Turns Out, Chewwie Was Just an Imaginary Six Foot Tall Rabbit

So I watched the final episode of Lost last night and man, that was some week shit. Really just some of the worst storytelling I’ve ever seen on Television.

The best analogy I can come up with is that it was like watching 5 episodes of Star Wars, being pumped, wanting to find out how it ends and then, when you start the 6th episode, you discover that all that stuff about the Empire and the Rebellion, Luke and his father, the Force and the Jedi didn’t mean a thing, that what the story was really about this whole time were these two ewoks and a magic cave. And you can’t pull the plug out of the tub in the magic cave or something unspeakably bad will happen. But it doesn’t matter anyway because what really happened is everyone died n a Pod Race back in episode 1.

Now all you Losties who made fun of us BSG fans for being disappointed can suck it because, wow, you got conned.

The Story Thus Far, Part 9, An Interlude and a Revelation

The new novel is going quite well, so naturally I took a couple of weeks off to write a short story. This makes more sense than it would at first seem.

When doing some rather detailed world building, i find it helpful to do some beta testing of that world. Work out the kinks and maybe explain some back story as to how things got that way. Even if it doesn’t make it into the finished manuscript, at least you know why, say, the Exposition Empires took hold. A short story can be a good way to explore this, and in away that doesn’t interfere with the main plot of your novel.

My plan of attack for this particular a short story was to look at the quasi-steampunkish[1] world from a different perspective. To keep things simple, i borrowed a fairly well known story structure. Basically, the short story was going to be a Doctor Who adventure with the serial numbers filed off. Ix-nay on the time travel bit, just focus on the crazy mad Captain Ersatz of The Doctor and his assistant fighting some weird monster in the setting. Seemed simple enough.

Half way through I discovered something tangentially interesting that had been bothering me for a while but that I couldn’t quite figure out. Namely, that the Doctor is a really lousy character. I mean relaly, he warps meta-fictional reality around him wherever he goes. This makes writing a good story with him as the central character nearly impossible. Which is why the best Doctor Who stories of the last few seasons have been the ones where he’s hardly in it at all (“Blink”) or not the protagonist (“Girl in the Fireplace”). The problem with The Doctor is that he’s evolved over the last nearly 40 years into a force of nature.[2] Stories about him feel trite and silly, because he’s essentially a walking avatar for the author. He knows everything, can fix any plot hole with a magic wand[3] and warps the dramatic stakes out of kilter.

What I mean by the later is, the presence of The Doctor introduces a randomizing factor into the story. He either brings aliens to well known historic events,[4] or shows up at important moments to alter events so that they concur with the consensual time line.[5] That is, civil drama– all the minutia of daily life, the sort of stuff that makes up romantic comedies and period dramas — is either reduced to meaningless theatrics or amped up to high melodrama — the stuff of action adventure stories with high stakes, political intrigue and cosmic importance. The Doctor is a hurricane of plot coupons, in other words. Stuff happens because he is there. He doesn’t have to do anything but show up to make stuff happen. This seriously challenges storytelling.

I got around this problem with my short story by simply cutting the lawyer-friendly Doctor-type character. This forces the normal human type characters to fight an existential enigma without resorting to magic wands or staying one step ahead of the monster by knowing everything instantly. They have to discover, along with the reader, why these weird things are happening and then react against that drama in a human way. But I can do that because I’m not actually writing a Doctor Who story. Stephen Moffett, author of the two good Doctor stories I mentioned above, can’t really leave the Doctor out of Doctor Who, because then it’s Random People Running Around Fighting Monsters. Which still works, but would cost him his job. He gets around it though in an interesting way. Or rather, two interesting ways.

In “Blink” Moffett removes the Doctor form the main plot. The Weeping Angels feed on potential energy, zapping people out of their time, into the past and feeding on the momentum they leave behind. Not only does this create one of the more genuinely frightening monsters in the show (killer angel statues that only move when you turn your back!), it removes the Doctor from the plot in a legitimate way, while still keeping his presence in the story. It’s up to someone else to figure out what is happening and save The Doctor. It also allows for some really nifty timey wimey shenanigans, which is great and novel for a show where time travel is usually just an excuse for changing the setting.

In “The Girl in the Fireplace”, The Doctor has a more active role but the story isn’t about him, it’s about Madame de Pompadour and her relation to this “imaginary friend” who intersects her life in a few crucial instances. Again, this plays with the meta-narrative of the show’s concept in a way that is unique and adds some much needed variety to the story. Instead of showing The Doctor palling around with the king, saving the day in his usual know-it-all way, he’s struggling to stay one step ahead of an enigma. This makes him almost human (up until the end when he pulls the usual “I can do anything because I’m secretly a God” stunt but even then it backfires poignantly.

In both stories, the Doctor is challenged by being put in positions outside of his normal know-it-all comfort zone.[6] He is forced to make dramatically relevant sacrifices, something he normally is not allowed to do by nature of him being a know-it-all space god/force of nature. Which, from a storytelling perspective is something to keep in mind. If things are going to easily, remove your Doctor and let everyone else squirm or switch the focus so it’s someone else who has to deal with this mad bad and out of control force that is outside of their normal comfort zone.

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1. Steampunk is an evocative sub-genre but it means very little as a nomenclature. It’s curiously light on steam and rarely has anything punk about it. My version is even more so, which makes it kind of hard to really explain what the world is like. It’s neither Victorian nor altogether steamy. It’s more Interwar period post-steampunk retrofuturistic. Raygun Gothic, without the ray guns.

2. And in the hands of lazy or not too terribly skilled writer, a walking Deus Ex Machina.

3. The sonic screwdriver can do pretty much anything the plot calls for, short of killing a person directly or reversing the flow of time. When they blew it up at the start of season 5, I had hoped they would leave it gone. But alas, no. The TARDIS just made him a new model, with the added ability that it now serves as an all purpose medical scanner/tricorder type know it all sensor.

4. Like the killer clockwork robots who show up at the court of Louis XV.

5. As in “The Fires of Pompeii” where he blew up the volcano in order to save the world. It makes sense in context. Sort of.

6. Alas, this can’t happen in every episode, for some reason. It’s still fun to see the Doctor save the day by being brilliant and impossible, but I’d like to see him do it by being human and having to make sacrifices just a little more often.

The Golden Age

This is everything that is wrong with the global economy, all in one tidy little package. And yes, it comes from the UAE, which along with Dubai, is emblematic of late stage capitalism in all it’s horrific beauty. It’s the perfect mix of traditional values and unregulated commerce that US Conservatives are always going on about but don’t have the balls to act out. There’s a gross pageantry in that part of the world that still finds medieval displays of ostentatious wealth to be just fine and dandy. In Europe, they made sumptuary laws against this sort of thing for a reason. So, if there’s some grandiose manifestation of opulent greed run amok, it will shimmer into existance in that crass little pocket of decadence, like a heat mirage filtered through Donald Trump’s libido. I’m not one to go in for supernatural explanations when human agency is good enough at explaining things but fucking hell, a gold-dispensing vending machine? There is clearly an evil force at work here. Probably a Djinn. Maybe a wizard. An evil, evil wizard.

There’s really only one thing you can pay for with gold. Or rather, one class of thing and none of it wholesome. You can’t drop by the corner market in Abu Dubai and pick up a gallon of milk, paid for with a gold dabloon. An ingot will not buy you a candy bar, or even a meal at a posh restaurant. The staff just doesn’t have the wherewithal to handle that sort of transaction. Where do you stack the bars where the busboys won’t trip over them? Counting out a till full of gold dust at the end of the night brings a fresh hell to the dreams of anyone whose ever worked retail. You just can’t spend gold anywhere, is what I’m getting at. That’s why we have paper money and electronic accounting. Lugging around a purse full of pieces of eight instills one to levels of pomposity we tend to find a bit gouche. A fist full of gold inspires one to dress the part. Before long, you’re wearing poet sleeves unironically, carrying around snuff and whipping out silk hankies. That’s why this shit goes down over in the UAE. They’ve already got the fancy wardrobe for that sort of thing. You see a man in caftan and mirror shades, accompanied by an entourage of thugs in thousand dollar shoes and you expect that man to have on his person a velvet lined bag full of precious metals. Well, not on his person. He has someone who handles the carrying of such things for him. Probably a eunuch.

But why? Why convert a chunk of your walking around cash into a piece of gold?* Just to have something fancy to fondle when you get bored of belittling the peasants?

The sort of man who would want gold from a dispenser at any hour of the day is the sort of man who wouldn’t think twice about buying a person. ” Buying as person what? A fancy watch? A painting?” No. That sentence didn’t end prematurely. You deal in gold when you want to purchase a human life, but don’t want to mess around with the sticky legal contrails paper currency and digital transactions leave behind.

Gold is the perfect currency for human trafficking. Child prostitutes. Slave labor. What have you. And if you’re not into the buying and selling of other people, there’s always good old fashioned money laundering. Gold is untraceable. It’s also a commodity with a proven, intrinsic value and while the price fluctuates, it’s never not going to be in demand. Which of course makes sense why they’d install the first gold vending machine in the UAE. Not exactly a nice neighborhood, even if everyone’s driving Lamborghinis and dressed like CEOs.

And of course, there’s the other end of that queasy supply and demand transaction. That repugnant slave trader you met in some abandoned parking garage at 2am may have some even less savory business ventures he’d like to fund with that gold of yours. There’s always someone else looking to trade you something interesting for your pile of gold bars. And it ain’t a roast beef sandwich with all the trimmings, that’s for certain.

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* Fun fact: Since pissing off so many legit businesses with his cretinous rants, Glenn Beck’s show is heavily sponsored by companies who offer to buy your gold jewelry, for which they will pay you the going market rate. This is part of a growing trend n the Tea Bagger subculture, which has decided to embrace, among many other bad ideas, investing in gold as away to survive the coming socialist/Marxist economic collapse. This has created a small but growing investment bubble in gold. And as we all know, investment bubbles are just keen!

Thou Shalt Not Raise the Capitol Gains Tax

Wonkette has the updated list of sins from the Family Research Council. No real surprise that under the heading of State and National Sins, it’s basiclaly GOP talking points all the way down.

We’ve come to expect groups like the FRC to get all butthurt about the loss of White Male Privilege and the right to hate on gays,* but it’s interesting to see how many of these “sins” are a repackaging of Conservative anti-tax/anti-regulation memes. They seem to have taken Jesus’ beef with the money changers and run with it in all sorts of new and intriguing directions. He not just hung out with tax collectors but apparently beat them up and took their lunch money. “Render unto Ceasar this, Motherfucker!” How that translates into being anti-environment is just weird. They’ve internalized anti-liberal sentiment to the point where it’s a knee jerk reaction. They’ll oppose anything so long as it’s in the same gravitational pull as Obama, George Soros and hippies.

Which all goes to add more evidence to my thesis that American Christianity is not so much a religion as a package of tribal identity memes used to justify a lifestyle that is becoming more and more obviously unsustainable. Used to be, Conservatives just didn’t like paying taxes because some of their pennies would go to to help black people. despicable but at least an obvious outgrowth of their sense of lost privilege and a drift away form the Good Old Days of grandpa’s honest bigotry. But now it’s become part of a larger culture war issue, to the point where environmentalism and progressive taxation and social justice are inverted into anti-christian activities by the very nature of them being part of the liberal agenda. They hate that the world is changing, to the point that any lifestyle change, no matter how banal, is considered a spiritual threat. Once you become opposed to energy-saver light bulbs and hybrid cars on the grounds that they’re Satanic, you may want to take a step back and get a little perspective.

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* There’s probably someone’s thesis in trying to figure out how polytheism got tangled together with multiculturalism for these nimrods. Apaprently, respecting the rights of Mexican people to exist is tantamount to worshiping Baal. though it does explain how Arizona’s new “No Walking Down the Street While Hispanic” law comes from. Well, not explains, so much as poorly rationalizes an ad hoc association of bigotry with religious dogma.