Just a quick short story. Enjoy.
The old Waffle House wasn’t what it used to be, Jonathan reflected. Of course, that was true enough of any roadside eatery, these days. The eggs were runny and cold, the toast slightly burnt. But food was food, and you had to take what you could get.
He glanced outside the diner, where the usual protest was in full swing. That, too, had become a regular feature of his life. Every morning, the funding came to keep the agitators coming, to keep the signs fresh and the protesters numerous and at least somewhat clean.
Jonathan looked up as the door opened, and the old bell rang. He knew who it was without looking, of course, but some deep, primal instinct told him never to have his back to this man.
“Hi, Jon.” The man walked up to the counter and sat down crisply, his suit exquisitely tailored and pressed, his graying hair perfectly combed, without so much as a single misplaced strand. His tie was a deep and bright red, solid, and unadorned. He looked every bit of the corporate executive that he most assuredly wasn’t. For how could a Red be a corporatist?
There was nothing for Jon to say, for he didn’t even know the man’s name. So he merely nodded and averted his gaze slightly. He wondered briefly if he was the antelope, and the other man a predator, gazing through the grass at his quarry in one of those old Discovery channel shows. The man’s toothy grin did nothing to dissuade him from the comparison.
Snapping his fingers, the suited man summoned the waitress, an overweight tranny with unshaven stubble framing her face. But you weren’t supposed to notice things like that anymore, Jon chastised himself silently. All bodies were beautiful. He repeated the mantra in his mind until the wrongthink vanished into the mental ether.
“Give me a cup of coffee, and then I’ll have whatever he’s having,” the man’s smile broadened. “But do tell the cook to pay better attention to his work.”
Normally, such a demand would be met with disdain. Nobody wanted to serve white men anything. They were lucky if they even got the food they paid for. But, like Jon, the waitress seemed to sense something off about the man and nodded quickly.
“Good. Now that that’s handled, on to business, my friend.” The man slid a manila envelope across the counter. “The usual pay for our revolutionaries. You’ll find a little extra in there for yourself, too. You’ve done well this week.”
Jon forced a smile. “Thank you. I am sure it will help in the struggle.”
“No doubt.” The man’s smile slowly disappeared, and Jon felt a spike of fear. “We will need to do a little more this week, however.”
“More?” Jon wondered aloud.
“Yes, more. The fascists have been busy this week, as you know. There’s been a lot of incidents. The revolutionaries down in south beach got a little overzealous. Some kids were killed. The fascists gunned down some of our people in reprisal, and we can use that, of course…”
Jon nodded in understanding. “But the optics are still bad. It will look like they were justified. They’ll win the moral high ground.”
The man smiled again. “Exactly. So I need you to provoke the fascists into action this week. It needs to be brutal and bloody. We need some… sacrifices made for the Revolution.”
Jon knew what that meant, and he hesitated. He’d have to get the rabble-rousers to provoke a shooting, and some poor children of color would need to die. The bodies would prove the fascists to be murdering warmongers, and points would be scored in the media and on the Internet.
There were times he wondered if he was even on the right side of history anymore. Everything was about who could produce more dead children, who could goad the other side into delivering as much suffering as possible. He was no longer in the business of creating a world of equality and fairness, he was in the business of getting innocent people killed.
Nodding in understanding, the suited man’s expression turned both sympathetic and grave. “I know it’s hard, Jon. But that’s how it has to be. This is war, and if we don’t do it, the fascists will win.”
Jon said nothing. At least he understood why the man was paying him extra this week. He could drown out his conscience in drugs and sex. Party all night, riot all day, or sometimes the reverse, if the occasion called for it. It was a far cry from the dreams of a futurist progressive society he’d been sold in college.
Though it had been decades since he’d last seen the inside of a church, the voice of his town’s lone pastor echoed in his mind in that moment, almost against his will. The pastor often talked about Cain, and why the jealousy and murderous rage had grown within him. “Cain was blind to the flaws in his own character, and ascribed his woes to his innocent brother.” Was it possible he was doing the same? Blinding himself to the flaws of his own movement?
“The Devil,” the preacher told him, “he makes you think his desires are your desires. And so the Devil wanted Abel dead, and worked his will through Cain.”
But fascist wingnuts were still fascist wingnuts, he thought to himself. And if he was selling his soul, so were they.
The suited man seemed to know his thoughts, and grinned. He lit up a cigarette, which had been illegal indoors for decades now, and puffed on it gently, the haze of smoke obscuring his features. Nobody bothered to stop him.
“Do you believe in God, Jon?” The man asked.
“No,” Jon answered reflexively.
“I don’t like the idea that some all-powerful being controls my fate.” Jon replied.
“So what about the historical dialectic? The inevitable progression of economic and socio-political systems?” The man challenged. Outside, the protesters were growing louder and more angry.
“That’s different. That’s mankind making his own destiny. We evolve. We progress as a collective species. Nietzsche said it best. God is dead.”
The man’s grin broadened. “Ah, yes. Maybe so. But what about the Devil?”
“What about him?”
“Funny thing about the Devil, is he always seemed to know people better. God would say ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do that.’ And then he’d offer the choice of willing obedience. And he might tell you some reasons why the obedience was wise. But the Devil,” the man took in a long drag from the cigarette, “the Devil, he was smarter than that. His question was always ‘what do you want?’ He gained obedience through bargaining. ‘Do this,’ he’d say, ‘and I’ll give you what you desire.'”
“Okay, I’ll buy that,” Jon began. “But what does that have to do with us?”
The man smiled. The waitress set his plate down on the counter, ignoring the haze of cigarette smoke. The eggs were perfect and fluffy. The toast covered in generous amounts of butter.
“To get what you want,” the man said between forkfuls of eggs, “you need an exchange. The Capitalists got that part right, at least. They just got the medium wrong. You can’t just say ‘this is good, so we should do it.’ Now we Revolutionaries, we do the same thing, but not with money.” He gestured to the manila envelope. “Or, at least eventually it won’t be with money.”
“I don’t follow.” Jon said.
“The old saying ‘money is power’ is not quite true. Money is a form of power, but it is diluted. It is mixed up with notions of value. In the progressive world, we trade on power more directly. No middleman, as it were. We are all little Devils, asking the other ‘what do you want?’ We trade on desire.” He took a bite of the toast and savored it for a moment. “Well, some of us are little devils, anyway. Others are, perhaps, somewhat larger.”
“So what do you want, then?” Jon wondered aloud.
“What I want is more death, I want our blood in the streets, Jon. Brains leaking on the asphalt, body parts strewn everywhere. I want the cameras and phones out, showing it all in real-time, high def. I want the whole world to blame the fascists and say ‘look at those devils.’ I want them to feel it in their craws and despair. Christians are so easy to manipulate, sometimes. You make them look like devils, and they’ll wail and self-flagellate, and despair. In their despair, they will surrender to us, because they will believe God wants to punish them for the failure. They take our sins as their own.”
The man gulped down the last of his food, and smiled warmly again. Jon was unnerved at the casual description of a massacre.
“But don’t worry, Jon. You give me what I want, and I’ll give you what you want. That’s how it works, remember?” The man wiped his face with his napkin and patted Jon on the back. “We’ve all got a little devil in us.”
Jon stared into the man’s eyes for just a moment too long. He saw his reflection in them, the haunted, drug-addled revolutionary he had become. He didn’t like what he saw.
The man got up and nodded, still smiling, dropping a twenty on the counter. During their conversation, most of the other customers had vanished. The waitress was nowhere to be seen.
Jon followed him outside, where the protest was in full swing. His rabble-rousers and paid protesters looked at him beseechingly. The money would be needed tonight, he knew. The drugs, the booze, the sex… they would all need to forget. Jon nodded, raising his fist in to the air, and the energy of the crowd floated over him.
As the chanting began, Jon looked through the crowd for the suited man, but he was already gone, only a small cloud of cigarette smoke marking his passing.
Across the street, the counter-protesters were already mobilizing, and for a moment, Jon locked eyes with his opposite number on the other side, a man that looked for all the world to be just like him, world-weary and yet focused. There was murder in his gaze. A haze of cigarette smoke wafted into the breeze from the restaurant behind the fascist leader, and Jon pondered that.
He found himself wondering which one of them was supposed to be Cain, and who was supposed to be Abel. For, while his faith in God had long been broken by the worldly needs of the Revolution, he was pretty confident the Devil still walked among them.
This business with the X-Men billboard proves that the Sad Puppies are right. What does a comic book movie have to do with a movement in Science Fiction? Everything.
You see, when the billboard featured a villain choking another character, you are seeing an important feature of any story: characters must face challenges. I mean, imagine a story in which the hero showed up, said “I’m here now, you should just give up,” and presto, the hero wins, the villain is defeated and everyone lived happily ever after.
Pretty lame story, right?
Villain hurts woman. Isn’t that what villains do? What should he do instead? “I respect you as a woman, so I will let you kill me. Only the Feminists will survive.”
So when RadFems and SJWs (but I repeat myself) complain that a billboard features a villain attacking another character, I’m very confused. If women are to be the central characters in Feminist fiction, as the likes of Anita Sarkeesian and her ilk frequently demand, then they must face challenges, right? A woman character must fight, must be beaten down just as a male character might be, and rise to defeat her enemy.
Being a central part of the character’s journey, we would expect this to be a meaty part of the story right? Worthy of advertising it?
Except this is “violence against women.” Like the cover of a Batgirl comic which also triggered Feminist rage, wherein the Joker has clearly overpowered the titular character, any indication that the woman might lose, might suffer at the hands of the villain, cannot be allowed.
So what is allowed then? Must Batgirl walk up to the Joker and say “I’m a woman!” Joker then lays down, puts his hands behind his back, and the story ends. No struggle. No fight. The woman gets whatever she wants by virtue of being a woman.
The joker is doing bad things to the hero. Can’t have that, right?
This is what the Sad Puppies have been talking about for years, and why they are understandably worried about the blatant politicization of fiction. They want to read and write stories where the protagonist must complete a journey, must face challenges and villains. Where the protagonist must find friends and allies, where struggle and suffering are part of that journey.
This goes for both male and female protagonists.
How can you have a story where the protagonist cannot suffer injury? Where the hero can suffer no physical attack, no setback, no violence? Imagine James Bond as a woman (as feminists are demanding currently) in this sort of scenario. Where James Bond was tied to a chair and tortured via the clubbing of his genitals in Casino Royale, feminists would scream were a Jane Bond subjected to the same torture.
What should the villainous banker to the world’s terrorists do, then, to get the money from Bond? Shall he say “I respect you as a woman, and I would never do anything without your consent. So I didn’t tie you up, and I won’t torture you. I didn’t take your gun either, since that would be a violation of your body. But I would like to know the password to the bank account, if that is not asking too much of m’lady.”
Then Jane Bond shoots the banker in the face, and the story is over. Some story, right?
This is the sort of executive meddling on behalf of Social Justice that Sad Puppies rightly fear. They don’t want their stories hung up by some misguided notion that certain demographics can never suffer fictional injury, that they can never face challenges. How can you write an entertaining (much less believable) story, hamstrung like that?
If you want to get technical, the billboard did indeed feature “violence against women.” But in the real world, violence against women happens. And in the fictional world you create, it may also happen. Indeed, a central part of the story may be a woman overcoming such violence to kill her tormentor. How is any of that bad?
And more importantly, why is any of it worthy of de facto censorship?
Just a quickie for today… over at Sarah Hoyt’s place, William Lehman has written an excellent guest post about this “Captain America is a Nazi” business.
The money quote:
Further I see this as part of a grand conspiracy. Now, hold on, before you tell me my tin foil hat is too tight, I’m not saying that the members of this conspiracy ACTIVELY conspired, each and every one of them, to tear apart the values of the nation. It’s not that simple. What I am saying is that the news headquarters for all the major news networks, newspaper conglomerates, publishers, etc (the self-designated arbiters of culture) are clustered in two relatively small areas (I’m talking 40 miles square or so each) and they all know and party with each other. They all go to the same schools, send their children and protégés to the same schools, and have a “group think”.
This is exactly it. The conspiracy, such that it is, isn’t some room full of hazy cigar smoke in a bad James Bond movie. Rather it is a consequence of the self-enforced groupthink of the Social Justice Leftists. They police one another for political correctness and sociological compliance. They attend the same universities, work the same industries, live in the same areas, and have all the same friends. As a result, we shouldn’t be surprised when this groupthink tends to manifest in a way not unlike an active conspiracy.
Of course, this is a tremendous irony given the Left-wing obsession with diversity. They desire the opposite of diversity: complete uniformity of thought and opinion, and they will trash anything to get it. In this case, the target is a comic book character. While I don’t give a fig about comics — I didn’t even as a child — it is a tragedy that something as simple and innocent as a childhood superhero is being weaponized in the service of a political agenda.
Read the whole thing… Mr. Lehman sums it up better than I could.
The beginning of a novel I am working on. A sort of space opera/horror mix.
Rain was a near-constant feature of Paradiso, the only city worth mentioning on the planet of the same name. It was a haphazard affair, buildings kludged together from the worthless scraps of old spacecraft and salvage shipped out from Terra, always looking to unload its garbage on the Rim. Bradley Hunter bundled himself tightly in his raincoat, shivering from the freezing deluge, his eyes searching the built up area south of the landing zone. As with most Rim worlds, the local bar wasn’t far from the spaceport, neon signage advertising the meager pleasures such a dive had to offer.
Inside, the bar was poorly lit, looking even less put together than the rest of the city. Rusted girders supported a roof that seemed to have more than a few leaks in it. Bradley reflected on that for a moment, before sitting down at a corner table, far away from the murmurs of miners and colonists. Before long, the waitress noticed him, her voluptuous figure and slender waist a welcome change from the otherwise dreary scenery.
“What’ll it be, mister?”
“Whiskey. Whatever’s good around here. On the rocks.” Bradley smiled, his eyes caught somewhere between her bosom and the racks of bottles on the far wall. Paradiso may not have been much, but the place wasn’t a total loss. She seemed to accept his impropriety with minimal fuss, returning quickly with his drink.
Other denizens of the bar paid little attention to him. Bradley knew his smooth, youthful features and clean clothing marked him as an Earth-born. And if such men were not hated in the Rim, neither were they loved. His hands were too smooth, lacking the years of grime and dirt frontier work usually entailed. Even the wealthy on the Rim looked worse for wear compared to their Terran counterparts. Earth was a remarkably sterile place compared to the untamed Rim worlds.
A shadow appeared over him, and he didn’t even bother to look up. Casually sipping his drink, he motioned for the other man to sit down.
“Still sneaking around, Gunther?” Bradley smirked momentarily as the older man shook the rain off his cloak and quietly sat down.
“The more I make, the less I like the public eye.” Gunther replied in sotto voice, barely audible over the din of the dive bar. “Anyway, you hang out on the Rim long enough, you’ll learn.”
Bradley regarded him for a moment. Gunther was in his late forties, now, and balding, his skin tanned and scarred in several places from a lifetime of scavenging on the frontier. Yet the older man maintained himself in peak physical condition. There was a hardness about him that no amount of nouveau riche status could completely erase. Bradley had seen it before in the bearings of powerful men on the Rim worlds, that combination of wealth, questionable morality and propensity for violence. For all of that, however, the traders of the Rim had a code of honor of their own, as mystifying as it might appear to an Earth-born.
“Cigar?” Bradley offered, opening his case and selecting one for himself.
Gunther pondered the case a moment. “Rim-grown?” He asked.
Bradley shook his head. “Nah. Genuine Earth product. Picked up a supply last time I hit Terran space.”
The older man smiled and clipped one. “Been awhile,” Gunther began, “Shipments don’t make it out here often.”
Bradley closed the case and struck up his lighter. For a moment he could almost imagine being on Earth again, with all the attendant luxuries Sol offered. A pleasant haze of Cuban tobacco wafted around him, almost disguising the haphazard nature of the bar. But when it cleared, there was only Paradiso.
“So I’m assuming,” Bradley began, “that you didn’t invite me to the ass-end of the universe for idle chit-chat. What’s going on?”
Gunther took a long pull from his cigar and cracked a half smile. It would have been imperceptible to anyone who did not know him. “Good tobacco.” The trader offered. “Anyway, you’re right, of course. I’ve got something that needs a civilized touch, ya know? A bit more education than my boys can manage. I need someone with brains to supervise a dig site for me.”
“Jesus, Gunther, I thought you were gonna try and pawn off some more artifacts on me or something.” Bradley was surprised. College had been good for him in at least one respect: his half-finished archeology degree had launched a semi-lucrative career in antiquities dealing on the Rim worlds. Far away from the home of humanity, people still wanted to connect with Earth history. Somebody had to provide the means, and Earth-born with even half an education were a boon to the antiques trade. Similarly, the citizens of Earth had a demand for the unknown, exotic artifacts of the ancient xeno ruins discovered on many Rim worlds. The combination made for a burgeoning trade for men like him.
The old trader laid back in his chair expansively. “Nope. Not into the small stuff so much, these days.” Bradley wondered for a moment if he should take offense at that, but shrugged it off as the older man continued. “Look, my cousin managed to get a homestead grant up here on Paradiso. Pretty big one, too. And he found something interesting.”
“By interesting, I’m sure you mean profitable.” Bradley interjected.
Gunther smiled, taking a long drag from his cigar. “That’s pretty much what ‘interesting’ means, you know. So we found some xeno ruins. The usual stuff. Some stonework, some bronze, you know. Small money for the museums, collectors and such. But my cousin, well, he thinks there’s more to it.”
Bradley puffed on the cigar for a moment, contemplating Gunther’s words.
“Why would he think that?”
Leaning forward, Gunther’s expression shifted into something almost predatory, like a vulture waiting for the last breath of an expiring beast before feasting. “Because, we found writing, a load of it, and the tiniest traces of gold. And, being the… businessmen that we are, we’d like to know what it says, and where the rest of it went. Of course, we’d like to keep this rather unofficial.” He waved his hands distractedly, as if the latter had been a mere trifling detail. Bradley knew better.
Swirling the melting ice cubes in his glass around, Bradley pondered the information. Only the tiniest fragments of alien writing had ever been recovered. It was assumed that most of the xeno writing had been stored in computers, long since degraded beyond recognition. The decision wasn’t difficult for him. There were tenured archaeologists who would give their eyeteeth for such an opportunity. But such men didn’t know how to keep their mouths shut, and he did.
Leaning back, the older man smiled genuinely. “Ten percent, plus costs. Within reason, of course.”
Bradley gulped a moment. “That is uncharacteristically generous of you.”
Gunther’s smile widened. “I’m in a generous mood.”
“Well, you’ll be needing a drink, old friend, if we’re going to toast to this.” Bradley flagged the waitress, mentally undressing her for a second time. It was going to be a good night, indeed, he thought wryly.