Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary update time!
I have not been as active on this as I should have been, but if you happen to be following along - never fear! Progress on Book 3 is... progressing!
Long story short - this week I'll be just shy of 40,000 words into the draft, approximately 30% of the way through the manuscript. I'm enjoying writing this Book in the Saga in particular because I feel like the characters have "leveled up" sufficiently to be able to independently narrate scenes without relying on asking the core supporting cast so many dumb questions.
Fingers crossed, this will allow me to integrate the idea stuff, discussions of philosophy and science and whatnot, more gently in the narrative than in the first two Books. I'm going for a learning experience type of feel, so the training element is appropriate, I think, but does start to hit the edge of plausibility after a while. If you've reached the end of Book 2, you can probably see where things are going.
In other news, Anglo-Saxon politics remain insane, with America's madness not worth speaking about, and Britain's kind of epically hilarious (to me, not to anyone having to wonder what March will bring) Brexit fiasco. I stand by my predictions on both: America is already in campaign mode, the conventional wisdom is a-flying - and as usual bad theory predominates the discourse. It'll be fun/tragic to watch the unfolding Democratic party clownshow, though there are a few bright stars shining through the fog. And Brexit... if it happens, I'll be shocked.
I have to admit feeling a sort of grudging admiration for Prime Minister Theresa May's committment to holding her Conservative Party together by taking Britain to the brink. If Britain were to vote on the matter tomorrow, the result would be 55-45 against Brexit. And the whole backstop thing - what a perfect issue for the EU to refuse to budge on! They get to look strong to their domestic audience, and justified to an international audience, because who would want to much up the Irish peace process? Basically, May is in a position where the EU gets to look benevolent and principled, while also serving its own interest - avoiding Brexit altogether.
Who says the EU doesn't work?
On the topic of predictions, here's a little map I put together with the help of Alex Wellerstein's excellent Nukemap tool:
What you should see is a rough outline of the regions that will be irradiated (and the likely direct casualties - radiation casualties not modeled) as a result of the 2029 USA-Russia nuclear exchange, following the escalation of the Second American Civil War to the nuclear level by the Hollahan, then Pilsudska, factions. Turns out, the media was wrong about how a nuclear war would go. No simple mutual annihilation and post-apocalyptic horror, no, not in reality. Ray Bradbury was closer to the mark in Fahrenheit 451 - save that neither Russia nor the US would bother targeting cities.
No, when the fearless idiots in Moscow and DC do inevitably drop the bomb, both sides will do everything they can to be selective in their targeting, demonstrating to the other that see, I can do everything you can do, so you wanna take this to the next level? Huh? in a cycle of escalation that will end when someone blinks - or the government falls.
In the 2029 Exchange, Russia targets the American ICBM fields in North Dakota and Wyoming/Colorado (the things are spread out) it judges are under the control of the psychotic Hollahan regime, which came into power via nuclear decapitation of the senior US leadership in 2028, attacked several other nuclear-armed countries (or suspects) and is happy to fling nukes about in order to secure control of the US West in the aftermath. Hence, drawing Russia's paranoid ire.
Putin's solution is (as it would have been a Soviet Premier's in the late Cold War) to go Counterforce against the most threatening part of the US arsenal (ICBMs tend to be more accurate than Submarine-launched weapons, cause Subs move) as a signal that it was ready and willing to go further. The result, is the map above. Hundreds of nuclear warheads are ground-bursted on the American ICBM silos, turning tons of soil into radioactive fallout and throwing it high up into the sky, where an unusual weather pattern funneled it over the Corn Belt.
Most of North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa are contaminated - as are all the tributaries of the Mississippi downstream. Much of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana receive a lighter dusting that will still require removal of all affected topsoil before the region is safe again. Ohio gets a share too, as the geography of the mid-continent funnels the rest to the Great Lakes and beyond - not enough to be dangerous (very), but not exactly healthy, either.
More than 30 million people are forced to evacuate, many never to return, as their homes will be cordoned off, deemed unsafe - and who will pay for the reconstruction? Especially when the USA never recovers, and formally splits apart in subsequent years.
Hey, that's what happens when you insist on maintaining an arsenal of ICBMs at the headwaters of your continent's largest watershed. Don't like this future, Americans? Go talk to your politicians.
Bringing Ragnarok – Dev Diary 10
Well, the New Year has begun, and so the time has come for me to start work on Book 3 of Bringing Ragnarok.
I am rather pleased that I was able to write, edit, and publish Book 2 between July and December of 2018 – just as I’d planned. But plans are one thing, and reality quite another. 2018 has to have been one of the worst two years in my memory. It was a year of things breaking. We lost two of our founding Broken Wagon Farm members, one cat and one dog. Illnesses struck us both and other family members, and while the lass of the house spent a summer working, in effect, three jobs, the lad - me - finally realized that the logic of pursuing an academic career was coming to an end.
So! I am quite pleased that I was able to get the job done, and with a manuscript that ended up a full third longer than I’d originally intended. And with 2019 looking – at least in our household – to be a more stable time, I am confident that I’ll be able to get Book 3 up and published by the July 2019 – and then on to Book 4.
Completing Book 2 was also a relief for another reason – insofar as the narrative goes, Books 1 and 2 complete the first of three “movements” in the Saga. The first movement, First of Fimbulwinter, is about the Six Friends transition into their new world, and coming to grips with the reality of what being in war really means.
As a result, Book 1 has (I hope) a bit of a jarring feel, with a bit of whimsy, while Book 2 is more of a descent down the other side of a rollercoaster – it starts off slow, a bit like the late-middle of Book 1, and then accelerates into a torrent of action. Book 2 also ends on a much darker note, as I believe it has to, in order to serve its role in the Saga.
Book 3, by contrast, begins a new movement, one more focused on exploration and problem-solving. There’s still action, but it is spaced out again, and the Six Friends won’t always be quite so close to the center of the battles. I hope to continue taking the readers on a whirlwhind tour of three periods of human history, while working in as much detail on the crucial question of how the world got so dystopian in the first place.
Which means more about America’s collapse (the news continues to make this both easy and salient), more about Germany’s descent into madness, and more about the dark future the Neoliberals have in store for us all (though unless they get to work on rejuvenation pharmaceuticals soon, those of us reading this in the 21st century won’t live to see that particular dystopia rise).
Also, while I’m using musical metaphors...
*Brief aside: as this sentence was being typed, a cat just leaped onto my lap and then over to the couch. One of my primary functions in life is serving as a cat highway/parkour installation*
...As I was saying – musical metaphors. I make no secret of the fact that I love music. In fact, most of the backstory and plotting that swirled around for a couple years before I actually sat down to write the Saga came together whilst I relaxed on the couch, listening to Amon Amarth.
For some reason, back in about 2015 I got back into listening to music after a long period of, well, not doing much of anything new. Working on my PhD was starting to get... well, I was starting to get burned out, I now realize. Academia is a right hell-disaster, as I’ll get around to talking about on my blog one of these days. Racism, sexism, a culture of bullying – anything you can imagine experiencing in a cubicle in corporate America, you can find it in Academia, too. And there’s only so much self-congratulating hypocrisy from old white men with no clue about how the world actually works one can take in a lifetime.
Well, in any event, while I was starting my three-year journey to total burnout, I was listening to Pandora whilst poring over some statistical data (like ya do) when a song came on – “Runes to my Memory” that just totally blew me away. I’ve always been a huge Tolkien fan, and I knew there was a Swedish melodic death metal band named Amon Amarth, which is the Sindarin (One variety of Elf-speech) word for Mount Doom – the fiery chasm whence the One Ring was thrown, freeing us all from the dominion of Sauron, forever. (others have moved in to fill the void since, sadly).
So when I heard this song and checked the Pandora feed to grok the band name, I knew I had to find more of their stuff. I’ll save the full review, analysis, and impressions of the full Amon Amarth discography for another day, but suffice to say that I acquired all ten of their studio albums and listen to each pretty much once or twice a week, every week. Often, while putting together plotlines and lore for Bringing Ragnarok.
So I think it is fair to say that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Amon Amarth. In fact, there are scenes, even entire chapters, that are directly inspired by certain songs. I quote AA both as Part epigraphs and in the voice of a character, Sandra Chavez of the Missoula Regiment, who (like I suspect I would if I were a 20+ year veteran of the aftermath of the collapse and breakup of the USA) has incorporated certain lyrics as part of her life ethic and enjoys transmitting them via radio as part of psychological operations against her enemies.
It actually strikes me, as I type this, that perhaps I should reach out to the Amon Amarth fan community and see if I can score some readership. In past blogposts, I’ve wondered who my fans are – and I still am not entirely certain of the answer. But I suspect that it is safe to say that someone who likes reading stories about badass women who fight against the odds to change the world, who also enjoys swedish melodeath, and who is super into sci-fi and fantasy books, is probably someone who would like Bringing Ragnarok. So perhaps, I need to think of a way to chase down that particular idea Thread...
In any event, Amon Amarth also deserves credit for getting me into reading Sagas in the first place, which is what allowed me to pull two decades of ideas together into a coherent, epic, metaphysical storyline. Wanting to learn more about the Norse gods Johan Hegg growls about, I read the Eddas (Prose and Poetic). Then I went and read every Saga I could find on Amazon. Ragnar Lodbrok, the Volsungs, Sagas of the Icelanders, Heimskringla – most sit proudly on my shelf.
And it was that spree, tied to my own disillusionment with Academia, that provided crucial impetus for getting me (finally) writing the kind of tale I’ve always wanted to write. Something that blends genres, draws on the critical and postcolonial scholarship that I think is so important for people to encounter, and takes the reader on a familiar sort of journey, while reaching what I hope will be a rather unexpected (if, in point of fact, foreseeable if you’ve gotten obsessed with sagas and mythology) endgame and conclusion come Books 5 and 6...
But first, there’s the fun of Books 3 and 4 to get through. Which I guess I’d better get to writing.
Bringing Ragnarok Book 2 is now live on Amazon! Here's the link to the landing page on Amazon US:
Really not too much to say aside from this: Enjoy, and leave a review on Amazon if you'd like to help me get more people into the Saga of Six Friends!
Now, the writing of Book 3 begins...
Bringing Ragnarok, Book 2, is fully edited and complete!
Phew! Well, I set out to write, edit, and publish Book 2 of Bringing Ragnarok in no more than six months. And I'm proud to say: Objective achieved.
Book 2 definitely goes a little darker and edgier, with much of the action taking place in and around major battles. In 1944, Eryn heads out to the Western Front, helping to coordinate a German counteroffensive against one part of the American advance to the Rhine. 2041 sees Kim, Timur, and Patrick fighting with the Missoula Regiment against an all-out Deseret assault in eastern Idaho. And 2147 carries Yarielis and Loucas further on their escape from Toff pursuit into The Belt, which is essentially the 22nd Century's space-version of any mineral rich, poorly controlled area in the developing world.
In the six-book saga I'm writing, I felt it was necessary for Book 2 to be somewhat of a reality check after Book 1's more adventure-oriented theme. As the characters are getting more involved in their new times, they're starting to see and experience the consequences of prior events. This functions as a bit of a maturing process for them, and sets up the stage for Book 3 to go down a different path, focusing more on exploration and diplomacy (with intermittent battles).
One advantage of the Saga mode, being an early form of historical fiction and/or fantasy, is that each book in a series should actually go in a different direction. In the old Icelandic Sagas, for example, the story typically traces the adventures of several generations of a family, from father to son (and sometimes mother to daughter). So rather than follow the normal, modern convention of having a plot structured to present slowly rising action, a dramatic culmination, then (briefly) the aftermath, the Saga is more focused on presenting a fictional and stylized history of a person's life and experiences. Key battles and other plot events take place at scattered points throughout the narrative, structuring the overall course of the character's life (or a family's), rather than having that life be structured by the will of the storyteller.
In any event, Book 2 has more Norse gods talking about the nature of the metaverse, more things going boom, and I hope a little more insight into the perspective characters. But if you liked Book 1 more than Book 2 at the end, never fear! In Book 3, things get a little brighter. Darkened only by certain unavoidable philosophical discussions (note: people who deal with a lot of boredom, like soldiers and astronauts, talk about deep matters more than you might think. Philosophy is much more appealing when there's nothing more interesting to do - hence history's ascetics, hermits, and other folks who keep far away from society in order to better understand how it works.
Oh, and as for publication date - uh, well, still going with "By December 31st" because I don't actually know how long it'll take to get through Amazon's approval queue, once I hit the publish button tomorrow or Saturday. Should be hours, but could be days. On the off chance you are eagerly awaiting the sequel, I'll post a Dev diary update with the link to the book live on Amazon US.
Well, once again, I've gotten bad about blogging. But, while I've slipped with the Dev Diary updates, I've kept working on the actual thing that matters, the manuscript for Bringing Ragnarok, Book 2.
And it is done!
Took a few more days into December than I'd originally planned, but that was more out of a desire to slightly expand and rewrite a couple of the later chapters than discovery of major issues. Book 2 ended up being about 25% longer than Book 1, coming in at a bit under 160,000 words as compared to 120,000 for Book 1. The tone overall is, necessarily, a bit darker and grimmer than Book 1, but hopefully not so much so that it puts readers off.
I actually tend to structure the meta-plot a bit like a symphony, with themes shifting and action rising and falling according to a rhythm of sorts. So while Book 2 is thematically more battle-focused, Book 3 will shift tone again towards exploration (physical and intellectual) and understanding, setting the stage for another more action packed Book 4.
As for actual publication, I haven't chosen anything more specific than 'by the end of December', as I'm not entirely certain when the copyediting will be done and I'll finish any necessary corrections. I'm holding out hope of being done and published before December 31, but just don't want to make any promises just in case something goes strange. It's been quite a rough year on the home front around Broken Wagon Farm, so we're not taking anything for granted until 2018 is dead and done!
On Book 2, I have to say that I'm very excited to publish, and having garnered a number of good ratings on Goodreads and Amazon (more is better, so if you are reading this and enjoyed Book 1, please leave a review and/or rating! It significantly enhances visibility) has been particularly encouraging.
Since December is looking to be a slower month in terms of the amount of formal writing work, I'm hoping to spend some time making maps and appendix materials for each of the three Threads. For 1944, I've got some sketches of big-picture stuff, policy reforms and military reorganizations taken by the Beck government, which would have had quite a task on its hands had it, unlike our reality, actually been able to make Operation Valkyrie a success. For 2041, I want to put together some maps of Post-America, and include some atlas-style sketches of the different successor states to the USA, which broke up (formally) in 2031. And for 2147, I have some diagrammatic maps of Inner Sol, and more descriptions of places and players in the political-economic mix. And history, of course. Lots of timelines and the like.
Of course to actually get this done will require some focus, at a time of the year I tend to have trouble with that. And this year, there's the whole Brexit fiasco occupying my attention. I'm Cascadian, and follow US presidential politics best, but the UK comes as a close second, because in my globalist dreams, all the postcolonial remnants of the British Empire would unite in some kind of loose democratic federation. Anyway, I've found the whole Brexit drama to be high theater, years of ink spilled and negotiations... had... all so that in the end the EU could offer a deal that wasn't quite good enough, so that the UK politicians could say they did all they could, and then force a situation where a second referendum or general election would almost certainly nix the whole thing before it could do any real damage.
But we'll see! The performance seems to be headed down to the wire. Still, I always welcome a chance to put a theory to the test, mine being that inertia will prevail, where it can.
Won't in the United States, though - sorry to all the milquetoast old white liberal types who think some old hack like Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or even Bernie Sanders is the right choice for 2020. The UK already lost its empire, so the dynamics - while mirroring in many ways, remain quite different.
But hey - my Timeline to 2041 assumes that the USA goes into inertia for the rest of the '20s...until the greater earthquake begins.
Well, life has gotten in the way of regular Dev Diary-ing the past few weeks, so I figure I owe anyone stumbling across the site (or, I can hope, checking in on Bringing Ragnarok Book 2 progress) a quick update.
Simply put, editing is moving along right on schedule, despite the overall word count now pushing past 150,000. I've been hoping to delete sections where I went on too long with all the wordy wording of it all, but I've ended up adding sentences and clarifying points more than I've found things to delete. Hopefully my primary beta-reader will identify some cuts - not that I mind writing a longer book than originally planned (the whole 'series' is one long War and Peace length book in my head anyway, because I want to beat Tolstoy.)
In fact, 1/4 of Book 2 is now with my beta-reader, fully edited to my standard and ready for some external and objective evaluation. The next 1/2 or so has gone through both digital and paper edits, and just needs a few day's work to get that ready for evaluation. Leaving the last 1/4 or so still to go through the full process.
Fortunately, having now physically read and annotated more than 2/3 of the draft, I'm actually feeling a bit excited about publishing at the end of December, because Book 2 is where I think the story really starts to come together. Book 1 is intentionally vignette-y, with chapters growing longer as the narrative proceeds, to evoke the sense of confusion and general weirdness that most new recruits or draftees experience in the early stages of their integration into the military world. Book 2, while still fairly vignette-y, settles down into more of a distinct pattern/rhythm as the Six Friends start to grasp the 'rules' of their new reality, and begin to act on the world intentionally instead of simply experiencing things as they happen.
Part of the reason why I continue to advertise on the term litRPG is that I think this new genre's audience, or at least part of it, will appreciate the effective 'level-up' process that each character goes through as they figure out how to survive in the middle of a war. I don't make this explicit or overt, but it is buried in the narrative as a part of each character's arc. I like to integrate video game metaphors in my writing (and there's a lengthy discussion of war in the context of Starcraft early on), which probably restricts my audience somewhat, but also makes Bringing Ragnarok more approachable to the digital-generations.
Anyway, to sum up - still on track for publication by end of December, 2018. With ongoing encouraging news from my sales, Kindle Direct pagereads, and Goodreads ratings, I'm really starting to hope that this project will earn me a basic living income (minimum wage, at least!) once I can get Book 3 out in Summer 2019, or at the latest by the time Book 4 is published in Winter 2019. Busy times, but busy is how you break in to this world.
Oh, and if you happen to be a Book 1 reader who already read the thing and liked it - please rate and/or review on Goodreads, Amazon, wherever! I'm starting to get a sense of who is reading and in particular who is actually liking the Saga, and I am increasingly hopeful I can turn this into a sustainable business. Six Books done by 2020 is the goal, and then I can start on the next series... that I'm already planning out on paper (because that's how I roll).
Finally - this past week marked the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, that ended the First World War. I wish it had been the War to End all Wars, and not simply a prelude to something worse - and I'm not only referring to the Second World War. The self-inflicted damage to the European-dominated world system in 1914-1918 is still resolving itself. Just as explosives from both conflicts continue to emerge from under fields and development projects, killing people decades, now a full century later, so do the social and political struggles continue, in an age where thousands of nuclear weapons are under the control of right-wing fanatics who want to make them more usable, and the climate is rapidly shifting to a new 'normal', with no mitigation likely before the present world system finally collapses and is replaced in the '30s or '40s.
Well, been a while since I did a Bringing Ragnarok update, so here y'are if you happen to be reading:
Book 2 is now 1/3 edited, and the wordcount has slowly crept up above 141,000. For reference, Book 1 came in at just over 120,000, so I'm already pushing a 20% length increase. Which isn't a bad thing, just worrying: Compressed wordcount induces parsimony in the narrative. Which is a fancy way of saying, when I have a word limit, I get more creative about my word use.
Fortunately I suspect there are several longer passages that can be significantly cut without losing any of the effect or impact. I simply have a tendency to let a character's train of internal thought go on a bit too long, have them mentally narrate a few too many paragraphs of backstory. Which, while many readers are quite tolerant, I want to avoid as a bad habit. As much as I work to create a 'real' world, where what happens is informed as much as possibly by underlying mechanics that are rooted in much of the best of what I've encountered, in the years working on a doctorate, in the many academic disciplines I've investigated.
I could write an actual 'history' for each of the three main Threads, and publish it as a pseudo/fictional history. And by could, I mean that I am capable of sitting down and writing a whole lot of background material into a reasonably interesting technical narrative. In fact, one long-term ambition of mine is to actually do something like that, including supported 'faked' research materials.
At the moment, though, I sketch most of this sort of thing out with pen and paper, often in that pleasant couple of hours after dinner when my mind is wandering towards sleep already. The dreams come easier then, and I am getting in the habit of actually writing it down so I can reference it as I type.
What does that look like? Well, for a sampler, here's a brief Appendix-like Timeline detailing major events leading up to the 2041 storyline, where Kim, Timur, and Patrick are stuck fighting in the middle of a rapidly escalating new phase of the Second American Civil War:
There you have it! A nice, depressing look at, I'm afraid, a plausible future leading to Post-America. As you go out to vote this coming election day, keep this dark future in mind.
Bringing Ragnarok: Book 2, is written!
I don't usually give myself, you know, 'kudos' or whatever. But I will state my pride in having written a 140,000 word book in 15 weeks. Although I had hoped to have the draft complete by September 30, the extra length took it two weeks into October. Still, that's not a bad weekly average, especially considering that there have been other life matters to attend to during these months, as 2018 is the year that just won't stop giving when it comes to major life-changing events.
Now, as I write in an earlier Developer Diary for Bringing Ragnarok, a completed draft does not equal a publishable book. I mean, yes, there are plenty of indie authors on Amazon who do appear to be comfortable with publishing a 1st-draft, and many appear to make a good living doing it. Story > grammar, in most cases - at least in the mind of the average reader on Amazon, if sales in a number of indie-friendly categories are any indication.
I'm too much of a perfectionist not to at least try to make each paragraph and sentence as good as it can be. There is a point where the perfect becomes the enemy of the good, as is said, and a person could go on editing indefinitely and never actually publish anything. In life, I try to remain mindful of tradeoffs - in an imperfect universe, these almost always exist. Doing something means not doing something else, because time and energy are scarce/limited. So it is important, I feel, to realize when something is 'good enough', that is, the flaws that remain - and you can find them in any work, even one you love - don't bug the majority of people who encounter them. In many cases, one person's marring flaw is another's shining star.
But for me, the 1st draft is just that: The 1st draft. I am fortunate in that about a decade of academic writing has given me the ability to pump out a decent bit of writing without intensive editing - blog posts like this, for example, I type out and skim once to correct obvious defects, then hit publish. The result is usually readable, and gets my points across, though often I go on and on and on and on and on without actually saying anything substantial. Tangents are a problem for me, always have been.
So back to the meat of the post: I have 140,000 words of fiction, taking the Six Friends further down their journey into the metaphysical war that ends in Ragnarok: the Apocalypse, Norse style, as I tag it in my Amazon ads. There's some pretty dark stuff in here, but also lighthearted bantering conversations and philosophical arguments about how Starcraft is actually a decent model for the essence of war and warfare, when you boil things down to the Vespene Gas of it all. The next stage of the project is the intensive surgery: While my 1st drafts usually get the basic plotline and sequence of events down, they usually lack (in my opinion) when it comes to dialog and parsimonious description. The latter being a 10-cent word that here essentially means: describe the hill, its vegetation, color, location, and immediate relevance. Do not go all Tolkien, and make the hill a character unto itself. Hills are interesting objects of study, to be sure, but most people are content to have characers simply move over the damn hill, and not discuss the entire history of its origins and occupants.
I mean, okay, I do in fact tend to to exactly this, and much of the point of the story is to write about history in a way that the actual people and events appear real, tangible, believable. To portray history from the perspective of people stuck in it, though unlike most of us they have/gain the ability to impact and even guide it. Because it wouldn't be much of a story if it were about people just, you know, farming a plot or something. As much as I enjoy Harvest Moon, I can't imagine writing a story about it, no matter how much I like to pull in aspects of litRPG into my tale.
Aside from this blurb, not much else to write about. I'm still on-track for a late December release of Bringing Ragnarok: Book 2 on Amazon, and hope to have pre-order set up. I'm also looking at getting Book 1 (and 2) set up for on-demand print distribution through Amazon, which is pretty easy and serves those who like a physical book to read (I'm one of them, in fact.). All with a mind towards sitting down from January - April and writing Book 3, which I'm very much looking forward to (a sign I've finally struck on the right career choice, methinks), especially because Books 1 and 2 (the first 'movement', in my symphonic way of thinking about plot structure) do so much to set the scene, and Books 3 and 4 will progress/go deeper in from there.
As for the rest of the world - meh. America's right-wing now has full control of all 3 branches of government, and has sold itself to a conman who seeks a racial nationalist state in place of the America we have. Democrats will likely retake the House this November, but not the Senate, so their resistance will remain ineffectual. And the current Oval Office occupant (not my President, never my President, as he has committed treason by threatening the peaceful transfer of power) continues to lay the foundation for a voter suppression + electoral college + supreme court effort to control D.C. for another 4 years... or more. Oh, and the IPCC has released a new report, pointing out the obvious fact that if the species doesn't get its act together, like, fifteen years ago, we're going to inhabit a very different planet in the very near future. To top it all off, the failure to fix the global financial system after 2008, coupled to these moronic trade wars, coupled to the US basically exiting the global international system it built, are fixing to throw a nasty recession in the near future.
In short, it remains a good time to be writing dystopian fiction. In my 2041, a limited Russia-US nuclear exchange has destroyed the Corn and Rust Belts, the USA has broken up into a whole set of successor states, and people are already abandoning vulnerable coastal areas in the Southeast, which nobody will insure anymore. I base this dystopic Post-American future on an extrapolation of current trends, as I see them, backed by a long study into the mechanics of human society and a theory I've developed, rooted in a merging of postmodern philosophy and systems theory, that I think explains why Western Civilization goes through cycles of collapse and destruction, some (like 1914-1945) rather destructive. And by 2147, after more than a century of rapid climate change, the solution Earth's 'experts' and 'technocrats' who end up running the planet decide, according to their ideological assumptions about why the world went the way it did, to the violent exile of 2/3 of humanity (the poorer two-thirds) to space 'habitats'.
After Bringing Ragnarok is done circa 2020, I hope to turn to writing something more positive, hopeful, space opera-y. A successor to the great sci-fi of the late 90s like Babylon 5, Stargate, and Star Trek. A story about people building a united galactic civilization in order to stave off a great Plague.
But for now, the times call for dystopian fiction. If politicians continue to prove themselves incapable of rising to the challenges posed by the great changes that are coming, then it will fall on regular folks to pick up the pieces and carry on.
Well, the end of September has arrived, and with it, my target deadline for finishing the initial draft of Bringing Ragnarok Book 2.
While I'm not quite there yet, I actually came within a half-day's worth of writing of reaching the 120k word budget I'd set for the draft. Which I call a win, given that it will take at least another ~15,000 words to finish out Book 2, as I've gone (again) over my word budget on several chapters. I'll aim to trim the total during editing, but as often as not I find my wordcount increasing post-edits, because places where I trim unnecessary explanation or dialogue are more than matched by places where I add either or both.
Regardless, I'm still looking good for a late-December release, as the draft will be fully completed by mid-October, allowing line edits (round 1) to commence. Which will take about a month (I go approx. 3x faster on edits than in writing the initial draft, for reasons that are probably obvious), followed by another month of edits (two rounds) done with pen and paper, including the time my primary beta reader spends adding her own suggestions/fixes.
Still, most definitely, a compressed timeline, but this is where all the research I did prior to starting Book 1 really pays off, because much of the plot is already pre-determined by the stuff I've laid out so far. Part of why I characterize Bringing Ragnarok as a saga, and not a novel, is that as something intended to be pseudo-historical, there are limitations on what characters can do or experience. Novels - and this is why I actually read more non-fiction than fiction, fall prey to making points, or engaging in too much wish-fulfillment. One of by biggest irritations with storytelling is scenes that seem too contrived, where the characters suddenly act out of their normal bounds, without any real justification other than the creator went a little too much into god-mode, and failed to question how much of their own perspective is intruding on that of their characters.
Now, funny that I write this now, because this week I wrote a chapter that, in many ways, is right at the heart of what Bringing Ragnarok is all about. Without giving too much away (if anyone even reads this, of course) - many of the events that take place in Bringing Ragnarok 1 and 2 are structured to produce this particular chapter. It is a chapter that I sincerely hope will, in effect, 'bring the war home' - put violent conflict into a frame of reference that many people will relate to. As such, there's definitely a 'point' to the chapter - as there is to the entire saga.
Which naturally puts me at risk of doing exactly what I hate that other authors do - putting some characters 'on rails', forcing them through a situation just to make some author's point. An intrusion into the story. My hope, though, is that I've avoided falling into the usual traps, by setting up the situation such that the reader will recognize (at least after reflection) why the chapter was essential to the plot, why the events that occur are both foreseen and foreseeable, that is, events transpire in a logical manner, true to how similar events have occurred throughout the history of violent conflict on Earth.
I worry that this won't be well-received primarily because, in America, we've largely been trained to ignore subtlety and relevance in our media. It goes beyond all clickbait 'news' and pseudo-science, straight down to how American writers seem to like to tell stories.
I've actually reached the point that I'll almost always prefer to watch a TV show or read a story from the UK, over one from America. When I look at my bookshelf, most of the fiction I love the most was written by UK authors. Tolkien, Rowling, Adams, Lewis - these authors have inspired me far more than almost every American contemporary, save for Twain and Steinbeck. And when we sit down to watch a tv show, I will take even the most slow-paced, boring UK product over almost any of the popular American shows.
The reason for this is that something terrible has happened, again in my opinion, to the tradition of storytelling in America. What the American media has done to Tolkien in particular simply disgusts me.
In his legendarium, both the Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wanted to write a story that was deeply philosophical, concerned with ethics, filled with characters living a totally different kind of life than we collectively live in this strange 'modern' age. He did not write what Americans call 'fantasy' ('faerie' in the UK has very different context), and in fact would have probably called his work 'science fiction' if he were living in America today.
Even more than that, Tolkien was writing what amounts to a meditation on death. Lord of the Rings in particular is entirely about death. Why people risk it, what they risk it for, and how many of them fear it above all else. Power plays a vital role in Lord of the Rings, and is an extremely potent force - but in the end, the problem with power is that it gives the powerful the illusory ability to control, even escape, death. Sauron is not a mindless force of evil, not a disembodied eye that just randomly hates all things for no apparent reason. Sauron is a demi-god, one of the creators of our world, but whose fundamental flaw is an inability to accept his own long-term irrelevance to the unfolding of the saga of the world. Sauron seeks permanent power, an escape from the confinements of reality set by his creator - he seeks that same level of godhood. As such, he is a god to his slaves, and seeks to make all things his slaves, in order to sustain his own permanent (and privileged) existence in Arda.
None of this makes it through the Americanisation of Tolkien. Peter Jackson and his collaborators produced an excellent version of Lord of the Rings - provided you are willing to accept it being shorn of all deeper meaning and relegated to an endless hack-and-slash festival. I am not, and my experience with the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy - and even more so with the abysmal Hobbit spinoffs - has left me with exactly zero hope for the next iteration of America's cultural inability to see deeper meaning in anything, its obsessive need to tear down anything bearing a hint of subtlety and craft.
This next iteration will apparently be an Amazon product. Which doesn't in and of itself mean that it will suck, and I'm not part of the anti-Amazon crowd at all. But just because Jeff Bezos owns something, does not mean that it'll end up being actually run/produced by someone with the right qualifications.
Truth be told, there are only a few people in this world who have those right qualifications, which so far as I'm concerned represent a true respect for the original author. But Americans, well, can they truly get past their own narrow cultural bullshit to produce something Tolkien would have felt carried on his work - something he specifically hoped would happen?
I'm very, very doubtful. And even if the writers have the best of intentions, American media executives think their audience is stupid. And so feeds them stupid material. I strongly suspect that two male writers on Lord of the Rings will simply double down on the hack 'n slash aspects, bring in a few attractive women to pretend that they care about the female audience, and continue the longstanding (and wrong!) tendency to portray all heroes in Lord of the Rings as pale white folks, and the bad guys as dark-skinned. Which is absolutely wrong, given that in Middle-Earth, just like in real Earth, people migrated and mixed for thousands of years without much respect to skin color or ethnicity. Most paleo-Europeans were actually quite dark-skinned, and the later influx of 'white' genetics stems from the migration of Indo-European peoples over thousands of years, who disproportionately had whiter skin as a result long living in modern-day Russia (not terribly sunny).
There is a way (are ways) to write an epic Lord of the Rings story, suitable for an audience that is sophisticated enough to enjoy Dr. Who, Man in the High Castle, Breaking Bad, and all the other new and innovative series we've seen emerge over the past ten years or so. I can easily imagine a true-to-the-source-material on-screen version of Lord of the Rings, that moves past the fantasy stereotypes that have been foisted onto Tolkien's work, and actually explore the ideas and meanings he was himself so interested in. I could easily write a Lord of the Rings done like, say, a multi-year episodic series like Broadchurch, that actually explores locations, peoples, and all the beauty of Middle Earth, with a diverse cast, that would be more true-to-Tolkien than the white male fantasy I'm afraid - like the Star Trek movie the writers of this new Amazon LotR series wrote - this new series will become.
Truth be told, about the only person I'd trust to do Tolkien right is... well, me, pretty much. Because I've read everything he's written, multiple times. I feel I understand - and support - the vision he and his son Christopher Tolkien sought to bring to the world, even after JRR Tolkien's death. Not that it matters, because I'll never be granted the opportunity, under the present ownership structure, to prove I'm right.
But if whatever gods may be (and care) grant me success in my own work, I promise this: if the time comes that I can ever acquire the rights to Lord of the Rings, some day in the distant future after American media culture has done its best to, Orc-like, profane anything it can't understand, I will do so, and bring to the world a vision of Middle Earth in all its splendor and depth, true to the vision of Tolkien and his heirs.
Well, got my first drive-by review on Amazon this week. Even better: it's probably by some dude on the alt-right! (read, Nazi sympathizer.)
Amazon has serious problems with its review system. Deep in the underbelly of the indie author world, there's widespread recognition that there exists a subset of internet trolldom that actively looks for stuff to slander. Some of it is the usual gamergate nonsense: men mad that popular books feature female leads. Some of it is political: MAGA-types and other neo-Nazis think their moment has come, and are looking to attack anyone and anything that doesn't fit into their blood and soil vision for America (read, America for the whites, and especially the christian males). And some of it is authors, who see a competitor in their category and try to damage its visibility.
Having worked professionally in the world of reviews, I know that this seedy underbelly of the internet is a constant problem for sellers and marketplaces alike. Just as Facebook and Twitter are now confronting how their platforms are used by neo-Nazis and other hate groups, so are Apple and Amazon. Now, in reality, long term, this activity doesn't in fact normally do much damage to a committed author/seller. Reviews come in time, and even a bad review is actually useful - people like to know the 'cons' of a work, and if most of the cons written come from the voice of someone who appears to have an axe to grind, people who read them are actually prone to then view the product more positively. Subconsciously, they think 'huh, that's all the criticism they've got? And are more likely to see what the deal is, maybe even give it a read.
Overall, reviews are widely known to be of limited value, and they're totally broken when it comes to pure monetary utility. The average product rating, once it has a sufficient number of reviews, is right about 4 stars. 4.2 is the number I used to hear as the typical average, back when I worked for a start-up in Silicon Valley. Which, incidentally, set up its business model around providing review widgets... and went under in just a few years. Businesses found that reviews are good to have (promote buyer confidence), but you have to actively moderate them and interact if you want real results. The cost of paying people to do that interaction must outweigh the benefits, though, because most - like Amazon - use mostly automatic filters that look for certain signals (use of swearing, posting contact information, stuff algorithmically tractable), and actively human-moderate only a select subset (flagged automatically or by users).
But for an independent author or merchant, the nature of the Amazon ecosystem (Apple likely works the same, I just have no experience there) disproportionately boosts the impacts of negative reviews, especially when a book has only a few to begin with. Amazon lives and breathes by getting shoppers to what they want to buy as quickly as possible. The ordering of search results (like with web searches) is extremely important. Amazon uses an algorithm (an equation, incorporating multiple signals/variables, like your and other similar buyers shopping history, as one example) to predict the all-important matter of relevance - whether the product is likely to be what the user is looking for. Using star ratings as a metric feeding the algorithm's decision about relevance means that a new author who gets hit by a drive-by review, is harmed more than a more established author.
I have to anticipate that my current steady stream of sales will drop off for a while, until other readers write reviews (and given what I'm seeing on Goodreads and hearing from my beta readers, they'll come and be solid), because of the newness of my book. Which is frustrating and demoralizing, when the apparent reason for the review is something non-pertinent to the actual product, like say the writer's politics.
I assert that the 2-star (why only 2? Makes a person seem like they are being reasonable. The alt-right understands propaganda. Thanks, Goebbels.) rating that prompted this blogpost (you can go look at it on Amazon if you would like) is politically motivated for the following reasons:
So why am I spending so much time detailing this? Perhaps, it is just an author's fragile ego reeling at a poor review, you might think. You are free to! Perhaps you are right. And yet... I have received immense amounts of criticism on my writing, non-fiction and fiction alike. This one stands out, in part because when I first started writing Bringing Ragnarok, I made choices that I knew would result in this happening. I was not at all surprised when I saw that review, or when (for market research, trying to figure out who does and doesn't like the work) I looked through his review history.
Look, Gamergate trolls, alt-right misogynists - they exist. They are threatened by the fact that the patriarchy - also a real thing - is slowly (at last) crumbling. In this historic process, I know what side I'm on.
Bringing Ragnarok is being written as, is intended to be, postcolonial and feminist science fiction. There are more women leads than men, and no, they aren't really concerned about romance when the end of the world is at hand. They are not all in 'healing' positions, either: they are (end up) generals, soldiers, pilots, insurgents, and strategists. Hell, by the time we're talking about the 22nd century, gender isn't even a particularly relevant term anymore, as people and intelligent machines both exist, and there are many hybrids - BioMods, colloquially, who start to play a bigger role in Book 2, and whose genders are... well, whatever they want them to be.
Most of the characters, too, are non-white and, to the degree possible, not originally western. They are mostly culturally Western, but this is presented as a legacy of colonialism and colonization (hah, mixed Commonwealth and US English again. I like both.), and not as something they like or want. Yari and Loucas are both from Puerto Rico, and no, they aren't children of poverty (well, Yari was adopted from Haiti as a child, but after that, firmly middle-class), they're children of scientists. Timur is Punjabi, was a child soldier in South Asia, but his upbringing was also solidly Indian middle class. Kim is from Jakarta, Indonesia, and is mostly (but not entirely) of Chinese descent. Patrick may be from Canada (Estonia before that), but the fact that he's married to a Canadian Forces fighter pilot will rankle the alt-right types all the same. The only white-bread character, Eryn, goes to 1944 Germany - a place and time where women weren't exactly (normally) allowed to do real political or military work.
I like multifaceted characters of complex origin who end up being fish out of water, then learn to cope. I prefer to write from the perspective of people who are, relative to their surroundings, subaltern. Part of my objective in writing this story is to reclaim the topic of war from the dominion of old white men. I use old European myths as a way to deconstruct the Christian Anglo-Saxon worldview of the past two millenia, while restoring women to their proper, traditional place in the world: coequal with men in all things.
And I like to tell a story that deals critically (I was a critical geographer, after all) colonialism, empire, and resistance against both. Which, y'know, was what Tolkien was really after, too, what with the whole 'throw the Ring of Power into the fire' plot. He was no pro-Churchill colonialist. And he too had to deal with Nazism impacting his fiction readership.
Like our grandparents and great-grandparents in the 1930's and 1940s, we live in a time of great change, but also the dogged persistence of old evils. I see Nazism as a cancer on human society, one that is always present, always a danger, but generally only rears up and gains strength, Sauron-like (or Voldemort-like, if you prefer), under certain circumstances. Probably 20% of people, across the world, hold some level of Nazi/alt-right (they boil down to the same thing, in the end) sympathies. People forget, but in the Second World War, most Americans saw the fight against Japan as more important, and not only that, a majority of them polled in approval of genocide against Japan. Many Americans were fine with Hitler, and saw in him the 'final solution' to the 'problem' of blackness. Eugenics, racism, virulent hatred of the other are deeply embedded in the DNA of America. Part of the tragedy of Trumpism is that these filth have gained a far greater voice than ever should have happened - ever would have happened if America's federal system still worked like the Founders intended.
Many people have debated whether Trump is Hitler, Mussolini, or something else - truth is, he's Hitler with an American paint job. One of the thing the weirds me out the most in the news these days is the liberal/neoliberal meme of Trump being crazy, stupid, senile, whatever. He is, but this isn't particularly relevant anymore, now that he has power. Like Hitler in the '30s, he now holds a position of authority and can't be easily removed. If he wants to launch a nuke, nothing but the military directly disobeying his orders (which I hope for, but also fear - this would effectively be a coup, and a blow against American democracy) would stop him. Impeachment is unlikely, unless leading Democrats and Republicans decide President Pence isn't simply the same basic nightmare in less Twittery-clothing. Democrats are already playing at nominating an old white dude like Joe Biden to be the shoe-in in 2020 that they thought Clinton was in 2016 (people forget how happy they were that the GOP nominated Trump!). They fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the Trumpist threat. They've forgotten how power works. Largely, because they don't personally suffer when they lose.
In 2020, you will see an election featuring two vicious primary campaigns, allegations of Russian election interference, and even higher levels of voter suppression in key states than normal. The stakes will be very high, and Trump has every incentive to fight as dirty as he can to remain in office. He'll need to double-down on his base of old white racists. He already alleged in 2016 that he wouldn't respect the outcome if it didn't go his way, so why would he do any differently in 2020? Couple this to the relentless attacks on the media, incitement of violence, allegations that the Dems and Libs are manipulating all information...
Just remember this: the idiot-in-chief can be insane, and still hold on to power, so long as the elites around him dither about playing their own power games, and trust that the mad idiot will respect the system in the end. Such a twit as Trump can literally fail his way into a position of permanent authority, and then wreak havoc according to his Constitutional powers to do so, because Congress has allowed them to accumulate in the executive branch for far too long. That's why Trump is more Hitler than anyone cares to believe - Hitler was mad, and yet able to take Germany down the path to total war and annihilation. Are America's crumbling institutions capable of withstanding such a threat? And even if Trump dies or gets impeached, will Pence - who signed onto his administration, after all - not use the massive power now in the hands of the executive branch? Remember: we live in a world full of nuclear weapons. That have never been adequately supervised or controlled as well as the Pentagon would like the world to believe...
Time will tell. But me, looking ahead and seeing great chaos and misery, I'm writing a dystopian war story for the people of my generation who have to deal with the consequences of this political disaster, which really does amount to a simmering civil war among the Baby Boomers stuck in the Sixties, who are clinging to power even as they lose the intellectual capability to wield it (if they ever had it). I'm writing a story for people who are more Antifa than alt-right, who actually believe in getting up and doing something, building things, to roll back this tide of oppression sweeping across the world - not just in the US, but all the hell over.
I am, personally and professionally, at war with Nazis and Nazism. I write to earn $ to live on, then, gods willing, accumulate surplus to invest in some kind of formal organization that can help other people have a piece of whatever success I am granted, to grow a movement capable of building something better. I'm writing a modern work that is feminist and postcolonial even at the same time it engages in world-building to power a piece of speculative fiction that I hope will be popular and last. Because we're at a point in human history when we badly need a new Axial age, new ideas, understanding, and even myths, if we're to deal with what is coming.
So here's hoping there are enough readers of progressive, feminist, postcolonial speculative fiction written by a white autistic dude, more Buddhist and Norse than Christian, to get things a-going. If that's you, well - check out Bringing Ragnarok. Post on forums. And write me some reviews!