Reset: Chapter 19: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (4)

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Even Nick started getting bored with the college life. “If I have to play another video game I’m going to shoot myself. Did we really waste this much time with those things?”

“Sad, isn’t it?” said Joe, not looking up from The Great Gatsby, the assigned reading from that afternoon’s English class.Cover of the book The Great Gatsby“All the things we could have done with that time . . .”

“Like study?”

“Learn an instrument, another language, date girls . . .”

Joe brandished his book. “Read, maybe?”

“That too.” Nick sat on the couch, wiggling his fingers. “My eyeballs are starting to bleed from all of it. My fingers, too. They feel like . . .”

“They should be holding a books?”

“Alright, alright!” Nick stood, pacing around the room. “I can take a hint. I’m not a total moron you know.”

Joe turned a page, his highlighter at the ready. “Never said you were.”

“No, but you implied it. We all know how powerful implications can be.” Nick picked up a textbook from his desk. “Take education, for example.”

 

“That’s what I’m trying to do.”

“I’m feeling philosophical tonight; hear me out.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 19: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (4)”

What Can You Give Up?

Yet another American institution has become a flashpoint for political controversy. This time, it’s professional sports. I’ve already written about the firestorm Colin Kaepernick started last year when he decided to protest what he saw as America’s continued unjust treatment of blacks and other minorities by kneeling for the National Anthem.These protests have intensified this year, at least during the first few weeks of the NFL season.

I refrained from writing about this, because hot takes like these are rarely useful and serve to be mostly nothing more than empty virtue signaling with no mention of a solution to any such problems, perceived or otherwise. There’s also typically a debate about free speech, which no one, including me, seems to understand fully anyway.

All I know about free speech, the rule of law, and everything in general involving man’s relation to government is this: Power is really all that matters, and the illusion of self-government will exist until it becomes too expensive to maintain. He who has the guns, wins.

America’s done a pretty good job with the illusion of self-government because we were founded by people who believed in the illusion too. But I digress. The takeaway is that this is the world we live in, so we need to know how to navigate it.

If you’re sick of politics in things like professional sports, your movies, your place of worship, your workplace, and other forms of entertainment or spheres of your life, what do you do? If there are no alternatives, you can create alternatives of course. You can also vote with your wallet. This doesn’t have to be an organized boycott. You can just . . . give it up.

Think about all the stuff we do in life that really doesn’t matter. That’s mere entertainment. Do you really need to know who beat whom in which sportsball event, or which character raped/murdered/lied to which other on Game of Thrones, when most of the people involved in the production of both events probably hates you merely for your difference of opinion?

Back to sports. Of all American cultural institutions, it seems to provide the least value. Let me explain before you jump down my throat: I’m making a distinction between participating in and spectating.

  • Participating in sports. Important. In addition to athletics helping promote a healthy body, they inculcate mental toughness, teamwork, pride and ownership, self-discipline, and being gracious in both victory and defeat.
  • Spectating. Watching. Sitting, eating, and drinking. Maybe getting drunk. Cheering for laundry, for players and owners that do not care about you. Obsessing over trades and stats. Letting the outcome of an event literally govern your thoughts and emotions.

You get this in any form of entertainment, really. Look at comic books, right? Even if you don’t care about them, the seemingly deliberate destruction of the industry to parrot an incredibly narrow, though highly influential, strain of far-left identity politics is stunning to behold, and instructive to how this happens across many such industries. The writers and artists have made it clear that they don’t care about storytelling. So why be a fan? Why devote time and money and energy to it?

Everything is a business. Your favorite musicians, artists, athletes, writers, actors, and so on, all want to get paid. They care about you inasmuch as you will give them money. And if you’re a participant in any of these endeavors, you likely feel the same way. And there is nothing wrong with that.

We used to live in a world where creators gave the audience what it wanted. The debate as to whether that leads to high or poor quality isn’t worth getting into here. But I think we can say that there are certain universal human principles that make for good storytelling, the kind that people want, but will still allow for maximum creativity on the part of the writers and directors and actors and everyone else down the line. Hollywood used to understand this. Not anymore.

People, all people, can engage in whatever speech they want. Let’s stop pretending that some speech isn’t deemed more important or acceptable than others though.

This all gets me thinking about what I can, and have, given up, and why. Continue reading “What Can You Give Up?”

Feature Their Hurt

There’s this song by Frank Zappa called “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin.” One line in it,

If Simmons was here, I could feature my hurt

refers to former member of Zappa’s band, Jeff Simmons–often the butt of Zappa’s jokes–who wanted to play more of his own material so he could “feature my hurt”; that is, bare his soul in the grand, Romantic tradition of artistes like Byron and Beethoven . . . at least, in Zappa’s terminology.

Not that there’s anything wrong with conveying emotion in art. That’s one of art’s core functions, after all. And although we see ugliness, inscrutability, and contempt for the audience as an intellectual shorthand for what makes art “art,” there is also a component of giving the audience what they want. And contra the sensitive types, there is no shame in this whatsoever. Most artists actually want to make a living, after all. Luckily for them, a lot of what the audience wants is for our artists and entertainers to feature their hurt so we can reflect on it, commiserate, and hopefully work through it.

Another apropos line of the Zappa song, itself a parody of teenage angst, is the end refrain:

I wanna be dead,

In bed please kill me

‘Cause that would thrill me

It might have just been a bit of Zappa-esque off-hand humor, a throwaway line that just sounded funny (Zappa reportedly hated writing lyrics), but it actually runs deeper than you think.

Look at the word “thrill.” That’s what we get when we can “bare our soul” and “feature our hurt.”

Because you see, it’s not really about other people. It’s about us. Continue reading “Feature Their Hurt”

Book Review: Souldancer (Soul Cycle Book II) by Brian Niemeier

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Recently, I read and really enjoyed Part I of Brian Niemeier‘s three-part Soul Cycle series, Nethereal. Having read Part II, Souldancer, I can say that Brian improves upon nearly every aspect of the already impressive Nethereal, creating one of the most memorable sci-fi worlds I have had the pleasure to be invited into.

Mild spoilers for Nethereal are ahead, so if you plan on reading the series yourself–which I strongly recommend that you do–you might want to skim or otherwise skip most of this review.

(Wow . . . what kind of writer tells his readers not to read his blog? There can be only one: this guy!) Continue reading “Book Review: Souldancer (Soul Cycle Book II) by Brian Niemeier”

Escapism Is Rearmament

You probably heard all of the knocks against escapism growing up. Stuff like: “Grown-ups don’t waste their time with that kind of stuff.”

Like what? Reading a book?

Imagination?

With all the ugliness and strife in the world, who wouldn’t want to escape? That’s where we come up with some of our best ideas.

Escape . . . removing oneself from confinement or a dangerous situation. 

And yet escapism gets a bad rap. It’s seen as retreat, a frivolous diversion into the unreal. Avoiding real life and real responsibilities. 

Even the dictionary seems to hold this view:

…habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity…

But that’s not what we do. We aren’t forced to flee to these imaginative worlds by marauding enemy hordes (though the enemies of civilization, intellectual and physical, do fit this bill). We seek to escape to somewhere better, even if only for a little bit, to recreate ourselves. 
Recreation = re + create

Retreat is running away. 

Escape is rearmament.  Continue reading “Escapism Is Rearmament”

Book Review: Nethereal (Soul Cycle Book I) by Brian Niemeier

Take the good parts of Dune and Star Wars, mix them together with a heaping dollop of Dante, a dash of high fantasy, and a whole lot of horror, and you’re beginning to almost approach Brian Niemeier‘s self-published Nethereal, book one of his three-part Soul Cycle series. 

Is it sci-fi? Is it science-fantasy? 

Who cares? It’s fun. 

Nethereal reads like the best console or pen-and-paper RPG you never played. Imagination abounds. 

Fitting, as Brian is a figure in the burgeoning #PulpRevolution

Nethereal focuses on space pirate Jaren Peregrine and the crew of his ship, the Shibboleth, as they seek revenge against the Guild, a quasi-governmental entity that dominates the Spheres (think: planets). 

Jaren is half-Gen (think: Elf), and the Guild destroyed his race, and his family, and now they’ve got to pay. Chief among Jaren’s crew is mercenary Teg Cross, steersmen Deim Corsurunda and Nakvin (no last name given), and the mysterious Vaun Mordechai, a late addition with mysterious motives. 

Pursued by the Guild, Jaren and crew meet a rebel force and end up commanding the mysterious, powerful Exodus, whose unsettling cargo takes them through the depths of hell…and beyond. 

Even stranger is Elena, a half-woman, half-machine who appears to be the Exodus’ source of power. 

I don’t want to spoil anything here, but suffice it to say Nethereal is one of the most imaginative works of fiction I’ve read in a long while. 

And the heroes are–gasp!–heroic!

I do have nits to pick–this is the Internet, after all. Some of the characters are a little tough to connect with, particularly Jaren, who beyond single-mindedness really has little else going for him–I don’t quite get why he is such an inspiring leader. Deim is similarly inscrutable. And I did feel some of the characters’ attempts at glib humor fell flat. 

The world and its structure, culture, and mythology is a little confusing too, though the glossary included helps, and things begin to make more sense as the story unfolds. And Marshal Malachi is a bit disappointing as a villain. 

But the rest of the villains provide one of the deadliest, vilest, and flat-out creepy rogues gallery you’ll find most anywhere. Each player has their own goals and motivations–and reasons for stabbing their purported allies in the back. 

So why do I say “science-fantasy”? Aside from the immortal Gen race, there is a substance called ether that the spaceships run on (hence the name “ether-runner”). This ether can also be manipulated via Workings (think: magic); indeed, it is through Workings that the steersmen control the ether-runners. 

There’s also gun fighting, swordplay, warrior-priests, demons, the undead, body-swapping, necromancy, and heavy theological discussions about life, the soul, and everything else that matters.

The pacing is brisk, which helps a book of this scope keep from getting bogged down. And I can offer it the highest praise any book can get: Nethereal was incredibly difficult to put down. I cannot wait to start book two, Souldancer.

Highly recommended. 

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