Burn Card: Lesser Evils Book 2 is OUT!

Burn Card: Lesser Evils Book 2 is OUT!

Greetings, my Manchovies (I’m still working on a suitable name for my fans. Scrap that one. Gross.)!

Burn Card, the second installment in the Lesser Evils series is now available for download! You may purchase the work here for a mere 99 cents.

Building out this universe is really quite satisfying, especially given our current political climate. It’s also been a great opportunity to explore different writing styles, themes, and formats. Did I succeed? I think so. Marcy Lopez was fun as hell to write and it was hard narrowing down the Las Vegas-area locations to establish settings. I think the result is a wonderfully crass, dispassionately bloodbath that offers a few fair critiques on humanity. But the further achievement is perhaps envisioning desert warfare on American soil and how complicated navigating the natural and urban environments would be if such a terrible thing would occur.

May that give you pause despite all the fun bits.

Chapter One: Removing Muffin from the Oven

The clouds cross over the desert like aimless poodles in a swimming pool. I tongue dust out of my teeth as a I readjust the binoculars. There’s no movement on the road, no changes from the last time I checked. I pull open a can of tuna and eat it quickly. A wise woman once told me that eating fish in a desert is to wish for certain, not-so-sudden death. I risk it. I drink the remaining oil from the can. I wash it all down with a gulp from my canteen and then I pull the grey blanket over me again. It’s hot under here, but it keeps the sun away. I check the road again. No movement.

The threat of sleep whispers to me in dulcet tones. I caught myself from nodding off this morning. I succumbed to a full ten minute nap shortly after that. I tell myself it’s okay. There’s a Plan B in place should I fail. But I don’t like wasting my time.

The Servicemen would take this road almost certainly and they’ll have no reason to suspect that I’m out here. I’ve done my homework. I’ve slummed through dozens of Vegas extraction reports with Cass and every single one of them note I-15, northbound. Denilles’s broadcast came through an hour ago. The mathematician consulted his voting machine and it named one Cory Koch of Clark County the next president of the New States of America. Our Muffin. It should be any time now, unless they meet with strong resistance in the city. For once, I hope they don’t. I pull out my radio and dial in to headquarters. Static and blips.

“Marcy Lopez calling in to HQ, over.”

There’s silence on the line. It’s always a queasy couple of moments for me until I get the response. It comes.

“Jasper here. Eyeballs on Muffin, over?”

“Negative. Requesting update on Muffin’s dossier, over.”

“Copy. Let me ask.”

I hear Jasper call to Cass.

“Tell that slut to hurry up, over.” I smile.

“The slut has made a rude gesture in response. Would you like me to describe it? Over.”

“No, that won’t be necessary. Over.”

On Jasper’s end there are noises of shuffling papers, some voices, some wind. The Vegas chapter of the Dissent is little more than a small encampment built on the west edge of the city, nestled behind a small, dirty bar and pretty much exposed to the wilderness, with the exception of a few small shacks built from old pallets and a couple of canvas tents. It’s tactical minimalism. One could break the whole thing down and disappear the operation in less than an hour, if properly motivated.

“Affirmative. We found him. Cory Koch, 25. Handsome fella. 6’ 1”, dark hair, dark complexion, light build, no tattoos, over.”

“Copy. Party affiliations apparent, over?”

A few seconds of silence pass. I check the road again.

“There are, but indirectly. Cory’s unaffiliated himself but his father, one Warren Koch, paid dues to the Good Old Americans in 1978 through 1981, then began backing the direct liberal opposition of the Frontmen from 1983 through 1987. Koch senior died in 1988 in a party skirmish, indeterminate reasons. Over.”

This was relatively good news. Unaffiliated means less opposition to the Servicemen, which would mean less opposition to me. The fact that his father had allegiances to both liberal and conservative parties, and then left both, might temper the decision to claim him as one of their own.

“Copy. So it’s just me out here, over?”

“In theory. But you know how these things go. The Good Old Americans might just kill him for no other reason than he’s not one of them.”

“Copy. Over and out.”     

I put away the radio and clean up my bivouac, sealing everything into a backpack— except for my binoculars, rifle, and blanket. I get cozy again and watch the road, watching the heat swell across the pavement. Something stirs far away along with the faint sound of a motor. I zoom in. Mid-sized Sports Utility Vehicle, tinted windows. I have to be sure. That’s a Servicemen vehicle, all right. It’s too nondescript to actually be inconspicuous. I clock it at estimated 65 mph. That might be too fast. We’ll risk it, anyway. What’s the worst that can happen? A lot, actually. I pull out the radio again and dial in the other frequency. I only know three frequencies by heart and only one of them is HQ’s. I wait until the SUV is three telephone poles away from it and then I call it in. We timed this in a practice run. It should take two seconds for the detonator to receive the signal which should then ignite the rest of the IED.

There’s a spark on the road followed by a sharp flash of orange light and then smoke. I watch through the binoculars as the vehicle jumps away from the explosion and skids along its doors. I’m worried that it’ll roll and I sigh in relief it doesn’t. It’s not an ideal landing, however. The bottom of the car is facing me. That’ll make sniping the goons harder for me— and I don’t want to ignite the fuel tank. Yet. I grab for my rifle and pull it in front of me. I check through the binoculars and see a head with sunglasses pop out of the door. I pick the rifle and dial in the sights. His head is the size of a pin from my vantage. I take the shot and pray. It mists red. Back to binoculars. No movement from inside the turned vehicle. They’re waiting me out. There’s no fire in the engine— they can sit there until backup arrives. They’ll see me coming and clip me before I make it a hundred yards. So we have to put a little scare into them. I check through the binoculars and find a gray piece of metal that’s close, but hopefully not too close, to the fuel tank. That’s my target. I pick up the rifle and line up the sights. Please lord, let my arrow fly true. I pop the shot. The car does not immolate. I wipe sweat from my hands on the blanket.

On the road below, a figure pulls himself from the wreckage, and pulls another figure out. They drop onto the gravel and limp away. Time to make good on the threat. I find the fuel tank, line it up in the rifle sights and wait until they’re out of the blast radius. Squeeze. It blows. The blast knocks over one of the figures. He ambles to his feet and begins limping away. The other turns with a pistol in his hand, looking for a target. I line him up. He mists red and crumples. I tongue tuna-bits out of my teeth.

I wrap the blanket up and strap the roll to the pack. I sling the rifle over my shoulder and heave the pack on my back. I fiddle with the radio back to the HQ frequency.

“Marcy Lopez to HQ. Targets neutralized, Muffin on foot. I’m in pursuit. Over.”

“Copy. Keep them doggies rollin’. Over.”

“Rawhide. Over and out.”

Running down the hill is an exercise of dual art-forms. One: momentum. It’s easier to fall than to climb. You just let the gravity do the work. Two: don’t roll an ankle. You have to strike the dirt with a straight leg every time one of your pins hits the ground. My masterpiece: I ran down half, slid the rest of the way. My left thigh is bloody hamburger held together by white denim jeans. It’s not a fashion statement, it’s just what blends well with the desert. The blood doesn’t help, doesn’t hurt the camouflage. It doesn’t escape me that if I biff a landing—or trip— and smash my skull against a rock, my body wouldn’t be found until the sun turned my bones black. You have to lean in to that kind of inevitability, the same way you need to lean down a rocky hillside.

Regardless of my existentialism, I make it to the road, scathed but breathing. I check both horizons for interference. There’s none to speak of. Call it clear for now.

And then a chase begins between me and Cory Koch. He’s limping, which should give me an advantage. I’m also limping, which is an unexpected turn of events. It makes it hard to gain ground on his escape. So I pull my sidearm and shoot to the left of him. He flattens, realizes he’s not dead and gets up again. I shoot to the right of him. He flattens once again. The familiar feeling of liveliness stirs in his legs and he goes off once again. I lock him in my sights, pull the hammer back and then raise the barrel to shoot a meter above him.

Koch stiffens. He calculates, perhaps, a futile exit strategy. Then he falls on his knees before bringing his head down into the dust. He’s not dead. Any shooter with a modicum of experience knows how a body falls. He’s too dramatic. Still, he could be armed. The Servicemen will have given him a gun as a last resort. So I approach carefully.

“I got a bullet trained on your heart, Muffin. Spatchcock. Now like.”

He spreads. I catch up to him. I search him. I pull a little 22 out of his pocket. I flip him with my foot and he stops playing dead.

Arms in front of his face, he says, “Please don’t shoot me.”

“I don’t want to shoot you,” I tell him. I put the rifle at my side. I extend a hand.

“Name’s Marcy. Marcy of the Dissent. Pleasure to meet you. Wish it could have been better circumstances, but it’s nice to meet you.”

Koch’s stricken with fear. Sometimes I worry about my bedside manner. He extends a hand and then chokes on his adrenaline. I take his hand and pull him to his feet. He’s unsteady, but he stands.

“You’re the president,” I say. “Do you know what that means?”

“That means… that means I…”

“That means you’ve got a bounty on your head. From every direction. If I hadn’t killed those Servicemen, you know what would happen?”

He shakes his head.

“Best case scenario, you’d serve. After that, they’d dispose of you. Second best scenario is getting gunned down by the Frontmen or the Good Old Americans.” I try to say it kindly. “You don’t want to know about the other scenarios.” He freezes. It must’ve sounded threatening. “But you’re in luck,” I assure him. “You ran into me. You can stay here if you want, but those ‘best scenarios’ are mobilizing and heading here as we speak. I highly suggest you come with me.” I remember my manners. I try to smile like the opposite of a sociopath.

“Wh-where would we go?” Koch asks. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“Back to Vegas. At first. Then we’d have to run you somewhere a little more off-grid. Maybe somewhere in Oregon. Maybe Spokane.”

“What about my family?” he asks.

I want to tell him not to think about his family. I want to tell him that he can easily rendezvous with his loved ones soon after we get him to safety. And hell, who knows? Maybe he can. So I’m not altogether lying when I say, “We get you out first, then we’ll talk about that. For now though, we got to move.”

Perhaps he heard the tremble in my voice or perhaps he saw my eyes pleadingly look at him before darting towards the road, but I saw Cory Koch, our president, finally accept his situation. I saw a light pass through his eyes as he made a silent promise. He straightened his back, exhaling audibly, and that told me that he had also made a decision.

He says, “Let’s go.”

Burn Card: Lesser Evils Book 2

 

Engineering Suspsense

Engineering Suspsense

I’m coming to terms with the fact that much of my fiction work has one foot planted in the thriller genre. The defining ingredient of a thriller is its suspense which has me thinking whether we could isolate and examine that which makes a scene, and the overarching plot itself, suspenseful. I’m hopeful.

Here’s what Hitchcock has to say on the subject:

“There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”

The most functional example of Suspense I can think of is the “Bad Dates” scene in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. A bad man who hangs out with bad monkeys poisons a bowl of dates before a little Belushi-child brings the dates to the table where Jones and Sallah are discussing boring-ass archaeologist bullshit. The audience knows that the dates are poisoned and feels a sense of dread as Jones carries the fruit around, pausing to reflect on the information dump Sallah is delivering. Jones pops the date in the air, the audience shits, Sallah sees the dead monkey (a traumatizing experience for every 90’s child) and catches the fruit before it hits Jones’s mouth. Bad Dates. It ends on a grim joke. This scene works to hide the exposition necessary for the plot– a kind of misdirection that engages the viewer while also cramming heavy plot points down their throats. Indiana Jones should be a boring movie (it’s about an archaeologist goofing off with Bible antiques for chrissakes) but it cleverly engages the audience with high-stakes suspense at every twist.

It’s all about information control. That scene wouldn’t have worked without showing the bad man adding the poison. Without it, there’s just a dead monkey and an asshole Sallah obstructing a tasty snack. But it also doesn’t work without a scene roughly ten minutes earlier when Indiana Jones offers Marion the fruit and tells her, “Hey babe, it’s dates, you eat ’em, what is you stupid?” By controlling that information and doling it out at the right time, the audience has been forced to ask the question, “What’s going to happen with those dates, bruh?”

Timing the information is key and where you position this information is going to force the audience to ask different questions. Let’s talk about Tarantino, as he has a flair for torquing suspense during long passages of dialogue.

The opening scene of Inglorious Basterds is a perfect example. You know it’s unsettling because of the historical subtext (uh, Nazis) and because of the direct subject matter of the conversation (Casual anti-semitism and the bureaucratic banality of  the Holocaust). You understand that there’s a power dynamic at play here, and certain elements are played comedically (the size of the pipes, par examplé), but essentially it’s just a friendly conversation between a German officer and a French farmer, the former asking the latter about his neighbors. And then the camera pans below the floorboards and the audience now understands what’s at stake and the tension skyrockets. Were you nervous when the Nazi’s arrived? Of course. But you weren’t afraid about the outcome of the conversation until the camera informed you that you had a reason to feel that way– and then the conversation continues and dangles the outcome on a taut wire.

Here’s a failure in suspense: The stadium scene of The Dark Knight Rises. The audience is told, via exposition, that Bane is laying explosive-laden concrete around Gotham and after some kid sings the national anthem, Bane detonates the lot and we cut around to the mayor dying, the stadium exploding, the tunnel exploding, and bridges collapsing. For so much destruction, the scene plays out fucking languid. We just learned that shit was about about to blow up and there was no countdown. It’s functional, I guess, to move the plot forward, but the destruction showed onscreen wasn’t necessarily in the viewer’s mind as a stake in the villain’s scheme. The audience was relatively uninformed and the result is a diminished legacy to what could have been a perfect Batman trilogy. It’s strange to think that this movie came from Christopher Nolan, given that his bread and butter is creating thrilling, unexpected filmic narratives, perhaps quintessentially achieved in Memento, which keeps asking the audience “How did we get here?” through a disciplined control of information sequencing through a believable, if not convenient, perspective.

So let’s talk about how perspective impacts the release of information to create suspense.

The revelation in Silence of the Lambs is Buffalo Bill is making lady suits. The audience probably understands this before Clarice does, but only after a slow drip of clues allows the viewer to stitch it together for themselves. The way information is controlled in that narrative makes the viewer hink on the question “What the fuck?” while Clarice asks “Why the fuck?” and fills in the plot for us. Onward, the viewer is always ahead of Clarice. We know that Jame Gumb is the killer. She gets wise (because of moths and shit) and then the movie puts the audience further ahead by assuming the night-envisioned perspective of Gumb watching her stumble through the dark. Suspense is achieved by making us understand that the hero is vulnerable. However, in Lector’s escape plotline, the viewer is given only the information that Lector is alone with two unconscious guards and the film suddenly follows the perspectives of the police officers attempting to find and subdue him. We know nearly as little as they do and, although our hairs are up, we’re still trying to piece together the how? The reveal is a faceless corpse springing into an elevator car and we go, “Ohhhh fuuuuuu–” while our brains catch up to speed with everything we’ve been shown, even before Lector sits up to pull the skin from his face.

And I think it’s in perspective that we find how to measure the release of information to keep our audience enraptured, and to figure out what kinds of dilemmas are suitable for the story you’re trying to keep, well, suspended. The Raiders example couldn’t work without an omniscient camera. Silence of the Lambs wouldn’t work without limited perspective. Proper tool for the proper job.

It’s generally understood that this level of tension is harder to accomplish in writing than it is in film. What an insert shot on an object or an actor’s expression can accomplish can easily set up a certain expectation to prime the viewer’s attention. That being said, written narrative has more access to the reader’s direct psychology than film and that can be exploited to create similar, if not greater, experiences of suspension.

The question of Dashiell Hammet’s Red Harvest moves from “Can the Continental Op persuade an entire town’s kingpins to murder each other?” to “Did the Continental Op become so tainted from his involvement with murderers that he murdered Dinah Brand with an ice-pick when he blacked out from gin and laudanum?” That question drives the third act of the novel, after the initial goal was seemingly achieved. The reader, who has no doubt come to like the main character’s wiles, has to wrestle with this unknown, internal quantity. What’s more, the reader knows as little as the Continental Op, narrating his experience. Information control within perspective.

Starting your third act with the main character’s hand around an icepick stuck into a gamblin’ woman’s tit is one way of injecting suspense into a story (editorial: it’s a pretty cool one). There are others.

First person is particularly a hard nut to crack with this– you only have the character’s point of view to play with, making the “bomb beneath the floorboards” harder to establish. But you also have a tool that objective POV’s do not– a breadth of interiority. Take it for granted that the character’s reactions to certain stimuli will generally bleed into the reader’s mind. Now make the character obliviously acknowledge something obviously dangerous. Or began stacking idiosyncrasies from the character’s perspective to make a person or object dubious. Have the character run gut-checks. Make the reader ask the question, “Why is this the focus?” before revealing the payoff.

A favorite device of mine is to employ several first person narratives. Where one experience is incomplete, another fills in the gaps and gives the other narrative a more pronounced sense of danger and vice versa. It is not unlike a game of tennis.

With Third Person Omniscient, you can establish anything you want in any sequential order which, unfortunately, does not make this job easier. The trick, again, is to control the amount of information. If you place a scene which follows a man planting a bomb in a post-office box and in the next scene it explodes, then just like The Dark Knight Rises, you’ve squandered your moment. However, if you wrote the same sequence of events from a removed perspective, where all you saw was a man who deposited a package into the box and looked over his shoulders before he walked away, well, then we’re watching the mailbox now, aren’t we? Remove it further. Let’s say a hotdog vendor with a hearing-aid can’t get a certain beeping out of head. He complains all day. Our hero buys a hotdog, says something dismissive to the man’s complaint and walks away– only to witness an explosion a dozen yards away, and he’s covered in letters and postcards.

To instill suspense, one must make the audience understand danger. To make that understood, one must inform the audience of that danger one way, or another. When and how you do that is up to you but you do need to realize the questions you are proposing to your audience. If they’re asking “What is happening?” then you’re either a surrealist, a lazy surrealist, or a lazy writer. If they’re asking “Why is this happening?” you can rest more assuredly that you’ve provided enough information to have them ask, “What’s going to happen next?”

 

Release: Crimson Stain

Release: Crimson Stain

On Sunday I’m releasing the first novelette of the Lesser Evils series, Crimson Stain. Pre-Order the Kindle eBook here. There’s a sample chapter below, so stick around.

When I finished The Least of 99 Evils I was pretty content. It’s a nicely packaged story that satisfies each one of it’s narratives in a tight package. I’ve received nearly 100% feedback with one glowing exception.

“I wish it was 1,000 pages long. You should rewrite it to be 1,000 pages long.” That was said, approximately verbatim, by my friend (and eager supporter of my literary habit), J-Vaggs. I kind of scoffed. I already wrote the damn book! To pack on any more clay would destabilized the whole structure of the novel.

But I too wasn’t ready to leave the universe set up inside that book. It provides too many opportunities to plumb through political and existential modalities not to pursue further. Yet I was hesitant to begin a sequel.

Then, before the beginning of 2018, I had a thought. What about a series of novelettes? To serve as companion pieces to the primary narrative? Longer than a short story, shorter than a novella. Easily digestible. A fun-size story to drop in the pumpkin-shaped buckets of readers knocking on my door. Everyone seems to win here. I’m able to create “anthology style” shorts to lurk through more creative alleyways and you get more content on the cheap (or free, if you’re enrolled in Kindle Unlimited).

So here’s Crimson Stain, a hyper-violent neo-western about a rural town in Texas that receives word that the Forgiveness (the zealous and equally cruel cult-like political party featured prominently in the third act of 99 Evils) is coming to “convert” their citizens. It falls to the narrator, Red, to stave off the impending massacre, or die trying.

That link again is right here.

I hope you like it.

Sample Chapter:

The Lonestar Question

What makes a Texan?

I’m talking about the inalienable trait of our Lone Star Statesman, here. What makes us us.

You ask me that question twenty, thirty years ago and I would have given you some jackass answer like big belt buckles, rockin’ country tunes, big trucks, big guns, big plates of brisket. And now I’m morbidly curious. Is it our pride? Hell, not no more. We ain’t got too much to be proud of these days. Not since Clyde O’Brien. Not since the wall. And definitely not since we stooped to living like shit in shit. And it sure as hell ain’t our brisket— maybe it is in some of the bigger settlements, but by god, we can’t keep a goddamn cow alive to keep us alive. It’s chickens now. The smell of them makes me sick. There’s feathers everywhere. We tried sheep and goats, but all that did was kill a few of us after our well got contaminated with shit. I think of all the steaks I ate half drunk, unable to relish the experience. Of all the things I miss, that’s the least painful. I think about steak a lot.

“Evening, Red.” Casey tips his hat to me. He’s young. That scares me. He was born in this world. He never knew the United States. Just the New States. Makes you wonder what’s going on in his head. Makes you wonder if he understands. All them children, now grown up. I envy them. I fear them. I pity them.

“Evening, Casey. How’s we on the rounds tonight?”

“Slow and quiet, Red,” Casey says.

“Just the way we like it,” I say. Casey smirks and grips his Winchester. I get the sense he don’t like it too quiet. Casey scares me like that. I tip my hat. Casey walks along the south wall.

What’s in a Texan, the fact that we take care of our own? I couldn’t. Not then. I feel like I might be able to now. I try my best. Too little, too late, maybe. But it ain’t nothing. What else was I going to do? I jumped at the opportunity to serve something. A community in lieu of family. I was the one that suggested we build a wall around the town. Medieval like. If the New States are cloistered within a 40 foot cement casing, then so too shall we be. 20 feet in our case. Keeps the dust out. Not that I get to know the difference on nights like these. I’m outside.

We still have the guns. Can’t say I like ‘em too much, any more. I smell cordite on my hands as I go to sleep sometimes. It gives me nightmares. I keep her holstered on my belt and try to keep my jacket over it. I don’t like to think about it until I need to.

What about whiskey? Beer? That make a Texan? Shit, maybe if I hadn’t quit the hard stuff ten years ago, I’d’ve agreed with that sentiment. But as it stands, most stills went dodo, most warehouses got ransacked. Hard to keep anything in this world. Punks’ll drink sour mash or white lightning straight out of the barrel, not caring if they go blind. Probably, that’s what they’re looking for. We got a guy who makes moonshine here. Some say it ain’t all that bad. Get’s the job done. I sniffed a jar of the stuff on one of my weaker nights. Smelled like a snake died in a boot. Bootshine. I pushed it away.

I stop to remove my goggles and wipe my brow. Grit blows in my eyes. Ever since they built that fuckin’ wall down yonder, all the wind diverts straight to us. Dust storms 24/7. Ain’t too bad tonight. I can see the moon. Wish we’d get some rain our way, but then again, I know the wall brings floods as well. Maybe dust ain’t too fuckin’ bad, after all.

“Red.”

“Bev.”

Bev leans her rifle against the wall and lights a cigarette. The glow of the match illuminate the creases of her worry-lines. She exhales smoke and picks up her rifle.

“Everything’s quiet on my end,” she says.

“Mine too. We like it that way.”

“Yep,” she says. “Truck back yet?”

I take my hat off and shake loose some dust. More dust blows and sticks to my hair.

“Can’t say it has. They expected?”

Bev sniffs. “You know the drill. They leave before sunrise. They’re back after sundown.”

“Any moment now,” I say. A smile catches in my beard. “You got something coming to you?”

Bev shrugs. “Nothing fancy. Shoes for the kids. Butter. You order anything?”

“Coffee,” I say. “But I told ‘em if they found a nice cut of meat, real meat, that they should fork over our whole lot so I can eat like one of them kings I hear so much about.”

Bev smiles. “Selfish old bastard.”

“Yep.”

Bev toes the cigarette and salutes. She walks along the north wall.

Bev’s from good stock. Bev’s still young but she remembers the United States. Bev had two kids nixed seven years ago. She’s got two more in the house. Bev patrols four nights a week and it breaks my heart.

What makes a Texan? We still got the music, except we don’t play it after sundown. We still got those jackass belt buckles, but we don’t wear ‘em at night in case it gives away our position. We got a truck. A single, functioning truck. We got others we cannibalize from.

I shudder. I don’t like that word.

If you were to ask me even ten years ago what’s in a Texan, I’d’ve said the conviction of Jesus himself. Somehow, that got taken from us, too. Somehow, the Lord got scared of what his children had been up to and turned tail. I spit. Good riddance to cowards. We don’t need ‘em around here.

I stop and pull a cup of joe from a thermos. It’s got grit in it and tastes like it’s been strained through a sock, but it’s coffee, goddammit. I wipe my mustache. I put the thermos back in my duster and I walk along the only road leading outside of our town. One way in, one way out. As I’ve heard, this is the southern-most town in all of America before you hit the wall. That makes us special. That makes us isolated. That makes us vulnerable. Hence our fortification.

It’s small. I like watching it from out here. It’s peaceful. When the dust settles, I can hear the chickens sleeping. I listen to the quiet. I listen to the wind pick back up. I look for stars in the sky, but they’re all dust-fucked. So I think.

What’s in a Texan?

I’m too caught up with old Texas. New States. New Texas. What’s in a New Texan. Whatever it is, it scares me. It’s Old Texas for me, darling. I remember the Alamo. That’s the one thing you can’t beat out of me. You can’t beat it out of us. We took our town and fortified it. We figured if Clyde O’Brien’s going to box in the country, we need to box in our town. We built up walls from old farmsteads. We fortified the water tower. We’ll protect this land against God and Devil. We’ll take care of our own. And then we’ll die here.

Headlights shear the dust. Beams turn to orbs in the storm. Figure a mile off. I try and clock ‘em with my binoculars— worthless with the white-out. I jog back down the road, towards home. Bev sees me. Bev sees the headlights. Bev drops a knee and waits with her sights to her eye. I climb the water tower. Rory lies against the tank, sleeping. Rory drinks bootshine. I nudge him.

“Red,” he says. “All’s well on the western front.”

I snap his binoculars from his neck. I scan the road. Bev calls from below.

“She our’n?”

I dial in the scope. It’s our truck, alright. No mistaking the dents on that abused Chevy.

“She’s ours. Let her in.”

I hand the binoculars back to Rory. Pour him a cup of coffee and make him drink it, too. Right in front of me. He apologizes. He pleads, disgraceful. He tells me it won’t happen again. Coffee dribbles down his chin. I descend the ladder. I hear a cork pop before I hit the ground. Fuckin’ Rory. I pat Bev on the shoulder.

“I’ll greet ‘em. You go home.”

“Red,” she says. “Truck’s driving funny.” She’s still on her knee. Hasn’t let up. Bev’s from good stock.

“Who went on the run this morning?”

“Bill,” says Bev, eyes on the sights. “Bill and Sarah.”

“Poor visibility. Trouble finding the road.”

“Could be. Could be Bill got his mouth around a real beer.”

“Could be.”

Casey sidles in. “That our truck?” he asks.

“That’s our truck.”

“Who’s driving?”

“Bill and Sarah, supposedly.”

“Give me those ‘nocs.”

These kids. Always grabbing for themselves. I hand ‘em over. Casey dials in.

“Hard to say with the dust,” he says. “But there’s only one driver.”

“Make sure,” says Bev.

“I’m sure,” says Casey.

Casey hits me with the binoculars. Casey drops to one knee. I scope the truck. One silhouette. The truck runs erratic. Swerving and dipping off the road. The truck pulls through a plume of sand and I see it. Old rusty blue. Dents in the hood. I see the driver. Ain’t Bill. Wait. Make sure.

“Well?” asks Casey. “She our’n?”

“Not sure.”

The truck weaves and ploughs into some Texas-dune brush.

“If he fucked up the engine, I swear to God,” says Bev.

A door opens. Broken glass spills on the ground. A figure spills on the ground. It regroups.

“Our’n?” ask the two of ‘em.

I scan him. Definitely male. Ain’t Bill. This one’s too bulky a build. This one’s been eating right for a while. Shorter than Bill, too. He’s hobbling. He’s clutching his right hand into his coat. He trips. He stumbles. He gets back up. He makes for us.

“Our’n?” asks Casey.

I say, “Ain’t Bill. Ain’t Sarah.”

Casey gives me a look. It scares me. He’s asking permission. I know the rules. Bev’ll do it if he don’t. Hate to make Bev do it. Hate to let Casey do it. Casey’s eyes plead.

I say, “Yep.”

The Winchester thunderclaps shortly after the spark. The figure crumples to it’s knees and falls backwards.

“I’ll confirm the kill,” says Casey.

I stop him with a hand on his shoulder. He’s too eager. Too young. I’ll save him this.

“I’ll do it. Might be more.”

Bev says nothing. Bev spits tobacco juice. Eyes to sights.

I walk into the wind. Grit strains through my teeth. I check the truck. She’s not even steaming. I pat the hood and put a head inside the car. I turn the ignition off. Procrastination. The man groans a few yards yonder. He lays on his heels grotesque. His features are all bent out of shape. Casey shot him in the ribs. He splutters blood. He says things. Religious nonsense. I pull the Wesson and check the chamber. Procrastination.

The man sputters, “Th-the F-forgiv-ven-ness.”

I freeze.

“What’s that?”

“The Forgiveness… coming…”

“Here?”

“Crusade…”

The man lifts his shaky right arm. It’s missing a hand. I believe him. His stump spurts.

“Whatever God might still be around, let him bless you.”

“Crusade…”

I shoot him in the head. He lets go easy enough. I want to say peacefully, but we know that ain’t true. I smooth my mustache and beard. I smell gunpowder and cordite. Nightmares tonight. Nothing compared to the nightmare coming.

Bev and Casey meet me. We stare at him.

“Get a town meeting together tomorrow. We need to discuss some shit.”

Bev nods. Bev’s on it.

“Casey.”

Casey nods. Casey drags the body to the west wall, where all the bodies go.

I check the truck. Yep. Bill and Sarah rest on top of another months of supplies. I grab a tin of coffee. I pocket a block of butter for Bev. I look at Sarah and Bill. I watch Casey drag the man to our graveyard.

What makes a Texan?

You die here.

 

Book Release: Fish Fox Boys Part Two

Book Release: Fish Fox Boys Part Two

A little over two years ago I published a dumb book based on me and my siblings with the fragile conceit of “What if we were idiot-savant inventors wandering a post-nuclear wasteland?” It was a funny idea to me. I wrote the book and threw it online, not expecting much. Turns out people got a kick from it. The book dealt with philosophical and societal issues in such an innocent and flippantly cartoonish way that readers of all ages could engage with– among other things– the lunacy of consumerism, the awkward subtext of Puritan sexual pageantry, meta-literary commentary on plot devices, and existential futility.

But The Fish Fox Boys’s defining characteristic was its heart. The love expressed in that book is genuine. It damn well should be– those are my siblings and my friends we’re talking about here. And the overwhelming response I got from the book was that the love and goodwill expressed between the characters blotted out the bleak apocalypse surrounding them. So much so that I’ve had readers tell me that they wished the book was longer so that they could inhabit that world just a little longer.

So, with that in mind, here’s the followup. We find these characters in different circumstances. I didn’t want to try and recapture the magic of the initial episode, I wanted these characters to make new trouble, make new friends, blow up some more animals, and express real, new-found gratitude for the messed up world that they live in.

This one’s slightly punchier. I feel like it’s slightly darker than its predecessor. I also feel like it’s slightly funnier. I feel like more philosophical and societal issues were explored– and no less cartoonishly than last time. I feel like more emotive ground has been covered– specifically the emotions that behind one’s choices in life.

And I feel like fart jokes are still funny.

So, allow me to present The Fish Fox Boys: Part Two, a book about separated siblings, the freedom of piracy, a horny computer, and mermaid communism.

Now available in eBook on Amazon and Smashwords.

 

 

 

A Comedy of Errors Part II: Dracula

A Comedy of Errors Part II: Dracula

I recently finished Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a novel that, along with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, defined a goddamn genre. Modern readers might be put off by the dry, elevated prose throughout the epistolary epic, especially since recent imaginings of vampires are either laughably melodramatic or so far up its own conceited, dreary ass that a return to the source material seems like an exhausting task.

Let me tell you, Bram Stoker’s Dracula indulges heavily in melodrama and dreariness. That being said it also reads like a dream, in part, because it is secretly hilarious.

The primary protagonist of Dracula, while an ensemble piece, is ultimately Van Helsing. He isn’t even mentioned until nearly 150 pages into the novel, but once he’s established, he is the primary agent of action and knowledge against the Un-Dead Count. Once he’s introduced, the entire plot revolves around his decisions. And he’s funny. He’s Dutch, so, naturally, his English is broken and jumbled together in long, raving rants. And he’s awkward. He’s blunt when he should he should be tactful, and overly explicative when he should be precise. Nearly immediately after Lucy Westrenra dies, Helsing verbally diarrheas a litany of his research, confusing his poor former student, Dr. Seward, before obtusely saying, “I want to cut off her head and take out her heart,” which only distresses Seward further. It takes another litany and several demonstrations to get Seward on board.

Van Helsing fucks up socially, constantly. He makes Mina Harker, once the vampiric curse is falls upon her, cry by callously saying, in so many words, “don’t forget that a Vampire breast-fed you a couple of hours ago,” before realizing his social mistake.

What’s more is that he addresses his comedy directly. He straight up fucking laughs in hysterics after Lucy has died. Seward attributes it as  “it was only his sense of humour asserting itself under very terrible conditions.” Van Helsing goes on one of his rants, discerning “laughter who knock at your door and say, ‘ can I come in’,” from laughter that says, “‘I am here.'” I’ve gone on before about how Horror and Comedy are nearly one and the same, given their basic elemental makeup. But here Dracula pokes at a baser inclination with its comedy. Which is that laughter, dramatically induced via comedic relief, is a fear response. I’ve written about this before, thinking my modern perspective of irony of tragedy and comedy was somehow a revelation.

Buddy, we’ve been funny for a long while and for the same reasons.

Take this: Lucy Westenra slowly becomes a Vampire. She’s entombed and the fuckers who loved her mourn her passing. Van Helsing says some crazy shit about wanting to cut her head off and stuff her mouth with garlic (again, hilarious in the way he proposes it). Seward pledges to never take a diary entry down again. CUT TO several newspaper clippings of children, desanguined, found in a feverish daze after being lured away by a ‘bloofer lady’:

A correspondent writes us that to see some of the tiny tots pretending to be ‘the bloofer lady’ is supremely funny. Some of our caricaturists might, he says, take a lesson in the irony of grotesque by comparing the reality and the picture.  (229)

It’s not only that this passage implies that Stoker was, on some level, self-aware of how ridiculous his story is, it’s the baffling use of the term ‘bloofer lady.’ There’s no contextual explanation as to what that means in the clippings, nor is it ever repeated after the chapter closes. Furthermore, there’s no footnote (in my copy, at least) explaining the term, suggesting that it went over the heads of scholars for years and years. Thank Christ for Urban Dictionary, which explains that “bloofer” is, in fact, the reported cockney dialect of “beautiful.” Say it out loud in a cockney accent and you’ll get it. Bloofer lady. Hilarious.

Stoker reports dialects of many UK islanders– Irish, Scottish, cockney, Welsh, I think, in addition to Helsing’s strange Dutch accent. Now, the first reaction might be that Stoker’s making fun of the lower classes (Dracula, after all, is the tale of haunted aristocrats) but I’m one to think that Stoker, being Irish himself, was poking at the intellectual class reading his book. I like to think that he knew well that his literary audience would have been confounded by a lot of the more colloquial verbiage in the book, whereas an educated albeit lower-class reader would be able to decipher the language perfectly. Some of the dialogue is so entrenched in dialect that the only reason I was able to understand half of it is due to my fascination with Scottish People Twitter. It ultimately adds a sense of playful levity to the Gothic narrative, because of the playful nature inherent to “vulgar” UK slang and expressions.

At a certain point when I was discussing Dracula with my companions, I was frustrated that the only common understanding of the book was the “I VANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD” parody of a misquote from Bela Legosi’s incarnation of the Count. But the more I thought about it, that comedic take on Dracula is almost closer to Stoker’s intention than initially realized. Nearly everyone can agree that the vampires depicted in Twilight are garbage creatures, over-saturated in the poetry of eternal life and shiny, blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, What We Do In the Shadows nails it, utilizing a comedic tone to play with the wide-spanning vampiric lore without diminishing its potency. Likewise, The Castlevania video game series employs a subtle humor (often in the form of items and certain enemies) that pokes fun at the concepts without taking you out of the experience. There’s a level where you essentially murder everyone in Hogwarts.

And finally there’s the gleeful Sir Anthony Hopkin’s portrayal of Van Helsing in Coppala’s adaptation of Stoker’s classic, who seems to be the only actor cognizant of what movie he’s in.

There are yet unmined opportunities to explore with Vampires. Dracula itself is a culmination of many years studying the folkloric traditions and superstitions surrounding the monster and Stoker only scratched the surface. So take heart, horror authors.

But for Christ’s sake, use some humor to blunt the subject’s poetic edges. Vampires are ridiculous and you know this.

Spatial Symbolism: The House

Spatial Symbolism: The House

Because I have friends and friends talk sometimes, it came to be that a friend and I were talking about laundromats. I like laundromats. I like the soothing, repetitive noises of clothing soup getting sloshed around in a centrifuge and the rhythmic metallic clinking of “poor ovens.”

A theory as to why we love laundromats so much comes from Shawn Coyne’s analysis of Silence of the Lambs (mentioned several times in the Story Grid podcast),  wherein he points out a scene right before Starling decides to go investigate the first victim’s house. The scene is simple and quiet. Starling does some laundry. Coyne’s point is that this is a “return to the womb” so that Starling can be reborn into her decision to defy her orders. Specifically, he points out that the rhythm of the machines and the sloshing of the water resembles a mother’s heartbeat and the rushing noise of amniotic fluid that we, as babies, attach to as sensory reminders of the safety we felt while in utero. It works as a solid symbol.

I tried to recreate a similar scenario in The Least of 99 Evils with a scene where the main character, Riley, takes a shower and changes clothes before adopting the most pivotal role in the novel. I was trying to suggest to the reader’s subconscious that a baptism of sorts had occurred. That changes have registered.  I think it works, but we have a much more sinister association with bathrooms that I had previously thought.

There’s this episode of Cracked.com’s “Looking the Part,” that examines what makes the bathroom so harrowing in pop culture and media (shower death scenes are plentiful after the quintessential Psycho, Vincent dies while leaving the bathroom in Pulp Fiction, that guy in the first season of The Sopranos gets shot in the tub, The Dude in The Big Lebowski is attacked while getting far-out in his bathtub, that scene in the X-Files when that leach falls out of that dude, medicine cabinet mirror jump scares… etc). Their suggestion is that because grooming habits have become a solitary activity for human beings since the middle ages, the bathroom is the one place where someone is the most vulnerable and that naturally creates an opportunity for a thrilling scene that will directly register with an audiences’ familiarity of being totally alone.

So I got to thinking that maybe there other broad symbols we associate with the anatomy of a house and by identifying what symbols we associate with what rooms, a writer could benefit from accurately setting certain scenes in these spaces.

The first one that leapt out to is the basement. The basement is where the secret is stored. A true crime example of this would be how John Wayne Gacy buried 33 bodies in his basement as a way of dissociating himself from his crimes, essentially keeping it separate from his primary personality. Likewise, the zombies are stored in the basement in Dead Alive, the shameful burial of the archaeologist’s wife occurs in the basement of Evil Dead II (with great payoff), and Breaking Bad‘s Walter White keeps his first drug-world rival and first murder victim in, wait for it, the basement. The Burbs even brings us into that space by the film’s culmination, justifying Tom Hanks’s paranoia by revealing hundreds of skeletons present in his neighbors’ furnace. Perhaps because we associate that space with darkness, we also attach fear. This is a common enough attachment– we fear what we can’t see, and we see this part of the house the least often– on top of it being, generally, poorly lit. Just to indulge another example: A B-plotline that registered with me as a kid was Home Alone‘s sequencing of getting over the fear of the basement furnace. It personified perfectly the fear a child experiences when encountering a space that they don’t know very well as well as machinery that they don’t understand.

If the basement is where you place scenes of fear and horror then what of the basement’s maligned sibling the attic? The attic’s symbolism revolves around the mind. You know that old phrase, “toys in the attic?” That’s a folksy way of saying that someone is insane. If the top of the cranium is where the brain resides, then so to must the “mind” of the house. Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea utilize this by restraining the crazy woman in the attic. So does The Yellow Wallpaper. Even if we’re not talking about mental unwellness, the attic serves as a venue for cerebral exploration. The entire plot of The Goonies starts by finding a map in the attic, but the better example here is The Never Ending Story– the entire thing is the imaginative exercise of a child reading a book in the attic. Goddamn Beetlejuice spends over half the movie in the attic, most of which is spent, not ghosting the shit out of the inhabitants, but rather, wrapping the characters’ heads around the concept that they are dead. It’s the mental space.

The bedroom is usually reserved for sex. In adult-themed media. You rarely get a glimpse of what an adult’s bedroom actually looks like. It’s the punctuation of sexual achievement– a dude carries a lady into a bedroom. Cut to pillow-talk followed by a source of unnecessary conflict. Right? Except in more juvenile-aged marketed media where the bedroom is a refuge. You think of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Three Ninjas, Gleaming the Cube… the prepubescent bedroom becomes a space of personal expression and safety. Which makes sense in the human experience– that’s the only place where a teenager has any control over their own lives, even if that control is over which posters go up on the walls. But whether it’s for sex or personal rejuvenation (and general character building), the bedroom is almost never used as a primary stage for for plot. Exceptions to this are, of course, Toy Story (wherein the bedroom is represented as a town of sorts, and doesn’t really count) and Nightmare on Elm Street (wherein the bedroom, a vulnerable time, becomes a door for a broader stage. Johnny Depp getting absolutely eviscerated, though, remains one of my favorite film moments).

The staircase has stood reliably as an opportunity for one character to spy upon another character. And this is consistent from H.P. Lovecraft to J.K. Rowling: when a piece of information needs to be discussed and then overheard by the protagonist, the protagonist will linger on the staircase. That might divide the house into two distinct levels of trustworthiness to match its literal stories– the lower level is untrustworthy, whereas the hero always sneaks down from the upper stories. While it serves as a bridge in its architectural purpose, it’s not redundant to point out that it serves as a metaphorical bridge between two parties and the vehicle conveyed between them is generally unintentional information.

Kitchens are an interesting beast. The idea is always to portray family in a day in the life. How that family is portrayed with the kitchen is up to the author. In The Godfather Part II, a family is shown falling away from the uninterested Michael Corleone around a dinner table. Likewise, you have family comedies like The Simpsons or Malcom in the Middle where, despite the chaotics antics of the individual characters, they still come together for meals and create the status quo of the familial unit. From those two examples, we always come back to the status quo of dysfunctional, quirky families that support each other in dysfunctional, quirky ways. The status quo of the family in American Beauty is established with a similar scene, although any semblance of casual or warm acknowledgement is replaced with cold, forced and even scripted dialogue. Harkening back to Home Alone, the initial kitchen scene is one of immense chaos with a broad range of characters. Which sets up the essential conflict of the film and justifies it with a few, short scenes– there’s a lot of kids. One of them could get overlooked. (There’s also my favourite line, “You’re what the French call ‘les incompetent’.”)

Living rooms are for Christmas and people getting murdered. I’ve literally got nothing else on that.

The End of the World as We Nevermind

The End of the World as We Nevermind

A joke I’ve seen circulating social media quite often is this: “Stop writing dystopian fiction, you’re only giving the government ideas.”

The joke, I guess, is that because dystopias are often written to underline specific and problematic societal and political norms by satirically torquing those values to their ridiculous breaking point, that it eventually and unintentionally normalizes the extreme examples that the author used to point out the absurdities of modern living.

Ha. Ha.

And to that point I’ll challenge the notion that George Orwell was some kind of prophet. 1984 stands as the quintessential dystopian novel, portraying a harrowing world of an omni-present yet ambiguous authority and panopticonical surveillance. And one leaps to think that Orwell is describing the future that we now live in, given how many things line up with our modern experiences with totalitarianism and the invasive practices of the NSA. I don’t want to diminish the modern relevance of the work. It’s currently significant, but what I want to make clear is that it was as significant when Orwell wrote it. He wasn’t a prophet so much as he was a scholar of how fascism operates through the arms of bureaucracy. Nazis rewarded those who provided information about their Jewish neighbors; spy networks have almost always been a tactic of every militarily-minded society; population surveillance has been the wet dream of dictatorships everywhere (it used to look like intercepting written letters, now it’s tapping into Smart TVs and that goddamn Alexa as well as examining piles of metadata); fascists have a tendency to make their face ubiquitous with pithy catchphrases underneath; populations, as a whole, have a tendency to react to things emotionally instead of rationally (compare the 2 Minute Hate to Tweet Storms about anything). I could go on, but the point I’m making here is this: George Orwell wasn’t trying to depict the future, he was describing his present using allegorical science fiction.

Let’s back up. All the way up. We wouldn’t have dystopias without utopias. Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, a fictional travelogue that came out in the early 1500’s, describes an outsider’s perspective of an ethical, puritanical island that operates under a strict set of benevolent rules that serves everybody’s best interests.

Everybody’s best guess is that Utopia is a satire, aping medieval Europe’s more liberal tendencies. It is, in fact, it’s own dystopia. If it was considered satire by More’s contemporaries, modern thought would look at it as a fucked up 4th world country. Slavery, pre-marital bonin’ punished by a lifetime of celibacy, women strictly relegated to the role of home-making, etcetera. Utopias don’t purely exist in fiction (and don’t give me Paradiso as an example, that shit is boring as… well, not hell, because Inferno was ultimately more satisfying to read.) because there is no under-riding conflict. If that sound familiar, then GOOD. That means you read my dumb musings on conflict months ago. Have a chocolate.

And so we’re back to dystopias. How come we love them so much? And does that reason vary from culture to culture?

The most recent episode of Wizard and the Bruiser brought up an excellent point about Akira: that a dystopic representation of Tokyo (re-imagined as Neo-Tokyo, 30 years after the Akira fallout, written in the 1980’s, 30ish some years after the Atomic fallout) where parentless gangs run the streets at night while the military tries to maintain order, is reminiscent of 1950’s Japan when the country was recovering from a devastating war and the victim of two Atomic bombs dropped on two of their civilian cities. In the same way that Gojira served to sublimate the horrors of the bomb in a way audiences could emotionally process, Akira is a digestion of the chaos the country experienced while rebuilding.

In America, I believe the shared fascination with dystopias digs at two things.

The first we are often hesitant to address– this country has been devastated. The genocide of Native Americans has been traditionally shoehorned into Cowboy vs. Indians John Wayne narratives, wherein the natives are either savage murderers or aides for Manifest Destiny. There’s a collective guilt there that’s been pushed down for centuries now but no matter how many times America tries to push a traditional western through, it sings the same old story. Dystopias, if you haven’t noticed, tend to put the atrocities mankind is capable of front and center. And there’s a reason why most post-apocalyptic fiction sets back technology and infrastructure  back to a familiar, nearly western setting. Various reasons, probably, but the one I’m poking at is the coping mechanism for the blood spilled on the frontier.

The second thing to address, is the culminate fear of where society is heading. A lot of that is moralistic hand-wringing, to be sure, but many of those fears are not unprecedented. Nuclear holocaust is an anxiety we currently bear day-to-day, and have since the bomb’s inception. Again, here we have a means to digest that fear in narrative form that ultimately cherishes optimism. The Road ends on an optimistic note, despite all of the horrific and tragic build-up. The Mad Max series, while exploring survivalistic depravities, tends to end its chapters on a victory. You see the gore, you still get a (hard earned) happy(ish) ending and piece by piece, a little bit of that fear of the future is smoothed out just enough so you can get out of bed in the morning.

But whether the social consciousness feels regret about the past, or anxiety about the future, the sharpest gear in the mechanics of dystopias is set in the human brain’s inability to process reality. The world’s got some beautiful shit. The rest is kind of just… shit? And it’s not hard to understand why people willingly ignore the evil in the world. We get nauseated at the sight of blood. And yet, reality persists. For mental health reasons, everyone gives the news a break and doubles down on what is truly important to them because a day feels like a year if you keep up with everything. And that’s fine. To paraphrase Camus, you can’t live in the desert your entire life, otherwise you’ll go insane. Or, to quote A Tribe Called Quest, “VH1 has a show that you can waste your time with. Guilty pleasures take the edge off reality and for a salary I’d probably do that shit sporadically.” [punctuation mine]

Reality is hard to swallow. There’s a limit of what a person can emotionally process before they turn off and numb out. While directly reporting the distressing information about how the world turns is a necessary journalistic imperative, fiction isn’t bound to the same precedent while still remaining just as relevant. Dystopian fiction offers a method of telegraphing modern and relevant social pain and institutional betrayals within the world using the element of just enough fantastical devices to keep it distant enough to process with an indirect emotional stake. Example given: as someone who studied genocide for a semester in college, more people are comfortable discussing how despicable Death Eaters are than the brutal actions of the Khmer Rouge. Dystopias sublimate the horror of reality into an easily digestible parable.

And really, where the fuck else are you going to have the delicious opportunity to have a bedraggled Ronald Reagan fight a woman in football shoulder-pads, brandishing a sword made out of knee-caps or some bullshit?

That shit doesn’t happen in westerns.

 

Pierre’s most recent dystopian odyssey is available on Amazon. It’s called The Least of 99 Evils and you aren’t ready.