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Stereotypes are bad, right? We’re not supposed to consign broad categories of people into these simplistic kinds of caricatures and yet… we do. We all do it because it’s a kind of mental shorthand for how to react to and deal with people. Some of us make a conscious effort not to give in to the temptation but no matter how hard you try you have to deal with that stereotype and consciously overcome it.

Why do we do it?

The sad truth is that a lot of the time it’s perfectly valid to stereotype. Most blustering, red-faced religious conservatives are fairly interchangeable – at least on the surface. People dress, speak and otherwise present themselves according to stereotypes to express some aspect of who they are and how they want to be treated. We run into problems when the presentation and the intention don’t match, but it’s still true.

The OED defines a stereotype as: “A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.”

That’s, perhaps, a little uncharitable. Another way to view it, if you’ll forgive me a little pretentiousness for a moment, is that of the Jungian archetype, which often sound more like an eclectic tarot set than a psychological concept. Some of Jung’s archetypes included the mother, the father, the trickster, the child and in motifs such as the flood, creation, the apocalypse.

In terms of stereotyping what you have there are stereotypes and clichés.

So should we banish stereotypes to the dustbin of history or should we embrace them? Archetypes and motifs, stereotypes and clichés have too much power and usefulness to be completely abandoned, though we may need to revise our lists somewhat. The ‘Uncle Tom’ stereotype of the past is probably no longer appropriate unless writing historical fiction, but that doesn’t mean others don’t retain their general usefulness.

A good stereotype or cliché, if such a thing exists, is a weapon in a creative person’s arsenal. Sure, it may seem lazy but in short stories, games and fiction with restricted amounts of text, dialogue or screen time you often need to convey a lot of information in a very short space of time. Stereotypes are a sort of ‘macro’, like stealing someone else’s piece of code and using it in your own programming to save time, or using stock footage in a film.

The thug, the whore with a heart of gold, the dumb guard, the gravel-voiced vigilante, these all serve useful purposes and whether you’re charitable and call them archetypes or uncharitable and call them stereotypes, they convey a lot of information in one go.

This is even more useful when you’re playing roleplaying games and the vast majority of people you run into are unimportant side characters. Without any personality they’re just a cipher, with a stereotype they at least have a little character and you have something to build on.

The ruddy-faced innkeeper, the greedy shopkeeper, the jobsworth guard, these can all be dropped into just about any game at a moment’s notice and they don’t detract from it by being a stereotype, they add an element of character and personality where – perhaps – there was none before.

A stereotype doesn’t have to end there though. While it can be enough it can also serve as a mere foundation.

Consider pretty much every character in, say, The Simpsons. Every single one is a stereotype from the motherly, disapproving Marge to the oafish, irresponsible slob Homer, to the somewhat dodgy Asian stereotype of Apu.

At least, they all started out that way and yet The Simpsons was, from the get go, a big success – once they were free of Tracey Ullman anyway. Why? Because everything was instantly recognisable and we all ‘got it’, because of the use of stereotypes. In 25 years though, every character has developed some nuance, some background (even if continuity is just something that happens to other people) and from those stereotypes have emerged more rounded comedic characters.

The Fast Show was essentially a string of these, centred around mostly stereotypical characters such as Rowley Birkin QC – who was based on a real person. These sorts of stock characters are not a remotely new concept, the idea of the ‘stock character’ a, formalised stereotype, goes all the way back to Classical Greece where, in 319 BCE Theophrastus wrote extensively on character sketches and character as a genre, with thirty stock characters including such recognisable tropes as The Talkative Man, The Coward and The Man of Petty Ambition. Later classical writers and playwrights added to this and the tradition survives to this day in comedy, much of it via the tradition of the music hall.

Returning to games, unless you’re working very intensely with a set character and a set storyline you’re going to need to anticipate certain stereotypes, even more so the case with many computer games which must anticipate and program for the actions of the players, but also within tabletop roleplaying games where the three main archetypes are the magician, the rogue and the fighter.

You can see that in Numenera replaced with Nano, Jack and Glaive.

You can see that in Cyberpunk with Netrunner, Fixer and Solo.

You can see it in almost every game, implicit or explicit, with character classes or without.

Every game starts with a baseline idea of a set of stereotypes, which you can then work with or against, exemplify or contradict.

And that’s where the fun really comes in, where you fill out the details, where you defy the stereotypes or sub-specialise within them to create something new and individual and that can happen over time as you grow more attached to the character and more versatile or powerful, learning new things about their background.

In designing my game Forever Summer I went looking to the source material – kids adventure movies and series, most especially the favourites I saw growing up like Goonies – and saw the use of stereotypes there. Whether it’s Stand by Me or Explorers you know largely all you really need to know about the characters within the first half hour of the film, if not before. Stereotypes get all that introductory mess out of the way, leaving the film free to get on with the story with some more detail about the characters coming out – as a form of character development but not really – as you go along.

Nobody said every game, every roleplaying session, every book, comic or magazine had to be completely stellar and groundbreaking or that you must avoid stereotypes, even when they really do exist in real life. There are people I know in real life who would be unacceptable characters in books or TV series because they seem like crass stereotypes, yet they’re real people.

Seriously, don’t worry about it. Stereotypes are just another tool in the toolbox and if you muck about with them and keep revisiting them, they won’t say stereotypes for long.

Said the long-haired, bearded, role-player with a house full of books…

The Night Eyes

london_fogNight security jobs are unmitigated shitness. You sit – alone in a little room in a huge building, all alone, and stare at flat-screen monitors upon which nothing happens for hours and hours and hours.

A smart phone and a solitary television with the sound turned off the only respite from black and white pictures of an empty building. Twitter and scrolling headlines across the bottom of twenty-four hour news a welcome distraction from mind-numbing monotony.

These people online and the newsreaders become your next-door neighbours after the world’s gone to sleep.

It’s easy to imagine you’re all alone up here, tucked away in your little room. Once it hits three in the morning even London goes quiet. There’s nobody out there on the streets. The ones who are still awake are street sweepers or tucked away in the clubs and pubs far away from the business districts.

This is the time it’s hardest to stay awake, eyes drooping. Your body knows its not supposed to be awake and everything is at its lowest ebb. If it weren’t for the unceasing news and internet chatter – bless you time-zones – it would be easy to think you were the only person in the world.

Even that blurs into one though. An endless parade of far off disasters that lose their impact. What’s one more atrocity or war when they happen every day? Sometimes something makes you prick up your ears though, or your eyes. Maybe you hear something about a place or a person you give a damn about. Not some ambassador from a failed or failing state, but a celebrity or something you have a personal connection to.

That doesn’t happen often though. Most of the time you sit and stare, drinking cup after cup of coffee, fiddling with your phone, staring at the screens and wishing you were home in bed.

Sometimes something weird happens though. It has tonight. So I’m writing it down and printing it out. Even if I am on camera, even if I’m going mad. I just need to have a record.

I handle the night security for London’s latest, greatest, newest skyscraper. The Prism. Eighty floors of empty glass and steel. It’s still being fitted out so there’s nobody there at all, save the workers during the day. Everything works, there’s just no offices yet and the bathrooms are all bare bones.

It was a bit past three and I was nodding half asleep over the monitors, not paying too much attention to them. The air conditioning in the building was on but it felt a bit close and humid despite that. If you don’t have it on the buildings get weird, internal micro-climates, some of the big ones even form ‘clouds’ in the atrium. They didn’t want that here, so the moment the building was sealed, on went the air conditioning.

It wasn’t like I could open a window, but I had a desk fan. That helped a bit, fresh air blowing across my face. It woke me up a little, a start and jump like when your chin hits your chest when you’ve fallen asleep sitting up.

That’s when I noticed a scrolling headline across the bottom of the television, for some reason it caught my eye amongst everything else.

“London threatened with thickest fog since 1952.”

Meteorology wasn’t a big news item and its not like fog was unusual, even today, but I hadn’t seen even a hint of it on my way to work. The main news item was some update about some economic conference, nothing of interest to me. There’s a little camera watching me all the time, quis custodiet ipsos custodes indeed, but I decided I’d risk it and go for a look out of the window.

I had to cup my hands against the window to see through the light glare, but it was true. There was a thick fog running down the Thames against the current like a cheap smoke machine and starting to flow over the sides into the streets. Why they thought it was so bad I don’t know, it was thick, but nothing worse than I’d ever seen before, so I just went back to my desk.

In the five or ten minutes I’d been away from the monitors nothing much seemed to have changed, but there was a picture of London Bridge in the box-out. I tried to turn the sound on, but I realised it didn’t have any speakers. I’d never tried to turn the sound on before so I’d had no idea.

I was too cheap to get mobile broadband, so streaming the news to my phone wasn’t going to work out. Not with a flaky 3G connection in the bowels of a giant Faraday cage. I was stuck with the scrolling text, I couldn’t even turn on the subtitles, I had no idea where the remote control was.

I switched to the internet on my phone, even though it loaded at a crawl I could get a couple of pages up. There was only a small update and a few pictures from the unlucky sods up as late as I was. It looked like it was spreading rapidly, even just in the short time I’d been away from the window. That or it was much thicker elsewhere, downriver from me.

The page didn’t tell you much, just that the met office were mystified as to the cause, it was the wrong weather, there was no pollution to account for it, though it had a sickly stink apparently, and they were trying to work it out and asking for more pictures from people around the city. It was local news really. There was some early speculation that it was down to algae or something else, but nobody really had a clue. This late at night the news and the met office – and everything else – was running on the ‘B’ teams.

Twitter wasn’t that much help either. Only people outside my time-zone were awake aside from a few people out late clubbing and they were wasted. I sent them a couple of feelers. Something was making me feel really uncomfortable about the whole thing though I couldn’t really put my finger on it.

I didn’t want to get up from the desk again, that would mean a reprimand if it got noticed. I started flicking through the cameras trying to get a view of outside through the glass, but the only one that worked was a view of the entrance and I couldn’t make out much from there, just a few wisps of mist.

Back to Twitter, there was a tag now #FogDoom – typical nonsense like #snowpocalypse and all the rest. It wasn’t that busy yet but one thing stood out in the slowly scrolling messages.

Woolwich Witch : Got off Skype with my BF. Bunch of sirens and lights on the road and river.

That seemed strange so I thumbed out a quick message back.

Night Wotcha: What’s going on there? Stuck in central London and can’t get the news.

I flicked through the cameras again while I waited, trying to see anything else, even a speck of outside through the window. Still nothing, but the mist was thicker out the door, even through the camera.

Woolwich Witch: No idea, but the river’s high. I can barely see outside. The noise stopped though. Don’t see the lights.

Night Wotcha: Can you get a better view anywhere? Sounds freaky! :-)

Woolwich Witch: Yeah, I’ll step out and have a look. See if there’s anyone around.

Police aren’t unusual, but a whole lot of them charging through the night down there? Close to the Thames Barrier? That seemed weird. Was it a terrorist attack? Gas or something? It didn’t make much sense to me but it would explain the police. If the river was coming up that could be bad for the city as a whole. Grandad had used to run one of the river taxis. I thought high tide would hit sometime after four in the morning. There was a while yet before that happened.

It was no good, I had to go for another look.

This time the river seemed higher, even from all the way up in the building. It was hard to tell of course, the fog was even thicker now and it was flowing up over the banks and spilling into the streets beyond. It was weird looking, moving in all directions at once, almost like it was alive, questing for a path between the soulless, empty, lifeless buildings.

The BBC news scroller was now talking about a flood warning now, but being not very specific as to why. My desk phone went off with an automated warning, but I didn’t really have to worry here. It was all automated and the building should be well able to resist any sort of flooding. All I’d have to do would be to wait it out until low tide – a matter of hours.

The Woolwich Witch hadn’t gotten back to me again, but I didn’t know her and she didn’t owe me any sort of explanation.

I started thumbing through the hashtag and its all weird nonsense. Drunk and stoned people talking nonsense. More pictures but a lot of them were weird looking. Artefacts and stray pixels, like when it rains hard or a pigeon decides to have a nap on your Sky dish. Some of them were half uploaded, like the image had been cut off halfway through my download, but it wasn’t me.

After the mangled images there were no more posts by that person. Any of them.

I don’t scare easily and I try not to get panicked over nothing but I was scared now. The signal quality on my phone was dropping every ten minutes or so, bar by bar, ’3G’ to ‘H’ to ‘E’ and even that kept dropping out. The last few tweets I saw on the tag before the data connection completely cut out were even weirder, people who’d gone out to check out the fog and going missing. People not able to get the police.

The TV was all about the fog now. The presenter, someone you wouldn’t see unless you kept my hours, was clearly out of his depth, trying to cope with it. They were calling it a chemical spill, telling people to stay inside because of the fumes, even if it flooded.

Even the TV signal was breaking up now. Weather can do that, but fog was too low on the ground to disrupt any signals. Maybe I was imagining it, but there was a sickly scent, even behind sealed glass and storeys into the sky.

I took the lift down to the great void of a lobby, so empty. Here the smell seemed, paradoxically, less bad. It didn’t make sense to me. Beyond the doors I couldn’t see a bloody thing, it was all thick fog faintly yellow in the dim night lighting.

I about jumped out of my skin when there was a loud bang against the doors. There was a shape there, banging against the glass. The knock loud, but whatever screaming sound was out there dimmed by the thick glass so it sounded distant.

As I got my breath back from the fright I stepped towards the door, and then jogged, fumbling for my keys. Even pressed against the glass I could barely make out who it was, but it was a man. Maybe a policeman, I thought I saw a cap. Just in the seconds it took me to get to the door the banging got quieter and quieter though the shadow looked just as manic and violent as ever.

As I got there it was abruptly silent, a shape in the mist that could have been a man or just dappled shadow, blown away. I fumbled the keys and yanked the door open, shouting out into the fog but there was no answer and the stink made me gag on the words even as I tried to give them voice.

It was hard to breathe, to think, so I got back inside and shut and locked the door again. Back up the lift to my little nest, the only place I might feel safe. The lift seemed slow and the lights kept flickering all the way up, coming on again as I got back. Everything still seemed to be working but the TV was black now, on every channel I could get and the phone was useless.

From the window everything was dark now. I couldn’t even see street lights now. The light from the building made it nearly impossible to see beyond the glass and the moon was dim, a sliver behind grey cloud. I couldn’t see anything.

The smell was getting stronger. I was sensitive to it now, noticing it – or imagining it – behind every smell in the building. New paint, plastic, epoxy, all of it seemed to carry a hint of that stinking fog in it that made me queasy.

It was the air conditioning. It was sucking in the air from outside and the fog with it. It was seeming to rise, shorter buildings disappearing beneath it, the fog seeming higher around the taller buildings as if it were trying to climb them.

I don’t know the first thing about air conditioning. I went as high as I could in the building and cut cables, jammed pipes and stuffed ducts with whatever I could find. Tarp, sacks of cement, plastic, silicon gel from the builders. I think I sealed the building and its only me here. I’m not going to suffocate.

There’s a little computer in my nook. Turns out the tower’s running on generator power now, so I turned off all the lights I didn’t need, and the pumps. Sat and wrote this. I don’t know what’s going on but I’ll save it. I’ve print it out. I’ve put texts to everyone I know into my phone so they’ll send when the signal comes back. I don’t know what else to do but sit and wait.

I’ll go and seal the air conditioning better I suppose, but if there’s nobody out there, what’s the point?

I’m alone.

***

fog-448188Mr Morgan is still missing and has not been seen since the night he caused millions of pounds worth of damage to the Prism Tower, setting back the opening of the tower for at least two months, flooding two basement levels and all but destroying the air conditioning system.

These writings, apparently left by Mr Morgan – though there’s no way to prove that – seem to suggest an impaired state of mind which may have insurance implications. With Mr Morgan missing it is likely that a settlement can be garnered from his estate, though it is unlikely to make much of a dent in the costs.

Without finding Mr Morgan it is hard to know how to proceed further, though it’s clear from his confession that he caused the criminal damage. Given the long term importance of the account I believe the claim is genuine and that we should pay out.

Sincerely,

H Arnold,

Claims Department
Xebi Insurance Co.

97963-thumb140Alex woke up, slowly, staring up at the ceiling for a minute with a horrible sensation of deja vu before they got up. They swung their legs out of the bed and stepped carefully across the carpeted floor to the wardrobe and plucked out a shapeless, belted boiler suit and a pair of plimsolls.

Alex turned on the TV on their way past, just to get the morning news while they cleaned their teeth and took a quick shower. There wasn’t much there, just an update on progress towards demographic parity through the reproduction lottery. It was hard to follow because the channel kept switching from one presenter to another so rapidly they barely had time to fit in a whole sentence.

Alex lingered in the shower a little longer than usual. They hadn’t slept well last night and the lukewarm jets were pleasant and soothing. Then they stopped in front of the mirror, playing with a few different hairstyle ideas before scruffling it back up into its normal mop.

The readout on the mirror said there was no work duty today, Alex hadn’t gotten a permanent position yet and was in the work rotation for the seasonal and regional tasks that needed doing. There weren’t any today and that was something of a blessing as they wouldn’t need to go out.

That thought ended in the kitchen with the last two pieces of bread. Alex was going to have to go shopping.

Closing the door behind them, Alex rattled down the stairs and out onto the street. From the window Bailey, the building supervisor watched Alex go and Alex forced a fake smile and waved to them on their way to the bus stop.

It was only a minute until the bus was due to come, so Alex merely stood there, counting off the time in their head until – with an electric hush – the tall little bus came to a halt. Alex fumbled for their change and tossed it into the slot. There was nowhere to sit and it would be rude to displace anyone else so Alex stood, holding onto the little handle.

There was a bump behind them and Alex turned their head to look. It was a woman, in the same ubiquitous boiler suit as everyone else but her hair was a little long. She’d belted her boiler suit tight around her waist and tugged the zip down a little low – playing with fire. She gave Alex a flirtatious smile but Alex turned away, blushing slightly, holding tighter to the handle as the bus zoomed along.

Finally the food store. A huge billboard above the entrance advertising ‘Soft Toilet Paper: Kinder to your bottom and nobody need know’. Alex steadfastly ignored it and joined the milling people inside, ignoring the trolleys and choosing a modest basket they went looking for the essentials. Bread, cheese, buttery spread, potatoes, salt and then a quick two-step to the check out.

Only two were open, both queued right back and within a couple of minutes it became clear that while both were only moving slowly, one was sluggish and the other glacial. This was because the check out attendant on this queue was clearly mentally subnormal.

Alex shuddered. Even thinking that felt like blasphemy, but Alex couldn’t remember what the proper terminology was this week. Alex gritted their teeth and waited… and waited… and waited. It took hours and hours but finally they reached the front. Alex fixed a smile to their face while the poor man fumbled and panicked, red-eyed and trying to cry but out of tears and snot.

More by luck than judgement Alex managed to get out with the goods paid for, but it was too late for the buses now. They had to walk all the way, startling a woman on her way back to their block right where a street light had burned out. They both laughed, made their apologies and Alex carried on their way.

Finally Alex was home. Breathing a sigh of relief as they closed the door behind them. Unpacking in the kitchen, kicking off their shoes and stepping back into the bed-living room to try and relax.

The TV switched itself on.

Oh dear, not now.

“Person Alex Benton. You have been randomly selected for consensus oversight. Please sit down and listen.”

Alex’s heart sank as other faces flashed on the screen and began to discuss their faults.

“You didn’t seem sufficiently pleased about the progress Consensus has made towards demographic parity. Perhaps you still harbour prejudiced and privileged modes of thought.”

“You seem to take a little too much pride in your appearance and wasted time – and power – in the bathroom. More than your allotment. It shows a lack of regard for those around you, selfishness and pride.”

“Your relationship with the building supervisor seems over friendly when it should be one of professional distance and respect.”

“You didn’t use your time at the bus stop productively. You could have used the time to better yourself. You could have at least gotten your money ready.”

“The person on the bus who flirted with you. You hurt their feelings by not reciprocating. That was cruel. Do you like hurting women’s feelings?”

“The queue was so long and you still joined it, adding to the pressure and distress for the checkout person. Do you hate less abled persons?”

“You startled a person in the street. You could have been a rapist or murderer. You should have been more careful to spare their feelings and to be less intimidating.”

Alex didn’t speak up. There was no point. The questions were rhetorical, there were no good answers and any resistance would make it worse. Instead they nodded along and agreed to every single point.

“It is the summary judgement of Consensus that you immediately be somatised and removed to an adjustment camp for intensive reconditioning.”

The doorbell rang, Alex stood up with a sigh and shuffled to the door to open it. The blue-suited proctors smiled pleasantly and sprayed soma into Alex’s face.

Everything went grey.

***

Alex woke up, slowly, staring up at the ceiling for a minute with a horrible sensation of deja vu before they got up. They swung their legs out of the bed and stepped carefully across the carpeted floor to the wardrobe and plucked out a shapeless, belted boiler suit and a pair of plimsolls.

Alex turned on the TV on their way past, just to get the morning news while they cleaned their teeth and took a quick shower. There wasn’t much there, just an update on progress towards demographic parity through the reproduction lottery.

The figures were exactly the same.

In a panic Alex checked the date and time on the mirror readout.

It was today.

Again.

Alex tried not to let their expression betray their horror and surprise, but they couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. They stuck to the absolute, average allotted time for showering and ablutions. This time there was no tonsorial messing about, just a simple run-through with a comb.

There was still no work today, thank goodness, but the kitchen was back to being virtually empty. This was a chance to do things right this time.

Closing the door behind them, Alex rattled down the stairs and out onto the street. From the window Bailey, the building supervisor watched Alex go and Alex gave them a curt, professional nod on their way to the bus stop.

There was a minute until the bus came. Alex fished out the correct change and double checked it. Paying immediately the moment they got onto the bus and moving to take the handle.

The woman was there again and there was the same bump. This time Alex struck up a conversation about the morning news, being sure to say how exciting it was that the population was so close to parity now. By the time she had to get off Alex had handed over their number and was actually looking forward to seeing them again.

Back into the store, darting around to get the things they needed as quickly as possible. A quick check as to which queue was which and Alex hopped into the faster moving queue, steadfastly ignoring the crying and snivelling from the other queue and getting out of the place in less than an hour, in good time to get the bus back.

With a sense of smug satisfaction Alex helped themselves to a cheese sandwich and watched The Inoffensive Comedy Show marathon until the TV flicked itself over and familiar faces appeared.

“Person Alex Benton. You have been randomly selected for consensus oversight. Please sit down and listen.”

Alex’s friendly smile didn’t last long as the self-same people began to subject them to their uncompromising insights.

“You could have spent a little longer in the shower. Your bed registered a lot of tossing and turning in the night. You can’t have slept well. A little indulgence is alright. Your stress affects others.”

“You were rather terse and curt with the building supervisor. If you have a feud it could affect the morale of the entire building. You should try to be more friendly.”
“Your amorous attentions showed that you clearly regarded the person on the bus as female. How could you possibly know how they self-identify and what made you think such attention would be welcome in the street anyway? That’s harassment. There were long-term single persons on the bus who could have been traumatised.”

“Nor did your showing off with the money impress. A passenger could have had discalcula, you were flaunting your arithmetical privilege.”

“You deliberately avoided the check out queue of the less-abled teller. That’s a level two ableism hate crime. Nor did you go to their aid despite their obvious distress.”

Alex didn’t speak up. There was no point. The questions were rhetorical, there were no good answers and any resistance would make it worse. Instead they nodded along glumly and agreed to every single point.

“It is the summary judgement of Consensus that you immediately be somatised and removed to an adjustment camp for intensive reconditioning.”

The doorbell rang, Alex stood up with a sigh and shuffled to the door to open it. The blue-suited proctors smiled pleasantly and sprayed soma into Alex’s face.

Everything went grey.

***

Alex woke up, slowly, staring up at the ceiling for a minute with a horrible sensation of deja vu before they got up.

Again and again and again.

Nothing worked. No matter what they did the same spiteful faces on the screen found fault in one way or another.

Finally, haggard and fretful Alex sat in, all day, without moving, staring at the unblinking eye of the TV screen and awaiting the inevitable.

“Person Alex Benton. You have been randomly selected for consensus oversight. Please sit down and listen.”

Alex giggled.

“You haven’t left your domicile all day. Consensus assesses you are suffering from intense mental disturbance. Proctors have already been despatched.”

Alex stood up, laughing and ran to – and through – the window, tumbling in a cloud of razored glass fragments, head first into the concrete five floors below.

***

“Another failure.”

“A failure? No. I don’t think so. It just teaches us that perfection is impossible and that there are always new problems. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying.”

“Of course not.”

“Have The System form a new focus group and select a new test subject. Consensus must keep trying.”

OBEY CONSENSUS

Queen-Elizabeth-II-Giving-The-Finger-420x215‘Something must be done!’ is, perhaps, the most terrifying sentence in the English language. It is the herald of a new witch hunt, a new moral panic and the absence of thoughtful and measured decision making on a topic for the foreseeable future.

With Elliot Rodger it was the cynical exploitation of his rampage to paint Men’s Issues groups – with whom he had no connection – as terrorists, or to blame video games, or guns (which did at least play a role). The usual quest for something to blame which is woefully familiar in the damage it can cause to anyone who ever listened to heavy metal, read comics, played D&D or partook in video games.

With the more recent Slenderman stabbing, again we find calls to ban or block access to horror sites and Creepypasta all utterly unrealistic but usable as fodder by those who want to censor, control or ‘sanitise’ the internet. So it goes, it’s a familiar pattern. We see the same moral panics in relation to pornography, sex work, trafficking, media of all kinds and it never ends well.

In the Queen’s Speech yesterday we heard about the “Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill”, which is possibly the most disingenuously named bill since the US brought in its ‘Patriot Act’. Hidden amongst the crowd-pleasing changes about ‘have a go heroes’ and so on is the promise that it will also outlaw ‘written paedophile material’.

Well, what could possibly be wrong with that? What sort of sick monster would stand up for paedophile scribblings?

Well, perhaps the same people who have been extremely worried about the creeping censorship of ‘extreme’ pornography. I’m sure after his experiences at the hands of earlier, weaker legal changes Simon Walsh would suggest exercising a note of caution. Even consensual acts that you, yourself, have participated in are apparently no protection.

Indeed, the law that Walsh had trouble with is now extended:

The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 made it an offence to possess extreme pornographic images in Scotland. However the Scottish offence goes further than that in the 2008 Act, in that it covers obscene pornographic images which realistically depict rape or other non-consensual penetrative sexual activity, whether violent or otherwise. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement in July 2013 that he would ban “rape pornography”, the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill 2013-14 would amend the 2008 Act and also make it an offence in England and Wales to possess pornographic images depicting rape and other non-consensual sexual penetration.

That would also appear to extend to other material such as bestiality, necrophilia etc. Originally these laws were intended to protect against genuine snuff films, genuine bestiality, genuine rape etc being used to titillate. That was then expanded to depictions of such activity (staged, acted, faked) and the current wording would seem to extend that to any depiction – so perhaps you’d better delete your Bondage Fairies archive right now.

This new bill moves beyond even the realm of images though and into the domain of the written word, further blurring the line. Would Nabokov be banned? Pullman? Kuklin? Klein? I’m sure the government would say no and that these obviously have artistic merit but we cannot judge so subjective a determination as the obscenity trials in history over such things as Oz or Lady Chatterley have shown.

What if you wanted to write a biography or semi-autobiographical story about child abuse? Where would you stand then? If we’re now extending these standards into the written word on the backs of unsubstantiated fears about pornography, child abuse and so forth, where does it end?

It’s not about dealing with nonces, it will do nothing whatsoever to help deal with them. It will criminalise decent people, be abused and as Simon Walsh will attest I am sure, merely being accused of this sort of thing does irreparable damage even if you’re found innocent.

underwater

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven

Spoilers

Introspectre is a re-telling/modernisation of The Call of Cthulhu by HP Lovecraft. That much should have been obvious to any Mythos fan from the Mythos tag and the names of some of the characters.

As with Cichol’s Children I was looking for a way to make the Mythos scary again and the best way to do that is, I think, to bring a bit of uncertainty and change back into it and never to truly, explicitly, name the creature.

Cthulhu was once the great symbol of existential horror and madness but through popularity has been debased to the point where he’s no longer scary. He’s a proto-kaiju, a Hello Kitty with tentacles, a cliché.

So what if you strip Cthulhu back to the base concepts and then build it back up? Cthulhu is apocalyptic, madness, incomprehensible. He is a threat we cannot understand and as much an infectious madness as anything else.

So the sea becomes the human mind. The time is right when we talk too much, when the ubiquitous chatter of the modern world becomes the neural pathways of a monster that is us, but is more than us. When the stars are right, it is our fault and a neurological singularity takes us all with it.

I hope you enjoyed it and get the reasoning behind the idea and the desire to recreate a classic in a way that can be scary again.

Introspectre was written in one sitting with no prep, only an idea that’s been lingering a while. If I decide to publish it, it will be rewritten and expanded.

From the personal blog of William Munday, retrieved 23/03/2014

I‘m making these posts and everythIng I’ve gathered publiC.

I went back to Doctor Lang’s lab today and went through all the recordings, as deep as the records would let me.

Those Klein-bottle things are present in every mind he ever scanned. They’re just dormant in some and active in others, like how a disease can hide away and Flare up again years later, like malaria or the spores of some bacteria.

Ideas can be like that too. hidden away in writing, stone tablets, cave art. Ancient ideas to whom we’re not even alive. To whom we’re a natural resource or a thing to live in and on, the same way we walk the ground, swim the water or fly through the air.

I doubt the idea even knows we exist, even knows we’re alive. I think, though, when we get a little too aware of it it reacts, or its immune system reacts at least. We would put out a fire, seal away toxic waste, clean water and that is what it did when it killed my uncle.

I know how insane that sounds, but there’s no doubt that ideas can kill. Religion kills every day. Hitler’s twisted ideas about eugenics and race killed millions. Millions more died because of the ideas of Mao and Stalin, ideas so powerful that reality was ignored.

Those are crude though, this idea is subtle enough to single out my uncle and have him killed. It’s smart enough to know who I am, what I have done. It’s smart enough to be aware of me.

The way the landlady watches me, the way the other guests watch me. If I could see inside their heads that twisted little thing would be writhing and multiplying, I just know it. I was followed to the lab by someone, some of the porters looked at me strangely and when I left I was followed again but I don’t know by who.

Of course, I could just be mad. Maybe I snapped under the pressure and the grief, under the strange ideas that frankly, I have never understood.

I knew this was big, but I never knew how big. How many more minds have to be infected before the idea truly awakens and then, when it awakes, will it be aware of us now? Will we still be us? Who or what will we be? Am I in charge of my own mind or am I the parasite, the bystander.

I’m part of something bigger now.

I need to tell people about it.

underwater

Extract from Neuroecology by Professor George Angel

The Noospheric Ocean

Moai-Statues-Easter-Island-3If the human mind is a sea in which ideas swim and compete then the collective human consciousness is an ocean. Ideas are not unique to an individual and are not isolated from each other. Ideas flow from one mind to another and can be gathered from a text, speech, music, and overheard conversation, a picture, a film anything you care to mention.

Like a Cichlid dropped by some passing bird into an empty African lake, a new idea can change, mutate and re-organise to meet its surroundings and might not also something greater be able to live across many seas, instead occupying this ocean of the mind?

When mankind spread across the Earth, communication was slow, limited to the speed of a man on horseback or the flow of the wind. Ideas could emerge and compete and find new niches. A perfect case in point might be the American Revolution, where old, strong ideas of monarchy and tradition, removed by a great ocean, could not wield the power they once did and were outstripped by younger, more vital, but ultimately vacuous concepts of liberty and freedom that have been dumbed down to the point of buzzwords.

JonestownNow with phones, the internet, the telegraph, the television, ideas spread from mind to mind almost as fast as they spread from neuron to neuron. The processing power of the combined human intellect is enormous and yet… and yet it does not seem to be working to our benefit. We are still the same, primitive, warring apes we ever were. Is it, perhaps, then not working to our benefit at all? Are we livestock to some meta-ego above the superego? Some supremely powerful memeplex that operates on the level of civilisations and cares no more for its environment than we do?

The more we talk to each other, the more information we record, process and communicate, the more likely this seems to me and if it hasn’t happened already, perhaps it will soon. Just as humanity emerged from the primordial physical soup, so too might something monstrous and alien emerge from our collective unconscious.

I think I have glimpsed it.

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