Invincible Iron Man #1 (2016) Review

8 Dec

TL:DR – A bland story that is largely unremarkable.

The problem with Marvel’s current push to ‘diversify’ it’s roster of comic book heroes with ‘characters of colour’ and different genders is that it is, too often, a gimmick. Attention is paid to the skin colour and gender of the characters, like modern filmmakers are more interested in special FX, rather than developing the characters as fully independent beings in their own right. Indeed, as more focus is placed on ‘diversity,’ everything else is steadily frozen out.

This has produced some odd characters. James Rhodes (War Machine) is a developed character, but one who dates back to the days before ‘diversity’ became an issue. (One may also argue this is true of Luke Cage.) By contrast, Black Panther is little more than racial pandering that is often strikingly racist – and not always in the direction you might expect. Of all the newer characters, the only one who really stand out as a being is Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel). The others simply lack – pardon the expression – colour.

[An interesting exception to this is Alex Wilder of Runaways, although technically he was a villain. Still, he was a developed character who could easily handle a redemption arc.]

Why does this happen? To paraphrase Heinlein, writers are writing ‘diversity’ characters – not characters who happen to be diverse.

And now we have a young black teenage girl taking the role of Iron Man.

Her first issue – I understand this isn’t her first appearance, but I haven’t read the other comics – is surprisingly bland. The story features Riri Williams taking her homemade suit of armour out for a test drive against a mutant supervillain, interposed with flashbacks to her early life as a genius and tragedy when her father is gunned down in a drive-by shooting that leaves her covered in blood. And it ends with the introduction of a computer module with the recorded personality of Tony Stark.

There’s very little meat here, which is part of the problem. On one hand, her background is remarkably decent (Marvel was obviously trying to avoid controversy); on the other hand, there’s seemingly little room for conflict. A warning about the dangers of allowing Riri to get bored, from a psychologist, is barely mentioned, even though this should provide fodder for interesting stories. There simply isn’t the room, in the first issue, to develop her properly. Ms. Marvel does a far better job.

It would be churlish to complain about Riri being a teenage genius who puts a battlesuit together in the garage. Marvel has quite a few characters who fit that description; Tony Stark, Peter Parker, Reed Richards, etc. If Riri is unrealistic, then so too are those iconic characters. (Mind you, this also raises the question of why she couldn’t invent something that would make her and her family rich.)

The problem here is so fundamental that it took me several days to put my finger on it. Riri is Tony (Toni?) Stark, only black, female and teenage. In appearance, they couldn’t be more dissimilar; in personality and abilities, they’re very much alike. The Marvel Universe has (apparently) lost one Iron Man, only to gain another. (Not to mention the Stark personality matrix whatever.) It’s possible that her personality will grow in different directions as she moves into her superhero career, but I tend to doubt it when the comic echoes the original so closely.

If you consider War Machine, you’ll see he actually compliments Iron Man. Tony Stark is a ‘genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist;’ James Rhodes is a soldier, with different skills and training that make the team stronger. This is best shown, in my opinion, in Iron Man II, when Rhodes unhesitatingly takes command and Stark follows his lead. Rhodes isn’t Tony Stark and the setting is all the stronger for it.

In some ways, this is true of Kamala Khan too. Although Kamala adopted the mantle of the ‘missing’ Captain Marvel, whom she adored, she is a very different person. She blazes her own path right from the start, forging a different personality. Her powers are different, her sense of the world around her is different … she’s different. And the series does not sugar-coat the problems that growing up in an ethnic minority household can cause for both Kamala and her brother.

The problem with reboots in general is that you have to appeal to both the old fans, who will provide the original customer base, and your prospective new fans. This isn’t easy – and while updating one’s characters is a way to do it, you run the risk of alienating the old fans. And while it is very tempting to scream RACIST or SEXIST or whatever whenever anyone objects to a black Iron Man or a Muslim Ms. Marvel or female Ghostbusters, it merely buries the true issue – that the rebooted version is so different that the original and the reboot might as well be completely separate.

That was an issue with the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. None of the rebooted characters bears much resemblance to the old characters (and a number of completely new ones have been added) while the background story has changed completely. Fans of the old series were largely disappointed because the series was, in the end, Battlestar in name only. And while I think the new series had many great moments, it lacked the easy charm of the original and ran straight off the rails in season three. What does racism or sexism or whatever have to do with this?

(And, remarkably for its day, the original Battlestar had two black male characters (and earned a NAACP nomination for Fire In Space). Save for a single Asian woman, there are no non-white leads in the reboot.)

A rebooted character must live up to the original. IDW’s rebooted MASK features a race-bent Matt Tracker. This isn’t a bad thing. But what is a bad thing is that there is very little of the original Matt in the reboot. The confident proto-Bruce Wayne (right down to the ‘rich idiot with no day job’ secret ID) has been replaced by a unsure team leader, someone who simply isn’t qualified (yet) to serve. His skin colour doesn’t matter. His personality does.

In this case, with Invincible Iron Man, everything has changed, but everything remains the same. As such, the comic is instantly forgettable and a serious disappointment to everyone who was hoping that Riri Williams would develop a voice of her own.

We Lead (Ark 9)–Snippet

7 Dec

Prologue

From: Vice Admiral Joanna Wallenberg, Royal Navy Public Relations Dept

To: Admiral Sir James Montrose Fitzwilliam, First Space Lord

Subject: War Weariness

Classification: Top Secret, UK Eyes-Only

Admiral.

As per your instructions, my department has conducted and completed a survey of both the economic effects of the ongoing war and the public’s attitude to same.

It is, of course, difficult to correctly assess the public’s attitude to anything. However, there is a growing sense of war weariness amongst the working population. There is, if you will pardon the expression, no sense that Britain – and Earth – is under threat, despite the casualties from the Battle of UXS-469. These are not the days of the First Interstellar War, let alone the Troubles or the Second World War. While public respect for the Royal Navy – and the armed forces in general – remains high, there is growing concern that our boys and girls are being sent to fight an unnecessary war hundreds of light years from Earth.

This is not, unfortunately, surprising. The decade since the Battle of Earth has seen a great deal of reconstruction – and a corresponding upswing in patriotism – but it has also seen a vast percentage of our GNP devoted to rebuilding the navy and expanding our colonial holdings outside Sol. While this has obvious benefits, those benefits have largely failed to trickle down to the majority of society. Indeed, a number of MPs were calling for cutting the military budget before the Anglo-Indian War. The fact that those voices have been largely silenced, in the wake of the brief hostilities, should not delude us into thinking that they have gone away.

The economic picture is a little more hazy. On one hand, the vast investment in shipyards, starships and colonial materials has uplifted the remainder of the economy, particularly as many trained workers have gone on to open their own businesses. But on the other hand, the cost of paying for this infrastructure is a major drain on the British taxpayer. Long-term investments outside the space sector have been limited by the endless demands from the treasury for additional taxes. The emergency spending bill, which passed through Parliament last year, has only made matters worse. A little bird tells me that several corporations are seriously considering attempting to shift their headquarters to Luna City or even further afield.

This is not something to take lightly. If a sizable percentage of our population comes to believe that our resources are being squandered, or that our navel personal are dying for nothing, we may expect political unrest in the near future. The post-Troubles taboo on criticizing the police and military has been broken. Sooner or later, someone will give voice to that unrest. Furthermore, if the average citizen decides that the colonists are draining Britain of her wealth, he will come to resent them. That is a recipe for trouble. It would be unwise, indeed, to repeat the mistakes of the past!

From a purely cold-blooded point of view, it is better – far better – to fight the war in Tadpole space, rather than the Human Sphere. Better the Tadpoles get devastated than us. But from a political point of view, the sheer distance between Earth and UXS-469 is dangerous. It makes it hard for our government to convince the population that the war is genuinely necessary. And failing to sell the war to the public will eventually lead to political resistance.

Unfortunately, I have no easy solution to this problem. We are already running the standard ‘Life in the Royal Navy’ documentaries, as well as every other trick developed over the last century to make sure the public does not forget to whom it owes its safety. However, there are grounds for belief that the effects are limited. The public may admire and respect the military, but it is less convinced of the value of fighting so far from our homeworld.

Worse, there is a growing suspicion that other countries are not pulling their weight. The US, France and China have been stanch upholders of the Alien Contact Treaty, along with our Commonwealth allies, but Japan, India, Russia and Brazil have not. Nor, too, have other countries. They have proven unwilling to commit either the required percentage of their GNP or actual naval units. The impression that we are the sole nation pouring out blood and treasure in upholding the treaties, however inaccurate, is not one we can allow to spread. But I see no way to prevent it.

In short, sir, I believe this war must be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible.

Chapter One

Captain Susan Onarina opened her eyes, feeling oddly lazy. She’d served in the navy long enough to feel that she should be jumping out of her bunk and hurrying to the mess before her first shift began, but she wasn’t on her ship. The ever-present background hum was gone. Instead, she was lying in her old bed in her old room, back in London Town. She took a breath and smiled in anticipation as she breathed in the familiar scent. Her father was cooking downstairs.

She glanced at her terminal out of habit, but there were no priority messages demanding her immediate attention. HMS Vanguard was in good hands, apparently. The latest set of refits were going smoothly. Susan wished, despite herself, that she was back on her ship, but she knew she’d had to take some leave or the ship’s doctor would have complained. And besides, she’d had to spend several weeks at the MOD, being debriefed after Operation Unity.

Which makes a pleasant change from waiting to find out if I was going to be shoved in front of a court martial board, she thought, wryly. She was still surprised she’d been promoted after relieving her previous commanding officer of his command. But it’s still a pain when I should be back on the ship.

She sat upright and looked around. Her room had always been small, but it felt smaller now she was a grown woman. The bed was barely large enough for her, even though she was used to bunking in Middy Country. Her father hadn’t changed anything since Susan had taken the shuttle to the academy to start her training. The posters of Stellar Star – and two pop singers who’d gone out of fashion a decade ago – were still hanging from the walls. Her chest of drawers, on the far side of the room, remained untouched. She couldn’t help feeling, as she swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up, that her old clothes and possessions remained untouched too.

Better to donate them to the nearest charity shop, she thought, as she walked into the shower and turned on the water, allowing it to splash over her body. It isn’t as if I need them any longer.

She allowed herself a tight smile as she washed herself clean, then stepped back into the bedroom and reached for her underwear. As a mixed-race child in London – and a poor one at that – her early life had never been easy, even though her father had taught her how to fight. Her first set of schoolmates had been poor too, all things considered; her second set of schoolmates had been wealthy enough to buy and sell a thousand of her, if they’d wanted to convert their trust funds to cash. They’d mocked and belittled the scholarship girl who’d never quite fitted in …

… But she’d proved herself. And that was all that mattered.

She finished dressing, then opened the top drawer and studied the photographs. The young girl she’d been – with a brilliant smile – had been replaced by a gawky adolescent, then by a newly-minted naval officer in a midshipwoman’s dress uniform. She held the latter up for a long moment, realising just how far she’d come. That young woman hadn’t known she’d have to relieve a commanding officer, let alone run the risk of being hung. Shaking her head, she put the photograph back in the drawer and removed another one. Her parents smiled out at her on their wedding day. They hadn’t known, either, that death would separate them in a few short years.

And being motherless didn’t help either, Susan thought, sourly. Everyone thought it was only a matter of time until my father remarried or got deported.

She studied the photograph for a long moment, wishing she had more memories of her mother. A white woman with long blonde hair and a brilliant smile … Susan looked in the mirror, silently comparing herself to her mother. Her skin was dark brown, her hair was black, but her cheekbones were identical. She had her father’s dark eyes in her mother’s face. And maybe …

“Susan,” her father called from downstairs. “Food!”

“Coming,” Susan shouted.

She hastily returned the photographs and shut the drawer, silently promising herself that she’d come back after breakfast and clear them out. Too many of her old possessions were useless now, even though her father had preserved them. The clothes, the shoes, the handful of books and trinkets … she hoped, suddenly, that her father hadn’t found some of her more embarrassing possessions. Grown adult or not, knowing that her father knew about them would be awkward as hell.

The stairs creaked uncomfortably as she made her way down and into the kitchen. Her father’s restaurant – and the apartment above it – was solid, but parts of it looked shabby as hell. The handful of photographs nesting on the walls only made it look worse. She’d always been embarrassed to bring her friends home, fearing their reaction. And yet, the ancient building had survived the bombardment when so many others had fallen down, when the ground shook. Her father had had the last laugh.

She fell back into old habits as she entered, laying the table while Romeo Onarina – her father – stirred the pot over the stove. Susan never been allowed to laze around as a child, unlike far too many of her schoolmates. She felt a flicker of embarrassment, mixed with shame, at just how badly she’d resented her chores as a child. And yet, they’d helped prepare her for boarding school and a naval career. Her father, bless him, had known what he’d been doing. She sat down and waited, smiling, as her father picked up the pot and carried it over to the table. The smell was heavenly.

“Best compo,” her father said, cheerfully. “You’ll love it.”

Susan had to smile. Her father had been a soldier – and an acknowledged expert in turning inedible rations into something people could eat. He might not serve compo to his customers – she hoped he didn’t serve compo to his customers – but she’d eaten quite a few makeshift dinners when she’d been growing up. Some of them had been surprisingly tasty, given what had gone into them; others, less pleasantly, had tasted of cardboard or worse. But he hadn’t made her compo for breakfast, thankfully. Instead, the scent of brown stew chicken rose to her nostrils.

She leaned back and studied her father as he started to ladle stew into her bowl. He was black, his dark hair trimmed close to his scalp in a distinctly military manner. His dark eyes sparkled with amusement, even though he rarely smiled with his lips. It still felt odd to be taller than him, even though she’d matched and exceeded his height back when she’d turned eighteen. Part of her still felt like a child in front of her father.

Her father sat down facing her, then motioned for her to tuck in. Susan did, savouring the taste of chicken and spices. Her father ground his own, she knew, following a recipe that had been handled down from his grandmother. Susan had only met the formidable woman once, during a brief visit to Jamaica, but she believed it. Her great-grandmother had been a remarkable cook.

No wonder the restaurant is so successful, she thought, wryly. There aren’t many places like it in London now.

“Sandy was asking about you,” her father said. “I believe he’s still unmarried.”

Susan snorted. Sandy had been her best friend back when she’d been a child, before she’d won the scholarship to boarding school. They’d stayed in touch for a while – and even dated twice – before she’d gone into the navy and he’d been called up for National Service. But they’d gradually lost touch with after the war. She had no idea what had happened to him.

“I haven’t heard anything from him,” she said, finally. “Is he the only person to come calling?”

“A bunch of reporters turned up,” her father said. “They were very interested in hearing stories of your childhood, so I told them about the quarry …”

“I hope not,” Susan said. She’d been nine when she and a few friends had broken into the quarry and gone climbing. It had been a dare, but it had also been incredibly stupid. They’d been lucky not to be marched home by the police. “You didn’t, did you?”

“I could have done,” her father teased. “And I could also have told them about Aunt Dahlia’s flowers …”

Susan groaned. “You didn’t.”

“Of course not,” her father said. “I did tell them about your academic achievements, but they weren’t so interested in those.”

“Probably not,” Susan agreed. She’d done well at Hanover Towers, but she’d lacked the connections necessary to really benefit from a boarding school for aristocrats. “Do you think they interviewed everyone?”

“I guess so,” her father said. “There’s quite a few older folk around here who’ll remember you. To say nothing of your old school chums …”

Susan sighed. Mixed-race kids were unusual, particularly ones with immigrant parents. The Troubles had left scars in their wake, bad scars. She’d probably be remembered by people who’d never done more than pass her in the streets, just because her skin colour made her stand out. If her father hadn’t been a soldier, if there hadn’t been dozens of other former soldiers in the community, life would have been a great deal harder. And now … she was probably the most famous person to emerge from the community. She couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if she’d faced a court martial instead.

Dad would have been in trouble, she thought, bitterly. Everyone here is patriotic as hell.

“I don’t think you’ll have to bribe anyone to keep your secrets,” her father added. “Unless you’ve done something I don’t know about …”

“I haven’t,” Susan protested. Even if she had, the community would probably close ranks against anyone who betrayed her to the media. “I was a good girl.”

“Glad to hear it,” her father said, dryly.

He leaned forward, meeting her eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me what was wrong?”

Susan didn’t have to ask what he meant. She’d sent him a brief message, when Vanguard returned to Earth after the Battle of UXS-469, but she hadn’t given him many details. And she’d gone into custody on Titan shortly afterwards. Her father had contacted lawyers and generally made a fuss, but he’d gotten nowhere. Too many people in high places had warned him to keep his mouth closed until a decision – any decision – was reached.

“It was my problem,” she said, finally. “You couldn’t do anything to help.”

“I thought fathers existed to fix their daughters mistakes,” her father said, dryly.

“I don’t think you could fix this mistake,” Susan said.

She shook her head. Her father wasn’t the only father she knew who’d taken good care of his daughter. She knew a father who’d beaten up his daughter’s boyfriend after he’d turned abusive – and a father who’d shelled out hundreds of pounds after his daughter had vandalised a war memorial – but her mistake had been on a very different scale. If, of course, it had been a mistake. Vanguard had come alarmingly close to being blown out of space when the Contact Fleet had been jumped. The medals she’d been given after she’d been officially cleared suggested that she had some new friends in high places.

“I would have tried,” her father said.

“You can’t fix everything,” Susan pointed out. “I plotted and carried out a mutiny, technically speaking. They could have hung me.”

She sighed. Relieving a superior officer of his post – particularly under fire – was not encouraged. In truth, she was surprised she hadn’t been told to quietly resign, thus balancing the need for reward and punishment. She hadn’t dared to hope that she’d be left in command of Vanguard. It had simply never occurred to her that her actions would have created a political headache for the government, a headache that could only be resolved by confirming her as Vanguard’s new CO.

And I’ll probably be kicked out once the war ends, she thought, cynically. If the war ever does end …

“I would have tried,” her father said, stubbornly.

He met her eyes. “You’re not the only person to consider taking such steps.”

Susan blinked. “You did?”

“Yes,” her father said.

He looked down at the table for a long moment. “I didn’t have a hope in hell of going to Sandhurst,” he said. “When I joined the army, I was sent to Catterick for basic training and then assigned to the Yorkshire Regiment.”

Susan nodded, impatiently. A penniless nobody from Jamaica, without connections … he’d have to do very well to win one of the coveted spots at Sandhurst. And he hadn’t. Instead, he’d been trained and then slotted into a regiment. Jamaica had a long history with the British Army, but there was no specifically Jamaican regiment. Only the Ghurkhas and the Sikhs had that honour, for better or worse. It was still a matter of hot dispute.

“I did well, the first couple of years,” her father added. “We were on patrol, operating from forward bases in Africa and the Middle East. Mainly pirate-hunting, though we got in a little barbarian-chasing too. I was fortunate enough to be promoted to corporal with a promise of a prospective promotion to sergeant, if I chose to throw my hat into the ring for NCO training.”

“Which you had,” Susan said.

“This was before my promotion to sergeant,” her father said. He shrugged. “We get a new chap straight out of Sandhurst – a thick-headed second lieutenant with a chin so weak you’d think he’d go have it fixed. Talks like a cup of weak tea passing its way through my digestive system, acts like he wasn’t even there a week before getting kicked out. Oh, and did I mention he was the third son of the Duke of Somewhere?”

“No,” Susan said. She had a nasty feeling she knew where the story was going. Someone with such strong family connections would be virtually guaranteed a place at Sandhurst, regardless of his qualifications. “What happened?”

“Officers like that … everyone prefers they just stay in the tents, get drunk and claim the credit,” her father told her. “It would have rankled, of course, but it would have been preferable. This one was too dumb to realise that he really should listen to his NCOs, if he insisted on exercising direct command. He changes everything because he thinks it should be different …”

Susan nodded. She’d met quite a few officers who’d insisted on stamping their authority on their ship as quickly as possible, even if their changes were largely cosmetic. It had been annoying, back when she’d been a junior officer. Now, she rather understood how those officers had felt. They’d needed to make it clear that they were in charge.

“And then we get into a firefight,” her father added. “I’m meant to be leading the patrol, but thickhead decides to take command himself. Not his job, but … hey, he’s the superior officer, so I swallow it. And then he leads us straight into an ambush, which gets us pinned down in a defile. The bastards can’t get to us, but we can’t get out either. Bullets are pinging everywhere and it looks bad.

“Thickhead decides to organise a mass charge, right up the side and into the teeth of enemy fire. Brave, I suppose, but fucking stupid. It’s the sort of thing that only works if you have a patriotic scriptwriter on your side. Our body armour is good, but it’s not that good. I put my foot down and he starts screaming at me, threatening everything from a whipping to being fired out of a cannon. And I start seriously thinking about putting a bullet in his brain.”

Susan swallowed. “But you didn’t?”

“The Household Cavalry showed up and drove the insurgents away before we could mount the charge or I could kill him,” her father said. “Someone with more rank than I must have … discussed … the whole affair with him, because he was surprisingly quiet for the rest of the deployment. I think he took early requirement and left a few years later. He was certainly never put in command of deployed troops again.”

“Good,” Susan said.

Her father leaned forward. “You did the right thing in relieving your commanding officer of his post,” he said. “But you did the wrong thing in not telling me.”

Susan shrugged. “Would you have told your father, if you had shot the idiot?”

“I would have had to tell him something,” her father said. He conceded the point with a sly nod. “But he wouldn’t have been in any position to help.”

“Neither were you,” Susan said.

Her father sighed. “At least you survived,” he said. His eyes twinkled. “And you’re getting older. Any chance of a husband or children yet? I could do with grandchildren.”

Susan shook her head. “I haven’t met anyone, father,” she said. “My career makes it harder to meet men.”

“I met your mother while I was a serving soldier,” her father pointed out.

“That’s different,” Susan said. “I’m a commanding officer on a battleship. The men I meet are either my superior officers or my subordinates.”

“Then spend more time meeting civilians,” her father said. “Should I ask Sandy if he wants a date?”

Susan would have blushed, if her skin allowed it. “No,” she said, horrified. “Father …”

Her father’s eyes sparkled with amusement. “Your mother would have approved of him,” he said. “And he’d understand the demands of your career.”

“I’m not interested at the moment,” Susan said. “And I don’t know if I’ll ever be.”

“There’s more to life than serving in the military,” her father said. He waved a hand around the kitchen. “I can swear to that, Susan.”

Susan shrugged. She liked the restaurant – she’d spent most of her holidays waiting at tables and cleaning after the doors were closed – but she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life there. Too many of her friends were trapped in the community, even after the war; unable to leave, unable to build lives away from their childhood homes.

“Perhaps,” she said. “But, for the moment, the navy is my life.”

Another Quick Update

5 Dec

It’s been a rather frustrating week, all things considered. Having a cold threw my planned schedule right out of tune <grin>.

The good news is that I’ve completed the first set of edits for The Sergeant’s Apprentice and the manuscript is now in the hands of the publishers. The cover is nearly completed, so the only thing delaying publication are the second and third sets of edits. Hopefully, they won’t take very long.

The better news is that I’m planning to start writing We Lead on Wednesday, which will be the third and last of the Vanguard books. Hopefully, I’ll have the first draft finished by the end of the month, but … we will see.

The slightly less good news is that I’m having problems deciding on the shape of the next few Ark Royal books. I’m planning a stand-alone – The Longest Day – covering the battle of Earth (running in line with The Nelson Touch), then perhaps another stand-alone following a makeshift escort carrier with a ragtag crew. (Civilian spacers and the dregs of the RN.) After that … I’m not sure. Any suggestions would be warmly welcomed.

The somewhat worse news is that I’m behind on answering emails and PMs. I’ll try and answer everyone tomorrow morning.

Anyway, this is my planned schedule for the next few months:

December – We Lead (Ark 9)

January – The Zero Blessing

February – The Long Road Home (ALE 4)

March – The Fists of Justice (SIM 12)

April – Wolf’s Bane (TEC14)

May – Becalmed (Angel spin-off).

June – Cat’s Paw (The Unwritten Words I – Bookworm sequel.)

Twilight of the Gods–On Audio!

4 Dec

Twilight of the Gods is now up for pre-order in audio format.

Storm Front – http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Storm-Front-Audiobook/B01MXS4NU3?source_code=AUDORWS06261499ZN&ipRedirectOverride=true

Chosen of the Valkyries – http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Chosen-of-the-Valkyries-Audiobook/B01MXKPYL9/ref=a_search_c4_2_12_srTtl?qid=1480880578&sr=2-12

Ragnarok – http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Ragnarok-Audiobook/B01MQPO468/ref=a_search_c4_2_15_srTtl?qid=1480880578&sr=2-15

And Work Experience – http://www.audible.com/pd/Teens/Work-Experience-Audiobook/B01NBAFF9M/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srTtl?qid=1480880553&sr=1-1

Hell is Fouler …

27 Nov

… With the presence of Fidel Castro.

1eur9o

I wish I could say I was surprised by the tributes pouring into Cuba from world leaders who really should know better, now that Fidel Castro is dead. Apparently, Castro was a great man, who did a lot for social justice – which tells us all we need to know about ‘social justice’ – a great moral and spiritual leader who will be sorely missed. World leaders, intellectuals, anarchists … they unite in praise of Castro …

And that tells us all we need to know about them too.

The simple truth is that Fidel Castro was a monster.

Like many other dictators, Castro adopted the language of communism and socialism as a mask to hide his true nature. His sole goal was to take and hold power as long as possible – everything he did, in Cuba, was designed to uphold his primacy. He enriched himself and his inner circle, while countless innocent civilians starved to death or risked their lives to flee an island that, like so many other dictatorships, could justly be called a prison camp above ground and a mass grave below. Under Castro, Cuba became a police state where people could be locked up for daring to speak out against the regime, an island now divided between two economies – one for the rich foreign tourists and one for the rest of the population.

Castro’s crimes and atrocities – some call them excesses – are often excused by his worshippers, few of whom have ever lived under tyranny or seen the real Cuba. To them, Castro’s credentials – leader of a successful socialist uprising, defeater of a right-wing dictatorship, crusher of multiple (and farcical) US attempts to assassinate him and overthrow his regime – provide all the burnishing his narrative needs. No reasonable person can possibly believe that Castro’s savage repression of his own people, even after the end of the Cold War, was justified. Unlike other post-WW2 dictatorships – South Korea, Taiwan – Cuba was never allowed to develop a free market economy. Instead, Castro doubled down on failure, creating a hellish nightmare for his subjects. And subjects they were, because none of them were ever offered a choice.

One may argue that Cuba’s internal affairs are Cuba’s own business. But Castro was not content to remain within his borders. Cuban fingerprints can be found across the world, from troops in Africa fighting pointless wars to support for Castro’s fellow socialist regime in Venezuela (now suffering social collapse as the impact of socialism becomes unavoidable) and, worst of all, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro played a major role in laying the groundwork for nuclear war, a war that would have claimed Cuba as its first victim. It would not have been the last. Nor did Castro have the sense to back down when it became clear that matters had gotten out of hand. His brinkmanship nearly took the world to war.

Indeed, the well-being of his own people was always low on his list of priorities. Much has been made about Cuba’s health service, but Cuba has dispatched vast numbers of doctors overseas (thus creating a shortage back home) and refused to fund proper supply and procurement systems. Simple items like aspirin are like gold, to the average Cuban … if, of course, they can find them.

Castro was no George Washington or Nelson Mandela. Both of them chose to leave power, even though they might have been able to keep it for far longer; both of them, although flawed, chose to work for the good of their people. Castro, by contrast, was solely concerned with himself. There was no attempt to draw in talented newcomers, let alone start a gradual shift to democracy. Instead, Castro remained firmly in power until ill-health finally took its toll. About the only good thing that can be said about Castro is that he allowed a transfer of power – onto healthier shoulders, at least – before his final meeting with death.

This was not inevitable. A true patriot could have accomplished much, first by developing the rule of law and then allowing the growth of a genuine middle class. Cuba has remarkable potential, far more than just a tourist spot in the middle of the Caribbean. And yet, Castro was unwilling to accept the threat to his power this would have – inevitably – caused. Given a chance to turn Cuba into a shining star, Castro chose – instead – to go for nightmare. And he was hellishly successful.

I would not care to utter any predictions about Cuba’s future, now that Castro is gone. His brother – the sitting president – is unlikely to rock the boat, despite Barrack Obama’s pathetic attempts to burnish his legacy by reaching out to Cuba. Such regimes are often prisons for the wealthy and powerful as well as the peasants in the fields. But Cubans are no less intelligent than any other nationality. The discrepancies between what they’re being told and the truth in front of their eyes are glaringly obvious. How long will it be before Cuba collapses into civil war?

Castro’s legacy, therefore, is a ticking time bomb a mere three hundred miles from the United States. But his legions of fans and admirers are not the ones who will have to deal with the problems, nor are they the ones who will starve (or be raped or killed) when the country finally falls apart. They will go on believing Castro’s lies even as utter darkness falls across his country.

For many, death comes too soon; for Castro, it came too late.

Schooled In Magic Updates

21 Nov

Hi, everyone.

First, I’m on CH29 of The Sergeant’s Apprentice. I’m hoping to finish the first draft by Friday, barring accidents. I’ve got a long list of suggested changes and edits from the betas to fumble though, so I think the manuscript should be in the publisher’s hands by Tuesday 29th. After that, there will be at least one major edit, but hopefully the e-book will be out soon.

I’m actually torn about the next few books in the series. Book 12 – The Fists of Justice – will deal with the fallout from TSA, but I’m not sure if there will be a book set during her summer vacation between 5th and 6th year. I have a vague idea that 6th year will be a second set of paired books – Poison Pen and Graduation Day – but a lot depends on how things shake out over the summer. I may wind up inserting The Pen and the Sword between Poison Pen and Graduation Day. However, as my rough plot notes for Pen and Sword end badly, there will have to be a move to [Classified] too. After that, we have Mirror Image and The Artful Apprentice. We shall see.

On a different note, the audio version of Work Experience should be available on audible from 6th December. (Pre-order will be mentioned on the Facebook page as soon as it’s up.) If things go according to plan, there should be a book a month after that until the whole series (as it stands) is up, but the schedule may slip.

Beautiful young witch casting a spell

Thank you for reading <grin>.

Chris

The Second Final Reflection

20 Nov

It has been just under two weeks since the world woke up to President-Elect Donald Trump.

Since then, certain things have become clear. Hillary Clinton’s unfitness for office – for anything, really – has been illustrated by her refusal to address her supporters after the results were clear. Reports have it that she was drunk, violent or both. Regardless, the reaction of many of her supporters have provided an excellent rationale for voting for Trump. Crying college students, riots on the streets, calls to adjust an electoral system that has worked very well over the last few years …

In short, a great many people have behaved like children.

This is dangerously counter-productive. Peaceful protest is a time-honoured American (and Western) right. Violent protests, on the other hand, make the vast silent majority cry out for heavy repression. No one can claim the moral high ground when they’re screaming insults and threats, beating up dissidents, burning and looting and generally remaining everyone of why they voted for Trump in the first place. In the long term … how can these people possibly be trusted to handle their own affairs, let alone govern a country?

There is no such thing, in the real world, as a prize for participation. There will always be winners and losers. And in politics, you win by convincing the majority of people in each state to support you. You have to convince them that it is in their best interests to support you, not that they’re somehow obliged to support you or that you’ll blackmail them (emotionally or physically) into supporting you. The latter two breed resentment. No one is entitled to win – no one, not even Hillary Clinton, is inevitable. You want to win – you have to earn it.

If you cannot handle losing, how the hell are you going to handle the real world?

Politics – American and European – have steadily become poisonous. And part of the reason they’ve become poisonous is that both sides have steadily become convinced that the other side is the personification of evil. And that anything is justified because the cause, the defeat of evil, is right. Individuals vanish without trace in the fog of social justice, where the details are forgotten or twisted in service to the narrative. And now there are elements of the Right that want to pay the Left back in their own coin. Why should they not?

I could argue – and I will – that we should not sink to their level. But a right-winger could easily counter my argument by pointing out that such treatment deserves retaliation, that we should give the Left a taste of the punishment they’ve meted out. And, in the increasing tribalisation of politics, he may have a point. If identity politics can be used to blame right-wingers for everything done by other right-wingers, why can’t they be used to blame left-wingers for everything done by other left-wingers?

Live by identity politics, die by identity politics.

The core of the problem remains, as I have said before, that the elites and their supporters – the media, etc – have lost touch with the real world. And it is that problem, more than anything else, that needs to be fixed. But I fear it is beyond them.

***

The irony of the problems facing the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is that both parties are facing essentially the same problem. Both party elites attempted to put forward candidates chosen by them, as opposed to the rank and file. The Republicans pushed Jeb Bush, hoping he would be the third Bush to serve as POTUS; the Democrats pushed Hillary Clinton, after the Clintons effectively sewed up the nomination process.

Both party-preferred candidates faced heavy resistance from the rank-and-file. The Republicans had little reason to love Jeb or the handful of other establishment candidates, particularly as both George HW Bush and George W Bush were widely disliked. The Democrats, too, had little reason to love Hillary Clinton. Her history was dubious at best, while she had a reputation for being a flip-flopper. And so both candidates were challenged, by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Perversely, despite all the hyperbole about Donald Trump breaking the Republican Party, I think there is a good argument to be made that he fixed it. Trump never enjoyed the support of the elites (who chose to effectively commit treason, given that they were supposed to support the nominee) but he did have the support of the rank and file. Trump, for better or worse, reflected the desire of the rank and file for a plain-speaking candidate who would defy the elites and actually win. The elites recoiled in horror because the idea that anyone would find Trump appealing was unthinkable to them. But the rank-and-file showed its power by nominating Trump.

Pretend, for the sake of argument, that the entire command crew of USS Nimitz were summarily sacked. Would this actually put the giant supercarrier out of service permanently? Of course not – a new command crew would be appointed and the carrier would head back out to sea, rapidly overcoming teething troubles as the new crew learned the ropes. And, just like the carrier, the Republican Party will survive. It does not need the elites to survive.

By contrast, there is a very strong possibility that Hillary and Obama wrecked the Democratic Party.

We do not know if Hillary would have won the nomination fairly. We do know she rigged it in her favour. The DNC was effectively an arm of the Clinton Campaign. Reasonable candidates for the nomination were edged aside, leaving an outsider – Bernie Sanders – as the sole opposition candidate. And he was sabotaged by the DNC. And so the levels of shattering distrust between the elites and the rank-and-file have risen sharply. How many voters stayed home because they couldn’t bear the thought of voting for a cheat?

On the micro scale, the DNC should never have even considered Hillary a potential candidate. She had too much baggage. But on the macro scale, the Democratic Party is in serious trouble. It’s leaders are, if anything, more isolated from the common herd than the RNC. They assumed, arrogantly, that minority groups within the US would continue to provide mindless support. But such support was no longer forthcoming. If the living conditions of black Americans, for example, failed to improve after eight years of a black president – and democratic control of majority black areas – why should black Americans trust the Democrats?

And now, the Democratic Party is facing a major crisis. The system failed – it didn’t just fail, it was deliberately broken. It would have been problematic even if Hillary won – which would have provided minimal justification for stealing the nomination – but she lost. Now, the DNC needs to come to terms with its problems in order to face the future. And it is doing this after the Republicans won a crushing victory.

The rank-and-file needs to kick out the elites and reassert control. But that isn’t going to be easy.

***

The implications of President Trump will not be contained within America’s borders, even if Trump does build a wall. And I suspect that, whatever they may say openly, a great many foreign leaders are relieved. Hillary Clinton was a deeply suspect nominee from the start, a woman of terrifying incompetence and zero credibility mixed with a complete disregard for the optics (let alone anything else). The prospect of Hillary accidentally – or deliberately – starting a war with Russia could not be overlooked.

If nothing else, there will probably be a pause in the endless geopolitical power game as Trump takes office. Hillary could reasonably be assumed to be following in Obama’s footsteps, but Trump is a different issue. There will be an opportunity for the US and Russia to strike a deal that will please neither side, but one that both sides will find tolerable (and certainly preferable to a war with an uncertain outcome). And this will also be true elsewhere. Trump may recommit American power to defending Saudi Arabia, but also demand concessions in exchange. (The Saudis are still fuelling extremism and this has to be stopped.) Indeed, in many ways, the sense that Trump is irrational works in his favour, at least in his early days. One does not poke the rabid dog.

And yet, President Trump raises other concerns. European powers have been skimping on their defence contributions, despite a treaty obligation to spend at least 2% of their GNP on defence. In 2015, only Britain, Poland and the US met those treaty obligations. Trump has a point, as little as Europeans might want to admit it, about free-riders. This is not 1945. The European powers, if they want to be secure, can afford to spend more money on their own defence. Why should the US pay? And why should American boys and girls be sent to defend Berlin when Germany is unwilling to defend itself?

This actually has deeper implications. The US, for better or worse, is a proactive force on the world stage. Europe often feels differently. Can one reasonably expect the US to put up with absurd rules of engagement? Or outright sabotage – the Italians were accused of bribing Taliban insurgents, for example. Or sanctimonious speeches from politicians safely isolated from global politics? Or uncontrolled immigration that destabilises politics and may spread to the US?

At what point does the US conclude that the protectorates have a choice between shutting up and doing as they’re told … or being shoved back into the cold and ordered to look after themselves?

The real question is how this will play out over the next few months. Trump’s rise is the sign of a populist uprising against the elites, but it isn’t the only one. BREXIT happened, at least in part, because the elites made the fatal mistake of convincing the voters that they didn’t give a damn about them. The rise of other right-wing parties across Europe is another sign – on matters ranging from the economy to immigration, voters have come to believe that the elites just don’t care. Angela Merkel’s letter to Donald Trump, I suspect, pushed many buttons … and not in a good way. What respect has the elites shown for the safety, let alone the dignity, of their own citizens?

The blunt truth is that the European Union is nothing more than a castle built on sand – and the tide is coming in. There’s no such thing as European unity. The idea of merging a dozen different nations, with very disparate economies, into one was absurd right from the start. No one should have been surprised by the disaster slowly tearing Greece and the other weaker economies apart. The political delusions of the elites led to disaster.

Why should they be surprised, therefore, when their policies are rejected?

Trump has an opportunity to re-establish links between the ‘rebel’ European states and the US. It is not an opportunity he should miss.

***

There are three possibilities that should be borne in mind by all Americans, of whatever political views.

First, Trump may be unable to push his proposed legislation into law. The Republican elite still maintains a great deal of influence … and they don’t want Trump to succeed. His success spells their doom. It is therefore possible that all of his proposals will die in committee and nothing will be done.

Second, Trump may be seduced by the political elite. He would hardly be the first reformer to enter power and then be led astray. (Tony Blair, anyone?) His pro-change agenda may be quietly dropped and the current unsatisfactory situation will be allowed to continue.

Third, the naysayers might be right and Trump genuinely is a fascist, with plans to establish a dictatorship. Or he will turn authoritarian – following precedents set by Bush and Obama – after the rest of the government blocks his reforms. I don’t think that’s remotely likely, but the possibility should be acknowledged.

And even if none of these possibilities come to pass, his ability to be effective may be more limited than you suppose.

The political revolt that led to the rise of Trump – and BREXIT, etc – must not be allowed to fade away. Westerners must strive to regain control of government, to bring the bureaucracy to heel and keep local control in their hands. The idea that someone in Washington can propose a ‘one size fits all’ policy for the entire USA has proven disastrous, just as the same problem has torn Europe apart. Political power must be devolved as far down the line as possible, allowing maximum input from those who have to live under it. Common sense must be allowed to dominate. Change – real change – needs a grassroots movement that won’t give up, even when the odds seem hopeless.

The elites may have good intentions. But any organisation, as Jerry Pournelle noted, eventually becomes dominated by people more intent on bolstering their own power rather than the overall goals of the organisation. A sufficiently large organisation will effectively go to war with itself – witness the rise of obnoxious HR departments – as its people forget their true purpose. The RNC and DNC became dominated by people more interested in their own power and position – the Cuckservatives, in particular – and lost sight of their true goals.

This is not the beginning of the end, to quote Churchill. This is merely the end of the beginning.

***

I’d like to close this essay – and hopefully this series – with a rather droll observation – and a warning. Reality has a conservative bias.

I say ‘conservative’ instead of ‘right-wing’ because there are people on the right who are just as prone to absurd flights of fantasy as people on the left. The only real difference, at base, between fascism and communism is the lies told to maintain the elite in power. And both sides tell so many lies that they eventually start to believe them. Their rulers become deluded into believing that they can change reality with the stroke of a pen.

You can get a credit card, if you like, and defer payment for months or years. Or you can take out a loan (for education, perhaps) secure in the knowledge you won’t have to pay it back at once. I recall students who did just that, back when I was in university. They lived high, spending their student loan as though the money would never run out. But debt will eventually catch up with you. One day, your creditors will arrive to repossess everything you own. And that will be that.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. The safety and security enjoyed by the vast majority of westerners depends on both a solid defence and the rule of law. Both have been grievously weakened, by politicians who believe the good times will never end and ‘social justice warriors’ more concerned with appearance than reality. As our laws become warped and twisted, with different levels of justice offered to different people, trust in society weakens and breaks. People voted for Donald Trump and Bernie Saunders because they were outsider candidates, when they could no longer trust the elites.

The core problem facing the Left is that many of its ideas sound good – and sometimes they are good – but they don’t know when to stop. Political correctness started out as an attempt to convince people to be polite. But it has become a mania for policing speech, when anything can be deemed offensive … in a world where the rules keep changing. How can anyone listen to politicians trying to explain away the latest terrorist atrocity and not feel disgust. The truth – that all decent people, including many Muslims, are at war with Radical Islam – is undeniable. And yet most politicians are unwilling to even consider whispering the truth.

It gets worse. Good intentions lead to hell … for other people. Affirmative action taints everyone who benefits … and those who didn’t benefit, but fit the favoured demographic; well-intentioned bids to forbid employers from checking criminal records lead to increased unemployment among black males, who are disproportionally likely to have criminal records … and so on and so on. Is it any surprise, therefore, that Donald Trump’s pledge to drain the swamp proved so popular?

The Left – and the Right is often guilty of this too – does not attempt to win arguments by reason. Instead, it appeals to emotion; the sense of doing good or the fear of being publically shamed by being called a racist, sexist or worse. One may have free speech, as long as one mouths politically-correct platitudes; one may have tolerance, as long as one is part of a favoured demographic. The hierarchy of victimhood breeds nothing, but utter contempt from the average person. And so does the crap spewed out about every right-wing politician over the last fifty years.

Indeed, if Donald Trump is a fascist, he owes his rise to the media crying ‘racist fascist bigot’ at every GOP candidate. They’ve cried wolf so often that no one believes them any longer.

The rule of law – that the guilty must be proven guilty – is forgotten. And now many – many – people on the right want to retaliate in kind. And so we have the warning, a quote that has always lingered in my mind.

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

It’s a bad idea to dismantle something purely because its inconvenient. You never know when you might need it.

The next few months are going to be very interesting indeed.