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Log of Smallship One - Passionate and Confused
I'm just, you know...I'm just the guy who does the thing.
The inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents can be a bit of a bugger sometimes, whatever HPL may have said.

A writer friend of mine posted on FB recently that if she writes only white characters she's accused of "whitewashing," and if she writes non-white characters the same people accuse her of "cultural appropriation," and she asks "Which is it, guys?" The obvious inference is that they just want her to stop writing altogether (because, sorry, the White Writers quota is all filled up, Dickens and Trollope and Faulkner and Hemingway and all those guys just got there first, and now it's other people's turn) but I don't think that's it. I think we get excited about what we get excited about on a given day and don't necessarily realise that that, and the thing we got excited about yesterday, are mutually exclusive, contradictory, or between them consume all the available space.

Another example. Most of us believe, on some level (and isn't that a wonderful weasel-phrase? Even if you're sure you don't think something, on some level you really do--trust us, we know), that there are absolute moral truths and that we know them. I have a deep-seated inner conviction that in a moral society eating people is wrong. I have friends who are equally convinced that eating animals is wrong. (I don't think I know anyone who extends it to plants as well--I fancy they don't get out much.) Other cultures may have different moral axioms, but we know that they must be wrong, because, well, we're right, and we can't all be right.

But if there are absolute moral truths, and we know them, and others don't, then that must mean we are better than them; that our culture, which taught us every moral axiom we ever knew, is better than theirs. And that's privilege, and arrogance, and elitism. But if there aren't absolute moral truths, or there are and we don't know them, then maybe the other cultures are right and we're wrong, or maybe nobody's right. And that's moral relativism, and the doctrine of expediency and the end justifying the means are but a step away. There really aren't any two ways about this; you can't apply quantum indeterminacy to moral issues and say that eating people is right and wrong at the same time and in the same place. It's one or the other. And in practice it tends to be one one day and another another; moral relativism seems right when we see some conservative banging on about razing the entire Middle East to the ground because they're Evul, and wrong when we see reports about what some African tribes do to their women. Yet it can't be both at once, or on alternate days with Sundays off. Reality doesn't work like that.

Elsewhere on FB I came across an article entitled "No, It's Not Your Opinion. You're Just Wrong," about climate change deniers, Holocaust deniers, creationists and those lovable people who still believe in what the Texas Articles of Secession called "the beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery" and who reject "the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men." So I left a comment which began "All opinions are not equal," and ended with the logical conclusion "People should be ruled by liberal intellectuals like us for their own good, because they don't know any better and need a strong hand." It's another instance of the same thing. Either all people are equal, in which case they must have an equal right to a voice in the government of their country, or all people are not equal, in which case we who know best need to dump democracy and take over as a ruling class, because they're wrong and we're right and our opinions are better than their opinions. We can't have it both ways. Reality doesn't work like that.

And it's not just a case of educating people and informing them so that they will agree with us, because educated and informed people still hold Wrong opinions. "If we just showed them the facts" is a lovely thought, but it doesn't work. There are Christian scientists (not to mention Christian Scientists) who know all about evolution and evidence and still believe in God, conservative economists who've studied their subject for years and still believe in the trickle-down effect, and people who've been working out in the weather all day every day for forty years and still don't think there's anything wrong with it at the moment. Either they have as much right to an opinion and a vote as we do, or they don't. There's no halfway point here.

So we go on, blowing hot when it's cold and cold when it's hot, democrats one day and unwitting fascists the next, and we think we're the same people every day. And of course we are. We just can't seem to make up our minds--our whole minds--who that might be.
What they all said (5) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
I have been listening to Gail Carriger's "steampunk"-horror-comedy-romance novels, clearly done from the US editions but read in a British accent, which sounds very strange. I can say that they do indeed contain all the above elements and are very good. I have only one problem.

Spoilers...Collapse )
What they all said (8) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
"Hello, Jerry," she says as I pause in the doorway, and it's her and it's her voice and I'm just standing there, one hand on my stick, the other on the door jamb, trying to think of something to say that won't be a bloody cliche.

"You owe me twenty piastres," I say.

She smiles. "It was sixty."

"I know, but I can't say that right now. You could have given me some warning. I'd have kept my teeth in."

"Go and get 'em. I'll wait."

"Nah, I can manage the occasional S. Just don't ask me about the bird on the beach purveying the dead marine life."

That gets a little laugh, and my heart does something peculiar inside me.

"So," she says, "you got it."

"Donnelly got it."


"Donnelly. He was on the rope as I climbed out of there, he watched me stash it in the lockbox before Nate broke out the booze, and when we all woke up in the morning he, the lockbox, and all the camels were gone."

"The little rat," she exclaims. "He must have had help."

I nod. "I figured either Delahaye or Prokorin."

"What did you do?"

"Me? Nothing. It just seemed like the perfect ending, after...you know. I got out of the business."

"Jerry, you didn't."

"I did too. There just didn't seem to be much point."

Her eyes are lowered. "I'm sorry."

"It wasn't your fault. I got you into it. I should have been more of the dominant male and left you washing dishes back at camp like a good little girl."

"You might have tried," she says, flashing those eyes at me. Then she looks around the room. "So you came back here to wallow."

"Via several intriguing-looking bottles and a spell in hospital. Now I drink tonic water and write books."

"Who's the champagne for?"

"You. It's the same bottle I bought before we set off. Never had the heart to get rid of it."

"Jerry, you idiot, it'll be undrinkable."

"No loss to me."

She hesitates. "Actually, Jerry, that's the reason I'm here." She meets my eyes again. "It's kind of got to go back. The--the thing, I mean."

"What?" I blink. "Why now?"

"It hasn't mattered till now. There's an important date coming up...in the old calendar, you know...and it needs to be in place, or...bad things will happen."

"Why come to me?" I don't boggle at the notion. I've seen enough to know that strange things exist, and she never lied to me except that one time. "Donnelly's your man."

"You were the one who took it off the altar. I'm bound to you till it's returned."

"As incentives go," I say, "that's not one of the best."

"You'll find it grows on you," she says.

"There's nothing left of the place," I say, trying another angle. "It came down around us--God, you know that. It's just a big pile of sand."

"Nevertheless," she says. "We've got a little over three months."

"To find Donnelly, find out what he did with it, steal it and return it to a big pile of sand." I look down at myself, spotted old hand trembling on the handle of the stick. "It may have escaped your notice, darling, but I'm not quite as young as I used to be."

"We'll need some help, obviously," she says. "I'll have to leave that to you. I'm not allowed to talk to anyone else."

"'Course not. You're a ghost, or more likely a figment of my senile imagination." I'm surprised this hasn't occurred to me sooner, actually.

"I'm real enough," she says, getting up off the chest and coming to touch my arm. "I'm just...bound by different rules now." Her touch is real, warm and solid and God how I want those fifty years back. "We'll make plans in the morning. I'll be with you all the time, Jerry darling, from now till the moment we put it back. We do have some catching up to do. Unless you'd rather sleep?"

My turn to laugh. "I can sleep when I'm dead," I say, with more bravado than I actually feel.

She smiles again. "Have you at least kept the piano in tune?"

"Had it done two weeks ago. Almost like I knew you'd be coming by."

She looks off to the side, and frowns. "And when was the last time you polished my trumpet?"

"I don't think that's the sort of question a lady should ask a gentleman," I say, because if I don't make some kind of a joke out of it I'm going to start crying, and we laugh together, and it feels good, for the first time in fifty long years something actually feels good. At that point I don't care if it's all real or not. I want it to be real.

And that's how it started.
What they all said (6) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
"Gentlemen, if I might crave a moment of your frankly not very valuable time...thank you. The subject of my discourse this morning shall be Human Civilisation, and let me assure you at the outset that I have indeed heard the venerable quip to the effect that such a thing would be a very good idea, more than once in fact, and I confess that for me it has lost just a little of its charm. I see six of you looking disappointed. Console yourselves by concentrating on the brand new joke about human civilisation that each of you, severally and without consultation, shall present to the class next time we meet. Wit, sirs, is nothing if it be not original.

"Human civilisation is in brief an aggregation of systems, of rules, laws, morals, ethics, traditions, customs, rituals and shibboleths. Now if I tell you (as I do) that the purpose of these systems is largely to obviate the necessity for rational thought, you are likely to fall into an even hoarier error, the comfortable assumption that this is because human beings in general do not like to think and avoid doing so wherever possible. Not so. As you will be learning in your General Humanities classes under Theopompos, any statement that begins "human beings in general..." is almost certainly a lie, or at best so vague and inchoate as to be void of meaning. Human beings in general are nothing if not diverse, and many indeed find rational thought an imposition, while others practise it incessantly but begin from incorrect postulates which lead them to wrong conclusions.

"To such as these, the rightness of rules, or indeed their wrongness, will never be apparent of itself; only by living under them and observing the practical effects can it be made clear. For this reason, enlightened human thinkers have deemed it necessary to provide an absolute framework of systems to which all humans under their aegis must of force submit, so that all may live together in reasonable amity. Civilisation, at its best, is encapsulated and epitomised in the happy phrase 'Because I say so.'

"This phrase has been many times condemned as autocratic, tyrannical even. It is nothing of the kind. Rather it is a benevolent, merciful gesture of inclusion to all humanity. It says 'You do not see the merit of the notion that (for instance), when traversing a busy thoroughfare, you should retain a firm grip upon my hand. You have not considered the possible ramifications, or else you have considered them from the basis of your belief that you know as much as I do about traffic and how to avoid it. Very well. Nonetheless, whenever we are engaged in this activity, you shall follow my rules, and we shall therefore avoid even the remote chance that you might be involved in a fatality which I could have prevented; and later, when you are wiser in the ways of vehicular hazards, you will know how to avoid such contingencies yourself, and thus be free to cross the road unaccompanied.'

"And only thus, indeed, can a rule that has grown antiquated and therefore invalid be changed; for once the human mind has absorbed and internalised a rule, it becomes exceedingly hard to blast it loose. Humanity frequently (not generally, you will note) excels at finding reasons not to change its mind; rational thought is an ideal tool for such a task, since all you have to do is begin from the postulate that you were right in the first place and you can produce justifications ad nauseam. Then, too, the only remedy is 'Because I say so,' uttered in a stentorian voice and accompanied by whatever presents itself in the form of carrot and/or stick. Once the postulate is changed, once the old rule is out of the way, the virtue of the new rule may be assessed in practice; but not before.

"It is hard to overstress the vital necessity of 'Because I say so.' It may well be that ninety per cent of humanity, left to itself, would of its own volition behave in an utterly civilised manner, though I take leave to entertain doubts. Even so, in the absence of rules imposed by fiat, that ninety per cent would soon be utterly at the mercy of the other ten per cent, who see no reason why they should behave so when doing otherwise might yield much profit to themselves. We have now seen this grim drama played out upon a thousand worlds; the foundation of a new colony in a bright spirit of mutual co-operation and harmony, the proud resolve to build a new society without restrictions, rules or taboos, the inevitable dissolution of that dream from within by the first to ask 'Why?', or more often 'Why not?", and receive no conclusive answer. Anarchy, as a functional political system in the long term, is not possible for humans. It may well be that you have to live as long as we do to understand how to make it work; and even we have our rules, our customs, our 'Because I say so''s. And trust me, we need them.

"We are now seeing, in human civilisation as it goes forward upon the galactic stage, perhaps the grandest of all experiments in 'Because I say so.' The Sagittarians, with their Accords, have eradicated, devalued or contained much that was pernicious in human society. Have they provided reasons? No. Do they explain? No. Do they seek consultation? No. Do they have power to enforce their rules? Very little. They have no stick, and only, if one may so express it, a highly speculative carrot. And yet, as we see, the number of UnAffiliated worlds grows steadily less. Before our next encounter, I invite each of you to explain to me, in five thousand words or fewer, exactly why this should be. And yes, I will expect six new jokes as well.

"Enough. When we meet again, we shall explore the many amusing and instructive ways in which humankind has got civilisation wrong, and discuss how they might have avoided the disaster. Now, would there be any questions?"
You wanted to say something?
C J Cherryh nails it:

"Use 'may' in a present tense or future tense sentence. Use 'might' in any past tense sentence. You may also use 'might' in a present tense sentence, but you must never, ever, ever use 'may' in a past tense sentence. HE SAYS HE MAY GO. HE SAID HE MIGHT GO. HE SAYS HE MIGHT GO (remote possibility). All the previous are correct. HE SAID HE MAY GO is wrong, wrong, wrong, no matter how often you may hear it on the nightly news. It's my belief there must be a grammar correction software out there that has it wrong, because American English works are suddenly rife with this error. I know for a fact there is one professional copyeditor on the loose that tries to 'correct' manuscripts to this incorrect usage. The finesses of this may-might business are considerable. Train yourself to wince when someone violates what's technically called the 'sequence of tenses' rule."

Various writers, including the late and much lamented Sir Terry, either don't know, have forgotten, or (much more likely) have been gratuitously edited to make it appear as if they don't know this rule. I don't have to train myself. When I see passages like this (this is my own invention, but trust me, they're out there):

"He controlled himself with difficulty. He may be the son of the Duke of Kafurtel, but he was also Chief Grumpclutcher of the Ormolu Club."

...especially in a book by someone who is trying to write in Victorian British-English idiom, the wince happens reflexively. I think "He may be? You're the writer. Don't you know?" And my confidence in that writer is accordingly reduced.

There will be those who will feel compelled to hasten to tell me that it doesn't matter, that the language is evolving, that such distinctions are unimportant, that I am a Nazi, and so on. Whether they would say the same to Ms Cherryh I know not. Either way, I urge them to spare themselves the effort and the resultant argument. The above misusage is not a part of any precious regional dialect or cultural heritage. It is not a mark of down-home folksy charm. It is not evidence that the speaker/writer is a Person of the People, not one of your stuck-up pinko longhair intellectuals. It is not worth fighting for. It is simply a mistake arising from sloppiness and laziness. It is, in the end, just wrong, whoever does it, however many do it; and if it becomes common usage across the entire English-speaking world, it will still be wrong.

Language is a tool box. There is a right and a wrong way to use every single tool in it, whether you agree with that or not, and the right way generally works better.
What they all said (2) . Unless... You wanted to say something?

Since I'm still having difficulty writing, I thought I'd lob the ball into your court for a while. The picture is called "A Voice From The Past." That's all I know about it. If you feel the urge, write something about it. You get to decide who this is, who or what they're looking at, where and when this takes place, who's talking, and what happens next. Doesn't have to be long; doesn't have to be clever. When you've done it, you can put it in a comment, or put it somewhere else, or keep it to yourself, as you please. All I ask is that if you do write something, tell me (at least) that you did.

Thank you.

EDIT: I'm so glad people have responded. Thank you all again. The field is still wide open.

I do now have something of my own developing on this image, and I'll post it at some point, if people are interested. And then hopefully I'll be able to get back to Conservatoire. (In the meantime, of course, if anyone is interested in the story but daunted by the number of episodes they've missed, a hiatus like this is an ideal opportunity to catch up...) FURTHER EDIT: and a link would look well about here, wouldn't it? http://www.avevale.org/index.php/episodes-plays/10-epsodes-plays/31-journey-to-conservatoire
What they all said (9) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
previous post deleted because it caused offence. I apologise. I should learn not to write songs on subjects I know nothing about.
You wanted to say something?
The hideous squid-faced creature leant in close.

"Da yew feear dayth?" it growled.

Soren considered. "How do you mean?" he said.

The tentacled visage boggled. "Whit da yew mayn, hoi da yew mayn?" it demanded. "Ut's a pairfectly sumple quaystion. Da yew...feeear....dayth?"

"Well, do you mean do I fear the condition of being dead, about which we know nothing, or do I fear the act of dying, or rather the process of becoming dead?" Soren retorted. "They're very different things, and it's perfectly possible to fear one but not the other, or both but in different degrees. And then there are the social aspects of being dead, what happens to the people around me when I'm gone, my family and other animals, I mean dependents, the various stages of grieving...the psychological trauma that my death might cause to others...it's a big concept, death, you can't possibly just answer a question like that yes or no."

The creature considered this in its turn. "Moist payple dew," it said tentatively.

"Well, I expect they spoke without thinking, that happens sometimes, especially when unfriendly-looking denizens of the deep are pointing pointy things in a pointed manner. I bet you rushed them, didn't you? Didn't give them time to consider the question properly, from all angles?" Soren nodded sagely. "That'll bugger up your demographics every time. You'll never get decent results that way. Opinion polling is a complex business, you know, one straight yes-or-no question tells you nothing. Especially one like this. I mean fear is a relative thing, you know? 'Do you fear death compared to what?' Compared, for instance, to spending eternity on this ship, permanently cold and wet and watching bits of you drop off? Death might be worse than that, or it might be a lot better. As I said, we don't know. You need to sharpen up your questions here a bit. I could help with that...anyone got a piece of paper, they told me in the shop this pen writes underwater so it should be okay..."

The motley crew crowded round and watched in fascination as Soren and their slimy captain pored over the paper. The captain insisted, with much popping and colourful seafaring language, on only one question rather than a series of twenty, so it took quite a while, but eventually they arrived at a mutually satisfactory form of words. Immediately the creature seized the paper, studied the blotched and smeared scribble for a long moment, moving its lips silently (and Soren decided he was going to pay another visit to that shop, with special attention to the complaints department) and then darted a look of indescribable craftiness at Soren from under its hairless brows and read out what they had written.

"Awn a skeel of wan ta tayn (wan being 'strawngly dusagray' ond tayn being 'strawngly agray'), consudering all the ospaycts of the cawnsaypt, unclewding bot nawt lumited tew sawcial, saycholawgucal, ayconawmuc, taylyolawgucal, rulugious ond phusyolawgucal, and cumpayring awther strayssfol er troymotic uxpayriences awn a lake-fer-lake beasus, hoy fore wud yew agray wuth the steatment thut yew feear dayth?"

Soren considered again. "Strongly disagree," he said, "for two reasons. One, because as far as I know I can't die, and two because my mate Zander has been collecting all the pointy things on this ship, up to and including the crew, and dropping them over the side, with the exception of your own cutlass which is currently poised just above the back of your neck. Obviously it won't kill you, since you're a supernatural thingy, but we figure it might make you a bit uncomfortable if he were to chop your head off. Now," Soren went on, easing his back a little against the oozing bulkhead, "shall we talk?"
What they all said (1) . Unless... You wanted to say something?

As anyone who has followed my waspish maunderings at all closely over the years will know, I have often done what this irritating person does, though never at parties, and while I've more or less given it up now, I would nonetheless defend the practice in itself and recommend it to others.

(I wonder, incidentally, how many of my friends saw this and thought of me. Maybe none. I don't know.)

Not for the reasons that seemingly impel Mr Malki's character, I hasten to add. I do not play devil's advocate for fun. I don't have any urge to prove I'm smarter than anyone else, which is on the whole a good thing because I'd fail. I don't get any pleasure out of irritating people (I mean me irritating people, not people who are irritating...you know). Nor am I compensating for being short and having no chin. And getting the last word is only satisfying if it's because the other person has understood what you're saying and thinks it worth thinking about. Otherwise you've just exhausted people to no good purpose.

There are "discussions" that take place, mostly online, in which neither participating party has the remotest interest in communicating anything to anyone, or in receiving any communication from anyone. They're there to Say Something. They have Something to Say, and by jiminy they're going to Say it. They may have Said it 3,817 times before, but that won't stop them Saying it again, and if anyone says anything that isn't "Word!", "Preach it!" or "You are so right!", that just gives them a reason to come up with a slightly different wording for number 3,818. These "discussions" cover a variety of subjects, not just the one in which I used mainly to interest myself, and I used to imagine that they were actual thoughtful explorations of those subjects and not just cheering rallies, and try to take part. And, yes, if I saw a point of view with which I had some sympathy argued in a faulty or unconvincing way, I used to take issue with the argument.

No more. If someone wants to argue that there is no God because clouds are composed of water vapour and an old man with a beard would fall through and by the way you're a poopy head, then that's fine with me. If someone wants to argue that there is no evolution because look at this magnificent peacock feather and how could that have evolved eh eh eh and where were you when God was handing out the brains, I remain unruffled. (It's true that I hardly ever argued with that side anyway; that's mainly because I had no interest in trying to improve an argument for a cause with which I didn't sympathise. Also because that side of the discussion made no particular claim on rational precision; their stock-in-trade was passionate conviction, and you only strengthen that by arguing with it. That's my excuse anyway.)

So yes, I was and to some extent am That Guy. And I take the point made in the following strip, that "it's possible to poke holes in someone's argument and still be wrong yourself." Certainly it is. There are myriad ways of being wrong. None of them preclude the recognition of someone else's faulty argument, and if that argument is being seriously advanced in a debate, and not simply reeled off because it's Something to Say, then I still think drawing attention to the holes in it, while unrewarding and often conducive to ill feeling, is no bad thing.

I just don't have the energy any more.
What they all said (1) . Unless... You wanted to say something?


The Queen called for Sir Cantaloupe, the bravest of the brave,
"Sir Knight," she said, "'t is only you can fetch us what we crave.
We dearly wish a Wuzzle from the forests to the north,
And so, Sir Knight, we charge you to ride forth."

Sir Cantaloupe was bound to heed his sovereign's lightest word.
She told him to ride forth, but he was keen, so he rode third.
He galloped through the castle gate at the dawning of the day
And went to find a Wuzzle, come what may.

"This Wuzzle is a puzzle I can't read.
I must have help to solve it with all speed.
I shall ride without delay
To the Witch of Westernhay
Perhaps she'll have the knowledge that I need."

On rode Sir Cantaloupe as day turned into night.
He reached the witch's cottage by the full moon's eerie light.
She gave him tea and crumpets and a glass of buttered rum
And then she asked him point blank why he'd come.

Sir Cantaloupe he laid the facts before her fair and square.
"The Queen desires a Wuzzle and to fail I do not dare.
I'm brave and strong and clever, but there's one snag I can see:
I've no clue what a Wuzzle's supposed to be!

Does a Wuzzle need a muzzle? Will it bite?
When I find it will it put up any fight?
Is it beast or fish or bird,
Could I tame it with a word?
Help me out here and I swear I'll see you right."

The witch she proved a fund of information on this theme:
"You can lure it with a ladleful of jasmine-scented steam.
But never seek your Wuzzle when it's coming on to rain
Or the water will just wash it down the drain!"

Sir Cantaloupe took careful notes as she talked on and on,
He left a purse of gold and in the morning he was gone.
He rode into the north woods to seek Wuzzles with a will,
And for all I know he's up there seeking still...

The King inquired "Where is that frightful bore?
Has someone been so kind as to start a war?
His discourses made me yawn
I'm relieved to find he's gorn
But I'd like to know just what he's gorn out for."

"Oh, do you mean Sir Cantaloupe?" the Queen said, looking coy.
"I've sent him on a quest that I'm quite certain he'll enjoy.
It's doomed to utter failure, but that's just the kind of test
That your true authentic hero loves the best.

He'll meet with many dangers and he'll do some mighty deeds,
Exactly the employment that a real knight errant needs.
He really wasn't happy moping round here night and day
Naught to do but drink and guzzle
Not a chance to use his muscle
Now he's gone to hunt a Wuzzle
Far away--
Don't thank me dear, thank the Witch of Westernhay!"

[Note: at the end of the album, just long enough after the final song to make everyone think it's over, the following may be heard:

SIR CANTALOUPE (knightly, but very out of breath): "Your Majesty...I bring you...a Wuzzle!"
QUEEN (slight pause, nonplussed): "Oh."]
What they all said (2) . Unless... You wanted to say something?

Hoofbeats thunder across the plain
As you sight a black sail on the Spanish Main
And the passengers on the runaway train
Are starting to feel a little nervous strain
When you break into the lair of the evil mage
And the giant ape's busting out of his cage
And the kitchen erupts in screams of rage
Because the trainee cook's added too much sage

High drama
Coming to a theatre near you
High drama
Wonder if they'll make it through
High drama

The gang can't agree how to split the take
Going downhill at ninety someone cut the brake
And the vampire count's just about to awake
When you find out you came out without your stake
When the whole Lost Temple begins to shake
And the boss gets poisoned by a clerk on the make
When you're trying to flee from the great earthquake
But you're not gonna make it 'cause you stepped on a rake

High drama
Coming to a theatre near you
High drama
Wonder if you'll make it through
High drama
High drama

Some people just don't know how to relax
Ain't nothing surer than death and tax
(Listen to the sax!)


Some people just need to play it cool
If you get het up over every little thing you're a fool
(Go back to school!)

When the street's jammed solid and you're running late
When you ask for nine doughnuts and they give you eight
When your lunch arrives on a dirty plate
And you pick up a splinter from a packing crate
When you don't like the face of your candidate
And you're even less enchanted by her running mate
And you want to get a gun and overthrow the state
'Cause there's people getting married and they ain't straight

High drama
Coming to a theatre near you
High drama
Wonder if we'll make it through
High drama
Why'd you have to overreact?
High drama
Ain't nothing but a simple fact (use some tact)
High drama
High drama
High drama
(Who put the drama in the Drama Llama Ding Dong?)
You wanted to say something?

So here we are
And now you've had your say,
And no-one will deny
That you've fairly won the day.
It's been a long hard journey
But you finally saw it through
And now there's only one thing left to do...

Pull back, roll credits,
The good guys saved the world.
The villains were defeated
And the hero's got the girl.
And if you pull back far enough
There's a chance that you won't see,
That someone in the cast's not smiling...
And it's me.

I know the rules
I know how stories go.
The hero makes a journey
And he fights a deadly foe.
And when he's gone to all that trouble
And risked his very life
He deserves the happy ending, and the wife...

Pull back, roll credits,
The final music swells
With trumpets, strings and timpani
And of course there must be bells,
And if they play it loud enough
To shake the chandeliers
It might just drown the quiet sound
Of my tears.

And how supremely churlish
And ill-mannered would it be
To break the mood of triumph
And say "Hey, what about me?"
And how the other players
Would stare at me in shame
If I didn't keep my place and play the game...

So take your prize
This trophy that you've won.
We've got to the denouement
And now this story's done.
But there are other stories
And some day soon you'll learn
That I can be a hera in my turn...

Yes, pull back, roll credits,
But just for now, my friend,
And put a little question mark
On the end of "The End"....
(key change!)

Pull back, roll credits,
That's what we always do,
And then let's have a party
And talk about part two.
I've got some neat ideas to pitch
A whole new storyline...
It's my turn to save the world,
My turn to get the girl,
And I know that on my own I'll do just fine...
The next one's mine!
What they all said (7) . Unless... You wanted to say something?

Tollain was as good as his word when he assured the Truesingers that they could continue their own career besides being part of Gestalt. This was the first album they produced after joining the band. (I should mention that the song titles on the back are completely unknown to me. Should the songs emerge, I'll let you know, but I suspect that My Swash Won't Buckle is an instrumental.)

Kaichang informs me that she is never, under any circumstances, wearing those multiply qualified contact lenses or anything like them ever again.
You wanted to say something?
I keep grappling with this question. The short, flip answer is the one Davy Jones gave Frank Zappa: "Well, so am I, what can I tell you?" A British future, rightly or wrongly, is the one I've imagined and dreamed about since my childhood. What the word "British" means has of course changed a great deal in that time, in some ways very much to the good, in rather more ways very much to the bad, and in even more ways not nearly enough.

One thing that seems clear, though, is that even if the million to one chance comes off and the human race has a future (this necessarily involving the spontaneous and immediate arrival of Clues in a number of minds as yet innocent of such things) Britain has pretty much had its chance and blown it. We have no manifest destiny. Other nations deserve and will get their turn on top, if there's any justice. "Britishness," such of it as remains, will sink none too gracefully under the mass of other cultures and never be heard from again, and nobody will mourn much.

So what is the point of my writing a future in which people speak English, and, what's more, largely my kind of English, in which houses and roads and systems of government are all based on the ones I've seen about me and people still quote from British movies, even six thousand years in the future? How could such an insane future come about? Am I not just being lazy?

Well, of course, I am lazy. Ask anyone. But from an authorial point of view, I write what I write because it's what I want to write. I think stories set in my future can still speak to people, even people who are (to their great relief) not me. I don't expect or hope for any great success; my readership on Avevale is, I'm fairly sure, in single figures, and I'm glad and thankful to get it. Were I someone like Kai Lung, unrolling my mat under the mulberry tree, it would be a respectable audience.

("But why does the noble Kai Lung no longer set out his begging bowl?" asked one of his hearers.

"Thus and thus," responded the storyteller. "It may be that, attracted by this one's uplifted voice, a traveller from the steppes of Tartary may one day drop a copper coin into the crude and ill-designed receptacle in question. Should that chance occur, according to the latest decrees of our illustrious and high-minded Emperor, this person must immediately encase his belongings in some sturdy wrapping and set forth upon the road that leads to those same steppes, there on his arrival to render up to the Grand Cham, or more probably to such persons as he may appoint for the task, that which they deem to be a due and just proportion of that copper coin by way of taxation, since the Imperial assessors now decline, with many graceful and self-effacing gestures, to collect it themselves. Since such a journey would cost many strings of cash, and moreover lead this person into realms in which his narration of imagined tales would find no ear capable of comprehending its utterances, it has seemed more prudent to avoid the contingency by removing the source of temptation."

But I digress.)

So, to slide from the Doyleian to the Watsonian mode (do they still make sidecars, I wonder?), how can I possibly justify a future in which the dominant culture is British?


I've mentioned in various afterpieces and blog posts how the world was saved from ecological destruction by the nanotech-enhanced people I've called "the gods of California," who rightly reasoned that a lesson that kills all the students is no lesson at all and sometimes you just have to sort out the mess. Somewhere around the same time came the discovery of the introction drive, which bypassed all that silly relativity business and could, given the right components, be constructed in any reasonably well-equipped workshop, and this discovery was leaked to the world. In no time (sociologically speaking) came the First Spacing, and more than half the population of the planet was off, mostly those people who had had a raw deal on Earth and desperately wanted a brighter future elsewhere. The population of the American continents was decimated several times over; also those of Africa, Asia and the less well-off parts of Europe.

Those who remained behind were those who for the moment were content to live, chafing a little, under the benevolent constraints imposed by the gods for the long-term healing of the planet. The Second Spacing happened long after the gods had gone off wherever they had gone, and the planet was more or less safe; those who left this time left in a spirit rather of hope than of desperation, of let's-see-what's-out-there-and-if-Granny-actually-made-it. That took care of the rest of Europe, pretty much.

And those who remained behind, nursing a bitter resentment against those people who had had the enterprise to go when they themselves hadn't...those whose culture had stagnated, because the ones who had left had been mostly young and progressive souls, leaving behind the ignorant, bigoted and conservative...those who continued as they always had, because they hadn't the sense to die out...those who eventually got a grip on themselves, restarted industrial development on a huge scale and managed to do to the regenerated Earth in half a millennium what had taken ten the first time...those who chewed up the entire solar system to produce ships and weapons of war, who poured forth in their billions to conquer planet after planet and create what became in all its monstrosity the Last Empire...

...yup, that would be us. Mostly.

And that's how a moribund and all-but-fossilised cultural template got imposed on nine-tenths of the known galaxy. That's the real reason why everyone speaks English, and why so many towns and cities on so many planets look like Milton Keynes. That's why my future is so very, very British.

I'm not proud of it. It's not how I'd have liked my country to blazon its name across the stars. But it makes a bitter kind of sense.
You wanted to say something?
As I thought, the Gilchrist machine slipped a ringer in on me. It will have its little joke. I swear it talks to Nyrond homeship computers while I'm not looking and picks up tips.

Here is the correct version of the Fall card from this deck:

As you can see, this is much more in keeping with the style (such as it is) of the rest of the deck.

This concludes the Major Arcana of the Sagittarian Tarot. As always with divinatory systems, there are a multitude of interpretations out there; I've chosen to focus on one of the narrative threads applied to the cards, but as always, what matters is what the cards say directly to you, without some other idiot getting in the way. And even if they don't say anything, at least I hope you found them nice to look at, and that my numerous errors of description didn't spoil that too much.

And now perhaps I'll get back to some writing... :)
You wanted to say something?

At first glance this seems very similar to the Fall. A human figure hangs against a starfield. Upon closer inspection, though, the background is divided into eight equal segments along the cardinal and semicardinal axes, and each segment is different in background shade and distribution of stars. The figure, too, is different: its arms are out at its sides, forming an upward-pointing arrow, and its face is upturned. The garb is the same in form, but now a deep indigo, and the features are idealised.

The quester has learned all that the multiverse can teach. An infinity of choices are now open to the reborn soul; angelhood, beyond the real, or an infinite number of worlds to wander - or another Fall, into a different frame, a new beginning – or simply to return home, to the world into which it Fell, and see it for the first time with awakened eyes. The sacred duty laid upon those who attain this state of being is hard to express in a phrase, though "grok" might have approximated to it before it became just another synonym for "knowotImean?" It could be imperfectly understood as "to take an interest", if by "interest" was also implied compassion, love, pride, amusement, lust, worship, awe, hunger and a myriad of subtler nuances of emotion. It is such adepts as these who keep the cosmos alive, and that is how they do it.

The card is outside the classification system, but is generally regarded as a Ruling Card aspected to Eye redoubled.
You wanted to say something?

In the centre of the horizon stands the Tree, flourishing as before. Above it, many times larger than life, a beautiful androgynous figure in flowing white robes, with great golden wings and an aureole, rises in an attitude vaguely prefiguring the final Trump. It holds a long trumpet in its right hand, raised almost to playing position, while its left arm is wrapped around something shadowy.
The card represents rebirth. The figure can be seen either as a divine messenger, rescuing the sacrificed soul from the Tree, or as the soul itself, rising into a new state of being. The overall meaning, however, is clear. This is the act to which all else has been leading, and whose result is celebrated in the next card. This is where the story really starts.
The card is Neutral, Ideal and Bright, a Changing Card aspected to Chalice and Wand.
What they all said (3) . Unless... You wanted to say something?

The tree we have seen so much of is now full grown and splendid, and grows on the right of the card, in a green field bounded by a hedge. From one branch hangs a figure, upside down by one ankle, the other leg crossed behind. The hands are behind the back, and the expression is ecstatic.

The card represents the final act of sacrifice. Having regained itself, the soul offers itself up to whatever powers there be. It is not a retreat, but an advance: not a renunciation, but a claim. "It is one of the ancients' least comprehended and most ignored truths that the only possible sacrifice is the irrevocable and whole-hearted offering of one's self" (Shirinin); this card encompasses and encapsulates this truth.

The card is Passive, Mutative and Bright, a Counselling Card aspected to Wand and Sword.

Note: keen-eyed scrutineers will observe that the rope around the Hanged One’s left ankle is not attached to the tree, or to anything else. This is common to all Sagittarian Tarot decks; the reason is unclear.
What they all said (4) . Unless... You wanted to say something?

The moon shines serenely in the sky. Under an ancient withered tree, a hooded, cloaked female figure casts leaves into a cauldron which bubbles over a fire. Her hood and cloak are brown; her face is hidden.

The card represents much-needed help, freely and unquestioningly given. Only the healer can save the soul, not on, but over the brink of destruction; and her mission serves to plant the seeds of inspiration, for the leaves from which she infuses her potion are, once again, from that tree which one might call "the Trump without a Trump", so central is it to the mystery of the cards, and her selfless devotion may set the quester's mind moving towards another type of selflessness, another act of sacrifice.

The card is Passive, Ideal and Bright, a Counselling Card aspected to Eye and Chalice.


Just as the City spread out endlessly in all directions, so do the Ruins, bathed in the dead light of a winter sky.

The card represents what Karloman has called "a ruinous state of mind," a timeless peace as far removed from the Moon or the Outcast as the sovereignty of the Empress from that of the Emperor. Worldly desires are not now sternly renounced, accidentally lost or passionately cast aside, they have simply ceased to be relevant. The soul is at last prepared for the final act, and the only temptation is to linger too long in the exquisite melancholy of the Ruins, to indulge oneself in their poignancy. This cannot be. There is now no turning back.
The card is Neutral, Real and Shadowed, a Confronting Card aspected to Wheel and Eye.
What they all said (3) . Unless... You wanted to say something?
I'm not a subscriber to the prevalent belief that satire is an effective tool of social change. In fact, I'm not sure why it is a prevalent belief, because it's piffle.

Mind, I don't say that satire has not occasionally got results. I acknowledge that the satire boom of the mid-sixties, and Private Eye and TW3 in particular, helped to undermine the culture of deference and respect for those in government that had held sway for some time, and probably played a part in bringing down the Macmillan administration. My question is simply whether those results, when achieved, are ever the desired or desirable results. Have we, at any time since the end of the Macmillan administration, had a government that was one jot more worthy of respect than the one we ditched? Indeed, is it not arguable, comparing the conservatism of dear old Mac with the ravening monster of today, that we didn't know when we were well off?

Satire certainly never did Thatcher any harm. She revelled in it, and with good reason. That ringing victory over Macmillan in 1964 was the beginning of the end of the era of government that cares whether we respect it or not. Look at Cameron. He knows sixty per cent of us out here hate his breathing guts, but he also knows that since our faith in the last of the mainstream parties is now dead there'll be no more hung parliaments for at least another twenty years, and he knows that his party can carry on indefinitely gimmicking the electoral system so as to parlay the dwindling rump of their hardline supporters and the apathy of the disenchanted into at least a working majority. Satire's irrelevant, except in so far as iit encourages more and more people to go a-plague-on-both-your-houses and stay home on polling day. Any government, these days, that gets all up in the air about satire is wasting time and effort and making itself look, at best, ludicrous, and at worst, murderously insane.

So I'm not a subscriber to the prevalent belief that satire is an effective tool of social change. And I'm profoundly unmoved when people waffle on about the "sacred duty to mock." (I can't cite the phrase, but I'm certain Stephen Fry said something like that, though possibly not including the word "sacred.") There is no such thing as a duty to mock, or an obligation to laugh, or a holy mission to blow raspberries. For one thing, what a damnably cheerless reason for doing anything that resembles laughter. Secondly, it's pointless. The fanatics and humbugs of today are satire-proof; the general public has overdosed on it and now can't tell it from reality, or reality TV, or margarine.

All satire does now, at its most effective, is make people feel vaguely that things can't be as bad as all that if a chap can get up on a chap's hind legs and say things like that and get away with it. A well-written satire can still be a joy to read, and the freedom to write or indeed draw satire and not be killed is an important one. But don't go thinking satire will ever bring down another government. That was a one-off, and given the mutant strains that have resulted, I wonder if even that was worth it.
You wanted to say something?