Apropos my last post about being critical of D&D Twitch games: my wife opined that the character group’s extremely diverse background is mirrored by computer RPGs like Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Even though there is considerable racism in the setting in both games, it never throws back on the player character. Like, you can drag your Krogan around everywhere, and no one in Mass Effect will shut their doors as you approach, even though in dialog with the character, they’re likely to rattle on about the discrimination they face. So, she thinks that this contributes to the willingness of GMs to tolerate high-diverse groups without consequence.
I think this is likely true. The circle has closed, particularly for D&D, from influencing how computer role-playing games run to being influenced by CRPGs. Now it’s an ongoing loop, I think, with the two feeding on each other. The game I run, Cypher System, is clearly influenced by CPRGs.
Like it says on the tin: chapter one of Witches vs. Nazis, which is my current project. It’s awesome. I’m awesome. The witches are the good guys. And, yeah, I’m saying that the Patriarchy is demonic. I’m comfortable with that!
Witches vs. Nazis
by Kit Bradley
All rights reserved 2018
Christmas Eve in the National Socialist Empire of America: a great festival where the twisted cross rose above the altar of the Kristr. In Yton, one of the greatest cities of the NSEA, the Orville Wright Stadium was full of blond, blue-eyed, pale faces in the stands, while the Untermenschen fought for their amusement. There were thirty thousand packed into the stands with the white and red decorations of Christmastime everywhere. The lights were bright on the dome overhead, buried deep in the arco. Typically, most of the seats would be regular people – middle class, save for a few seats high up – but today it was all high-ranking Nazis with their families.
I’ve been under the weather, so I played through Rise of the Tomb Raider to pass the time rather than dwelling on how awful I’ve felt. It made me think about why writing for video games is so bad.
Don’t get me wrong: Rise of the Tomb Raider is an excellent game. While I’ll be using it for purposes of illustration, because I’ve just played it, many games commit far worse literary sins than Rise of the Tomb Raider. There will be spoilers under the cut to illustrate my various points about the awful writing in video games.
I did a fair bit of research into Allen Dulles for Dracula vs. Cthulhu (which is also spy fiction – it’s got a lot going on!). I did the study thinking that he would make a good villain. I even angst over whether I should use Dulles, personally, or just base a character on the man – deciding that I should use Dulles personally. His multifaceted incompetence and the extent to which he shaped foreign policy in the US demanded that, if I use the dude, I open a conversation into his legacy. Even in my sci-fi horror novel, such things are important to me.
As I’m writing background stories for DvC, though, it became clear why that wasn’t going to work: I don’t respect him enough to believe that he could be successful with the other villains and heroes in the story. Because he was so incompetent – indeed, one of the chief problems with the CIA then and now is that people are often promoted up from abject failure; it took a fuck-up as big as the Bay of Pigs and to get Dulles fired (and, frankly, since the lead up and cover-up to the Bay of Pigs had treasonous elements, Dulles got off light) – he makes a poor hero or villain for my style of writing. Chumps, broadly speaking, need not apply, or are, at best, minor villains and henchmen.
So, we’re back to the main villain being an ex-Nazi, ex-Communist sonofabitch based on two of the most evil men of the 20th century. Evil, but competent.
I’m reading one of the ur-texts in esoteric neo-Nazi mysticism for Dracula vs. Cthulhu, The Dawn of the Magicians. It’s pure conspiratology, and contains the same fundamental sin as The Devil’s Chessboard: Conspiratology is fascinated by “what if.” Into a broken or incomplete narrative, rather than acknowledging it is broken or incomplete, and perhaps unable to be solved due to the distance of time, place, and circumstance, conspiratologists create a narrative by asking “what if this were the case” and then deciding that their newly invented fiction is a fact.
Conspiracy is a fiction that conspiracy theorists have decided is fact – and, indeed, at several points in the 160 or so pages of The Dawn of the Magicians I have read, the authors use quotations from novels as “proof” of their thesis. They liberally quote Arthur Machen and Bulwer Lytton, saying that novelists are essentially prophets and that both men belonged to the Order of the Golden Dawn and were thus enlightened alchemists. It’s boggling, but it is part of argument built by The Dawn of the Magicians.
In this sense, it appears to me that conspiratology resembles religion. Almost all religions and religious people assert a fallacy known as “the God of the gaps.” Supernaturalist religion occurs in those parts of the universe about which humans cannot see, or do not have an adequate theory to explain. Which is why God will cure cancer now and then (a disease that sometimes goes into remission for no apparent reason, often attributed to a miracle) but adamantly refuses to regrow the limbs of amputees. Cancer going into remission is a poorly understood process that happens on the cellular level – the God of the gaps acts invisibly. On the other hand, regrowing amputated limbs is big enough to be seen, thus does not happen.
Conspiratology is “pseudohistory of the gaps.” Take for instance the assassination of President John Kennedy. The Warren Commission was deeply flawed, yes. But to leap from “the Warren Commission was flawed because we know that the CIA and FBI engaged in a coverup” to “the CIA killed JFK” puts a fictional narrative into the gaps of history. Even though there is a strong but an unprovable narrative, that the CIA and FBI wanted to deflect heat for their incompetence in keeping track of Lee Harvey Oswald (as they would later deflect the heat away from their incompetence about 9/11), conspiracy sees a gap and fills it with whatever they desire. Thus, while it is almost 100% sure that the CIA and FBI played a hard round of “cover your ass” with the Warren Commission because there’s no record, conspiratologists can leap to the conclusion that the CIA killed Kennedy.
Moving on, the authors of The Dawn of the Magicians say that we should study the 100,000 works of alchemists to discover what they discovered. The Dawn of the Magicians never goes into what a massive undertaking it would be – since the works are coded, cyphered, incomplete – and how difficult it would then be to decide which parts are useful and which parts aren’t. It’s almost certainly easier for us to rediscover whatever medieval alchemists found (assuming there’s anything left to find, given the advanced state of chemistry, metallurgy, and materials science). But they love their narrative that there MIGHT be something truly, utterly amazing hidden away in these texts, and they wildly speculate about what it might be, such as unguents that can regrow the tissues of burn victims in such a way as to leave no scars. Because, y’know, they read that some medieval doctors had such things. (They didn’t, duh.) The gap – that we haven’t sufficiently studied old alchemical journals and books – can be filled by whatever fantasy a person desires!
The idea that creative narratives are actually, for-real true is a seductive lure. Most people want to believe that the universe makes a personal sense – that we, individually, understand the driving forces behind history or the universe. Of course, we tend to imagine that the meaning of the universe or the meaning of history supports our point of view. That is the heights of egocentrism! That the universe is ordered to give tacit approval to me? That God thinks that the life I live is the best kind of life, or that my ideals are divinely granted and inspired? Heavens. Equally absurd is the idea that history ought to do the same – given weight to my fancies and prop up my worldview. That the murder of JFK becomes a prop for my fantasies is intellectually shameful and morally vacant!
Yet, that’s the core message of conspiratology – that whatever narrative that you CHOSE to believe lurks in the dark corners and past the horizons of history. There is no need to get proof! Belief, alone, is enough because history is murky. Therefore all ideas have equal merit! Which is egocentric nonsense, and contrary to any epistemology that seeks truth rather than glorifies the self at the expense of the truth.
I almost quit writing this past week. Art is a very rough road, and there are no clear signs to “success.” Effort and ability are not enough. I’ve got a bookshelf and tablet full of indie writers who have gone through the considerable effort of writing and publishing their works – but the truth is that few people are likely to read what they write. It is as I said: hard work and ability aren’t enough.
The flat truth: the number of writers in any given market are increasing at a much faster pace than the number of readers. The limited amount of time and money the audience has is being more finely distributed over an ever-increasing number of authors. So bad is it that it is considered de rigeur for indie writers to pay promotional sites to give away their books. It is a reader’s market, and for the readers it’s great! They get to read to their heart’s content and not pay a dime, to have a plethora of high-quality work for free, indeed, the expense is borne by the writer, not the consumer.
When discussing Dracula vs. Cthulhu, people seem surprised when I say it’s science-fiction and then talk about spaceships and time travel. So I’ll say it, again! Dracula vs. Cthulhu is science-fiction horror! So, yeah, don’t be too surprised if it has spaceships and time travel.
This is part of the reason to do such a story, right? If I was going to write a story where Dracula was just another Gothic monster, who would care? But the je ne sais quoi is the “vs. Cthulhu.” And Cthulhu? He’s on the sci-fi end of Lovecraft’s works. Further, I process both Cthulhu and Dracula through the lens of my interpretations and preferences. I think Lovecraft was at his best when he was at his most science-fiction-y.
I’m putting aside the Atlas Shrugged parody for the time being. Having gone to some shows, I find that con-goers aren’t likely to be swayed by someone saying, “What you like sucks.” Which is what would happen. People would see the Atlas pictures, think Ayn Rand, and come over to hear my say that what they love sucks. Until I’m more established, that’s a losing strategy.
Which brings me to my new project. I noticed that the booths that did best were those in which preawareness played a significant role. Since I’m not rich, I need to keep to the public domain. Thinking about it, I got an idea that builds off of the spy-horror-sci-fi stuff I wrote a couple of years back, and the working name is. . . well, it’s probably why you’re reading this: Dracula vs. Cthulhu.
Initially, I imagined that the name would be a mere working title. But every time I mention it, people go, “That’s interesting!” Which means there’s a good chance that I’m writing a book named Dracula vs. Cthulhu.
The genre will be sci-fi horror, and it’ll be awesome. The good news is that I’ve already done most of the research! And the research won’t be totally about things I hate! Yay!
While the article is, itself, worth reading, I’d like to point out that publishing as we currently know it is the primary form of writer exploitation.
In traditional publication, writers give up much of their rights over their work for a period – often years, sometimes indefinitely. Most writers get damn little support, too. And for giving up the right to price their book, sell it where and how they please, and a bunch of editorial control, the writer gets ten percent of cover price (or about 20% of what the publishing house makes).
Defenders of traditional publication will say that the publisher assumes all the financial risk. Which is untrue. The writer has spent untold hours of their life writing and editing before they get to the point of publication – that’s financial risk, too. But no one talks about the financial risk of a writer because it happens beforehand. But it’s there and its real. The writer has spent their precious hours writing the book with the hopes of financial reward for their labor, after all. That’s the definition of financial risk. Writers are taking a chance writing at all.
Absent an argument of financial risk – which is shared equally by the writer and publisher – the rationale for the publisher getting eighty percent is. . . what, exactly?
Let’s flip the script a bit. You’re an engineer. You’ve spent a lot of time, money, and effort to become an engineer. And you spent another year of your life making a cool invention. So you take it to EngineerCo and pitch your invention. What they say is, “It’s a great invention, we like it, but we’re not going to pay you anything for it – or we’ll pay you a pittance, like, five grand for your years of work – and if we sell any, we’ll take eighty percent, and you won’t get paid anything until we recoup the money we forwarded to you.” If you’re an engineer, you’d be insulted and seek elsewhere – or go into business for yourself. Society would praise you for your entrepreneurial spirit.
But that’s what publishers tell authors. Even when they like their work, they don’t pay a living wage for it (unless you’re one of the lucky few), and they take a shamelessly high percentage of book sales. So if your book sells a few hundred copies, they make their money back, and if it sells a million. . . well, they make about four times as much as the author.
It’s a good scam, really. And the most significant one, too. Traditional publishers are robbers.