News, scary things, recent reading.
So, in semi-recent news, Askazi Myths is on a brief little hiatus before the next arc starts (an arc I am confident will turn out awesome) and the artist, Tanzenlicht, has applied some pressure and more or less decided that people should see the scripts behind the comic. So, now you can read the scripts with handy links to the pages. (Technically this is because Tanzy claims to have had misery trying to find scripts to see how people wrote them, but I like to believe it is because she wants to show off my incredible work. >.> )
I have also spent an inordinate amount of time researching gunpowder and the economics thereof from about 1400 to 1700 to figure out the plausibility of plot elements in a project which is working-titled ‘The Pirate’s Beard’ or alternately ‘The Brocade Goat’.
Basically, in the first stages of humanoid and ape warfare, poop is flung violently. Then it gets upgraded to sticks and stones, better sticks and stones made out of metal, and gradually gunpowder is introduced. Gunpowder requires saltpetre (sometimes saltpeter, I like petre) which is produced, for much of this period, out of processed sewage. Thus, at the pinnacle of warfare, we have discovered that warfare is in fact the art and science of figuring out how to make poop explode, because flinging shit is how we roll, baby.
As far as recent books I’ve read goes, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in the wake of reading ‘A Life Interrupted’, the diaries and correspondences of Etty Hillesum spanning 1941 to 1943. The lady in question, Etty, was a Jew living in German-occupied Amsterdam. You shouldn’t need much of a history lesson to appreciate the situation. The time, place, and government of the time are elements which have dug into the bones of western and world culture. And yet it’s also a time that’s vanishing from living memory, but still a time which is near enough to have shaped our understanding of what the twentieth century was and how everything following the second world war was shaped.
The real world has those bones, those shadows. Things which we may never have a word for, never explicitly hear about, but the shape of the world around us helps us understand.
I don’t know how old I was when I learned about the holocaust. I remember a few confused conversations in primary school, when I must have been around ten years old, with a Jewish pal of mine. I don’t think at the time I understood the numbers people talked about, the scale of the thing. It’s hard to wrap your mind around concepts like ‘six million’ and ‘people’ and ‘genocide’. It gets harder if you count the non-Jews killed, the numbers go into the tens of millions, plausibly more than twenty-million, and it’s all just numbers. And yet the small details make it real. One place, a concentration and transit camp called Westerbork, had a standing population of what sounds like a few thousand. The equivalent of a small suburb. But on a near-weekly basis thousands of people arrived, and thousands of people were sent away like cargo – almost the whole population revolving week by week – to camps in Poland, camps like the infamous Auschwitz, although that was only one extermination camp among half a dozen.
Meeting someone by their writing, having their life measured out by the steadily thinning thickness of pages between right forefinger and thumb as the book is held, knowing what that last page signifies, is a strange and terrible experience. It brings out mortality and meaning in a way few other books I’ve read are capable of.
It’s also terribly intimidating for me as a writer of secondary-world fiction. I’m not sure it’s possible to show someone these kinds of shadows in fiction where everything is made up. Many people, both at the time and now, didn’t believe the holocaust had happened, that it was some kind of hysteria. When dealing with a work of fiction, I’m not sure suspension of disbelief is enough to bring the crushing weight of this kind of world-changing thing to a reader.
Of course, there have been other genocides, before and since, in Europe and elsewhere. Why our cultural shadows drift beneath gates marked ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, why the other millions of voices lost seem so silent, that I don’t know.
Finally, and on a much lighter note, there is this fascinating blog post on the prevalance of US tropes in storytelling, which I found out about via Dr. Grasshopper’s fantastic blog.