Saturday, March 29, 2008

Evil and Violence

I've been pondering the difference between evil and violence, as they occur in real life and as they are depicted in fantasy. Crime fiction, horror and thrillers etc. depict evil things and violent acts - is this a bad thing?

Looking at the qualities of the evil/violence in each mode:

Evil in Fantasy
Purposeful (eg the 'evil genius')
Clever (Sauron has a plan)
Meaningful, eg personifying existential forces, mortality

Evil in Real Life
Often random
Large forces and drives rather than individuals

Violence in Fantasy
Purposeful, eg accomplishing justice
Skillful, eg Batman can knock thousands of people unconscious
Effective (the Shire is saved)
Aesthetically pleasing

Violence in real life
Mostly is its own end
Uncontrollable (massive collateral damage the norm)
Accomplishes little/nothing

Now, I lack the skills of a critic but I do remember my O-level maths. Put these elements into equations and the common elements cancel out, ie the violence and evil themselves disappear. What's left are the qualities - so

Fantasy = purpose, meaning, the possibility of skillful acts, the effectiveness of action in the world, beauty

So perhaps we enjoy Hannibal Lecter and Dracula, not because we admire killers, but because we wish malign forces were embodied in characters of wit and charm.

Let's all wear black forever

I don't normally get upset by events in the news. I'm not a very political person; I've just about figured out that we're supposed to disapprove of Margaret Thatcher (that is right, isn't it?) and am beginning to pick up similar signals about some 'Blair' character...

Add to my indifference a level of desensitisation. A child soldier stares at me/a camera, relaxed in some kind of western leisurewear, a gun slung over his shoulder, not bothered. I stare at him/the TV with matching disinterest. Vast and seemingly immovable forces hold us in our positions.

So it is marked that I've been very emotional about the slaying of Sophie Lancaster by drunken young men, apparently because of her and her boyfriend's goth-like appearance. Like many, I'm distressed by the senselessness of the murder, the innocence of the victims. Added to that, I feel a distant kinship with the goths and alternative folks - they're in my tribe, at least more so than people in high-street sport-related outfits.

Identity, it seems, can be a matter of life and death.

There are desolate voids in society where there's nothing better to do than attack the Other.

In anger, even an educated gadabout like me becomes more tribal. Right now I have opinions not dissimilar from those expressed on the Sun discussion forum (hang everyone etc.) This will pass, but beyond that there is something I fear, that I'm struggling to describe but that isn't easy to dismiss. I think it's the underside of mainstream culture, of the nexus of sport, fashion and alcohol that provides brutality and ignorance with a tone, aesthetics, and emotional fuel. I'd like to simply diabolise the whole lot; posit a malign Sport & Alcohol Industrial Complex, a style council for hate crime; say any baying mob is as bad as another, whether it's a football crowd or a BNP rally. Turn off the TV, read poetry and drink absinthe, sneer at anyone in a tracksuit on general principles... To do so would be to abandon reason and relax into comfortable prejudice, to retreat. A palliative measure, and one that would go against the spirit of Sophie's memorial campaign against 'prejudice, hate and intolerance'...

So I'll resist the virus of easy prejudice. Perhaps the answer (gulp) is to engage with politics after all...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fan Envy

Jennie's post about not being a fan, but enjoying fannish things such as Eastercons, strikes a chord with me. I too come away from cons with mixed feelings. On the one hand, withdrawal symptoms from a kind of protracted ecstasy rarely experienced since I was a teenager and the world was constructed largely for my benefit, with new Howard the Duck comics and Philip K Dick novels drifting like dandelion seeds into an endless golden Saturday. On the other, a sense that I could have engaged more with people; that some diffidence on my part has kept me from having all the con-versations and encounters that I could have had.

So what has held me back? Partly, like Shaun CG, it's a sense of 'being surrounded by intelligent, often erudite, hard-working people who obviously care a lot about these subjects'. I can't improve on this description (cheers, stranger) - I have a fair bit of arcane knowledge, but compared to many Con-goers I'm just scrabbling blindly on the foothills, not much better equipped for the rarefied climate than a Dan Brown reader who thinks the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series sounds like porn, and that the adverts for X-Ray Specs are the most interesting things in comic books.

And partly it's lack of in-depth commitment to particular authors, and the general difficulty of approaching them (about which I've written before.) For instance, there's Tanith Lee a few yards away in the bar. She has written 90 books. I've read, maybe eight or nine of them; I imagine the corseted people surrounding her have not only read all 90, but own them every published edition, indeed in all imaginable editions, including volumes printed on wyvern skin with letters of pale fire. I could saunter over, say something like 'Wotcher Tanith, when Birthgrave came out in the seventies it was like a new oasis appearing in a desert: a genuinely new fantasy appearing in the barren shelves; it was so great that a young Brit was writing fresh stuff... I've read some of your books and enjoyed them... you write like a demonic angel and I'm looking forward to reading the some of your more recent stuff...' Her dustman could probably say as much, so why bother? Best leave well alone.

Having said that, I did come over all fannish whilst acquiring signatures from Joe Abercrombie. (The approach involved drinking a pint of Guinness Extra Cold in about five minutes, which acted like an icicle lobotomy, reducing me to a babbling loon for the duration of the encounter.) I wonder why? Every day at work I do much more challenging things than asking a writer to sign copies of his books - that I have just bought expressly for the purpose - at an event where such behaviour is expected and even encouraged.

So - cons - strange and addictive experiences. There is much I love about them - not least their superficial resemblance to other kinds of events, such as professional and academic conferences, but with subtly different content... It's great to be somewhere where the sentence "Now, it's time to talk about the elephant in the room - Marvel's 'Civil Wars' series" can be uttered and received in total seriousness. Where topics from the surveillance society to the enduring appeal of H P Lovecraft can be discussed with intelligence and verve - with real ale never more than a few twisting corridors away.

I wonder if anyone feels 100% a part of an SF convention (or indeed anything) - or whether we're all orbiting in degrees of outsiderhood?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Now it's 'President' Roy...

I was pleased to stumble across The Flâneur, official website of La Société des Flâneurs Sans Frontières (Liverpool chapter) - a Pandoras's box of alarming delights. Very gratifying to see beards, urban strolls, Ruritania and other worthy items being afforded aetherial electric space. And how handy to have an automated insult generated each visit (eg 'You sir, are a fiendish foul-mouthed dandiprat!')

I was further gratified, in correspondence with the fine fellows who manipulate the puppet strings of that particular pixel-rendered toy theatre, to be made this offer: 'We would also like to lumber you with the presidency of the local branch of SFSF wheresoe'er you happen to be domiciled (unless there already is a branch whereupon you can settle your differences with an absinthe quaffing contest).'

So, like publishing the banns or hurling a gauntlet to the bar-room floor, I hereby declare my presidency of an Ormskirk chapter of SFSF - speak now or forever hold your peace.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Lego Lord

I'm probably the last person on earth to come across The Brick Testament, but it made me laugh anyway.

Here's Yahweh forming (a) man from the soil of the ground:

and Adam naming some cattle:

Plagues, sins, and abstract theological concepts are depicted with equal blocky ingenuity.