Mimsy: Books

The Third Face of V: The Freedom to Starve—Wednesday, April 10th, 2024
Adam Susan: The Freedom to Starve: Adam Susan in V for Vendetta: “The only freedom left to my people is the freedom to starve. The freedom to die, the freedom to live in a world of chaos. Should I allow them that freedom? I think not.”; freedom; liberty; Alan Moore; V for Vendetta; David Lloyd

“The only freedom left to my people is the freedom to get sick. Should I allow them that freedom?”

Is V in V for Vendetta good or evil? Do his ends justify his means? Are his ends even desirable? What Norsefire did to bring peace to England and to bring food to the people was horrific. But what V does to Evey is also horrific, on a personal level, and what V does to the people of England is horrific on a mass level. V, Veidt, and Constantine have a vision, but their methods are as much Jack the Ripper as William Withey Gull’s was in the pursuit of his own vision, and may well share nearly as much of Gull’s madness.

We have little sense of how much of what V says is true, and how much he made up to justify his torture of Evey and England. His motto is By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe. V, however, uses everything but the truth in his relationship with Evey, creating a semi-imaginary prison and fake death sentence to indoctrinate her into his own version of anarchy.

Evey even acknowledges the technique: she can’t know if the toilet paper memoirs she read when confined are real. But by then she’s internalized V’s worldview enough that it doesn’t matter. Moore leaves no ambiguity here for the reader: she has been brainwashed, using standard brainwashing techniques.

The Norsefire of V for Vendetta succeeded because people were dying of starvation and failing infrastructure. Under Norsefire the people of England didn’t have the plenty available to the typical eighties comic book reader, but neither were they dying of starvation. By the end of the book, what has V given the people of England? Starvation and a broken infrastructure. And we don’t even know if England is free from tyranny!

The only freedom left to my people is the freedom to starve. The freedom to die, the freedom to live in a world of chaos. Should I allow them that freedom? I think not.—Adam Susan

As presented in V for Vendetta, this could only be a totalitarian thought. But think of what’s happened over the last four years. Should we have allowed people the freedom to catch COVID? Or should we have let them live in the chaos of freedom of movement, freedom of association, and the choice of how, and whether, to protect themselves against sickness?

If asked in the context of the COVID restrictions of 2020 and the vaccine requirements later, a lot of people today agree with Adam Susan’s conclusion. “I think not.”

The Second Face of V: The Twilight of Man—Wednesday, March 20th, 2024
Faust: Between you and me, I’m terrified: Faust “I’m a magician. I’m supposed to be prepared for this, and between you and me, lady, I’m not. Between you and me, I’m terrified. Set alone knows how everybody else must be feeling.; Alan Moore; fear; Promethea

Faust quickly loses all control of events in Promethea.

Twilight is difficult to discuss on the same terms as V or Watchmen because it was never written. All we have is Moore’s proposal to DC Comics. We know from Moore’s recounting of the evolutions of both V for Vendetta and Watchmen that his stories change significantly between the idea and the finished product. The proposal is less a story than an attempt to talk a language DC will understand: how much money DC will make if they accept.

It is very clear, however, that Twilight features a manipulative bastard in John Constantine. Constantine is willing to shed any amount of blood to ensure his vision of a better future for humanity. Constantine even chooses to define what it means to be human. He ruthlessly engineers brutal killings of those who he decides are not human, from the metalman Gold to many of the various alien races in the universe.

In a sense, Twilight is what happens after the last page of V for Vendetta, Watchmen, or Miracleman: one decidedly not superior normal human’s attempt to overthrow objectively superior overlords.

By Promethea, Moore may have finally begun to tire of his manipulative Vs, or he may have wanted to capstone these stories with magic as a redemptive power for humanity. Promethea’s closest manipulative analog, Jack Faust, isn’t even a main character. Most of his manipulations of Sophie and Promethea happen off screen, and it’s debatable how much of an effect Faust had on this incarnation of Promethea or on the success of her Promethean task. But Promethea’s new era of human freedom, like that of V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and Twilight, still only comes after a lot of carnage and death.

Between you and me, I’m terrified.1

The First Face of V: A Crucible of Fire—Wednesday, March 6th, 2024
V walking from the fire: V in V for Vendetta walking from the burning medical experimentation center, a fire that he set.; Alan Moore; V for Vendetta; fire; David Lloyd

V walking from the Larkhill Resettlement Camp after setting it on fire.

In V for Vendetta, our protagonist is V, who is single-handedly and violently using his superpowers to overthrow the established right-wing totalitarian government. In Watchmen, our protagonists are superheroes working to maintain an established right-wing democratic government against the single-handed violent reforms of an enlightened mad scientist.

V is a creature of man. In a way, he’s a Frankenstein’s monster, created by a committee of scientists experimenting on individuals for the betterment of society.1 Veidt, on the other hand, is a creature of God—or fate—who was born with his abilities but believes that he’s self-made. Both Veidt and V are intensely smart. In a sense, both are even forged in a crucible of fire. V started a fire to escape the concentration camp where he was held for experimentation. Veidt’s fire was the Comedian burning a map of the United States.2

This was a critical moment in Watchmen: Veidt had, earlier, been bullied and beaten by the Comedian; knowing what we know about the Comedian, it was probably very brutal. When the Comedian burned the map and told the assembled heroes that “It don’t matter squat because inside thirty years the nukes are gonna be flyin’ like maybugs…”, Veidt could have chosen to ignore it, as the rest of the heroes did. He could have chosen to side with humanity, trusting that humanity’s innate wisdom would eventually overcome this future, as it has—so far—in the real world.

Instead, Veidt chose to side with the bully. He internalized the Comedian’s view of the world and set about to fix the world, regardless of the cost in human lives and suffering. In both the Comedian’s view and Veidt’s view, humanity needed protection, and they most needed protection “from themselves”. The Comedian felt that other men needed to be protected from their baser instincts. Veidt, however, felt that humanity needed to be rescued from its lack of foresight.

FiVe Faces of Alan Moore’s SaVior—Wednesday, February 21st, 2024

V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Twilight of the Superheroes, and Promethea: There’s a little Jack the Ripper in all of Alan Moore’s best work. He appears to be obsessed with the idea of individuals ushering in a new era of human flourishing by means of secrecy, manipulation, and bloodshed. A new world requires a blood sacrifice, and Moore’s promethean protagonists are willing to provide one.

Whether it works or not.

Moore is not alone among British comic book writers in using superheroes as a means to examine forced transformations of humanity. Grant Morrison’s Zenith and The Invisibles both showed us a war between two forces seeking to overturn humanity; his Doom Patrol featured a weird team seeking to maintain normality in the face of unimaginable change. His Animal Man sought to overturn the very reader of the comic, using possibly the most normal superhero in DC’s pantheon.

But Alan Moore takes the fantastic world of superheroes and crafts direct allegories with the real world more in the lines of a Shakespeare than Morrison’s Hieronymus Bosch.

Even his most psychedelic, Morrison-like comic, Promethea, still features a believable protagonist who craves normality. His most famous comic, Watchmen, is about a handful of individual heroes without the moral strength to oppose the villain’s manipulation. It’s a reverse of his inaugural V for Vendetta which is less about individualism than about one individual strongman. V and Veidt are arguably, like Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion, the same person from different worlds. Yet, while Watchmen’s Veidt is ostensibly the comic book’s villain and V for Vendetta’s V is ostensibly the comic book’s hero, in both cases that status is ambiguous.

V’s enemy is a government put in power/allowed to remain in power by the people, who are too lazy, or too concerned with personal comfort, to topple their totalitarians. Veidt’s enemy is the people, who are too lazy or too concerned with personal entertainment to vote for enlightened rulers.

My Year in Books: 2023—Wednesday, January 17th, 2024

This was a relatively slow year for books. According to Goodreads, I read an even 100, but quite a few of them were cookbooks. I’ll be writing about them later in 2023 in Food. Fictionwise, I started the year with Jack Vance’s Eight Fantasms and Magics. You could hardly do better. Vance is a master of fantasy, and a pretty good hand with science fiction as well. Especially when his science fiction looks like fantasy.

The green light floods the planet, and I prepare for the green day.

I ended the year with Lee Gold’s marvelous fantasy Valhalla: Into the Darkness. Gold is the proprietor of the Alarums & Excursions roleplaying zine (of which I’m a part) and shows the true role-player’s dedication to accurate mythology. While the dead role-player who was the protagonist of the first book remains here, this book’s protagonist is an Internet-obsessed squirrel who lives on the world tree.

I sang as I ran, and I never got tired. I was inspired, rhymes blazing like fire. I can’t even begin to tell you what it was like. When I ran across a patch of ash honey, and the bees swarmed up and stung me, I cried out in joy, because I knew just how they felt.

If you enjoy weird fantasy with a fairy-tale bent that’s deeply rooted in real mythology, you will enjoy Gold’s series.

I read three sailing books toward the end of the year, although only two really count. I finally got around to reading Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander; while reading that in paperback, I also started up a new ebook, David Weber’s On Basilisk Station, the first of the Honor Harrington series. I had no idea when I started it that it was clearly either inspired by Master and Commander or by the same books that inspired Master and Commander.

Are you authorized?—A Poem—Wednesday, November 22nd, 2023

I was driving from Texas to San Diego after a blowout near Sonora when the basics of this poem began to bubble up from the tar beneath my wheels.

Are you authorized?

    • Drive not into smoke
    • Nor brave standing water in the road.
    • When lightning flashes, seek not a shading tree,
    • Nor stand amidst the wide and waving plain.
    • Hitchhikers may be dangerous
    • There is no tolerance for speed.
    • The bridge across the gaping earth
    • Ices before the road.
    • That which pursues you
    • May be closer than it appears.

As you read this I’m probably on the road again, so this is my gift to you as you also travel to family and friends this Thanksgiving holiday—or as you reminisce about Thanksgivings past.

The title comes from a story told by a police chief while I was researching The Dream of Poor Bazin. I was in a small town in Louisiana, and trying to find a nearby ghost town. It was a real ghost town, in that it had been overgrown so much it was invisible, and this was before ubiquitous GPS mapping. I did have a map, but all of the roads supposedly leading into the ghost town were labeled “unnamed road”… and unless I was in the wrong place, they were also overgrown to the point of invisibility.

So I went into the nearest non-ghost town thinking I might find a local history section in the library. The library turned out to be closed, but the library was in the same building as the post office, so I thought I’d ask whoever was working there when the library would open.

The post office, while open, was unattended. However, the town hall was also in the same building, so I walked over and asked the ladies at the front desk if they knew anything about that ghost town, or where I might find more about it.

“Oh, you need to talk to our police chief!”

And the chief of police came out from a back room—the police department was apparently also in this same very small building—heard what I was interested in, and immediately dropped everything to give a tour of the ghost town. He was a local history buff, and even loaned me a relatively rare book about the Nightriders.

My Year in Books: 2022—Wednesday, January 11th, 2023

Not including the cookbooks (I’ll have more about 2022 in Food in a later post), my year in books began with Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience, a fascinating collection of essays about the dawn of civilized war, and ended with Mack Reynolds’s Code Duello, a very strange letdown about frivolous fighting on far planets. In fact, two books I read in December were letdowns. I see Mack Reynolds all over in the old paperbacks section of used bookstores, and somehow confused him with a writer of a spy or thriller series of some kind. No idea who, now.

The other disappointing December book was a Dorothy Parker collection; I’d never read her before, and of course you keep hearing about her as a very witty writer. I found her mostly repetitive and condescending.

Tastes vary.

My penultimate book was a re-read: the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons comic book, Watchmen. I’ve been rereading a handful of Alan Moore’s best works lately. Both Promethea and V for Vendetta. They’re connected by Moore’s fascination with superhumans taking it upon themselves to save humanity from themselves, whether humanity wants it or not.

Sadly, minus the superhuman part that’s always an important topic. Which makes me glad to see that Watchmen is also the most-shelved book I read this year.

Alan Moore’s are not the only comics I chose to re-read in 2022. I also reread The Essential Calvin and Hobbes. I still remember the first time I read this book, just out of college, when one of my roommates had left it lying around. He probably regretted that, because I could not stop laughing out loud in the middle of the night, nor could I put it down. Calvin’s world is a world that doesn’t exist, and one I’ve never lived in, a suburban countryside where six-year-olds can wander downtown alone with their teddy bear (or, in this case, tiger), but it is hilarious despite my complete lack of reference points. Watterson riffs on the essential absurdity of man’s imagination, and it isn’t just Calvin’s imagination. Calvin’s father is quite the storyteller, too.

Notes on publishing ebooks, including scripts—Wednesday, November 9th, 2022
Scripts for ePubs social image: Social media image for the ePub scripts post.; publishing

Take this as analogous to the blind men describing an elephant. I’m far from a best-selling author and have used only Lulu.com, Amazon’s Kindle Direct, and Smashwords. I’m sure there are many things I didn’t run into or didn’t even think to look for. I’ll use Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing), Lulu, and Smashwords as examples because they are the services I currently use. The field is still rapidly developing—Smashwords has just been merged into Draft2Digital—and what I chose two years ago might not be what I would choose today.

For example, while it normally irks me when a service I choose gets bought up by one I didn’t choose (AT&T, I’m looking at you), I’m not feeling too badly about the Draft2Digital purchase of Smashwords. When I started writing this post, I wrote that if I were to start again, I’d be seriously looking at Draft2Digital instead of Smashwords.

In any case, one way to find such places is to search for “Smashwords competitors”, or, now, “Draft2Digital competitors”.

And also upfront: this is about the technical end of getting things online. It’s not about how to sell or how to design. You wouldn’t want to listen to me about those topics anyway. I could just as well have posted this under hacks instead of under books. This is a lot about the command-line workflows I use to get a book from Nisus (or any word processor) to ePub. There is math involved, or at least programming. I’ll also provide some of the scripts I use, but you’ll need to be comfortable with modifying them, or have friends who are comfortable modifying them, for your own special circumstances. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Smashwords, it is that every book is different in its own annoying way.

Currently, I use Lulu or Amazon for print-only books—mainly, books that I’m releasing free as ebooks, such as my fantasy roleplaying game or my computer manuals. I’ll use my web site to host the ebooks and make print copies available through Lulu or Amazon. Amazon, of course, is the default place to go for buying novels, but Lulu.com is extremely useful for niche products where the community buying those products is familiar with Lulu.com. That’s why my game books are there.

For the most part, when my plan is to sell a print book mainly online, Amazon is the place to go. If my plan were to sell a print book everywhere, I’d probably want to find somewhere else rather than use Amazon as the bottleneck. But I would not pay for the service. Payment would be for the books themselves, as needed.

Older posts