Depression 3: The Modern Disconnect

[WARNING: This is a self-indulgent series of posts in lieu of getting actual help. It’ll probably just be irritating to anyone else]

 

Constant Change

We live in a world of constant change. Technological advancements now come at such a speed that society has to constantly adjust to keep up with things.

Life is consequently fast, and increasingly unstable. There are far fewer certainties in life (other than the final certainty).

There are also far more choices. Far more options. Even a century ago, the life you were born into could have decided the course of your future. It may have been possible to fight for a different one, if you knew what you wanted.

Now, provided you live in the right place, your options are far more vast. So vast that decision anxiety can take hold. With so many options, how can you choose one? Can you even choose one, or do you simply stumble into something and get stuck there, either growing comfortable or suffering in silence?

And if you do choose a future, will that choice still be valid in a year’s time? Maybe less.

Given such permeable foundations, is it even possible for many to have a coherent sense of identity. There’s certainly less likely to be anything as clear cut as they might have had a century earlier. Even if they hated what they were, they knew what it was. An identity you hate at least gives you something to rebel against.

I have trouble seeing any role in society I could do, anyway. I was useless at interviews because (at least in part) I’m no good at faking enthusiasm. Why should I, anyway? Most jobs seem so pointless. Being a cog in the machine, producing something – goods or service – to ultimately keep the machine going. Necessary for the continuation of society, but I see no gratification to be derived from it. Only a wage, to continue living a pointless life, while being encouraged to produce more cogs for the continuation of the machine.

I’ve never seen how that life could be lived. I tried it. Waiting for it to somehow settle in, if only by routine dulling down my thoughts. But the pointlessness of it never went away.

Not that life without it is any easier. But at least writing offers more of a distraction from the sheer horror of existence. Even this only helps keep my final collapse at bay while my mind is occupied.

But society is increasingly under stress from the incessant rate of change. And far wider than it was a century ago.

 

Global Isolation

Communications has made the world virtually smaller, and put us in the position where we can have more in common with someone on the far side of the world who shares our worldview, than with our neighbours (who not so long ago could well have had roles not that dissimilar to our own). And we can have more communication with that distant person. This obviously has an effect on the destabilisation of local communities, especially among the young.

Personally, I don’t find online communications the same. I know it offers a sense of community that can be hard to find if you’re geographically isolated from others sharing your interests, and maybe that’s fine if you’re a more sociable type.

For me, the lack of physical cues in the communication makes everything too easy to misinterpret, so I’m always second-guessing what I say. It’s always safer to just not respond at all, rather than risking causing offence. And while taking time to make a considered response should be better, I still find myself typing the wrong thing when I do try to take part.

You can never be sure what another really thinks anyway, even looking them in the face. The virtual connection just makes everything that much more ephemeral.

Even so, finding your own clique online can offer a sense of community. But there remains a sense of detachment I’m unable to dismiss, leaving me cut off from even that illusion of connection.

I’ve been on a few communities, involved in discussions, and even keep in occasional contact with some members. But I’ve never really felt the same connection as with people I’ve physically met (not that I’ve necessarily had any real connections with them).

And virtual communities can be too deceptive. It’s easy to fall into lurking, reading what’s said and feeling like you’re still a part of the community. But would those involved in the community even remember who you are? It’s not as though you’d be seen observing the discussions.

Unless you can find somewhere where you really feel you belong, and where you can be comfortable, and then actively contribute to discussions, online communities can too often be illusory.

Following people you admire can also be dangerous. If they’re active on social media, you can feel like you really know them. You have to remind yourself you don’t. Not really. And they probably don’t even know you exist.

The distance offered by online communication makes my social anxieties no easier to manage. It can take hours to compose a single response to a simple question, leaving me exhausted, and still sure I haven’t said the wrong thing.

Publication, and Musings on Lovecraft, Horror and Religion

Monstrum Ex Machina, the third novella in the Grey Revolutions series, is released today.

Inspiration for stories come from numerous directions, and there’s usually more than one needed to construct a decent tale. One of the elements from this story came from considering Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, and how it differs from more traditional horror.

Disclaimers: I don’t have a deep knowledge of Lovecraft’s work, and less of horror in general, but have no intention of letting ignorance hold me back from giving an uneducated opinion. That’s what blogs are for. Also, this might result in some waffling, and anyone of a religious disposition may take offence. So better to stop here if this is you. Unless you want to be offended, in which case don’t blame me.

 

Lovecraft, Horror, and Religion

From the little research I bothered to do, I’m not sure there is a clear definition of cosmic horror. A good part of it is the terror at realising how small and insignificant you are. But associated with this is that the vast horrors to fear are usually indifferent to the harm they cause on something as small as us.

As opposed to a malevolent evil actively intent on doing us harm, so archetypal of a casual view of horror. This malevolent evil often has ties, either explicit or casual, to religious concepts of evil.

I see religion as starting out as folk tales used to explain the otherwise inexplicable world. Over time they’ve come to be considered more than mere stories, and held to tightly as a safety blanket. Of course they can’t be allowed to change over time, or it could disturb the illusion of authority they demand. So they still reflect the times in which they developed.

Times during which there were creatures out in the dark that meant us harm (besides each other). Even if only animals, they were threats. And the stories that built up around them shifted to less known terrors as familiarity grew.

Stories gave the fears form, and by doing so the promise that they could be survived, maybe even bested. But they also maintained the idea of the malevolent force outside our view, to keep the faithful from straying.

By Lovecraft’s time, the dangers in the dark (besides each other) had become less of a true concern. Settlements had grown so vast that a danger lurking outside it was well away from the beds of most in the settlement.

What was within the settlement became more of a cause for anxiety. The vast horde of strangers, feeding feelings of insignificance and isolation in this expanding worldview.

Lovecraft followed scientific discoveries, often using or referencing them. The growing understanding of the vastness of existence, and our smallness within that almost infinite scale, is obvious in his work. His horror was that of recognising one’s insignificance in an indifferent universe. The horror of being at the mercy of mechanisms that may not even register our existence.

Yet religion still seeks to engage people’s fears of malevolent forces, retaining that as the prism through which to interpret the world. Reinforcing divisions of us versus them. Cosmic horror is more about us versus it. Life. Vast and uncaring.

In part that may be why I see religion as archaic. It may once have offered comfort against the things people feared, but now seems to conjure its own boogeymen, oblivious to the true horrors of modern life.

Which can sound dark, but this worldview can also inspire awe (awe in the sense of wonder tinged with fear). And that’s where I feel it’s most interesting. It can raise all kinds of questions, and suggest further stories.

 

Moving On

This became only a minor element in the story, serving as motivation for one character’s agenda. So this shouldn’t spoil much. The spirit probably runs through many of my stories though, especially the one I’m currently working on.

The working title is Soul Food. It’s a contemporary, stand-alone story. I’m not sure if it’s horror or urban fantasy. It starts out as a detective story. I suppose I should try and get better at aiming for a particular genre if I want to get any kind of a proper writing career. Maybe someday.

 

Monstrum Ex Machina

Monstrum Ex Machina smallThe world is changing, in ways it shouldn’t.

Even on the mindscape, things don’t just happen. Someone must think them. So monsters of fable, and haunted houses, must be thought into being.

Theresa wants to arrest those responsible, for whatever their crime is. Alex is happy to have a mystery.

Then things get violent.

Can they solve it before the nightmare plague becomes uncontrollable?

A 34,000 word sf novella.

 

Smashwords

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General Philosophical Worldview

This is so I have a record of elements of my basic (current) worldview, which affects both my stories and the philosophical nonsense I spout on this blog. I briefly covered this in the self-review of Broken Worlds, which is based around the idea (and in dire need of a rewrite), but I’ll try and expand on it here and make it comprehensible.

 

When does life begin?

Is there a moment at which the cells from the male and female donor aren’t alive? Unless we get into a detailed semantic argument about what constitutes alive (which could be useful, but I’m not sure I have the knowledge base to properly examine) I think its fair to say that no, there is no such point. A life is created by combining cells from multiple living sources, so there isn’t really a point at which it can be said to not be alive.

Therefore what we view as individual entities are merely continuations of earlier entities which have split off from them. We appear separate when viewed from a purely three-dimensional context because we’re not merely three-dimensional.

If you consider a life over the entirety of its existence (taking time as a fourth dimension from which to view it, although referring to it as such may be technically incorrect) we see its links to other life forms.

It’s similar to how viewing a two dimensional cross-section of a tree’s upper levels can show the branches as separate entities. When viewing it three dimensionally, we can see it’s actually a single entity.

So if we take this view of us as humans, it’s logical that all humans (and, going back further, all life on the planet) are a single entity. (It gets prickly when taking into consideration what defines life, so I’ll refer to it as an entity rather than a life form. Reproduction may be possible for this entity when we spore and start colonising other planets (the alternate being staying on this one fragile planet where the human entity eventually dies a spinster), but that’s another topic.)

 

Souls

It raises an interesting (to me), and speculative, question about the nature of the soul. If there is a thing we could call a soul, do we have individual souls? Or do we have a collective soul, possibly with our minds (identity and personality) being a result of this soul’s limited interaction and experience of the world through our individual bodies?

 

Usefulness in Fiction

This worldview offers a way to explain some of the moderately fantastical elements I use.

If we’re actually a four-dimensional entity experiencing life three dimensionally, then things like déjà vu and precognition could be our minds trying to break out of this restriction by communing with our soul. Religious and spiritual experiences could also be ways to explain such mind-expanding incidents, with our minds filling in the incomprehensible bits with things we can understand.

Non-localised links with other minds could also be explained in a vaguely pseudo-scientific way to allow telepathy and suchlike.

Pragmatic Morality: Residence

[Following on from the earlier post on Pragmatic Morality, hopefully with more to follow in no particular order]

Land ownership is different to other kinds of property in moral terms as it involves more complicated provenance. And much land has been seized from previous owners in the (not always that) distant past, which makes it stolen goods. (Morally speaking, rented land can really be considered the same as owned for terms of residence, and travellers are a different matter)

It would be overly simplistic to say that only those descended from native residents of a land are morally justified in living there (native in this instance meaning the first inhabitants to reside on the land without having dislocated previous human residents). Unless the land has always been owned by natives then it can’t really be said to be morally owned (which raises the question of when the concept of ownership began).

If it can be proved to have been initially owned and developed, and then sold by natives, then the current resident – whether native or not – can be considered morally justified. But that’s extremely unlikely.

[Generally speaking, inherited property brings with it the inherited morality of how it was acquired, but an individual isn’t morally liable for any immorality related to its acquisition if unaware of the circumstances. When they become aware, should they retain the property they can at that point be considered morally liable.]

Pragmatically, in terms of easing social interaction, there may be an inclination to say we should just take ownership as it is now. It’s not as though the English can be shipped back to Europe, or the non-native Americans. There’s nowhere for them to go that won’t disrupt others, and in the greater part it wasn’t their decision to move there, therefore they bear no moral fault for their ancestors’ actions. But these issues remain sore for some natives, so while the issue affects social interactions it can’t pragmatically be shoved aside.

The only answer is that most of us are amoral residents (without alternatives to the greater problem I’m reluctant to label it immoral [in this context I use immoral to refer to actions counter to the good of society and social cohesion, and amoral to acts that don’t take account of morality but don’t necessarily cause harm]). There’s no way to solve the problem, so the continued peaceful running of society is better served by ignoring the issue.

Of course even if occupancy is amoral, the unauthorised intrusion on another’s property remains immoral, since the idea of personal space is part of the social contract.

Pragmatic Morality

[Public Service Warning: As I’ve been having trouble finishing blog posts to a publishable standard recently (or as publishable as I can make them) I’m just going to publish (between publication notifications) unpublishable versions which could well veer between pretentious train of thought and meaningless garbage]

How much of my sense of what’s right comes from being raised in a Christian(ish) society, and what I’ve been indoctrinated to believe is right?

While most morality systems have evolved from, and alongside, religion, if we take religions as artificial constructs what basis do we have for a moral system without a figure of absolute moral authority?

 

First Principles

If the religion meme came from somewhere then the morality meme probably came form a similar source. Religion can be seen as a way of explaining the inexplicable so people’s ignorance didn’t turn to fear. It helped them deal with the world around them. Morality basically boils down to guidelines on how to deal with people around you.

Even reducing things to the most pragmatic self-interest of ‘what’s best for me’, society is generally better in the long term than solitude, so dealing with others in a way that benefits all, benefits all. While individuals will inevitably have differing ideals and goals, a generally peaceable society is a reasonable desire to attribute to most.

We can reasonably use ‘treat others as you’d be treated’ as a general guideline in this case. If we view the social group as an extension of the individual then following this is primarily a matter of self-interest.

 

Comparisons

Looking at the Ten Commandments (other fictionally-derived moral guidelines are available), once we get past the meme-propagation stuff (as an atheist there’s no danger of me worshipping other idols) the remaining elements of respecting your parents, not committing murder, not stealing, not lying, and not coveting your neighbour’s anything (so basically don’t even think about stealing) all seem to be about fitting in with society.

They’re basically the standard social conventions, to enable us to interact, since while there’s a reasonable argument for us being generally social animals, we can all get irritated with one another at some point. Of course small lies are the lubrication of social interaction, and murder in self-defence or defence of others can be regarded as necessary (taking this as a prohibition on ‘killing’ rather than ‘murder’ could complicate matters, but that’s a different subject), but on the whole we can see how these would apply.

While the idea of property can seem odd given consideration, and in practice there tends to be a disparity of property ownership in the world, it can be viewed as a central idea for society to flourish. Without a society everyone would have to see to their own needs, fundamentally their need for food, clean water, and shelter. This would leave little time for other things. Working together procuring these things takes less time than procuring the same amounts individually, and if someone specialises then the time can be cut even further. This allows others to specialise in other things, and they then trade their produce, gaining more than they could working alone. As this continues new avenues open up, and society evolves – rather than remaining stagnant by simply seeing to the necessities – because people trade the results of their labour. Taking this produce without providing anything in return could leave them unable to support themselves, and thereby threaten the framework of society and civilizational evolution. (The topic of land as property is especially murky when you consider how many of us live on land that was taken by conquest, but that’s another topic to return to).

 

So morality can be seen as a framework for how to cooperate, and from a pragmatic standpoint it’s a reasonable basis of rules for how to act.

Self-Review 15: The Sin of Hope

The Sin of Hope smallThe Sin of Hope

A secret older than religion, or a more recent delusion? Hired to find the witness to a crime, PI John Daly soon realizes he hasn’t been told everything. With the Vatican and local mobsters also on the man’s trail, does his loyalty to a client of questionable sanity outweigh his religious devotion and his chance at redemption?

 

 

Having learned from the first NaNoWriMo (Allegiances) this year (2011) I outlined two novels in preparation. The Sin of Hope was finished by the 8th, but it was only around 45,000 words.

This is probably the novel I’m happiest with, apart from the length which didn’t change much beyond the first draft. That could well be an impediment to getting people to read it, since surveys show eBook buyers tend to prefer longer works.

This was very much based on the pulp detective stories, or at least the way I look back at them. I read a few in preparation, and then basically ignored them and did the story as I saw it in my mind. I think there’s probably an element of homage in there, even if only the leads name – Carroll John Daly is credited with writing the first hard-boiled story.

This was the first book I had properly edited. Since it’s a first person narrative from an American character, and I’m not American, I wanted an American editor to make sure the voice sounded right. So I hired Susan Helene Gottfried, who I can unequivocally recommend.

While I feel the story ultimately ends up fairly agnostic, the worldview presented is influenced by my atheism. I see religions as social survival mechanisms which have outlived their usefulness. They provided stories to answer the questions which couldn’t be answered, to stave off the sheer terror of the unknown. They offer the promise (against all evidence to the contrary) that life is fair and we’re watched over by a benevolent force, and that anything we don’t know, we don’t need to know. These stories were then passed through generations, becoming taught as truth rather than folklore. They become firmly entrenched, especially when confronted by science (which offers real answers rather than stories) or other religions (which offer irreconcilable conflicting narratives). In the modern world they’re so exposed to these opposing viewpoints that they become militant, seeing their beliefs as being under siege. So for all they may still serve their original purpose for some, in general terms they cause more trouble for society, and hinder social progress.

 

Self-Review 9: Geographicide

Geographicide smallGeographicide

The world’s greatest assassin was hired to kill a country. His clients are unhappy with the results.
A 2,000 word short story.

 

 

 

 

This basically espouses my view of the modern world wherein countries are losing political influence when compared to other entities, commercial and otherwise. It’s a theme I’ve also used in Allegiances and Glyphpunk (and which I touched on briefly in today’s post on the BestsellerBound Recommends blog).

One of the main areas of relations among nations is commercial in nature, so in an increasingly internationalised world commercial concerns can frequently supersede all others, resulting in commercial entities – especially multinational ones – becoming in some ways more powerful than governments, and certainly able to influence politicians. Add to that the increasing ease of global communications allowing people to be part of communities based on shared interests and ideas rather than their geographic location, and you have a gradual degradation of national identity. Which may not be an entirely bad thing (possibly a subject for another post), unless corporate interests force themselves into the role.

 

There was more backstory, but I didn’t want to stray too far into that. It’s basically one character telling a story of what he’s done, and extending that felt like it’d be getting away from the core story.

I briefly considered expanding this into a novel showing how he would actually go about killing the country (and it seems some reviewers would have preferred an expanded story). But that would take a lot of research to get right, and didn’t really appeal to me enough to sustain that amount of work to a reasonable degree. And since it’s mainly an abstract idea, giving it concrete form makes it too easy to get one little thing wrong and lose focus on the point arguing about the detail.

I think the abstraction form its shortness is useful anyway, since looking at ideas benefits from some distance. Exploring them through the prism of fantasy or science fiction allows you to remove them from the details of how we know them to be in the real world, so you can examine the idea in a cleaner way. If you are using a vaguely real world setting like Geographicide, then abstraction (hopefully) allows you to have the familiarity that offers a shorthand without the danger of the details dragging the story down.

Self-Review 3: Broken Worlds

Broken Worlds smallBroken Worlds

There are holes in the world. Tears in reality through which creatures are emerging, crawling up from their broken worlds. At one time emerging in their natural forms, they can no longer exist here without taking a native host, their bodies often warped, their minds rarely surviving. And if you stumble into this world, a quick death may be the best you can hope for.

 

 

The earliest written of my published novels (there’s one unpublished one which was written before it), this was intended as a pulpy action adventure story. I’m not sure how much of that intent is evident to the reader, though. It was episodic, and if I were writing it today – now eBooks are a viable option – I’d probably do it as distinct episodes. But as a whole I do feel it could feel a bit odd. There’s a definite story at the centre, but it could also have a monster of the chapter feel to it if you don’t approach it from a certain perspective, and doesn’t have much explanation until later in the book, which could put some off. It’s also probably overwritten.

It serves to set up a kind of shared setting which can link a number of my stories. The basic idea of possession via creatures from other dimensions passing through invisible portals allows me to use a single explanation for the cause of the various creatures in this story, as well as the werewolves and vampires of To Hunt Monsters. It could even explain the power in Rainbows in Eclipse, but I’ll leave that for a spoilers section in reviewing that book. (This theme of infection in the earlier books is probably influenced by my father’s cancer, and my unconscious dealing with it in some manner.)

[SPOILERS]

Also linking stories is the faeries being behind a lot of stuff. This is from the older fairy tales where they’re always taking children and replacing them with changelings. It this story they took humans because of their ability to weather travelling between dimension. The faeries can’t do it, having to project their consciousness into hosts in other dimensions.

Then they get the idea of turning a human into a vessel for them. It doesn’t go well, causing a disaster which break a number of dimensions. Travel between them is now dangerous, the faeries’ homeland may not have survived, and the creatures which do now make it through tend not to be as beneficent as those which used to travel to Earth, being twisted by the disaster.

There’s also the humans the faeries took away, using them to colonise other dimensions. This is part of the back story for the world of Blade Sworn, although it’s only touched on in that book. It could easily allow me to link the other fantasy worlds if I want.

One of the main ideas of the book is my view of metaphysics and life: we’re all one life form. There’s no point at which the cells from our parent which form us aren’t alive, so there’s a continuity of life. We appear to be separate because we view the world three dimensionally, while living in four (taking time to be a fourth dimension for the purposes of this argument). It’d be like looking at a two dimensional cross-section of a tree, where all the branches appear to be separate.

Viewing our species as a single life form in this way opens up the possibilities of how to explain things like telepathy, déjà vu, precognition, and past lives (non-local correlations imply time isn’t necessarily a barrier on some levels). It also adds to the question of the existence of the soul whether they’d be individual souls, or a shared soul, but that can wait for a sequel.

[END SPOILERS]