This Tiny Community (and Bear Patrols)

Poland recently held a hard-right, nationalist rally attended by 60,000 people frightened that Poland is falling victim to ‘Islamification’. 60,000 nationalists. For the record, because you gotta love them statistics, that’s around 35,000 more than the number of Muslims resident in the whole of Poland. Muslims represent slightly over 0.09% of the national population. Yet this tiny community, largely living quietly, obeying Poland’s laws and working to support their families as anyone else would, has been successfully cast, at least amongst these angry nationalists, as an existential threat to the Polish state.

The current artificial ‘Islamic Panic’ being stirred up by divisive elements in Poland — amplified fear of difference, of loss of control, of alien motivations and conquest-by-replacement — is echoed across Europe. Britain is no exception, with numerous groups working hard to provoke and magnify these groundless fears in the UK population, and still others exploiting the instability and tensions caused by such groups.

Muslims are not the threat here. They never have been. The real threat is the corruption of human instinct and the manipulation of emotions to serve the violent and divisive agendas of those who believe they can profit from conflict.

This article at thepinprick.com — not by me — is a thought-provoking summary of the phenomenon.

 

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A Philosophy that Fascinates and Attracts

I picked up a book on Kindle yesterday. Spock’s World, by Diane Duane. A Star Trek novel from 1986, it’s said — so I’d heard — to deal with Vulcan society in great detail, examining their culture and philosophy to a greater extent than the TV show ever really did.

A lot of Trek fans spend a lot of time discussing the matter of canon — in other words, what story elements can be considered part of the ‘real’ Star Trek universe, and what parts have been made up unofficially and therefore don’t count as actual events in that storyline. Generally speaking, it’s a rule that anything produced by Paramount or officially commissioned by them — such as the TV shows and movies — is canon. Material and stories that appear in novels, fan movies, fan fiction and the like — is generally not considered canon and is therefore not authoritative. This can go for many licensed works, since Paramount often only licenses the right to use the characters and settings, and doesn’t arbitrate what the stories should be beyond imposing a few basic rules (don’t kill off main TV characters, for example, or have a big reveal that Picard had been a Cardassian sleeper agent all along).

But the question of canon can be fraught: sometimes, the sad fact is (and I say “fact” in the sense of “totally subjective opinion” here) that some of the licensed works treat Trek’s characters and concepts with far greater respect and attention than the TV shows and movies ever have.

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Your Enemy’s Enemy

Now I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about NeoGAF Idon’tknowmuchaboutNeoGAF – hah! Got in before you.

I don’t know much about it save that it’s been mentioned on Podquisition a few times. I do know that it’s a forum, I believe it’s focused on videogames, and it seems it’s been a favoured stop-off for games journalists looking for insider info. Apparently it has a sort of Wikileaks vibe to it. I don’t know. But I also get the impression — perhaps unjust, perhaps not — that NeoGAF has a sizeable population of Gamers. I don’t mean gamers, as in “people who enjoy playing videogames”. I mean… Gamers. You know. Them.

Truth be told I’m not really that interested in NeoGAF, except inasmuch as it’s been mentioned on some YouTube channels I follow, and recently some of those channels have said that NeoGAF has been struggling to keep going after an apparent sexual abuse scandal erupted over alleged behaviour by the community’s leader. The site had, as of a few days ago, been taken down, and I don’t know whether it’s back up or not.

I don’t know because honestly I haven’t looked, because NeoGAF isn’t really the subject of this post. I mention it only as background, because this mild interest in the apparent collapse of a site I’d vaguely heard of is the reason I ended up watching a couple of YouTube videos on the subject, including this one from ReviewTechUSA, as presented by Richard Masucci.

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Movie Pondering: Star Trek Beyond

This is not a review because I’m not a reviewer and don’t understand filmmaking. I don’t know about cinematic techniques, personnel histories, or prior to looking them up what a key grip or a gaffer do. I know now, but I do hate leaving a thing un-looked-up when I find out I don’t know it.

Anyway the point is, don’t expect Ebert levels of informed analysis here. Do, on the other hand, expect SPOILERS, because I intend to talk freely about the movie. If you haven’t seen it, and if SPOILERS bother you, best stop here.


 

I have to say I was quite pleasantly surprised by Star Trek Beyond (I wanted to put a colon in that title because it looks as though it needs one, but IMDB informs me that’s what the movie used to be called. Now it’s colon-less).

After watching 2009’s reboot movie Star Trek, and its sequel Into Darkness, I felt ambivalent. On the one hand, the graphics were great. There were a couple of little tips of the hat to what the Star Trek franchise used to be – particularly from Into Darkness – by there was still the nagging thought that This Wasn’t Quite Star Trek.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a terrible sucker for anything Star Trek. This is to the extent that I not only enjoy the show, but it also informs a lot of my political and philosophical viewpoints as well. On the other hand, apart from a couple of words I’ve picked up along the way I don’t speak Klingon (one of those words is “qa’pla”, which doesn’t count anyway because it constitutes around 47% of all Klingon dialogue), I don’t go to conventions and wear pointed ears, and I don’t assume the cast are their characters.

So having established my slightly hipsterish and snobby “I’m a huge fan but I’m not, you know, like those fans” credentials, here’s what I thought of Star Trek Beyond:

For the first time in the reboot movie series, it’s actually Star Trek. Proper Star Trek.

I mean, sure, there’s still a shit-tonne of explosions, phaser fire and running. But there’s something about the characters now – maybe the cast are settling fully into their characters; maybe it’s just something about this particular movie’s plot…? I don’t honestly know. But whereas in the previous two movies I’ve been torn on the new actors’ portrayals of established characters, in this one they just seemed to click into place.

Related image

All right: this is a shot from 2009’s Star Trek, not Beyond. But never mind.

It’s not that any of them were doing a bad job, I should make that clear. They all clearly knew who they were supposed to be, and did a good job. Perhaps it was direction that distracted me in some cases; or perhaps it was simply that they were working with slightly sub-Star Trek material. Some character gelled more than others: I saw the Kelly’s McCoy in Karl Urban’s version; likewise Zachary Quinto’s Spock — though in neither case was there a great physical resemblance to the original actor. But the mannerisms and, in Urban’s case particularly, the speech, there were some very clear echoes.

Less so, I thought, for Simon Pegg’s Scotty and Zoe Saldana as Uhura, and particularly for Chris Pine as Kirk. In none of these cases, I repeat, was there anything wrong with the performance. Quite the opposite: they were all good, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them. But they didn’t quite ring as ‘the same people’.

This isn’t just me being unimaginative, I hope, or unadaptable. It’s just that the whole premise of the new movies is that they’re the same people in a divergent timeline. (Personally I’d have preferred the same people in the same timeline, but so be it. If you can’t start your movie with an entire planet being exploded, you’re not doing modern Hollywood properly.)

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Certainly Mythically True

I was looking over my last post, about the squirrel, and the word “mythical” leapt out at me. I’d used the term to describe the characters and beasties who appear in mythology. The gods and heroes whose doings make up the maybe-history-maybe-tutelary-story around which many religious and cultural traditions are wrapped.

And it occurred to me I might not have been careful enough about using the word — or at least defining it in the context.

First of all, I said mythical, where it might have been better to have said mythic. Despite a firm relationship the words don’t mean quite the same thing. Both might well apply in the context of my post, but there’s a definite difference in connotation.

Mythical means, in effect, appearing in myth or the subject of myth. So we can rightly say that the Kraken, for example, or Medusa the Gorgon or Pegasus, is a mythical being, appearing as they do in Greek mythology.

But mythical carries the connotation of “fictitional”. They’re generally not considered to have been real entities, although that would be cool. Ludicrously dangerous, but still undeniably cool. So when we say, “Don’t bother polishing that shield any more: Medusa is mythical”, we’re basically saying she’s not real.

Mythic, on the other hand, means that something is fit to be or become the subject of myth. And mythic doesn’t directly imply that the person, object, creature or event we’re talking about is made up — although the use of mythic rather than historic does suggest more than just a straightforward record of what happened. Mythic things go beyond and above historic things.

(On that point just quickly: roughly the same difference in meaning applies to historical versus historic. A historical day is one that features in history. The day of my birth was a historical day. Nothing very special about it, but it’s logged in certain records and is therefore a very tiny part of history. A historic day is one on which history, or part of it, hinges: the day the Armistice was signed, or Apollo 11 landed on the Moon yes they did — these are historic days because they made history.)

Myth is a tricky thing to deal with, especially in our modern culture here in the ‘developed’ ‘West’. We’re used to looking for the distinction between truth and falsehood. A story is considered to be either one thing or another (post-truth politics aside). And where mythology is concerned we seek to make the same judgement: is a story true, or is it false? This dichotomy causes us problems when we’re faced with religious mythology in particular. For example, many Christians take it that everything they read in the Bible is literal truth — a historical record of events that actually happened — because to acknowledge a story’s status as myth would mean it was false. A lie.

Similarly, some atheists take it that the whole of Christianity’s belief structure is based on lies because it’s impossible for a man to walk on water or rise from the dead — and if the story isn’t historical truth, it must be lies.

But mythology, by its nature, is blurrier than that. The stories in mythology might not be true — but that’s not necessarily their purpose. Their purpose is to convey truth. Truth about what people are, and should be; about what a society expects, and how humans can achieve their potential. Greeks didn’t read the stories of Perseus and think all his adventures were fact. They read his stories to find out what a good Greek should be and strive to be.

The same applies to Roman mythology. Romulus and Remus weren’t raised by wolves. There’s a school of thought that links the term lupa, a female wolf, to prostitutes in Roman society, so there’s that possibility. But it fits the Roman self-image to imagine the city’s founder as this embodiment of natural vigour, this combination of lupine ferocity and the social order of the pack. So a Roman might well have ‘believed’ the story of Romulus’ upbringing — even though it almost certainly wasn’t actual historical truth.

This is mythology. It’s a story that might not be historically true — though it could still be! — but it is certainly mythically true. Perhaps it’s morally true. Perhaps it’s idealistically true. But it doesn’t sit well in our modern age to shade the concept of Truth with idealism and morality; and that’s probably no bad thing. Truth deserves some reverence. It deserves to be held sacred, in a sense — especially in times like these, where it’s constantly exploited and manipulated and subverted by all sorts of interests and agendas.

But the concept of myth also gives us a good way to talk about those things that we believe are true or should be true: the oughts that might fly in the face of the ises (no relation) and the ares (no relation).

So I can refer to Yggdrasil, the Norse world tree, or to Ratatoskr the squirrel, as mythical without implying they weren’t literally true or committing to believing that they were — but I’m likely to be read by others bas suggesting they’re fictional. Not so much if I say they’re mythic because, whether literally real or not, they are undeniably the subject of myth.

Their Deranged Sciurine Thing

One of my long-time head-characters — those several people who inhabit my brain and nag me to write about them, but never quite give me enough detail to actually make a story — is a spacecraft pilot. Probably obviously. She’s a dreadfully cliched muddle of Han Solo/Mal Reynolds stereotypes, only she’s a gurl.

And she has a squirrel. Initially the AI robot avatar of her ship, the Serious Mouser (I have literally no idea), the squirrel evolved and became a character in his own right, until a friend pointed out he was basically Rocket Raccoon. And, on watching Guardians of the Galaxy, I realise he was right.

This is why I don’t write fiction.

Anyway, the point is, I have a fondness for squirrels. Not an unhealthy fondness, I should point out: we’re just good friends. But I do find them the most utterly adorable flea-ridden, verminous little rat-bastards — even the grey ones whom we here in the UK are supposed to hiss and shoot at when seen. (The greys are an invasive species who’ve largely displaced our native red squirrel, which I admit is a shame. Reds are beautiful, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in real life). From my office, there are a few green spaces visible, and some trees, and it genuinely makes my day when I see squirrels barrelling around the place doing their deranged sciurine thing. Also bunnies. We have bunnies. You can see them at silflay, bouncing about in the evenings and early mornings. There are definite plusses to my workplace.

My wife’s Asatru. It’s not the screeching non-sequitur it sounds like. Asatru is a name for the religion of the Old Norse: a faith centred on the (for want of a more popularly descriptive term) ‘Viking’ gods, such as Odin, Thor, Freyja, and countless others. And the Asatru tradition possesses a vivid and distinctive mythology, in Europe perhaps rivalled only by that of the Greeks: stories of heroic deeds and terrible battles and monsters and trickery and dragons and elves and a primeval cosmic cow for some reason and a great tree. The tree is the “World Ash”, Yggdrasil, and it serves as the Norse axis mundi, the pillar which connects earth and sky. In the case of Yggdrasil, it reaches up through the Nine Realms of Norse cosmology.[1]

It’s honestly not a non-sequitur.

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I Will Map

After all the fuss of working up to the rank of Baron in order to get hold of one of those shiny shiny Clippers, that selfsame ship has now been put in storage, just for a while. The practicalities of exploration mean that the Clipper must be put aside to make way for my stripped-down 40-light-year-at-a-time Diamondback Explorer for my first real survey.

I intend, as one of those people who haven’t even been out that far yet, to go out and map the living be-daylights out of the Coalsack Nebula. Oh, yes. I will map the murky nebulous pants off it, have no fear about that. I will boldly go where half the pilots of humanity have been before, because when I map something it stays mapped.

And besides, it looks like a handy secluded spot to dump all these terrible cliches.