… and by “read”, I mostly mean “listened”. (But also read.)
Rachel Manija Brown on story without conflict.
I’m always really (a-har) conflicted by these sorts of posts, because on the one hand I agree—I love quiet scenes and cutrainfic and so on—but, on the other, I think in some respects they sell the notion of “conflict” itself short. Yes, there is an over-emphasis on superficial external conflict (e.g. violence, arguments) in a lot of media nowadays, see pretty much every action movie, for example. But, also, I think it’s possible for subtler forms of conflict to exist within a narrative, including metatextual conflict between the narrative and itself, the narrative and other works, or the narrative and the reader.
Brown mentions the “secret garden” genre, for example, as one that tends to be without conflict. But I’d argue that the attraction of the secret garden is, in fact, rooted in a metatextual conflict in this latter sense. That is, it’s the conflict between the reader’s unfulfilled desire for their own secret garden and the fact that the protagonist has one that the reader, by the very action of reading, intrudes upon and eventually takes over (by subsuming the book, and thus the garden, into their own memories).
Curtainfic, meanwhile, is a work that’s almost always in conflict with its own source material. A solid third of all fics tagged curtainfic on the AO3, for example, are in the Supernatural fandom, with the next biggest chunk coming from the MCU. These are not canons known for their fluffy domesticity! As someone who loves a curtainfic, and particularly loves its Villains Out Shopping subtrope, I can assert the fun in both reading and writing these scenarios is definitely in exploring the conflict their quiet mundanity presents against either the canon or the characters. (See also: why villain/antihero/antagonist fandoms tend to be full of “fluffy” memes.)
For another, related, example, see any time anyone trots out kishōtenketsu as a “story without conflict” trope… and then proceed to give a handful of examples all of which include some kind of conflict. The fact that the conflict is usually framed as the story presenting contrasting narrative elements, with the conflict between them occurring within the reader’s head as a kind of dialectic—as opposed to direct “on the page” action—does not, in fact, actually mean the narrative is “without conflict”. But, like. Good luck getting anyone to admit that.
“But, Alis!” you might be thinking. “What you’re describing is contrast, not ‘conflict’. You’ve even used the word multiple times!”
Yeah. And what I’d argue is that, in almost all circumstances, when people talk about “conflict” in the context of narrative what they actually mean to talk about is contrast (a.k.a. tension). Two random characters having a fight is conflict, but it isn’t narratively interesting unless you’re one of those people who nuts to mechanized descriptions of fight scenes.1 Two characters having a fight over differing ideologies, on the other hand, is interesting, particularly when each side has some valid points and the audience themselves is engaged with attempting to determine who to root for and why. This is also why so many “popcorn villains” are so flat and kinda bullshit.
Think about, say, Strickland in Shape of Water, for example, who is pretty much the epitome of an uncompelling antagonist. This isn’t the fault of Michael Shannon, who does great; it’s because in the context of the narrative Strickland is just a one-note bad guy. He’s a bigot who hates the fish man! Okay, well… good on him, I guess. But the reality is Strickland could be replaced by literally anything else—including nothing at all—and the film’s conflict would remain the same. Why? Because the conflict in the film isn’t “oh no gubba gonna getcha fish, gurl”. It’s “ahaha in every other story like this the fish guy is either evil, or dies, or turns human at the end”. It’s a metatextual conflict, in other words, between the audience and their expectations for the genre. This is also, incidentally, why I thought the film was kinda meh; because I read a lot of monster romance, I have no genre expectation of the narrative going in any way other than “girl fucks fish man”. Because that’s how monster romances work!2 Which means the actual narrative itself felt empty in the “superficial conflict no contrast/tension” way.3 Also, the romance was really flat. Like, really flat.
I did look pretty, though. So… there’s that I guess.4 Also, it won a bunch of Oscars, which just goes to show why narrative conflict is such a minefield, since it leans so heavily on being able to anticipate the mental/emotional states of your audience…
- No judgement, you do you. ^
- Except when they’re, like, “boy fucks fish man”, or “girl fucks eldritch horror”, or “enby shares non-sexual intimacy with demon”, or whatever. ^
- Also see: the Obvious Hints that Sally is also, in fact, a fish monster. Meaning the story isn’t even “girl fucks fish man”, it’s “fish woman fucks fish man” which… eeeeeh. ^
- Though don’t get me started on the whole “sassy Black best friend with deadbeat husband” and “tragic queer uncle” tropes because, ugh. What is it about del Toro films and throwing intersectionality under the goddamn bus? ^
Oh no. It’s That Time of the Year again, the time when… (looks around nervously) … things happen.
I formatted a book! Wyrdverse: Tales of the Wyrd is an anthology of short stories from the, well. Wyrdverse. These aren’t new—you may have previously read them on my website—they’re just now… collated better.
Wyrdverse is currently available super-cheap from Amazon, although if you’d like to snag yourself a free copy you can do so from the princely sum of your email address, by signing up to my book news mailing list.
Oh, and because the whole purpose of this exercise was to practice using Indesign, a print version of the book (in all its extensive, 80-page glory) should be available sometime in the next few weeks. So… keep an eye out for that.
Speaking of awesome books you should buy (or, rather, back) right now, Crossed Genres’ Resist Fascism speculative fiction anthology is in the final days of its Kickstarter. From the official description:
RESIST. ANY WAY YOU CAN.
The world is in turmoil. The world is always in turmoil, but in recent years, people have seen violence and hatred become proud instead of ashamed. What meager rights we’ve fought for are being deliberately eroded. And the vulnerable have any help stripped away. All of this is happening openly and without fear of reprisal. And the worst perpetrators are some of the largest governments of the world.
Resisting the spread of fascism is as important now as it was 75 years ago. And there are many effective ways to resist.
For full disclosure, friend-and-all-round-awesome-person Rivqa has a story in this anthology, and I have read it and it is boss. So if you, too, would like to read a boss story about found family and Jewish jujitsu IN SPACE, then you should go smash that pledge button, as the kids on teh YouTubes say.
Knit robots, build spaceships, and shape the future.
Extraordinary short stories about gender, artificial intelligence and the art of building something new. Mother of Invention features the work of Seanan McGuire, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Nisi Shawl, John Chu, Justina Robson and more.
Awesome? Yes. So what are you waiting for? Buy like a hundred copies and you’re set for presents to give out to all your friends, enemies, and loved ones at every birthday, anniversary, and culturally appropriate religious celebration for the indefinite future. Let’s all knit a softer, warmer robotic future together.
Finally… Thing #5.
Conflux! It’s coming, and I will be there. You can even come hear me blather on about narrative in the panel Play to write: what tabletop and video games can teach writers of fiction. And by “me” I mean “Rivqa and Elizabeth“, and by “blather” I mean “make interesting and intelligent points while trying to ignore their drooling co-panellist (i.e. me).”
Sound great? Of course it does! See you there.
- … I know, I know. ^
Jason Kottke’s retrospective of twenty years of blogging.
I’m not quite up to twenty years yet—My First Blog was a LiveJournal, creation date 14 September 1999—although I was making non-blog websites by ’98. Thankfully most of these have been lost to the gods of bitrot; unlike Kottke, I’ve gone through periods where I’ve wiped my old sites and started fresh, mostly because, like him, there’s a lot of shit in my old archives1 I look back now on an cringe over. The person I am at thirty-four is not the person I was at twenty-four… or fifteen, for that matter.
Because I was fifteen when I made my first post on LiveJournal and, of all things, I still remember doing it; I was sitting at my computer in the living room of my ‘rents old house, off school for the day because I’d bargained Mum out of having to attend the athletics carnival if I vacuumed the house. My First Blog Post was explaining this situation, as well as confessing I had not, in fact, vacuumed the house because I was too busy tooling around with LiveJournal (which I was sure would “never take off”).
As mentioned, pretty much all those old websites have been lost to the ravages of time, although I will admit I did get nostalgic and try and have a look for them on archive.org anyway. This was the earliest I could find, circa 2001 (minus all graphics, which from memory featured… Gackt, maybe?):
Things to note:
- The “articles” are tutorials on how to integrate the then very basic Blogger-based weblog into a custom domain using PHP includes, which was basically how people made websites Back In The Day.2
- The hosting section was how people got cool websites in the pre-social media days. It was kind of like sharehousing but, like. On the internet. And with no-one but the “homeowner” paying any rent…
- Not pictured: the obligatory cliques, dolls/adoptables, and webrings section. You know… I actually miss webrings. We should really bring those back.
- Reading those list of links reminds me that one of the individuals turned out to be involved in one of those weird, infamous fandom kin-cult things…
- The early 00s website design aesthetic (which I was… never very good at) has really, really not dated well, based on my archive.org-rabbit-hole survey of other websites from this era. That being said, I do sort of miss the experimental messiness of it all, especially when compared to the prefab template sterility of the Tumblr/Twitter/Facebook dashboards. On the other other hand: 8pt justified Verdana. Never. Again.3
Mostly, though, we were all just so young. Yikes.
- Yes, I still have them; they’ll be in MySQL dumps somewhere on one of my computer’s HDDs, if I really wanted to torture myself digging them up. ^
- Or, if you were Rich™ you bought a Movable Type licence. ^
- It also just… does not look the same on modern monitors, which are both bigger and have, like, font anti-aliasing. ^
You know how, like, sometimes you make a dumb joke on Twitter, aiming directly for Hot Take territory… and then you step back a moment and think, “Hold on…”
This is about one of those moments.
Government-issued currencies have value because they represent human trust and cooperation. There is no wealth and no trade without these two things, so you might as well go all-in and trust people. There are no financial instruments that will protect you from a world where we no longer trust each other.
So, Bitcoin is a protocol invented to solve a money problem that simply does not exist in the rich countries, which is where most of the money is.
Mr. Money Mustache on fiat value.
To understand the Bitcoin delusion you have to understand the fundamental delusion of the libertarian and other miscellaneous conspiracy wingnut types who advocate it. That is, that financial markets and trade exist as some kind of gravity-like natural force in the universe, rather than as a by-product of the monopolization of violence by some sort of central authority, i.e. the state.
Incidentally, I know “monopolization of violence” is not the most PR term in the world, but it basically refers to the idea that, in modern state-based societies, you’re not allowed to hit other people in order to resolve differences. Only the state is allowed to “hit” people, e.g. via policing internally or the military externally, and the conditions under which that allowance is made are part of the primary defining character of that state. For example, when a majority of citizens generally agree on the ways and circumstances in which the state is allowed to hit people, you get a democracy.1 When the state hits its citizens into “agreeing” that it’s allowed to hit them, you get a dictatorship. And so on. This isn’t a new concept; it’s been around in (Western) social sciences for over four hundred years, which is coincidentally about the time (Western) political bodies began dragging themselves out of theocratic feudal anarchy and into the secular, law-and-trade focused entities we’re used to today.
Humans have always traded with each other, but the scale of trade—particularly between unrelated groups—is basically inversely proportional to the availability of non-market-based means of acquiring resources, also known as the “I kill you and take your stuff” method of redistribution. When the state starts making murder, theft, extortion and general banditry illegal—i.e. by actively hitting (jailing) anyone who is caught trying it—people are more likely to resort to trade to get what they want from others, not just because they have to, but because they have more trust that the other party won’t try and cheat them (or will be punished if they do).
Again, this is all very Social and Political Sciences 101 stuff; it’s well-studied, understood, verified, and defined, far beyond my crappy hundred-word summary. The point is that the central delusion of libertarianism and other extreme “free market” ideologies is to reject this notion of the political model of the origins of trade. I have no idea why, but it makes trying to argue with them on any financial or economic issue basically like trying to argue about the flu with someone who doesn’t believe in the germ theory of disease. The foundational premises are all wrong. It’s also one of the main reasons libertarians think Bitcoin is clever,2 despite the fact that, as mentioned above, it “solves” a problem that is essentially made up.
Tl;dr, Bitcoin is digital tiger dust, and most certainly not a financial “investment”.
So as mentioned previously, last Wednesday I was on a panel at our local SFF writer’s group, talking about author platforms along with co-panellists Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Chris Andrews. It wasn’t a super-formal panel, and I didn’t take notes, but I’m sure some of the discussion will be of interest to some people, so I’ve done my best to recap the salient points below…