of this.

My theory isn’t very well researched and there is probably a huge amount of evidence to the contrary, but I think it is pretty much true of the kind of reader who visits sex story websites and (I imagine) similar online sources of fiction, mostly to do with fanfic, romance and science fiction. If the readers disapprove of the protagonists, they will therefore dislike the story (unless the blindingly obvious and heavy-handed moral is that such a person is wholly bad and deserves only our worst opinion). And by extension, like Jim Bade, they will probably assume the author is sympathetic to or even like the person who the story is about.

Well, I can assure you that in this case, I am most definitely not much like any of the characters in this short story.

However, having looked at quite a few stories in the sex fiction world, I wonder at the readers’ apparent identification with the heroes and, occasionally, heroines of these tales. Many of the most popular seem to have principal characters which, although we are invited to relate to them and to which many readers presumably do, are actually at least as unpleasant as Lin. They talk rather a lot (and the people they talk to always seem to agree with them). They tend to be obsessed by the very narrow and egregious agenda of the American (and sometimes British) right wing. They clearly believe that the chief function of women is to serve men, especially in a sexual sense. And what they don’t understand in the world has to be feared or condemned (particularly when it comes to women, foreigners, ethnic minorities, other social classes, other religions and any one much younger than themselves).

However, as I have said many times before, the principal reason why so many readers don’t like my stories (and for this story the usual sharp division of opinion is even more pronounced) is that I don’t write the sort of stories they like. And as was shown in my story Facebook Friend this isn’t something I have the ability to do much to remedy.

The War on Poverty

Apocalypse

Apocalypse

And so we’ve had the British General Election.

And what a shock it’s been.

I guess there will be few readers of my blog who’re surprised that I consider the result to be a total disaster. It’s hard to see a single good thing in the debacle. There has been a total retreat from good sense or even common sense and an advance of the massed forces of evil.

Our membership of the European Union is in doubt. A promised assault on Human Rights. A further attack on civil liberties. Even more surveillance and intimidation. Further consolidation of wealth in those who’ve already done so well in the last few years. An abandonment of our moral and humanitarian obligations to the poorer nations of the world we are so happy to plunder. Yet more climate change denial and foot-dragging in the increasingly necessary need to take radical action to avert environmental disaster.

The reactionary right continue to be on the ascendancy. They’ve captured power in Russia, Eastern Europe, Australia, Israel, Egypt, most of the levers of power in the United States and now in the United Kingdom. No make-do-and-mend coalition of a hodge-podge of centralist politicians as expected: instead a resurgent Tory party that no longer needs to pretend to be anything other than the representatives of the wealthy and privileged.

Unnecessary and counterproductive welfare cuts. Unnecessary and regressive tax cuts. Unnecessary and prohibitively expensive investment in nuclear submarines.

The reactionary right wing has fought several wars in the last few decades and lost almost all of them. It has fought and lost a war on drugs and has instead brought chaos to Mexico, Latin America and the Middle East. It has fought and lost a war on terrorism, and the world is now a much less stable and secure place than before (especially in precisely those places where the most money and the most lives have been squandered).

It is fighting and winning a war against the environment where there is less and less of a buffer zone against total catastrophe. It has fought and won a war against the poor who are now more downtrodden and dispossessed than they’ve been for more than thirty years.

The wealthy are ever more wealthy (and their wealth increasingly stashed away in tax shelters of one kind of another). The poor are being attacked in Britain with a fresh ferocity.

And if the furthest right get the early exit from the European Union that they clamour for where will we be?

Fewer human rights. A flight of capital from the City of London towards the more reliable continental bourses. A brake on British emigration and the free flow of labour and the burden of trying to deport entrenched immigrant labour with nothing to replace it with. And a Scotland (and maybe even a Wales and Northern Ireland) which may choose independence from England simply to remain in the EU.

And for all this, the Tories have been rewarded for their efforts with an absolute majority in the House of Commons. How much worse could it be?

 

Facebook Friend

Ruthie2 - Garv

Facebook Friend

 

So, I received an e-mail from Nicola, the founder and owner of Lush Stories to ask me (and, I’m sure, every other writer who’s contributed a story that one of the site’s moderators has deemed to be a Recommended Read) to submit a story to the Vault: a new feature on the site to offer subscribers something more than what is available to the average visitor to the site.

Although I’ve submitted a fair number of stories to the site I’ve only once achieved a Recommended Read accolade. That was for my science fiction story: Sliding Sideways. To be honest, this doesn’t really surprise me as you can see from a glance at the kind of story that gets the highest recommendation. Although I’m sure no one could say anything disrespectful about, for instance, Blue Night Special  (about Two small town policeman who pick up a big haired, big titted waitress for a ‘yehaa’ good time.) or Faerie Circles (where Three young girls discover the magic of faerie rings), these aren’t really the sort of story I write (and more’s the pity is what I expect quite a few might say).

But I thought I’d take the challenge of writing what I thought might be closer to the type of story that does well on Lush Stories.

And so was born Facebook Friend.

This story is a kind of experiment in writing what might be called a Love Story that is designed for exactly the kind of fallible, rather less-than-perfect person who enjoys reading stories on sites like Lush Stories (and why not?). And I had a lot of fun trying to put myself into the minds of such people: those who use Facebook and whose taste in culture is as vanilla as their interest in sex fiction (and maybe sex as well).  To be honest, I am a lot more sympathetic to such people than I guess are many of those in that category who write such fiction. Little as I understand the appeal of Facebook, Poldark, Heart FM or Celebrity television, I do kind of understand and sympathise with those who use such crutches to lean on in a world that is, in truth, a lot less kind and much more complicated.

Still, I have to report that my experiment in writing a love story to appeal to such a demographic was an abject failure. After the usual rather long time to make a decision about one of my stories that for some reason or other doesn’t quite fit the moderators’ expectations the story was returned as not being a Recommended Read and therefore not suitable for the Vault. Clearly it isn’t of the standard of Into The Night (which has gained a huge amount of praise for its writing style) or Cricket Vaughn And The Don (which is about a very strange kind of mafia boss) in terms of what makes the grade.

I can’t deny that I’m a bit disappointed in the sense that even when I make an effort I still can’t quite write the kind of fiction that the majority of people who read stories on sex fiction sites most enjoy. But then, I think, to be that kind of writer you either have to be a lot more cynical than I am (as in the film As Good As It Gets) or be the kind of person who actually enjoys these kind of stories.

And as I’m neither, I guess it’s probably not surprising that, despite some nice comments and some reassuringly high scores, Facebook Friend wasn’t chosen for the Vault.

And I guess if you want to find out what does make the grade (and this includes Mediaeval sex fantasies by Metilda, Sex in the Sand by Milik Redman and Gothic Sex and Seduction by Frank Lee) the Vault is the place to go.

How High the Moon

How High the Moon

How High the Moon

 

 

As I continue to post to Lush Stories those stories of mine which I think might be suitable, I’m getting reactions from readers who understandably think the stories have only recently been written and aren’t at all aware that most of them were posted in Ruthie’s Club several years ago. And one such, of course, is How High the Moon from which the above illustration was an early draft of what was finally used.

To be honest, it wasn’t one of my favourite illustrations for one of my stories (though by no means the worst) and I think the black-and-white draft is actually closer to my notion of what the illustration should be than the one finally published.

The story How High the Moon is about a jazz pianist and singer who performs with her trio at a club in Manhattan that is either the Village Vanguard (which I’ve visited many times) or one very similar: perhaps also in or around Greenwich Village. In a way, the musician is based on Sarah Vaughan who played the piano as well as sang, though she is better known perhaps for the rather dull stuff she did later in life. At her best on Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown (also known as Lullaby of Birdland) she may well have been as great a jazz singer as Billie Holliday or Ella Fitzgerald. Her version of How High the Moon is probably not her finest moment, but I like the song and it kind of made sense as a title.

Many people think of vocal jazz or even the jazz trio as a kind of lounge music that makes perfect background music for a candle-lit dinner. There is an element of that, even in New York, but the jazz I like is a little bit more gritty, certainly isn’t smooth, and has a range from the free and experimental to the more accessible music that Lynn, my protagonist, is playing, though I imagine something a great deal more challenging than most of Sarah Vaughan’s later songs.

This story is unusual for me as it is the only story I’ve yet written in the present tense, but then I wanted to somehow capture something of the immediacy of a live performance. This is something I tried to do in a very different way in my story Creamfields which is about dancing in the Creamfields dance festival. In that case, the intention was to capture the immediacy and excitement of contemporary dance music. In both stories the real challenge was how to incorporate something to do with sex, and that I think is the weakest aspect of both of them.

I mention this because tak0chan has written a very nice review of my story on Lush Stories, in which he says:

To borrow a musical metaphor, there is a rich contrapuntal texture to this story that makes it deeply satisfying at numerous levels. The thematic interweaving of music, present and past emotions and situations, regrets and hopes etc, is brilliantly done, as is your evocation of the scene in which Lynn and her fellow musicians perform. 

Obviously, I am hugely gratified to receive any praise but more so perhaps when a reader recognises and appreciates what I was trying to achieve in my story.

On tak0chan’s Lush Stories profile, he mentions his wide ranging taste of music, so I guess it was inevitable that he’d better understand my story better than most other readers.

However, I have no plans to write any more jazz stories, though I may yet write some fiction that deals with the world of live music. What’s for sure is that it won’t much resemble  How High the Moon.