A Brief History of “antifa”

Antifalogo.svg

From Wikimedia

antifa may have come up quite a bit, and you may be wondering what they are all about.  Antifa – short for anti-fascist – is what a large number of groups across the US call themselves. As they are against fascism, they also tend to be against ideologies related to fascism: authoritarianism, racism, nationalism – all of which are essential to (neo) nazis and the alt/far right conservatism. As such, antifa try to show up whenever alt-right, fascist, or neo-nazis cause trouble – but antifa are often the ones who walk away blamed for violence.

has had more than their fair share of their violent run-ins with alt-right, neo-nazis, other related groups. To make research difficult, antifa is more a movement than an organization; it consists of largely autonomous and separate groups all around the globe. These groups ostensibly come together for one singular purpose – to act against fascism and fight it in any way possible.

A Brief History of antifa

Anti-fascist groups began in the 20’s, as a direct response to the powerful rise of fascists in Italy, Germany, and Spain. Much has been written about the fascist regimes of Mussolini and Hitler, but I’m more interested in the more modern examples. After fascism began to fade in the 40’s, so did antifa. However, antifa came back during the 70’s and 80’s as neo-nazis attempted to find a place in the Punk-rock scene in Britain.

But modern antifa groups most likely owe their existence to the Anti-racism Action group, founded in Minneapolis in 1988 – the name change likely because American’s would have a better understanding of fighting racism than fascism. However, most current antifa groups are much less formally organized, like Philly antifa or other location-based groups that seek to disrupt local fascist activities.

Modern antifa

Modern antifa groups are all about direct action. According to the Atlantic, antifa members tend to be either anarchistic or otherwise disillusioned with the government, which (in their eyes) is complicit in enabling the racism and authoritarian views of fascists. So antifa members do what they can individually to fight antifa – protesting and counter-protesting, publicizing the identities of fascists, finding where fascists work or gather and pressuring them to fire and reject the fascists. But sometimes that isn’t enough, and antifa turns to violence.

For instance, right-wing white nationalist Richard Spencer was punched in the face on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration. There are other instances of violence, eggings, and harassment of members of the alt-right or neo-nazi groups. A bulk of antifa work is done through social media, exposing racists and the like by sharing images of alt-right or neo-nazi profile pictures or documentation of activities. As many alt-right and neo-nazi members attend gatherings without hiding their faces, it’s an easy way to expose them – and make them afraid.

Antifa members (And many others) defend their actions with the argument that racist, homophobic and nationalistic speeches and gatherings are themselves performing and advocating violence against minorities.  There is no denying that nazis and other racist groups have a brutal, violent history in America, even today. See the Charleston Church shooting, the 2017 Portland Train Attack, or any of the other right-wing terrorist attacks.

The Future

Whether or not you believe that antifa is harmful or beneficial, don’t be mistaken of what they are. They are not “the alt-left.” They are not themselves fascists – they are quite literally the opposite. And even more importantly, they are not some vague militia of the Democrats or Liberal Elite. These are people going out into dangerous places (Gatherings of neo-nazis and other dangerous groups.) and standing up for their beliefs. In a country like America, inundated with images like Superman and Captain America punching nazis, in an age where racism and hatred are being forced into nothingness – can you really blame them for wanting to bash the fash?

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Grave Robbing

Dark skies had begun their march overhead around noon, and by nightfall they began to shed their excess weight. The water always gave the graveyard an unwelcome air of life. The graveyard surrounded a tall square rock of a building. It was a mausoleum. It wouldn’t have stuck out if it hadn’t been on top of a hill; Massive upturned stones stood all around, covered in trees and greenery. Gargoyles alone lined the mausoleum’s roof; some of which had long since fallen to rubble; others still seemed alive, bearing weapons and sneers. Once upon a time, great kings and men of letters lived nearby. Now only their graves remain.

The gentle rain was the only sound heard as a young girl approached.  The mud grabbed her bare feet, trying to bring her down to her ancestors. She wound her way between giant slabs of stone and fallen trees. The water made patches of dirt that flowed freely, but she was steady and did her best to avoid anything dangerous.

She came to a stop at a tree that grew right next to the marble walls. Tombstones lay mangled underneath its roots. She crouched in the tree’s shadow and checked the names etched in the tombstones. It was so worn she couldn’t see a name. That meant the stone was cheap or far too old for her to waste her time digging. She continued on, creeping around the wall, keeping as dry as she could, and found her way inside.  As she entered, she noticed a plaque above the doorway that read “Mortui Vivos Docent.” She didn’t know what it meant, but it sounded nice. The walls were lined with shiny plaques and the ceilings were twice as high as her head. It was all lit by simple lights set into the ceilings. She wondered what powered them. The plaques bore names and vocations. Each plaque was the same size, shape, and material. “No… no… no… Show Mara a nice one…”

Finally, she came across a plaque that read “Bartimaeus Samarkhand, jeweler and reveler. He asks only for life to be lived, and remain unchanged in its amorphous nature.”

Mara struck with her folding shovel between the “and” and the “for,” sending shards of stone flying. She soon pulled the coffin out and met the inhabitant. Her manners clearly lacking, she only smiled as she pulled out several rings and necklaces. The gold stood out against her olive skin, gems gleaming red and blue. She continued her way through the crypt, finding jewels, medals, anything that could survive aging hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Then she came to the catacombs.

A dark stairwell led down into the earth. Dripping sounds echoed up to her. In the wall words were etched in: “Here you will find our greatest minds laid low, and our lowest citizens made unto gods.” The words soundedfamiliar.

“Ooohhhh-ho-ho-ho, jackpot….”  Mara was interrupted by her bag, which had begun to buzz loudly. She scrambled with it till she found a little ball and twisted it to turn it off. The annoying sound echoed briefly, and she snapped out of her trance and realized how loud she’d been in her quest across the mausoleum, and that she would need to return to the city quickly to sell her findings and do her shopping.

She made her way out of the building, following her path of destruction, or what she thought was her path. The walls were undamaged, the floor completely clean. She recognized the names that she had, just an hour before, reduced to dust. Not even muddy footprints met her when she found the entrance. She stopped at the archway and turned to face the empty hallway. She heard only her racing heart-beat.

~

She returned to the city – the ruins – by mid-day. The muddy paths and wilds had made her passage difficult. Concrete needles could be seen from miles away, punctuating the city’s various materials and marking the center of what was once a shining capital. The city was slowly growing back to its original splendor, but it was a race against the quickly growing vines and trees. People were still far and few between, and the massive grey buildings stood empty.

“Hey Mar, whatcha got for me? Pickpocket anymore visiting re-explorers?” The short and round pawnbroker stood in front of what was once a bank. His rifle was taller than he was. His beard covered most of his face, and his hair was drawn back in simple pony-tail. His clothes were dark brown, matching his hair. The only color on him that wasn’t brown was his bright red cheeks.

“Nope, I’m finding honest pay now.” She walked to his table and laid her bounty of jewels on his desk.

He eyeballed the stones and metals, running his fingers over them, then looked up at her. “Yeah, right, honest.” He clicked his tongue and shook his head. “But that’s none of my business. I’ll give you twenty each, thirty for the necklaces.”

“Deal.”

He clutched his chest. “No haggling? Who are you and what have you done with my friend?” He dramatically put one hand to his forehead, while he counted out the money with his other.

“We’re not friends,” was her only reply, as she grabbed the money and walked out.

~

She walked along old brick streets, red dust flowing along the dark cracks that once made up the zigzag pattern the bricks formed. Here and there, tall trees grew over iron gates and concrete patches. She found her way home through the red and the green.

“Mama? I’m home! Sorry I’m late!” The sun was now setting behind her.

The house was cluttered, but not outright falling apart like the rest of the neighborhood. They had been one of the first families to stake a claim to the territory. The floor was swept clean, revealing tile floors; the walls were covered in murals that had been painted and painted over again and again. She found her mother in the dining room, paint in hand, her wild grey hair straining against a ribbon that bound it back. The wall was covered in rows of colorful lines, each one a little different. They went up and down, each column of color starting from a horizontal line of black.

“You’ve been busy today, haven’t you?” Mara wandered around, looking at the walls and the table, touching here and there. She embraced her mother, Tara, who slowly turned and hugged back.

“I can’t remember what I was looking for. It looked like this… They’ll help me remember…” Mara’s mother had a soft voice, haunting like the ghosts she had told her daughter about long ago. The paintbrush in her hand was baby-blue, with a matching paint along the tip. “The color… it’s not right. I need…”

Mara held her hand out and caught the brush as her mother dropped it and hurried off. The old woman was out, and Mara heard her footsteps up the stairs and scurrying about while Mara cleaned up the mess left behind. Occasionally Mara frowned at the ceiling as it creaked under her mother’s weight. Mara carried the things to the kitchen and then began to make supper. Dozens of cans and jars of food, preserved for ages, lined the cupboards; she began to set the table as her mother came in.

“Hello Mara dear, how was your trip?”  Tara sat at the table and poured water from a canteen into a pair of cups.

Mara smiled. “Fine. I got lost, and some weird stuff happened.” She turned and finished setting the table.

“That’s nice. I’m glad you’re back.” Her mother didn’t seem to be paying much attention

“I’m glad you’re back too.” Mara was resigned to her mother’s… ‘Quirks.’

After they finished their meal, Mara led her mother up into the bedroom. Tara was humming to herself until they reached the bed. Tara turned around and smiled at her daughter.

“Did I ever tell you about the history of the city? It’s wonderful, almost everyone died years ago, mostly the great minds, and the normal people who survived the disaster ran away. That’s why we came here when we did; everyone is going to come back soon…” She continued on and on, while Mara laid down on the floor. The stories came quickly from her mother, about the “Great Thunder” and the acidic rain that followed, about the old days when men made of stone helped build and keep watch of cities, hospitals, morgues, and more. Tara soon tired, but Mara stared at the ceiling, wishing these stories could be true.

~

Mara returned to the Mausoleum just a few nights later. The walls were once again unmarred, the floors clean. She soon found her way to the catacombs, and that sign that said “here you will find our greatest minds laid low, and our lowest citizens made unto gods.” She found a single torch to light her way through the darkness as she wound her way down through the stairwell, down into the depths of the earth. A few minutes later, the stairway opened up into a spacious circular cavern. It was lit in by a large chandelier in the high ceiling. The chandelier glowed an unearthly light blue. Mara stared up at the light, and looked around at the walls, eager to find more tombs, jewels, and gold. But there were only shelves.

Floor to ceiling, with stairs leading up all around, shelves filled with books. They looked like columns of color that rose from the black stone of the shelves. Stone Gargoyles stood all around, regularly placed, just like on the roof of the building. She walked about, disappointed and confused. The stone demons were as tall as she was, and when she stared one in the eyes, she thought the eyes gleamed strangely. The books she found were difficult to understand, but she found one that seemed newer than the rest. Handwritten. She tried to make out the writing, but it took her much too long to make out each word. She’d be here all night. She grabbed a few random books, hoping that one or two could be worth a fair amount.

Her bag began to buzz angrily as her timer went off. The sound bothered her, but she took her time as she flipped through a book of history. She reached in her bag and pulled out the little ball, and twisted it shut. But its sound was replaced with grinding, the sound of stone on stone. She turned around to see the gargoyles shuddering, shaking off their skins of dust and rubble. They shed years of dust off their hides, and their heads her as she ran towards the stairs.

Up and up she sprinted, chest heaving, eyes wide. The darkness only hindered her slightly as her hands followed the walls. She made it to the doorway and then began to slow. She didn’t hear anything following her. As she turned back her foot caught on the final step, and her bag went flying. Her shovel catapulted across the hall, scarring the wall with its blade. She slid across the smooth floor, breath knocked out of her.

She felt the wind blow across her face. Then she heard her bag move and felt the ground shake.

“Can I help you?” came a gravelly voice.

She opened her eyes to see hard features and harsh teeth, all across a wide and sneering mouth. Right above were eyes lit with a light blue. She screamed and passed out.

~

When she came to, her head throbbed, and the floor spun until she sat up. She was at the entrance, with her bag and belongings packed neatly away, including the book. The sun was shining through the doorway, and the birds were singing. It made her trek home pleasant, if she didn’t realize it in her daze.

When she finally reached the city, rather than head to the pawnbroker, with her package, she went straight home. She held the book out to her mother.

“Mama, could you tell me those stories again?”

 

[Originally published in the Ursinus College’s literary Journal, The Lantern.]

Did Rick and Morty Sell Out?

I was recently in a discussion about this with three of my closest friends, so I give credit to Aaron, Henry, and Jimmy.

“Rick and Morty” is a wildly popular show that centers around a renegade genius scientist named Rick and his grandson Morty. The show is at times wildly gruesome, oddly sexual, and occasionally emotionally deep and poignant. But always deeply irreverent. There is also a fast-paced humor packed full of cultural references that many people laugh at and don’t think much of. However, there is no such thing as bad publicity, and every impression made or consumer reached – is a potential sale.

In the surprise release of “Rick and Morty’s” season 3 premiere ( On April 1st / April Fool’s day of all days), there was one such cultural reference. To avoid spoilers: In 1998, McDonald’s partnered with Disney for the premiere of Mulan and began selling a Szechuan sauce with their chicken nuggets; At the end of the Season 3 Premiere, Rick goes on a tirade about how important that sauce is to him – to a ridiculous degree. “Rick and Morty” is incredibly detailed when it comes to what is said/seen in each episode (There are fan theories surrounding ticket numbers). For a show so purposefully detailed and deliberate, why would McDonald’s Szechuan sauce be front and center? Or “Shoney’s,” a chain restaurant which also features in the premiere? (Though to be fair, no one is talking about Shoney’s.)

The outlandishly direct endorsement of a 20 or so year-old dipping sauce seems to be smack-dab between reeking of paid advertising and merely being a part of the show’s absurdist humor. On the one hand, this sauce is so out of date that even McDonald’s representatives are likely asking co-workers if it existed. And most of the show’s fans – largely mid-20’s aged males – aren’t likely to have tasted it. But at the same time, McDonald’s is a massive franchise that (in case you haven’t heard) still operates today. The household name carries a lot of weight, but really, any chain would benefit from this endorsement.

McDonald’s has since responded, saying that they are not involved with the television show, but are willing to bring back the sauce because of the demand. McDonald’s would certainly enjoy the publicity (and has no doubt enjoyed an uptick in consumption), but I believe that if there was some form of collusion, they would have been more prepared for this unintentional(?) viral marketing.

However. There is another odd little coincidence that makes this situation a little strange: Disney is remaking “Mulan!” Just like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Jungle Book”, Disney plans to remake the animated film as a live-action feature (With mixed responses). This could be a potential storm of viral marketing for the film’s release. the 1998 “Mulan” has a strong following online thanks to its feminist message, enjoyable music, and strong characters. Building upon that popularity could be a goldminHe for Disney and McDonald’s were they to join once again. However, the remake has yet to fully enter production, let alone enter advertising – and a year is a very long time for such a viral marketing strategy to maintain interest.

To add even more complexity to what is going on, “Rick and Morty” has been featured in advertisements before. Watch (or don’t) this ad for Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s. Doing advertisements opens up the doors to selling out or being corporate shills, but at the same time this ad is hyper-aware and deliberate – this was made expressly for fans of “Rick and Morty;” I imagine someone who hadn’t seen the show would be rather disturbed by it. So perhaps one would assume that the show would avoid confusing the matter, but then again, “Rick and Morty” has had in-show product placement that is just as cloudy as the Szechuan sauce! In the episode “Total Rickall,” one character mentions that Rick has a habit of over-reacting, inciting a flashback to Rick rushing into the scene carrying a dozen 3DS’ that he excitedly talks about:

“[Walmart is] selling Nintendo 3DS systems for $149.99 on sale, plus every time you buy one, you get a $50 gift card. Brings the total price down to $110 after tax. Now, listen, we can flip those sons of bitches for 230 bucks apiece easy!

Though perhaps as a joke or to divert from the scene, he ends with: “Nintendo, give me free stuff”

I still haven’t decided whether or not “Rick and Morty’s” creators have sold out. I believe that these kinds of references are very much perfect for the audience – the 3DS is a hugely popular gaming system, McDonald’s is a household name. And then these instances of product placement are cut by adding in little twists on the familiar formula: “Nintendo, give me free stuff” implying the product placement is being done spontaneously; the Szechuan Sauce scene comes on the heels of a dark(ish) revelation, and mirrors the pilot episode’s ending in which Morty is having seizures while Rick monologues about their adventures.

There is a level of self-awareness that is constantly getting higher, more and more tongue-in-cheek, until it almost impossible to tell exactly what is going on without getting on twitter and asking the creators what exactly is going on. Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland are excellent writers, capable of balancing multi-season story-arcs alongside ridiculous humor and “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” easter eggs. I think in the end, I choose to default to fewer assumptions and conclude that these product placements are merely reference gags that are being toyed with. 

The Scariest Website Around

A shadowy government organization is collecting and documenting objects and creatures of unknown origins. These objects and creatures often bend the rules of reality, or impose their own rules and create their own reality. This is not a summary of Men in Black or Warehouse 13, but the premise of one of the largest creative projects on the internet: The SCP Foundation.

The SCP Foundation originated in 2007 from 4chan’s /x/ – a messageboard dedicated to paranormal pictures, stories, and discussions. The very first entry was SCP-173. Based on a photo of an art project by Izumi Kato, the idea was simple enough: what would it look like if a secret organization wrote out the rules for containing a creature that was invincible when you looked at it, and blindingly fast and deadly when out of sight? (Yes, just like the “Weeping Angels” from Doctor Who.)

Izumi Kato "Untitled" 2004, wood, charcoal, acrylic, h. 205 x w. 56 x d. 52 cm<br data-verified=

The articles and pages themselves are not really “stories”; rather, they read as instructions for containment of the subjects and (usually) reduce casualties; hence the meaning of “SCP”: Secure, Contain, Protect. These entries are all written in the kind of jargon one would expect from such an organization, filled with black boxes where information was removed, names and details replaced with “[REDACTED],” and mentions of different sites and areas that the SCP Foundation owns. These little details in story-telling are excellent in immersing the readers in the world presented. Much like the “Based on a true story” trope, the jargon and format give the pieces that much more realism.

Many of the SCP entries are based upon photos randomly found around the internet, much like the above SCP-173 (titled “The Sculpture”). For instance, the “Hard-to-Destroy Reptile” SCP-682 is based upon a photo of a sea creature dredged up in Russia. This entry is much more straightforward in concept— a nearly indestructible monster— but is perhaps more thought out in its containment protocol:

SCP-682 should be contained within a 5 m x 5 m x 5 m chamber with 25 cm reinforced acid-resistant steel plate lining all inside surfaces. The containment chamber should be filled with hydrochloric acid until SCP-682 is submerged and incapacitated.[…]

Though not every object is outright destructive. Accompanying every entry is a “threat level” marked in the SCP’s own terms:

Safe: A strange object/creature with easily understood and contained properties; harmless

Euclid: A dangerous object/creature that isn’t well understood; usually requires surveillance

Keter: A dangerous object/creature that could be world ending without constant diligence in containment

Thaumiel: An object/creature that can be used to contain other more dangerous objects/creatures

So while the SCP entries above are likely Keter-class, some of the more /comical entries are:

SCP-____ : “A rock that makes you procrastinate or something”

SCP-586: A scarf that causes those near it to misspell or use wrong words

But other entries are much more terrifying:

SCP-1981: A videotape of a Ronald Reagan speech. Every time it is played, the speech is different (sometimes prescient), and he is slowly sliced apart by something invisible, or hooded figures stand behind him

SCP-087: A bottomless staircase that absorbs all light that enters it. A face sometimes appears in the darkness. This entry is accompanied by the reports of interactions with it, which are closer to true “stories.”

But perhaps the best SCP entries are those that are truly creative and innovative in their conception.

●●|●●●●●|●●|●: Written entirely in pictographs. Why? Take a look!

The SCP Foundation is an incredible repository of modern horror pieces. There is no shortage in the imagination behind these pieces and no stop to what these simple entries can inspire in others. But unless you’re prepared to avoid sleep, try not to read these in the dark.

Why I Have Fallen In Love With Speedruns

 

Have you ever finished reading a book and enjoyed it so much that you read it over and over again? Or wished you could keep reading more the same characters and worlds? I definitely have. The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Redwall… I’ve re-read each of these books several times, and loved every second. Part of why I read them so much was that I would finish them so quickly, and need to really savor them. Sometimes I wondered how the book could have gone differently – where changes could be made to make the story even better! Part of loving these stories is examining, seeing things I didn’t before, and occasionally skipping the boring parts (Another song – really Tolkien? Stop torturing me with food Jacques!).

As I grew more interested in video games (Though books are still bae), I realized that enjoying them could be just as complex! And since video games are interactive, there are many different ways to experience the story you’re given. You can skip the boring parts (sometimes), or focus on a different facet of the story each time. And before long, I began watching speedruns of my favorite games.

What Are Speedruns?

As their name implies, a speedrun of a video game is simply beating the game as fast as possible. However, there are several different ways of doing this. For example, no matter how well developed a game is, there are almost always glitches of different sorts. And so there are “glitchless” speedruns vs glitched, where one could take advantage of (for example) a glitch that allows a player to walk through walls. Then there are any% vs 100% speedruns: Maybe you want to see how fast you can collect everything in the game, or you just want to see if you can beat the final boss as fast as possible. As with any activity that takes time and skill to complete, video games can be enjoyed peacefully as you experience them to their fullest, or they can be taken on with single-minded ferocity.

Why? Just… Why?

It’s a little weird to me still, but there are tons of reasons to play a video game speedrun!

1. Nostalgia – I have a deep love for the Legend Of Zelda series, and when I recently came across a speedrun of Majora’s Mask (perhaps my favorite entry), I was enthralled. There is something so fascinating about seeing a game I played so slowly and deliberately be broken down into sections and blazed through within a quarter of the time it took me to beat. It made me see the game in a different way.

2. To Prove Skill – If you look up how long it takes to beat the original Super Mario Bros., You would find estimates of about 2-3 hours, depending on how much you do. The current Speedrun world record for that game is 4 minutes 56 seconds 878 milliseconds, and the second best is only 300~ ms behind it. Oh yes – and that World record was set 4 months ago. These runs often come down to the split second, and involve precision you would expect from an Olympian – not someone playing a 20+ year old video game.

3. The Community – Speedrunners and those that follow their activities love these games. You don’t play a game more than 50 times if you don’t deeply enjoy something about that game. And you don’t often watch somebody play a video game unless you truly love the game yourself.

4. The Renown – How many people can say they hold a world record?

5. The Money!!!! – This is mostly a joke, but realistically, if a person is really good and personable/enjoyable to watch, they can make money off of Twitch subscribes/views/donations, and can make reach the point where they could make a reasonable $1~$1.5k a month. Especially if the streamer gets a world record, many viewers will donate $5-$10 as a congratulations, which adds up quickly if you have 1000+ subscribers

And as a corollary to that last point, Good Games Done Quick is a series of charity video game events in which groups of speedrunners pit against each other. These events can bring in as much as 1.5 milliondollars! These proceeds have gone to charities like Doctors Without Borders and the Prevent Cancer Foundation. I think it’s amazing how much good can be done, just from people enjoying their favorite games.

I’ve loved video games for a long time, and speedrunning is a great way to build upon that love of video games. And whether you’re doing the speedruns, finding new paths or glitches, or just finding new ways to enjoy the games, I believe that they are a great way to building on the engagement potential of one of the youngest (but perhaps greatest) media formats.

The Future’s Talk Radio

Just as video killed the radio star, streaming services are in a heated battle with cable and satellite. And perhaps the latest shift in media is the move from talk radio to talk internet: Youtubers, Twitch streamers, and the rest.

I remember growing up, my dad would have one of two channels on the radio when driving: Classic rock (Still love that), or talk radio. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh were two voices I heard much more than I usually wanted to hear; I remember starting to recognize when Beck went from Right-Wing blowhard to weepy blowhard. I much preferred it when Bob and Tom were on, with a cavalcade of comedians and humor. Even NPR would occasionally catch my interest as a young lad. But alas, I haven’t listened to any radio stations in years. With the advent of Bluetooth and audio adapters, I’m more likely to listen to the World of Warcraft soundtrack than any kind of radio programming. In some ways I miss that – being able to zone in and out as I listened, sometimes focusing on the discussion, sometimes letting the talk just fill the silence. But now I have something else that fills that need: internet streaming.

I like to write. I need to write for many reasons (this site is one of them, job applications are another), and I find it easiest to write when there is some noise. Maybe it’s something I picked up from freshman year dorms, or growing up in a bustling household. But regardless, when I’m writing I’m either listening to music – or a stream of some sort. My favorites at this point are either Oddish – a trans-woman professional Heroes of the Storm player – or one of several speedrun streamers – all of which are on Twitch.

What’s more is that the current generation is being shaped by streamers much like the older generation was shaped by talk radio. Look at the popularity (For better or worse) of Pewdiepie, Markeplier, Jenna Marbles… there is no small number of (More or less) streamers that are now household names. Many of the most popular streamers are popular because they are funny. Sure, there are a handful of political or more intellectual (not that comedy can’t be intellectual) streamers, but all of the big names are comedians or gamers. Perhaps the streaming community is going through a “shock-jock” faze. The likes of Pewdiepie and Jontron have large followings thanks to their “edgy” humor. And that has not ended particularly well.

At any rate, I look forward to seeing where the future of streaming will lead. Perhaps there will be a shift towards political streamers. Perhaps streaming will fall away to a different format (Could the Hayday of Podcasts come again!?). But until things change, we should all continue to support our favorite streamers, boycott the worst of the worst, and – of course – enjoy what we enjoy.

Book Review: Perdido Street Station

This book is slimy. From the very beginning, you’ll be confronted by a city that is covered in a layer of filth, and infested with characters trying to wrest control of it for themselves. But much like a Mary Poppins-styled chimney sweep, there’s a lot of personality underneath all the dust and social criticism. All in all, the city in Perdido Street Station is like something Charles Dickens would dream up on a drug trip.

The world of Bas Lag is a cross between steam-punk and fantasy land, like a dungeons and dragons game placed during the industrial revolution. Though much darker. Between the frog like “Vodyanoi” and the insectoid “Khepri,” one can find the disturbing “Remade” – people whose bodies have been forcefully altered in a variety of ways. Worker uprisings are forcefully quelled. Shadowy government figures control the city with an iron fist. Social criticism underlies most of the novel, and oftentimes I found myself pulling certain lines as I felt they related to the world we know now. Strange, since Bas Lag is basically a mid-19th century London of sorts.

The main plot of the novel is somewhat easy to predict if you are a fan of monster movies. One of the two main characters is Isaac, a scientist of eclectic knowledge, who strives to connect social sciences, physical sciences, and “thaumaturgical” (I.E. Magic) science into one grand unified theory. He pays for his research by being a scientific mercenary of sorts, building, theorizing, and writing whatever is needed for whoever has the coin. His lover, Lin, is the other main character, a Khepri artist. Khepri are essentially red-skinned women (for male khepri are mindless bugs) with scarab-like heads. This surprisingly reflects the tone of the novel from the very beginning. Their love is honest, hidden, and visceral – with a splash of “gross” for the audience.

In some senses, this is perhaps the hardest of Mieville’s novels. There is (consider these trigger warnings) violence, body-horror, sex (sometimes mixed with body-horror), and rape. I would not call any of it gratuitous, however. Each instance or reference to these things is brutally honest, but not without some sense of awareness. This is a world in which everything is exploitable. From literal dreams and thoughts, to magically malleable bodies. It is not a safe world, but it is an enthralling one.

Mieville creates a history for this world that goes back centuries. Much of this history isn’t even spelled out clearly, but even the passing remarks give the feeling of a very full world. For instance, the “Ribs” are mentioned a handful of times throughout the story. Massive bones, jutting out of the old city. Attempts to dig them out are referenced, as are their eerie nature, but never much more than that.The world is full of intriguing details like that which give the sense of so much more lying beneath the surface of this story.

Mieville has seamlessly ties his own philosophical and mind-bending twist to dozens of genres, and if you have a penchant for one of them it may be best to start there. The City And The City is an excellent detective story, and Railsea is (technically) a wonderful pirate-y novel. And both are much more easy to digest than Perdido. But Perdido Street Station may last longer in your memories.

You’ll come away from this book feeling a bit dirtied by the world created by Mieville – and that’s part of why I love it. Perdido Street Station is the first book of Mieville’s that I ever read, but in hindsight it may have been the hardest to begin with. The most degrading, in a way. My love of science fiction and fantasy kept me enthralled in the horrifying world of Bas Lag, and the filthy, fantastic, and awesome city of New Crobuzon.

Thoughts At The End Of My First NaNoWriMo

Outlines Are Hard And Maybe Not For Me

It was a resounding failure. I spent the first two weeks (maybe week and a half) very focused upon writing every day, even if it was just the words “fuck, now what?” a few dozen times. I managed to hit around 5000 words before I began to peter out, and shortly after 6000 words, I stopped altogether. Admittedly, I’ve never even made it this far, so the fact that I put the effort in so pointedly is laudable (I choose to laud myself, at least). I need to work a bit more on my focus and planning, which is difficult when you’re unemployed and stressed about entering true adulthood (if that even exists). However, motivation and dedication are always hard, no matter what point of your life you’re at.
But enough of my self pity, I can work on that by myself. So here are a few thoughts and excerpts of what I’ve written.

So first off, I began this story not with an outline, but with an idea for a scene. I tend to visualize moments throughout the story. I think that (like most writing methods) this “connect the dots” style approach can work very well, and up until now it certainly has worked well for me – in shorter forms.
And Novels… novels are long. Long is hard. To write, I mean.

I began with a simple idea: A pair of snipers are stuck in a duel, both are a single sneeze away from a swift death. As the two begin to zero in on their opponent, a butterfly comes between them, reminding one (the PoV character) of a childhood long ago. Her opponent has a similar reaction, but spends a second too long watching the insect, and pays with his life. It is loosely based upon this comic I came across a long time ago.
Here’s a short excerpt from my Nano effort:

dust and ash filled the air in brief puffs of wind. Her eye was set upon her quarry, she had precious few moments to decide if it was a misshapen branch she had settled her eyes upon, or a slender arm. This branch/arm seemed to sway in the breeze in time with the other branches… She held her breath a moment longer.

A flicker of color in front of her rifle nearly broke her concentration. A drop of pale blue from the sky, struggling with the wind. A butterfly. It was fast, one of the new breeds. It bounced about as often as it flickered, like a hummingbird or a dragonfly. She blocked it from her mind. The elbow/stick hadn’t shifted since the wind died down. Katja stared at the spot, trying to trace the outline of a person.

“Could someone fit there? I’ve fit in worse positions… and I was still pretty damn accurate… Maybe if that tree there has a chunk missing…” She thought to herself.

I’m rather proud of this bit, and the entire scene came rather naturally. I had the entire scene plotted out for me, really, which made for easy writing. I could spend more time focusing upon the tone, the setting, language itself.

Once I reached the end of this scene, I came across a problem: I have no idea what to do next. I (theoretically) could wax poetic about a “butterfly” in a post apocalyptic (spoilers?) world for 49,000 more words, but that isn’t really what I want for this novel.

I decided (perhaps in an effort to “ground” the novel) that my character would return to a home-base of sorts. I settled on a city within a crater, occupied by military power and non-combatants alike. In hindsight, I feel this comes off as a very “Teen lit” concept, which wouldn’t be bad if I went in wanting to write that. But by the end, it just didn’t feel cohesive.

My next plot idea was that eventually, she would discover that the man she killed was an “innocent” (though still shot at her?) man from a different compound/society/whatever, and his death would lead to a conflict between them. It was here that I realized that I would need to plan and outline a bit more of how I wanted the escalation and drama to arise:

Chapter 1 – Katja is in the midst of a sniper fight and wins, she takes devices/pictures etc from dead man

Chapter 2 – Katja returns to her city, hands off the devices, and rests (exposition here, maybe split>2?)

Chapter 3 – Katja walks around the city visiting advisers and gathering resources for the fight ahead

Chapter 4 – The dead man’s country makes contact through the device, storm brews

Chapter 5 – Katja wakes to find her city under attack by spies, she nearly kills them all but is stopped

Chapter 6 – Katja admits her fear and inability to lead the way she feels she should

Chapter 7 – Katja is sent to parlay and give herself up to the invading country

Chapter 8 – ?????

Now, as I haven’t found many examples of novel outlining online, I don’t have much to compare this to. I personally see this outline as rather simple, and vague. I think it’s not a bad effort, and gets the points that I really want, but it feels overly simple, like less of an outline for writing and more of a summary you’d find on wikipedia or imdb. maybe effective, but for myself I found it lacking, and even confusing after a certain point.

Since this is essentially a first draft of the outline, the points began to confuse a bit. Ch3 mentions the “fight ahead,” yet she shouldn’t be aware of the fight until ch 4 at bare minimum, since she won’t know for sure what’s going on with the man till contact is made.

Then the outline fades out. “Admits her fear?” “Sent to parlay?” There is a lot of purpose and direction missing from the later bits. At this point I have a handful of enjoyable scenes and settings, but there’s no real direction for it to go towards other than “They fight and it’s cool.” Which is a fine point to head towards, but lacking for my own tastes.

For your information, I only made it as far as halfway through chapter five, which means at about 1000 words a chapter, I would have needed to become exceptionally verbose to make this outline work into a full novel.

If I had to give myself one piece of advice for next year (fingers crossed for success) I’d say I should start with more than just a single scene plotted out, so there are actually dots to connect. At bare minimum, I should have a beginning and an end in mind.

These are a few of the thoughts and comments I’ve had for myself, but don’t misunderstand, I’m very proud of my progress and what I’ve written, I just need to get better at self accountability and planning. I may need that in more than just my writing life, but that’s getting a bit personal, and that should wait for at least my 4th blog post.

If you’ve stuck around to read, thank you very much, I hope you enjoyed and have gotten thoughts for yourself. If you skipped to the end, that’s alright, I’m just judging you.

– Linden