Violence in Fiction

The intention of this post is not actually  about raising the profile of  my trilogy nor the last part of it; the project and its characters are merely the anchors for some thoughts on the use of Violence. Bear in mind this is written from a Fantasy perspective so if you are a reader/writer of other genres you may feel some of the points need tweaking. Feel free.

Fantasy, particularly ‘Heroic/Epic rely on large swathes of violence as there will be Wars and there will be Battles, which considering Human History has to be a given. War is part of us whether we like it or not. Somewhere along the line in response to the Opposition or Villains of the narrative the central character(s) will take up arms, several times in fact maybe leading up to one climatic battle, when all may be resolved or some part left unsettled for future tales in a series. Once upon a time in much popular fiction there was a simple sort of tale when Good vs Evil had Evil defeated and that was that, which was about as Fantasy as you can get! Folklore and Legends actually produce a more realistic overview with morally ambiguous central characters and tragic endings. These days there are many Fantasy series rather than stand alones, either one theme such as Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn

Mistborn

Or very complex interactions in which very few nice folk ever appear (and if they do, they don’t live long)

Game of Thrones

All are replete with unavoidable violence, the authors’ mirroring Human history and maybe their views on society in general. Joe Abercrombie being particularly adept at tales dealing with the very gritty, dirty end of violence in which sometimes ‘Fantasy’ hardly rears its head. Take for instance.

Best served cold

Being intentionally set in a land similar to 16th century Italy and nary  a rune or magic staff in sight- nor anyone you would wish to invite over for an evening. The central character (on the cover there) is not a nice person at all, but there again she does not have an idyllic back story.

As with many forms of fiction Fantasy is replete with its own set of genres and sub-genres and in the overwhelming number of works there will be violence of some sort, which since we are dealing with in some form either ambition and/or malignant forces, to repeat is bound to happen. How is this dealt with has many options and variations, from Good eventually triumphing to the very nihilistic someone walking off into the sunset in a devastated landscape, in which evil lurks under a rock (beloved of the writers of comic books/graphic novels and horror movies)- why people think the latter is entertainment is beyond me there are plenty of ‘live’ examples in the world we live in.

Anyway since the post has gradually, as it must, drift into my opinions of the subject this is where I use my own characters to ‘sound off’ (Actually I am fairly certain they do exist from in another part of the Universe and probably in another segment of Time, thus  they have a great influence on my own views)

Heroic Fantasy loves kingdoms and empires which since the setting is usually based in semi-classical or Middle Ages to Renaissance  settings is only natural. History indicates both could be quite robust in carrying on but were prone to their own shares of less than dynamic rulers who were propped up by systems or cliques of self-interest. Thus The Oakhostian. As an empire it is composed of princedoms, city-states and other set-ups. The current dynasty started off with one  fellow who seized power by being physically ruthless against other nobles and the the emperor, albeit in a surgical way, so no rampaging. His son was more inclined to secret police and espionage. Neither bothered the mass of the population as the mass of the population didn’t bother them and both sides saw that as fine. The third in line was more easy-going, affable, with a gift of selling himself and his ideas, and knowing which side to play and when, he also appreciated women a lot and died when as gamboling about with his latest squeeze he fell into a fish pond, knocked his head on an ornamental statue  and drowned. The fourth in line is too young for the job, nervous and doesn’t make decisions. There are of course vested interests big and small. What I did want to create was something far from perfect. An environment  in which an great deal of compromise, morally elastic actions and pragmatic activity went on, most folk just wanting to keep the whole thing going and get by as best they could, because there was always the danger of the Unknown breaking out (Either as demonic forces or the catastrophic ill-use of a nascent power known by various names, commonly Ethereal of Stommigheid)  Thus in some respects mirroring post WWII Europe in the latter half of the 20th Century.  In this empire Violence being contained in the local law and order problems, the spats between princes, princes and their own nobility and the occasional uprising by one group or another. These can be ugly, but since they occur ‘somewhere else’ most folk don’t worry about it. Which I feel is sadly ‘business as usual’ and fairly realistic.

Like most Fantasy series these days, you’ve got to be ready to produce something of maybe 200,000+ words per volume and have a whole world peopled by an entire cast. In fact this is half the fun of it. Since this is not my own web-site for dedicated readers in their thousands (ahhh, per chance to dream). I will only concentrate on how the three central characters individual approaches the question of violence.

In alphabetical order:

Arketre Beritt: From somewhere which might be similar to parts of the Southern USA. Brought up traditionally rural, in an attempt to find a direction joined The Devoteds (like Nuns) however with a tendency to be disruptive and a girl-chaser, by a long standing   agreement was sent to the LifeGuard. This was originally supposed to be the Imperial Guard but is now a state within a state. Initially she was trained as a medician (think medic).  To begin with she appears the nice, little fair headed, eager helper in a file (unit) but as the saga continues and she is exposed to persistent violence she reveals a more deadly side to her nature, killing without compunction, partly as she sees her duty but also in her own urge to deliver retribution. This is of concern to folk she is close to, lest they lose her to a pathway into nothing but violence. Her close friend Trelli is most adept at warning her and under her influence Arketre will display her healing skills and a rough diplomacy. She is something of one type of ever present soldier, conflicted between duty, rage and a softer side. Being in a steady relationship with Karlyn supplies another anchor. She is at her most stable with Karlyn and Trelli otherwise she is a person of War, although looking for a way out at any cost as long as Karlyn and Trelli are not harmed.

Karlyn: Originally with no memory of her past, only her recent life of being washed ashore from a ship. She lived in a city before venturing out on her own mission to strike down evil by burning down places at random. She, has an affinity with the inflammable, talks to and clambers above trees empathises with most creatures, has a very esoteric sense of smell and adept at finding and navigating pathways out of the conventional world into different realms. As the saga progresses it is found she is of another species of Humans, The Shadow Lords, was sent on a scouting task to the world of Humans but it transpires was ambushed by malevolent forces. Initially very scatty  and askew I was somewhat alarmed at how parallel she could be with Harley Quinn and together we had to work quite hard to ensure folk knew she was her own girl…Or actually two as at times her previous noble identity (Lady Maighdean Ardea )takes hold. She has no problems with killing, although being far swifter and precise than Arketre and only as a response to a direct threat, once the threat is dispatched, that is that. Fallen sweetly in love with Arketre and a friend verging on bossy big sister to Trelli. Her principal concern is staying with Arketre and not being drawn back to her family, quite at ease with punching her brother or cousins from trying to make her.

Trelli (aka Trelyvana Waywanderer): In Fantasy terms Trelli is not unusual, there she was an ordinary housemaid (later self-promoted to Housekeeper, if anyone asks her) when due to the son of the household’s research into ‘The Ethereal’ forces, she was inadvertently inculcated with its energies. Thus she can knock folk over, tackle those using Ethereal for evil purposes, learnt how to fly (in an eclectic way), travel between realms and sometimes influence minds. She was initially very suspicious of this, particularly as it manifested itself in red and blue aura about her fingers, causing her to wear thick gloves or tuck her hands under her armpits in an attempt to avoid folk noticing. Whereas she has come to terms with this circumstance, she is constantly aware of the potential corrosive effect on her character and thus to possibility of loosing destructive forces; she is therefore ever wary of any external or internal influence to lead her down such a path. Of the three she is therefore the least willing to launch into battle and even then is restrained, unless in direct conflict with the demonic forces (The Zerstorung), in which case as it is a fight to the finish she has no qualms. Due to the encouragement of her two friends she always has a tendency to resort lesser forms of physical violence when provoked. Through her friendship with Arketre and Karlyn and the mutual reliance which is fostered within the trio she is able to navigate a pathway through conventional experiences with little trouble.

It is my usual inclination when writing to give the malignant forces a very hard time, since if there is one thing I find irritating is the self-satisfied, monologuing, god-complex villain whose perfect plan is only foiled at the last chapter either by supreme sacrifice or some sudden burst of amazing whatever. My own narratives tend to be influenced by my reading of military histories and the fact there never is a perfect plan, that things go wrong and its the folk who make the least mistakes who usually come out on top. Thus no one in my books ever does things adroitly, it’s all about that catching of the other out and either then pummeling them, or skipping out of the way to come back for another shot. This normal lack of over-arching competence in situations allows the trio of central characters to escape some of the more excessive fates and experiences seen in other books (Note: As these books are self-published for their own sake the characters and I reckon we can between us get away with this as much as we please- look upon it as a sub-sub-genre Fantasy-Heroic-Feel Good )

Violence or the threat of it is ever prevalent and sometimes the central characters in particularly Arketre are the instigators. As stated earlier, the backdrop of the narrative is an empire under threat external or internal  so this is to be expected. Whether the use of violence is as necessary as the characters (or I) see it remains very much up to the perspective of the reader. Whether the central characters come across as likeable people is also left up to the reader to decide for themselves. Personally over the years (since about 2014) I have grown quite fond of them, seeing them as people of their time and circumstance, dealing with matters as they see fit and in general authority or those they work with or for having to catch up with the trio as individuals or in various combinations.

Therefore Violence exists. When using this in fiction the responsibility lies with the writer and to an extent the reader as to whether the levels, perceptions and morals of the usage are acceptable. Personally I use it a great deal, and dear reader don’t expect the villains ever to walk away from it.

On War. The Fearful Logic.

Foreword: This post will reveal comments some may consider callous, triumphalist or even suggesting War is a viable solution. None of these were the intention. However once a writer makes a statement that statement is open to many interpretations and so are the writer’s motives. This has always be the case. Thus with eyes open I accept that risk. 

Firstly you will have to accept that  the first thing which springs to my mind when someone mentions  ‘6th August’ is ‘Clare’ s birthday’ (our second child and younger daughter). It is when I read posts on Facebook or Word Press that I am reminded in 1945 the A-Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, on the 9th it was the turn of Nagasaki, on the 15th August Japan surrendered and the documents were signed on the 2nd September.

There will be many evocative, genuine posts condemning the event on the 6th August 1945. I respect their views.

But I do not agree. For I have read, some might say too much, military history and have therefore become subsumed in The Fearful Logic of War. I have looked in very deeply and seen the places where civil and civilian perceptions are left behind and a vast and complex set of other values take over. Some might already be getting angry that this post might be the justification of war or worse the some sort of condemnation at those who take an opposite view. Let me clarify.

This is a warning as to when The Fearful Logic is released on a national scale. When indeed the Dogs of War are let slip.

These opening words are also found on a post by the excellent and consistently hard-working Jill Dennison: (I would strongly recommend you follow this blog, so much going on there)

75 Years Ago- 6 August 1945

My response:

“Don’t stand too close and be advised not to read too much on the subject because it changes the perspective. Just read the words of this writer, the third maybe fourth hand observer. A reader and studier of Military and of War. And bear in mind these words come in all damn analytical sincerity.

The use of the A-Bombs was the result of a military logic in which the Japanese Military High Command had played its part, in its fanatical intransigence to twisted version of the Bushido code and determination not to lose face.

For three years the forces of the USA had slowly, inexorably pushed those of Imperial Japan back towards the homelands, paying a fearful price in ‘blood and treasure’. In response the Japanese Imperial forces did not display by western standards understandable conventional responses by surrendering or retreating when nothing was to be gained in defending land but threw away the lives of its own men and women in indoctrinated slaughter masking as honourable suicide, at a cost to both sides.

War requires a foe to surrender,  be conquered, annihilated or the attacker just plain give up, that is what happens when The Beast is released. Japan was not willing to continuance the first option. An invasion of the home islands of a nation in such a mindset would present a death toll far in excess of anything so far experienced by the USA and by the Japanese Civil population who would have been coerced/convinced into the defence. War requires a swift conclusion where possible. The USA had the weapon. The USA used it. This is the logic of War. The hard, certain, decision making process which exists in such an atmosphere. (You’ll recall Jill I mentioned a reply a while back and have said several times how when Democracies are brought into war they can be as deadly as their totalitarian foes.)

The use of the A-Bomb was a foregone conclusion, from the moment the Japanese Military adopted the defence at the cost of suicide policy. There was no war crime here, there was the steady, deadly, fearful march of the logic and cause and effect of War. Never forget that War works under a different set of values, your people are dying, haunted by the cost in lives in WWI military planners in the West looked to minimise their losses.

The feature of the A-Bombs were they caused a great deal of deaths in a swift spectacular manner. The firebombing of cities of Germany and Japan by conventional weaponry were causing similar death tolls, but in slower manner. They caused us fright though, once we knew ‘The Other Side’ had them and could level our cities also in minutes and there would be no legendary ‘London Blitz’ scenario (over glamorised), there would be death, wastelands and nuclear aftermath (as opposed to unexploded munitions left buried in the earth aftermath).

War demands this behaviour of the parties. The battlefields are nationwide, and the populations are part of the machinery of war. This was ever so. You could claim (as some in the South would) that Sherman was a war criminal for he carried out his march in deliberately destructive fashion. This is War and when nations lock horns and we summon up War, we do so at our own peril, because we then leave our civilian outlooks behind in pursuit of Victory.

I will leave you with one thought which I have never read or heard voiced in The West. Would those in China, Philippines, Malaya, Burma, Singapore or in the military Prisoner of War camps who suffered the capricious and cruel occupations of the Imperial Japanese Forces have objected to the use of those bombs upon the nation which occupied them?

Lee of the Confederacy said the right thing as he viewed the slaughter at one battlefield:

‘It is as well War is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it,’

In my opinion Jill, not a crime but a fearful warning as to what WAR requires of us when we invoke it. It changes all the rules, all the judgments, all the values. Even to read of it in too much detail will change your outlook.”

There were a number of other points swirling around in my mind, but I did not wish to hijack Jill’s post my reply was quite long enough for a response to a post. Thus at this juncture let me proceed deeper.

No side comes out of War with clean hands, reputations intact or even with their original intentions fulfilled. Once War is lose then to a certain extent ethical control amongst other factors is lost. The nation or community invests lives and effort into the defeat of the foe and lives are not given lightly; the deaths are either sources of concern, sources of glorification or measures of how ‘well’ one side or the other is doing, thus each death carries a certain value, those values you will have noticed are manifold. In its chaos, tangle of emotions, and twists of intentions the results themselves are subjected to constant review and evaluation. To say ‘History is written by the victor’ is a mammoth over-simplification which does not take into account the fact that History is constantly viewed through the prism of The Present. Thus the dread question will always arise ‘Was It Worth It?’

‘Was It Worth It?’

This a very dangerous question to ask, even more so to answer. The answer is always ‘It depends who you ask?’. Someone in the UK or the USA might well voice the opinion we should never have got involved in WWI. If you were a Belgium or French citizen in the German occupied zones and subject to brutal reprisals for acts of sabotage and ‘terrorism’ or shipped of to work in journey as slave labour then you might have a quite different answer. Consider the Korean War which might have been forgotten by now were it not for repeats of M*A*S*H and compare the two states on that peninsula. AS for WWII against two militarily aggressive, brutal and racist states? The problem being in WWII the Democracies- for Whites that is- required the partnership with another militarily aggressive brutal state- the jury is out on the racist issue. Citing these examples you could say the wars were unavoidable.

Were they unavoidable?’

Yes, No or Maybe. The problem with wars is when you start to look for the root cause. Take WWII, German revisionist folk lore insisted the nation was tricked or betrayed into surrender. So WWI was the cause? You have to look back to not just the expansion of the various European empires which had formulated a sort of set of rules but the outbreaks of nationalism across the whole continent in which who sections of the populations demanded their slice and the expense of other sections. So you go in the 19th Century, and have to go back to the revolts of 1848, which themselves had resonances in the upheaval during the Napoleonic era and French aggression, which in turn had roots in the French Revolution, which- Do you want me to go on?

On the other side of the globe two vibrant expansionist powers were moving into collision in the Pacific, Sino, SE Asia region. USA and Japan. Yes Britain and France in the 1930s could have let Nazi Germany have its way as long as it kept its crimes indoors and pointed eastwards. That would not have stopped the USA-Japanese confrontation.

Are Wars avoidable? In the current state of Human Society, no. We’re stuck with them. Unless there is a world wide movement of whole populations who are prepared to risk their lives in non-violent protest and their relatives and friends are prepared to accept the deaths as being ‘just’ and ‘acceptable’. We can march, we can don ironic masks we can post up impassioned or fashionable statements on Social Media, but until we are ready to stand there and take the blows and the deaths without equal retort all that is so much noise and no more. The acts may dissuade one government or two from taking part but it does not stop The War, ask anyone in Syria how much they appreciated the  actions of the UK ‘Stop The War Coalition’, better still ask Assad and Putin how much they appreciated ‘Stop The War Coalition’.

War goes deep into our mindset and our community. The urge to defend and strike back, one from pre-human evolution. We haven’t got passed that stage. We might not. Doing away with War is a full-time day and night task full of contradictions and questions which cannot be answered simply. It is achievable……but at its own cost

I would wish for Compassion, Respect and Tolerance. But I realise there are folk who would never embrace those ideals. Thus if to assert  The Only Justifiable Intolerance is Intolerance of Intolerance, how far does one go to ensure this will be so?

Will for the rest of Humanity’s time on this planet  there be the motto:

Si vis pacem, para bellum 

“If you want peace prepare for war”

A Song as a Political Measuring Stick

Shearwater are an ‘indie’ band of the USA, originating in Austin Texas, and basically revolving around songwriter and vocalist Johnathan Meiburg, someone with a haunting and expressive voice, weaving evocative images on a myriad of subjects.

Shearwater

I have been a fan of their music since 2011 when I chanced upon their fourth album The Golden Archipelago

GOLDEN

Within Meiburg’s writings are expressed elements of concern about the environment, social injustice and politics and you can therefore guess a Shearwater album is not required listening amongst the followers of the current occupant of the Whitehouse.

Back in 2016 (pre-election days) was released Jet Plane and Oxbow Meiburg said he wanted to try and make a protest album which was not ‘dumb or preachy’… the latter wish being a difficult task since by its nature a protest song tends to the preachy anyway.

Preamble and Foreword

When I heard this first, we were still in the second tenure of President Obama and hoping that the Democrats could ‘swing it’ once more. By then I had grown into a role of defending the USA as not the Great Satan and cause of all the world’s ill, of course hands were not clean, of course the Iraq invasion had been a fearful blunder and any military intervention in Afghanistan is always a questionable move. My defence (British  spelling) of the USA was that to assail the USA for every mis-deed was to ignore what Russia and China, to name but two were up to. Indeed in those days it was almost an article of faith of the British Left that it could never be ‘Russia’ it had to be the ‘USA’ and let’s pretend Assad of Syria was only defending himself against The West (The Useful Idiot syndrome as beloved by all dictators- but I digress).

Anyway back to the album:

Arguably one of the most striking songs is ‘Quiet Americans’, a lament against American policies and public acquiescence in general. Whether Meiburg took Graham Greene’s The Quiet American  QuietAmerican

As a source for the title I cannot personally say.

I greeted the song with mixed feelings, but to give you a fair idea of what I am on about here is the very striking video and the lyrics.

Lyrics:

I can’t help it, if all the world is ending
All the life is gone while you’re calling up this name
Where are the Americans?

Your dim cultures, your hands and eyes that wander
Stumbling down the road
Or collapsing on parade

We’re lying alone in the Eastern land
Slipping in the morning hours, the only sound
From the lantern covered hills, the only light
From the day yet to begin, the only sign
Of the guns and silhouettes
The only sound, the only light

Only, only!

Done with silence, we’re disconnecting lives
Pull out the lightning dust
At the mention of his name
Wither the Americans!

Take the memories out, hide the evidence under
Piss on the world below
Like a dog, that knows its name
Where are the Americans?

I’m calling on the run tonight
Feeling the remaining hours, the only sound
Are the bells upon the hill, the only light
Are the lanterns in the wind, the only sight
Screams the rust off the rails
The only sound, the only light

Only, only!

The only light is the day yet to begin
The only sight are the lives in silhouette
The only sound is the rushing of the wind
The only light is not the only life

Only, only!

(Footnote: You may interpret the images as you see fit, many folk read many messages)

Commentary

So in that glow of the Obama presidency, the mockery of the Ridiculous Right and the hope that we were still progress, a light which shone and illuminated the intolerance and oppression within the other Big Powers Russia and China I was thinking ‘Nice song Johnathan I do like it, but give your nation a break. It’s not that bad,’

It is dreadfully embarrassing when even after 60+ years on this planet and 50 of them spent following politics and reading histories you can still be found to be naïve and dreaming.

Here we are in 2020. And the rational amongst us, with any sense of the necessity of a nation united if it is to survive hoping, even praying that even someone as not very charismatic or of visibly towing intellect such as Joe Biden can bring down that colossus of ignorance, vanity and ineptitude, the one who sits in the Whitehouse due to a freak of the USA’s voting system, Trump.

Trump himself is an individual of small character and even less ability. Put him in a room, alone, with no audience and just one person of average determination and intelligence and after a short while Trump would storm out with all the dignity of a four year old having the TV switched off or video game taken away. You see Trump is not the issue. It is the bloc of voters who have created a creature of their own imagination and wish fulfillment who loathe the opposite of their views so much, who were so angered by ‘One of Those People’ being in the Whitehouse that they would choose a most obnoxious and inflammatory creature to be their voice simply to get back at the opposition. And that is all he is, The Mouthpiece.

Thus when I look back at the lyrics of Quiet Americans and bear in mind there is still a vast swell of folk who are willing to tolerate this ridiculous state of affairs either by tacit support or self-isolation from the virus of ignorance and bigotry I have to say in all contrition:

Mr. Meiburg. I apologise. In my vanity I forgot, it is you  who are living in the USA, not I. Your comments are thus quite understandable. In fact in post-Brexit and the wake of the UK’s 2019 General Election it is possible to import your song and transpose ‘Britain’ for ‘American’…..Though I am still working on which word to replace ‘Quiet’ with.”  

 

Some Thoughts on Writing A Novel

Warning Foreword:

This post WILL contain some themes of a convolutedly, introspectively, esoteric nature concerning the relationship between a writer and their work. 

So sue me ….

I have this ‘thing’ about liking, nay enjoying re-writes and even more so since I discovered a rare useful device of Word’s ie ‘Review’ & ‘Read Aloud’

Microsoft Word Actually Being Useful in Self-Editing

The cause, may or may not be a combination of the following:

(1) Triumph in picking up all those niggling typos placed by Word’s evil cyber-pixies who wish to discourage all creative writing and would have a World Literature based on Business Projections and Internal Management Documents thus spoiling their plans. 

(2) Not wishing to be the cause of disharmony between me, some innocent beta-reader or helpful editor who inadvertently committed the unforgiveable crime of suggesting I change some part of the narrative or tweak a character. (It’s not that I am inflexible you understand, it’s just that……errr….. I’ll get back to you on that one in another post)

(3) Saving money on the aforementioned in ‘2’.

(4) Some latent vanity in the joy of reading/ listening to my own work. (Well someone has to admit to it!)

Those are the nuts and bolts ones. The actual fun comes in:

(A) The dismantling wholesale and replacing chunks of say 20,000 words with something better.

(B) Catching out the devious Continuity Fae who entrap a writer with whispers of enthusiasm to churn out the words and rush off to the next exciting bit and thus overlooking some leap of logic or several quite contradictory statements/actions undertaken by a major character. (This takes on cosmological proportions when you are writing a series of books).

(C) Actually listening to one or more of the characters who steps out of the narrative, stands in front of you waving an allegorical piece of paper and saying ‘Seriously?’

(D) And above all, the interactions of (A)- (C) which start some unexpected runaway process, dragging you off down a route you never even realised existed and effectively rattling loose most of the story into something else. The thrill of being part of such a situation overwhelms any concerns about having finishing a book by ‘such and such’ a date.

I don’t think my trilogy will ever sell many copies (so far most have been acquired ‘free’ through Amazon). Yet I do not care. The main characters are alive, and vibrantly taking control of the narrative, thus I owe it to them to make sure this is recorded.

The whole process is wonderfully chaotic and unpredictable. Everything else I intended to write or think about writing is on hold while this little universe settles down.

And I wouldn’t have it anyone other way.

Seriously folks… The Joys of Writing