a burning green

Last night I finished this new novella, which I discussed a bit just the other day. I didn’t expect to be finished so soon, since I thought I was taking kind of a relaxed pace to this, but I finished it in about eight days. Which, I guess, is pretty relaxed for me, since I’ve finished novels three times this length in roughly the same amount of time.

The first draft is around 21,000 words, and it feels oddly satisfying to already have two novellas finished this year. I thought I’d be taking a long break from writing after finishing Songs of My Mother, but that seems to’ve unintentionally instilled some kind of work ethic in me, or at least a writing habit.

So hopefully I can keep this up, though the next idea I have is for something quiet a bit longer. Perhaps 100,000 words. It’s going to be sort of my largest statement about anarchism, in that I’m building a continent like Europe that will basically just be a bunch of functioning anarchic states.

It should be fun.

But this new novella, it had a pretty unpleasant name during the writing process, but I’ve landed on Born Under a Burning Green for now. It might change, and it might change often, but I like it right now, and it’s pretty appropriate.

It’s about 90% dialogue, really. Most of it is funny to me, though that might just be my own preference. But these two women with pasts that are only ever obliquely alluded to just talk about the world and their place in it. Sort of a pseudophilosophical text in a fantasy world. In many ways, it’s meant to mirror the standard epic fantasy quest storyline while also removing everything that makes that a typical story. So there is a quest, but the reader isn’t really aware of what it is. There are great actions taken, though many of those are left undescribed. And in most stories, these two would be villains, since they do little more than murder humans and monsters alike.

So it’s a black comedy, I think, but also kind of an aggressive text, in that it’s pretty unfriendly. Brutal characters who are, essentially, living in a peaceful world. They don’t so much fight other humans. They butcher them in an often gruesome manner, though a lot of that is left to the imagination. The only things they fight are the monsters which roam the continent. Strange, foul monsters.

But, yeah, weirdly proud of this, partly because of how peculiar it is, but mostly because it’s a very peculiar thing for me to write, and it’s told in a manner that’s unusual for me as well. There’s very little outside of quotation marks. So the whole narrative and world is given through dialogue, which is just kind of a wandering, fun, accidental experiment.

But, yes, it’s finished. I hope you get the chance to read it someday. And I hope you love it.

quiet breaths

I was feeling pretty down earlier today. Pretty down for the last week, plus a few days. I probably don’t need to tell you why, but a lot of it has to do, I think, with how often I kept tabbing over to facebook or twitter.

I’m forming bad habits again. Unhealthy, stifling habits. It’s something I’m actively trying to prevent: spending so much time online.

Tonight I’m going to play Final Fantasy XV, maybe try some origami or draw some maps, or maybe write some more of this novella I’m working on.

The current title is vulgar and only a placeholder, but it’s about two women in a pretty traditional fantasy world. But instead of going on a quest or fighting for some cause, they mostly walk around and talk. Both of them have no education and very little understanding of the world they live in. They know kings and gods have a place but they don’t understand any of it, so much of the novella is made up of philosophical discussions between these two incredibly ignorant characters as they make sense of the world and try to sort it out to one another.

The dynamic is pretty interesting to me, because the novella is about 85% dialogue with very little extraneous descriptions. Because of this, it has kind of a meandering and hopefully naturalistic feel.

The other 15% of the novella is them killing monsters and other people.

So it’s a very violent text, but weirdly fun to write, and endlessly amusing to me. Not the violence, but the conversations. I might even just toss a short section of it in here to give you a taste:

The girl said, “There are no gods. Everybody knows that.”

“Then what is the Tesha?”

The girl shrugged, “Don’t know. Probably just some guy. Who cares?”

Her companion gestured to the dead bodies, “Priests.”

“Priests work as much for the king as they do for the Tesha.”

“What king?”

“What?”

“You said—”

“The fucking king! Shit,” the girl threw down the bone she was whittling. “You know,” she whirled her knife as if the gesture encompassed the whole world, the bracelet of teeth clacking, “the fucking king. Everywhere’s got a king.”

“But which king?”

“Shit, I don’t know. Wherever we are.”

“If we don’t know what he’s king of, what makes him king?”

The girl slumped where she sat and sighed, “You’re really pissing me off.” She picked up the whittled bone and went back at it with the knife, the teeth bracelet rattling with every stroke. The scrape and grind of blade on bone vibrated up her wrist to the elbow.

Across the fire, her companion flayed the head of one of the dead priests, “Don’t see what there’s to get mad over.” Struggling with the skin on the nose, she gave up and sawed through the cartilage and let the severed nose fall to the dirt. “Who says there’s no gods?”

The girl snorted and shook her head, “Everybody.”

“Everybody don’t mean shit. You mean Alton and his family.”

The girl blew the bonedust from her hands and examined the blade she was making out of the bone. Her jaw clenched on one side and she reached down to her feet and groped for something with her eyes still on the bone in her other hand. Grasping at nothing, she looked down and then around her.

“What?” Her companion paused what she was doing.

“There was a grindstone here.”

Her companion whistled and when the girl looked up, her companion tossed it to her. The girl went to grinding the boneblade smooth. “What’re you making?”

Her companion giggled, “Don’t know. Thought I’d make, like, a guitar.”

“With a skull?”

Her companion shrugged, “Not sure I know what a guitar looks like.”

“It’s like,” the girl paused, then giggled along with her companion, “like a thin thing and a hallow thing,” her words collapsed into full on laughter and her companion laughed with her.

The night wore on and the fire burned down to embers.

Her companion said, “Should we add more wood?”

The girl shrugged, “You tired?”

Her companion shrugged and tossed another log onto the embers, then a second. They sizzled, popped, and eventually lit.

“What got the wood wet?”

Her companion shrugged, “Blood, probably.” She was deboning the leg of one of the dead priests. “If there’re no gods, then why is there a Tesha?”

The girl sighed, “Same reason there’s kings, I guess.”

“Why’s that?”

“Shit, I don’t know.”

That’s how the novella begins and it continues in that manner. So it’s a mix of comedy and brutality that’s sort of oddly therapeutic to write. It helps me breathe easier.

It’s interesting to me what I’ve written since completing Songs of My Mother last year. I’ve written a novella inspired by Greenlandic cuisine, Taoism, anarchy, and pacifism, and now I’m writing something that is, in many ways, its opposite: a violent, meandering, chaotic text with ignorant characters who have an undescribed past.

I don’t know what inspired me to write this current novella. In the Greenlandic novella, I was seeking to find an answer to the violence I see in the world. In this, I can’t say I’m looking for anything. Maybe I’m running from something, or trying to explain bits of reality to myself, bits of america to myself. Because I see how the recent frustrations, fears, and concerns are playing out in this short, brutal, comedy.

But, yeah, I’ve also written a handful of poems about Trump. I’m collecting them into a collection titled The Golden King. Maybe it’s a form of resistance or a way for me to write out my greatest fears for the future, but it’s a pretty unpleasant text so far. It’s draining to write those poems and so I’ve only written five, but I think the rest of the collection will be from a different kind of perspective, and hopefully those will give me a sense of hope and peace.

Which is what I’m seeking, first in my own life, and then in the world. It’s why I’m going through the Tao Te Ching every day.

Trying to breathe and live quietly.

Which is not to say passively.

It’s difficult to be at peace right now, to find balance, and sometimes it’s making me feel hopeless, since I see no balance to this. But, ultimately, it’s helping me. Allowing me to step back and see the world with cleaner eyes. Eyes less stained by the brutality of the present.

And I need that. I need to remember that the world is still a beautiful place. That resistance is more than shouting loudly online. Resistance is a complex, multifaceted thing, yet it can be as simple as clearing your thoughts, playing chess, or folding laundry.

Resistance is persistence.

I saw an interesting thread of tweets by an Iranian responding to americans on twitter. He highlighted how Iranians live and enjoy life, even though they live under a brutal theocratic regime (and he reminds us that the US toppled a liberal, democratic government to put the theocratic dictator in place).

It gave me a quiet sense of hope. That life goes on. That even when things seem hopeless, even when life is at its darkest, people still find beauty and love and laughter. They dance, and they sing.

That’s resistance. It’s the kind few talk about, but it’s a terribly important form of resistance: to persist. To love. To live. To laugh. To create art and collaborate with other people. To build friendships.

And it’s inspired me to act on some long-standing plans. Like hosting monthly gatherings (this is in the planning stages, but Chelsea and I have some simple ideas) and then I have some other ideas that require a lot more planning and some funding, but we’ll get there. Even if it takes me years. We’ll get there.

I guess what I mean to say is that it’s important to remember to enjoy life.

So take some quiet breaths and look away from your screen at some point every day, and just talk to another human. Not about politics or current events, but about what interests them, or what interests you.

Maybe just have a beer with friends or take a walk by yourself with headphones on, jamming to music you love. Or take the headphones off and listen to the sounds of winter.

It’s a good day to live, even if everything seems terrible.

don’t punch left when monsters dance on your right

The blame game has gone on for about three months now and it’s really time to stop.

It’s time to come together and build a real, broad coalition of resistance.

Every time you find yourself posting online, We need to focus on the future, but… and then go on to blame communists, anarchists, socialists, Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, working class whites, working class non-specific, the Midwest, the Southeast, non-voters, Putin, or whoever else, you stifle what you say you’re seeking.

We can’t build a coalition by first demanding apologies from everyone who isn’t us. Firstly, there’s no point to it. Secondly, you’re making a demand of someone you hope to embrace in open cooperation, which is the opposite of a cooperative starting point.

A lot of people were wrong. In fact, every major publication in the world was wrong about the outcome of this US election. If you think the blame belongs somewhere, maybe just accept that almost every single one of us was wrong about the election.

That doesn’t mean everyone was wrong about everything.

Hillary Clinton committed war crimes as Secretary of State. That’s not a debatable opinion. That’s just something that happened. It’s a fact.

The Obama Administration committed numerous war crimes and spied on us and our allies and tortured whistleblowers and tortured prisoners and repealed civil liberties and extended executive powers and empowered the Patriot Act. Also not an opinion. Those are things that happened.

And similar things have happened with every US Administration going back to at least Teddy Roosevelt, but probably back to Andrew Jackson, and then maybe even farther.

We have done terrible things as a nation. We have done them unrepentantly. We have done them for as long as we’ve been a nation. Genocide, slavery, and other crimes against humanity are in the fabric of our national identity. These things happened. They happened and we need to account for the fact that they happened when we move forward.

But we need to move forward. We need to understand where we were, what we supported, and how to move forward to make sure none of this happens again. We must remember the past and hold it tightly because our collective crimes are our burden as a people, as a nation.

Because Trump and Bannon are demanding that we relive the worst moments of American history again, right now, and for as long as they hold power. They want genocide. They want war. They want surveillance. They want bombs. They want christian supremacy. They want white supremacy. They want fascism. They want poverty, death, and total control and all the economic advantages that come with that place of power.

It’s not about demanding apologies or standing on a soapbox to tell everyone how right you were or how you are blameless.

And it’s not about when you joined the movement or became politically active. If you didn’t care yesterday but care a whole lot today, that should be good enough.

We are all to blame. Wherever you stand politically and whoever you voted for and for whatever reason you voted that way–we all did this. Together. As a nation.

This is our country. It’s not just a place we live. We are all complicit in the actions of our government because we allow them to govern us. We give them their power through voting, through consent, through passivity, through apathy.

And so we need to build a way forward, together.

Stop punching left, especially. Stop accusing those who have spent their lives as activists, as lawyers defending civil liberties, as confrontational journalists who demand more and hold power accountable just because they disagreed with you.

They had reasons to do what they did, just as you had reasons to do what you did. Also remember that being critical of one powerful person was not an endorsement of a different powerful person.

Unfortunately, there’s no longer a place for moderates in American politics. Being a moderate right now is being complicit with Bannon and Trump. To seek a compromise with them right now is to lose parts of yourself.

You cannot seek compromise with someone seeking genocide and widespread poverty and slavery. There is no compromise to be made that will not reduce you as a human. The only response is defiance, non-compliance, and resistance.

These are the people standing to your right: Nazis, white supremacists, christian supremacists, con men, fascists, and robber barons.

If you look to your left and still see enemies, then maybe you need to look harder at yourself.

What do you really want? Is it acknowledgement of your righteousness? Is it for someone to just tell you that you’re right? Is it for someone to take the blame of what 350 million people decided? Is it to mince words and argue about the right way to resist or talk about resistance? The right way to be a progressive, to be an American, to be a journalist?

We’ve all done this. I don’t exclude myself from this.

This isn’t a call out.

And if you need an apology, you don’t deserve one.

I will say that I was wrong. I was wrong about so many things about this election. And about a lot of other things too. I’m often wrong, and I’m often wrong about most things.

And while that might matter a bit, we have more pressing concerns.

So look to your left and take someone’s hand. It’s time to stand together.

Then look right, with your brothers and sisters, and hold that line, because there are monsters rushing our way and all they seek is blood.

punching nazis and pacifism

The above video of Nazi Richard Spencer getting punched in the face has gone viral and it’s led to predictably uninteresting discussions online about whether it’s okay or problematic to punch a Nazi/Fascist in the face.

So that’s what I’m going to talk about, since I’m a pacifist and I suppose I have things to say about this.

Like anarchy, I think pacifism is largely misunderstood, and wilfully so. The same is true of the anti-war movement or any other cause in america that’s seen as being outside of the normal political discourse.

For example, someone in the anti-war movement may not be a pacifist. In fact, they may support all kinds of violent action, including punching a Nazi in the face. Anti-war means, quite simply, that they’re against war on principle.

Pacifism, like most ideologies, exists on a spectrum. Here’s the wikipedia entry on it for those looking to get a short overview. But, in general, a pacifist opposes all forms of violence, from systemic to personal.

Of course, not all pacifists feel this way. One of the most famous and renowned pacifists in history is Mohatma Gandhi, who has a less than absolute perspective on the role of violence.

Here’s what Gandhi had to say about violence:

I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise violence. Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have run away and seen me killed or whether he should have used his physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence… Hence also do I advocate training in arms for those who believe in the method of violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.

But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment…

He also had this to say:

Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defence or for the defense of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission. The latter befits neither man nor woman. Under violence, there are many stages and varieties of bravery. Every man must judge this for himself. No other person can or has the right.

And also this:

Ever since my experience of the distortion of ahimsa (non-violence) in Bettiah in 1921, I have been repeating over and over again that he who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honour by non-violently facing death, may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor. He who can do neither of the two is a burden. He has no business to be the head of a family. He must either hide himself, or must rest content to live for ever in helplessness and be prepared to crawl like a worm at the bidding of a bully.

When people think of pacifism and non-violent action, they often think of Gandhi. He didn’t invent either of these, but his actions were perhaps the most significant on the globe, and his influence is extremely widespread. But here he makes the case for violence.

Pacifism is not one thing, just as racism or sexuality or English is not just one thing. It generally means one thing to the person using the term, but so much of life and ideology is multifaceted that it’s silly to pretend that it’s not.

And so, when I talk about pacifism, I’m only speaking for myself. For there’s no one else I can speak for. I’m not a leader of some movement or even a member of any organization (not really a joiner, I guess), and so my views are only mine. Which can be said about anyone saying anything.

Also, it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Just because I’m a pacifist does not mean I expect everyone to be a pacifist. In the same manner, I don’t expect other pacifists to be pacifists in the same way that I am a pacifist.

Anyrate.

I actually disagree with Gandhi. I don’t think there’s ever a case where violence is useful.

Which also means I happen to be against punching Nazis. Or, to put that a different way: I have no interest in inflicting violence (systemic or personal) on any other human. Regardless of the reprehensible nature of a person, I still reject violence done against them.

That being said, it’s not my place to judge someone else (and here I agree with Gandhi) for their choice to use violence in the face of extreme violence. So while I can say that violence is always incorrect action, I’m not going to say that someone in an abusive relationship or living under imperialism is doing something wrong by fighting back violently.

It’s why I have no trouble supporting Palestinians, for example.

But I have no intention of committing an act of violence, or even being associated with violent acts.

That doesn’t make me better or worse than you.

Just makes us different.

I often call this radical pacifism, and it’s something at the heart of who I am. I believe all violent action is incorrect, and I’ll talk about why.

When I say this, I often get extremely aggressive responses to it, which is sort of baffling to me. My pacifism becomes something that they want to disprove or reject utterly. It’s almost as if I’ve insulted them by rejecting violence!

And so the conversation, almost without deviation, goes into the realm of hypotheticals, where my interrogator tries to get me to admit that there is some instance where I would accept violence as the correct or necessary form of action. As if admitting one case is admission of all cases or some sign of personal hypocrisy.

What if someone breaks into your home with a gun and tries to kill you?

I imagine they’ll kill me whether I like it or not.

What if they threaten to kill your family?

Probably a lot of us will die.

So you would just let them die? Are you that much of a coward?

And it continues in this manner.

The point they’re trying to make is silly, especially when you throw out such random circumstances that seem to only have one course of action. And, weirdly, most people come to this same circumstance, of a stranger breaking into my house and threatening me or my family or both with a gun. Like, let’s say that I could fight this person. I don’t own a gun or even a weapon. If they have the will and desire to kill me and my family, they’ll probably kill me either way. So to me, the circumstance only ends with one result. My interrogator is only trying to force me to choose a path I disagree with.

To what purpose, I can’t even begin to imagine.

I find it profoundly strange when someone tries to insist that you must feel and think and behave as they do. But that plays into this. Because to try to force someone to be as you are is a form of violence. Small and inconsequential as the practice or method may be, it’s still inherently violent to force yourself upon another person.

Just as it would be a form of violence to demand that you also behave non-violently.

A minor infraction, certainly, but the principle is the same, I think.

It’s a cliche that violence only leads to more violence. Not only is it a cliche, it’s an ancient one.

But I think it’s also self-evident. Even the circumstance I outline above: if the only answer to violence is more violence, then what have we done? People expect me to want to kill my would be killer, and this, in some way, is a justification to them or to the world.

But to me, either way, we have dead humans killed by other humans.

While I certainly value my life more than yours (how could I not?), I don’t see my survival as being a prosocial moment if it means I had to kill you, or anyone else. Either way, violence was done here and a life was destroyed. Likely many more lives than just those present.

And so I reject the violence done against Richard Spencer, worthless Nazi that he is.

That being said, I’m not sad or even upset that someone punched him in the face live on television. Nazism is inherently a violent ideology. There’s no denying this. There’s not even a qualification possible for this. It’s an ideology that promotes genocide, and is therefore absolutely unacceptable.

This is also why it doesn’t bother me that someone punched him, or that anti-fascist movements often use violence. Every Nazi desires violence. Not just violence against one person, but against entire ethnic groups. The plural there is important. It’s not just Jewish people or people of African descent. It’s everyone who is not on their checklist of what constitutes white. This even includes people most would consider white, like Polish, Scandinavians, Russians, French, and on and on. It goes as deep and ridiculous as to be about specific kinds of white, defined by such backwards pseudoscience that I don’t even care to give a summary of it.

And so when fascists come to your home, I won’t and don’t blame those who react violently to that.

Nick Mamatas said something interesting about this:

One of the unfortunate aspects of school bullying is that school culture trains the victims of bullies to loudly perform their vulnerabilities in order to summon the authorities to deal with the bully.

This tactic doesn’t work at all when the bully IS the authority. See Trump, and the increasingly desperate political delusions around faithless electors, impeachment, a voided election result due to treason, etc. There is no higher power to appeal to, period.

When the authority is a bully, you simply have to outbully him. Thus appeals to civility, handwringing about what has been lost to our political culture, expressions of fear, daydreams about an Obama coup, and the like, are all rhetorical and tactical misfires.

It’s time to find your inner bully.

It’s an interesting thought. And, to go along with that:

Non-violence as a tactic for resistance is only effective if the other side considers you human. If they see you as subhuman or whatever else, they will have no problems with hurting and/or killing you.

Non-violence is predicated on the belief that everyone is human.If you and your antagonist can’t even agree on your own humanity, then it’s unlikely anything useful will come of it.

But let’s go back to punching Nazis.

Every time someone encounters the Other, there’s always the argument made that we should squash them out because they represent a threat to our lives and our way of life.

Just listen to Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins or any of their fans talk about Islam.

They’ll tell you that Islam is an inherently violent ideology that poses a threat to every non-Muslim on the planet. While this may sound absurd, it’s a pretty widely held belief in both conservatives and liberals in the western empires.

The same is said about Mexicans in the US or North Africans or Turkish in Europe. Or even Eastern European immigrants living in Western Europe. Or, weirdly, indigenous people in any country colonized by Europeans.

And so the definition of ‘dangerous ideology’ becomes a matter of preference and perspective. It may be Nazis today who deserve punches, but yesterday it was Muslims (even among many liberals–just ask them about Yemen), and tomorrow it may be activists (nothing new, there) or anarchists (again, always) or pick an ideology.

The general argument for violence is that it’s necessary because of extraordinary circumstances. And while I agree that Nazism is absolutely an extraordinary case, this logic gets thrown around way too often for me to be comfortable with it as a rubric.

I mean, I’m not going to try to argue that you shouldn’t beat up fascists and Nazis. I have no interest in defending such people, since they have no interest in doing anything beyond inflicting violence upon the world and its people. And not just your average run of the mill beatings, but actual genocide.

If there are people who are unfit for humanity, it’s the ones who utterly reject the humanity of others.

The danger with violence is that it doesn’t end. It spreads like a disease.

When you choose violence, you reinforce violent systems.

I don’t think it’s inconsequential that the US, who takes such pride in beating Nazi Germany, has essentially been at war with ‘dangerous’ ideologies and people since Hitler died. Like, ceaselessly. We have yet to find a war or people whose blood we don’t crave.

Further, we’ve gone on to create the kind of surveillance state Hitler, Stalin, and Mao would be endlessly jealous of. We’ve created a criminal justice system that is the envy of every dictator or totalitarian state. We routinely put inmates in solitary confinement, which has been identified as torture for a long time. And we do that as a casual disciplinary decision to thousands or maybe even as much as hundreds of thousands of inmates across the US. Our police routinely murder civilians. Our Intelligence Agencies routinely spy on citizens and assassinate foreigners (and sometimes citizens) and overthrow democratically elected governments and install vicious dictators.

The list goes on an on, and I don’t think it’s inconsequential that a nation who has fallen so deeply in love with violence is one whose ‘progressive’ citizens and politicians still have very little to say about ending war or even just pulling our troops out of warzones. They also have little to say about the surveillance state we live under.

We developed an atomic bomb because we needed a weapon to fight the Nazis, but then we dropped it on the Japanese (who were not super different, ideologically, from Nazis). And since then, we’ve been in a constant state of warfare with dozens of countries on nearly every continent humans inhabit.

Of course, this isn’t a result of fighting Nazi Germany, but I don’t think they’re as separate as some might like to believe.

Violence poisons us. It reduces us. It makes us less human. It makes us more violent. More willing to give into violence. More willing to reduce our enemies to the Other.

Violence is a choice that we make as a society. And, like personal choices, it becomes easier to make that choice every time we make it. So when we went to war with Germany and Japan, it seemed to make sense. When we went to war with Korea, it still felt that way. With Vietnam, we eventually rejected our own behavior. But then came the 70s and 80s when most of our military violence came in a way that is especially recognizable now. Most of it passed through the CIA and we used locals to wage our wars for us, whether it was fascists in Chile or Jihadists in Afghanistan, we stopped sending massive mobilized forces. The 90s were a mix of boots on the ground and covert assassinations and bombings, until we perfected the new state of world war.

After September 11th, 2001, we decided, once more, that there was no such thing as a bad war, and we declared an endless war. Sixteen years later, and we’ve only expanding our warfare in the Middle East, stretching it to seven different countries and thousands of new enemy ideologies who we all call the same thing: terrorists.

Most people I know are in favor of violence, whether explicitly or implicitly, whether vocally or not. I’ve seen the things you say online. I’ve heard you say it with your own mouth. I heard you say it every time you described a politician as ‘hawkish’ instead of ‘war criminal.’ You support violence, and that’s your choice, and that’s okay, I suppose.

I mean, obviously I disagree with you, but that’s okay, too.

But your support of violence is your own choice. And while I must be complicit in most of these choices, whether I like it or not, because we belong to the same nation, whether we like it or not, I can’t stop you, but I can try to resist the rising tide of violence that is all round us.

And so go ahead and punch a Nazi or ten. Beat up some fascists. Make it a party! An anthem!

But think of tomorrow and what our violence costs us, because there is a cost, and it’s not inconsequential.

For now (and always), I hope for peace.

glossolalia

Sitting at the Hong Kong airport, about to spend the next dozen hours in the air, and Trump is now president and a thousand other things.

One good thing that happened to me this week is that I finished a new novella. It’s called Glossolalia, or don’t scream it on the mountain.

It’s about one tenth the size of Songs of My Mother and about as opposite of that book as a text can be. I wrote more about both books a month ago. Incidentally, that post is also sort of about Trump, too.

But I’m very happy to have finished this, even if it took me about a month longer than I expected, and mostly because I spent three weeks or more not writing (it was the holidays, and stuff or whatever).

But the novella is influenced a lot by Taoism, anarchy, pacifism, Trump, Kyle Muntz’ new novel, The Effigies, and then all this random research I did about Greenlandic cuisine.

Stay safe and sane, everyone.

I’ll be on  a plane, heading back to Trump’s america.

thanks, obama

And I get to write that unironically, since I’m extremely pleased with the president’s decision to commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence! She’ll be free this May.

And while I say thanks to Obama, the real thanks is to all the people who worked tirelessly for this, who helped by donating to her defense fund. And the bulk of that work was done by the Chelsea Manning Support Network, which I’m proud to have been a supporting member of since 2010.

And if you’ve followed this blog or my twitter or facebook even casually for the last six years, you may know how much this means to me.

Honestly, this is the most significant positive decision Obama’s made since Trump got elected president. I can’t even pretend to not be thankful that he’s done this.

Of course, this wouldn’t have needed to be done had his administration not tortured, then prosecuted, then imprisoned her, then tortured her for the last six years, and all because she released information to Wikileaks. Information that has saved millions of lives and contributed to sparking the Arab Spring, as well as ending US imperial violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, yeah, Barack Obama and his administration invented this problem by going after her and then committing human rights abuses by torturing her in various ways for six years, and this certainly doesn’t absolve him from abusing and torturing her for so long, but! I’m still thankful that he’s saved her life by commuting her sentence.

Because as bad as her life was under an Obama administration, I think it’s clear she literally would not survive a Trump administration.

And while I could go on to say a lot of critical things here, I think I’ll try to leave off on a happy note.

Thank you, Obama, and good luck, Chelsea Manning.

Don’t know where your life will lead you, but I’m grateful and excited for you to be free.

You’ve been one of the most heroic americans of this or any other generation.

2016: in reading

Going to do a sort of summary/rundown of all the books I read this year, which is something I usually do.

This year was a solid one, in terms of number of books and pages. I read 128 books (well shy of last years 187) and read over 40,000 pages, which is only a couple thousand fewer than last year’s 43,000 (the only reason I have page counts is because goodreads keeps track).

I read far fewer indie press books this year than ever before. I read relatively few literary novels, in general. This probably isn’t too surprising to anyone, as I’ve become less and less connected to that aesthetic.

Kyle Muntz and I were talking about this recently. I find a lot of experimental or innovative fiction somewhat childish, which, I think, is the opposite of how most people view it. But I’ve been reading experimental fiction for over 15 years, which means I was coming at it while I was just starting high school. It’s hard for me to dissociate plotless novels with beautiful or bizarre uses of language with being an angry teenager.

And so I’ve come, rather late, to love character and narrative, and I’ve come to the conclusion that character is really the most important aspect of any story (back in my old writing days, I often tried to write entire stories without character or narrative movement, which seems so hopelessly stupid now), and the real reason people love series is because they just want to hangout with characters that they’ve fallen in love with.

But, yeah, that’s enough preamble. Here’s the list:

Bitch Planet: Volume 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Was pretty excited to read this, to be honest, and found it mostly disappointing. I mean, that’s not super fair since comic books are serialized and I really only read the very first part of what’s likely to be a much longer story. But I found it to have a solid premise with pretty cliched subversion. And its subversions weren’t particulalry subversive, I think. But maybe that’s just me. People seem to like it.

When True Night Falls by CS Friedman

The second volume in a trilogy of science fantasy novels. Enjoyed this much more than the first, until about 100 pages near the end. The ending is just kind of dumb and makes you feel both empty and angry at the author. These novels remind me a lot of JRPGs and this is part of the reason. They set up an antagonist and talk him/her up for 500 pages and then you get to the end and OH NO the real villain is someone else that you’ve never heard of and have no connection to. I think I might come back to finish the trilogy, since the writing and worldbuilding are fantastic, but I was pretty soured on this for a while.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Overrated. Tarkovsky is why this book even matters. It’s the definition of a thought experiment novel, which is, sadly, how I think of a lot of SF novels. That being, the author gets an idea and tries to wrap an entire novel around it. This rarely works and is almost never as interesting as the premise.

The Last Unicorn and Two Hears by Peter S Beagle

Had I read these as a kid, they probably would’ve been favorites and done so much to make me a happier adolescent.Coming to them as adults is still a treat and I enjoyed both a great deal.

The Time of the Dark and Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly

Each of these is the first volume to a series that I somehow never got back to. The Time of the Dark is portal fantasy and Dragonsbane is medieval fantasy. Dragonsbane is much better and does a lot of subverting of tropes and genre expectations. Reminded me a bit of the later Earthsea novels by Ursula K Le Guin, where you think the story must be one thing, but it turns into something far more interesting. Hopefully I’ll get back into that series, but both of these novels work as standalones.

Two Brothers by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

Daytripper was one of my favorite novels and so I keep coming back to these two to find something close to that awesome, but I’m consistently disappointed by their work.

Memoir of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou

This is a fantastic little novel. Funny, fun, and wicked and surreal. Loved it. Hoping to pick up some more Mabanckou this year.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Absolutely amazing. Who knew a fantasy novel about market manipulation could be so fascinating and thrilling? Seriously. This novel is made of economics and it’s breathtaking. It also does a lot to subvert tropes and expectations, while telling a truly heartbreaking story about love, sexuality, revolution, and the lengths people go to try to do the right thing.

The Tale of the Unknown Island by Jose Saramago

The only other Saramago I’ve read is Blindness, and I read that so so so long ago. This is a short novella but it’s playful and awesome.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Another little story that would’ve probably hit me much harder as a child. Even as an adult, it’s a beautiful little book. But you already knew that, yeah?

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I think this should be required reading in middle school or high school, because it’s a brilliant introduction to what it means to be a black man in america. However, reading it as an adult, I was hoping for something more. It’s a great little book, but it’s very much for people who are just starting to be empathetic. Better for young readers.

Moby Dick in Pictures by Matt Kish

Just okay, to be honest. Some of the art is fantastic, but a lot of it didn’t do much for me. I think it’s just that his vision of Moby Dick is so very different than mine.

Tremontaine by Ellen Kushner

So this is told over 13 novellas by a handful of authors. It’s brilliant and fun and exciting. It’s sort of modeled after serialized television, in that Kushner sort of created a writing staff to tell this story. She contributed most to it, but she also used other voices, and it creates something really special. The second season is out, but I’ve yet to start it. It takes her Riverside world and really opens it up to diverse voices, characters, and ways of thinking. It’s about sexuality, love, violence, math, cartography, and chocolate. Just amazing stuff.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Pretty overrated, I think. When it’s brilliant, it’s brilliant. And the dialogue is always perfect, but the narrators are constantly repeating themselves and their themes and whathaveyou. It makes it a frustrating book, because it’s both enormously rewarding and incredibly frustrating. It’s both an amazing and terrible book, sometimes in the same passage.

It’s definitely an ambitious and interesting novel, but it’s really just a giant mess. And not in the Bolano kind of way, where that messiness is part of the brilliance.

Train Dreams, The Laughing Monsters, and Nobody Move by Denis Johnson

Every Denis Johnson book is different, and every single one is amazing for very different reasons. Train Dreams was almost perfect, The Laughing Monsters is frightening and solid, and Nobody Move is hilarious and wicked but also just okay.

It was interesting to read him doing three distinct genres this year because they all feel like Johnson, but they’re all so very different and great for separate reasons.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The first Gaiman novel I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s awesome in the way all of his books are, and imperfect in the way they all are as well. It’s about childhood and growing up and the strange magical way the world looks when you’re young.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Not sure what it was, but I didn’t like this book. It could’ve been any number of reasons, but the fact that I listened to it as an audiobook might be a big reason I didn’t enjoy it a whole lot.

Might try again someday, but something about this just didn’t work for me.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

An audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry is kind of destined for greatness, yeah? Loved it. Hilarious and absurd and oddly thrilling. But you knew that. It’s just awesome.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Weirdly, this is the first Bradbury novel I’ve read. It’s solid and I kind of wish I had read this when I was 13, which is kind of a growing thing for books I read this year. It’s a problematic book in some ways and awesome in others. I liked it well enough, and it might be a book more necessary for the present than it has been for a long time.

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Luxurious comes to mind. The writing is better than the novel, though. Samatar writes sentences with such confidence and beauty and power that it makes this just a delight in some ways. In other ways, the novel’s very thin and kind of overly long, for such a short novel.

Interested in reading her follow up, because she’s an amazing writer. Her short fiction, especially, is powerful and great and shocking. But this just missed for me.

Under Heaven and River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

Loved Under Heaven but River of Stars left a kind of emptiness in me. Kay is another fantasy writer who writes with immense grace and beauty and power, and he takes some really peculiar risks with these two books, to varying degrees of success. Oddly, where Under Heaven becomes peculiar and a success is the same way that River of Stars failed for me.

It’s strange, reading two books that take gigantic risks with narrative and come out to such different outcomes. These two books are related, too, with River of Stars taking place about 400 years after Under Heaven. It creates an even more interesting effect on River of Stars, but that novel just kind of unravels for me.

Version Control by Dexter Palmer

The best book of the year. It does everything just perfectly. I wrote a whole thing about it this summer.

You absolutely should read this novel. It’s daring and experimental and overwhelmingly brilliant with surprising levels of emotion.

United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas

I loved this book. It’s miles ahead of his debut novel and really shows how great of a writer Peter is, and how quickly he’s stepping things up. His next novel, whatever it is, is surely going to be all kinds of brilliant.

God Engines by John Scalzi

First John Scalzi and I’m not impressed, really. Don’t remember much about it, but that’s probably not a good sign.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Interesting little essay. Again, something I think should be read my middle schoolers or during the early stages of high school. Reading it as an adult, it’s not super interesting. Introductory essays have a place, definitely, but they’re really meant for people who don’t know anything about the topic.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

This book is bizarre. Surreal and sexual and just pretty surprising. I kind of love it.

Witch Hunt by Julia Escoria

A solid poetry debut. Not my favorite stuff, but it’s worth checking out. Oddly, it’s one of the only poetry collections I read this year. She has an interesting and visceral use of language.

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Honestly don’t even remember reading this. It was probably fine.

The Beans of Egypte, Maine by Carolynn Chute

Brutal look at rural life. So much darkness and so much sweetness, and so much misunderstanding. In some ways it’s one of the best books I’ve read. In other ways, it’s pretty much the kind of thing I never want to read again. But it’s real. It’s maybe the realest realist novel I’ve read in I don’t know how long.

Peace by Gene Wolfe

Tricky doesn’t even begin to describe it. There’s so much going on beneath the surface of this novel. It’s deceptive and cruel and bizarre and sometimes surreal. It’s a puzzle, truly, and maybe the most postmodern text I’ve ever read. It’s Gene Wolfe, and this really is a glimpse at who he would’ve been had he chosen to be a literary writer. He’d likely be thought of in the same sentence as Pynchon. As is, he’s seen as a genre writer, which means most people will ignore him. But he’s brilliant, and does experimentation better than nearly everyone.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

I just like Jack London. His use of language is so powerful and robust.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Reads sort of like someone writing Hemingway parody. It’s probably not fair that I read this right after Jack London, who’s basically a Hemingway with triple the talent. But this helped win Hemingway the Nobel, so what do I know?

Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal

Interesting and surprising and deceptive little novella. Definitely worth checking out.

Point Omega by Don DeLillo

Only the second DeLillo I’ve read and I thought it was kind of dumb. Dude can write a sentence but he can’t make me care about these disaffected imperialists.

Bellwether by Connie Willis

I hated this book. A lot.

I don’t even want to think of it because it’s making me mad with how stupid it is.

Drowning Eyes by Emily Foster

The kind of book that should’ve been 100 pages longer, I think. I loved it and also didn’t care for it at all. It’s an interesting adventure story with brushes of magic and mystery and foul mouthed pirates.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Harrowing and creepy and frightening and just soul crushing. It’s something you’ll never forget. It’s also incredibly unpleasant to read.

Snakewood by Adrian Selby

Some truly brilliant writing goes on in here, but the novel is just one-note, if you get me. It’s grimdark in a way that becomes kind of stupid and uninteresting. I mean, I get how people are trying to make fantasy more realistic and gritty, but there’s only so much I can care about hard men acting hard.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

If you’re looking for something like The Kingkiller Chronicles, you’re going to be frustrated, and he says as much in the Foreword. This is a good little novel though. Much more surreal and literary than his main body of work. A book about a damaged girl living a silent life in a peculiar place.

The Healer by Antti Tuomainen

Creepy and awesome and apocalyptic. It’s a thriller in the most basic sense of the term, and it’s races back and forth trying to put the pieces of a puzzle together. All to save a life. To save his wife. The world is falling apart due to climate change in the background, giving this noir a whole new element to deal with. But, yeah, my first look at Scandinavian noir, and I’m pretty impressed.

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Had Version Control not come out this year, this would’ve been my vote for best of the year. I’ve read, like, 15 of Stephen’s novels, and I really don’t get tired of them. There’s a lot of what you’ve come to expect from him in here, but everything just gets taken to a new level. Reminds me of Ledfeather, in all the best ways. Wish this had come out when I was 15 because I’d likely never get over it.

But, yeah, so much heart and beauty and love. The love of family and what it means to grow up. How all your heroes are werewolves and all you love is somewhere just beyond here, somewhere where life’s just better.

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

Amazing worldbuilding and writing, but kind of stupid, as a whole. The sign of someone who thinks SFF fans only care about how intricate and well constructed your world is. But, yeah, just kind of missed the mark for me. Solid writing, though, so I’ll probably check out some of his literary work someday.

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch

Didn’t even like this book, but that’s sort of on me. I don’t often look too deep into novels before I read them, which has been a problem for my year in reading, to be honest. Had I known what this book was about, I would’ve skipped it.

It reads like Kerouac or Miller, in a way. Selfish, self-absorbed artists being artistic in a world that’s just not artistic enough for them. Oh, also there’s a harrowing story going on in the background, used mostly to try to humanize these awful people, which makes the novel even more problematic for me. Using someone else’s horror for your own aggrandisement–I just didn’t like this book. Left a sour taste in my mouth.

Le Mort d’Arthur by Thomas Malory

Bizarre is the best way to put this, I think. I didn’t really like it. We all know the stories of King Arthur and his Knights, so it was interesting to finally read this. I just didn’t care for it so much.

The Vegetarian by Han King

Three novellas give shape to life in modern South Korea. It reminded me so much of my old home. It’s visceral and heartbreaking and complicated, and might require at least some basic understanding of South Korean culture and how life is changing there to get the full effect. But I thought it was brilliant.

Sigurd and Gudrun by JRR Tolkien

Tolkine’s translation, rather. I love myths, so I loved this.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

Stunning and awesome. Lovecraftian fiction mixed with Harlem Renaissance. It’s fun and scary and creepy and magical and dark and all together amazing.

The Last Witness, Downfall of the Gods, and The Devil You Know by KJ Parker

Three novellas by KJ Parker. I’ve yet to read any of his novels, but the novella seems to be a perfect length for him. Every novella I’ve read by him has been utterly fantastic. And these are no different. All playful and tricky and surprising. Most of them dealing with humanity’s relationship to their gods, and this leads to a lot of interesting characters and ideas. Gods conned by humans, humans who find meaning in being abused by careless, reckless gods. It’s all quite brilliant.

Dragonflight, Dragonquest, Dragonsong, and Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey

Can’t believe I made it through all of them, really. It’s an extremely problematic series, and I read 2/3rds of two different trilogies here. But the misogyny and classism and racism are just too much on the surface. Sometimes it seems like she’s going to subvert some of this, and I kept waiting on that, but it never comes. Not really. It makes these incredibly unpleasant and it really sours everything good about them.

Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, and Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

You’ll know within ten pages of the first novel whether or not you’re going to be able to stomach this trilogy. It begins brutally and wickedly. Like, really, if you read the first chapter and don’t close the book forever, you’ll probably enjoy the whole trilogy.

It’s surprisingly good, I think. What Lawrence does here is very surprising. King of Thorns, especially, is pretty fantastic. He plays with structure and time and pushes you to the limits of what you can stomach, the limits of how evil you can make a narrator while still keeping you fully engaged and even, remarkably, on his side.

Interested to see his new trilogy.

Ship of Magic, The Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb is one of my new favorite writers. I wrote about this trilogy earlier as well. Hobb is just brilliant. She creates such amazing and real characters here, and keeps pushing you deeper and deeper into their world. You watch them try so hard to do what’s right, and you watch so much slip between their fingers. All their hopes and dreams transformed and mutilated into something so different than they ever thought possible.

And oddly, there’s hope in all that. Despite all the horror and tragedy, we keep finding hope.

The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, and Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

So I expected these novels to be so cliched and so bad that I decided I would just casually listen to them as audiobooks. Why did I even bother? Because the Wheel of Time series is recognized as being, if nothing else, the most ambitious work of fantasy fiction ever written. So I thought I’d give it a shot.

I’ve been surprised. They’re not great, but they’re much better than I expected. Also, the audiobook narrators do such a brilliant job that it’s easier for me to forgive some of the worse elements. I think if I were reading these as physical books, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the first one. But, as it is, I’ve found them surprisingly interesting and subversive and fun and thrilling.

There’s a lot of stupidity in them. Like all the stuff about destiny and good vs evil, but the world is so alive and vibrant that it’s easy to get swept along.

Moonstone by Sjon

Not my favorite by Sjon, but by no means bad. It’s surreal and haunting and playful and fun and beautiful. It’s kind of exactly what you expect from a good Sjon novel.

The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville

Pretty disappointed with this, which is too bad, since I love Mieville. But it just wasn’t that good. It’s great at what it does, but I think the premise really holds back the novel, in some ways. It’s surreal and fast and action packed, but it left me kind of dissatisfied.

The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde

Another book I didn’t care for. I don’t remember it too much anymore, but I remember being pretty disappointed. It all feels thin in my memory.

City of Wolves by Willow Palecek

A fun 18th century style detective story. It’s fun for what it is, and sometimes pretty thrilling. It’s also quite short, so it stays pretty fun.

A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, and Cold-Forged Flame by Marie Brennan

Was very excited to read A Natural History of Dragons, and planned on reading the whole series, but I gave up after the second novel. The fetishisation of empire is extremely unpleasant. The novels are often racists and classist. I suppose we’re meant to forgive these elements because it subverts gender expectations, but telling a story about capable women never feels subversive to me. I mean, I get why it is, but it all hangs on you believing that women are in some way inferior to men. And that’s obviously stupid, and so the premise always feels thin when that’s all I’m meant to hold onto.

And so I’ve really come to hate these novels for their love of empire and imperialism. Maybe the series goes on to subvert this, but I don’t really care anymore.

Cold-Forged Flame, on the other hand, was an exciting and somewhat noirish adventure. Grim and dark and kind of awesome.

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

Ambitious to a fault. I have a lot of thoughts about this book, but I think a lot of it ends up being pretty racist, unintentionally. She means to show how americans destroyed all the beauty of our continent, but she mostly does it through the Noble Savage cliche, which is, you know, a problem. She stops treating native people like real people and mostly turns them into a Hollywood stereotype.

That being said, there are big chunks of this novel that are great. But the novel gives up on character too often in favor of showing the movement of people. As in, the novel’s real character is the american forest, rather than actual humans. It makes the novel sometimes really uninteresting, as she tries to cover so much, so whole sections feel like lists of names with actions associated with them.

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

Another series I was excited about. I mean, it’s billed as the Napoleanoic Wars, but with dragons. I’m sold! Unfortunately, it also fetishises empire in ways that are incredibly unpleasant to me. It’s hard for me to be on the side of these savage imperialists, and so I likely won’t bother with anything else in the series.

That being said, the novel is fun, if you ignore the casual racism and classism.

A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows by VE Schwab

Loved these novels. They’re fun and funny and exciting and interesting. The world develops and grows and becomes both terrifying and immensely satisfying. I loved both of them and can’t wait for the third novel.

Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

Loved this. A PI who’s also a monster. I mean, what else is there to say? I could imagine reading 100 of these.

Antwerp by Roberto Bolano

Sort of feel like I need to reread this. It’s awesome, but I think it overwhelmed me. But, yeah, the first Bolano I’ve read that isn’t 600+ pages, and I like how it feels.

The Heights of Macchu Picchu by Pablo Neruda

Gorgeous.

Ariel by Silvia Plath

Not my favorite bit of poetry, but it’s beautiful and dark and coarse.

The Girl with All the Gifts by MR Carey

Would’ve been better had they used the word zombie, since this is obviously a zombie novel. And also had it been about 200 pages shorter.

Other than that, it’s creepy and terrifying and interesting.

A Betrayal in Winter, An Autumn War, and The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham

I read the first book in the series last year and loved it, so it’s surprising it took me so long to go back and finish it. But wow. These novels are just amazing. Ambitious in scope while being extremely personal. They cover about 60 years of time in an empire, focusing primarily on two men. It’s a staggering work and one where the passage of time really makes an impact. To see these people at 15, 30, 45, and 60 (roughly those ages) is just a fantastic little device. Watching how they change and grow and become friends and enemies and maybe friends again. It’s astonishing and beautiful and full of so much failure that it breaks your heart.

They remind me of Hobb’s novels. Where hopes and dreams become mutilated and twisted and people just try to make the best of the scraps and dust they still hold.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich is awesome, and this is pretty great. Sometimes I wanted to give up on it, but I’m glad I stuck with it.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

A novel told primarily through interviews about the discovery of a giant humanoid machine. Couldn’t put it down. Kind of perfect. It does interesting things with transhumanism, philosophy, history, and politics. It says a lot about people by really sticking a tight lens on just a few individuals.

Signs Preceding the End of the World and The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrara

Short, fast, and deadly. I really dig these novels. They’re both kind of noirish, but with their own flairs. One being a disease in the backdrop, the other being the journey from Mexico to america.

For how short these novels are, they’re packed full of meaning. And they’re just awesome to read.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I don’t know what I was expecting going into a novel with this title, but this exceeded my expectations. It’s dark and brutal and horrifying, but there’s hope in these pages. Or at least what hope amounts to when you’re telling a story about one of the worst (if not the worst) aspect of american history.

Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Didn’t really care for either of these and they, more than anything else, reminded me why I stopped reading a lot of literary fiction. Drown, especially, reads like a collection of MFA stories. And maybe it was. There are a few stories in the collection that are amazing, but most of them were just kind of whatever. And the dialogue, across the board, was pretty terrible.

Oscar Wao has some really interesting aspects to it. Almost all of them have to do with Oscar’s mother and grandfather. But his life is basically a weird nerd who’s incredibly creepy to every woman he interacts with, and then we’re meant to feel like his life mattered more than it did because he didn’t die a virgin.

I mean…why do people love this book?

Varamo by Cesar Aira

Interesting, in its own way. Feels very rough and raw and I just didn’t care for it the way I thought I would. I had a bunch of his books checked out from the library but after reading this one, they all felt like they’d be chores. I might still read them, but this novel just didn’t do much for me.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Like The Underground Railroad, this novel deals with slavery. Like Barkskins, it’s ambitious maybe to a fault. But Gyasi manages to pull it all together in a way that’s much more satisfying than Proulx. But, yeah, it’s brutal.

City of Golden Shadow and River of Blue Fire by Tad Williams

The first half of his Otherland cyberpunk epic. The first volume was really incredible, but the second one could’ve likely been cut in half. Even so, I love these characters and how intricate things are becoming. Everyone is so real and alive, and the future Williams imagines still feels relevant.

Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for His Pillow, Brilliance of the Moon, and The Harsh Cry of the Heron by Lian Hearn

The first three books in this trilogy create a very solid and satisfying trilogy. It’s beautiful and haunting and full of love. The Harsh Cry of the Heron is the follow up, which is nearly as long as the original trilogy, and it manages to dismantle everything good about these stories in the final 50 pages.

The trilogy itself is fantastic, and about 700 pages of the Harsh Cry of the Heron are really solid, but it ends in a way that is both ridiculous and stupid. So I’d recommend only reading the first three, which are just great. They have kind of a breathless beauty to them that I found incredibly appealing.

Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gate, Memories of Ice, and House of Chains by Steven Erikson

I knew these would be epic and dark and grim, but I never expected them to reach the heights they do. They take the word epic and really bring it to a new plane of meaning. And while it’s dark and grim and brutal, it’s also full of hope and beauty and the novels are remarkably funny. Or at least, everything after Gardens of the Moon.

I’m not even halfway through the series, but I can already tell it’s going to be an all time favorite. I’ll probably do a big write up when I finish them all.

Half a King, Half the World, Half a War, The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

No idea why I read two trilogies by Joe Abercrombie this year, because I didn’t especially love the first one I read, and I also didn’t especially enjoy the second. But Abercrombie does a lot right in these six books. Enough right that I’ll likely read the other three novels he’s published.

But he has such a pessimistic worldview in the novels that it makes them kind of frustrating, and not in a good way. At the same time, he’s created some unforgettable characters that I never got tired of.

He’s an interesting writer is what I mean.

 

But, yes, those are all the books and my look back on them.

It’s been kind of a disappointing year for my reading. There were some incredibly high highs, but a lot of lows. So it goes. This year will likely be full of more of the same, though hopefully fewer lows. I think I’ll be a bit choosier with my books this year.

Last year, I often just picked things up somewhat randomly at the library and then read that. It made the year somewhat frustrating because I read a lot of books I normally wouldn’t have, and I managed to run into a lot that left me disappointed or kind of indifferent, which is not a good way to feel.

finding new ways and other thoughts about action

The title will make more sense a few paragraphs down, but first I’m going to ramble about writing a bit.

I sent out Songs of My Mother to several beta readers (want to be one?) a few weeks ago, and have already heard back from one!

I’m ridiculously pleased with the response. It’s not all positive, of course, but the reaction mostly fell in line with what I expected and what I wanted, which is good. The weaknesses I was worried about were called out, but none were really added. Some places I thought might be weaknesses proved to be strengths and, overall, the reaction was jsut positive. I’m ecstatic about that, truly. I’ve never spent so long working on a novel, and never written a novel even close to this length, so to hear good things about it was kind of exactly what I needed (especially since the Fear shrieked inside me almost immediately after I sent the novel to people).

And so I’ve been feeling good this week (got the feedback on Monday). Had to do a lot of driving (currently in Ohio and on my way to Pittsburgh), which means I’ve listened to several audiobooks and eaten a lot of Panera and just been spending a lot of time inside my head.

About a week ago, I got a new idea for a novella, too. What I usually do when ideas strike me is sit on them, let them percolate, but I decided to just start writing this one about an hour after the idea came to me, and it’s been extremely pleasant and fun and just kind of a joyous experience.

Several ideas kind of banged together at once, and all because of a wikipedia hole. Was looking at pictures of Greenland, and then reading about ancient piracy, and then, somehow, about Kasper Hauser, and was already rereading the Tao Te Ching for the hundredth time, and thinking about the Voynich Manuscript, and it all kind of came together for me. And because Kasper Hauser is such a bizarre story, it got me thinking about Visitor Q. And then because Greenland was on my mind (and cooking’s always on my mind), I was wondering what they eat there.

And so, in short, I’m writing a novella inspired by Greenland, pirates, Visitor Q, and Taoism (more on this in a bit). It’s called Days of Glossolalia and All the Days After.

It’s been fun and interesting. The Visitor Q influence is probably much milder than people would expect from such a claim (at least so far), but I’m hoping for this to be at least relatively normal, since everything I’ve written in the last four years has been kind of ridiculously bizarre.

But mostly it’s just kind of a come down from the arduous process of writing a 310,000 word novel. I wanted to do a lot of things differently, and a big part of that is writing something sort of bitesized. Something people can read in one sitting with relative ease, so I’m hoping it tops out at around 30,000 words. It’s already at 10,000 so I may be underestimating again, but I can’t imagine this being much longer than 40,000 words, even if it blows up on me.

I’ve been listening to real old Iron & Wine while writing it. I forget how much I love those albums and EPs. That kind of breathless beauty they have. But, yeah, mostly just The Woman KingThe Sea & the Rhythm, and Our Endless Numbered Days, though sometimes I go all the way to The Creek Drank the Cradle.

Trying to get a gentle feel in my head.

And I think part of this is because I’ve been thinking about Taoism a lot lately. I say that this new novella is inspired by it, but that could be said about most of my novels. The Tao Te Ching came to me at a strange time. Excerpts of it were assigned reading in my junior year of high school english class. The same english class that would introduce me to Dostoevsky, existentialism, nihilism, and other philosophical isms. But Taoism has always been the one that fits best in my head (besides the one I invented).

Someone even once asked me why the Twilight of the Wolves cover has a zen symbol on it, and I told them it’s a Taoism symbol (Zen Buddhism is basically a mix of Buddhism and Taoism). To me, Twilight of the Wolves is very much a Taoist text, and I think that’s partly why it means so much to me and why it still sort of breaks my heart that no one likes it.

But the Tao is in Songs of My Mother as well, and even Noir: A Love Story, and definitely in a handful of unpublished novels I have that are both extremely strange and extremely meaningful to me.

Pacifism is the driving force behind all my work, and Taoism has played a part in shaping that, too. My firm belief in nonviolence.

And so this new novella is dealing with that. How do you respond, as a pacifist, to pirates raiding your society?

The real reason why so much of this has been on my mind is because of Ursula K Le Guin’s blog. Click those highlighted words to see her post on the election, which goes into the Tao and resistance.

I’m going to excerpt kind of liberally here.

Americans are given to naming enemies and declaring righteous war against them. Indians are the enemy, socialism is the enemy, cancer is the enemy, Jews are the enemy, Muslims are the enemy, sugar is the enemy. We don’t support education, we declare a war on illiteracy. We make war on drugs, war on Viet Nam, war on Iraq, war on obesity, war on terror, war on poverty. We see death, the terms on which we have life, as an enemy that must be defeated at all costs.

Defeat for the enemy, victory for us, aggression as the means to that end: this obsessive metaphor is used even by those who know that aggressive war offers no solution, and has no end but desolation.

[. . .]

I will try never to use the metaphor of war where it doesn’t belong, because I think it has come to shape our thinking and dominate our minds so that we tend to see the destructive force of aggression as the only way to meet any challenge. I want to find a better way.

Emphasis mine.

Le Guin is a writer and thinker near to my heart. She’s one of my favorites. Maybe even my actual favorite. She’s the one that inspires me most, I think, and she’s the one whose worldview is most similar to my own. And in her blog post she discusses how we see the world and how we talk about the world.

It’s useful for me to see this, because she gets down to something that’s incredibly heartbreaking for every pacifist who must also be an american. It’s a neverending tragedy. We’ve been at war for generations and have no intention of stopping or even slowing down (all signs point to becoming more belligerent and aggressive, starting with China and Russia and Iran). There’s so much I could say here, but I’ll try to stay focused.

Though we’ve had some great scholars of peace, such as Martin Luther King, studying it is something Americans have done very little of.

The way of the warrior admits no positive alternatives to fighting, only negatives — inertia, passivity, surrender. Talk of “waging peace” is mere glibness, you can’t be aggressively peaceful. Reducing positive action to fighting against or fighting for, we have not looked at the possibility of other forms of action.

Like the people who marched to Selma, the people who are standing their ground at Standing Rock study, learn, and teach us the hard lessons of peace. They are not making war. They are resolutely non-violent. They are seeking a way out of the traps of anger, hatred, enmity. They are actively trying to get free, to be free, and by their freedom, free others as well.

Studying peace means in the first place unlearning the vocabulary of war, and that’s very difficult indeed. Isn’t it right to fight against injustice? Isn’t that what Selma and Standing Rock are — brave battles for justice?

I think not. Brave yes; battles no. Refusing to engage an aggressor on his terms, standing ground, holding firm, is not aggression — though the aggressive opponent will always declare that it is. Refusing to meet violence with violence is a powerful, positive act.

But that is paradoxical. It’s hard to see how not doing something can be more positive than doing something. When all the words we have to use are negative — inaction, nonviolence, refusal, resistance, evasion — it’s hard to see and keep in mind that the outcome of these so-called negatives is positive, while the outcome of the apparently positive act of making war is negative.

This final paragraph is especially interesting to me, since I’ve never thought about the language of peace. But it’s true: we always use it as a negative (linguistic negative, not moral one). It’s a subtle kind of thing built deep into english (and maybe many other languages?).

It brings me to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and might write a post about eventually. But I’ve been thinking about technological development. Not even new development, but the development of technology through history.

To keep it brief: Might is Right has been the prevailing moral and technological theory since Columbus crossed the ocean blue. Which means it’s probably been there longer. Since the Crusades, probably.

It’s not the idea even that technological advancement makes you morally correct (Silicon Valley ideology), but that having a superior military with technological advantages makes you also morally superior.

This was absolutely Europe’s policy in the americas, Africa, and Asia. Because it is worth remembering that when the west first encountered China, we were like baboons when it comes to their (at the time) advances in technology. We didn’t understand it and saw no use for it, until we discovered that their exploding powder could be used to propel metal balls through metal tubes at incredible speeds, allowing those same metal balls to tear through a human body, even when it’s armored.

That’s a simplification, of course, but I’ll leave it at that.

But war and might have been seen as positive moral attributes to cultures for a long, long time. Whereas peace has always been an undesirable alternative. Something for cowards and malcontents and agitators.

We confuse self-defense, the reaction to aggression, with aggression itself. Self-defense is a necessary and morally defensible reaction.

But defending a cause without fighting, without attacking, without aggression, is not a reaction at all. It is an action. It is an expression of power. It takes control.

Emphasis, again, is mine.

And this brings us back to that other way. What is it? How do we find a new way?

I see so many posts on social media about our need to fight. Some even are saying that we must fight in any way necessary.

It scares me, to be quite honest. I see nothing but ruin ahead of us, when all our solutions are fighting. Our only metaphor for action is combat.

I think it shows how terrible things have become. How terrible they’ve always been.

We have glamorized the way of the warrior for millennia. We have identified it as the supreme test and example of courage, strength, duty, generosity, and manhood. If I turn from the way of the warrior, where am I to seek those qualities? What way have I to go?

I won’t keep quoting this, but we come to an interesting point, because Le Guin doesn’t answer this question. She leaves us, instead, with Lao Tzu and the Tao.

So how do we act? How do we resist without fighting? How do we remain peaceful when threatened by belligerent and aggressive forces?

Unfortunately, I have no answers. I very much doubt that anyone does.

But it’s something I’m trying to answer in this new novella. Or at least it’s the idea that’s at the heart of it.

How do we act and resist?

For me, as a person, this may take several shapes. But it’s something I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Pacifism is at the core of who I am, and it’s perhaps the only beliefI know I can’t exist without. And since I have no answers (the Tao teaches that there are no answers), I intend to learn how to act. How to be.

Anyrate, some thoughts to chew on. Maybe you’ll like the way they taste.

lazy sort of update

I’ve been generally pretty frustrated for the last month, which is a terrible way to feel, but I still got a lot of work done. I edited my novel and sent it out to some beta readers who I hope to hear back from in a few months.

I haven’t really posted here since the election, and there are a lot of reasons, I suppose. None of them especially good, except for the one where I edited 1,000 pages of a book. I’ve opened up new drafts several times in the last month but never got past a sentence.

I was too angry, maybe. Too depressed. Too fatalistic. Whatever the case was, I’m glad I didn’t write anything, because it would’ve simply been an expression of anger, of frustration, of hopelessness, and I don’t think that’s necessarily productive.

I’ve done a lot less of saying things online since the election. There are a few reasons for that.

The first is that I think it’s more important to listen.

Trump’s presidency means a lot of different things to various groups of people, and so I’ve been trying to listen to those who will be most effected by the changes that will happen in this country. If you scroll through my twitter feed from the last month, it’s mostly just retweets. Retweeting and signal boosting voices who I think matter right now.

I don’t think what I have to say is especially important, since Trump’s presidency may never directly impact my life as an individual. That’s a big may in that last sentence, but I think it’s an important one.

It will effect people I know, however. A lot of them. And many more that I don’t know.

And so my voice in all this seems to me far less important than their voices. And so I’ve been reading, listening.

I have a lot of thoughts about all of it, but I don’t think writing it here will be especially useful to me or others, and so much of this will likely remain private unless you choose to engage me for my opinion.

I think this is something important for me to do as well, and, in general, it’s something I’ve been gradually doing more of for the last three years. Restraining myself from adding my voice to conversations.

Probably if you read this site much, you can guess what I think about most things, but who knows. It doesn’t really matter what I think, ultimately.

Even this post is kind of purposeless, just rambling with my fingers.

One thing I did this week, sort of as an outlet for my fears and frustrations, is write some poetry about Trump, which is something I never thought I’d do. And it’s been a long time since I’ve written any poetry, let alone poetry about a reality TV star.

I’ve written three, and will likely write a total of ten or so, whenever the mood strikes me. I’m collecting them under the title of The Golden King.

Also, Tor.com has a submission window open but it’s closing in the middle of January, and I thought I had something to submit, but it turns out to be about 5,000 words short of the minimum, which means I’m going to be spending some time this month to write something new.

It’s about a woman who’s a giant monster hunter. It should be suitably awesome.

But, yeah, I was hoping to take a long break from writing now that I’ve finished my behemoth of a novel. Was hoping to play some videogames, read some books, and just relax while the beta readers read my novel. But now I have something new to do.

But it was a bizarre feeling, having nothing to write or edit for a few days. I’ve never worked on a project as long as I’ve worked on Songs of My Mother, and never written so consistently. So I felt sort of aimless and listless for a few days. All of a sudden, it was bizarre to not have a project looming over me.

Because, really, I’ve been thinking about or working on a novel for most of the year. To just not have that project weighing on my shoulders like a mountain felt…just strange. Not even really a relief. Just like something was missing.

Anyrate, I guess I don’t have much to say. I’ve been listening to this song on repeat though. Hopefully you like it too.

the strange, sad case of glenn beck

You may remember him from about a decade ago. He was the dude who got famous for scribbling on a whiteboard while racebaiting and yelling out conspiracy theories. I just looked for a clip, but there are so many Glenn Beck videos on youtube that I didn’t have the patience to find a funny one.

Because I do find what happened oddly funny. And he lives in sort of a weird space that I find pretty absurd. He’s not a lunatic like Sean Hannity–but really, who is?–and he can’t fake his way into sounding like a serious thinker like Bill O’Reilly sometimes can. He’s just this weird guy who scrolls through the internet and believes literally everything. Or at least that’s how I imagine his life is.

Anyrate, right before the election, he sort of re-emerged on the political scene, getting interviews and talking points out with all kinds of outlets (another sign that should’ve illustrated to everyone how worthless US news media has become). The word for what he did is rebranding.

He was changing his image. He vocally stepped away from his own past. Basically repudiating his entire career, or at least trying to cast it in a new light. As a journey from fringe conspiracy theorist to a gentler, more empathetic political thinker.

Like every major media outlet, Glenn Beck was vocally against Donald Trump. This was only of interest to people who still cared about his opinion and to liberals who wanted to shine a light on him and say, EVEN THIS WACKO THINKS TRUMP’S GOING TOO FAR.

To me, it seemed clear that he was hoping to leverage his new gentle and empathetic persona into a job at MSNBC, which is among the most useless news networks around. But it would give him a big platform and audience to say things, and that’s what typically matters to the pundit class. I mean, it’s hard to be a pundit when there’s no one watching your dumb face for an hour every day.

At the time, it seemed inconceivable that Trump would be president. I mean, even the day of the election, most media outlets were estimating that Clinton had somewhere between a 70% to 95% chance of winning.

We know how that turned out.

And why I find this funny is that Glenn Beck placed a bet on the future of his career. He saw a Clinton victory as inevitable and maybe a way for him to get back on television with his whiteboard where he could yell about conspiracies that Democrats would believe. He gambled on the Clintons and the DNC and he seriously lost.

So what is Glenn Beck to do now? This gentler, more sympathetic and empathetic man? We’re in Trump’s America now, where Breitbart is now State News, and white supremacists and militarists flood Trump’s Whitehouse, along with some of the wealthiest people in the country who support policies like increasing mass surveillance (which has bipartisan support, by the way–something the Obama Administration just signed into law literally today) and a Muslim registry (which also has bipartisan support, which goes to show how worthless Democrats are–also, the Muslim registry has existed since maybe before 9/11, so it’s not even a new idea, nor is using it to assassinate Muslims all over the world with drones [thanks, Obama]) and massive tax cuts for the wealthy, which will cripple the middle class and impoverished class (that impoverished class is now about 50% of the country).

I didn’t mean to get political there, though. I just think this Glenn Beck situation is a really funny thing.

Glenn Beck sold himself down the river only to find his new brand as worthless as the old one. And maybe the funniest thing is that he could have risen to prominence on his old shtick, because if there’s someone who loves a good old unverified conspiracy, it’s our next president, Donald Trump.