Monthly Archives: November 2012

Friday Fiction: Final Freedom

I have to stop with the alliteration. It might start coming across as forced. I do find it to be the most beautiful form of rhyme.

Here’s my bit of fiction for the week, based on a writing prompt about, you guessed it, freedom. It’s a little dark, but that happens from time to time.

The land of the free. What a load of hogwash that is. Free to do as business and government and censorship let us. Free to walk the streets at night; free to be mugged and beat.

Nothin’s free these days.

The word sucks us in. Companies use it to lure the hungry into shopping malls, watching on cameras, rolling their finger tips together with greed, the trap sprung before the poor sucker is aware. Hell, you see those “Free 2 Play” videogames the media is bangin’ on about? What a joke. Games are about winning, and you can’t win nothin’ unless you pay. Your time or your money, it amounts to the same thing.

Governments the world over are striving for democracy. We’re free to vote—or not—and that’s real freedom!

Nah, sorry.

You see, we’re played with, strung along. What greater purchase is there than having your favourite brand leading the way? Christ, I mean campaigns are worse than Christmas, with the flashy lights, endless slogans, the piles and piles of money that go on behind the scenes.

And what about the mother of all freedom: Speech, our words, and thoughts, and ideas, and philosophies? That’s the last damn freedom you want because somebody, anybody, will come along as soon as you’ve expressed it and grind it into the dirt.

And of course, they’re free to do that.

It’s like a game of Snap—cards on top of each other until someone gets their grubby palm and smacks it down on top. It’s mine, all mine!

There’s one freedom I truly appreciate, but even it’s tainted. The freedom to bear arms. Bastards still make us get a licence. I have the freedom to defend myself, the freedom to carry a weapon at all times. But I don’t cherish it enough.

I don’t cherish the false freedoms afforded to me.

There’s only one freedom left.

And no one can take it away from me.

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Saturday Review: Catcher in the Rye

I missed this one at school. I read titles like 1984 and Birdsong (both of which had scenes that went down well in class). It still rings very true despite having made the transition from teenager to young adult. The gap isn’t very large.

The voice is the key aspect of the writing. Salinger utilises the ‘additive style’ of sentence structure. That is, it seems to add more and more and more to the thought that is initially introduced. It’s artful and deliberate in the exhibition of randomness. At one point Holden Caulfield (our protagonist for those who haven’t read it) says that he likes people digressing, in reference to a speech giving class. And that’s what he gives us. Aimless chat. But it shows the reader exactly what goes through a young boy’s head. The frustration and meandering. The babbling on and saying no. It’s the disaffected youth to the letter.

It’s quite annoying, actually. I doubt anyone likes Holden. Sure, they get it, they may sympathise, but no one is going to be on Team Caulfield. I know I wanted to belt him around the ears and tell him to buck up. But that’s precisely the point. His hypocrisy is our hypocrisy; his deceitful actions are ours. It’s also slightly annoying because nothing really happens. It manages to keep us reading because of the voice, but in terms of plot it’s mundane. We’re given this snapshot into the mind of a muddled teenager, but it’s more than enough.

What can I take away? It’s a great example of voice—little words like Chrissake and the constant repetition of ideas. It shows how the right character can make any situation intriguing. And it shows once again that writers love writing about writing.

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Friday Fiction: For The Zoo

When you tell me to write about an animal, I’m not going to be conventional. Mantis shrimps are probably the coolest animals in the world. Monogamous, always fighting, breaking the sound barrier, seeing 16 different levels of light—awesome. So what if they were massive? What if you wanted one for yourself? Read on for a tight little story.

Like a tightening rope the group of hunters converged on the rainbow beast. The rocky shore was difficult to traverse, but years of practice meant their footing was sure. They kept communication up, a colleague in sight at all times. This was as routine as the tide.

The creature eyed them warily, it’s sight stalks jutting to and fro, picking up movement all around. It didn’t move from where it stood, pointed appendages poised and steady. It could have run, but Mantii live to fight.

One of the hunters got too close. A barbed limb shot out, faster than any of the hunters could see. A bang disorientated everybody in the space as sound broke. Viscera sprayed out into the foamy water.

The body was pulled back towards the animal, but it flung the meat away, not caring for food. Only for blood. An excited chattering emanated from it’s mouth.

One of the men threw a javelin, a large, heavy spear with hooked jags along the head. It missed, glancing from the chitin of the giant cray-fiend.

It spun round, legs moving with extreme speed. Snap, crack. Another messy corpse went flying. The hissing grew louder.

The humans stood firm. They were inured to this, trained for loss, practised in bewilderment. Combating a Mantii was the holiest of battles; to kill one was a mighty glory.

To capture one was beyond imagining.

A hunter moved in from behind the monstrosity, a newly opened vantage point. He swung strong leather binds attached to heavy rocks. He aimed at the beast’s legs.

It barely hit, managing to swing around two of the multi-coloured legs. The critter instantly fell. Collapsing into the pools of water between the rocks, the sun glinted off its armour. Thousands of colours. It would have been wondrous were it not for the danger.

And it was still dangerous. One of the hunters, in her excitement, leaped up on a rock, letting out an exultation. She underestimated the beast’s reach.

Another bang, the air supercharged and burning. The smell of blood was filling their noses. A headless cadaver fell under the waves.

While it was momentarily distracted, the hunters’ final weapon was brought into place. A massive globe of crude glass, as colourful as the creatures exoskeleton. Carried by four hunters it was the tool that cracked a Mantii

Another leather sling, and the animal was subdued further. Unable to scuttle off, the brute was forced to look into the globe.

No man can see what it did. Cray-fiend see light in spectra beyond understanding. Whatever was diffused by this holiest of glasses sent it into hypnosis. From there it was only a matter of netting the body and carrying it off.

Raul stood back as his warriors heaved the subdued shrimp into a cage. He doubted it would hold, which was why they had to keep the globe in its field of vision. And make haste before the Sun fell.

He would be remembered now—the Master of the Mantii. When this beast died, he would wear its body as armour, splendid and impregnable. The animal was his pet now, and he would have to look after it.

 

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Sunday Musing: There’s a :Skinners: for Every Occasion

I know, I know, today isn’t Sunday. Life tends to get in the way at times. Moving along…

What have I been thinking about this week? Apart from a sci-fi epic inspired by Warhammer 40k, this video

and gang killings in Brazil, as well as my overt tendency to put ‘well’ at the front of all my sentences, I’ve been pondering the nature of GIFs. Or more specifically, communication over the Internet beyond mere text.

The Oxford American Dictionary has given the 2012 Word of the Year to GIF, putting it above other such notable entries as ‘YOLO’ (thank Christ) and ‘amazeballs’ (really?). While I have personally never used GIF as a verb, a GIF can simulate a verb. Or a noun, adverb, adjective, or collection of these. On the Internet a GIF becomes a descriptor of feelings and emotions, a metaphor when words aren’t enough. It is the perfect response to the endless trolls and trite that bombards us while browsing, so long as you manage to find that precise loop.

This brings up the question of the legitimacy of grammar rules. In written communication, we learn the rules to better express ourselves. But what happens when the best way to express ourselves does not involve well-placed punctuation? Joyce and McCarthy both went against traditional modes of writing, and had they stuck to the rules undoubtedly would never have achieved such striking work. Similarly, the nature of the Internet allows for the breaking of normative language in order to be better understood. Tumblr is a fantastic example, with many blogs using GIFs, images, and memes to put forward an agenda, often very convincingly. My only gripe with some of the uses of GIFs is when text is used like subtitles. A truly excellent picture response should not need a textual layer of any kind. Here are a few examples of pictorial articulation:

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2012/08/the-publishing-process-in-gif-form.html

http://lifeinpublishing.tumblr.com/

http://grarrmfers.tumblr.com/

Fact: when making a post on Facebook or a forum I rarely write with capitals, full stops, or apostrophes, and sometimes even manage to abandon coherence. At times I feel this affects my message, but on the Web we have become accustomed to simplicity. We don’t always have time to read let alone write a long, thought-out reply. Sometimes a picture, GIF, or video says more than anything we could ever come up with. For a time I had a bank of Youtube clips that I would post on Facebook in reply to statuses. Apparently this was annoying so I gave up, but you can’t deny that a suitable

is a much more humorous response than explaining in detail why an acquaintance’s love of One Direction is lame. As another example, a forum I frequent has built up a veritable stock of Simpsons reply smilies. Here are a few with possible situations attached.

I Can’t Believe You Posted That, And Am Trying To Decipher It.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Are Incorrect, But I Will Smugly Withhold Why While You Figure It Out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Too Cool To Give A Damn, You Can Just Deal With It

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so on and so forth. Communication has transcended text, and on the Internet we no longer need the rules of grammar or punctuation. We don’t even need words. There’s no time. For every stupid OP (opening post for forum noobs) or mundane status there’s a GIF in waiting. This is why it is rightly the Word of the Year—because it represents how far language has evolved (or, to some, how much it has regressed).

Got any favourite GIFs or images that you use all the time? Post ’em below.

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Saturday Review: Silent Spring

Reading lists seem to be a thing. At my local second-hand bookstore today I explained that I had a list, and it was met as if every other person who walked in had one. So much for being original. Another recurring theme is that people love the classics—though I suppose that’s obvious. I had asked for a copy of Scoop only to be told that they usually have it but, “As soon as it comes in it’s gone again.” This was the second time I had been told this by a second-hand store owner, the first time when I was looking for a copy of Silent Spring. It made me realise that achieving my list would mean doing it out of the given order. I’d prefer cheap or old copies of every book, preferably both, so I’m going to have to be flexible.

Let’s get on with it. The first book down was Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. I’ve seen horror movies, read the works of Poe and Lovecraft, but nothing as terrified me so much as this book. In it the true extent of humanity’s ignorance and pride is revealed. My only hope is that the follies revealed were acted upon. It sucks being a hypochondriac.

Silent Spring tells the story of the gradual implementation of chemicals in the control of nature. In gruesome and specific detail, the books explains exactly how pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides  have had a drastically disastrous effect on the environment.

Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species—man—acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.

We have the knowledge to change our world; but not the intelligence to utilise it effectively. Silent Spring takes the reader through the accidental destruction of the various realms of nature. The invention of pesticides that aimed to destroy annoying or harmful insects instead led to whole ecosystems being wiped out. The extent of which Carson goes into extreme and methodical detail. As an argument it is extremely well put together, leading the reader to the conclusions that Carson imposes. Apparently it persuaded and influenced some powerful people, and it’s not hard to see why.

We begin with the basic structures of chemicals, and the various types employed. The toxicity of some of them boggles the mind. Then the termination of different regions of the earth are detailed, such as plains, rivers, and even our own backyard. Next the chemical toll on humans is explored, but it feels like we deserve it after the mutilation of nature. Major issues and alternatives sum up the book. It’s perfectly structured, gives many, many examples, and Carson’s voice is both eloquent and persuasive.

It’s also timeless, despite the era specific topic. The idea of man destroying his own world is as relevant now as ever, if not more so. Climate change may be harder to stop than putting bans on DDT. Silent Spring closes with this fantastic summation.

The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.

I’ll leave you with some choice quotes, and a big thumbs up as a recommendation.

It is ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray.

 

Who would want to live in a world which [that] is just not quite fatal.

 

Paralysis followed so instantaneously that he could not reach the antidotes he had prepared at hand, and so he died.

 

And so, in a very real and frightening sense, pollution of the ground-water is pollution of water everywhere.

 

For soil is in part a creation of life, born of a marvellous interaction of life and non-life aeons ago.

 

Who has made the decision that sets in motion these chains of poisonings, this ever-widening wave of death that spreads out, like ripples when a pebble is dropped into a still pond?

 

Mosquitoes exposed to DDT for several generations turned into strange creatures called gynandromorphs—part male and part female.

Love that last one. Perfect sci-fi material.

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