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A while ago I read on twitter that this book won the Man Booker International Prize. So, as usual, I check what kind of book it is, what it is about, and the first thing I notice is that it’s REALLY short. 192 pages. Actual wordcount is 51k, meaning 130 pages in a standard format, barely qualifying as a “novel”.

On the Amazon page this book has the longest list of cover blurbs I’ve seen, all singing high praises. What was hinted about the content was also quite intriguing. The idea of metamorphosis seen as an act of rebellion. And besides, this could be a test. A “literary”, prestigious book prize given to a 130 pages book. That means EVERY LINE must be pure literary bliss. If a book is so short and the praises sung so high, then it must be dense and packed with pure awesomeness.

This is not a review because I did not read the whole book. I was only interested in cracking the code. See what it was all about. I started reading the beginning, some 30-40 pages. Then I jumped to the end and read about as much to see where it was going. That legitimated me just to write some snark on the forums: “It has the longest list of cover blurbs in history, I guess that’s because being so short it feels like free money for minimal work.”

I then produced some actual quotes to show what a book that has to be a masterpiece line by line looks like:

“Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.”

“the inferiority complex I used to have about the size of my penis”

“The only respect in which my wife was at all unusual was that she didn’t like wearing a bra.”

“Her voice as it sounded over the phone, always somehow more distinct than in person, never failed to send me into a state of sexual arousal”

“Well, I was in a dream, and I was standing on my head … leaves were growing from my body, and roots were sprouting from my hands … so I dug down into the earth. On and on … I wanted flowers to bloom from my crotch so I spread my legs; I spread them wide … ”

“Can only trust my breasts now. I like my breasts, nothing can be killed by them. Hand, foot, tongue, gaze, all weapons from which nothing is safe. But not my breasts. With my round breasts, I’m okay.”

“She was standing, motionless, in front of the fridge. The potential options all filled me with fear.”

It reads like parody to me. The fact it won the prize, and the literary establishment loves it must mean something. I do believe that part of it is BECAUSE the book is so short. There’s something. There’s a “low hanging fruit” paradigm to it, but it turns out it’s not just about size. It’s about titillating some “themes” and a certain sense of identity. It must be serviceable.

That was enough for me, but then weeks later I saw the book being discussed on SomethingAwful forums and I used the occasion to be the voice outside the chorus, deliberately against the grain, criticizing without any subtlety. Because I wanted to actually engage in a discussion with someone who loved and understood the depth, see the opposite angle. At the same time I was also going to observe myself with a critical eye, but without interfering with the “act”. I’d play the antagonizing voice. See if it was all pretense. All a game of taking sides.

I’m not going to comment on these further observations, only mention that I’m aware of all of it.

I skim read it and found the writing dreadful, characterization fake and inch-deep, and actual plot trite and mystified without a single idea that’s worth something.

And the revelation at the end of the book? Are you kidding me?

I’m convinced this book won a prize because it’s so short that they rewarded it because no one wants to work hard anymore. Paid reviewers LOVE this because you can read it in a couple of hours and it feels like FREE MONEY. It’s just a pretense of a book. An imitation of good writing and good plot. And then people love it because they love what some institution tells them to love. The book won a prize, so it must be GREAT.

Mel Mudkiper posted:
If you think The Vegetarian is about mystery and mystification perhaps you should not skim read it and actually read it.

It wants to imitate that dreamlike, introspective and symbolic atmosphere. I only think it’s dreadful for what it achieves. Symbols are powerful because of what they hide. But being the actual deal here inch-deep, it’s all fluff and mystification. Japanese horror B-movies have more creativity and depth.

The title is of course misleading. It’s not about vegetarianism in ANY way, it’s not even technically correct because she starts already as more like “vegan”. But if they titled the book The Vegan then it would have been even more misleading.

So, it’s just about a very subjective mental illness. The book does a poor job with it. The motivations are fluff. It doesn’t play realistically, and the dreamlike effect is lost because the depth just isn’t there, it’s only imitation of what a million of other books do better.

There are reviewers that TRY to lift it up as a kind of metaphor of Korean culture and society. None of them explain how you could reconcile that theory with a story of very subjective mental illness that has absolutely no point of possible generalization.

It’s a sad story written with the purpose to shock, without ever earning it.

Mel Mudkiper posted:
Its a commentary on the nature of how human interaction is always in someway based on consumption and exploitation, and how Korean culture is particularly built around women being consumed for the benefit of men. There is an overwhelming feminist perspective in this book you seem to be completely glazing over.

It’s a disservice to feminism. It’s exploitative. It’s hubris. It’s just a representative act. A show with no actual meaning because, as I said, it’s just imitation of an idea the writer thought would get the attention (as I suspect was the purpose of that title). I only find that manipulative in a bad, unsubtle way. It has an agenda and it’s poorly written. Those you cite as important themes are only gross generalizations. The book is unable to earnestly engage with anything.

What surprises me is that very often you find these big prizes to books that are all form and no content. That happens. But this is a special case where the form itself, the writing line by line, is itself so plain and poor. It’s explicitly bad, it’s not like you need to have a sophisticated literary sense to notice.

And it’s impossible EVEN to engage with the characters on a personal level. The woman not only is mentally ill, but she’s completely unaware of everything around her. So whereas if you were mentally ill you’d notice how people react around you, you’d be self conscious, struggle to blend in and fail (and this could be an interesting and worthwhile story to tell). But this woman doesn’t give a damn. She’s ostensibly weird around people, she makes a deliberate exhibition of it. She’s completely, utterly self-absorbed and without a trace of empathy. She’s essentially not-human, because of how cold she is to everything that surrounds her. But then the book EXPLOITS this by making everyone else around her even more implausibly WORSE. So you’d expect the “sane” people to act differently, but nope. Her husband is a piece of shit who has even less empathy and not a single redeeming quality.

That’s exploitative. It’s a carefully picked selection of the worst human beings with the sole purpose to put the protagonist under an excess of negativity, just to justify what happens to her “internally”.

But I don’t want to offend anyone tastes. I explained the motivations why I think this is dreadful. It’s not just a generalization on my part for a book “I didn’t like”. That’s a subjective, legitimate reaction. But I do think this book is objectively terrible. Those are some of the reasons, so you can make your own mind.

I’m not going to try to persuade people that this book is bad. If you like it, all the better.

“consumption and exploitation of women for the benefit of men” as a KOREAN culture thing? REALLY?! More like an universal human thing in the last thousands of years. So she played a game on the “metaphor”, consumption = eating. “I don’t like consumption of women, so I stop eating.” Whoa! Booker Prize! This is exactly what I mean with “inch-deep”.

Mel Mudkiper posted:
because the idealized Korean woman is one who is subdued and complicit in her own abuse.

Yes, I agree with that.

how she was “ideal” to her husband in her total passivity

Yep, the husband being a blatantly piece of shit, and the protagonist made into a convenient symbol. That’s what I call exploitative. The characters are just embodied concepts without any realism and respect.

how a single act of generally meaningless rebellion becomes catastrophic.

But it wasn’t *meaningless* rebellion. It’s self-inflicted pain. That’s why the title is ridiculous. It’s not like she decided to eat “healthily” and started to do something in a different way. The catastrophe is self-inflicted with minimal impact about what happens around herself. It’s more like “doom” and destiny than cause-consequence. Is suicide “meaningless rebellion”?

She’s essentially into self-harm. Being “vegetarian” is utterly misleading unless there’s really someone out there who consider being vegetarian as an act of self-harm. Is self-harm an act of rebellion? I guess it is when recovery is entirely out of the picture. And of course it’s catastrophic, the concept starts that way regardless of what’s around her. She’s trying to kill herself, but of course people around her are so bad that certainly they don’t help.

It’s a legitimately sad story used in an illegitimate exploitative way.

The total point of her passivity is to show the willingness of men to use women for themselves. If she was a more engaged character, not only would the only intellectual base of the plot dissolve, but she would not even be an effective reflection of societal expectations on women.

I still consider this exploitative, convenient (for the book theme) and quite useless as an insightful and meaningful description of society.

And it’s just a tragedy set in motion and described (and made into universal symbol), then you might as well read in a newspaper and don’t need the transformative art of fiction and a novel to do that.

a focused meditation on the predatory nature of human relationships.

On one side I considered those relationships utterly implausible, so neither the relationships nor the characters can work for me that way. It’s a twisted, convenient representation, to my eyes.

Yep, I don’t think human relationships work that way, given this context of the story. Even if you take that, it’s superficial. I don’t know how to better say it than repeating endlessly it’s exploitative.

I do see what you mean, and you do see what I mean. The difference is the angle the writer forced on the story is utterly dishonest and artificial to me, so why it turns into that story into the one I described. She wants those themes, but because the characters are so artificial it all falls apart. We interpret things differently because that angle rings false for me.

You buy into that concept and its use, I don’t.

Mel Mudkiper posted:
I don’t see how the characters are implausible to you. In a patriarchal society aren’t men given the expectation that their worth can be measured by the woman they claim? In that same society aren’t fathers measured by the suitability of their daughters? Aren’t mothers measured by their dedication to their children? Aren’t wives measured by their submission to their husbands?

Plenty of marriages have ended because they became socially inconvenient for one of the partners. Plenty of men have cheated on their wives while sexually and emotionally exploiting their mistresses. Does this make these people monstrous? Probably. Does it make them implausibly monstrous? Not at all.

Yeah, let’s hammer themes into things. You certainly don’t want to use a tiny brush.

So yes, I see those things. I don’t see the hammer as the best tool to represent them.

What particularly about the husband or the brother-in-law comes off as inauthentic to you?

The brother-in-law I can’t comment because I skipped that almost entirely. The rest, also because this book is so thin, events proceed like following this one directional convenient thread. So there’s no depth also because there’s no space. The husband isn’t even in a “relationship”, they are just there as strangers because the writer put them there. Very good writers in so little space would give at least the illusion of a relationship. She doesn’t manage that.

But hey, this husband is so perceptive that he always thought his wife was alright before “turning vegetarian”. The premise already falls apart.

That was the forum conversation. I didn’t want to derail it further.

One aspect I did not comment, not knowing if it was allowed or not to openly discuss the ending, is what I took as the final “revelation”. And it’s something that I see in light of other comments down that forum thread:

Being vegetarian can often be viewed as a rejection of a patriachal society.

My reaction -> “?!”

On one side you have the personal story of this woman and how the people around her react to her metamorphosis (however you interpret it), on the other is the leap of faith of pinning this scene to its universal dimension: “a challenging vision of patriarchy”, “some really complex ideas around feminism”, ” the predatory nature of male and female relations”.

The final revelation of the book is that the woman was abused by her father when she was a kid. This is where it really falls apart for me. It’s a sad book and a sad story and that’s all of it. I cannot read any universal dimension into it because I see the cause so horribly specific. It’s a pure, specific act of violence. That’s something I hinted in my comments above. Writing a novel is a process of transformation and of creation. It’s not just a report. Especially a book that takes that dreamlike angle and wants to elevate it, it needs to feed the metaphor ALIVE. Not kill it. Run with it, not stop it dead.

For me this story has no redeeming quality. I interpret it differently. That poor woman was caged, but not by society outside herself, or horrible people around her. She starts with her cage, feeds it, makes it stronger. If left alone she’d have withered anyway. She is a woman who needs help and she isn’t in any way autonomous to fight her battle about institutions that demand her to behave differently. She hurts herself, first and foremost, even if left alone. Even if her “strange behavior” had been respected. All due to the fact she’s a victim of abuse and can’t see a light out of it. How do you respond to this?

A woman that is seen as broken when autonomous. Because that’s how I take the message of the book: she’s a victim of herself. She can’t function, not as a function of a bigger system, but for herself. Her act of rebellion is against herself. An inability to find herself, recover an identity, tear apart the instrumentality to put together again the broken pieces. Reemerge as a woman instead of a tool and symbol. People around her try to help, but because they are horrible people they only manage to give her another shove. It’s a story of failure where the protagonist is not responsible of that failure, but can only see it passively to its end. Powerless. So is this feminism, really? The fetishization of a broken woman in order to exculpate and cleanse a certain literary establishment that sees itself as better than its peers and so able to separate itself from this harsh judgement?

Fake tears shed for a character turned into a convenient tool.

That a character can be exploited in such a way to turn it into some mythical symbol wielded as a nonspecific protest against society is something that has RITUAL vibes. It’s a human sacrifice. A woman had to be tortured and killed so that we grow more complacent and nothing changes.

The fact that this book KILLS its character to exploit it, a woman with no agency beside hurting herself, actualizes and perpetuates its own crime. It’s not “feminism”, it’s a ghoulish parody the same as Fifty Shades of Grey parodies kinky romance.

(and, what the fuck, Erikson’s Mhybe. Yeah. A woman everyone sees as a tool, shoved down an unavoidable path. A broken woman creates a WORLD. That’s writing as a transformative act.)

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.