The Book Mine

140_gameoftoiletsI’ve been sitting on the dumper with this one for a while. Now that the TV series has effectively broken the book series out of the echo chamber and into the mainstream, I figured now is a good time to examine what’s going on with this story.

If you don’t know what Game of Thrones is, all you need to know is that it’s a story about rich people in medieval times raping, torturing and killing their servants and each other over who gets to sit on the Iron Toilet and call themselves King of the Dumpers. The twist is that none of them know they can’t win until the author gets tired of writing thousand page bestsellers.

The story has two things going for it which I think are noteworthy and worth remarking about.

First, it’s a limited information campaign. Messages, news, and rumor travel slowly if at all. Often when people hear that so-and-so attacked what’s-his-name’s castle with a mallet, so-and-so has already killed what’s-his-name and eaten all the chicken tenders in the winter stores.

But it goes further. Intelligence gathering is primitive and unreliable. People misjudge, jump to (often wrong) conclusions, and make dangerous decisions without knowing crucial information. For example, who-is-he-again assumes all assassination attempts against him are from the same some-dude-he-hates because he heard somewhere-or-other that some-dude-he-hates doesn’t like him either.

It makes for a compelling read because one can’t help but share the character-of-the-moment’s bias. Then in the next chapter you get a whole different perspective and start to wonder what the truth really is. It’s a nice trick, giving the reader an omniscient observation based on clueless people.

The second thing the story has going for it is the immersive identity politics of the rich families. They all have memorable catch phrases, distinct recognizable qualities, and totemic animals designed to appeal to various consumer self-images.

Because there are multiple points of view, readers can choose which side of the power fantasy they want to explore and root for. Go Ice Weasels! Show those nasty Toe Jammers who’s the boss.

This appeals to the very basest urges of nationalism, drawing in our desire to see ourselves in the heroes of our projections. It has an irresistible attraction for anyone who is not acquainted with their own need for spectacle. How can you not try on each noble house, imagining yourself as mindlessly loyal, lusty without consequence, or stinking rich?

Most of the world longs to live like the 1% and have the power to decide one’s own fate.

Except the characters don’t really have any agency. Whenever any of them gets too powerful, the author sneaks in and resets the board. Nobody can win the game on their own merits, no matter who they are.

I have to admit; the books sucked me in at first. A puzzle wrapped in an emotional costume? You can rush from high to low in an instant at every move in the game, letting yourself live in the moment of people who despite being rich and powerful are just pawns of a greater power—the author.

See what a cage the book’s stance is?

2 out of 5 Stars of the Magi.

139_discoveryFor a long while I’ve been seeking an experience of The Diamond Island. That is, a mountain peak that exists within my inner world. Now I see that I’m already on the mountain. The things I was looking at were reflections of what was already there.

The black hole through space is a journey through the maelstrom of destruction, where what is true comes out the other side to a new existence. In the process many things are redeemed and made clear.

I’ve been fighting my ass off, struggling with opponents much stronger than I think I am. Both personal and collective engagements with the realities of my life, with different obstacle courses and challenges to pass through and overcome.

There are mysterious sources of power within myself I don’t fully understand. Yet somehow they come through for me, get me to the next pit stop and show me ways to push the limits of my being when I feel I haven’t any more to put into the work.

I’m listening to the personalities that help me run this psychic mechanism I use to get myself through the world. I have a lot of work to do there—people are unhappy with some of the stances I’ve taken and the way I go about things.

I don’t know where the UFO will land, other than home. Part of the stress I feel is in not knowing how things will end up, as the process is very much a push and pull in multiple directions at once. It will lead things to the right path, but it’s just one of those things you can’t predict until it happens.

Going over how to make things that are important to me now that I’m ready. Lucerna’s Mother-Mary-Personal-Helper training has given me something to focus on. Music helps me understand, but the practice is going to be a long one.

Out of the sea comes a nourishing goblet. Learning to drink from this source of refreshment, cultivate myself before I can encourage others.

I see that I do have an effect on the world around me. The places I find are brought out of myself. The things that move or are demolished are of a mind from me. Maybe they were messed up? Maybe things that reappear are okay now? The things I find will not be wrong.

The humming of bees, the helping of bees, the signs that bees are coming to the forefront of consciousness. This is important stuff.

The realization that the land inside me needs a brute conqueror king to bring the bounty out. My self image doesn’t like this figure, yet I manifest him anyway regardless of my hang-ups. To resist is only to become dishonest and incompetent.

A revelation of my personal destiny comes into view, right in front of me all this time. The signposts and helpers were there in abundance showing me the way: Imagination, family, and masculinity are the core of my being.

Movement and non-movement are also a part of this. I need to become more physical in my activity so that I can be at rest more wholly. A king needs a traveling the realm meditation to do his work properly. I must have been blind not to see this, yet again it happened with or without my knowledge. Better for me to see it now and make it a part of my conscious life.

I’m saying yes to many many things. I’m also learning to say fuck off to a lot of things I don’t need anymore.

135_unicornbloodmobileEverybody involved in the industrial production of mediopoly goods (movies, music, books, news) has been wondering what the new model will be for transactions in the age of the Internet.

There isn’t one. There isn’t going to be one.

There has to be one, right? How else will people get paid? Silly Rabbit, the ownership doesn’t care about that. The people who do the work—authors, rock stars, journalists, cameramen—they can all eat cake.

What about the executives and the shareholders and…and…you know, the patricians who have a little bit of ownership?

Nope, sorry ol’ chap. Not just professionals, freelancers, and working stiffs.

Yes, even the companies themselves are going to lose capacity. The movie industry, the publishing industry, the newspapers, all of it is going to shrivel up and break into little cubes. Taking any patricians invested in them down into the black gulf of unprofitability and layoffs with dramatic gnashing of teeth for the commentators.

The reason is simple: The world is going broke and nobody has as much money as they used to.

Rich people too—they’re holding onto their profits for dear life, not giving an inch—but the other 99% of the world didn’t have much to begin with and that’s all been tapped out.

All that’s left to take the hit are standards of living.

As they begin to drop all around the more developed countries, the industries that depended on income from the surplus of leisure spending workers had, well they shrink too. The CEOs of these industries are surprised because they thought they were part of the club. But hey guv’nor, it’s just business. Sorry to hear your son won’t be going to a top school anymore.

All the models that have been proposed so far—paywalls, pay as you go, subscription, kickstarters—they’re all dead ends. People got no money, dude! At best all you’re doing is finding efficiency techniques to redistribute whats left of a declining wage class with fewer dollars to spare.

The Internet is built around a distribution model, not an exchange model. Transactions that slow down the flow lose energy and crash out of the psychological lane of traffic.

Into this setup comes cheap entertainment from the Internet—and it’s all going to be free, all of it—mass produced and easy to make in more variations than you can consume. All you pay is your monthly Internet fee and that’s it.

Oh wait, that’s already here.

Pirates are just a bogeyman, something propped up there for people to blame like communism. The stockholders have to be told something, right?

The mediopoly companies will shift the rising cost of copyright enforcement and surveillance on the providers through the government. Mainly because they’re losing money and can’t afford to keep suing everyone. Yes, even they’re crowdsourcing the old fashioned way—on the public’s bruised back.

How long can they keep that up before they can’t afford the political favors anymore? How much can the government enforce when there’s less tax base to support the enforcement? It’s a turtle race to the bottom.

The providers can raise the prices, but again people are getting poorer and the variety of content naturally overwhelms big business content. If I can’t afford the latest HBO special I’ll just buy the craphound version off Netflix.

That’s another thing. There is no quality and there never was. There’s only your crap and my quality. You can argue that 3D Casablanca is better than Lord of the G Strings, but at the end of the day people will consume what they can afford. Fidelity loses to convenience when you can’t buy a Betamax.

People don’t want a good story. They want a story they believe is good.

That makes connection the only game to play in this environment. Some folks sense this and focus their attention on “reaching the fans” as if this was the new model itself.

Services like Pandora come close to databasing connectivity, but we’re still a long way off from any kind of prototype with which to make a media database standard. A Manhattan style Wikipedia project is probably what’s required.

Until that happens we’re stuck with “the hunt”. Friends as clue finders. I don’t care if I can get it all, I care about if I can get what’s mine.

That’s why services like Spotify don’t work as well as YouTube or Amazon’s recommendations. Tell me what part of the forest to look and I’ll get it myself. If the interface isn’t brute simple you have slowdown and again, you drop out of the psychological lane of traffic.

Even if connection is achieved though, it’ll end up being an efficiency advance. Something to mask the declining revenue pool a little longer.

The industrial age has reached its peak and is starting to decline. This confuses people because they’re used to things trending up, not down.

The owners of the world are extracting more from a smaller and smaller money pool through efficiency and productivity gains. Getting the gold is the goal, even if the river is drying up. The winners just make less.

It’s like that old Lexx episode, “Feeding Pattern.” The house still always wins, but full winnings are now half winnings and half winnings are now quarter winnings. Only in this case there’s no spaceship to take the owners to a new planet to start again.

What industry servants and their patrician managers refuse to accept is that the cost has been shifted. The slush pile has been moved to the public and crowdsourced.

Less pay doesn’t mean the death of publishing, it means more craphounds.

The craphounds see the gates to the river are now open to the public and think their chance to strike it rich has finally come. Then they see what’s left of the river.

The owners are abandoning the mediopoly factories and manipulating the remaining consumers into covering the upfront costs. Rust of media factories and their personnel is the natural outcome. Why invest in new infrastructure when the returns are going down?

Some industry folks think the problem is too many craphounds. No, that was always the cost of doing business.

The problem is that profits are shrinking. There need to be more craphounds to increase the declining pool of wizards that may still exist to be exploited before the enterprise enters the steep end of the decline curve.

You find your biggest wizards in the beginning. Then you plateau. Then you enter decline. This is how life works, folks.

So what’s going to happen?

Well the whole thing looks like a craphound mega-farm to me. This long tail mega-farm is too big for fiefdoms to control and still make a profit. What you need is probably something along the lines of Borg control nodes. That means a larger number of smaller, mid-list way-stations to provide structure and channel libido projections.

There will probably be one or two corporate overlords that remain, only in diminished form; everything else gets divided up into drones and drone units (seven of nine). The overlords will vacu-jack up the most popular and monetizable eruptions of public interest, extract the Gelfling essence. But these will become quarterly or yearly events.

Much as going to the movie theater is now.

The Internet cooperative has formed itself into a way to farm out labor most efficiently to the public leisure spending that still exists. It’s a development that serves the reactive ownership in masking something more significant.

What does crowdsourcing the gatekeepers mean for servants in the mediopoly industry?

I predict extended periods of pressure to work twice as hard with half as much. Professionals will find themselves separated from their skills and positions as an identity. They’ll be expected to adopt a jack-of-all-trades model of independent contracting so they can fit into whatever flavor of the month project their patrician managers want them in.

As individual value is minimized, prestige and bargaining power will be reduced. Wages will shrink. In short, you’ll be a crew chief at Winky Dinky Dog, but it’ll be for less pay!

The patricians themselves will be forced increasingly into a hatchet man role as the owners come down on them hard to “cut costs” and “do things differently”. That’s Secret Langauge Noble for getting rid of servants and turning the treadmill dial up on those who still have jobs.

All standard plays from the ownership dream manual. The usual efforts to summon the psycho goals of free labor, automation of specialists, and value decoded by algorithm.

In short, the ideal vampire world. Fully socialized blood for the members of the Dracula Club! Anything less than 100% domination is a humiliating failure, so if the blood pool shrinks then the difference comes out of your neck first.

Meanwhile, the craphound mega-farm grows a freelance economy of atomization, domination, and zero dignity all hand delivered like a pizza. It’s diabolically brilliant.

There is no next incarnation of distribution that enforces paid transaction. This is it folks. Hold your arm out and let Renfield insert the vacu-jack.

Not just movies, books, comics, newspapers, music and magazines, but even sports will be affected. This is the decline of the second capitol, of the conglomeration of culture. It’s simple economics.

Just wait until prices start to rise on computers again. That’s when things get really interesting.

129_jackpotIf you need to allocate ship energy, then put main power into giveaways to strangers. That’s what I’ve found out while working on my personal potion of promotion.

I was putting main power into friends and family, since I figured they’d be the easiest and strongest advocates for my art. Certainly they have been supportive, but way less than I thought. I was kind of surprised, actually.

Ads seemed dubious to me, mainly because I had already read how the marketing landscape has changed in the last ten years. However, what do I know? It’s one thing to read about it, but another altogether to experience things for yourself.

Enter Goodreads, a website with about two and half million people who like books signed up. It’s a place where authors and readers can intermingle. Friends can share what they are reading with each other. Folks can rate and review the books they’ve read.

Basically, it’s BOOK MOUNTAIN on the internets!

I became a librarian and then an author on their site. Wooo! They have various tools I’ve been trying out to see how they work. This is worthwhile delving for clues because the audience is ideal and you can get stats.

The audience is made up of people who at least like the medium you are working in (books). And transactions can be measured to a certain degree through the website.

Both of these are assumptions, of course. I myself know how webstats don’t really tell you anything concrete—you make them up as you go along. And there’s no way to measure the intent of the Goodreads members, or to precisely quantify their creative agendas.

The sensor readings you pick up always carry with them the possible danger of getting it wrong.

Where Things Started
My book has been going nowhere. This is understandable because my promotion strategy from about April 2010 to September 2011 has been no-promotion. No technique, just posting and see what happens.

If it’s any good people will share and spread it right? Except my website has few visitors—less than 100 uniques a month for years which makes my website POOR on my own web ranking system.

So in September 2011 I get my book out on Amazon Kindle and then on Lulu as a print book. Approximately 50 likes on Facebook, two reviews on Amazon and two reviews on Lulu is all I get as far as reaction all the way into January 2013.

I already mentioned I sold about 32 copies and did a giveaway of 2 copies (which was on Facebook to friends and family, I failed to mention), besides giving 12 copies to friends/family I really liked.

So let us get the lead out and see what we shall see, right? RIGHT?!

Ads Are Only Worth Reserve Power
I ran an ad on Goodreads twice in 2012 for two months each, which was about how long it took for the credit to be used up. The first run was for fifty bucks of credit with a bid of fifty cents and a max bid of five bucks. The second run was for another fifty bucks with a bid of a dollar and the same max bid.

I did targeting to science fiction and fantasy members for the first run, and no targeting for the second run.

I got 500,597 views, 95 total clicks, with a click through rate of 0.02% and a cost per click of $1.07.

What did I get? One person added me to their to-read list—and they have hundreds of books on that list so probably not anytime soon if ever.

Hey, it’s something at least—and it’s data from which I can extrapolate what my overall success rate is with the ads. The add to the to-read list is pretty much as far as you can track for a transaction.

I think I estimated that I would need to spend at least fifty thousand dollars in Goodreads ads in order to get enough people far along in the transaction cycle to generate sales to see ultimately if it’s worthwhile.

I started another ad in February of this year—new copy, new image, with a hundred bucks of credit. I bid fifty cents, max spend of ten bucks, and no targeting.

After a week I’ve gotten 94,131 views, 28 clicks, and a clickthrough rate of .o3%—which looks to me to be only slightly better. I might do more refinements, but I expect I’ll only get incrementally small returns.

I’ll keep working on this, but at this point I can only see someone with a crack advertising team and/or a large budget as being able to break through with this system.

It’s a system for a handful of winners and a whole lot of losers.

Friends and Family Get Auxiliary Power
I’ve only got 9 friends and 1 relative on Goodreads, but I think it’s a more accurate representation of what I can expect in terms of potential audience engagement.

I got two text reviews and four ratings out of them (4 total reactions), so this mirrors how much interest I got out of my Facebook circle (about 40%).

I’m imagining that I’ll get half as much of even that engagement on the second book when it comes out. It’s just diminishing returns as far as reminding folks goes.

I mean, if I have to nag my friends and family to spend a few minutes clicking a rating line or writing a few sentences, what’s the point?

My guess is that friends and family are a one time only resource. Like a free healing potion every adventurer starts with on their book journey.

I use them up at the beginning to sustain my enthusiasm. After that, I have to fly on my own.

Damn, that is some sad commentary. But there it is.

Free Is The Magic Word That Gets Main Power
So I start this giveaway on February 13. It stays open until March 6. I make it open to folks in the US, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. Five copies of the slightly revised Lulu print book (adjusted spine, a spacing issue resolved, and an actual ISBN), wooo!

So far 177 folks have signed up and that’s cool exposure. I at least know these are people who clicked “I’m interested in this enough to sign up for a free copy chance.”

And for some reason I can’t fathom, 76 folks have put me on their to-read list. WHUT!? That makes ads complete junk by comparison.

Granted, I’m on some to-read lists with hundreds of titles again. Not likely they’ll ever get to me. But their vote still counts in a nice unexpected way: people have suddenly voted me a safer bet.

What would you take a chance on? A person who has 2 people interested in them (probably their mom and best friend) or 76 people?

That’s the best feeling of all. All I want is a chance; if people don’t dig me after trying me then okay cool beans.

Mind you, I should also add that all of this is from the PROMISE of a free goodie. A lottery. we enter them everyday because even though the odds are against us we love to dream.

I should also add that over on Smashwords, the free ebook has gotten 259 downloads and is in 13 personal libraries since it was released on Dec 30, 2012. That’s the real free right there—more people have given me a try there than anywhere else.

So after this giveaway is done I’m going to do another. And another until I see where this thing plateaus out. It’s the most worthwhile thing I’ve done yet to promote my book and it only just started.

It’s just…better.

126_jessicaFor a long time I’ve had a roster of crewmembers who populate the internal main bridge of my psyche. You might say that the Star Trek organizational scheme provides a ready archetype for my thoughts and feelings to constellate around.

Handling the communications console is a personality named Jessica. I’m pretty sure she was meant to be the female companion who accompanies Logan in the 1976 film Logan’s Run. I had a childhood crush on the actress Jenny Aguetter who played Jessica in the movie.

At that age I thought Jessica the character was the real person and Jenny was just her name in our reality. So creating a character based on her in my own mind to accompany me on my journey of imagination, or just general life influenced by a personal inner world, seemed like a good idea.

The crew of the Starship Snipe still carries the internal psychic organizations I’ve given them to this day. However, I’ve never explored them in detail—they all embody personal connections with characters from books, movies and TV that I enjoyed growing up with.

With the UFO becoming the central organizing principle in my psychic voyage, it may be time to reexamine my crew and the starship model. Ultimately, Star Trek and the characters I’ve borrowed are someone else’s experience that has become collectivized.

Such communal models are easy to access and use. They have value to our survival. However, they can only be launch pads for our personal explorations. The human dimension of wholeness requires that we make a personal journey to inner space to align ourselves with the actual organic connectivity of people.

I need to strike out on my own and identify the processes and elements behind my image. What if I’m oppressing or harming some aspect of myself by relating to it through a simplified model of consciousness?

So here we go. Using my power of imagination to inquire about Jessica as an internal personality and psychological adaptation.

The name Jessica comes up in my dictionary as having a Hebrew origin—Yiskah and Iscah which means “shut up” or “confined”. There’s a Greek and a Latin version, Ieskha and Jesca respectively. Unfortunately there’s no cultural context to go on, I’ll have to beam in the Internet connection.

Which, as it so happens, is Jessica’s job on the starship. She’s helping me along with this, naturally. Maybe this is a search for identity episode, a character building moment where I finally gain enough understanding to grasp a concept of her personality.

I think of the Teen Titans comic issue #38—”Who Is Donna Troy?”—where a detective investigation leads to the truth of Wonder Girl’s parents.

A strange smell of sanctity runs past my nose. That Holy Ghost effect that I know Lucerna would find compelling evidence I am on the correct trail.

The first recorded use of Jessica comes from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, and refers to the daughter of Shylock, who is of Hebrew origin in the story. I also dig up numerous baby name sites that give variations of the meaning as having to do with either God seeing, watching and beholding, or referring to gifts and wealth.

I let this trail of synchro-mysticism go off into the woods for now. Next up is the position itself.

The communications officer in Star Trek has often been criticized as being little more than a switchboard operator, with Lieutenant Uhura’s role minimized many times to the point of uselessness. I agree with this assessment, mainly because the position is actually critical to the operation of the ship. It requires someone who operates at a high degree of ability to perform properly.

Think about it. The communications officer has to direct the flow of information all over the ship. Repair crews, medical teams, and security details all rely on this officer’s leadership to act efficiently. If a crewmember notices something amiss the communications officer will likely be the first to hear of it and be able to warn the captain or relevant department head.

Depending on how you interpret the technology and schematics of a starship, the communications officer also needs a high degree of technical knowledge to operate the subspace radio and long range sensors that go along with that. I could see skills in computer programming and electronics as being necessary.

Maintaining a selection of diplomatic strategies and tactics is a huge order. Languages, linguistics and translation all need a lot of theoretical as well as practical knowledge. The person in the position has to be adaptive, flexible, and open-minded as well as intelligent and highly trained.

There’s an element of espionage implied in this function too—ciphers, jamming enemy transmissions and releasing ship wide alerts. I can see why the Next Generation Star Trek world merged communications with security.

Needless to say, you see some hints of these roles with Uhura in the TV show, but it almost entirely disappears by the time of the movies. Space battles don’t require anything other than making sure the shields and weapons work. If they don’t speak English then shoot to kill. It’s profoundly anti-specialist, anti-technology, and anti-science.

Need to transmit or receive data or messages? Maintain channels of information in-ship? Jessica has done all this and more. I only vaguely comprehended it—mainly I fell into the trap of casting the girl on my ship into the role of social interaction mediator. See how powerfully influential role models can be?

The point of communication is to share, divide out, impart, inform, join, unite, and participate in. In other words, “to make common.” Such an important task! And yet, Star Trek has subsumed this role into something else after decades of making it a minor position.

No! Boo!

Well I’m bringing chat back, yo. Or at least recognizing what has always been there all along: Communications leader Jessica doing an incredibly difficult, complex, important job without recognition or respect from me. The collective reckoning needs to evolve; it’s way behind the times and has been fifty years ago.

At this point I have to start questioning my own assumptions. Is Jessica even her name? Is it a nickname based on a projection? Is Jessica really female, as a kid would grok it, or a human being from earth? I might be overreacting; it might just be the dialogue has been so limited as to include only basic details.

I’m usually not so good with practical questions. The time has come to face the difficulty and start asking, to open up a hailing frequency with my own communications officer.

Jessica, I’m listening!

Traveling carnivals and liminal spaces; mix well to create a mystery ride.

I played an amusement park game for kicks because I’m a sitting duck when it comes to the carnie pitch. Strangely enough, I won an emerald ticket to the mermaid tent and found myself reading a most curious book.

It is presented as a diary of impressions, with evocative photographs that offer a theme to each chapter. You are pulled along by the narrative and facedwith an organic labyrinth of the senses that rapidly disorients and alarms.

The reader and protagonist switch points of view; at times you are the voyeur, other times you are participant. How ghastly! The horror is imminent and personal. Denial or humor may dull the pain.

The only cure is to listen. Under the immediate tumult is the story of an anxious and compelling internal experience; a young woman discovering her shadow and the trauma of understanding her soul’s growth.

Dive into the depths and what you really have is the journey of Kore through the underworld. Plunge, hunt, rise. This is hard core stuff. People lose minds, innocence and teeth on journeys like these. Sometimes they don’t even leave a corpse.

To allow ourselves to feel for another is to open the door to terrible risk. Invasion by a vampire or a bluebeard are just one possibility. We might be swept away by divine brutality and carried off into an otherworld which is beyond human understanding.

It’s distressingly relevant today. Having an experience of the mermaid and the unredeemed passions of the underworld without being blasted to pieces is a serious human issue. All of us are in need of wizards who can show us what is in our being and how it is understood. Making more conscious choices might be the best tool we have.

The author is no slouch. She can craft a solid sentence and handle the whopper fish with the respect and skill for the inner ocean that makes it look easy. Her grasp of photography is stunning when you consider how much goes into the capture of a compelling image.

I had to dig around though; something told me this kung fu master had a few more concealed tricks in reserve. Multimedia competency and honed artistic talent are impressive accomplishments, but I felt I was missing some context.

To say the author knows her stuff is an understatement. Looking up photos from the book on her Flickr sets or watching the YouTube videos she’s posted, it gradually becomes clear to me she has a Leonardo’s Workshop thing going on. Master model of disguise, Doctor of creativity, Sage of academic standards, Ace crafter—I could go on, but I’m satisfied.

The book reaches me on a personal level because I’ve been through the underworld myself. Finding the other you is no mean feat. I have to admit I was afraid of where the book was going about half way through—finding one’s way to the center and out again often seems to me to be a rare moment in art. How exciting to see that I’m not alone!

The turbid darkness of it does make for some tough reading. Prose like this needs to be savored, and reexamined in order to extract the full meaning. In real life the labyrinth is a constant series of marking and re-marking of your path. I just don’t know if I could come back to this book; it’s that harrowing.

Indeed, the text itself indicates that the heroine hates aspects of the journey, that she wants it to be over with. Don’t I know it—preach sister! One ticket is enough for anyone, just like an everlasting gobstopper.

It’s too soon to tell with a work like this whether the text is built like that or whether there really is bounty. There are works of art that make a mark on you, and you don’t need to experience them again because they have served their purpose. Either way is valid, and worth whatever you paid for your psychic increase.

Remove the glamor and you have something most freakish: something ordinary and wholesome. Real food that feeds the soul and restores us to ourselves. Superbly well done.

5 out of 5 stars of the Magi.

Rat droppings. That’s what all art is made of.

If you can’t taste it, then the art is bland and no damn good. If that’s all you can taste, then the art is garbage and only good for flybaiting.

The true struggle for civilization lies in between those extremes, in seeking ways to express and adapt to life that awakens our senses and stimulates our thinking. The Wizards show us how by demonstrating their unstoppable powers, so that craphounds may learn the proper application of rat droppings.

Except many folks don’t want to know what the secret ingredient is. Many of them would prefer others not know as well.

Nick Mamatas is unafraid to tell us the nasty truth about rat droppings in the writing industry. His book Starve Better lays out a series of essays and commentary on his experiences clawing for survival as a writer.

The book is done well, which surprised me. I knew the content would be good, but everything is arranged nicely and in relational order. Each essay has an aside text as if Nick himself were psyching you up for the punching you’re about to take. He’s in your corner, even as he faces you with the champion.

Get ready for your fantasy projections to take some hits though. Nick’s stories reveal the world of writing as a mean, exploitative business filled with dishonesty and confusion. There are opportunities for subsistence, but they take discipline and self-understanding to see clearly.

How else would you find rat droppings? Not from the multitudes of distracted and wrong-headed amateurs buying the image as they dash off like mice to the tune of a phony game show like Jumping for Dollars.

I love the craphounds. I love them like junk food sliders. But crumbs! We need to recognize that crap is where the flavor is, and if your entertainment has any value at all then I’ll bet you’ve got some dirt in there. It pays to face this fact.

Nick doesn’t stop there, even though revelations would be enough. He takes the time to seed his text with genuine insight and intelligent reasoning. You learn not just that things are seedy or absurd, but also why and how to make these features into a tool. Often, just knowing the trick exists is enough for you to be able to use it.

For example, his analysis of perfection as a false goal is spot on. Screwing up or having gaps can be an advantage once you recognize it as an inevitable process. Completeness, that is, a flavor that is all your own—a secret sauce—comes from understanding when to stop chasing the pearl. This shows Nick to be a kung fu master already.

You need tips? If you take his advice on listening you’ll recognize that everything a writer is exposed to is useful. This applies to his stories in the book as well. From figuring out how to do dialogue, to avoiding your story’s failure just before the finish line, you’ll find gems of insight.

His best piece of advice might be to pick a direction—to choose a publishing outlet and act on it. Too many folks get frozen in fear because of their hang ups. Nick shows you that yes it’s tough out there, but so what? Do it anyway! You’ll learn something, gain confidence, and have a few laughs regardless of how you do.

Because you won’t find any rat droppings or how to mix your secret sauce by sitting around trying to finish that last sentence just right. You’ll only be one more desiccated writer corpse for the sucker wagon. Next in line please! Have your blood and soul card ready.

How well will all this hold up over time? I suspect a lot of it will still remain crucial reading for some while. The world is a gruesome place more than it’s pretty, and certain fundamentals of needing to know how things actually work as opposed to what people are expected to believe never seems to change. That makes this book a desperate breath of fresh air.

If you’re a writer, then at least after reading this book you’ll understand better the reasons you are starving to the crisp. Your choices, right or wrong, will be better informed and more conscious—and that alone is reason enough to celebrate.

If you’re not a writer, the book is valuable as a snapshot of many of the things wrong with education, the arts, and human consciousness in general. Rat droppings are not going away.

5 out of 5 stars of the Magi.

The other day I was reading a book for a class I was taking. One of those woo-woo marketing and business books barely above the level of pseudo-science called The End of Membership As We Know It.

There’s a part listing the three dominant generations of people in the country, along with characteristics that supposedly define them. I’m only doing a drive-by deconstruction here, so I’ll list some of the more interesting elements to me here:

  • The Boomers—Typically hard working, loyal, confident, competitive. These folks grew up in a time of affluence.
  • Generation X—Typically anti-authority, self-reliant, family focused. These folks grew up with workaholic and/or divorced parents, cable TV, and were reared to be self-sufficient (I take this to mean they were latchkey kids).
  • Generation Y—Typically digital thinkers, feel entitled, needy. These folks grew up micromanaged by parents, with technology, always rewarded for participation, and were reared to be high achievers.

Okay, I get that generalities are a good starting off point for discussion. I understand that in order to make sense of things you have to try and identify qualities people seem to have in common so you can take the discussion further.

I also get that generalities never survive close scrutiny. Once you start narrowing your peepers in at the details, you start to see how different people really are and how useless it is to try and ascribe labels to people. The individual always throws the bell curve of conformity, so to speak.

Forget all that. This list of qualities is almost complete and total junk. It’s a bunch of lazy half-baked imagery taken from the minds of business blankers who have strange fantasies of what the hoi-polloi are composed of.

It is, to put it not so nicely, wrong in the way phony people deceive themselves to cover up unpleasant truths about how people really are.

For example, “Gen X is anti-authority.” Really? Coming from parents of divorce and workaholics, of having to come home to a TV dinner and take care of themselves I would think it would be the opposite. That they are looking FOR authority, for structure, for someone or something to believe in. For a generation known for being “slackers”, how does the self-reliant come in?

I mean, this is so dysfunctional a description as to make absolutely no sense.

If anyone were “anti-authority” it would be the Boomers. You know, the flower children, the hippies, the children of the generation before them known as the Traditionals? Of course, what about all the anti-authority boomers who sold out to work for The Man? Is that the definition of “loyal”?

Generation Y are digital thinkers? What, they have electricity for brains? Okay, okay I get that it probably means they grew up comfortable with the Internet. Hello? Generation X grew up with Atari, ColecoVision, Apple II and the original Macs.

A lot of the Gen Y descriptions sound patronizing to me. Boomers were never raised to be high achievers or weren’t needy? George Carlin did a brutal comedy routine that mocked the Boomers as the most needy and entitled generation to ever exist.

Boomers didn’t grow up with technology? Some of the most significant technological advances in history were made while they were growing up. I know—television, the space program, the atomic age and the first computers don’t seem very exciting now that big business has moved on. But dude! Come. On.

See what I mean? There’s no depth or insight to these stereotypes. And that’s what they are—stereotypes that business leaders have towards middle class white consumers who have the money to spend on their products.

You want to know what I think the defining characteristics of these generations are? Okay get ready for this.

The Boomers are really Generation Boom, as in an explosion announcing the imminent end of the industrial way of life. They are the heralds and prophets of what will be.

You think the sixties are over? Dude, they are just getting started. The Booms were just the warm up act to the main event.

Or to take a bit of off the cuff from Rambo: “I’m alive, it’s alive, innit?”

Generation old X, middle Y and youngest Z are all siblings. They are the Omegas. The last generation to know mobility and prosperity. They are the disciples of the prophets, spreading the message and laying the foundations of the time to come.

They are more clever and resourceful than can be imagined by the vampires in suits.

No wonder the ownership struggles to understand these strange hybrids. So much promise! So little return on investment. Thus the narrow-minded and pathetic attempts to label them into alphabetical batches of human capital by manufacturing date.

Into this fun and exciting historical moment of decline and DEVO-lution will come into existence what I can only conceive of as Doom Generation, or “Doomsers” for short. They are the generation that will know war and collapse, as the end of the industrial age gives rise to an age of electro-agriculturalism.

They will see the rise of kings so powerful and horrific as to make Henry VIII look like a homesick hobbit. They will carry swords and use the telephone. Their children will be part monster, part truth-seeker and will grow up to build the foundations of an inner life beyond the reaches of academic or mystical conception.

No, you won’t be marketing to the Doomsers. They will see right through your medieval attempts to deceive their buying habits and laugh at your quaint nostalgia for the past.

And the Omegas will be stuck in the middle of two worlds, transition to transition, circuit to switch as the old world crumbles before a revelation of individual consciousness that will seem to the owners of the world like a zombie apocalypse, where a single scratch or bite will spread the venom of life to their cold blood.

I spend time now and then investigating the livejournal shoals for interesting tidbits of brain food.  There’s this writer who goes by the name Livia-Llewellyn over there that I started keepin’ an eye on, mostly because she has a certain kind of bleak attitude that I find appealing enough to listen to.

She wrote this four-part story and since I was listening I decided to read.  Must have made some kind of impression, because here I am compelled to do an exploration about it.  Spoilers are a cumin’ in, so ahroo!

Feel free to read first:

  1. Sometimes There’s No Poison Like a Dream
  2. I am the Stone the Builder Rejected
  3. Ride easy, lover: Surrender to the land / Your heart of anger
  4. I ride the wings of the morning sun, and dwell in the uttermost arms of the deep

Okay so what do we have here?  The story follows Gillian, a sculptor of tombstones, who is about to receive a promotion (or a hek of an eternal demotion, depending on how you see it) for her fine work.

She has a talent for finding and expressing evocative character in the tombstones she carves.  A talent she honed during her childhood years dowsing for coal in a mine, a job from which she escaped after a horrific mystical experience.

Basically she wants to be a good little doggie:  work a 9-5 job in the city, gain some security, and provide for her son’s future.

The world she lives in is a nightmare planet.  Otherworldly forces of unspeakable horror have bled into the world at large, expressed as rampant pollution, corruption, urban lifelessness, and environmental defilement.

Kind of like now.

Instead of a promotion, her talent brings her to the attention of a band of well-connected cultists.  They want to use her talent to summon a god-monster-entity from a large boulder they’ve found.  Just the sort of scary stuff she used to run into all the time when she worked in the mines, showing the machines where to dig.

Gillian is abducted and taken to the boulder.  She betrays the cultists by turning the boulder into a stone elemental to smash them into jelly. Unfortunately, this means giving into the after-effects of that horrific experience from her past.  She enters into the darkness of a mining tunnel in an ecstatic state of madness, experiencing it as a plunge into the depths and a spreading of monstrous wings to dark flight.

That’s all folks.

Here’s my beef:  Gillian has no agency.  In Part 1, it’s suggested that her promotion means taking on a difficult mission that will force her to confront her past.  If she chooses to accept, she will be going on a journey that is both professionally challenging and personally dangerous. The alternative means giving up her upward mobility (so to speak).  This is awesome.

The stakes are the new life she’s built for herself.  This is stuff anybody struggling to survive in a post-industrial apogee world can understand.  Debt-servitude makes for hard choices, and here’s one that promises to put her drive to escape to the test.

Once she is abducted, her choice is reduced to narrative zilchplay—there’s no tension as to what will happen.  Gillian is certain everyone is going to die.  We’re just waiting with her for the inevitable date with the boulder of destiny.

While we wait, she looks back at her life in the mines.    Gillian grew up in dark tunnels under conditions of industrial servitude.  Her special talent for locating hidden veins of coal may have led to an explosive encounter with a horrific underground entity.

At some point she decided to escape the mines by getting pregnant.  She had a sexual encounter with a person who may have been an incarnation of the god-monster-entity the cultists hope to free and get goodies from.

Gillian left the mines behind to find a job carving tombstones in the city, but it’s a farce living on borrowed time.  I get the feeling that if she ever had any major decisions to make in her life they were made back then, but it’s unclear to me what they were.

At this point it’s obvious Gillian is at best a hybrid human, may not have ever been human, and could be a simulacra cycling through various incarnations of mother and daughter in imitation of human life.

Even though the cultists suggest her son’s life is in danger should Gillian not cooperate, she is unconcerned.  Her thoughts suggest he has abilities that allow him to escape capture and make it on his own. This detail basically ensures all stakes in the story are removed.  We are on the exposition train from here on, where the character goes from one place to the next.  She isn’t allowed to matter.

Without agency, the character just goes through the motions.  Because we don’t know the details of her story in the mines—what she experienced and what it meant—the current story is just the last gasp of a person who died a long time ago.  If she was ever even alive!

The villains are your standard black hat fanatics with no agency themselves.  Led by the void-filling but unexciting and lying evil boyfriend.   They exist simply to make the colossal mistake that sends them off a cliff screaming.  Whatever!

The ending leaves us plunging into the unknown, which is an effective technique.  However, what does it mean?  Does she become a monster servant of the god-monster in the underworld?  Has she succumbed to madness in which she imagines rebuilding her daughter? Has she fulfilled her instinctual purpose and will now wander around the fiery tunnels of a coal mine until she slowly expires?

Whatever the answer, I’m left with the feeling this is the end of Gillian’s own experience.  That feels like a cop out; her monstrosity was her most human quality, the part worth exploring.

The story that matters is her previous life in the mines, but we don’t get that.  It’s already in the past.  If horror is about violation, Gillian experienced that long ago and didn’t survive.  Or rather, she survived as a ghost long enough to drag others to their destruction.  As readers, we’re robbed of an experience of her true horror.

One angle that might have been interesting would have been an approach towards the discovery that she had been made into one of those Lovecraft-based automatons one reads about.  There are stories of unfortunates who delve too deeply into the Cthulhu Mythos and are never heard from again, save as eerie doubles of their bodies.

She might have been already dead, driven by her Chtulhu-infestation of the mind into building some kind of false life on the surface.  Her “secret compulsion” would be like a locust of doom crawling overland, only to kill and then descend again into the depths to nurture a new brood of madness.  She, her father’s mother.  Leave the cultists out completely and make her boulder-job just another day at the office, as it’s originally suggested.

Then her lack of agency becomes a self-discovery as she learns not only is her new life a mask, but she never escaped to begin with.  Slavery in the mines was replaced by something unspeakably worse—a veneer of hope designed to lure victims to their doom.  I’d have left the cultists as a suggestion that they are behind the mining operations, using “canaries” like her to satisfy their simpleton understanding of their monster-god’s wishes. Profit becomes a means for maintaining the faith only.

Personally, I’d have gone the romantic adventure route.  Gillian becomes half-Byakhee and half-woman.  Something new and different, truly dangerous.  Free to live her life more fully.  Horror as violation that shows you who you really are.  Wouldn’t that be a kick in the Rumplestiltskin?

Dang though, can Livia write some mutherscrathin’ prose.  Her descriptions of the nightmare world of Obsidia are inescapably vivid.  In one scene, as Gillian moves between train cars a piece of trash smacks her on the cheek, nearly missing her eye.  I flinched when I read that, it was so visceral. This is the kind of putrid stuff that sticks in your mental craw, needing floss to pluck out.

Livia’s eye for detail and sense of place is relentless, with a charged slant toward the erotic.  Strong stuff there.   She is a master of setting, painting her world with soft and harsh touches in equal measure. The gargantuan mega-city of Obsidia as a setting ate me alive and doG bless it.

Been listening to special instructions and watching interstellar phenomena within the soul.  Training under the patient and wise gaze of Lucerna, Mother Mary’s Personal Assistant.  She keeps nudging me further into the cold waters of trans-personal warrior training.  It’s a side of me I’ve only just now started experiencing and accessing with an inner eye.  There’s a large shadow cast by the cloud over parts of me I never recognized, but the weather has changed and colors are clearer and sharper than I ever would have believed.

Floating around my pillow are a number of texts I’m reading, grab and seek the new game of play.  Reasoning and meditation as making mud-pies in the brain.  Themes emerge along the dream like an ultraviolet glowing cellphone from the beyond giving me the ring-tone of my self in a new looking back.  Seeds are always sprouting just when you thought the land had given up on you.  I picked up the phone even though I was busy and flipped open the communicator to the starship everywhere.  I’m busy so I’m available.

Dreamtime might be overrun with plastic shamans, but they’re an outer characteristic of the inner journey.  We all have to do time with our imagination until it can grow to fill the form we can’t see with our little light.  I’d forgotten about a sizable chunk of my New Age explorations not too long after willingly suffering The Nightmare Maize Of Singular Violation to finally understand what I was missing.  Some things you leave behind in the guiding of the divine back to the outside world.  I do appreciate the Dark Goddess returning my backpack!

I read about the Sioux keeping and releasing of souls, and reflect.  Their ways and understandings are a sound in my being rich with clues, stimulating thoughts of what a dedicated clown might accomplish despite being dazed and befuddled.  The recognition of death as an opportunity for those alive to recognize their sacredness and experience purification beyond our experience.  That to move beyond bodies—created out of the nothingness of unfathomably unlikely chance in time and space—into a larger comprehension of being as a form of non-being is natural and joyous, even though there are tears and pain.

Our dullard senses stumbling with such vast experiences of awareness, perhaps some compassion is in order for our falling down and skinning our tender mental knees and scraping of heartstrings with a rough clasping.  Our helplessness and inadequacy are stunning to those outside time and space, and evoke mercy from the most mysterious of depths; do we not ourselves rush to the side of a stranger as if they were ourselves at unusual moments?  As above, so below, as within, so without.  A mote of fire in the gloaming of our chemical stew of a brain.

I’ve been grieving and mourning, welcoming inside and treasuring, coming to the place where there is the happiness of dawning and dusking inevitable.  In a sense, this long period of overwhelmed underwhelming has been a new idea breaking out of its shell and evoking my response.  Some ecstasies are vast and immeasurable, like the numbing flash of a dunk in cold water.  I can see Molly on a beach with an empty and dripping bucket, laughing.  Yoshie covers her mouth and makes a giggly face.


Now for pizza…and margarita shooters!

Next Page »