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Chapter 20 of Two Magicians and a Boat!

Comments welcomed. If not actively solicited.

CHAPTER TWENTY

“One mistake too many, Zorn,” Prince Chaz said.
Zorn whimpered. He was bruised and bleeding from a dozen cuts. Prince Chaz had been very thorough in expressing his displeasure.
“What am I to do now for an adviser?” Chaz asked rhetorically. “How am I to complete my mission, since you have proved so useless?”
Zorn said nothing. The woman, the remaining prisoner, watched, disinterested, dull-eyed, as Chaz raised the whip once more.
*
Cut for length...Collapse )

Reading again

Spot the novel: a fictitious alien from a nineteen-forties sci-fi comic possesses the body of a dead junkie and constructs fearsome and effective alien weapons out of old transistor radios and torch batteries.

Not to keep you in suspense, the author was L P Davies, one of the unsung geniuses of British sf, and the book, "Psychogeist," was written in 1966. Davies died in 1988, having helped to shape my young writer's imagination via the local library, and his twenty-some novels are long out of print. Whether they would ever be reprinted now is a moot point, but I'd consider it unlikely; they are conventional of their time, and most of the significant characters are white, middle-class and male. I think that's a shame, because they are good stories backed by good ideas, and there are at least a dozen in the Wikipedia list I've never read and would like to.

Just thought I'd mention it.

Let's talk (about men)

Come on, sit down. Over here. It's time we talked.

You're a good man. I know that. You've grown up always knowing that, no matter what anybody else said, men and women were equal members of the human race, and you've acted accordingly. You show everyone equal courtesy and respect, you speak out when you see some guy being obnoxious, and you support activist movements for equal rights. You're careful not to give offence by some casually sexist remark and you even know not to say "Not all men..." You're genuinely good, and I admire you for that.

And yet sometimes you look around and it seems like we haven't got anywhere. It seems as though the problem has just got bigger and bigger, and there's no end in sight, no gleam of hope. You know your friends are all right, but there are just so many others out there being stupid and evil and really, really loud, and it seems as if we're going backwards.

And you're asking yourself "what can men do to fix this?"

And the answer to that question, as it's stated, is "nothing."

Hold on. Let me explain.

You, personally, you can do a lot. You're doing it already, as I said up there at the top, and you're always looking for ways to be better. That is really important, I can't tell you how important that is, because the ideal, the ultimate end of desire, is to have every man do exactly what you're doing. Nobody expects you to be perfect, but that's what everyone should try for, because even falling short by a mile still puts you way ahead.

But what can men do...well, as I said, nothing, on their own.

Because men have never ever once in the history of the world done anything on their own.

All the good things, and I'm sorry to say all of the bad things, that humanity has achieved in its perilously short history on this planet, have been done by men and women together. Even before written history began, I'd bet. Certainly everything we know about. The rise and fall of Sumer and Egypt? Men and women. The Roman Empire? Men and women. The spread of Christianity? Men and women. The Crusades? The Renaissance? The Reformation? The Inquisition? The colonisation of America? The exploitation of Africa? The industrial revolution? Apollo?

Everything. All the way down the years, men and women, helping each other, supporting each other, fighting each other, killing each other, and whatever the history books say about how this man did this thing and this other man did that thing, you can bet there were women involved as well, crucially involved. You might not have heard about them, though, which is where you get this idea that men can solve even big problems all on their own.

You can't. You can do it for yourself, yes, but the first thing, the very first thing that men have to do, as a gender (and some men prefer other men and some men used to be women, I do not mean this to be heteronormative, but that's another topic right now) the very first thing is to admit that men need and love and depend on women, that the human race is not completely comprised in the set of its members who have, er, members, that men can't live without women and have denied that fact in their hearts for far too long.

Own your weakness alongside your strength.

I'm not talking about any specific man-woman (or whichever) pairing here, though if you've found someone who completes you then I'm ecstatically happy for you. I'm talking about men in general owning and acknowledging the fact that they are only half a species without women, that you can't have two halves that aren't equal. It seems obvious to you and me, but it's not obvious to everyone, and it needs to be made obvious.

We can't fix ourselves alone, not any of us. And it's not like men can go to women and get them to do all the work and then get up and swagger off, all fixed and back to normal. It's not like that. This is an ongoing thing, a lifetime thing, a shared thing. You've done so much in yourself, as much as anyone can do, but you need to do a little bit more for your half of humanity, and that starts with admitting that no, we aren't capable of doing everything for ourselves. The flaw in our nature is there for a reason. It's there because our ancestors and our families and our leaders and everyone has perpetuated and systematised and institutionalised the notion that men are the Can-Do Captains of humanity and women are a sort of bolt-on accessory, an optional extra. That's not true and that idea needs to be rooted out, but men can't do it by themselves because all too often they can't even see it.

The problem is with men, but the only way it will be fixed is if men can admit that they can't do it alone. The only way it will be fixed is by all of us together. Men and women. Women and men.

Thank you for listening.

The two-faced truths

Being trans, even in the limited and online-only way that I now am, is not simple. There's so much to recognise and unlearn. It's often been said that truth is a double-edged sword (at least I think it has) but in some cases it's more like a coin.

Traditionally, the truth cis men learn as boys is that they are naturally bigger and stronger and smarter than girls, and that this gives them both a power and a responsibility; the power to protect and provide for women, and the responsibility to do so, to use their greater strength and power wisely and with compassion. (Okay, some of them skip out to play before they get to the "responsibility" part. We need to work on that.) Girls and women are seen as smaller, weaker, less capable in every way, and in need of men to do things for them. That's the side of the coin that's always uppermost, the side that's always visible. The coin's rigged to come down on that side every time.

Meanwhile, cis women learn as girls a hidden truth; that in fact it is they who are the stronger ones, they who have more stamina, more courage, more wisdom, and that this must be placed at the service of men, who are poor pathetic creatures with egos that must be constantly flattered and propped up if they are to be of any use at all. Women must keep things going, maintain the home, raise the children, keep their men happy and satisfied and proud of themselves, because the poor things can't manage without that incessant support. "Cuz, after all, he's just a man." That's the underside of the coin, the side that's kept secret.

Girls are taught to be strong. Boys simply find it expected of them. I missed out on a whole great chunk of education, which, if I were to try to make it as a woman in the real world, I would have to learn really quickly. And I'm a little old to start now.

Those are the two faces of truth. The real truth, the essential truth which the two faces conceal, is the reality of the coin. We are all strong, smart and wise, and at the same time we are all small, weak, scared, and dependent on each other. This is nothing to do with who gets to wear the pretty dress or who has to put up the shelves. This is our human heritage, this other two-faced truth; we all, male, female, gay, straight, cis, trans, whatever, have this dual nature, strength and wisdom hobbled by weakness and fear, and the solution and the answer is each other. We should all, whoever we are, honour and support each other, and thus enable each other to display the strength and the wisdom and the humanity of which we are all capable. See the weakness in your loved ones, accept it, and honour them for the strength that they can show.

No one is an island. No gender, no human subgroup whatever, has a monopoly on any good or bad quality that has not been culturally imposed on them. Culture is an illusion; an important illusion, but one that can be changed, given the will. The truth is not on either face of the coin; the truth is the coin. Pick it up and weigh it in your hand, and learn from it. Then put it in your pocket and go and spend it. Coins, like truths, work best when they circulate freely.

Chapter 19 of Two Magicians and a Boat!

CHAPTER NINETEEN

“I think the Sinjaro's in league with them,” Gorol insisted. “He deliberately stopped me scragging the one who pinched the food. Gave him time to get away.”
“Do you think so?” Thavaar considered. “It could indeed be so. But even if it were so, brother Gorol, how do you propose we proceed? Our stout leader, or so we thought him, has washed his hands of us and retired to his room to pout. We have already attempted once to enlist his aid against the foreign peril, without success. Brother Driskil, a worthy man of his hands by all accounts, even now languishes upon his bed of pain, laid low by this very Sinjaro. We are depleted, I fear, sadly depleted.”
“I'll be all right,” Driskil said weakly. He was still very pale, but had recovered consciousness and taken a little food.
“Indeed you will, brother Driskil, but alas, not yet. I must think, I must plan. Deprived as I am of the motive fluid of my existence by the caprice of the witches of Gerenna, nonetheless I must cudgel my weakened brain into action.”
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What corrupts

From my response to a comment on the previous post:

"What tends to corrupt, to my mind (though not always), is certainty; the absolute conviction of one's own rightness, first on a single issue, and then, progressively, on more and more. Eventually the conviction can assume the potency of a personal religion--'I am right on this because I am always right'--and how far one actually goes in defence of that rightness becomes less significant."

What also tends (though not always) to give rise to corruption is detachment. If you treat things, and people, as not quite real, if you block off parts of your response to them as irrelevant, it becomes easier to excuse doing the most atrocious things to them. Your goal, your cause, your desire, because it is fully real to you, becomes more important than those who suffer in your pursuit of it. Religious torturers learned to ignore the bodily sufferings of their victims, certain in their own minds that those souls would experience bliss unending in heaven if only they could be brought to repent. Scientists learn to inflict unimaginable cruelties upon animals, and in some cases people, secure in the knowledge that untold millions of people in the future will live better lives, or perhaps simply have a slightly less irksome hair-washing experience, as a result of their endeavours. There is no difference, here, between the possibly genuine words of Arnaud Amalric at the siege of Beziers ("Kill them all. God will know his own.") and the fictional but horrifyingly plausible words of Sir Julian Freke in Dorothy L Sayers' Whose Body? ("The knowledge of good and evil is a phenomenon of the brain and is removable."). Both are danger signs. Both indicate a mind that has stood so far back as to be unable to recognise that what it is seeing is actual reality, the world we share, the people of whom we are part.

It is, of course, possible to err in the other direction--to be too emotionally involved, too passionate to see things objectively--just as it is possible to be too hesitant, too full of doubt to take action when action is needed. The combination of certainty and detachment, though--the unassailable conviction of rightness, allied to the reassuring idea that the imagined end justifies the means and nothing outside oneself is quite real, or really that important anyway--is a sure path to hell.

At least, that's how I feel.

Conversation over dinner

The hall of the manor is large, well-appointed and hung with fine paintings. The table is illumined by candles in three-branched holders. The fare is modest but excellent of its kind, the company small yet illustrious in their way; the squire, his lady, their son and daughter, the parson and his wife, the colonel, recently widowed, and a sober personage in black, sitting at the far end of the table and picking at his food with an air of distaste.

Unwisely, the host attempts to engage this person in the conversation.

"So, sir," he offers, with an air of uneasy jocularity, "how many did you find in our village today?"

The black-clad one puts down his fork.

"Seventeen, sir," he replies. "Indeed this region is mired in evil. The work of cleansing shall be hard in truth."

"Seventeen?" the squire's son echoes disbelievingly. "I find that hard to credit."

"Do you now?" The man in black purses his lips. "Nonetheless it is so."

"How terrible," the squire's wife remarks, "that such things should be in an ordinary English village." She stops, as if immediately aware that something is amiss. The man in black is looking at her intently.

"Would it then be your opinion," he says, his voice a dagger barely sheathed in silk, "that an English village should be less prone to sin than a village of another land?"

"No indeed." The lady is pale. "I merely said 'an English village' because this is...an English village."

"Why do you lay such stress on the fact, my lady? You have mentioned it three times now already. Should I perhaps be impressed? You seem strongly convinced that English villages are in some way exceptional. Better than, say, Scottish villages, or Welsh--"

"I'm sure I meant nothing of the kind, sir." The lady takes refuge in dignity. "And I am not used to having my utterances pounced upon and taken apart with such zeal."

"I believe you are not," the man in black says. "It seems clear that you regard your privileged position as a licence to speak in any way you choose. So, you regard English people as superior to all others. This is clearly established by your own words."

"Come now," the squire blusters. "My wife was simply making conversation. It is surely no great matter--"

"Sin," the man in black snaps, the silk now gone, "is always a very great and grievous matter. It pains me, sir, to observe that you take so lightly such blatant expressions of bigotry. No doubt they form the substance of your daily table talk here at the manor. I am truly saddened to find the rot has spread thus far--that your sensibilities are so blunted that you seek to excuse your wife's heinous hate speech. Among the poor and ignorant, one expects it, but hardly in the halls of the educated."

"Sir," the squire's son says, standing up abruptly, "you surely cannot mean to accuse my mother--"

"And why should I not?" says the man in black. "Do you imply that she may be excused because of her sex? That a woman is to be held less responsible for her speech than a man? Is this your contention, sir?" He has now produced a small black notebook, and is writing in it. "I see that sin has truly taken deep root in this very house. No wonder that your village is rotten with it, when such is the quality of their leadership." He looks up. "Does anyone else have anything to say?"

The squire is empurpled but furiously silent, his lady sobbing, his son white-faced and rigid. The parson clears his throat.

"I am sure," he says, "that this is nothing but an unfortunate misunderstanding. The lady spoke hastily, and--"

"Do you say so?" the man in black counters sharply. "Do you assert that I, who have followed my calling for nine years now, have no understanding in these matters? Perhaps you have some other intent. Perhaps there are yet more grievous matters to be uncovered, and you seek with your soft words to divert me from them. Perhaps you have some guilt yourself?"

"The lady spoke hastily," the clergyman mumbles doggedly.

"In hasty speech the truth comes most often to light," the man in black says. "I perceive that you have been hasty yourself, parson, and thus placed yourself in line with these hate criminals."

"No, no!" the parson's wife shrieks. "My husband hates no man!"

"Then it is women who are the target of his loathing," the man says crisply. "I wonder that you can bear to be associated with him, madam. We shall discover the reason, no doubt, in time. You need not rise, colonel. Your name is already upon my list, as a warmonger and a despoiler of other nations. I had hoped to interview you separately, on another occasion, but it seems I shall have my work cut out for me here.

He gets to his feet. "By the authority vested in me," he proclaims, as his men emerge from various doorways, "the squire, his wife, his son, the parson, his wife, and the colonel, are all charged with racism, sexism, and other hate crimes to be determined. They shall be taken to the village lockup tonight, and tomorrow," he smiles coldly, "shall be put to the question. This house is now confiscate as an abode of hate and prejudice, and it shall be my heavy task to cleanse it in the name of truth and righteousness. No," he says, as a burly ruffian lays a hand on the shoulder of the squire's daughter, "she remains. I shall put her to the question myself, later tonight. I believe she may be the only soul in this foul den of vileness with a gleam of virtue remaining, but before I can make a determination she must be tested, with the pernicious influence of these others removed."

He looks around the room, with an air of great satisfaction.

"I shall begin my work of sanctification in the former squire's bedchamber. See these others safely imprisoned, and then send the wench to me there."
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

The Pride of Tamland passed through the remainder of the Jags without incident, and the river resumed its gently meandering course, between the woods and fields of Briom and the scrubby, desolate moors of Tsenesh. The sun gently declined ahead of them, and the boatmaster reported that with any luck they should arrive at the next port of call, the Tseneshi town of Gerenna, by early the next morning.
“How is the engine holding out?” Mordecai asked him.
Flood scratched the back of his head. “Well, truth be told, Master Alonso,” he said, “I don't know as it'll hold out as far as Brokenbowes. Never known it run down so fast before. If it do run out completely, then...” He sighed. “It'll be every able-bodied passenger to the ropes and turn and turn about till we can pick up the horse. And that'll mean refunds and I don't know what. But that's Tamland magic for you,” he added, with a rueful grin. “It don't travel well, and that's the end of it.”
Mordecai, who knew why, did not comment. Already his own power was reduced to whatever his body could generate on its own, which, while considerable by human standards, was a fraction of what he was used to. Conscientious training and a regular lifestyle had prevented any such debacle as that of the previous year, in which, totally reliant on the Panergodyne, he had spent several harrowing days utterly without magic of his own; but still...
“Let me see what I can do,” he said. Flood looked dubious, as well he might, but nodded, and Mordecai, receiving a similar nod from Varnak, went below to the engine room, where he examined the glittering, whirling construction before him with care.
Anything magical is half alive, Tam had written, because magic is life. Considered as a living thing, the boat's magical engine was seriously ill. Cut for length...Collapse )
Because, as far as I can tell, nobody is reading them.

If anyone wants to see the end of the story, absolutely free and gods know how long before the book comes out, sound off and let me know.

If the story I seem to be starting now takes off (tentative title Two Magicians and Some Elves) I will put bits up here if I know people are interested.

I want to tell you these stories, but only if you want to hear them. There's nothing worse than an artist who doesn't know when to Shut Up.
When the king emerged from the secret passage, Mordecai del Aguila was not startled.

This was mainly because King Bran, being a considerate monarch, had coughed elaborately before opening the panel, giving Mordecai time to round off the cantrip he had been practising and turn to greet his adopted monarch with a polite smile.

"Morning, Mordecai." Bran wasted no time in coming to the point. "What do you know about elves?"

Mordecai was happy to enlighten the king. "A fair amount, your majesty," he said. "My first master Werness was a student of folklore, and explained it all to me. The survival of tales about elves and dwarves is a fascinating example of how storytelling shapes the way we view the world in which we live."

Bran perched on Mordecai's stool and looked interested.

"Suppose, your majesty," Mordecai began, falling into lecturing mode, "that a traveller from a farming community, say one of our outlying villages, encounters a group of people who live in the forests and on the moors, hunting and gathering their food and living as nomads. There would naturally be variations among individuals, but on the whole he would find them a tall, lean, very healthy people, with the strength, speed and endurance of predators. They would be keen of eye, fleet of foot, economical and graceful in their movements, and wise in the lore of their habitat. They would be quietly spoken, gifted in stealth, fond of telling stories, and he might well detect a hint of subtle cruelty in their humour, but they would also exhibit a marked reverence for the life on which they live.

"Suppose further that this traveller--"

"Or another one," Bran put in.

"Pardon?" Mordecai was jolted out of his recitation.

"Doesn't have to be the same one, does it?"

"Not necessarily, your majesty," Mordecai said wearily. He marshalled his thoughts. "All right. Suppose this traveller, or another one, then encounters a group of people who live in the mountains, mining and working in metals to earn their keep. Again, allowing for individual variation, he would find them on the whole to be short (since tall people do not get on well in cramped caverns), muscular, with perhaps little care for small vanities such as shaving. Their clothes would be stout and strong, as much like armour as like clothing. They would have a keen sense of the value of what they produced, and they would be wise in the ways of stone and metal, which do not run away when threatened. Sharp vision in utter darkness, stoicism and courage would be their virtues, and their jokes would be as subtle as a blow from a hammer.

"Suppose then that our traveller, or travellers, return home and tell their tales. The tales would pass from mouth to mouth--"

"Mouth to ear, surely," the king interposed. "Unless you're talking about those folk in the Lost Islands who talk by kissing. Never believed that tale myself."

Mordecai, jarred out of his flow again, took a deep breath and bowed. "I am obliged to your majesty. The tales," he enunciated clearly, "would spread, and in spreading would become embellished and exaggerated; the tall, fair, elusive hunters becoming beings of shadow, glad and terrible and aloof; the short, squat miners becoming creatures of silence and darkness, hoarding their gold and working prodigies of craft deep underground. Thus, from simple humans, we fashion the folk of dream and nightmare; elves and dwarves."

King Bran considered. "Well, thank you, Mordecai," he said. "Very lucidly explained. I only ask," he added, "because there's apparently an elf in my anteroom who says he wants to speak to you."

Obduction

I shouldn't have, but I did. I bought Obduction, because it's Cyan, and I couldn't afford to back the Kickstarter, and I have just finished playing it when I should have been doing, oh, so many other things, and this is going to be a review.

First, a disclaimer. Obduction was never going to ring all my bells the way the D'ni games did, because well, I mean, come on, writers who create real worlds with their words? How could that not be perfect? I understand that artists have to move on and do fresh things or they get bored, and all that, but I could have loved another game set in the D'niverse so much more. Still, Obduction is what we have, and it is a very good game in the genre that Cyan more or less created. The player's unnamed, unspeaking character is yanked out of their world into another one, and must piece together information and solve puzzles to make sense of where they are and hopefully get home. The graphics and gameplay are immaculately beautiful, as one might expect, the few interactions with other characters, mediated through screens or windows, are skilfully written so that the fact that the player doesn't actually say anything is easy to ignore, and the puzzles were, as always, about half soluble by me and half completely impossible without a walkthrough. Cleverer people than I, of whom there are billions, will have just enough trouble to make it a satisfying experience. Thus far, it works, and it is brilliant.

Personal cavils, and some spoilers, behind here...Collapse )

Oh dear, another one

Country got its Woody
And blues got old John Lee
But if you like ose, try Leonard Cohen
He's a master of misery
He's tall and glum as a man can come
And he writes about pain and loss
And when the ose filkers all get together at night
Well they all call Leonard the boss, just because (sorry Bruce)
And they say

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit in a public phone
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't filk Leonard Cohen.

I'm stopping this one right there, just in case.

Song

So my FB wanderings today led me to the West Wing tribute to John Spencer, which you may or may not know features a performance of that much misunderstood song, "Hallelujah." I've been feeling a bit fragile and tearful about politics in general lately, and harking back to that initially so idealistic vision was just too much. So, I'm sorry, but I have to do this.

Well, I know that there's a secret road
That you can find, if you know the code,
But sadly my decoder ring no worky.
It goes like this, the twist, the bend,
The sudden turn at the twilight's end,
I should have made a left at Albuquerque.
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque.

Well, your maps are good but they're out of date,
They've redesigned the interstate
And now the route through town is kind of quirky.
They'll send you down a one way street
To where a dozen highways meet
And none of them have signs for Albuquerque.
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque.

You'll swear that you've been here before
You've seen that bar and the grocery store
Although with time your memory has grown murky.
And you've seen that flag on the City Hall
But now they've dumped a shopping mall
Slap bang across the road to Albuquerque.
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque.

There was a time you used to know
The way to where you had to go
But now you sit here feeling like a turkey.
Your progress was so free and light
And you know it still could be all right
If you could just get back to Albuquerque.
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque.

Now maybe there's a judgement day
But all I learned along the way
Was how to live on Gatorade and jerky.
So now I'll end this final song
And join the lost and broken throng
Of weary pilgrims seeking Albuquerque.
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque,
Albuquerque. (and repeat out)

Two Magicians and a Boat is FINISHED!

Which is to say that I have got to the end of the story. I have wrote down all what happened. There must now be keen-eyed goings-through to make sure that the door that was on the left in chapter five is not on the right in chapter nineteen, and so on.

I will continue putting up episodes, just in case anyone is reading.

I never thought I'd get this far, honestly. I thought this story was bogged down for ever. So, whee. *waves hands feebly* Story finished. Whee.

Next, something else. :)

Chapter 17 of Two Magicians and a Boat!

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Driskil was in a really poor way.
The other students stood around his bunk and gazed down at him. The vomiting had stopped, but his skin was clammy and his breathing spasmodic and irregular. He no longer seemed to be aware of his surroundings.
“Poor old Driskil,” Burlox said.
“We've got to tell Old Stick,” Gorol said.
Thavaar raised an elegant eyebrow. “Do you think so?” he said nonchalantly.
“Driskil's sick,” Gorol insisted.
“Nonsense. Indeed, I dare say tush,” Thavaar said. “This, brother Gorol, is but a temporary indisposition, induced by a touch too much enthusiasm in his potations. He'll be all right by tomorrow.”
“You said that yesterday,” Burlox pointed out.
“No, Thavaar, he's really ill,” Gorol said. “I'm going to get Old Stick.”
“Are you quite sure, dear fellow, that you wish to involve the illustrious pedagogue at this point?” Thavaar inquired. “Would this not involve us all in somewhat delicate interrogations as to our extra-mural activities?”
“Involve you, you mean,” Burlox said rudely.
“I?” Thavaar was a picture of wounded innocence.
“You're the one who's been feeding us all that rot about being men and drinking beer,” Burlox continued. “If Driskil's drunk too much, it's your fault.”
“Brother Driskil is surely possessed of as much free will as any of us,” Thavaar countered smoothly. “If he chose to imbibe to excess, it was nobody's fault but his own. Still, brother Gorol, if you are determined—”
“No,” Gorol said. “I mean, yes I am, but it wasn't you. I know who it was made him like this.”
Cut for length...Collapse )

Sunday Sinfests

I would love to see a large format art book, printed in full colour on good paper, containing all the wonderful Sinfest Sunday strips. Just for the beauty of them.

Sadly, I probably wouldn't be able to afford it. :)
CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The Pride of Tamland eased away from the mooring and moved sedately down the river. The banks on either side still presented a stark contrast; though the land on the Briom side was poorer now, the soil tending to clay and the wild growth along the bank looking rank and dismal, on the Tsenesh side the ground was even more barren-looking, the occasional bare rocks showing streaks of odd colours and scintillations in the watery midmorning sunshine.
And in the boatmaster’s office, Aldro Stychel turned on the two amateur investigators a smile as open and frank and uninformative as a child’s.
“I really don’t know what I can tell you, Lord Ildras,” he said, “that you don’t already know.”
“Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself,” Varnak suggested.
“Myself?” Stychel’s smile drooped a little. “Is that germane?”
“Why don’t you let us determine what’s germane and what isn’t?” Varnak countered pleasantly.
Stychel shrugged. “Very well,” he said. “My name is Aldro Stychel. I’m forty-three years old. I was born in Hyrcassos, in the capital city. I studied at the Royal College of Arts in Kyriopolis, in Briom, and then returned to my own country to take up a position as a teacher, where I have remained ever since. As you see,” he said, smiling again, “not much to tell. It’s a dull life, but I find it rewarding.”
“Is that all there is to it?” Mordecai said, on an impulse.
Stychel looked genuinely dismayed. “You’ve been talking to the boys, of course,” he said. “Gentlemen, I beg you to discount anything they may have told you. Wild stories—”
“They did not tell us anything,” Mordecai said. “Apart, that is, from a general air of ‘we could an if we would.’ They were very loyal and as discreet as such hardened topers can be. It was, however, enough.”
The teacher hesitated. Then he sagged.
“May I rely on your confidence, gentlemen?” he said, in a low voice.
“Absolutely,” Varnak said, looking curiously at Mordecai.
Cut to spare your friends page...Collapse )
Chapter sixteen of Two Magicians and a Boat is now complete, and I will be posting it over the weekend, one way or another. Watch for the announcement!

In the mean time, if you'd like to remind yourselves of what was going on, or if you're new to the story and want to start from scratch, you can find parts one to fifteen here:

http://www.avevale.org/index.php/episodes-plays/10-epsodes-plays/26-two-magicians-and-a-boat

They come in PDF, EPUB or MOBI formats, and they're actually not bad. Do have a look.
...no being has been led to Nirvana.

A conservative talk show host, whose name escapes me because I didn't save the link, has had the courage and the honesty to come out and say what has been increasingly obvious for some time; that it is now impossible, in this Disinformation Age, to say to anyone "These are the facts" and be believed. For every source, there is a counter-source; for every fact-checking site, a conspiracy theory discrediting it. You pays your money and you takes your choice, and there has never been so much wonderful choice when it comes to information.

One commenter's response: "These people do not live in Factland."

I have news for this commenter. Everybody lives in Factland. And nobody lives in Factland.

Factland is the real world, the one that hurts, the one in which people get sick and lose their jobs and their homes and their loved ones. We arrive in it when we are born, we leave it when we die, and there is no other way to leave it. That's on the one hand.

On the other hand, where we all actually live is inside our heads, behind our eyes, between our ears, and Factland can never truly penetrate those barriers. All knowledge is predicated on belief, belief in the reliability of our senses, the validity of our reason, the credibility of the authorities we choose to trust. Where we truly live--whether we are conservative, liberal, socialist, libertarian, green, purple, or whatever--is in a reconstruction of Factland that we create inside our heads, from the information we take in, and in which we believe.

Aaaaaand that, my lovelies, is where it all starts to go horribly wrong.

Because, whereas in earlier times our sources of information were few and trusted, now we have the internet with its wonderful freedom, and desktop publishing software that can make any load of old rubbish look sleek and authoritative, and everybody's doing it. Call yourself the Institute of Confirmation Bias, or ICB for short, knock up a few graphs to prove that employment in southwestern Montana has declined 63.26% since old Missus Henryburke started up her home-made lemonade business, and someone will believe it and quote you on Facebook.

Left-wing journalist Paul Mason has written a book called Postcapitalism, and the Guardian has published what may be an extract, or a summary, or an article on related themes, by the author, here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun

The article is full of studenty handwaving of the kind I deplore ("a new kind of human being" is emerging, according to Mr. Mason. As sf readers, we all know what happens when "a new kind of human being" emerges. We saw it in Midwich.). Apparently the information revolution is going to lead to the abolition of intellectual property (!!!) and a new age of "free time and free stuff." He doesn't go into any details as to how this will work; presumably the book (which, by the way, is not free) will be more enlightening. As it is, there's a good deal of "the left must reshape its policies" and "the left must reinvent itself" and so on, without any hints as to what this process might actually involve. I remember the last time the left reinvented itself. It reinvented itself as the right. I do not want that to happen again.

But Mr Mason makes the same omission as everyone else whose writings in this vein I have read; he seems to be assuming that information is of a consistent value. Information in Factland comes in all colours and shapes, and there is no hallmark, no way to tell from the information itself whether it is true, inaccurate or a pack of utter lies. If information were the currency of this new world (to be fair, he doesn't actually say that it is) then we would have a huge counterfeiting problem before we've even got started. Information, in itself, will not make any positive difference, till we have a touchstone to sort the gold from the dross.

But it's not all waffle. He does say many of the same things I have been saying in my posts about work and democracy, which of course are quite true because I believe them. :) If free market capitalism is truly ending, and if to see the end of it we have to give up the idea that when we write songs or stories people might give us money to hear or read them, then maybe that's a price worth paying for the death of wage slavery and work-or-die ideologies.

Mmmmaybe.

In other news, I am broke till Monday again, and would be grateful for any possible assistance. (EDIT: okay, Worldcon weekend was a stupid time to ask. Sorry. Never mind.)

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