Category Archives: Blog

I’m considering what to do next, with the blog here.

Reading progress stalled again because I’m more than 500 pages into “IT”, by Stephen King (yay, another sidetrack!). This was unplanned and I read the book when I was in my teen (half of it, then I didn’t resist and ended up watching the TV show, and so even the book progress ended there). But I found the book so amazingly good that now I’ll have to keep going till the end, this time.

But between today and tomorrow “Fall of Light” will ship. Probably one or two weeks to arrive because I didn’t order it from local Amazon. I’m not caught up with Malazan (currently reading the last part of book 6) but I’m up to date with this actual pre-series, so I’m going to read it as I receive it.

I’m writing this down in the hope it will make me do it. The thing is, I expect Fall of Light to be VERY good (Forge of Darkness was, for me), but I have this thing that makes me delay indefinitely the stuff I know is good. The bigger the expectations, the more I’m reluctant to have that experience and exhaust it. Instead if I keep it ahead of me it keeps shining, and I don’t won’t to be over with it. It’s a mental thing, one of those compulsive illogical behaviors that keep winning. And that’s also why I keep getting sidetracked reading something else rather than finishing Malazan, it’s just that I don’t want to exhaust that experience, I want to have it ahead of me instead of behind me.

Of course I also enjoy having read a great book. It’s just an illusion that the experience is exhausted, so I keep fighting the compulsive behavior even if it ends up winning a lot of times.

By the time Fall of Light lands here I’ll probably be done with IT, but not with The Bonehunters. So I’ll read both books at the same time anyway. It’s likely I’ll go slow (though the desire to go slow with Fall of Light might make me read faster and finish quickly The Bonehunters as a side-effect), so I think I’ll write some things as I read instead of waiting to finish the book, as long I actually have something to say.

Still lots of Erikson stuff beside the main series. A new novella came out that I’ll get next month, but I still have to read the previous one (I’ve read the other four, though). Then there’s the story collection “The Devil Delivered” that I expect being also excellent and I already have, as well as “Willful Child” that I also own but that has me very skeptical. And then there’s Esslemont’s “Dancer’s Lament” that doesn’t have to wait the main series either, but that I’ll probably only read after the first of Esslemont’s more recent books, so “Return of the Crimson Guard”. Or maybe before.

Beside the Malazan stuff I want to go fairly quickly through Bakker’s series, as well continue with Janny Wurts and Glen Cook’s Instrumentalities. So all these are priorities. The TBR complete pile is way, way bigger with a crazy number of other SERIES in it (from Dune, to Donaldson’s Gap + Covenant, to Neal Stephenson, to Wolfe, Dorothy Dunnett, and more and more, to the more ‘easy’ stuff that goes from Martin to Abercrombie and Sanderson, I’m happy forever).

This ideally belongs to the other white-faced blog-site, but I decided to put here instead for the proximity of themes.

Undertale is a game released last September that progressively won more attention to become a true juggernaut. It’s a thing that annoys me because it’s elusive to grasp, and it’s one of the first games to be wholly meta-game, whose popularity grows and snowballs because of that META. It annoys me because its “secret sauce” is elusive. Do I want to invest 15-20 hours to deconstruct it, in order to grasp its secrets? (the game is way shorter than that, but playing it wouldn’t suffice)

In any case, I now have two cases, almost specular, that can be used as instruments to understand Undertale, at a deeper level.

Undertale is a game about manipulation, and in order for that manipulation to be truly successful it needs to include different audiences.

I introduce you to Lauren The Flute:

She is EXTREMELY important. More important than yourself playing the game first hand. She is the audience of Undertale. She is the one player who truly understand Undertale, line by line, pixel by pixel. She is The Witness incarnate. She can show you what Undertale is, who the game was made FOR.

But while that reveals Undertale true soul, and reveals it fully, it still won’t show the other half of its face.

I guess I won’t introduce you, because he’s kind of popular already, to Pewdiepie:

This will demonstrate better the extent of Undertale’s manipulation. You can see the reflected image of this game on two completely antithetic players. Yet Undertale is made for both, its manipulation is built to work on both.

If you don’t have time for hours-long videos, then focus on this shorter section. This Lauren video, from minute 43:00 onward:

Then mirror the experience with this Pewdiepie video, from 35:30 making sure you go at least to the big revelation at 41:50:

That fourth wall breach is mad genius. But it’s not the whole deal. What’s impressive here, watching Pewdiepie playing before and through that section, is the growing sensation of DOING SOMETHING WRONG. The game instills doubt. You are doing something the wrong way. You can continue because you didn’t hit a Game Over screen, but you feel this creeping sense of wrongness the more you continue doing that “conventional” Pewdiepie approach. The game doesn’t lead you, doesn’t stop you, but it turns the observation/judgement back to you. It turns you, through the game, to a Witness of yourself.

What’s important is NOT THE GAME. You aren’t watching something that goes on the screen. You’re not reading someone’s story. The genius of this game is that the game is a mirror. You look at the game thinking of a cutesy roleplaying game that will shower you with some nice story & world, but the focus is on you. You are looking at yourself. The game is a mirror and you’re watching your own actions. Questioning them. Instill that doubt of WHAT THE HELL I AM DOING. Is this good? Is this wrong? Did I do something wrong?

That transition, from looking at the game to look at yourself, is where it’s at. The genius. The manipulative soul of this game. The cleverness that sends the chills.

This is meant as an answer to something Steven Erikson wrote about the choice to replace the H.P. Lovecraft bust for the World Fantasy Awards, with something else. On the speculation that Lovecraft was a racist:

I have something to say because I’m quite nitpicky about these matters and I feel it’s extremely important to pin down motivations in a way that is clear of ambiguity, otherwise, I think, all is lost and we fade into an endless war of factions and self-identity.

So, while I’m a huge fan of everything Erikson writes and not just for what’s on the surface, I also find a number of issues with this particular article. A few critical points that lead me to challenge that particular view in order to better define the “canon” we use to decide (or personally judge) these matters.

Symbols are potent things.

WFA’s philosophy of inclusiveness and diversity

Am I unique in ‘disrespecting’ Lovecraft (as a symbol of merit in Fantasy)

Adrian Cole chimes in to rail against political correctness and points out that the World Fantasy Award is not about racism, and he’s right. It’s not. So why symbolise it with the bust of a racist? We are then chided on getting ‘too soft’ and life’s too short to be ‘particular’ and ‘sensitive.’ In other words, this life, being so short, is better spent being insensitive, hard of countenance and dismissive of the particular.

(you read the original post for context, of course)

When I was a kid I was a big fan of Lovecraft. Without a doubt my favorite writer, closely followed by Clive Barker. And, especially, I was a fan of Lovecraft as a man, I read his biography and I bought with enthusiasm a book that collected some of his letters. I was an avid reader of the “writer behind the scenes” and interested to backtrack the origin of his imagination. Yet, not even for an instant I perceived or became aware of “Lovecraft as a racist”. Not because I was ALSO a racist, but simply because I didn’t detect anything that made me suspicious of that. For me Lovecraft, the man and the writer both, was an idol, but again it was an idol not colored by racist ideas or principles.

Nowadays Lovecraft has a huge cultural impact. A popular game like Bloodborne can come out, be played by millions of players, and universally recognized as deeply and explicitly “inspired by Lovecraft”. It drips with Lovecraft’s atmosphere and themes, and not superficially either. Yet again, neither the aesthetics nor the deep seated themes have anything to do with racism or other forms of prejudice.

My point? Erikson denounces Lovecraft “as a symbol”. He puts emphasis on this, saying that symbols are potent. But the thing is that Lovecraft was NEVER seen as a symbol of racism. I dare say that pretty much no one who worships Lovecraft, including me as a kid, does it recognizing Lovecraft as a racist. Or BECAUSE Lovecraft was a racist.

What I mean is that celebrating Lovecraft was NEVER a way to implicitly or explicitly celebrate racism. In our modern culture Lovecraft’s influence is completely absent of racist connotations. And now, to transform Lovecraft and denounce Lovecraft as a SYMBOL of racism is from my point of view a manipulation. An appropriation of a symbol, twisted to represent something that it didn’t represent up to this point. And part of a certain modern revisionism that can be quite pervasive with its ‘instrumentation’.

Yet now we know better. We have a poem, written when Lovecraft was 21 or 22 years old, and looking carefully in his private letters, and traces here and there in his stories. You can see enough evidence that, indeed, Lovecraft was likely a racist, and a fairly vicious one. Even if it seems he was also getting saner as time passed. Reading this I personally, definitely, have to reconsider Lovecraft. Yet this doesn’t automatically invalidates what I appreciated until now. Nor it replaces the symbol itself. Nor I will accept the re-framing of that symbol.

Some might raise the observation that Lovecraft was a man of his time, and therefore excusable for his objectionable views on race. Of course, there were other men (and women) of that time, who were not racists. Some of them, indeed, were neither white nor male. Accordingly, to those apologists attempting the ‘historical context’ argument, it just doesn’t fly, folks. The proof of that is plain enough and I’ll state it here: those who seek to apologise for the beliefs and attitudes of people in the past invariably do so in defense of the egregious and the objectionable. Nobody apologises for those people in the past who held virtuous views, do they? No, they laud such people and name them unusually enlightened.

Lovecraft had neighbours who were not racists. The historical context argument is bullshit.

I would turn around that stance. Being a man of his time doesn’t free Lovecraft of responsibilities, but from my point of view makes this problem intangible. We are alive and we judge, but what’s important is our actions.

The problem with Lovecraft being a man of his time is that you can’t face him. This is important. A “racist” is not simply some guy that needs to be judged and condemned, and be made into an example. A racist is someone that needs to be challenged. You have to confront these views, oppose them not as a “campaign”, but by going deep in this mentality, to understand it, expose it and then defuse it. But we can’t do anything like that with Lovecraft. Whether he was a racist or not, whether this deeply affected and nourished his fiction, these are all matters of speculation. We don’t have ways to probe the psyche of a dead man, only delusions that we can from our high moral perch.

This is Mieville:

“Yes, indeed, the depth and viciousness of Lovecraft’s racism is known to me …It goes further, in my opinion, than ‘merely’ *being* a racist – I follow Michel Houellebecq (in this and in no other arena!) in thinking that Lovecraft’s oeuvre, his work itself, is inspired by and deeply structured with race hatred. As Houellebecq said, it is racism itself that raises in Lovecraft a ‘poetic trance’. He was a bilious anti-semite (though one who married a Jew, because, if you please, he granted that she was ‘assimilated’), and if you read stories like ‘The Horror at Red Hook’, the bile you will see towards people of colour, of all kinds (with particular sneering contempt for African Americans unless they were suitably Polite and therefore were patricianly granted the soubriquet ‘Negro’) and the mixed communities of New York and, above all (surprise surprise – Public Enemy were right) ‘miscegenation’ are extended and toxic.”

This for me is comparable to fan-fiction. It’s purely speculation, whether plausible or not, a fictional interpretation of Lovecraft.

This modern certainty of being able to take some piece of fiction and SEIZE the deep psyche of its writer is nothing else but delusional and hubris. And, again, it’s a DELIBERATE manipulation used for personal ends.

Back to the WFA. I don’t see anything wrong in the choice of changing the “symbol” of the award, so I don’t find anything outrageous in the decision to use something else. The problem lies in the identity of that award, of course. One makes an award, and decides what it should ideally represent. An award isn’t a “thing”, it’s an agreement between people to symbolize a certain thing, so there isn’t any antecedent truth to appeal to.

It’s consequential that whatever the WFA people want the award to represent, it will represent. And that they should choose the symbol that better represents that value (and so even acknowledging that Lovecraft is ill suited for that role).

Yet, there lies the problem. Maybe those who already got the award didn’t consider the award to be characterized THAT way. Erikson writes as a premise that the values of WFA are: philosophy of inclusiveness and diversity. But was it always like that? There can be good fantasy even if it doesn’t celebrate diversity as its main purpose. This would be a specific angle to impose on a genre that is otherwise wider.

So it’s even possible that if the WFA, specifically, becomes a “philosophy of inclusiveness and diversity”, then it’s an award that is changing. That is being wielded for a different use. It gains more of a specific identity, but it also begins, if you want, to “discriminate”. To select fiction that is a possible candidate from fiction that won’t be.

A great piece of fantasy that doesn’t, specifically, celebrates diversity as its political point may not be anymore suited for WFA, because WFA acquires a specific slant and color. It embeds a political message that it wants to celebrate.

So, I put emphasis on that. The problem is not that there’s something wrong celebrating those positive values, but that the award might be seen as acquiring a different identity, and so the replacement of its symbol (the bust) follows a change that already happened about identity and purpose. And it is legitimate that some people who treasure “fiction”, don’t want fiction to be strictly caged within an imposed morality or political purpose. Because it’s fiction, and fiction isn’t required to follow political canons to be good. It can be great fiction that is about or includes politics, and is celebrated for that reason too, but it can be also without and still be vehicle of a completely different message.

But again, people change and institutions change. In the end the WFA award can change too, and celebrating inclusiveness and diversity is surely a worthy cause, if hopefully not totalitarian. All these “literary” prizes have very hazy identities and they matter very little, exactly because you can never see explicitly what makes one different from the other, and in the end it’s all more of a social game with its peculiar rules more than anything related to a literary value of any kind.

I’d only conclude with a suggestion. So Lovecraft isn’t exactly ideal if your goal is celebrating diversity. This should be evident to everyone, okay? That means that the decision to replace that symbol is understandable and well motivated. What do you change Lovecraft with, then? My suggestion is that you make a ‘bust’ of Cthulhu instead.

Which by the way would look fucking amazing.

“The only way…
to view the truth of life, Kotomichi…
is to stand apart from it,
to see…
the consequence of every thought,
every action.
But still…
we are bound by time and space,
unable to steer our destiny.”

A relatively non-spoilery quote from “The Man in the High Castle”, the TV series. I’ve finished the book itself a couple of months ago, while currently I’m trying to finish the mammoth of a book that is “Parallel Stories” by Peter Nadas, hopefully within this year.

Now that quote gives the perspective. Usually abstract-talking is more about evoking a mood, to seize a general feel about an idea, that in the end is either trite or whimsical. But that quote not only is precise and spot-on, but it also resonates with the series itself, and so lifting it even higher.

I’m not going to write about my impressions on the series, but I’ll say that I didn’t know there was a series when I read the book, and now I’m surprised to hear it’s getting a second season. The problem is that it ends up in a too tricky spot, and while it managed to stay almost faithful to the book, respecting it, a second season undermines it all. It’s walking a very fine line.

But until this point it sort-of complements the book, without directly belonging to the same space.

“The consequence of every thought, every action” is a good definition of determinism. “Bound by time and space” is a good definition of a life. “The truth of life” is the truth of that dichotomy, the impossibility of true return. Of crossing the barrier that divides the two.

The TV series did a great job putting good characters on the stage, so it did a good job showing people and circumstances. It created a good “story”, where story means linking events in a way that makes sense, showing what’s needed: empathy with characters, without taking sides. The book instead showed pieces of a fictional reality that was held up, hooked to an authoritative system of truth. A greater truth, that you could glimpse, if not belong to. It was about fiction becoming self-aware. Which again is a manifestation of the truth.

But the TV series, with the jump from what it did, and over to what it will try, violates the rules. You cannot simply change one thing in the course of determinism in order to explore alternatives, as if in a multiverse. Because that one element is still produced by what comes before it, you cannot extrapolate in a very convenient way. We are “unable to steer our destiny” because, from the system, we are witnesses, not actors.

(still waiting to resuscitate the blog)

A different kind of Epic.

I’m one of those who liked a lot the finale to the first season.

Season 2 as a whole has been something else. A key aspect is that Nic Pizzolatto didn’t even attempt to follow up on what Season 1 represented, and instead decided for something completely different. If you ask which one was the best season, everyone, including me, will say that the first was simply better. So, for someone who saw the first, didn’t think it the best thing ever and so is considering whether or not to watch the 2nd, it seems the answer is straightforward: if you’ve watched season 1, and that one was better, there’s no real necessity of watching the second too since you’ve already seen the best it had to offer, unless you’re a fan. I’m sure that’s the rationale for a lot of people. Yet it’s the wrong one, because the two series are so different that they deserve to exist, and be seen, independently. There’s still the same fingerprint, it’s like two unrelated books by the same writer, but that means season 1 doesn’t effectively overshadow or replace season 2.

But then the finale itself mitigated this point of view I had, because in the end the merits of the series seem to evaporate, somehow. I think the whole finale has been conceived as a reaction. Same as End of Evangelion was a reaction of the director to the assault of the public. It’s like Pizzolatto decided to give the public the finale they demanded, something fitting a canon, an active reaction to the criticism.

Up to episode 7 I kept reading critics about the overwrought dialogue that I justified in the other blog post, and criticism about characters, and the omnipresent accuses of misogyny. I’d toss all that away, but the finale managed to make all these things worse, and so making them more tangible even to me. What annoyed me the most is that both plot and characters were railroaded toward a form I’d call “plot karma”. As if instead of telling a story, the point was to give a demonstration. So having these characters locked into a fixed plot karma that doesn’t follow actual karma rules, being disrespectful of the audience’s preferences, but wanting to prove and impose its moral relativism.

It’s disappointing because if the first season felt so fresh and different from everything else, this one traced a trajectory that lead right back to the derivative Hollywood writing, with its pre-determined patterns of plot twists. Especially watching Ani being pushed to the sidelines for the second half of the episode not only is infuriating to watch, but also radically incoherent with the character. If season 1 finale had its own flair and defiance of conventions, season 2 follows the ineluctably of fixed-pattern writing, with characters trapped in their mandatory pay-offs. So after a season of earning the public’s sympathies, they end up surrendering to the fact they are only movie-like characters, as fake as everything coming out of Hollywood. “Plot karma”, or things being locked into a too obvious trajectory, with dialogues that start the episode whose only purpose is to foreshadow everything that will follow, leading-on. As if the show has been chocked to death by the audience’s demands and expectations.

I feel like I’m being very wrong, but that’s what I got from this finale: the idea that Pizzolatto hated the audience’s response to the first season, and so decided to lash out with rage, feed the public with the artificiality they demand. Instead of offering them the bliss, he offered them a virus, working as an antidote and triggering a negative response.

So: the idea that all this was deliberate. A disruption. Forcing the public to watch, and so triggering a kind of rebellion against the thing they are watching. And refuse to accept it.

But beside this hidden, probably non-existent layer, remains instead the explicit theme: the dreamlike, fatalistic experience of things moving toward a single point/ending. Omega Station (the title), as the ultimate point, impossible to escape. Omega Point as the predetermined destination that all these characters are locked in.

Observe Velcoro in the whole end section: spellbound, as if observing himself doing things, instead of doing things. As if he’s sitting next to YOU, on the couch, watching himself in True Detective. Until he looks up to the trees, and observes these tightening plot limbs closing in, closing in. Narrowing as a cage, all around him. Out there in the open, yet claustrophobic. As if reaching past the layer, to the writer and the audience, asking “is that it? really?” Yes, really. I’s written right here.

And so, I imagine, the desire to break this spell, deny it. Demand characters to be more than contrived puppets stuck in their predictable and cliche-ridden patterns, just because the plot karma demands so.

Like Frank, Pizzolatto decided that rather than sitting idly by while his empire was dismantled in the inevitable backlash, he’d burn it all to the ground.

True Detective, Season 2, Episode 5:

One day you might find cause to ask yourself
what the limit is to some pain you’re experiencing

you’ll find out there is no limit at all.
Pain is inexhaustible.

It’s only people that get exhausted.

I have this new program, see.

Because my powers of influence
are so meager in this sublunar world of ours,
I try to limit the people I can disappoint.

And I make sure to know the difference
between my obligations and somebody else’s.

Note: That line has been pointed at, across medias, as bad writing because of “who talks like that?” My comment to that is: bad writing that comes around and it is good. No one asks for realism when realism doesn’t add anything. There is not intent for authentic dialogue there, and so no fault.

True Detective is “written”. Charged with meaning, an artificial world. It’s set after the world has already ended. All characters are afterimages on a stage, manipulated as puppets without choice. They are only alive because they suffer. Episode 5 is a distillation of why human beings are utter shit. It’s literally post-apocalyptic setting.

Malazan, The Bonehunters:

‘Nothing can be done,’ Heboric said. ‘We each fall into our lives and that’s that. Some choices we make, but most are made for us.’

Both True Detective and Malazan switch focus from characters to environment, and back. How one shapes the other, and back. Environment as character. How one is a domain within the other.

‘Heboric’s chosen this path, but it’s not by accident. Sure, it’s a wasteland now, but it wasn’t always one. I’ve started noticing things, and not just the obvious ones like that ruined city we passed near. We’ve been on old roads – roads that were once bigger, level, often raised. Roads from a civilization that’s all gone now. And look at that stretch of ground over there,’ she pointed southward. ‘See the ripples? That’s furrowing, old, almost worn away, but when the light lengthens you can start to make it out. It was all once tilled. Fertile. I’ve been seeing this for weeks, Cutter. Heboric’s track is taking us through the bones of a dead age. Why?’

‘Death and dying,’ Scillara continued. ‘The way we suck the land dry. The way we squeeze all colour from every scene. And what we do to the land, we also do to each other. We cut each other down.’