nothing here but pagan sci-fi symbology

issue 047 - 5th April, 2020

CJW: Welcome to another issue of nothing here. This issue we welcome Dan Harvey to the team! You may know Dan from his brilliant 20 minutes into the future newsletter, focused on taking tech companies to task for the many ways they abuse staff, manipulate users, disregard privacy, and generally try and run roughshod over society at large. I’m sure some (more) of that will sneak in here thanks to Dan, but he’s also sharing some great art, comics, music, and more.

Welcome aboard, Dan!

I’ve unlocked our latest bonus letter, which came from MKY: Bingewatching the End of Civilisation. To access new bonuses and the full archive, you can become a supporter.

CJW: Society Centered Design

This is a great manifesto coming from Sarah Gold, Dan Harvey, and a collection of other designers and workers associated with Projects by IF. I think this could prove to be an important document - so much of the way we think, plan, and design is defined by our unconscious biases and frameworks, which is one of the reasons why supposedly “unbiased” algorithms keeping outputting racist as fuck data. By deliberately and intelligently changing these frameworks to be more society-centred, we could see a shift away from harmful design practices and damaging knock-on effects, like with facial recognition systems, judicial algorithms, and countless other areas besides.

If you’re a designer in particular you should check this out.

DCH: True story. Corey was linking that before I even got here. He’s not just doing me a solid since I co-authored it. 

CJW: Design Thinking is a Rebrand for White Supremacy (via Ospare)

This seems related - on the history of design, Design Thinking, and the inherent White Supremacy in both. A great example of why Society Centered Design is so important - having a deliberate plan to counter inherent bias, instead of leaving it up to "brilliant" white men to define what good design is (usually meaning design that suits them and people like them).


CJW: Announcing The COVID-19 Testing Map

Let’s open with something that is both (potentially) proactive, and COVID-19 related (because, as you can probably guess, there’s going to be a lot of virus chatter for at least the next little while).

This map is a timely new project from Sean Bonner and the Safecast team, showing locations where COVID-19 testing is being performed. It's a collaborative project, so if you've got data to add, they'd love to have it.


CJW: What We Know So Far About SARS-CoV-2 (by Ed Yong, via Damien Williams)

To be clear, SARS-CoV-2 is not the flu. It causes a disease with different symptoms, spreads and kills more readily, and belongs to a completely different family of viruses. This family, the coronaviruses, includes just six other members that infect humans. Four of them—OC43, HKU1, NL63, and 229E—have been gently annoying humans for more than a century, causing a third of common colds. The other two—MERS and SARS (or “SARS-classic,” as some virologists have started calling it)—both cause far more severe disease. Why was this seventh coronavirus the one to go pandemic?

This is an up close and personal look at COVID-19 and the reasons why it is so effective. I found this fascinating in terms of the technical information it offers - elsewhere you’ll hear a lot of figures, but here are some actual facts. 


CJW: It might take a while before history starts again (via Austin)

Without a massive stimulus package, the corona crash will wipe out most of the small-scale service sector, from barbers to nail salons to internet cafes to specialty coffee bars. The only companies left standing will be Amazon and the large chains, now lording over a recalibrated sub-economy designed to deliver ‘essential’ goods.

This piece covers a lot of ground, and my political theory chops aren't quite honed enough for me to understand it all, but what I did grasp was incredibly interesting. It's largely about the failures of left populism, the decline of neoliberalism, and how both of these relate to the current crisis.

Are we all covid communists now?

It is a question posed especially sharply in Britain, where a Tory government is delivering an economic programme to the left of that offered by the Labour Party in the last election, all the while enjoying robust approval ratings. The contradiction of this fact alone poses a political question: who is trusted to govern and why, and what is the political vision that should accompany economic necessity?

This piece, linked from the above, is all about the current socialisation of capitalism under largely right-wing governments in response to COVID-19.

If the new global disaster socialism is socialist at all it is an avowedly passive, consumerist vision of socialism, in which we get paid by the state to live under martial law as we supposedly work from home while living on the backs of an underclass that are compelled to work for Deliveroo and Amazon while the rest of the productive economy crumbles away: fully automated luxury authoritarianism.

Emphasis mine.


CJW: Posing With the Flag (at

It depressingly feels as though everything I do is merely symbolic, photo ops for structuring my own unfolding story, but there is no way to tell for sure. There is no unilateral move one can make that would make the difference, and no view from above from which you can always tell who is merely posing with the flag and who is really part of a team of responders. I don’t have that sort of perspective even on myself.

This starts off referencing the social contagion piece we shared last issue, and uses that as a launching pad to look at governmental, organisational, and personal responses to the Corona crisis, trying to draw the line between performative care or concern, and the real thing.


CJW: Panic, Pandemic, and the Body Politic (by Laurie Penny, via Sentiers)

The collective psychology of neoliberalism encourages self-interest and short-term thinking. It both creates and requires human lives that are organized around the kind of constant insecurity and stress that actively prevent us from thinking beyond the next fiscal quarter. The diseases that are most successful in the coming century will, as always, be the diseases that exploit our major failure modes and popular delusions.

This piece by Laurie Penny covers a lot of ground, some of which (also) parallels the social contagion piece from last issue - specifically the way the organisation of our society determines the sorts of epidemics we’re faced with, with Penny providing examples across history.

DCH: This is another great piece from Penny. All about how our decades of catastrophe porn haven’t prepared us for Covid-19.


CJW: The New Normal for Life Under a New Plague (by Ganzeer)

Masks will become as mainstream as pants. Air-filtering scarves will become a thing, and we may even see shirts designed with mouth covering parts that you can just pull up when necessary (think of it as an evolved turtleneck). Gloves will definitely make a fashionable comeback. Tattooing will be seen as an easy harbor of disease and quickly lose the mainstream acceptance it has gained over the past three decades.

This is a really interesting piece from Ganzeer - as much provocation as prediction, pushing us to really consider the ways that society could evolve under the pressures of this current pandemic. I don’t necessarily agree with all the points he raises (or suggestions [?] he makes), but the sheer speculative energy on display here is impressive to say the least.

And via Ganzeer’s link above, is this: I Lived Through The AIDS Epidemic. Here’s How To Live Through The Coronavirus. Taking lessons from the AIDS crisis and seeing what we can learn from them for life under COVID-19.


3) The government will not save you.


MKY: Rare ozone hole opens over Arctic — and it's big

The counterpoint to all those cool maps showing the drop in air pollution in cities across the globe as everything  s l o w s d o w n is that, holy shit there’s a hole in the ozone layer above the Arctic for like, the first time ever? ‘Cause the Earth System is still collapsing, and a little bit of unplanned ‘degrowth’ ain’t gonna fix a whole lot (how long can you stick ur finger in that dam?) and it’d be ace if we were talking about bailing out the ecology rn too, with some planned regrowth. Instead, we’re gonna watch local manufacturing ramp up again across the West, where in the US especially - but far from exclusively - corps have basically been giving carte blanche to pollute the world. Yeah, I know. It sux.

CJW: Yes! An accidental degrowth won’t do anything in the long term. We need this crisis to teach us that the way our lives, society, and economy have been going is simply unsustainable. We need to let this lead us to fundamentally change the way our lives, society, and economy are organised - and honestly, we probably need to organise if we want to see that happen. I’m sure there are a lot of interesting conversations happening in activist circles, trying to figure out the best ways to keep organising through all this.

I assume this is related, but paywall: Covid-19 has caused a drop in emissions – but it’s not a climate fix


MKY: Scientists record first reported heatwave at Antarctica's Casey research station

Meanwhile, at that other pole on this nice planet we once had here. A freaking heatwave causing ice to melt faster, and maybe ruin yet another once great biome at the edge of the word. Maybe just maybe the slow down in emissions will take the edge off there? But like Corey just said above, we need to freaking organise and re-organise our relationship with the natural world before bunkers are all that’s left for us forever. Here’s John with the weather: DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM.


CJW: AI is An Ideology, Not A Technology (via Sentiers)

If a program is able to distinguish cats from dogs, don’t talk about how a machine is learning to see. Instead talk about how people contributed examples in order to define the visual qualities distinguishing “cats” from “dogs” in a rigorous way for the first time. There's always a second way to conceive of any situation in which AI is purported. This matters, because the AI way of thinking can distract from the responsibility of humans.

A piece on the demystification of AI, and the political risks of embracing it fully as being inevitable.

DCH: Jaron Lanier isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea but when he’s right, he’s right.


Cutting Room Floor:


When you’re in pain it’s far easier to say “I don’t wanna feel this pain” rather than “I want to feel this pleasure”, and as expected current leftists, as propagandists, are generally dystopian in their critique of the establishment, they create elaborate images to describe the mecanisms and horrors of our predicament but don’t necessarily offer a way out, only the possibility of a gap. This gap waits to be filled.

And it goes on from there to Library Socialism. Read it. I've recommended Ospare's newsletter before, and will probably do so again.

DCH: Ted Chiang Explains the Disaster Novel We All Suddenly Live In

MKY: “we don’t want everything to go back to business as usual, because business as usual is what led us to this crisis.” A-freaking-men.

DCH: Preach, Brother Ted.


DCH: Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene (Via Anna Dorothea Ker)

You had me at “chthulucene.” Nyarlathotep as The Invisible Hand.

DCH: Billionaire Island

Mark Russell and Steve Pugh deliver a biting satire of the billionaire caste in what promises to be a bloody delight. Russell’s previous work on series like Prez, The Flintstones (yes, The Flintstones) show’s he’s the best satirist working in comics today. Pugh is a master caricaturist and humorist. Together they’re perfect for this sort of revenge fantasy. Go snag the first issue before the second comes out.

MKY: Permanently Moved - 301 - 2012 - The Run Out

This latest drop from @thejaymo’s weekly 5min podcast really sums up that feeling we’re in rn, and expounds on it. If you haven’t tuned in before, he writes, records and edits these in an hour… and I feel like everyone has an hour to spend rn, so why not start a whole series of short, sharp audioblasts about the time we’re in? I’d sure love to get more like this from people around the world.


DCH: Shadowland

Join Seth and Christina as they share and discuss stories of the strange, eerie and unknown. Each episode covers a single topic, from cryptids and UFOs to weird science and quantum reality. Step into a world beyond the senses, into a hidden realm behind the everyday, where logic fails and dreams illuminate the way. As your eyes adjust to the dark, intriguing mysteries take shape. Welcome to Shadowland.

Seth and Christina are former colleagues. I’m not always the biggest fan of podcasts but this one is fun. Maybe start with the ghost fucking epsiode.

DCH: Quarantine Book Club

Daily Zoom chats with authors. Great way to connect with some brilliant writers. Previous guests have included Charlene A. Carruthers and Cory Doctorow. Marcia Chatelain and Tim Maughan are some of the upcoming highlights. From Mike Monterio and Erika Hall at Mule Design (with a logo inspired by John Warren Hanawalt). 


DCH: Palantir x NHSX

Palantir is working on contact tracing for the NHSX. This is a very bad thing. Lest you forget, Palantir is responsible for America’s concentration camps. This is even more alarming as Health Secretary Matt Hancock has penned a letter to set aside legal requirements for data confidentiality during the pandemic. This is a power grab by disaster capitalists that tosses our digital rights into the bin.


DCH: Superchief Gallery
Remember that Cardi B coronavirus clip from the other day? Ok now imagine it with Donald Trump’s head attached. I DIDN’T NEED TO SEE THIS EITHER. SHARE MY PAIN. Thank you.

DCH: Art School Girlfriend, Into the Blue Hour
I’m overdosing on chillwave at the moment. Can you blame me? Hello! Art School Girlfriend is music producer and vocalist Polly Mackey’s stage name. The music is atmospheric, spartan, and haunting. It’s full of loss, lust, obsession, and queer identity.


DCH: Dream Wife, Sports!

Sports! Is the first track off of Dream Wife’s upcoming second album, So When You Gonna. If you’re not familiar Dream Wife is a punky / power pop quartet that hails from Brighton, England. They are quintessential bad bitches and put on an amazing live show. 

CJW: Owen Pomery (via Kelt)

Warren Ellis recently shared a graphic novel by Owen Pomery in his newsletter, but it wasn’t until Kelt pointed it out on the Restricted Academy forum that I dug a little further into Pomery’s other art. It’s a sublime mix of the ultra-detailed with the pared back - an aesthetic I find utterly striking. 

MKY: Unf! Into this. Adding that to the list stat.


DCH: Ingrid Torvund

Ingrid Torvund is a Norwegian artist who uses pagan, christian, and sci-fi symbology to explore humanity’s myth-making urges. Her “Blood” trilogy feels even more resonant given the global pandemic.

Still from Magic blood machine, 2012

Still from When I go out I bleed magic, 2015

Still from I found you under earth under blood, 2019


DCH: Nam June Paik

The Paik exhibition at The Tate Modern was one of the last bits of art I was able to take in back in the before times. Of course we often think of Paik in the context of media inquiry, new media art, and presaging the Internet but let’s not forget he was also a comrade and a hell of a writer too.

I can easily see that being update for Uber and the gig economy...

MJW: Hey, I haven’t added a thing to the newsletter this fortnight. Where have I been in all of this? LOSING MY SHIT, THAT’S WHERE. I’m Quite mentally ill on a good day, so this is A Lot. 

It isn’t that I haven't read any articles I could link, it’s that I’ve read eighteen thousand articles and am about to reach information critical mass. I spend all day peering into my magical portal to the world’s horrors. I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything for longer than ten minutes, so I’ve got no TV or movies to talk about. Every afternoon I take a bath for one hour, in order to try and ‘relax’. While I’m in the tub I AM reading - The Dead Zone by Stephen King, a comfort re-read. I’m doing my best to take care but it’s not easy.

Check in on your mentally ill friends right now. Let them know they aren’t alone. In the meantime, I’ll be obsessively reading the news and yelling on twitter, the only two things I’m capable of. x

CJW: Repo Virtual one of Amazon's Best SFF Books of the Month

I don’t know if this is down to some publicist magick, or purely down to the book readers at Amazon, but either way I’m stoked that this will get the book in front of a lot more people’s eyes.

If you’re interested in checking it out, you can read an excerpt here, or just go ahead and pre-order it. Check if your local indie bookshop is doing deliveries at the moment, and maybe sling some money their way. We want our small, local institutions to survive these uncertain times. After loving John Higgs' Stranger Than We Can Imagine, I ordered his book on the band KLF from my local bookstore Brunswick Bound, and they delivered it by hand within the hour. They're a great store, run by great people, and if you're lucky your local could be just as good.


CJW: And that’s it for another issue. There’s a bunch of stuff I had to trim for the email, so if you want to see what else you might have missed, click the title at the very top to check out the full and unabridged version.

Keep safe, stay well, and reach out to your friends and family who could be struggling with isolation.

Quarantine Community Support

[UNLOCKED] bonus 032 - 1st April, 2020

I didn’t have too many replies to my community call-out last issue, but on twitter I’ve seen some friends of the newsletter struggling with lost work, and wanted to add them to the list, along with some former guests, and generally great people who could also do with some support. So below you’ll find 10 people doing great things, who could do with your support now, or just all the time.

If after seeing this you feel like you missed out, and want to get in touch - it’s never too late. I can always do another list, and hopefully keep expanding the network of community and support that this newsletter is tapped into.

Anyway, on with the list!


Ahmet is a Turkish journalist and internet activist, who’s available to write, and to offer online talks and/or workshops on journalism in the modern day, internet activism, censorship, and related topics. Not only does he have some great experience on offer, he’s also working within a censorious system and as such could offer important insights that journalists in the US, UK, etc might not be privy to.

If you want to get in touch with Ahmet, you can do so here, or if you simply want to help support his work, he also has a Patreon.

Alasdair is a Hugo and BFS finalist pop culture writer. It can be easy to write snarky about something you hated, and that kind of snark can earn you views, but that’s not Alasdair’s bag. He focuses only on the things he is excited about. If you’re interested in commissioning Alasdair to write for your SFFH/fandom-related site, conduct an interview, or similar, please get in touch.

And if you want to keep up with everything Alasdair does, his fantastic newsletter is The Full Lid, he is one of the co-publishers behind the Escape Pod network of SFFH short-fiction podcasts, containing Escape Pod (sci-fi), Pod Castle (fantasy), PseudoPod (horror), and Cast of Wonders (young adult) Also, if you want to support the (frankly astounding amount of) work that Alasdair does, he has a Ko-Fi.

Alison Evans is a fantastic writer of queer, Aussie YA, and is also the co-editor of the Concrete Queers zine, and the fiction editor at the Enby Life journal. If you’re looking for great queer fiction for your teen (or yourself), Alison’s work is full of warmth and heart.

They are also available to run (online) workshop or give (online) talks on writing fiction, zine creation, character, creativity, motivation, and more. Contact deets here.

And lastly, Alison also runs a patreon, focussed on writing advice, submissions round-ups, and the like.

Andrew Macrae is a brilliantly sharp writer and editor, who “has more than 12 years experience producing content for print and web for a diverse range of clients from the community, private and government sectors.” Basically, if you run any sort of organisation, and you need a highly skilled and highly professional writer and/or editor to look over your internal and/or external comms, Andrew is more than up to the job.

For information on his professional services, just click here.

Not only that, but Andrew has also written one of my favourite Australian sci-fi novels: TruckSong. It’s a weird ride through a post-apocalyptic Australia, filled with drugs, danger, and semi-sentient self-driving trucks that roam the highways like wild horses. Here’s the publisher’s link if you need more information in order to track it down.

And lastly, Andrew has a great newsletter, slow worries, which is too eclectic to easily describe, but always interesting.

You know who Damien Williams is, right? He’s only one of the most interesting and thought-provoking philosophers working today, looking specifically at issues including race, disability, LGBTIQA issues, justice, surveillance, machine learning, and the intersections between these (and more).

If you’re looking for someone to talk about any of these issues (in an online capacity, for now), you’ll find his full (impressive) CV and a contact email address here.

You can sign up for his newsletter here, or sign up for his Patreon for early access to the newsletter as well as other works/essays/ideas as he develops them.

(I don’t actually know if Damien is struggling at the moment thanks to COVID-19, but I’m not likely to miss an opportunity to point more people to his work.)

John is the brilliant photographer and designer who was with us on this newsletter when it first launched. He is a hugely talented photographer and photo retoucher, I mean, just look at some of his work here. A picture is worth a thousand words, etc etc, and in an instant you’ll recognise John’s sharp aesthetic, skill, and attention to detail.

He’s also just a really good dude.

I know a lot of musicians are struggling at the moment with cancelled gigs/tours, and no idea of when they might be able to get back on the road. The sad truth is that touring has been the best (or only good) way for musicians to make money for quite some time no, so a lot of people are hurting. So if you’ve got some money to spare, you could trawl bandcamp for some great new music, get digital downloads with no DRM, and know that most of the money is going straight to the artists involved (unlike music streaming services who pay artists next to nothing).

Lucy Swope is a former newsletter guest, and one half of the band Ghost Cop. If you want some gorgeous, dark synthwave, please go check them out. And if you need more links for the band: bandcamp | iTunes | Spotify | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | newsletter

If you need more sci-fi goodness to help you through quarantine, former newsletter guest Maddison Stoff has a collection of experimental cyberpunk stories published in the collection For We Are Young and Free.

Marlee Jane Ward is part of our newsletter family, and also one of the most vibrant voices in Australian sci-fi today. She’s currently out of work thanks to COVID-19, so if you want to check out her amazing and award-winning novella trilogy, now would be a great time. Titles and cover art at that link to help you track them down.

If you’d like to support Marlee while she works on her next book, she has a Patreon. Or if you’re looking for someone to give a talk or workshop about writing, sci-fi, dystopia, memoir, mental health issues, etc, you can contact Marlee here.

Ryan K. Lindsay is a comics writer and all-around great guy. He’s currently running a Kickstarter for his newest project, a sci-fi graphic novella SHE: At The Tower of All That Is Known. The campaign has already kicked arse, so now we’re in stretch goal territory.

Ryan also has a patreon that will no doubt prove invaluable for anyone looking for insights into comics writing, and he has a great newsletter that covers everything from his comics writing, family life, D&D explorations, and plenty more besides.

Alright, that’s it for now. Expect your usual nothing here dispatch at the same nothing time, on the same nothing channel.

Bingewatching the end of Civilisation

[UNLOCKED] bonus 031 - 29th March, 2020

Bingewatching the end of Civilisation

Or, The Year Without Summer Blockbusters

Greetings my fellow (in)voluntary shut-ins. We all live in Invisible Monasteries now. But, instead of dropping the last installment of those writings, I figured a good old fashioned DXC-style rant about entertainment at the end of civilisation might be in order, so here goes:

How are you? Are you well? That's how people greet each other in the classic UK TV series, Survivor. This show is even older than me, which is saying something lol. It’s also the kinda ‘return to the simple life in the countryside / English manor porn’ after the world falls apart that the guys who wrote the Dark Mountain manifesto prolly jerked off to every night while Damon Albarn sang ‘get out of cities / return to trees’ somewhere in the background. Also, it’s set in the aftermath of a ‘chinese flu’ - which is something about I definitely didn’t recall until looking over the wiki entry. Gotta love that long lingering xenophobia, huh? :/ Still, it’s def some content for our times.

While we’re playing way-back-machine, I can’t go any further without recommending the greatest tv show ever made: The Prisoner - ‘cause a kid in my writing class only got my reference to it via Austin Powers. Yet its DNA can be found in such almost-contemporary shows like Person of Interest - another great show to binge today if you misfiled it under yet another crime show procedural? You can see New York before the Fall etc etc. In another ‘nother timeline, The Prisoner - aka Patrick McGoohan - was a better, non-misogynist Bond (guess why he didn’t get the role?). In our I’M GONNA SING THE DOOM SONG reality though, the latest installment in that particular franchise won’t be out until at least November - when just maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll all be emerging from our respective caves, desperate for fresh shadows on the wall.

Right now though, the last movies to grace the big screens are being rushed to streaming - so, amidst everything else, we’re in this weird moment of getting new things delivered early, and then that particular supply chain drying up and a thousand over-stressed VFX artists polishing up 100+M movies that the studio execs are like, -snorts giant line of laced cocaine- dafuq do we even do with these Barry???

Of that batch, the most CGI-heavy is Vin Diesel being very Vin Diesel’y in Bloodshot. Which is like… fine I guess? Neither good nor bad. And not the worst attempt to bootstrap yet another cinematic masterpiece. By the start I was like, why aren’t I just rewatching GI Joe: The Rise of COBRA for the n’th time. By the end, I saw why Netflix was being very clever in giving Michael Bay a container full of cash to create his greatest work of vulgar cinema yet, in 6 Underground. Still, I would like a nanotech upgrade plz. And if that’s your jam, check out the Nietzsche reference laden Marvel Anime movie, Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore.

Speaking of failed attempts to kickstart franchises, maybe you suffered through Dracula Untold and still thought that Mummy reboot / attempt to reignite that particular universe might be good. Me too. Meeeee tooooo. You know who they should’ve tapped for that? Our local boy done good, Leigh freaking Whannell. Forget Saw (though I did like seeing him and James Wan present it way back in the before times) - unless you’re Chris Rock - and that other horror series, Upgrade was just my speed: frentic ultraviolent cyberpunk goodness. And you can see his asethetic in that carried over into his slowburn psychological horror #believewomen take on The Invisible Man - which was also dropped to streaming recently. Seriously, give Whannell a ton of money and a private island with a quarantined cast and production crew and let him show everyone how this is done today. Then let me know where the planes are taking off from, so I can sneak me and my dog aboard. We totally won’t go rogue and starting hunting people…

…that is, unless The Hunt turns out to be a work of prophecy, instead of Damon Lindeloff writing a very clever - how’s that working out for you guy? - version of the vintage Van Damme movie, Hard Target (and prolly a thousand other movies / books / comics / radio dramas and Greek plays). Still, it’s fun and Betty Gilpin is so freaking great in it she should storm the larger John Wick verse and go a rampagin’ with Halle Berry and her tactical-vested’ dawgs, should that actually continue to be a thing…

If that whets your appetite for more action, try Foxtrot Six as a taster for something a bit more exotic. It’s an English-language Indonesian dystopian future, lowkey cyberpunk action movie with fights sequences on par with The Raid (and FX on par with the original RoboCop lol). It’s also quite patriotic, but less on the nose about it than neighbouring Malaysia’s Paskal; both films having me mouthing the words ‘soft power’ too… and now that I’ve typed that, I have to give a shout-out to China’s Wolf Warrior movies. Also, by then you’ll be ready for a blood-soaked dessert like The Night Comes For Us. Or be in the mood for something completely different.

Two more items on the menu then. I dunno if Dark Gibsonian is a thing people say on teh Twitters, or whatever passes for a social network these days, but that’s definitely my two word summary of Alex Garland’s new (and final?) series DEVS. Again, it’s like… fine. I just keep waiting for it to break weird, and Netflix to come to their senses and uncancel The OA - which was weird and good and strange and hopeful and what we need more of in the world imho. Or whatever remains of it. ‘Cause the future, it looks a lot me running through the empty streets with my dog, finally LARPing I Am Legend for real, screaming ‘WALL-E WAS RIGHT’. And somewhere between now and the only Pixar movie I’m ever inclined to rewatch, sits Avenue 5. A cruise ship in spaaaaaaace… a dark, dark satire for the end times - where the oceans going toxic and the continued extinction of flora and fauana are casual conversational asides. If this show wasn’t a dire warning message to change course before the ‘Roana shockwave swept the globe, I’m sure those still quarantined on cruise ships around the world have a ready take for you.

Which is why I’ll be sitting in the room I once merely joked about being a climate bunker, watching something bright and joyful like Kipo and the Wonderbeasts tonight.

In the meantime, stay safe out there.. in there? everyone. Make friends with your neighbours, recruit for the coming revolution on dating apps, befriend a stray cat, summon a murder of crows to fight the COVID BLUES away. We’ll still be here when the dust clears, Inshallah.



nothing here but social contagion

issue 046 - 22nd March, 2020

CJW: This is a bit of an odd issue, because, well, these are odd times. 2 weeks ago the COVID-19 situation seemed like a distant concern (in my part of the world, at least), but in the past 2 weeks it’s become all anyone can think or talk about. I hope you’re staying safe and well. Please stay to the end - we’ve got some links that might prove useful, and also a community call-out that I hope people respond to.

This issue we say goodbye to Austin. We’re almost 2 years in, and 2 original contributors down. In another 3 years there will be no one here, just a sophisticated GAN I’ve trained to scour the internet and share links and rants with no need for human interference. But, until that hallowed day, you’re stuck with me (Corey J. White) at the helm, your current events sin-eater. And I'm still joined by Marlee Jane Ward (MJW), your fabulous goth aunt, and m1k3y (MKY), your pop culture pundit for the end of the world.

I’m sad to see Austin go, but life changes means he doesn’t have the time to dedicate to the newsletter. And for me personally, if it’s down to Austin taking the time to contribute here, or working on Oh Nothing Press and his own projects, I’d much rather see him writing and producing That Good Shit. So, godspeed, brother.

And for all the isolationistas out there in self-quarantine, Austin and I (and John! Early adopters will remember John) wanted to make the CREEPER ISSUE 1 PDF FREE FOR DOWNLOAD. It contains personal essays from Austin and I, a story from m1k3y, and great fiction, non-fiction, and art from our fantastic contributors.

On his way out the door, Austin leaves us with one final bonus letter: Chair Talk: 4 Chairs Encountered in Recent Strange Circumstances. To get access to it, our future bonuses, and the full archive, just go here to become a supporter.

CJW: Preparing for COVID-19 (via Damien Williams)

I’m sharing this piece by Leigh Cowart because it’s the best short and sweet summary of COVID-19 realities I’ve come across - just about all of these facts, figures and links I had come across elsewhere, but not all in the one place.

Related: What Does 'Social Distancing' Mean?


CJW: Social Contagion (via Ospare)

Now is not the time for a simple “Scooby-Doo Marxist” exercise of pulling the mask off the villain to reveal that, yes, indeed, it was capitalism that caused coronavirus all along! […] Of course capitalism is culpable—but how, exactly, does the social-economic sphere interface with the biological, and what kind of deeper lessons might be drawn from the entire experience?


[The outbreak] is an instructive opening in which we might review substantial questions about how capitalist production relates to the non-human world at a more fundamental level—how, in short, the “natural world,” including its microbiological substrata, cannot be understood without reference to how society organizes production (because the two are not, in fact, separate). At the same time, this is a reminder that the only communism worth the name is one that includes the potential of a fully politicized naturalism.

No doubt you’ve read a lot this past fortnight about COVID-19, but this is easily the most in-depth piece I’ve come across. It’s a long and well-researched look at the history of epidemics under capitalism, the conditions in China (and it's connections to the global economy) that made it likely for an epidemic to spread from there, whilst steering well clear of any of the racism and sinophobia that was particularly prevalent when the virus first hit. And, to be honest, it contains some pretty depressing stark truths about the totalising nature of global capital…

Also, it's a must-read if you're interested in modern statecraft and the possibilities of insurrection.


CJW: We're not going back to normal (via Ed)

The world has changed many times, and it is changing again. All of us will have to adapt to a new way of living, working, and forging relationships. But as with all change, there will be some who lose more than most, and they will be the ones who have lost far too much already. The best we can hope for is that the depth of this crisis will finally force countries—the US, in particular—to fix the yawning social inequities that make large swaths of their populations so intensely vulnerable.

The idea of 18 months of social distancing and the far-reaching changes it would wreak on our society are frankly frightening, but generally this piece is mostly sober and hopeful.

MJW: I have said sentences in the past two weeks I never thought I’d actually say outside of fiction. ...if work is still open because of the virus. ...if there’s any [whatever] still left on the shelves. I signed off a group email chain to a bunch of writers with ‘Let's hope that this doesn't last too long. Best of luck!’ which was code for ‘I hope we don’t get evicted and die!’ The group email was informing us that the event we were doing was cancelled. Every panel and festival we were doing is cancelled. The arts in Australia has collapsed in the past week. My job that pays the bills is customer-facing, close-quarters, impossible to do from home, and it will probably close soon. Like many Australians, I’m a casual employee so I have no paid leave. 

And all that’s before even worrying about how anyone I care for might get sick. 

I guess all this ‘me, me, me, my feelings, etc’ is to say that I’m having a lot of trouble engaging with these articles. I’m quite mentally ill on a good day, so this is heightening things to a furious level. I’m just hoping I emerge from this as a weathered, wizened apocalypse witch and not completely bonkers. I’d settle for as bonkers as I was before. 

Please excuse me as I wander around the rest of the newsletter, dazed and vaguely commenting in only feeling words. 


CJW: How to Generate Infinite Fake Humans (via Sentiers)

A quarter of a century later still, you and I and everyone else fashion the scraps of images and symbols, the physical exhaust of industrialism having given way to the symbolic exhaust of the information economy. The crowd isn’t made up of people anymore, but of pictures that might be people, of corporate brands impersonating them, of young people dancing politically in TikToks, of tweets about youths in TikToks, of disputes absent referents, of bots shouting into the void. Cacophony, an ever-amassing crowd awaiting a train that will never come.

An interesting take from Ian Bogost on deep fakes and the like, looking at modernism and the history of the city, and how since the beginning of the industrial age we’ve always been shocked and disturbed by unfamiliar faces. He argues that whether or not those faces are generated by a neural network is beside the point.


CJW: Why don't rats get the same ethical protections as primates? (via Dan Hill)

The logic behind these studies is paradoxical: rats are close enough to us to serve as models for human psychopathologies, but far enough to be outside of ethical concern. Researchers today would hardly dream of creating human psychopaths to study, or showing a human subject a real drowning child in order to offer a chance to rescue. The reason is simple: humans have an empathic nature that ought to be respected. But we do it to rats, despite their own empathic nature.

This piece via Dan Hill very much put me in mind of that essay by Jane Rawson I linked to a couple of issues back, in that both are about the ways we do (but more often do not) recognise the importance of the lives and suffering of non-human animals. An important discussion of human ethics and our failures in the face of animal empathy.

Related: Writing From the Point of View of a Chicken

Our error is not anthropomorphism, but the opposite. We refuse to believe, to the point of absurdity that we and they are first animals, that there is no us and them in this regard, only us, all of us.

This one also came via Dan Hill’s newsletter, which you should subscribe to if you haven’t already. Animals and ideas of interspecies solidarity are going to be more prominent in my future writings, so of course this piece about writing from the perspective of a chicken appealed to me. It also includes this fact I hadn't heard before:

Hens sing to their eggs and the embryos twitter back through their shells.

Read over that again.

Expect me to share more about animals, ethics, and related concerns as time goes on. I hope to write a sequel to my current WIP that includes perspectives that are not entirely human, so I’m very interested in how other writers have already approached it.

MJW: Oh fuck, now I’m sad about Rats, too.


CJW: How to design a smart city that's built on empowerment—not corporate surveillance (via Sentiers)

The city is not a lab; it is not the public’s interest to subsidize private companies’ experiments with little to no oversight. (To say nothing of constructing a surveillance state.) Even major consultancies such as Deloitte have found that most smart cities have failed to improve people’s lives, despite costing governments tens of billions of dollars.

This piece looks at the "problematic" nature of smart city technology today, and the further negative potentials of it in the future, using examples from both China (largely state-backed), and the West (largely driven by Big Tech). But that's just the starting point. As you can probably guess from the title it goes on to consider technological potential futures as a way of empowering users instead of harvesting them for data.


MKY: A few bits of good news/developments to hold onto as we watch the best and worst of people play out rn.

Last March, scientists announced that Mr. Castillejo, then identified only as the “London Patient,” had been cured of H.I.V. after receiving a bone-marrow transplant for his lymphoma. The donor carried a mutation that impeded the ability of H.I.V. to enter cells, so the transplant essentially replaced Mr. Castillejo’s immune system with one resistant to the virus. The approach, though effective in his case, was intended to cure his cancer and is not a practical option for the widespread curing of H.I.V. because of the risks involved.

A person with a genetic condition that causes blindness has become the first to receive a CRISPR–Cas9 gene therapy administered directly into their body.

The treatment is part of a landmark clinical trial to test the ability of CRISPR–Cas9 gene-editing techniques to remove mutations that cause a rare condition called Leber’s congenital amaurosis 10 (LCA10). No treatment is currently available for the disease, which is a leading cause of blindness in childhood.

"It is about finding another part in your supply chain that you can get rid of some plastic and find a sustainable and viable alternative," he says. "My only concern would be if it doesn't function as well. The cost difference is negligible."

Great Wrap is keen to create a plastic wrap alternative for the consumer market as well but for now is focused on the business to business market.

"The biggest issues we face around the world are B2B," Kay says. "It's great to see people using keep cups and reusable bags but we personally believe consumers are just tip of the iceberg."

MJW: Thanks for the good news, m1k3y. I needed that.


Cutting Room Floor:

MJW: In 2010, Australian teacher and honours student Angela Williams was hit by a motorcycle. She went to the police to make a statement, but instead was arrested for a thirteen-year old outstanding warrant and immediately placed in prison. Snakes and Laddersis about the way that sometimes the past just isn’t finished with you, no matter what you’ve done to outrun it. 

The story is told with all the analysis an academic mind can uncover from big ideas like ‘abuse’ and ‘incarceration’ and ‘addiction’, but with the emotional ferocity of someone who has lived them, and the prose of a powerful writer. 

Okay, yeah, I’m a little biased because Angela is a friend of mine and I read Snakes and Ladders in an earlier inception, but it doesn’t change that this is a powerful book. The sharp shock of prison after the freedom of a hard won, uni-educated, middle-class life is jarring. She brings to life the realities of women's prisons in Australia: the power imbalances, the mental illness, the shit and the heat and the small victories. 

Reading an earlier draft of Snakes and Ladders informed my writing Prisoncorp - which says something about the current dystopian nature of our nation's prisons.



CJW: Remember how at the end of 2018 we all looked forward to 2019 because we thought there was no way things could possibly get any worse, and then 2019 happened? It’s come to my attention that people thought the same thing about the transition from 2019 to 2020. Sorry to be the one to have to tell you this, but from here on out, things are only going to get worse and weirder, in ways that we couldn’t possibly even imagine until they happen.

I’m not trying to be hyperbolic, and I’m not trying to scare you, I just think that this accelerating chaos is our new normal, and we need to accept that and make the necessary adjustments and preparations. We also need to recognise that anyone trying to sell us a “return to normalcy,” or a return to some prior golden age (whether that is 2008 or 1958), is a charlatan. We need leaders who aren’t afraid to recognise that we need new solutions, or otherwise the power structures we’ve lived our lives under are going to collapse. This doesn’t have to be a catastrophic event - this can mean a return to local community and extended family as the default and less of this focus on global capital, the nuclear family, and hyper-individualism.

Last weekend MKY said that our lives (collectively, if not also individually) are now a series of wicked problems, and that seems like the best summary you’re likely to hear.

And just lastly: Inspired by Damien Williams’ recent newsletter, I thought I’d make a similar offer: if you are someone who makes a living from public speaking, touring, or selling your art at conventions and the like, and you find yourself facing some months of uncertainty in terms of work and finances, please feel free to get in touch. Hit reply and send me links to anything useful I can share here, and maybe a short description of what you do, so if anyone has need or want of your skills/services/art/music/etc they can get in touch. If we get enough replies, I might send out a bonus ‘Community Links’ letter, otherwise I’ll share them here next time.

Another option (shared via Ospare) is peer-to-peer wealth distribution via Leveler. If you’re a wage worker who can afford to, you can share funds with 10 freelancers affected by Coronavirus. It looks legit in that the group running it don’t touch the funds, they’re sent directly via Paypal/Venmo, but I’m feeling too precarious at the moment to try it out (my job is directly linked to schools, so if they close for an extended period, I may be out of work).

So yeah, scary times on the cards at the moment. But try not to panic. Try not to forget that there are people around you who are vulnerable and who need us to come together calmly and with compassion to help all of us get through this - not just the rich, the elite, or the people who’ve ravenously hoarded a garage full of toilet paper and hand sanitiser (either for personal use or racketeering purposes).

Because like I always say - we’ve only got each other.

Chair Talk

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