It was the Worst of Times, it was the Worst of Times.

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It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of stupidity, it was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of misinformation, it was the epoch of unquestioning belief. It was the season of blue light, it was the season of impenetrable darkness. It began with hope, but it ended with despair. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us. We were all going direct to Heaven, unless we were of a different race, religion, or political outlook, in which case we were going direct the other way. In short, the year took the 20th century, ejected all the good ingredients, and brewed the remainder into a toxic and terrifying blend.

It was the year of Our Lord, two thousand and sixteen.

I am hoping for a 2017 that embraces love, wisdom, compassion, tolerance, truth, and an unquenchable resistance to megalomania and hatred.

Happy New Year Everyone
(and thank you, Charles Dickens)

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My Writing Pet Peeve – Other People

I am posting this as part of the Larysia Writes Bloghop, and I would like thank talented science fiction author and short story wizard Richard Gibney for inviting me on the train.

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My Writing Pet Peeve is: Other People

Yes, you know you who you are. You who wait until the exact moment Windows has stopped installing unwanted updates to call me with your words and expect me to say words in return. And I might as well answer at that point because in the unlikely event that I had a flow of ideas, it has already been interrupted by the shrill squeak of Angus & the Elevator Magnets, which seemed so amusing when I chose it as my ringtone.

Then just as the inciting event is leading my protagonist into a unique personal crisis that might finally explain what this heap of words I have been gluing together for seven years is actually about, you ring the doorbell.

Why would you ring the doorbell? Why would anyone ring a doorbell nowadays? Unless you’re delivering food. And you never are delivering food, are you? No, you want me to switch to your electricity or broadband or religion or whatever you’re offering that’s exactly the same as what I already have. A pizza would have been nice. Just a small one. A margarita. And none of those stuffed crusts. They’re just weird.

And when the book is finally mauled into shape, it’s not enough, is it? One might think you would just buy the damn thing and read it and maybe leave a stellar little review somewhere. But no, you expect me to talk to you about it. Not just one of you, in a quick text message maybe or even a tweet. No, that’s not enough is it. I’m supposed to travel hundreds of miles to bookshops and oil rigs and nuclear bunkers and talk to you and all your friends and some people you once met at a tai chi demonstration.

I’m supposed to tell you what’s in the book even though you COULD just read it and find out that way. And face it, the reason I became a writer is because I am no good at talking. At all. Especially in front of a room full of people. I clam up.  My brain stops working, and my mouth starts firing out meaningless disassociated words, like Donald Trump during a presidential debate (although hopefully without the misogyny, racism, or megalomania). I drool. Eventually, I just collapse in a jellylike heap on the floor.

Would you buy a book written by a heap of jelly? I don’t think so. So take my advice, send me a text message instead.

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The bloghop continues with Lynn Lamb, the bestselling author of the post-apocalyptic Survivor Diaries Series, Opus of the Dead Series, Mechaniclism, and The Oxymoron of Still Life. She is also an independent filmmaker, graphic designer, and scriptwriter. The explosive Survivor Diaries, the chilling Mechaniclism, and the terrifying Lullaby of the Dead, have made a big bang and a scream on the literary scene. Grab these titles, and don’t miss out on this chart-topping author!

Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/author/lynnlamb

For the Sake of a Fractious, Fragile World…

Dear US voters,
You have a crucial decision to make. For the sake of a fractious, fragile world, please make it well.

You may think Hillary Clinton is part of an outmoded establishment, too beholden to big business, or motivated too strongly by political careerism. There are valid arguments behind these claims, all of which could be made about most of the Democratic Party presidential nominees in recent decades and before.

This is not about Hillary Clinton.

This is about the very real prospect of Donald Trump becoming US president.

Whereas there are many checks and balances on the domestic actions of a US president, the foreign policy restrictions are minimal.

If Trump wins, the best possible outcome is that this level of global power will be given to a man who is profoundly unqualified, childishly temperamental, and prone to incite violence against all whom he opposes, which includes anyone of a different race, religion, gender, or political outlook.

That is the best that you can hope for, if Trump wins.

The worst outcome is unthinkable.

Look at history. Look not only at the regimes of despots and tyrants but at their ascent to power. Notice the extent to which people ridiculed them. See how many people let them come to power, believing that their extreme opinions could be curbed, managed, or controlled.

The unthinkable can happen.

If you do not vote, you vote by default for the candidate you least want to win.

You are in a two-party system. If you vote for an alternative minority candidate, however well meaning that candidate may be, you are voting by default for the candidate you least want to win.

Please exercise your right to vote. Don’t allow a clown show to become a tragedy.

The Fear Algorithm

A guest post by Yusuf Toropov.

When I started work on my debut novel JIHADI: A LOVE STORY in the autumn of 2007, I had no idea what dark measures the real world would take in its attempts to bring forth, as reality, the uncomfortable story emerging in my manuscript.

The novel has since come out in the UK and Ireland, published by Orenda Books. And now, with the physical book finally in my hands, I find that something strange has happened to my online New York Times subscription. Every morning, the news I find on my screen seems intent to confirm, as hard fact, passages in my story: plot lines that I had imagined were exaggerated — wholly fictional (I thought) depictions of paranoia, dysfunctionality, religious extremism, bigotry, and xenophic rage.

The Fear Algorithm

For example. Before there was an ISIS, before anyone at the New York Times had even considered that something like ISIS might somehow come to exist, I created in my novel a fictionalized movement to proclaim a twenty-first century caliphate. In my novel, this movement is centered in a nonexistent “Islamic Republic” whose corrupt government and despised American military presence vaguely evokes Iraq and/or Afghanistan. In the novel, the leaders of the movement I created demand the allegiance of all Muslims on earth to its leader, a man of distinctly dubious moral principles. It takes as its founding principle an ever-deepening hatred of America and Americans, and it fast-forwards blithely over centuries of Islamic jurisprudence in its diverse, crowd-pleasing attempts to provoke a distinctive “Islamic” nationalism in the region. (Please note those quote marks. They’re quite important to me.)

This extremist group – the one I made up in my own little head years ago — inclined toward beheadings, and its rank and file consisted (in the words of my female lead) of “loudmouths, rapists, and sycophants.” Today’s New York Times tells me: “(M)ilitants led by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, declared a caliphate that stretches across eastern Syria and much of northern and western Iraq. It also demanded that all Muslims swear allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. ISIS, which calls itself Islamic State, has seized the world’s attention — most recently with the beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven J. Sotloff.” News reports too sickening to detail here link the ISIS zombies to sexual predations that every responsible Sunni scholar has condemned as un-Islamic.

And.

Before there was a Donald Trump presidential campaign, before anyone at the New York Times had even considered the prospect that a Donald Trump presidential campaign might attract significant support, I created in my novel two fictionalized American extremists.  Between them, these two individuals advocated positions that I naively imagined would remain firmly outside of mainstream American political dialogue for years to come, including: the moral acceptability of torture, the advisability of murdering the family members of suspected terrorists, and the necessity of finding ways to exclude various Muslims – or, what the hell, maybe all Muslims — from US soil.

Mr. Trump, now his party’s frontrunner for the presidential nomination, has advocated his own distinctive, appalling variations on all three of these obscenities … and been roundly and repeatedly cheered by (overwhelmingly white) crowds for doing so.

Now.

Did this happen because I had some subconscious or semi-conscious access to future news events? I don’t think so. I think it happened because, in each of these plot threads, I was writing about something that I eventually came to know as the Fear Algorithm.

This term, coined by the author Safie Maken Finlay, refers to the process by which politicians, intelligence officials, and others subvert public opinion to their own purposes by engaging in ever-scarier, ever-more polarizing rhetoric to win support. It’s the Big Lie, forever creating newer and bigger lies. The fear inspired by this kind of rhetoric must always find some way to top the previous fear evoked.

In other words: This kind of rhetoric self-accelerates. It is designed to convince its audience that an existential threat, a threat to “our way of life,” is not only at hand. It is gathering force with every passing second.

Mr. Trump has opined, onstage and to great and viral, acclaim, that unless we “start using our heads” and get “tough,” we’re “not going to have a country anymore, folks.” That’s the Fear Algorithm at work. Expect it to become more outrageous, and expect it to draw bigger, more agitated crowds as we get closer to the November election in the United States.

Abu Bakr al-Bagdhdadi has insisted that he is leading a war that pits “the people of faith against the people of disbelief.” No one knows how many Muslims have devoted their lives to the pursuit of “victory” in such a global cataclysm, but however many they are, however many they may end up being, I invite you to consider the possibility that the Fear Algorithm, not the Quran, is driving their decisions.

I realize you may have gotten used to the idea of Trump and al-Baghdadi occupying opposite ends of the geopolitical spectrum. In fact, they are allies, whether they realize it or not. They are mutually dependent upon one another. The only way I could possibly have written about them as I did, without knowing, as I wrote, anything about the vast scale and seemingly incurable sickness of the crowds they would each draw in the real world, is to have been writing, in JIHADI: A LOVE STORY, about the danger of accelerating, in our cursed century, our universal loathing of the Other. The Fear Algorithm is real, it is lethal, and we have a moral duty to notice when human beings are being victimized by it.

Yusuf Toropov

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Yusuf Toropov is a U.S. author and playwright who currently lives in Ireland. His debut novel, Jihadi: A Love Story, is out now from Orenda Books.

TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS FOR A LIFE? THE DARK SIDE OF THE EVEREST STORY

EVEREST SUMMITEER AND AUTHOR MATT DICKINSON CELEBRATES THE LAUNCH OF ‘NORTH FACE’— THE SECOND BOOK IN THE ‘EVEREST FILES’ SERIES WITH THIS EXCLUSIVE BLOG POST FOR SAFIE MAKEN FINLAY’S BOOK REVIEW SITE’

Everest

More than 30 Sherpa lives have been lost in the last two years on Mt Everest, victims of avalanche and earthquake, yet more names to add to an ever growing list of Everest fatalities which is now nudging up towards 300 climbers.

The Sherpa high altitude workers (mostly men from local villages) take on the lions share of the workload on the mountain, hauling up tents, oxygen cylinders and food for the wealthy western clients.

Ok. You could argue they know the risk. Everyone who goes to the highest mountain in the world realises that it is a potentially deadly place. But there is another side to the Sherpa deaths which is leading to fast rising tension between Western climbers and the local population who live in the shadow of the mountain.

Many of the Sherpa high altitude porters and guides are working without adequate insurance. In the event of their death their families may receive as little as ten thousand dollars, or even nothing at all. This isn’t the case with the reputable expedition operators; they train, equip and insure their Sherpa support teams in the right way. But there is an ever-increasing number of ‘independent’ operators who (in their eagerness to offer cut rate Everest experiences to low budget climbers) will cut corners, hire inexperienced Sherpa teams because they are cheap and then fail to insure them properly.

The government of Nepal does little to help.

What price a summit? A Sherpa climber losing his life will often leave a family destitute in a country that has no social welfare, no financial safety net, and where the standard of living is just a hairs breadth away from poverty even at the best of times.

Not surprisingly, given that they take high levels of risk for low rewards, the Sherpa workers of Everest are now calling for better support. Some also question the whole Everest business, (which is mostly run by western team leaders) asking for more Sherpa leaders to be in charge. After the recent disasters tempers have become very frayed. Some westerners have angered local religious leaders by insisting that their climbs continue even after Sherpa lives have been lost.

The mountain is sacred to the local people. The home of the gods. Some westerners have little empathy for this spiritual dimension of the mountain.

Can the mountain be made safer?

No. Climate change is actually increasing the risks, making the ice unstable with rising temperatures and ever greater chance of avalanche. The mountain is likely to become even more dangerous in the next decades.

It’s a crunch time for Everest (which was closed last year) as new rules are put in place. How many more lives will be lost is impossible to guess. The gods, it seems, are angry and no-one is quite sure how to put the situation right.

Meanwhile, teams are gathering in Nepal for the new season. The Everest circus rolls on.

northface

Read a review of Matt Dickinson’s latest novel, North Face, here.

My Top Five Books

My Top Five Books

Today I set up a Goodreads group. I have never done that before. But someone asked me for a list of my top five books, and it occurred to me that such a thing cannot be set in stone. My top five books can change at any time. The books that are most meaningful to me in the morning may be different by the time I go to bed. I set up the list so that members could post their top five books at any given time. You are welcome to join, or to comment, or both, by clinking the link below.

My Top Five Books

Here are my top five books today:

Anne Tyler – Searching for Caleb
Because of the profound sadness not just of losing someone but of finding them again.

Thomas Hardy – The Return of the Native

A novel that deals, as so many of Hardy’s novels do, with the huge consequences that can transpire as a result of seemingly insignificant acts.

Bill Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything

Simply the best rough guide to science I have ever read.

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

Someone asked to borrow this recently, and I had to refuse. I cannot allow it out of my proximity.

Evelyn Waugh – A Handful of Dust

A book that flickers onto my radar every now and again, and when it does, it catches at something deep within.

 

What if I Don’t Want a Brand New Me

ebay

EBay sent me an email promising a “brand new Safie in 2016.”

I balked. “Do I need replacing?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

“Is nothing worth preserving?” I emailed back. “Could I have a slightly revamped Safie, a replenished Safie, a revitalized Safie, an ‘out of the box but good as new’ Safie, a ‘a few slight scratches but in perfect working order’ Safie.”

“No,” said eBay. “Brand new. It has to be brand new. That’s what people want.”

“But will I still be Safie if I’m brand new?” I asked. “Even if you have somehow created an exact duplicate, if it doesn’t have my personality, my quirks, my memories, even my flaws, will it be me?

“It will be better than you,” it replied.

“And how did you achieve this?” I asked. “Did you clone me? If so, won’t I be a baby still. That might be a little disconcerting for my family. Even my friends might find it a little weird. Especially when it’s my turn to pay the bill.”

“They’ll get used to it,” answered eBay. “People are very adaptable.”

“And what happens to the old me when you’ve installed the replacement? Can I be recycled? Is there some dump, some rest home for people’s discarded selves? Do they sit around reminiscing, slagging of their new selves? Or do they ignore the past and play crazy eights?

“You can sell your old self,” came the response, “on eBay. You have to state that you’re defective, that you’re only suitable for parts and repairs.”

I asked how I should go about getting the brand new me. Would I be expensive?

“Don’t worry,” it answered. “With all the calls and texts and data you use, your purchase will be subsidized. If you sign up to a 24-month contract, you won’t pay anything at all.”

 

I wish you all a peaceful and happy 2016.