Search This Blog

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Thank you

So today Chuggaaconroy's let's play of Xenoblade Chronicles finished and it moved me. It really moved me. The series is 100 episodes long at the moment and has thus been part of my life for a while. I'm still kind of processing it being over and was just reading the different special tv tropes pages on it and am about to read the full trope breakdown as my final act of catharsis on it but this really hit home for me.

I am a nerdy atheist who has always felt like a loner and a loser even when chatting with friends and when times get tough I revert to selfish pragmatism. This is something I do out of necessity because I kind of expect betrayal. I expect to be left in the dirt. Recently things have been tough, partly because of hard choices I made, and I have started to lapse towards christianity. Towards the comforting fiction of an omniscient benevolent god who has a plan for everyone and isn't to be found in the bible or real life. The ending of Xenoblade Chronicles with the reveal of an atheistic universe and the choice of friendship over gods has taken a while to sink in as it is fairly subtle but I finally get the message.

I have withdrawn from the world and become insular and selfish as things have gotten tough but my friends have not abandoned me and my family has not abandoned me. I finally see that and finally understand. The idea that I am not alone in my suffering is no longer an insult at my genetic and situational privilege but a comforting fact. I have friends who are willing to stand by me even when they have their own problems and I am being a dick to them. That means a lot. I need to be a better friend and stop acting like I am alone in the universe because I'm not.

Thank you. All of you. You stood by me when I was losing a fight against my own self loathing, thank you.

Watch Chuggaconroy Letsplay Xenoblade Chronicles

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

On Art, Artist and Creativity

On Art, Artist and Creativity

An Essay By

Alexander Gordon Jahans

I sit at a cross roads. The best three years of my life have passed and similarly the worst of my depression post-university seems to be over. Things can now start getting better. Similarly it seems media and creativity is at a crossroads. While traditional media remakes and rehashes old stories, new media reinvents the present as something new and different. The fans have become the critics and nothing is truly original any more. Indeed I find myself an idiot playing at creativity and reviewing yet simultaneously more formally trained as a writer and reviewer than any of the reviewers I admire. The student has become the master yet remains an apprentice to amateurs. The world is tipsy turvy and I think we are all finally coming to realisation that up is relative.

Now being an arrogant sod, and also because all art is subjective and thus I believe you need the context of me to gain meaning from my reviews I shall start with me. Long story short: I was bullied, left school, discovered Doctor Who and Writing, went to college, changed my name to Gordon Jones when I went to university and upon leaving took up my old name again confident that I could weild it and stand strong once more. I failed. 

Three months worth of depression later here I sit surrounded by empty soda bottles and cans and decaying wet cat food sachets (because I have a cat, not because I ate it). When I first used the name Alex Jahans I freed myself from hatred and bullying by realising that I was an individual with agency and I didn't need anyone's permission to stay away from pain. It was powerful life changing moment of saying "fuck it" and walking away from my problems then having the strength of will to say no to the threats and bribes my parents gave me to go back to school. My depression this time around was caused by making the same choice on the first day of a job and my salvation this time lies in trusting others to help me overcome the problems that trap me in a cycle of self loathing and over analysis of my mistakes and flaws. I am metaphorically speaking my own bully and my apotheosis lies in walking towards the structure and responsibility society represents. To bed freed this time I must give up my freedoms. The wheel turns and the story remains the same, once as tragedy then again as comedy.

So how does this relate to art? Well Videogames and the community that thrives off them is undergoing the great tragedy. Ethics in games journalism. That phrase has almost become a slur. The rage and abuse caused by a movement that at least in part purports to be about the nature of video games as art, journalists as artists and let's plays as reinvention and recreation of existing art as something new. An entire culture of regurgitating existing art is at war as it tries to define rules for this new age.

Television and film meanwhile has entered the comedy stage. I mean stealing ideas or being "inspired" is nothing new for these old media but now instead of causing controversy it is mocked by amateurs as it so obviously fumbles in the dark of the dying media to find something, anything worth keeping film alive for. Indeed the films that are seen as truly great are comparable to work of the new media. They form a new kind of trinity of successful online adjacent film styles. At the top of the trinity sits the all father, the genuinely great film that begs to be dissected by film critics and film students. This is where you get the Inceptions, the Dark Knights and the Circles. Films about layered meanings and philosophical or scientific theories and questions. Films that make the viewer think about the world. 
Next you have the holy ghost, the rollercoaster ride. The reason it's the holy ghost is that the Rollercoaster ride film style is intangible, not limited by genre or excluded from the other film styles. This is the film that you watch, have an awesome experience, good or bad, then immediately tell everyone about because "Holy shit! Guys, you have to see this thing!" before sitting in a corner with your friends and talking about it because that thing was so amazing and you didn't quite have time to get over it before the film ended so you take to social media and write fanfic or make fanvids or talk about how it's written.
Finally you have the film style that can walk among the common youtubers and be recognised as one of their own.  This is a film style that can represent the freedom and vision of a youtube driven film but with the budget to make up for youtube film failings. This film style like the all father has a clear vision and identity but unlike the all father it's not made by some great all knowing auteur but rather a pseudoamateur like the critics. Films of this sort are Source Code, Galaxy Quest and Bird Man.

Everything else, every remake and adaptation that just tries to tell a good story with some degree of faith is doomed to failure because if you aren't making a film for fans to spot references, critics to textually analyse or fan girls to squee about then the new media does not care and in an age of advertising as a constant people no longer give a shit about it unless their chosen critic, letsplayer fanvidder or tumblr user covers it. 

Marketing is dead, word of mouth is key and quality rises while mere competence sinks into obscurity.

And now we come to the issue of creativity. With so many critics there is this obsession with objective value judgements. I've lost track of the amount of times I have stated my opinion on a subject only to be told I am objectively wrong because I'm comparing apples to oranges or because a lot of people on some website disagree with me. Like so what? So fucking what? If I saw you loved someone and they weren't my type I wouldn't tell you you were wrong, I'd congratulate you on finding happiness. Criticism is for the creators of content to make use of by seeing what the majority of their target market thinks about their content but it is also for the individual viewer in an audience to use in aiding how they spend their time and money. I, as a reviewer, am not telling you what to think. I am telling you what I think because you may find it useful. If you disagree with me, fine. There is going to be at least five other reviewers who agree with you. The point is not for us all to be happy and uniformly correct in our opinions, it's for us to each be uniquely happy with how we spend our time and that doesn't mean that uniformity is bad either, just that it should be an accident as a result of all these different people individually having unique opinions that happen to be the same.

It is for this reason that I never have writer's block but can't edit for toffee. I mean when all art is inherently subjective and rule 34 is a thing how can I ever objectively improve on my work? 

I feel I must point out here that I got a 2:1 BA(hons) in Creative and Professional Writing and Film Studies from the University of Wolverhampton and a Distinction Merit of a BTec in Media and TV Production at Farnham College. I am not some ignorant fanboy playing at writing. Hell I got a B in Teaching Writing as part of my university course and basically wrote an essay on why teaching writing and reviewing writing is redundant for exactly this reason: Art is subjective.

By contrast I got a B in Science as part of my gcses because I loved reading about genetics and physics, the electromagnetic spectrum and quantum mechanics. I love how glorious madness can be objectively provable through experimentation and rigorous analysis. I'm no scientist by any means but I am fascinated with it and upon applying it to the social sciences of media and the study of media I find that it is so much tissue paper against a machine gun.

New media and old media is dependent upon the analysis and "objective" judgement of media, something that as I've just outlined is all but impossible. There are some things though that one would think can be objectively judged. You may not be able to objectively judge a story but you can judge its spelling, grammar and syntax, the consistency of character portrayal and tone, the morality of the representation and the quality of the presentation of the story. Video games may be subjectively enjoyed or hated for many different reasons but bugs and glitches are objectively wrong and the texture of objects can be objectively judged, even certain extremes of poor gameplay or physics.

Where this all falls down of course is when time is taken into account, as Civilisation advances technology and morality will change, as will dialogue. I get around this paradox by saying that the present is always better than the past and hate Shakespeare and the original trilogy of Star Wars as a result. The past is wrong by the standards of today and so I dislike it but you try to point out to the critics that Harry Potter is better than Romeo and Juliet and the Phantom Menace has better special effects, world building and story than the original Star Wars. They believe that I am objectively wrong because contextually Star Wars was an amazing film when it was released and the Phantom Menace was a wretched film, when it was released. Whether that is true or not is not for me to debate but lets point out the holes with a modern day example: Minecraft.

Minecraft is in many ways objectively crap, shall we count the ways? 
  1. No story.
  2. No characters.
  3. Poorly optimised graphics engine.
  4. Aesthetics that look distinctly amateur.
  5. Repetitive gameplay.
  6. Little to no direction.
  7. Very little to actually do.
And yet Minecraft is one of the most successful games of all time because it gave us a sandpit then stood back and let us play. It's no secret that minecraft is one of the most demanded let's plays and that's, I think, because there is no artist dictating the nature of the art with his creativity. Rather there is a studio providing a canvas and paint so we may be the artists. We modded it with texture packs and skins and adventure maps. We made the aesthetics and the story, the progression and things to do. We advertised it and we reviewed it and we loved it because unlike Assassin's Creed Unity or the Order 1666 it was not sold as a beautiful story with progression and interesting game mechanics. It was sold as a sandbox where you mine and you craft and that philosophy extended outside of the game. The triple A games talking the talk are objectively in many ways better than minecraft but because they fail to walk the walk they are bad games while minecraft is a good game.

I think this on balance is where I fall down as an artist and journalist myself. I try to be all things to all people and fail in every respect so I can't edit because there is no framework within which my art can be objectively judged and that is the catch with coming up with something original. There is no Aristotelian objectively perfect form to aspire to. You cannot judge fairly that which has never been done before and thus you cannot edit it either.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Third World Problems

Third World Problems

By

Alexander Gordon Jahans


I am an idiot who writes scifi because becoming a scientist seemed too much like hard work. I post things on the internet because I am vain and believe that if rule 34 is true surely somebody must kair abowt my werk.

A guardian article recently got me very mad and on reflection I'm quite ashamed about that.  The article in question was simply pointing out a harsh truth: While the First World plays with 3d printers and iphones as it organises a mission to mars people in Africa still lack basic electricity and plumbing and suffer needlessly as a result. This is the article if you're curious http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/20/stop-pretending-mars-mankind?CMP=fb_gu

Now here I must make a terrible admission, when I was growing up Africa was hell. As in being an atheist kid with a home computer, TV and games consoles, Africa was this distant land of just constant suffering and every few years everyone who had any sort of decency would partake in a weird ritual to raise money to help raise Africa out of hell. And it was always Africa. Never towns or countries, just a whole continent of people whose only historical significance was as being slaves and having no money until the rich white men like Bob Geldof and the BBC and Halifax gave them some. When I was crying and suicidal about the bullying I received at school Africa was bought up to try and scare me into being grateful for the suffering I received at school. My ignorance and numb acceptance that Africa was just fucked caused me to casual dismiss it as nuked beyond viability in the background of my scifi dystopias.

It wasn't like I was malicious, I genuinely had been raised to pity the people in Africa, it just seemed that changing the issues in Africa was impossible and anyway if it wasn't Richard Curtgis was going to make poverty history. Fast forward to university and I lived in the same accomodation as Senegalese students and Nigerian students.I even got to experience the sense of isolation and dissonance of being in a room full of people having a party in a language you don't speak. Rather puts it into perspective that most of these people can speak English as well as me. And then my last university module focused on cinema in the third world and my mind was blown. Seriously watch The Circle by Jafar Panahi then realize that it's one small part of a genre aiming to teach people in Senegal, Nigeria and Iran etc about the brutality within their own country.

Think about that for a second. A film industry in Africa. Think about the technological dissonance going on there. They have access to film camera but not running water or freedom from female genital mutilation. 

I didn't. Not until now. 

No, I was too wrapped up in my own problems and the coolness of the futuristic technology we have or will have. Hell when I first saw the Guardian article that inspired this article I shared it without thinking and ranted about the selfish stupidity to put people today before the future of the human species but the article is right. There is a vast disparity between rich and poor countries and America and Britain are struggling to create jobs to stimulate the economy when the upper and middle classes (i.e. the people who fund the best election campaigns) both loathe poor people being given handouts so I have a radical solution: Pay people to bring Africa into at least the 1970s. I mean yes anybody you send over will be robbed and possibly kidnapped but what's a military budget good for if it can't secure the basic mains and water supply of countries dying of preventable diseases (hipster middle classes excluded of course)?

I mean think about it who do the upper and middle classes hate? Who are being squeezed out by the improvement of machines? Who would be invaluable in Africa? Tradesmen. 

Send the plumbers, electricians and building contractors out to Africa, employ locals (which will be cheaper and spread wealth) and then when everyone has central heating, inside toilets and internet Britain and America step back and basically write off the money spent rendering unto Africa the same basic utilities as their citizens have but make it plain just how much money was spent and let the various governments know just how they can invest in Britain and America and that if Africa can offer some small support in times of hardship the support would be appreciated. The various countries never have to pay a penny but if they can offer help in times of need it will go well for them.

And hey maybe design a few legal loopholes to entice big companies to settle in African countries. Like raise tax above a certain level of wealth to stupid (i.e. fair and reasonable) levels with a clause that if a corporation with this tax bracket is UK based but also has business in these specific areas of Africa then they get the amount of tax the conservatives would be willing to charge them.

Hell just say DMCAs can't be pulled if the servers are based within those areas of Africa.

Getting money from a rich person is hard but if you make it financially rewarding for them then trickle down economics can work with basic utilities to help people in Africa stop being the guilt we in the First World try very very hard to ignore.

The problems with trying to write feminist pulp

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Minecraft Lets Play Hope Test

A review of Luther

The first 3 series of Luther with reference to race, gender and sexuality

A white man in a suit runs for his life through an abandoned building as a large black man in shabby clothes runs in pursuit.

This is our first glimpse of Luther and the only time any reference is made to Luther's race throughout the three series. An interesting choice. This moment is when Luther has had all his humanity stripped away from him and becomes a cold blooded killer out of anger at what his victim had done to others. This is the threat that hangs over Luther throughout the first series and less literally the capacity for Luther to lose his grip on the slippery slope and become the scary black man once more hangs over the last two series as well. The wretched stereotype of race is used to highlight through cultural prejudice the danger Luther poses and then the allusion to stereotype is dropped once the viewer is made aware of the real complexities of the situation. This is a subtle but brilliant move because Luther never abandons morality, not completely. The threat that looms over the series never truly strikes.

Now if I may I will explain why I am doing this review now. Partly it's because Idris Elba was considered by the media for the part of James Bond and Virgin Media had all three series of Luther available to watch so I did but also I just got out of yet another stupid gender and sexuality in Doctor Who argument and so Luther seemed a natural way to talk about these issues.

I grew up aware of racism and in a predominantly white neighbourhood so I am not always representationally savvy when it comes to race in my writing but generally race never seemed to be an issue. Of course with Ferguson and Idris Elba being touted as James Bond and the bloody flame wars I've experienced over the Master and the Doctor becoming female I expected my opinion to be changed. Clearly we in Britain must have a massive issue with regards to race. And having watched Luther my conclusion is basically we do and we don't. Let me explain.

So after Luther kills the paedophile that just told him where the missing kids were we cut to however many months or years later when Luther is a detective again. He's recovered. He's got his old guv back (a woman interestingly and pleasingly) and unfortunately for him his first case is the origin of Dr Alice Morgan. His Moriarty and Missy. I genuinely felt like I'd missed a series as in the very first episode we have dialogue and chemistry that usually comes after a long cat and mouse game.

What's interesting is the Alice Morgan is the villain by default with UST and dialogue that fits the form but is shown to be quite heroic and always ultimately in Luther's interest. Luther by contrast makes Gene Hunt look enlightened and pacifistic, is frequently doing illegal things and yet the good guy because script says so. I'm not criticising the writers of Luther for this. This is fantastic. The perfect juxtaposition and I love that Luther and Alice Morgan end up running away together. They complement each other so well. And race has nothing to do with it, aside for neat symbolism.

You see in Britain there is a lot of racism and shady "I'm not a racist but I still feel the immigrants need to stop coming over here stealing our jobs and stealing our taxes" yet simultaneously race isn't an issue because everyone recognises that those guys are racists and Luther feels completely natural because the colour of your skin only matters to racists. Luther is black but he's as British as they come and as he's working in the must multicultural city in Britain nobody gives a shit. And then I think of how John Diggle is treated in Arrow and how Raj is treated in the Big Bang Theory and I'm just "Why don't you get it? What's so different?"

Yes America had a civil war over the right to own slaves but Britain isn't exactly blameless in the slave trade. Let's be frank the ships that bought over tea bought over a fair few slaves too. We have blood on our hands too and our share of racists but it isn't such a sociocultural issue for us. Racism is stupid and immoral therefore fuck anybody who thinks otherwise. That's just how us Brits tend to think and Luther shows this because race is not in the slightest way an issue. What is though is the hot potato that made me write this, gender and sexuality.

Britain is confused about gender and sexuality. Majorly confused. Yes there are brodly the two poles of "Accept everything as all lives matter" and "When I was a child men married women and that was it" but even in the accept everything camp you have feminism, women against feminism, egalitarianism, humanism and then some confused men's rights champions. A bunch of nerds liking a tv show has people raging. Characters changing sex is greeted like the apocalypse. People affected by societal stigma for their beliefs are committing suicide. Petitions to end VAT on tampons are circulating. Many still do not understand what rape is and being exceptionally creepy toward women is seen as not only socially acceptable but the only way to get a date. And writers, we just suck.

Case in point. Series 1 of Luther is awesome for women. Luther's Guv is a woman. His ex/wife is a fully fleshed out main character. Alice Morgan the ultimate frenemy is a woman and never sexualised and in general all the women have important roles in the plot and aren't just love interests damsels or set dressing. Even if Luther's wife is killed in the series. Then series 2 happens.

Hey remember the skeevy investigator bought in when Luther was suspected of being dodgy? He's the new guv and Alice Morgan won't be popping back much. This is also the series where Luther has to rescue a prostitute from her pimps and lives with her for a while. So that's fun.

And in series 3 Luthor gets a new love interest, just so she can be damselled off and cause Luther tension with both the shady unit set up to bring him down and the vigilante Luthor is trying to bring down.

The thing is I genuinely don't know if my criticisms regarding gender and sexuality in Luthor are valid because things are so unsettled in Britain with regards to gender and sexuality at the moment. Like here's an argument that I find myself making from time to time "How is x gender related thing with negative connotations offensive? People are dying!" and I know that if I tried that argument with regards to race it wouldn't work ever, like unless you were literally 12 Years A Slave, depicting slavery and racism, its just wrong. When I was a kid in school I wrote an article defending the use of the word cunt but I won't go anywhere near racial terminology, like I hesitate to even refer to race because the entire thing seems so stupid and wrong. What's the difference?

Friday, 6 February 2015

An idea for post-scarcity Britain

I have just had a rather radical breakthrough. We have 3d printers we have a form of holographic technology. We have a vast obesity epidemic and we have a society struggling to deal with capitalism in the age of the internet. Mass unemployment due to machines. Constant struggles with this idea of intellectual property on the internet and making money from it while there is enough people with enough time on their hands and access to a certain basic level of technology to create entertainment media for free, for kicks. What if we are in star trek post monetary society?

I mean think about it holograms, 3d printers, computers (and therefore books, tv, movies videogames etc)  all basically just need electricity and internet after an initial start up cost that is really quite cheap all things considered. To be honest almost everything on the internet is free or may as well be since it's ad sponsored or piratable. At the moment with the economy being so shit because all the money is being gobbled up by these few mega corps of course everyone is qubbling over a few pennies ad revenue but if internet and electricity was just free and hey you have 3d printers so you can download the latest action figure for your collection then maybe that wouldn't be such an issue.

I mean there would still be meatspace issues like the 3d printer "ink" and obviously technological industries and a movie industry of some sort because really great films need money for good effects and then there's the food and general housing maintenance  and obviously quite a lot of the world is nowhere near this point so money would still very much be a thing and jobs would still be a thing but bottom line there's too many people for the jobs available so you have the government give everyone, in whatever form, a healthy balanced diet, internet and electricity then  you won't have people working because they just need to put food on the table, instead everyone will go for the jobs they are passionate about and when inevitably there's still two many people for the jobs available that's okay because that just means that you get better and better as an individual at the job you want to do, thereby creating essentially a feedback loop of more highly skilled and trained people in these jobs and that is good for everyone.

To be honest there are only two major hiccups I can see with this extension to the benefit scheme and quasi experiment into a post scarcity society is housing a cars. The utopian in me is like "We will get rid of cars and save people money and the world at the same time" but the realist in me realises that the practicalities of moving food around the country mean  that either you make cars for the average citizen illegal then spend lots in good public transport and have some kind of deal with the people who provide the healthy food so that they deliver it to your door or a pickup point within however many miles of your location. The housing situation is the most unfortunate because unless we have homes standing empty there is just a limited amount of space on the island and I really don't want to go all orwellian in trying to fix that which unfortunately means that the people who truly have it the worst wouldn't benefit from this system.

I say all this when I at the moment basically already have this system (while I look for a job and deal with health issues, etc...)  because of my bloody lovely parents and I am at this point sent more than half mad by the lack of human contact and economic purpose so I do realise this won't miraculously solve everything.but I think mainly it can be done. How do we get the money to fund this? Tax the Megacorps, I know they are large and sinuous with good lawyers and technically based in places that don't require tax but google is a vast monolithic overlord, it can take some draining. Additionally fast food companies can be taxed heavily, as can petrol. Basically anything that we'd rather people didn't do, we can tax the crap out of and hey fuck it legalise and tax the crap out of marijuana. 

The art of shame

Thursday, 5 February 2015

The Charlie Taylor Mysteries Pilot

The Charlie Taylor Mysteries
Pilot
By
Alexander Gordon Jahans

It was Tuesday night.
Dark. Rainy.

My D&D game had just finished and I was heading back through town.
The poorly lit streets of Woking strobe before James Lane, dressed in pyjama trousers tshirt cordoruoy jacket and sneakers, 3 books and a biscuit tin carried in his arms.

I'm no stranger to funny looks so I didn't see it as an issue at first.
A crack of lightning reveals a young punk glaring at James.

Look I know what you're going to say. A back alley, really? That's how people get raped and mugged right? Well I am 6foot 5, black and I know this city like the back of my hand. It's when you walk in the open that you have to be afraid. In the open people are bolder, they know they can ruin if the tables turn. In an alley I am the danger, not them.
James Lane walks down the alley and he's followed by the punk, who silently removes a flick knife from his pocket.

I am not however what society paints me as. I am a pacifist. I don't like hurting people and I very deliberately do not know how to defend myself. I couldn't live with the guilt of killing someone, not even in self defence and when I saw I was outnumbered-
The punk lashes out and James turns as the knife bounces off his dice tin. James backs away, assessing the situation.

“Hey Mikey you bought us a paki, well done!”

James turns at the sound and sees five punks smoking joints, most of whom reveal knives of one sort or another. “Shit! Look whatever you want, take it! I don't want no trouble.”

“Much obliged, you may call me the ringmaster and this here is my crew. See we believe immigrants like you are what is destroying this fair island nation and so we want to send a message to your people.”

I don't know when she turned up. Getting stabbed repeatedly tends to make you lose track of time.
James screams.
The punks are crowded round him, each doodling with a knife.

Then she turns up. Tall, slim, blonde and dressed for a club that gets entirely too hot, mascara running from sweat. She stumbles through the alley and knocks half of the punks to the ground as she absent mindedly makes her way through it.

“Boss” says Mikey getting up from the floor “She's a witness and I think the lads might appreciate a bit of fun.”

I don't know who she was, I just know that she dropped her phone beside me and that's how you, police and paramedics, found me.

“Alright James, supposing I believe you? That this woman really did call the police and paramedics before you entered that alley and just happened to call in exactly the situation you describe as happening to you before blundering into the scene? Why? Why would she do this? I mean why not call in the fact that you were being followed or try to stop you going down that alley?” said Police Inspector Barry Smith

James, lying in a hospital bed covered in bandages said “I don't know. I just know she saved my life.”

The Inspector nodded “Well if you remember anything else, give me a call.” and handed over a business card.

James nodded.

*

The next day as he was waiting for the nurses to give him the all clear to go home James was visited by a tall brunette in a business suit. She visited his bed and she said “I'm glad you're alright.”

Then James realised who she was “You saved my life”

“It's a habit I am trying to give up” said the woman.

“What? Who are you?”

“Oh sorry, I forget these things. I'm Taylor, Charlie Taylor. I'm something of a recovering alcoholic. I came here to get away from temptation but I saw you and had to do something.”

“Riiight” said James, utterly baffled.

“I don't have many friends in this city. If you ever need to talk here's my card”

The card landed on James's chest and she was gone.

James called out vainly “Thanks”

*

It was Sunday 3 weeks later. James looked up from his write up of some lore for his Pathfinder group when the light of the mid day sun broke through the curtains and made him leave his nerd cave for a moment. He headed downstairs and pondered lunch on the veranda. As he looked for a bottle opener he stumbled upon the business cards he'd been given and whistled thoughtfully.

Charlie Taylor shuddered as the knock on the front door took her out of the zen of creating a space ship out of blocks via virtual reality. She logged out and answered the door.

James said “I have wine and the best vegetarian meat feast Pizza Gogo has to offer.”

Charlie chuckled “Come in”

James entered and laid the pizza box down on the coffee table before the TV.

“There's a bottle opener in the draw by the fridge” said Charlie as she did the customary hiding of things any person used to living alone does upon receiving guests.

James answered with “Cool!” then retrieved said bottle opener and two wine glasses.

What James returned to the table, Charlie was sitting in the armchair before the tv, like a king in his throne.

James poured the drinks then took a seat on the sofa. He took the first slice of pizza and ate it gladly when he realized that Charlie was staring at him. He stared back like a deer in headlights.

“Why did you come here?” asked Charlie

“Well it's a nice day so I decided to have dinner outside and then I remembered you and how you said you didn't have many friends in this city. So I figured, why eat alone?”

Charlie nodded, picked up a slice and chewed thoughtfully on a mouthful before setting it back down and adding “James, there are people out there who would gladly see me dead. I have to be cautious.”

“You saved my life” said James as if that explained everything.

“Yes I did” said Charlie “But I haven't always done so easily. People have gotten hurt, killed. The life of a vigilante is not a nice one.”

James nodded and sipped his wine “I get that but whatever you've done, whoever's after you, you stopped living that life and you saved mine so I don't care. We all have nasty things in our past that threaten to erode the present but we don't have to let them.”

Charlie nodded and sipped at her wine. “Perhaps you're right. I do need to lighten up. Besides this is Woking, what's going to happen here?”

The drones were reported being seen as early as 3am
Small. Light. 3D printed. Mounted with cameras and home made bombs. They flew though the air past the windows of flats.

They were sent out from different locations but met up at the top of Toys'R'Us car park.
Dozens of them, like pigeons, settled in a skip. A punk threw a layer of black bags over the drones concealing them.

At midday they struck.
The drones flew as one, rising through the trash and headed across the city in formation. A flock of birds heading for somewhere to roost. They circled the football stadium.

The Mayor was speaking to the crowd, his face on large monitors facing the stands. “And I promise you, I will not give into the pressure from the far right. Woking was the first town in Britain with a Mosque and I will not let outrageous paranoia ruin our reputation as the melting pot of Britain. Woking is a safe place for all. And now I believe our special guest Lenny Henry has a few words.”

As Lenny Henry stood forward to take to the camera, the drones struck. Each drone had maybe four fireworks worth of gunpowder but together they blew Lenny Henry to pieces.

Gentlemen, we need to address this threat if we are to keep the mayor's promises for him” said Inspector Barry Smith as he met with the council.

*

As the Inspector walked back to the police station he noticed James Lane heading home and called out “Hey!”

“Anything I can help you with Inspector?” asked James

“Yeah, yeah actually there is” said the Inspector “We think whoever attacked you just moved on so if you ever hear anything about the woman who saved you, let us know ey? We could do with all the help we can get right now. One of the downsides about being a sleepy little shopping town is that when the shit hits the fan we don't have the resources to deal with it.”

James nodded.

Once he was sure the Inspector was long gone, he called Charlie on his phone “Hey, how are you doing with the alcoholism?”

Charlie was examining a long coat on a manikin as she answered “Oh I really don't know, I think I'm falling off the wagon. Care to join me?”

James sighed “You're supposed to say: No. The police can handle this.”

“3d printed drones, hookey smartphones, stolen fertiliser. You really think the Woking PD can deal with this?” said Charlie as she examined her syringes.

James rolled his eyes “I thought you were past all this?”

“I am” said Charlie “But I am a good teacher.”

Now James was listening.

Charlie laughed “James Sebastian Lane. You used to be Jamelia but that changed by the time you left University didn't it? You have lived your whole life afraid, like you shouldn't exist. Well I am here to tell you James that your city needs you because you alone have seen its true face. Now you can go home, prepare yet another scenario for the Pathfinder group that will never happen or you can be the hero Woking deserves.”

James's free hand clenched into a fist “You do not want to get me angry Charlie.”

“Why not? You think I haven't seen worse when I looked in the mirror?”

James snarled “Knowledge is power, Charlie.”

“Indeed it is but the difference between us both is that if I lose it I am a danger to others. If you lose it, you are a danger to yourself. Now make your choice.”

Charlie hung up.

James threw his phone into a push in anger.

*

James turned up at Charlie's furious “If you ever-” and fell unconscious in Charlie's arms as the sedative in her syringe took effect.

He woke up on an ambulance gurney in a sparse metal room lined with armour, weapons and gadgets.

Charlie stood over him, her face silhouetted against the ceiling light behind her. “I am not just a vigilante. I come from another universe with technology far in advance of your own. I came here to get away from the killing and the torture but I have a very particular set of skills and a very large understanding that helps me use those skills. I can't kill again but you can. Your soul is clean. It will take you a while to fall.. Your body is not ready for even a quarter of what I can teach you but I think an eighth will suffice for this situation. I have already performed the surgery necessary for you to act as my eyes and ears but now I need to teach you.”

“Teach me?” said James “Yeah? Sure? You're going to teach me to be a hero in time to stop these terrorists? What? Shall we do a montage?”

“I have a better idea” said Charlie as she levelled a gun at the back of his head “Bow Mastery” She pulled the trigger.

Arrows flashed before James's eyes and he cried out “Mother fucker, you just shot me!”

“Blocking!” she pulled the trigger again.

“Brawling” Bang!

“Basic Bomb De-Fusing, Stealth Senses and Bullet Dodging.” Bang! Bang! Bang!

James jumped off the bed and confronted Charlie “You seem a bit too genre savvy not to realize the stupidity of teaching someone you just pissed off to fight.”

“You're right” said Charlie

James was on the football pitch at half-time as the Mayor finished his speech and Lenny Henry strode forward. He watched the whole gruesome thing in glorious 3D then the scene ended and he was back before Charlie.

“The computer chips piggy backing signals from your eyes to my virtual reality headset can also send images from it. You just got a graphic reminder of why we need to act. The thugs who attacked you wanted to scare anyone who doesn't subscribe to their view of Britishness, well this is their way to have their cake and eat it too. Blame the Muslims and anyone who isn't a pasty faced Brit and send a clear message: 'You are next'”

James stared at Charlie, furious, bus as the after image burned into his eyes he nodded “You're right but where are they going to be?”

Charlie smiled “Thank you. I'll see that you arrive where you need to be. While I do that I've prepared a simulation.”

James sighed “This is where you knock me out right.”

“Close, it's a drug that paralysis you so that you can act fully within the simulation while I move you.”

“Great” said James and Charlie injected him.

He woke up on a park bench in London to the sound of screaming. He ran to the sound and found a young girl screaming “He took her, he took my mother!”

James saw a man in a suit receding into the shadows of an alleyway. “I'll get your mother back” and he was off.

When James entered the alleyway he found he was outnumbered. He lashed out with a kick and was quickly tossed on his arse so he jumped to his feet muttered “Assassin, think Assassin” and waited for the attacks.

As each punch lashed out James caught it and tossed the aggressor to the floor, when the majority were down and those that still stood weren't attacking merely guarding, James used the time to reach down and break the legs of the downed aggressors. They wouldn't pose a further threat.

After hearing sickening crunch after sickening crunch the guards barring his route realized they were next and legged it while they still could.

James ran through the alley just in time to see the suited man drag the woman into a taxi. Following on the ground would be folly but James knew parkour so he scaled a building and jumped from roof to roof, following the car's progress until finally the man got out and dragged the woman towards a phone box.

And this was the point where James paused, he'd seen this scene in the Matrix. This could end very badly if he wasn't careful. He had promised the girl though so he leapt to a lower roof then a lower roof then onto the phone box and landed on his feet.

He tapped the suited man on the shoulder “Excuse me, who are you?”

“I am the Bam-Kursh” said the man in the suit and as James looked he noticed his curiously grey eyes.

Blam! The Bam-Kursh was out cold on the floor from a hey you hailmaker James let fly.

He turned to the girl's mother and said “It's okay Maam, you can go home to your daughter now” and that's when he noticed that the frightened woman was Charlie Taylor.

The simulation ended.

*

“Parkour, I'm impressed” said Charlie's voice in his ears.

James grunted and yawned. He was laying on cardboard boxes in a skip, rubbish bags piled on top of him. He was wearing long coat over his usual clothes.

“Find your bow and quiver, they should be at your feet, then get out of the skip and approach the large house opposite the roundabout with the brown gates. That's where you'll find them. Hang back, learn as much as you can and obstruct them when they start carrying out their plans. Remember you are not alone.”

“Thank you” said James and he found his bow and quiver.

Unfortunately his one big edge in the simulation would be no use here. The house was at the centre of grounds ringed by a high fence. No way to get to the rooftop. But there was a wood to the rear of the house that backed onto the fence. Cover.

So James moved swift and silent to the woods that bordered onto the rear of the house. He listened for a while at the fence then cut a spyhole with an arrow to check the coast was clear. He climbed over the fence and hid in a bramble bush as he surveyed the security at the rear of the house.

One punk was having a smoking over the pavings, pacing back and forth, occasionally setting off a motion detecting light when he wandered too far from the shadows of the house and each time the light went off the punk would remove his cigarette and scan the garden nervously “Damn security light, jumping at shadows.”

James spotted a cable connecting the motion detector to the light. He levelled his bow, readied an arrow, counted and let fire at the right moment.

The arrow flashed towards the cable, severing it then dropped.

The punk turned at the sound and approached the arrow.

James was already running and tackled the punk. A bad fall knocking the punk out before he could make a sound.

James carefully approached a large window looking out onto the garden. The curtains were drawn but there was a gap and through it James could see a bunch of punks listening carefully as their leader explained the plan.

“Our next target is Woking Railway Station. We plant timed explosives on any funny looking brown guy we see. Next we use cg and footage recorded from smartphones to fake messages from Isis. Upload them to youtube and watch as lazy journalists turn the obvious fabrication into national news. We will get found out but by then the damage will be done and Woking's reputation will be ruined as Britain First is voted into power.”

“What then Bill?”

“I'm glad you asked Mike. Then we blow up the Mosque. Send the fucking pakis straight back to Jsrael, or Jerusalem, or wherever it is that those fuckers come from.”

“Racist cunts” muttered James bitterly.

“Mike, check on Steve would you? I think I heard something.”

James went red and readied himself for action.

Mike walked out the door and James launched himself at him, knocking the knife from Mike's hand and the wind from his lungs. James cracked Mike's head against the door handle and he went out.

“Alright now I know I heard something, all of you gear up. We're heading to the garage. We need to be ready for anything.”

James crept carefully to the back door of the garage, found it locked and returned to the two punks he'd knocked out. He found the key on Mike and entered as silently as possible.

Seven punks armed with cricket bats, golf clubs and large knives stood waiting for him.

James laughed “Well alright then lets get this party started.”

The simulation had taught him a valuable lesson about countering and now it gave him the confidence to remain focused on anticipating the next attack. He wasn't just throwing his assailants to the ground, he was disarming them. When it got down to the final two a shot rang out and James was crumpled in the open doorway of the garage, looking at where Bill stood silhouetted in the light carrying a pistol.

Charlie cried out “If you take another shot you better pray the armed police that are with me kill you first!”

James cried out in pain.

Charlie ran forward “Hush, it's alright. I'm here”

James just about heard Inspector Barry Smith begin reading Bill his rights when he blacked out.

*

James woke up in a large double bed in a chintzy maisonette littered with dvds and books.

Charlie Taylor ran into the room, she was wearing a t-shirt and jogging bottoms.

“Why aren't I in hospital?” asked James

Charlie frowned “You were but you still needed to heal so I took you in and I decided that you really didn't need to remember the constant agonizing pain or tedium of hospital so I erased it from your memory, I also decided to save you from PTSD by altering how you remembered certain other things. I was a bitch to you because I needed you to act but you didn't need to suffer psychological consequences. The memory is still there but it won't weigh as much in your head.”

James nodded “You sent me in there to buy time didn't you?”

“And collect evidence” said Charlie “Of course what you heard and saw isn't admissable in court but they did catch Bill red handed. No matter how he tries to swing it he's going away for a long time.”

“Right” said James “I'm going to ignore the thorny issue of whether you knew I would get shot and focus on a more interesting question. Who is the Bam-Kursh?”

Charlie shrugged “Exactly what you saw. The Bam-Kursh is the man who took me from my daughter and turned me into a weapon. I left him a long time ago and have been trying to wipe the slate clean ever since. I thought I'd done so and that I could stop but you can't ignore what you really are can you? Even when I was a little girl I was caring for things and standing up to bullies.”

“Well” said James getting out of bed “You don't have to do it alone any more. You saved my life again. That makes you a friend as far as I am concerned.”

Charlie blushed and turned away “Sorry for being so manipulative. I'm still fighting against this beast in side of me.”

“That's okay” said James “I have a bigger question on my mind. What do you have for breakfast?”



Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Some thoughts on the revolution of ideas

Some Thoughts on the Revolution of Ideas

By 

Alexander Gordon Jahans

I failed history at school, I failed the Enlightement module at university. I practically got blown into a minor Youtube orbit because I misunderstood Feminism and British Politics to the extant that trolls flocked like sharks to a bleeding disfigured whale calf. I am, or was, in many ways an idiot but I am fascinated by that which I cannot understand and what I am fascinated by I learn about. Which is a nice way to spin the events that led to the revelations you're about to hear but in actual fact I discovered history because like many things I am fascinated with, it was vaguely connected to something I already enjoyed.

From my friend Peter recommending the Discworld books to discovering the Dissecting Worlds podcast because they did an episode on the Watch, to finally taking their hint and listening to The History of Rome Podcast then the Revolutions podcast and after catching up on numerous other podcasts and becoming a jobless graduate trying out history podcasts out of sheer boredom binge listening to the British History Podcast and now the Binge Thinking History Podcast.

I have come a long way from the idiot who picked the Enlightenment module because it sounded cool. I am well aware though that my knowledge is a chinese whispers like distillation of the truth as each source down the line adds in their own interpretations of the story of history. I truly wonder how historians will react to an age with an abundance of records to choose from. Enough advising to take pinches of salt though lets begin.

Thought one: The separation from of the age of empires from the age of ideas.

There has always been a hazy dividing line in my head between history and the past. History is anything from the end of the second world war backwards, the past as just now but some time ago happens after the end of that period. It might just be an artifact of having parents who were born around that hazy dividing line or an effect of having World War 2 be just about the only thing we were taught properly in history but that dividing line has always been there. 

And now as I piece together a vague timeline in my head from the Roman Republic and Boudicca to a world of smart phones, 3d printers and Tumblr that dividing line seems all the clearer. I mean sure this age of ideas is not free from war, what with the cold war, Vietnam, the Falklands and terrorism but these are not the wars of empires. If anything Osama Bin Ladin and other extremists seem more like internet trolls being spiteful to attract the attention of the moderators whose oxygen of publicity they so dearly crave. There are still expansionist regimes out there of course and terrifying dictators but Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have warned Britain and America of the folly of trying to play Super Nanny to the rest of the world. Thus I feel that there is a genuine difference between the age of empires and this age, the age of ideas.

Thought two: The difference between the age of empires and the age of ideas.

I was going to champion that what makes the age of ideas so different is their revolutionary technology and revolutionary ideas. Except revolutions are a common thing throughout history and usually result in the foundation of some agreed upon set of universal rights. Beginning with one that is often overlooked. During Britain's Revolutionary War when they were trying to agree what they should do with their king now they held what are known as The Putney Debates. In these debates they hashed out the basis for British politics to this day. A trinity of rule designed to prevent fervour or stupidity leading the country down a dangerous course. One corner is the "divinely chosen" royal ruler. This has many bonuses besides tourism and divinity. Royalty is living history, a line of succession that has seen what every successive parliament has done and can if necessary play some kind of benevolent dictator using their power to steer the ship if no-one else is at the tiller. The next corner of the political trinity is the House of Lords. The idea behind the House of Lords is one that many liberals find issue with but the House of Lords acts as basically an equal and opposite to the House of Commons and it is their job to add their wisdom to parliament and put a stop to anything too radical. The House of Commons is filled with parliament members that we, the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, vote for. One person, one vote every 4 years.

The American War of Independence established their Bill of Rights (mimicking the one Britain laid out earlier when they finally had a king on the throne that they actually liked following the revolutionary war that established the vote) and they later had a revolutionary war that championed the idea that slavery was wrong so this really isn't the age of empires is it? It really is the revolution of ideas, hell come the French revolution we get the Enlightenment and the Reign of Terror and Napoleon Bonaparte setting himself up as emperor of France - oh yeah that's why it's the age of empires. For all that they had good ideas occasionally it was still terrifically easy for one man to set himself up as emperor. (and it is invariably men who are emperors)

So apart from the lack of empires what makes the age of ideas so different? Well we discovered nuclear power, we went to the moon, we entered a new age of media with Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars. We created reality tv, we landed a robot on a comet. We created the internet, 3d printers augmented reality and video games. We all of us have the opportunity to become an internet celebrity and regularly have meaningful relationships through cyberspace. This is stuff that I, a kid born in the 90s, consider science fiction and we have it all and politics is only just starting to catch up.

Gone are the days when great men strode across history with their armies. Mob rule has power on the internet now but because it's on the internet anything deconstructive is swiftly silenced while the just build momentum and evidence to support their views. There are still strong personalities who can direct and sway discussion but because they do so through the internet there is a tiny amount of real life fallout. And crucially the moments that led to this ridiculous age of internet were setup by Martin Luther King and the Feminist movement when they each solidified to become real forces of change and ones that would only blossom on the internet. 

What we are experiencing now is not a war of empires and armies but a war of ideas and views in a world where art is power. Art draws views, draws ad money, draws trolls who drive more trafic and conveys a message. On the internet a bullet is useless but a gif or a comment can be effective ammunition instead. I wonder though how this will end. Will we see internet trolls become terrorists and so bring the war into the real world or will egalitarianism win out? Time will tell, it always does.