The Space Opera That Never Was

Yesterday I wrote a cool sentence.

Well, not actually a sentence – more of a statement. Well, not even a statement – more of a descriptive title to what I thought could be a chapter in a science fiction novel. Look, whatever it was, I was very proud of it. It was so conducive to creative thought that I actually began to write the introduction to a science fiction novel (it was here that the author decided that the makers of Word for Windows were the most annoying bastards in the entire world. Every time he began to write the word “novel”, he’d get to the first ‘e’ and a little box would pop up next to the with “November” in it, implying that he didn’t have the intelligence or presence of mind to put a capital letter at the start of a proper name. Naturally, being an educated person, he would have put a capital “N” if he was going to write “November”. But he wasn’t going to. He was about to write “novel”, because that’s what he started to talk about and he wasn’t planning on writing “November” until the bloody programme starting annoying him by suggesting it every time he started to write a word with N, O, V, and E as the first four letters. Damn programmer geeks think they’re being so bloody helpful, popping up little squares every time you type something, thinking they’re helping you get things done quicker…it’d be a lot quicker if they didn’t keep implying that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing all the time. And if they’re so smart and so helpful, why couldn’t their programme have figured out that it would’ve been completely out of context to write “November” in that position: “…a chapter in a science fiction November…”? Now, because of those well-meaning, over-cautious but more likely bloody-minded programmer bastards, not only has most of the introductory paragraph been taken up by a bracketed and completely unplanned rant about an annoying little “help” function, the author has ended up writing “November” six times when he didn’t intend to mention it at all unless it was relevant to the story, which it was never going to be [stardates don’t use Earth months, as any decent science fiction writer should know]).

Ahem.

I had a loose introductory plot idea for my space opera (although massively clichéd): a flotilla of space vessels disappears without a trace, the fleet commander wants answers and the only guy who can possibly help is a (wrongly) convicted ex-special forces space-felon with borderline psychosis! Not the most originaltreatment in the world, but I just wanted to start somewhere solid and then see where my brain would lead the story.

Unfortunately, once I completed to the second paragraph of my Pulitzer-winning epic, Ihad to go to lunch and I foolishly (or perhaps fortunately, for the reading public at large) forgot to save my work. I found that out when I returned to work and couldn’t find my story anywhere. Someone had closed the programme in my absence and not saved changes to “doc1.doc”. Some people have no respect for literary masterpieceswritten during work time on work equipment. God-damned barbarians.

The story opened with a repeated hail to the lost flotilla: “Flotilla nine…flotilla nine, do you copy?” It was meant to drop the reader straight into the story, straight into the action, straight into unsettling uncertainty and suspense. I was going to give background on everything later in the narrative, including plenty of interchapters dedicated to our no-nonsense flawed hero figure: “…he leaned against a bulkhead, one hand in a pocket and the other playing absent-mindedly with a beret which had been jammed beneath the epaulet on his left shoulder…” Very sexy. I was tossing up an eye-patch, but hey – this is the far future and he’d either have a bitchin’ multifunction cybernetic eye or a perfect new one made from his own stem cells. The last thing I remember writing was something about the commander, red-faced, shouting “Forty-nine ships don’t just disappear!” as the hero smirked to himself, clearly in contempt of “the brass” and their ignorance (because he alone knew what they were up against – he’d seen it before and these bastards hadn’t believed him; they just threw him in the hole for a decade … the bastards). Upon reflection, it may have been for the best that I stopped if I was going to continue writing, shall we say, tried and true material like that.

The thing is, it looked great in my mind. I could see how the film version of my novel was going to open: a shot from behind of a dozen or so monolithic, battle-scarred warships covered with multi-barrelled turrets; massive photon engine exhausts emitting an eerie blue-green glow; lusciously rendered starfield in the background; over in one corner of the screen hangs a reddish-brown planetoid or moonlet with a few gigantic scorch marks on the surface, giving the viewer the impression that they’ve missed something awesome but can expect to see even better later on; perhaps even a few lithe little scout ships flitting in and amongst and around their larger counterparts, fixing stuff. Over this, you’d hear the repeated hail, then you’d zoom to a close up of the concerned-looking comms officer, eyes flitting, hands on buttons, face illuminated by the various screens in front of him. The camera would then pan across & up to the rather perturbed face of the commander of the fleet.

It was all a great idea. All from one little grouping of words that just popped into my head. I originally wrote it in the subject box of a humourously abusive e-mail I was sending to a friend because I wasn’t sure if the people at his work would see “You’re a gaping porn anus” as utterly hilarious as my friend and I would. I also didn’t want anyone at my work to see it because my friend undoubtedly would reply, using my original. “RE: You’re a gaping porn anus” would also not be perceived as hilarious by anyone who didn’t know the context in which it was written (because, of course, anything can be flat-out hilarious in right context, even [or especially] gaping anuses). So, to avoid reprimand or perhaps just to avoid being given a wide berth in the tea-room, I decided to use something innocuous, neutral, or even a tad perplexing to the naked brain.

What popped out was: “Juncture Group Omega nearing Respite Zone W1-K/3D”.
Cryptic, jargon-y, even nonsensical on a surface level (like most good science fiction terminology) and a great catalyst for a story. But the lack of auto-save betrayed me. Perhaps it’s best in hindsight that I lost that first couple of paragraphs – realistically I should have known that my short attention span would never have allowed me to stick with one great idea for as long as it takes to write a November.

Shit.

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On Church and State

I doubled the following at Dangerous Intersection a few days ago. Fuck knows why I follow American politics and society so closely but – forgive me, my fellow ‘strayans, – our shit is pretty dull. Don’t get me wrong though, that’s just fine – compared to one or two other free democratic countries, ours is usually run pretty decently (despite our many problems). For example, you don’t have to think twice about going to a hospital when you’re sick or hurt because you know Australia’s health care system will sort you out if you’re dirt poor. Also, you don’t have to worry about Christian whackjobs infiltrating the government and trying to have all our laws, sex ed classes, science classes and maybe even road rules based on the book of fucking Genesis. That brings me to the point of the post, so without further twattery:
In the USA today, there is a small but highly vocal (some would even say “strident”) movement dedicated to enshrining certain of their religious values in the laws and Constitution of their nation. Many of this movement proclaim that the Constitution and the laws of the United States are already this way; that the law of the land is based on Judeo-Christian principles and that separation of church and state is an illusion, never happened and even if it did happen was never intended by the founders of the nation and is some kind of liberal invention designed to make the US more vulnerable to suitcase bombs, atheist summer camps and movies about Charles Darwin which don’t paint him as the eugenicist spiritual father of Hitler.

This is, of course, in stark contrast to the reality of the situation: the Constitution makes no mention of God, Jesus or the Bible (except for a nameless “Creator”); the Constitution itself proclaims that “no religious test” shall ever be required for a citizen to hold public office and that Congress shall “make no law” either establishing a religion or restricting the right of a citizen to worship as they please (as atheists hadn’t been invented yet, noone thought to include “the right to not be religious”, but it’s assumed, probably safely, that freedom of religion means, or should mean, freedom from it as well). It is also well-recognised that the Founders were framing the establishment of the new nation to be a shiny, free, glorious example of the humanist, rational values of the Enlightenment, the new Age of Reason which was making its presence felt across Europe in the 18th century. Some scholars speculate (compellingly) that Constitution chief architect Thomas Jefferson and many of his ilk, far from being Christians of any flavour, were even deists – but I must point out that their religious beliefs are irrelevant to their democratic intent and rationalist stance, which I suspect was meant to be the whole point.
Many dominionists in the US have argued against this alleged separation, pointing to the “One Nation under God” line in the Pledge of Obedience Allegiance. Leaving aside the odd ritual of swearing fealty to a flag, that little line used to read “One nation, indivisible,” until religious pressure forced the addition of the “under God” bit. How about “In God We Trust”, which appears on US currency? That was added in the 1950s during McCarthyist hysteria as a counter to alleged “godless” communism (a political hysteria peculiar to the US which persists no less strongly today, as evidenced by the bizarre behaviour of the tea-baggers, birthers, deathers and other assorted pithy signwriters who, in textbook Pavlovian manner, protest anything President Obama does, be it being black or making a harmlessly dull “kids, do your homework” speech on TV and who refuse to nail down exactly which particular political evil – fascism, socialism, communism, anarcho–syndicalism – Barry O allegedly wishes to impose on them by trying to make sure they can see a doctor without selling a kidney first, the heartless bastard).
Many more of these “God-first, species second” types wish to insert religion and religiously-based reasoning (yes, yes, I know an oxymoron when I see it) into all facets of American public life in violation of the First Amendment, be it a massive stone Ten Commandments in front of a court house; teaching the alleged controversy between evolution and Genesis in science classes at school (the only controversy is that this laughable garbage even manages to gain traction in a first-world country); hiring creationist dentists with agendas onto the boards of highly influential school-boards, curriculum boards, textbook selection boards and the like in order to ease the passage of the Bible into science classes; making (or keeping) gay marriage & abortion illegal; foisting upon uncontrollably horny teenagers the old “just say no and don’t even talk about it” policy in regard to sexual congress with each other’s nubile & newly interesting bodies (which worked a charm for that Palin girl, might I add in a fit of strident pique). In myriad other ways, the Jesus-for-President lobby are doing their darnedest to make sure that Christianity becomes (or stays, according to the fantasies of some) the bedrock of US law, education, society & family that they think it should be (or is), regardless of whether anyone else, Christian or otherwise, wants it that way and regardless of whether it’s actually legal. Or realistic. Or not pointless and silly.
Anyway, here’s the main problem when theocrats achieve their wet dream and meld Church and State: it’s difficult to keep one church in power. The particular church running the state might not stay the same (as can happen, as with Henry VIII’s England, or in a modern democracy – or at least in a republic which holds elections to choose between two parties whose main difference seems to lie in their ability to aim lower than their opponent in terms of discourse or think up the best rhyming nicknames for their opponents).
It doesn’t even have to come down to a Christian vs non-Christian clash: there are that many divisions between various flavours of Christianity (more than Baskin & Robbins and Ben & Jerry’s combined at last count) that the other religions would be lucky to even get Nader-like numbers. If the Evangelicals get their wish and people with the mental acuity and religious fervour of Sarah “The Alaskan Quitbull” Palin (oops, there’s one of those nicknames) end up running the show in 2020 according to their own religious mores (I wonder who she would appoint as “Witchcraft Czar”?) but then are de-elected, compulsory rifle-ownership and all, by Bill Donohue’s Yes We’re Incredibly Paranoid But Only Because Everyone’s Persecuting Us Catholic League, there may be some problems. If Bill’s Vatican-do’ers start pushing for compulsory Congressional confessionals to be televised in the name of governmental transparency or, more likely, make communion wafer desecration a capital offence and paedophilia a misdemeanour with a maximum one-off penalty of $50, payable as a donation to the Catholic League (subsequent offences to carry a number of Hail Marys equal to the age of the “victim”), there could literally be blood in the streets if the WASPs arm up against the Whore of Rome. But what if the Westboro Baptists’ Kill Fags Now! Coalition comes to power and exterminates the WASPs? Anybody caught not publicly hating homosexuals or displaying hideous fluorescent signs on their lawns might end up being forced to protest solo in San Fran’s Castro district on Harvey Milk Day (It must be said I’d love the irony of protesting homosexuality using a gaily-coloured rainbow sign).
Or – good lord – what if one of those other religions managed to get into power and kicked the Christians out entirely? Would the Incredibly Orthodox? Do I Look Like I’m Kidding? Jewish Party enforce Torah rules – forbidding people from travelling except by foot over the Sabbath and banning electricity between those times? What of NASCAR? Illegal drag races for teens? World of Warcraft raids? Internet filth? TiVo? You can bet your size 94 track pants some people would have a problem with sitting in the dark, knowing people in stinkin’ Old Europe were playing XBbox Live and taunting each other without some Americans around to scream at them to speak freakin’ English. And don’t even mention the possibility of The Hell Yes We’re Muslims And Hell Yes You’re Screwed, Infidel Party gaining some traction, then it’d be prayers five times a day, no booze, halal food only and the entire porn/modeling/beauty pageant industry would have to assimilate the burqa (and thus become pointless) or go underground! And – dear god, no – both of those parties would ban pork in a laboured heartbeat! Mark my words, without the right to barbecue baby back ribs there would be a revolution orders of magnitude bloodier than the one currently being masturbated over by the revolution-fetishist Nobamas, until half the participants collapsed, gasping, red-faced, clutching at their chests and glad they didn’t vote against a commie healthcare system (better dead at 40 years and 40 stone than Red!), firing one last shot into the air in a thin hope that it’ll hit an imam when it comes back down.
Well, there is a solution to this theo-democratic dilemma and I can sum it up thus: you can’t please all the people all the time so imprison, beat, subjugate and otherwise crush the shit out of anyone who’s against you – even before they realize they’re against you, if you can (that takes some imagination and serious paranoia but it’s doable – Iran and the Saudis rock at it). In a nutshell, you must follow the example of theocracies both current and former. The little pretend country known as “The Country Formerly Known As The Roman Empire Until We Discovered Lying About Jesus Was Cheaper Than War” basically ran the combined nations of Europe as a theocracy for a thousand years – launching or supporting Crusades, Inquisitions & witchhunts, threatening, bribing, torturing, controlling monarchies, confiscating property, roasting feet, charging loads of cash for particular prayers and many other cheap but highly lucrative tricks, all to maintain strict obedience to dogma. When the time for red-hot poker-insertion & non-guitar-related iron maidens was over, they switched to missionary work, evangelism, exorcisms and controlling the education systems of entire countries to ensure unfettered access to the young & easily manipulated (yes, access to their minds was also high on the list). What the Vatican achieved, in terms of obscene wealth and sheer number of guilt-ridden & miserable followers in its thousand-year Christ-Reich would be (and probably was) the envy of those who would follow later and attempt similar things for similar reasons. It must be said that certain of them replaced the worship of gods with worship of themselves and their own equally warped dogma (the worst fiends of the 20th century, for example, realised that it’s easier to control adherence to a dogma if you just make up a new one, rather than relying on an old and much-debated one), complete with brand new shiny commandments and brand new (or markedly revamped & re-invigorated) hatreds, which were still on a suitably Biblical scale.
Let’s not forget the USA’s very own best buddies, long-time theocrats and partners in grime (yes, that’s a clever fossil fuel reference, thank you for noticing), Saudi Arabia. Instead of elections and political debates, they have the Royal Family and shut the f–k up. Instead of police to investigate crime and courts of law to prosecute criminals, they have Decency Police to arrest rape victims and sharia courts to sentence the rape victim to some more rape. Or maybe she’ll just get a light beating if she promises never to have it done to her again, the little minx, and how dare she just leave the house like that anyway, she was bloody asking for it. Everyone knows men can’t be trusted not to just penetrate anything that’s warmer than room temperature so, basically, they shouldn’t have to be beholden to such foolish Western notions as a woman’s right to not be raped and not raping people. Saudi Arabia is a textbook example of what can be done, – nay, what needs to be done to keep your particular dogma stapled onto your nation’s constitution and laws, should you be successful in establishing your favourite god as head-of-state in all but actual physical presence (lack of physical presence certainly hadn’t stopped North Korea from still following its Dear Departed Leader, Kim Il-Sung).
Using those two examples (they’re all I had time for, otherwise I would have to dedicate myself to a book and I don’t think I have the attention span for that – that’s usually why I just write songs that don’t exceed five minutes, or Facebook status updates), it would appear that the key to keeping your theocracy, once you have attained it, is using the fear of lots of violence (including the fear of Hell) and of course, actually using lots and lots of violence, to keep your subjects in line. This is necessary because, even amongst people who share your religion, there will be disagreements on the interpretations of certain bits of infallible scripture (not least of which the question of which bits are in fact infallible, which are open for interpretation and which bits can be used to justify killing an opponent and their entire heathen family). So, unless you wish to be bogged down in quiet, respectful theological discussions which will outlast the lifespans of those involved in the discussion and make functional government all but impossible (a useful tactic in itself, it must be noted, and it happens in secular politics every day), you more or less have to go full Saudi on those infidel bastards, stick the boot in and form your Decency Police quicksmart, before anyone gets a head big enough to dare to challenge your version of the select words of your god, which are now law and carry penalties a lot scarier than anything threatened in scripture. Also, it should be noted that threatening and using lots of violence seems to have a greater effect on large groups of people than merely promising paradise in exchange for being nice (see the section on The Vatican).
So there you have it. Wannabe US theocrats might certainly have their cake if they care to put in any effort beyond petulantly sabotaging children’s education or making clever puns on “Barack Obama” for protest signs (Barack Osama! Hey, I just thought of one! That was my Teabagger deed for the day – and now back to the TiVo) but they’ll be so busy protecting it they’ll never get a second to even lick the icing, let alone eat the damn thing. You can’t have your theocracy and enjoy it too, so make damn sure no one else enjoys it either.

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