Well, That’s Us Told: Sir Terry And The Cultural Elite

31 Aug

Well, that’s US  told.

And that was sarcasm, by the way.

I don’t mind admitting that Sir Terry Pratchett was one of my favourite authors. Sir Terry captured both the absurdities and cruelties of modern life – and managed to do it while retaining a sense of humour that kept his work slipping into the realm of grim-dark Game of Thrones-style brutality. I didn’t like all of his Discworld books, but there were so many of them exploring so many different themes that a reader could like the universe without enjoying each and every book.

Sir Terry was a colossal success. I don’t know if he sold more books than JK Rowling, but he was truly popular among young children, teenagers and adults. The true measure of his brilliance as a writer is two-fold; first, he encouraged children to read by never talking down to them and second, that he enjoyed all-ages market penetration. That is a very rare gift. The Harry Potter books appeal to all ages, but Twilight only truly appeals to a specific demographic.

And so I read the recent hit piece on Sir Terry in The Guardian with disbelief rapidly shading to raw anger.

Like I said, the ability to appeal to all levels of the population is rare. That alone marks Sir Terry as an outright writing genius. But the Discworld books, in particular, open the gateways to many other fields of study. One may contemplate religious hypocrisy while reading Small Gods, explore the strengths and weaknesses of naked capitalism in Going Postal, learn about the problems of racial disharmony and the war on terror in Thud, the follies of pointless wars in Jingo and the impact of new technologies and ideas in Making Money and Raising Steam. There is a strong cast of diverse characters just so that the reader can choose a favourite and use that person as their entry into a wider universe.

And yet the writer of this article has the sheer arrogant nerve to dismiss him as a mediocrity.

People are entitled to their opinions. I will happily admit that there are some of Sir Terry’s books I don’t plan to reread. But at least I’ve read them! The author of the article says, with all sincerity, that he hasn’t read a single one of Sir Terry’s books. Indeed, in his own words, “I did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.” And yet he feels he has the right to judge a man who was one of Britain’s most beloved authors?

The author manages – somehow – to touch on an important point without realising the implications and how they apply to his points. “Actual literature may be harder to get to grips with than a Discworld novel, but it is more worth the effort.” The mental muscles one needs to get to grips, as the author puts it, can only be developed through reading! One can start with The Worst Witch, move on to Harry Potter and finish with Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell. The final book is a piece of brilliant writing – it thoroughly deserved the Hugo Award – but it is very heavy going. I could not have read it if I had not honed my reading muscles through reading lesser works that encouraged me to develop the habit of reading.

You would not start weightlifting by trying to lift a 150KG weight, would you? Why would you ask a child to start reading by giving the poor kid something as weighty as … well, the handful of books the literature elite class as good literature? If you make reading a chore, kids will hate it! The kid will give up, get bored, throw away the book and abandon the world of reading forever.

Sir Terry has a fair claim to being rather more than just one of the most influential and important writers of his generation. He encouraged children and teenagers to read, he enabled them to look at the world with fresh eyes, he mocked the pretentious and skewered the illusions of the elites and he didn’t hesitate to convince people to think for themselves.

He had the common touch. No wonder the literature elite hates him.

SJWs Always Lie

30 Aug

-Vox Day

Rule One: SJWs Always Lie.

Rule Two: SJWs Always Double Down.

Rule Three: SJWs Always Project.

If you’re reading my blog – and my books – you probably have an interest in science-fiction and fantasy. If you have such an interest, you will probably have heard of Vox Day. Given the noise-to-signal ratio of the recent Hugo Awards debate, where Vox was demonised as [insert your favourite hater here], some of you will have a strong urge to just put the book down and back quietly away from it …

If you do, you will have proved one of Vox Day’s central points.

A standard tactic – and not just one restricted to SJWs – is to mock the messenger, particularly if the message stands up to rational analysis. Therefore, a person who questions the accepted narrative of [insert social justice issue here] is branded as a racist, sexist, homophobe, etc … with the intention of convincing the undecided or the weak-willed to ignore him. After all, who wants to listen to a racist, sexist, homophobe, etc?

In the current climate this book may have a fair claim to being one of the most important books you will read. It is no surprise, therefore, that most of the one-star reviews on Amazon are insults directed at Vox Day personally, rather than the book itself. The unspoken intention is to mock the messenger, thus discrediting the message.

Read this book. You may hate it, but at least you will have the pleasure of knowing you made up your own mind.

One of the most heartbreaking stories to come out of the Soviet Union came from a man who’d been sentenced to the gulag (prison camp for dissidents); he asked himself, afterwards, why he hadn’t fought or run when the police came for him. He just sat in his house and awaited his fate. The answer, of course, is quite simple. The USSR was a prison camp above ground (and a mass grave below); the inmates – sorry, the population – were conditioned not to resist authority, even when authority was brutal, capricious, untrustworthy and quite thoroughly hypocritical.

Many people will say ‘it can’t happen here.’ But it can and it does.

Our society is under attack by Social Justice Warriors (or, as I prefer to think of them, Social Justice Bullies). They have, as Day points out, become the new thought police. Tell an off-colour joke? Lose your job, reputation and perhaps even your life. Disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy? Get harried into silence and then buried below a wave of focused scorn and contempt. Question the claims to victimhood of the aristocracy of victimhood? Get called a racist, sexist, homophobe, etc.

But what is a Social Justice Warrior anyway?

Put simple, a SJW fights for ‘social justice.’ That doesn’t sound too bad until you understand what it means. Social Justice ignores the individual in favour of the group. By this logic, all Black Americans are one, even though it doesn’t require much intelligence to realise that that cannot possibly be true. You’d be lumping Will Smith, President Obama, Ben Carson, Al Sharpon and Freddie Grey together, even though one is a great actor, two are politicians, one’s an unashamed race-baiter and one was a thug who was shot while committing a robbery.

To make this worse, each group is rated on a scale of victimhood. If there is a clash between two groups, SJWs automatically swarm behind the lower-ranked (or should it be higher ranked) group involved, even though the facts may lean the other way. Therefore, as far as the SJWs are concerned, a white man is always in the wrong when involved in a clash with a black man. In fact, although the average SJW will rant and rave about the evils of racism, many of them tend to be strongly racist towards white males (even when they are white males themselves). The self-loathing many of them feel is directed outwards against their own society.

It doesn’t take much effort to dig up the negative results of SJW policies. Policing in America has been badly hampered by the quest for social justice. Policemen involved in racially-charged incidents were tried and convicted in the court of public opinion a long time before the case ever saw the inside of a court of law. Their wives and families were also targeted. (This too is a common attack vector for the SJWs.) Accordingly, police are less willing to serve their communities for fear of seeing their lives ripped apart by SJWs. People are afraid to speak their minds – to point out that the SJW has no clothes – for fear of being charged with having said something, anything, that someone might have found offensive.

The SJWs are driven by emotion – and they tend to use emotion to keep their attacks moving forward. Emotion powers the Social Justice narrative. Once someone is emotionally involved, it becomes difficult for their preconceptions to be undermined – even if they’re based on a lie. This is at least partly why SJWs are so keen to use ‘racist’ as an insult – it’s a keyword that most people are conditioned to find horrible, urging them to lean away from the target. This only gets worse when the target isn’t someone known to the listener (thus avoiding the problem of positive emotions counteracting the negative ones.)

This book will tell you much of what you need to know about SJWs and the threat they represent to society.

It starts with an introduction to SJW-attack on both a micro and macro scale. The micro-scale attack may be something as simple as an accusation of a ‘micro-aggression’ at your place of work; a macro-scale attack may be something as savage and unjustified as the campaigns directed against Tim Hunt or Brendan Eich. (To some extent, George Zimmerman and Darrin Wilson are also victims.) These attacks will feature charges that are rarely worthy of being put before a court of law, but are maddeningly difficult to refute before the next charge is hurled into the fray. ‘Investigators’ will dig through electronic records to find something – anything – which may substantiate the charges, paint whatever they find in the blackest possible light and scream about it as loudly as possible.

These attacks are not primarily – if at all – about punishment. Instead, they are intended – deliberately – to create horrific examples. In Brendan Eich’s case, for example, the attack was intended to deter others from opposing gay marriage by crushing his career, reputation and future. No one can safely consider themselves immune from the SJWs.

The attacks, Day notes, tend to follow a set pattern; the target is isolated, the target is hammered, the target is pressured to resign and eventually buried by bad press. The resignation is particularly important as it is a de facto admission of responsibility (as noted later in the book, actually firing someone requires due process). To this, the natural human response is to beg for mercy, which is a terrible mistake. SJWs are bullies, plain and simple, and bullies are always attracted to weakness.

Day goes on to discuss GamerGate and its role in pushing back against the SJWs. To cut a long story short, a game designer was caught having several affairs with industry reporters, who gave her game (I’ve never played it, but Day makes it sound about as much fun as going to the dentist for a filling) star ratings. This blew the lid off intense frustration within the gaming community about new games that were designed more to please SJWs than gamers; they went on the attack, developed a mass movement and only fought back harder when the media establishment painted them as villains. (You may not believe the SJWs represent more than a swarm, but it’s hard to look at the history of GamerGate without understanding that gamers believe themselves to be targets – and that they might well be right.)

The SJWs went mad – as they did, later, with the Hugo Awards and the Sad/Rabid Puppy campaigns. It is hard to exaggerate the sheer scale of poison hurled at both the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies. (To give one example; a man in a mixed-race marriage was accused of being a racist who was using his black wife as a shield; clearly, despite marrying her and raising a child, he was a racist. There is no logic in this, merely an attempt to use shouts of RACIST, RACIST to shut down debate.) Their operating principle was simple enough; their lies could get around the world before the truth had even been uploaded to the interest. And the core issue – the non-issue of diversity in SF – was buried.

Finally, the latter third of the book discusses what to do if SJWs attack and how to keep pushing back against them. This is easily the most important section and contains a great deal of advice which is applicable in many other situations. These can be summed up as ‘Don’t Panic, Don’t Respond, Don’t Apologise, Don’t Resign and Get Everything In Writing.’ It’s probably best to regard most SJW attacks as being on the same level as a child throwing a public temper tantrum; it’s loud, its unpleasant and the natural response is to do whatever it takes to calm the child down, but it will soon pass – and the child can do little to harm you. This is not always true of the SJWs, of course, yet keeping calm can allow you to migrate most attacks. Day concludes that most targeted individuals would probably have kept their jobs if they’d followed his advice.

There are two weaknesses that are probably both worth mentioning. In the course of illustrating his first principle – SJWs Always Lie – Day focuses on John Scalzi’s attempt to inflate the viewing figures for his website. On one hand, of course, this is such a minor matter that it illustrates the central tenet quite nicely; on the other, given that Day and Scalzi have a history, it looks as though Day is pursuing a personal grudge.

The second weakness is that the book doesn’t go too deeply into the nature of the beast. Who are the SJWs? They are not, in a conventional sense, a conspiracy; they will challenge their detractors to prove a Vast SJW Conspiracy in the certain knowledge that one cannot be proven. They are, however, a cluster of people who share a set of attitudes, combined with the technology to engage in easy activism. As such, they are both a very minor threat and a serious problem.

This may seem absurd, but the SJWs are – in many ways – the proof of Men In Black’s assertion that ‘a person is smart, but people are dumb.’ SJWs become attached to a narrative – a through line that purports to explain an event – and then refuse to accept any evidence that contradicts the narrative. Their agreements are not based on a reasoned consideration of the evidence, but raw emotion; there is no point in trying to reason with SJWs because they are not governed by logic and reason. Their attacks are so vicious purely because they want to keep the narrative going, rather than allow it to be questioned and picked apart.

You may not like the author, but you should read this book.

At the very least, you should know what you’re rejecting.

Snippet – Wedding Hells (Schooled In Magic 8)

24 Aug

Prologue

“They say you can get a good view from here,” the voice said. “Do you like what you see?”

Gannet ignored the voice, choosing instead to look out of the window at the sight below, even though it tore at his soul. Fourteen people – nine men, five women – were positioned in the stocks, surrounded by the City Guard. They’d been arrested only two days ago and slammed into pillory, without even a pretence of a trial. But then, everyone had known they were guilty of the charges laid against them. They just hadn’t believed that they were crimes.

They won’t last much longer, he thought, morbidly. One woman – she’d been thirty, if he recalled correctly – was already lolling to one side, her head bruised and battered where pieces of rotten fruit had struck her. They haven’t had anything to eat or drink since they were chained up in the stocks.

He clenched his fists in bitter, helpless rage. Five minutes. It had been only five minutes that had made the difference between his escape and him being arrested with the others. If Rahsia hadn’t delayed him with news of potential new allies among the magicians …

I’d be down there too, he thought. Trapped, helpless and surrounded by the people I wanted to save.

It had all seemed so simple, once upon a time. The New Learning had swept through Zangaria like wildfire, bringing change in its wake. Hundreds of thousands of people could now read, write and do their sums, without the aid of a guild. The printing presses had followed, allowing the newly-enlightened population to actually learn about the world surrounding them for the first time in their lives. And, with the political ideas emitting from Cockatrice, Gannet had dared to hope they were on the cusp of real lasting change – and freedom.

He knew, without false modesty, that he was smart. He’d been a merchant, after all, and no merchant lasted long without a canny eye for opportunities. But his low birth had doomed him to obscurity. His lack of connections ensured he would never be anything more than a small shopkeeper, beneath the attention of those who called themselves his betters. But why were they his betters? What separated an aristocrat from a commoner, beyond an accident of birth? Aristocrats were no more or less moral than commoners, he knew from bitter experience; commoners could show more nobility than some of the noblest aristocrats.

Cold hatred flared in his heart as he lifted his eyes and stared at Swanhaven Castle, a brooding dark mass looming over the city. Lord Hans and Lady Regina lived there, competing for the favour of King Randor and struggling to win the Barony of Swanhaven for themselves. One of them had issued the orders to crack down hard on the freethinkers, taking his friends into custody and placing them in the stocks to dry. Gannet neither knew nor cared which of them had actually issued the orders. They were both part of a vile and corrupt system that needed to die.

But how?

There were stories, hundreds of them, of brave swordsmen who’d fought their way into castles and emerged with the maiden fair, but Gannet knew he was no fighter. Like all commoners, he’d been denied the chance to wield anything more dangerous than a club. It was death for him to own a sword, let alone seek training in its use. And, with the castle surrounded by wards as well as armed guards, even a truly legendary swordsman would be unable to find a way past the defences and into the keep. There was nothing he could do.

He swung around, suddenly, to glare at Rahsia. “Did you know this would happen?”

The dark-haired girl shook her head. She was around twenty, if he was any judge, although magicians were fond of making themselves look younger. She’d introduced herself, when they’d met for the first time, as a representative from a handful of magicians who also wanted political change. Gannet had been suspicious – magicians were practically noblemen – but she’d done nothing to justify his concerns. Indeed, he’d even found her quite pleasant company when they’d talked about other things. She certainly wasn’t one of the young firebrands who talked of nothing, but revolution and war – and the paradise that was sure to come, once the aristocrats were dead.

“There was no warning,” she said, softly. “We have no contact with the magicians in the castle.”

Gannet nodded, cursing inwardly as a loud cheer rose up from the square below. Someone had probably thrown a rock and killed one of the prisoners, but he didn’t want to look to find out for sure. A friend of his might have died. If they’d been interrogated first, before being put on display, they might even have betrayed him. He knew he didn’t dare go back to his garret.

They won’t have found everyone, he told himself. I can rebuild

“There’s nothing to be done here,” Rahsia said. She rose from the bed and held out a hand. “We should go.”

“There’s nowhere to go,” Gannet said. It wasn’t quite accurate – a dosshouse would be happy to put him up without asking any questions – but for once in his life he didn’t know what to do. “They’ve won.”

“Not yet,” Rahsia said. She gave him a considering look. “The core problem, as you know, is that the lords and ladies are backed by the king.”

Gannet scowled back. “Of course I know,” he snapped. “Everyone knows that!”

It was true, too. The peasants might – might – be able to overthrow a village headman, or a minor noble. But the barons – or the king himself – would be sure to respond. Entire villages had been burned to the ground, their populations slaughtered or sold into slavery, just for daring to lift a hand against their lords and masters. It had made the survivors unsurprisingly reluctant to risk taking a stand, even when their betters insisted on taxing the villages so harshly that their mere survival was in doubt. No wonder, Gannet thought, that so many had fled the lands to the towns – or Cockatrice. There was nothing left for them in the countryside.

“Then the problem lies with the king,” Rahsia said. “We should seek to kill him and exterminate his line. And there will never be a better chance.”

“The king,” Gannet repeated. He was a minor merchant, by all the gods; he didn’t even live in Alexis! “You want to assassinate the king?”

“Yes,” Rahsia said, firmly. “And his daughter. The Iron Duke – the former Iron Duke – has already been disgraced. With the king and his crown princess gone, there will be no legitimate heir to the throne.”

“There are barons,” Gannet pointed out.

“None of whom had a clear-cut claim,” Rahsia countered. “Those who did were killed after the coup attempt in Alexis. The survivors do not have a strong blood-link to the Line of Alexis. There will be civil war if they start disputing over who should take the throne.”

Gannet thought, fast. Like all merchantmen, he did his best to keep appraised of power struggles amongst the aristocracy, even though his ability to affect them was practically non-existent. The strongest surviving baron was, ironically, the one who was least interested in actually wielding her power – and, perhaps, the one who would be the best monarch for the country.

“There’s Baroness Cockatrice,” he said. “Would she take the throne?”

“I have it on good authority that Lady Emily is not interested in such power,” Rahsia said, dryly. “But even if she was, she’d be challenged by the other barons. They would see her as a more dangerous threat than any other.”

“So there will be civil war,” Gannet said.

“Yes,” Rahsia said. “The social structure that binds the country together will shatter once the king is dead. Aristocrat will turn on aristocrat, which will give you the chance to prepare your forces to act. And all you have to do is kill the king and his sole heir.”

Gannet hesitated. King Randor had to go – the man had worked with the commoners to save his throne, then started to marginalise them as best as he could – but he had no particular dislike of the princess. He’d heard stories, of course, yet they’d all been so inflated by the time they’d reached Swanhaven that he didn’t believe them. And besides, some of the stories about Lady Regina were far worse.

But the death of one young girl was a small price to pay for freedom.

“It won’t be easy,” he said. That was an understatement, all right. “How do we even get into the castle?”

Rahsia smiled. “Let me worry about that,” she said. “You just work on building up a strike force.”

Chapter One

The magic felt … odd.

Power sparkled around her fingertips as she cast the spell. A glowing ball of light appeared in front of her, casting a soft radiance over the chamber. It was a simple spell, one she’d mastered very quickly, yet it felt odd. Her magic felt odd. The light globe started to glow brighter as she pumped more power into the spell, then changed rapidly into an ominous red glow that pulsed against her skin. It felt almost as if she were being sunburned. She cursed under her breath, fighting to control the spell; slowly, far too slowly, the light globe returned to normal and drifted into the air.

“Not too bad,” Void said.

Emily scowled at him. “It’s shabby,” she protested, crossly. Her head throbbed as she cancelled the spell. “And it could have turned dangerous.”

“But it didn’t,” Void said. He rose to his feet and held out a hand to Emily, inviting her to stand. “You’re doing better than I expected, under the circumstances.”

Emily felt her cheeks heat. “Thank you,” she said, as she took his hand and allowed him to help her to her feet. “But it still feels frustrating.”

“Your magic has expanded,” Void said, “without giving you the time you needed to learn to handle it. The spells you cast by instinct are now massively overpowered. You just need to learn to control the flow of magic again.”

He turned and walked through the door into the next room. Emily followed him, shaking her head in private amusement as he motioned her to a chair and picked up a large jug of Kava from the sideboard. She knew he had servants – she’d met them when he’d rescued her, so long ago – but he hadn’t brought any of them into her house. Instead, they’d split the cooking duties between them. And he’d never complained about her food.

She studied him as he turned to take the seat facing her. His appearance had changed, several times, since they’d first met; this time, he was tall, with long dark hair that flowed down to his shoulders and an angular face that reminded her of the hunting hawks she’d watched in Zangaria. His dark eyes were easily the darkest she’d ever seen, so dark she sometimes fancied she could just fall into them and never climb out. And the aura of power, which hung around him like a shroud, warned anyone who met Void that he was a very dangerous man.

“You have been doing well,” he said, as he passed her a mug of Kava. “How are you feeling?”

“Tired,” Emily said.

Void frowned. “No nightmares?”

“Not really,” Emily said. She had been taking potions every night for a week, but even after that she hadn’t had many bad dreams. She’d expected to revisit the duel again and again in her sleep, yet she’d seen almost nothing. “Is that a bad thing?”

“You tell me,” Void said.

Emily frowned. She’d killed a man, personally. It wasn’t the first time she’d killed, but it was the first time she’d done it with her bare hands. Master Grey had wanted to kill her and she’d killed him … and she felt almost nothing, as if she’d lost the ability to care. She’d snuffed out his life to keep him from taking hers …

She looked down at her hands. They were shaking.

“I don’t know,” she said, finally.

Void cocked his head. “And how are you feeling physically?”

Emily took a sip of her Kava before answering. “I have a slight headache,” she said. She rubbed her eyes with her free hand. “And it feels like my skin is on fire. Is that normal?”

“Very little about this is normal,” Void said. “I think your mana reserves have swelled past the point you can handle them. You need to spend more time in the spellchambers, casting spells.”

Or draining the magic into a battery, Emily thought. It hadn’t been too hard to set up another couple of batteries, once her magic had renewed herself. But what happens if this carries on?

“It’s a muscle,” Void said, seemingly unaware of her thoughts. “You need to practice constantly to keep it in shape.”

He shrugged. “But you can handle that, I think,” he added. “You haven’t gone mad, thankfully.”

Emily gave him a sharp look. “Is that why you stayed? Did you think I would go mad?”

Void met her eyes, unapologetically. “The possibility needed to be considered,” he said, firmly. “And …”

“And someone had to be there to … handle me if I went mad,” Emily interrupted. She couldn’t help feeling a stab of betrayal. Void was the closest thing she had to a real father, but he’d stayed with her out of fear she’d go mad. “Did you plan to kill me?”

Void held her gaze. “Would you rather leave a prospective necromancer to her own devices?”

Emily shivered. Void had saved her life … but Lady Barb and the Grandmaster had both warned her that he shouldn’t be taken for granted. He’d done a great deal of dirty work for the White Council in the past, trampling roughshod over everything else just to get the job done. She had no doubt he would have killed her if she’d gone mad …

… And he would have been right. A maddened magician with her level of control – and her knowledge from another world – would have been very dangerous. But the thought didn’t make her feel any better.

“No,” she said, finally. She put the mug down on the table. “But I haven’t gone mad, have I?”

“No,” Void agreed. “And the more you practice with your magic, the easier it should become to handle it.”

He cleared his throat, loudly. “There are, however, a number of matters we should discuss,” he said, changing the subject. “For starters, Mistress Irene informs me that you will need to be back at Whitehall within the week if you wish to take your Fourth Year exams. Under the circumstances, Emily, I have no doubt you could redo Third and Fourth Year if you wished, instead of trying to take the exams now. I suggest you think about it over the next day or so and then let me know what you want to do.”

Emily didn’t need to think about it. “I want to go back,” she said. “I can’t leave Caleb in the lurch.”

Void smiled. “Missing him already, are we?”

“Yes,” Emily said, feeling her cheeks warming again. She’d wanted to invite her friends – and her boyfriend – to the house, but Void had cautioned her against it. “Is that so wrong?”

“No,” Void said. He smirked. “I would advise you not to discuss your expanded powers with him, as he might get a little jealous, but that’s your choice. You might also want to warn him that you’re not entirely stable right now. There’s a good chance you’ll say something to him you’ll both regret.”

Emily coloured. The first few days in the house had been bad, very bad, as her magic slowly returned. She’d found herself crying for no reason, then screaming her rage to the heavens, unable to keep herself under control. Void had been immensely patient, she’d come to realise slowly; she doubted there were many tutors at Whitehall who would have put up with her for longer than a few hours. She’d probably have been expelled several times over by now.

Void shrugged. “That does lead neatly to a second pair of issues we need to discuss,” he added. “The first is this.”

He reached into a pocket, produced a small wooden box and passed it to her. Emily opened it carefully, after casting a handful of spells to check it was safe, and blinked in surprise as she realised it contained a ring. There was a faint hint of magic surrounding the gold and silver band, but it didn’t feel hostile. In fact, it felt almost welcoming.

She looked up at him. “Are you asking me to marry you?”

Void blinked, nonplussed. “What?”

Emily sighed. “Where I come from, married couples exchange rings,” she explained. Void had listened to her stories of Earth with great interest, but she’d never discussed marriages with him. “The boy offers the girl a ring when he wants to marry her.”

Void looked faintly displeased. “Traditionally,” he said stiffly, “a sorcerer will receive four rings in his – or her – lifetime. The first one” – he pointed to the box in Emily’s hand – “is a family ring, which is generally presented when the sorcerer is deemed mature. Most families hand them out in a private ceremony after the sorcerer passes his first set of exams. Among other things, they serve as proof of identity.”

Emily looked down at the ring for a long moment. “And what does this one mean?”

“People will ask why I haven’t given you a ring,” Void said, dryly. “That one marks you as a member of my family.”

“Oh,” Emily said. It was suddenly very hard to speak. She had to swallow, hard, before she could say a word. “Do … do you have any other family?”

“I’m the last of my family,” Void said, curtly. “But I do not believe they would object to me welcoming you into the family. It is far from uncommon to adopt promising newborn magicians and they are always treated as if they were born into the family.”

He shrugged. “You can wear the ring, if you like, or keep it with you,” he added. “Certain people may ask you to present it. If they do, make sure you have it on your finger when you show it to them.”

Emily nodded, looking down at the ring. “What are the others? I mean, the other rings?”

Void held up a hand, revealing three rings. “You’ll get a ring when you complete your Sixth Year exams and leave Whitehall,” he said. “Your master, assuming you do an apprenticeship, will give you a ring when you complete your training. And you’ll get a fourth ring when you have a child.”

“You’ve only got three rings,” Emily said.

“So I do,” Void agreed. He tapped the table, firmly. “You have entered a formal courtship with Caleb, as I understand it. You will be going to Beneficence after your exams, correct?”

“Yes,” Emily said. She had no intention of letting him distract her for long. “I’m going to meet his parents. Lady Barb said she would accompany me.”

“She’s there to be your chaperone,” Void said, curtly. “Under the terms of a formal courtship, his parents will be taking a good long look at you and your choice of chaperone.”

Emily frowned. “Will they expect you to come?”

“It is generally assumed that a chaperone will be female,” Void said. “A combat sorceress would be regarded as an excellent chaperone. She will be expected to defend your honour to his parents. However, there will be times when you are expected to defend your own honour.”

“I see,” Emily said, uncertainly.

“His siblings may challenge you, gently,” Void added. “Keep your tone polite, but don’t give them any ground. They’ll be looking for signs of weakness.”

He paused. “You and Caleb will be expected to behave yourselves,” he warned. “His family will be watching to see how you treat him – and vice versa. When you’re at a formal setting, be formal. Don’t kiss in public …”

“I wouldn’t,” Emily objected.

“And I strongly advise you not to be caught in bed with Caleb while you’re in his family home,” Void finished, ignoring her comment. “His family will not approve.”

He held up a hand before she could say a word. “Lady Barb will probably go through how you should behave with you too,” he added. “I suggest you listen to her. She’s been through it herself.”

Emily blinked, distracted from her embarrassment. “I thought she’d never married!”

“Her courtship failed,” Void said. “Yours …”

He shrugged. “The purpose of a courtship is to build up a lasting relationship,” he said, after a moment. “Sometimes, two people find that they are incompatible, no matter what they do. There is no shame in breaking off a courtship, even as you approach the wedding day; better that, Emily, than being tied to someone you don’t like.”

“I understand,” Emily said, quietly. She took a breath. “What happens if his family doesn’t like me?”

“Or thinks you’re too dangerous to bring into the family,” Void added. “It would depend on Caleb. Is he willing to give up his family to be with you?”

Emily swallowed. “I don’t know.”

“You’re not just marrying him,” Void said. “You’ll be joining his entire family. You might discover that you can’t bear the thought of being married to them.”

Emily looked down at her pale hands. She would have left her family without a second thought; hell, she’d certainly never tried to find a way back to Earth. But Caleb? He’d admitted he had problems with his family, but he didn’t hate them the way Emily had hated her stepfather. Would he leave his family for her? Could she ask him to make such a sacrifice?

“I don’t want to think about it,” she admitted, reluctantly.

“No one will think any less of you if you decide that you cannot bear to be married to them,” Void said. “There are dozens of failed courtships every year, Emily. But you are the one who has to make that choice. I cannot dictate it for you.”

“Fulvia tried to dictate who Melissa married,” Emily pointed out, mulishly.

“I’m not Fulvia,” Void countered. “And I have very little to gain or lose from your courtship. Fulvia had the interests of an entire family to consider; I … my position is not dependent on you.”

Emily considered it. “Is that true of his parents?”

Void shrugged. “Caleb is the second-born, isn’t he?”

“I think so,” Emily said. She forced herself to remember what Caleb had said. “He’s definitely got at least one older brother and a second brother – I think he’s three or four years younger than Caleb.”

“They’re not that important a family,” Void said, dispassionately. “They may see advantages in having their son married to you. I think they may be a little disappointed that it wasn’t their eldest son who started to court you, because he’d be the heir. But if something were to happen to him, Caleb would be next in line.”

“Caleb isn’t going to worry about that,” Emily objected.

“He should,” Void said. “Unless he leaves the family, he will be the heir if something happens to his older brother.”

“It all sounds very cold,” Emily said.

“Courtships are cold,” Void said. “But when they work, they tend to work very well.”

He shrugged, again. “If you really want to go back to Whitehall, I’ll arrange for you to be collected tomorrow; we can shut the house down together. After that, you’ll be the only person who can enter and leave at will.”

Emily felt a stab of bitter pain. The Grandmaster was dead. He’d left her the house and a letter, warning her that her life was about to become a great deal harder. Part of her just wanted to stay in the house, wrapping her wards around herself and forgetting the rest of the world. But she couldn’t, not if she wanted to pass her exams. She needed those qualifications to advance.

And Alassa would kill me if I didn’t attend her wedding, she thought.

The thought caused another bitter pang. Alassa and Imaiqah would be leaving Whitehall after their exams. She’d be alone; her only true friend left at the school would be the Gorgon, unless she left too. Frieda would be staying, of course, and so would Caleb, but it wouldn’t be the same. The former was two years younger than her; the latter was her boyfriend, not someone she could confide in.

“I have somewhere I need to be,” Void added, quietly. “I probably won’t see you again for a while. But, for what it’s worth, I’m very proud of you.”

“Thank you,” Emily said, quietly. “For this and … and everything.”

“You’re welcome,” Void said. He tapped the box. “Aren’t you going to put on the ring?”

Emily hesitated, then cast a handful of detection spells. Void nodded in approval – he’d warned her, several times, to be sure she checked before touching anything – and waited until she was sure the ring was safe. It felt warm against her bare skin, she discovered, pulsing faintly with magic. And it felt almost as if it belonged.

“I wonder,” she said, slowly. “Does this make you my father?”

“It makes you part of the family, such as it is,” Void said. He’d never talked about his family, even when he’d encouraged her to open up about her mother and stepfather. “There’s only me now.”

“I’m sorry,” Emily said.

“Don’t be,” Void told her. “Their deaths weren’t your fault.”

Emily looked down at the ring, drinking in the details. It looked as if he’d wrapped a piece of golden thread around a silver thread and melted them together, weaving magic into the raw material until it was almost alive. She’d seen more elaborate pieces of jewellery – Alassa wore them frequently – but the ring was special. It told her that she belonged.

Carefully, she placed it on her finger. It was a little loose, but as the magic spiked around the ring it tightened just enough to ensure it wouldn’t fall off. She pulled at it and discovered that it needed a hard tug to pull it free. She’d never really liked rings – she’d never had the money to buy any jewellery on Earth – but Void’s ring seemed perfect.

“Welcome to the family, Emily,” Void said. He took a breath. “And now you can go practice your spells for the rest of the day.”

Emily laughed and did as she was told.

In Which The Writer Apologises To His Readers

23 Aug

This is, well, a confession of sorts. It’s also a bit of a ramble. Bear with me a moment.

I started writing in 2004 or thereabouts. My first book was completed in 2005. It was, to put it bluntly, as crappy as most first-time books. (So it was rejected; surprise, surprise.) I went through several attempts to write another before finally completing a second book, then a third. I think of this as my first period of serious writing. It more or less ended with United States Starship, which – I think – is the earliest example of my writing available on the site.

The second phase was rather less focused than I might have preferred. I wrote Second Chance, all three books, and the ongoing Multiverse War series. I may reuse some of those ideas, but I don’t see them as being worthy of publishing (or being paid for them.). I also wrote the first draft of Outside Context Problem and the complete first version of Democracy.

The third phase was a little more focused. The Empire’s Corps, The Royal Sorceress and Barbarians At The Gates were born during that time, which lasted until I lost my job and moved to Malaysia in 2012. (Aisha had faith in me.) So too were Invasion, The Trojan Horse, Outside Context Problem V2, Under Foot and Their Darkest Hour.

The fourth and ongoing phase started in 2012 with First Strike and continued, with Bookworm and Schooled In Magic. At this point, The Empire’s Corps was rejected – when I was sure it would be accepted – and I put it on kindle. It was a surprise to discover that people not only liked it, they were clamouring for a sequel. I was working my way through what would become No Worse Enemy when Elsewhen Press picked up The Royal Sorceress and Bookworm. Shortly after that, Twilight Times Press picked up Schooled In Magic. It was one hell of a morale booster.

And I was still putting my older works up on Kindle – or stripping them for ideas. To some extent, Ark Royal draws on my previous unpublished works; Shadow, which I may get around to adding to the free section of the site, was pretty much the precursor to Ark Royal. (Unlucky, which will be the third Angel In The Whirlwind novel if I get a contract, also has a precursor.) This has accidentally led to a problem for me.

I was trying, particularly during the third stage, to get published. My job had turned poisonous and the writing on the wall was fairly clear (and I’m not talking about the graffiti some smartass had scrawled on the walls in the toilets.) I wanted out. I wanted … well let’s just say I would have been happy hiding in my bedroom, turning out novels. (I owe Aisha more than I can ever say.) My basic idea was to write the starter book of a series, make a list of notes about how the story was mean to go, and then pick up on the series when – if – the book was published. I had a dream of producing a series that I could develop for a publisher when I was given the chance.

Which I suppose is what happened, with The Empire’s Corps. But it was for Kindle and well past the day I lost my job.

This has, accidentally, created a problem for me now. I sketched out the book that would become The Slightest Hope of Victory. I sketched out the series that would follow on from The Empire’s Corps. I sketched out the two books that followed (and will follow) Barbarians At The Gates. But some of my ideas for other books were reused, later, for different books in different series …

… So a plotline I drew up four years ago, maybe more, is now useless.

Well, it’s not useless. It’s a perfectly good plot. But someone reading it, after I give it life, will say ‘Nuttall already did that.’ And, as much as I would like to deny it, I couldn’t.

This is immensely frustrating. I believe, as a writer, that I have a certain duty to my readers. I try very hard to write the first book in each series as a stand-alone (so readers do not feel forced into buying another book) but in this case I failed. Well, sort of. The book ends on a note of hope, but it isn’t a conclusive ending.

So I’m going to have to rewrite the plot from scratch.

The truly annoying thing about the whole episode is that the planned Book III is still reasonably unique. So I now have to repair the plotline that would have bridged the gulf between I and III.

<sigh>.

I will get round to it, somehow. But please bear with me a little.

Anyway, Wedding Hells starts tomorrow.

Chris

Self Publishing Thoughts

23 Aug

A week or so ago, an article popped up in my Facebook entitled ‘Why I don’t generally recommend self-publishing for beginners,’ by Marc Aplin. I made a note of the article with the intention of returning to comment on it at a later date. When I read through the article and the comments today, I discovered that I’d been name-checked in the very first comment. So I thought I’d write a short response to the article here.

Anyway, there’s some good advice in the article and some misconceptions.

One of the problems facing Big Publishing is that they can’t publish everyone. A large company with an open submission policy (like Baen) may receive upwards of 1000 submissions per month. These can then be divided into the following subcategories;

-Absolute Trash/Writer Didn’t Follow Submission Guidelines (500). The latter can range from forgetting to do even a basic spell-check to leaving editing marks all over the manuscript. I once saw a honest-to-god submission that was entirely composed of edits. Slush readers will take one look at anything that doesn’t follow basic guidelines and throw it out.

-This Writer Has Promise (300). The slush reader didn’t like the manuscript or thought it lacked polish, but figured the writer has potential and should be encouraged.

-This Book Needs Revised (150). The slush reader liked the story, but figured it needed some changes before it could be reconsidered. If you’re lucky enough to reach this point, you might actually get some decent feedback.

-This Book Is Worth Considering (50). The slush reader not only liked the story, but figured it could be published after a solid edit.

The problem with this is that sorting through all the slush can take years. I’ve met a number of writers who absolutely HATE agents, but agents serve a vital purpose for publishers in sorting the gems from the dross. It can take so long to comb through 1000 submissions that publishers prefer to pass the task to agents, knowing that the agents won’t try to submit anything that doesn’t fit into the final category.

However, there’s another hitch. I’ve noted there are 50 books per 1000 submissions that might be worth publishing. However, any publisher will only have a limited number of publishing slots. They may only be able to produce 10 books per month. If there were no other considerations, 10 of the 50 submissions might be published. BUT … any established publisher will have a stable of writers who already have an established following. They would be grossly unwise to give one of those slots to an untried newcomer when they have a book lined up from an established author.

What this tends to mean is that the odds of getting published, even by a relatively small press, are very low … even if you happen to write a great book.

In a sense, a publisher is investing in a writer; they pay an advance, find editors and cover designers and do a great deal of promotion. (There’s a considerable amount of cachet in being published by a major publisher, even if the financial rewards are lower.) You, the writer, has to justify that investment in you … and you have to compete to win one of a VERY low number of publishing slots.

Ark Royal is actually quite an interesting case. I was unable to get solid figures on how much it costs one of the big publishers to publish a book, but I received educated guesses that ran up as high as $30’000. If that’s the case, Ark Royal earned itself out within the first month; everything after that, if the book had been published traditionally, would have been pure profit. However, it made more sense for me to go the self-publishing route.

Why? I would have had to wait months, if I was lucky, before I knew if the book was publishable. (This is one of the reasons agents are useful; a manuscript submitted by an agent has a better chance of being looked at quickly.) And, as most publishers have rules against simultaneous submissions, I would not be able to send it to a second publisher until I’d heard back from the first one. I had reached a point in my career when trying to win one of those coveted slots seemed both futile and unnecessary.

TL/DR: the odds of being published traditionally, even if you’re a brilliant writer, are very low unless you bring something else to the party. Hillary Clinton and Pippa Middleton both received publishing contracts and staggering advances (in Hillary’s case, the advance might well have been a disguised campaign contribution) because they were famous. Indie writers like myself hope we can build up a following that makes us seem a good investment to big publishing’s beancounters.

Having said all that, would I recommend self-publishing to beginners?

Well, the short answer is yes … provided the beginner approached self-publishing with open eyes.

The article is quite correct to say that authors cannot edit their own work. I’ve been writing since 2004 and, even now, my beta-readers send me corrections that would be easily noticeable, if I didn’t already know what I meant to say. Sometimes this is fairly simple – substituting ‘their’ for ‘there’ – and sometimes it’s a great deal more serious. The best authors are the ones who admit they need an editor, find someone they can work with and stick with him or her.

The worst thing that can happen to a new author or, for that matter, an established author is to believe himself editor-proof. I’m sure anyone with a serious interest in writing can name a dozen once-great authors whose writing has declined, once they became so famous that their publishers lost the nerve to tell them that changes had to be made. For a new author, this is disastrous; their book is either roundly mocked or simply ignored. As the article notes, agents and publishers will check your sales figures.

So … if you’re serious, this is what I advise.

Write your first manuscript. (Make sure it stands on its own. One of my pet peeves is getting through a book and discovering that it’s the first part of a story, without hitting a reasonable stopping point.) Then get an editor. You will probably have to pay something for a professional piece of work – see my article for details. This editor, if he or she is any good, will tell you in great detail what’s wrong with the manuscript. (In the unlikely event of you producing a publishable manuscript in the first draft, they will tell you that too.) You will probably be quite upset with what they have to say, because the best editors are ruthless as well as constructive. (If you’re serious, grow a thick skin. You’ll need it.)

Read what they have to say, take it to heart and then write your next manuscript.

Unless you start at a higher level than I did, your first manuscript will probably not be worth revising (again, your agent will tell you if it is.) Write something completely different, at least in basic outline, and try to incorporate what you’ve learned. If you do this properly, your second manuscript will be a great deal more readable than your first. Go back to the editor, get another list of what’s wrong with the manuscript and write your third manuscript. By then, you should be getting closer to writing something publishable.

You’ll notice I didn’t suggest putting either of the first two manuscripts online. That’s good – like the article notes, a bad reputation will follow you. Keep them for later; you can either look back at them and wonder what you were drinking at the time, or rewrite them when you’re more confident in your abilities. (Note that this is true of slush piles too; I have a feeling that a few would-be authors have submitted so many duds that editors are routinely ignoring them.)

Ok … by now, you should have a reasonable piece of work. Time for the next step.

It is a point of fact that books should not be judged by their covers – but they almost always are. You will need a good cover – and, unless you can do a reasonable one for yourself, you’ll need a cover artist. (I have a feeling that most of the covers featured on Lousy Book Covers come from authors who think they can design a cover themselves.) Make sure you check your work with someone else – the editor, perhaps – if you think you can do it yourself.

Now, you can start publishing online.

There’s a lot more that I could say here, particularly about promotion, but I don’t have the time.

What I will say is that you need to be mature.

There isn’t a single writer in the entire world who can please everyone. Not one. You will get some reviewers who absolutely hate your book and write a scathing one-star review for all to see. You will get comments that will make you want to reach through the computer screen and strangle the troll who’s just insulted your wonderful piece of work. (Or, at the very least, write an angry response that will leave him in no doubt that you utterly reject his views.)

Well, don’t. There is nothing to be gained by slamming critical reviewers. You’ll just make yourself look an ass.

I think this is worse, in some ways, for self-published authors. A traditionally-published author has the vindication of knowing that someone actually invested in his work. It’s a great deal easier to shrug off a particularly annoying review when it’s clear that people who know the business have faith in you. (Given the twin flops of Hard Choices and Celebrate, one might argue that they don’t, but I digress.) The point is that you need to brace yourself for some nasty comments …

You’re trying to build a brand here, as well as selling books. The last thing you need is a nasty reputation. It’ll haunt you for far longer than any lousy review. Read the review, consider if it raises any valid points and then dismiss it.

Writing is a great job. Being a self-published author is immensely rewarding. But it’s a job and you have to treat it as such. Think carefully before you start and never lose sight of your goal. 

Good luck.

Responsibility

23 Aug

This may be outdated by now, given how fast politics can move, but it’s a worthwhile point.

I think that most people would agree that one of the major problems we face today is that no one takes responsibility for themselves any longer.

However, this exists – at least in part – because taking responsibility can result in punishment that far exceeds the crime. If, of course, it was a crime in the first place. The blame can be a finicky thing sometimes, particularly when there is a politician (or Social Justice Bully) involved somewhere.

Let us imagine, for example, that Bob wants Andy’s job. He hides behind a bush one night and caves Andy’s skull in with a hammer. Can there be any real doubt that Bob is guilty?

OR … maybe Bob can’t bring himself to murder Andy personally. He hires Tom to assassinate Andy. Tom’s the one with blood on his hands, but Bob is the one who paid him and pointed him at the target. Bob is STILL guilty of murder. (Mr. Burns was wrong; he could be held responsible for what his goons were ordered to do.)

But what if things are a little more complex? One drunken night, Clive tells a crowd that Andy is the one who stole their money; Tom, in outrage, goes and kills Andy. Is Clive still guilty of murder?

I would say he wasn’t. Tom made the decision, in cold (or hot) blood, to murder Andy. It doesn’t matter if Andy is actually the thief or not.

Now, the problem here is that some people will almost certainly try to argue that Clive is either the true murderer or bears at least some of the blame. Some of those people will do so because they want to lesson Tom’s share of the guilt, others will do so because they see inflammatory statements (even true statements) as wrong in themselves. The latter people include the sort of cowardly snakes who claim that a handful of cartoonists deserve to be murdered (thus reducing the guilt of the murderers) because of their cartoons.

This leads to another problem. If Clive apologises for what he said, afterwards, he will be tacitly admitting, in our current climate, to a share of the blame. Andy’s family could sue him (even if he couldn’t be held legally liable), he might be targeted by anyone who wants revenge and Tom might even try to blame Bob for leading him astray.

This creates problems for Clive. If Clive apologises, he gets the blame; if Clive keeps his mouth firmly shut, Clive looks bad. There’s no way to win.

This brings us neatly to Donald Trump.

You’ll probably have heard, if you follow politics, that two of his supporters beat up an immigrant, dropping Trump’s name as they did so. Trump’s response is a non-answer that many people, frankly, have found insulting.

But really, what choice does he have?

One of the cardinal rules in politics, these days, is never admit even the slightest shred of responsibility. Trump cannot disown the attackers, even when they step well over the line, for the simple fact that his disownment will become a chink in his armour. Social Justice Bullies will happily take even the slightest hint of weakness as an encouragement to attack. Trump’s non-answer is probably the best move, tactically speaking, that he can make. It is a very poor move, but I honestly don’t see any better one.

The issue here, of course, is that Trump is in the same position as Clive.

Most people would probably agree, I suspect, that the thugs who carried out the attack are responsible for the attack. This does not matter, of course, to Trump’s enemies. Why would they care about justice when they scent weakness? Thus Trump can either allow himself to be bullied into accepting a share of the blame or simply flatly refusing to admit any responsibility (even to the point of refusing to offer condolences to the victim), even though that will alienate some of his potential supporters.

At base, this is simply a reflection of our current political climate. No one dares admit to a mistake for fear they will be expected to commit political hari-kari.

Perverse Incentives

20 Aug

A month or so ago, I noted that the problems in the UK’s Job Centres (particularly sanctioning people on very flimsy grounds) were caused by big government. The case workers at each job centre are told, not to put too fine a point on it, that the less money they spend, the better. Accordingly, they have an incentive to deny benefits to as many people as possible.

From their point of view, the problem goes like this. “This guy here is clearly disabled; he cannot reasonably be expected to work. But if I give him the benefits, my job is at risk. I’m going to have to deny him the benefits even though he needs them.”

Does that sound unpleasant? Of course it does. It’s also human nature. People are not actually selfish, but they are self-interested. I imagine a drone at the job centre went to work intending to sort the deserving cases from the scroungers, but rapidly discovered that it was a great deal easier (and safer) to class everyone as a scrounger.

This is a perverse incentive, an incentive to do something morally wrong even though it’s legally right.

Here’s another example. In the average court case, there is a prosecutor and a defender; the former charged with putting forward the case against the suspect, the latter charged with defending him. It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? But consider – a prosecutor may find his job at risk if he fails to successfully prosecute someone, even though it’s clear the suspect is innocent. Therefore, he has a strong incentive to push the case as hard as he can. This only gets worse, in fact, if the case happens to have a political dimension.

Once again, there is a perverse incentive.

Here’s a third example. A policeman who patrols the London Market may be doing an excellent job of keeping crime down, just by being there and being visible. But there’s no way you can count the number of crimes that didn’t happen. Accordingly, policemen – and police departments – may be judged by the number of people they arrest. An officer who arrests 20 people in the course of a month may look better than one who arrests no one (but, by being where he is, deters crime.) Therefore, the police have an incentive – a perverse incentive – to arrest more people even though it doesn’t do anything for public safety – indeed, it actually weakens it.

A fourth example? In schools, most exams and test results are useless – but they’re what the government officials use to monitor the school’s work. Therefore, teachers have a strong incentive to cheat, either indirectly (by teaching to the test) or directly (by altering the answers before the papers are sent to be marked.) They know, given that they’re the people on the ground, that the whole system is barmy – they tell themselves, I suspect, that there is no real harm in cheating. But again, it’s a perverse incentive.

Why does this happen?

Like I said, the answer lies in the nature of bureaucracy.

Bureaucrats aren’t called bean-counters for nothing. They are disconnected from the things they regulate, so they look for ways to calculate progress by gathering statistics and analysing the numbers. That isn’t always a bad thing. If you are trying to monitor how well your shop is running, you can do it by keeping a careful eye on your numbers. However, this has the great weakness of twisting the reporting agencies to focus on the numbers rather than anything that might serve as an actual barometer of progress.

For example, you might have a military report that boils down to “in the first month, we killed 500 insurgents; in the second month, we killed 5000 insurgents; in the third month, we killed 50000 insurgents … oh, and we lost the war.”

The fallacy above is that progress in a war cannot be measured by the number of enemies killed (unless your objective is outright genocide). A war is won by taking control of the enemy country, seizing the previous power structure or building new structures. But this means there are going to be a lot of issues that cannot be measured using numbers.

The greater the distance between the controllers and the drones, the greater the disconnect between reality and the tools bureaucrats use to measure reality. This tends them towards ‘one size fits all’ solutions when, in reality, such solutions work barely less than half the time.

It seems logical, you might think, to push control (and authority) down the ladder as much as possible, perhaps by allowing job centre workers to make decisions without fear of losing their positions. However, another set of perverse incentives suggests otherwise. If the people on the ground can do the job without being supervised, why does anyone need the people at the top? The managers (who probably have pointy hair) will not want to create the impression that they are expendable! No, they will insist on maintaining control – and discouraging flexibility – to ensure that they keep their own jobs. Those with power rarely give it up for fear they will never see it again.

For everyone else? Well, they have the choice between doing what is right and what is easy – with the added problem that doing what is right will have negative consequences for them personally and doing what is easy will have none whatsoever.

And so, to borrow a line from Sluggy Freelance, “the [government] isn’t evil, it’s just bloated and stupid.”

Comic for 09/05/05

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