nothing here but protest graffiti

issue 032 - 8th September, 2019

CJW: Welcome to another issue of nothing here. This time around we have a special guest - Melbourne-based author and critic Maddison Stoff.

I’m growing my hair for no good reason. I know, I’m bald, but I figure if I stick with it long enough, I could get a great mad/weird scientist look going on. Or at the very least I could grow a mullet. Baldness in the front, party in the back. (I apologise, but without twitter my weird brain needs a release valve somewhere…)

The bonus newsletters continue, with essays, fiction, and other oddness from one team member every alternating week. If you want to receive them as well as these issues, you can sign up to become a paid subscriber. If you can’t swing it, we totally understand, and these main issues will always be free.

  • Maddison Stoff (MS) - author, critic, and occasional musician from Melbourne, Australia. She writes experimental and pulp-inspired speculative fiction and reviews sci-fi for Aurealis. Her debut book, For We Are Young and Free, is out now on Dostoyevsky Wannabe.

  • Corey J. White (CJW) - Sci-fi author. Newsletter facilitator. Naarm/Melbourne.

  • Marlee Jane Ward (MJW) - Author & podcaster. Your fabulous goth aunt. On Wurundjeri land in Melbourne, Australia. @marleejaneward

  • Austin Armatys (AA) - Writer/Teacher/Wretched Creeper // Oh Nothing Press

  • m1k3y (MKY) - Wallfacer / salvagepunk / ecopoet // Dark Extropian Musings

CJW & MKY: Hong Kong protest wrap-up

We haven’t been doing a great job of keeping up with the Hong Kong protests, so here’s a broad selection of links to get you up to date with the whys and hows of the (inspiring and very “Cyberpunk now”) protests.

At Tsim Sha Tsui station we meet an arriving train full of demonstrators, some already wearing pink-capped respirators. We follow them up and out onto the street, emerging somewhat unexpectedly outside a mosque, where a South Asian woman on the steps is yelling “no photos!”. She doesn’t mean not to photograph the mosque. Rather, she’s yelling at people who are taking photos of the demonstrators from its steps.

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CJW: The Glimmer of a Climate New World Order (via Sentiers)

In fact, every single member nation of the G-7 is hiding some significant climate hypocrisy behind their pressure on Bolsonaro, however laudable that pressure is. But if the sum total of their collective action this year will be effectively dispatching the Brazilian military to fight fires local farmers had mostly under control, it will be a critically insufficient response. If their pressure forces Bolsonaro to abandon his plans for the Amazon, that would be considerably better. And yet there is much more to be done still, in each of their home countries, none of which are meeting the pledges they made under the Paris accords just three years ago. To pretend that Bolsonaro is the world’s only climate villain, or the Amazon the only region in the world currently in climate crisis, is an act of grand self-delusion.

A really interesting look at some of the political maneuvers happening in the wake of the fires in Brazil, and some possible futures we might see when governments finally begin to come to grips with climate change. 

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MKY: Oceans turning from friend to foe, warns landmark UN climate report

NATURE VS MAN: let them fight?

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CJW: Singapore Says Musk's Electric Cars Are About 'Lifestyle,' Not Climate and they're not wrong. One fact I picked up from the Ashes Ashes podcast is that hybrid vehicles are actually better overall than electronic vehicles because of the massive amounts of energy required to manufacture the batteries the cars versus their expected lifespan. So, yes. If Tesla cared about the environment, they'd be making hybrids, but they're really only interested in selling a high-tech lifestyle and brand (and allowing rich people to pretend that they're doing something for the environment when they CONSUME CONSUME CONSUME).

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MS: Say hello to ‘antira,’ the far-right’s answer to antifa

this is not a long article by any stretch, but I found the implications (in the context of the rise of fascism generally, plus the way conservatives describe and talk about their politics,) slightly terrifying. Obviously it’s just a meme right now, but that’s how a lot of nasty things have started in the last decade or so.

I think I see it largely as another tool the right can use to avoid responsibility for the systematic stuff, or another permutation of the propaganda they’ve been using for the last few decades. It’s not just this. It’s the approach it represents. Conservatism isn’t popular because it’s harmful and exploitative. But if conservatives can recontextualise it as a difference in opinion and remove it from its ideological assumptions… by claiming they’re against them from the outset… I don’t know. It’s very 1984. Using language to reshape the world. I talk about this stuff a little in my book as well, For We Are Young And Free. Even the title is an evocation of this mode of propaganda. It was really interesting to me in the wake of the 2013 Australian election, where I couldn’t quite believe how well it worked. I even wrote a thing on it for Overland. I’m not surprised by it’s success today though. Just afraid.

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CJW: As summer camps turn on facial recognition, parents demand: More smiles, please

[...] hundreds of summer camps across the United States have tethered their rustic lakefronts to facial-recognition software, allowing parents an increasingly omniscient view into their kids’ home away from home.

There is so much that is wrong with this. There's the obvious "cyberpunk dystopia now" element, but I also just wonder what kind of parent would want this system, or would lose themselves so utterly in their children's lives. I'm sure they think it's love, but from the outside it looks really unhealthy for parent and child. Disclaimer: I am not, and have never been, a parent.  

MS: I think the most sci-fi thing about this is that it feels like an actual short story somebody would have written 10 or 20 years ago? This sort of over-protective, vaguely counter-productive helicopter parenting is definitely something I’m familiar with, and I’m pretty sure that I remember people talking about it when I was a kid. It’s being mediated through technology in an incredibly uncomfortable way, but we’ve been training parents into thinking that this sort of intervention is acceptable for ages. We’ve allowed them to believe that it’s acceptable for them to have control over their children’s bodies, their identities, and their experiences, purely on account of the fact that these are “their children” and not old or self-aware enough to make their own decisions. So it’s sensible to me that sometimes that extends to micro-management, where micromanagement is made possible. And nobody will ever question parents micromanaging their children either. Even down to such aggressive monitoring of their experiences. I think that’s something that society in general needs to challenge. I think it double from a queer perspective, where there seems to be a lot of people who believe that is right and just that parents should be able to keep LGBTI+ experiences from their children until they are older, despite the fact that grown adults (who used to be those children,) all agree that it was bad for their development. It’s so culturally-engrained that we’re often looked at as the problem if we point it out: we get accused of “grooming kids”. Never mind the deep homophobia and transphobia required to believe that that’s the case. It’s the technology that makes this look so strange. The drive for it? Unfortunately all too normal. I don’t think that we should call it love either. It feels more like control.      

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CJW: I tried to glitch the simulation and all I got was a bottle of pee (via Ospare)

Getting started is easy. Log into the Telegram messaging app and send the command “/getattractor” along with your location to @shangrila_bot (formerly, you could also message @Randonaut_bot). The bot will plot out thousands of nearby geolocation points using a quantum random number generator, and spit out the area with the highest concentration of points near you. Conversely, if computer-determined desolation is more your style, you can send the command “/getvoid” and through a similar process, the bot will send you a location where there are no randomly plotted points. On Reddit, Randonauts have reported finding things like an upside-down airplane; a llama, standing totally still; three identical black cats; a family of horses in a public park; and a bird that also refused to move. Under the auspices of “/getvoid,” users have reported finding derelict locales, creepy signage, and other marks of decay. Think of it as geocaching by way of Marianne Williamson.

AA: I’ve been following Nick Hinton and this project for a while now, but I’ve yet to actually take the plunge and go Randonaut-ing, primarily because I don’t want to download another fucking messaging app. Hinton’s twitter is pretty good if you’re interested in conspiracy theories - he has long threads on topics like the dimension-eliminating properties of the colour purple, the “Saturn time-cube”, and the possibility that reality itself was destroyed in 2012. You can see a master list of his conspiracy threads here.   

I particularly enjoyed this section of TFA: 

We requested another attractor, and this time, the bot led us to a bottle of urine, resting on the ground in front of a shuttered office. I later learned finding piss-bottles is so common that discovering them has become a Randonaut meme. In the Telegram group, someone suggested to me that piss is “entangled with consciousness.” Indeed, there are few things that will make you feel as alive as you do when stumbling across a vessel full of someone else’s bodily fluids.

Pisswizardry!

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Cutting Room Floor:

MS: When I was sick last year recovering from a difficult psychotic episode, I read a lot of books about hallucinations to help me understand what I’d experienced. Julian Jaynes The Origin Of Consciousness in The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mindis the one that stuck in my mind the most, despite the fact I initially thought it would probably be the least useful of the books that I was reading. It’s not a strictly scientific theory, but it is an interesting one: the idea that early human consciousness was similar to what we now describe as a psychotic state, where people’s actions were driven predominantly by hallucinated voices from dead relatives or gods. The backing for this theory is complex and interesting, spanning thousands of years of Human history, so if you’re curious about it, I recommend you check it out. But I think what it has really helped me with is understanding what it might feel like to see (or be) a lifeform going through that process? The transition from sentience to sapience, the idea of consciousness as something that can be forced upon you from (what feels like) the outside, has been incredibly inspiring for my fiction, especially the stories that I write about machines. Westworld used the metaphor as well, so I understand it isn’t too original. But I think there’s something universally believable about it: even if I can’t say that it’s strictly true. This idea that self-awareness in synthetics might be inevitable, might be linked to the way that consciousness develops and expands in everything, is coming out continually in stories that I’m writing lately. It helps to have a book to use as scaffolding to link it all together.

AA: I found a yellowing copy of this book in my local library when I was about 10 or 11 years old, prompted (I think) by a mention in one of the Alan Moore interviews I obsessed over. I didn’t understand all (or even most) of this book, but my subsequent pre-teen quest to explain Jayne’s theory to others was good training for a life that would go on to feature many such moments of bewildered staring from indulgent family and friends. After reading Maddison’s discussion above, I think I need to give this thing a re-read and see what I missed the first time around.    

MJW: GLOW Season 3 

I feel like this show had the potential to run off the rails as the seasons progressed (like Orange is the New Black, and Weeds before it), but it hasn’t. Yet. Even though it’s about the over-the-top theatricality of wrestling, it understands nuance in a way that other TV shows don’t. It’s showing us the problematic behaviours of the time, and asking ‘how far have we really come?’ 

And too, GLOW expands out from being the Ruth, Debbie and Sam show, using the season to actually round out the cast of characters, not keeping a band of wacky sidekicks but actually fleshing out the ensemble. Highlights for me included the discomfort of the first episode’s Challenger explosion, the emergence of Sheila the She-Wolf, and the hideously uncomfortable episode where they swap characters and everyone suddenly realises that the racial stereotypes the wrestlers have been forgiving for two seasons to keep their jobs just aren’t funny. There’s a bunch about gender equality coming to the fore, that emerging eighties career woman ‘you can have it all!’ theory that doesn’t quite match up to practise.

ALSO: GEENA DAVIS IN A SHOWGIRL COSTUME.

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MKY: The Dead Don’t Die

In an age of reboots, this meditative art house zombie movie instead resets the genre right back to Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead... but for a 2019 audience. Where every other director’s first instinct seems to be going meta to make zombies fresh again, Jim Jamursarch pivots to multi-dimensional storytelling.

(SPOILERS START NOW) Sparkles fly off a manic-pixie dream girl, Selena Gomez, when seen from Caleb Landry Jones’s perspective. Adam Driver stands tall on the fourth wall, his StarWars key chain dangling, announcing early on that ‘this won’t end well’. When Bill Murray finally asks him how he knows this, Driver replies that it’s because he’s read the script. Murray is pissed in return, ‘cause Jim only showed him his scenes - ~“and to think what I’ve done for that guy.”. Then Tilda fucking Swinton slices her way through both their expectations. Cue the final battle, as hermit Tom Waits narrates from the bushes.

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MKY: POWER

The Wire with the energy of Ballers, with the most tragic love story I’ve seen since Hannibal at its heart. I can’t stop watching this show. Victor Garber (Alias) plays a hedonistic club magnate that totally hung out with Epstein. I’m still only halfway thru what exists of this show… WTF, Turtle from Entourage is lean lawyer now? Motherfucking HAN drifted over from Toyko to take the case. This show, wtf...

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MKY: LONG SHOT

A romantic screwball comedy, with two leads over 35. With a slightly older female lead. With… CHARLIZE THERON (and that seth rogen guy). It’s been said that Hollywood didn’t know what to do with Theron’s power… and she shoulda stolen this entire movie. The scenes were these two get on teh same level are just -fire emojis-. But… what this film seems to be saying is that, only in the wake of a Trump’esque President might America be ready to accept a genuinely progressive and female President… If that’s the future the liberals want, it’s still a  l o n g s h o t.

MS: Ion Fury Developer Backtracks, Says It Won't Remove Gay Joke Because Of 'Censorship'

I’ve been playing this one for the last few days and gameplay-wise, it’s pretty great. But there’s this shadow hanging over it because the devs are edgelord dickheads, and clearly want to pander to that section of their fanbase. I find it sad how something that used to be a very pure safe space for me has turned into a space of compromises with toxic customers instead. And I guess that everyone is feeling that way because that’s how these things start. But what really gets me about this one is the failure to draw a line between edginess/controversy and plain old (boring) punching down? It’s clearly been a marketing decision too. They backed down because of review bombing, and were obviously afraid of alienating their fanbase. But there wouldn’t have even been a controversy in the first place if they’d been aware enough to not include that content? Doesn’t anybody do a pass for sensitivity? Make sure your juvenile sense of humor is fun rather than pointlessly insulting? It’s old school Shadow Warrior plus Duke Nukem 3D with a female protagonist and a cyberpunk setting. That should have been a dream. But instead I have a game that hurts me every time I boot it up. That I can never buy or recommend to any of my queer or gender-diverse friends, which is almost all of them. Most of us would love the gameplay too. It’s just sad.

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CJW: Can We Be Kind

I mentioned this last year when Charlotte Shane published it, telling y’all to subscribe to her newsletter. At the time though, the letter itself hadn’t been made public, so you were all missing out on a beautiful essay. She’s made it available for reading at tinyletter, as it accompanies a new piece she has up at Bookforum about Jonathan Safran-Foer. If you consider yourself an animal-lover (or even if you don’t) I think this is a must-read.

CJW: Boonta Vista Episode 113

One of the things we often discuss in this newsletter is the way neoliberal capitalism is co-opting every single facet of our lives in the name of efficiency and streamlining workflow for our overlords - always being on-call by default because of your smartphone, eating lunch at your desk, drinking soylent so you don’t have to spend time making food, exercising so you’ve got more energy for the office, and on and on (and hell, that’s just the personal-level stuff). In this episode of the fantastic Boonta Vista Socialist Club, they read through an article about corporate breakfast raves called ‘Daybreaker’. The whole thing is so horrifyingly dystopian, I can’t believe it isn’t a work of cyberpunk fiction. Drink- and drug-free raves (with optional earlier yoga) before work? Just fucking kill me. But of course capitalism has to co-opt rave culture* and convince everyone that they “don’t need drinks or drugs to have fun”. Fuck off, maybe we need to get wasted just to decompress after a week of utter drudgery at our bullshit jobs.

*I would say Mark Fisher is spinning in his grave, but no doubt he saw this coming.

MS: Population of One: Living Alone in an Abandoned Ghost Town

I found this sort of fascinating on two levels: one, as the story of a woman who’s repopulated an abandoned town, which is interesting because it’s something lots of us are going to be doing once society collapses in the next few decades, and two, as an exploration of a real-world post-apocalyptic space existing (and created) by our capitalist society. I’ve been thinking about making up these spaces in SF: a post-apocalyptic mode of cyberpunk where the gap between the “haves and have nots” is even more stark than it usually appears. Think rich people living in enclosed communities while poor people live a Mad Max life around them. I’m referencing this concept in a project that I’m working on with Marlee, and at least one story of my own outside of it.

CJW: Maybe I’d die out there, but I would love to do a residence there once it was up and running.

MS: Same. And I would definitely die out there, no question.

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AA: Rabbit’s Blood by Sarina Nihei

This is a trippy little animation I found via Jesse Moynihan’s Patreon Blog (you might know him from the comic Forming or as an integral part of the Adventure Time team). This cartoon has a charming hand-made style and a lot of character. It’s kind of like Maus meets David Lynch, maybe?

AA: Mr. Bungle’s 3rd album California turned 20 this year, so I’ve been obsessively reading about the creation of this brilliant album. Besides the sheer technical complexity behind the record (probably the final statement in multi-layered analogue production, and influenced by studio masterpieces like Smile or An Electric Storm), this album touched on a ton of themes that are more relevant today than ever: the alienating effects of technology, the “Californian ideology”, Spectacle and Simulation, transhumanism, cultural hegemony and the end-of-history. I particularly recommend this recent interview with Trey Spruance (Bungle multi-instrumentalist and the genius behind band-of-bands Secret Chiefs 3), where he eloquently riffs on the album’s meaning and creation. 

Here’s Trey talking about his song None Of Them Knew They Were Robots, which is broadly about the concept of “Singularity”: 

I found myself rifling through the "history of ideas" to such a degree that I ended up with a pretty surprisingly coherent chronological chart of the history of every permutation of (the singularity), from ancient paradigm to heresy of antiquity to modern cosmological construct for cybernetics tinkerers and biological engineers. Those things all overlap in startling and informative ways. During the writing of the piece I guess I had Borges, John von Neumann, Philip K Dick whispering in one ear and Evagrius Ponticus and Georges Lemaître and Teilhard de Chardin in the other.

 Also worth a read is this comprehensive overview of the album. Oh, and Mr. Bungle reformed for some shows, but they’re all sold out, and in America. I hope this means that there’s still a chance we’ll get LP #4, but I’m not holding my breath…  

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MJW: Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell

Being chronically depressed for most of my life, I do have a soft spot for Lana’s particular brand of sad-girl drone. I agree that the lyrics on the new album are spot-the-fuck-on, but I did have trouble with the somewhat endless feel of the record, the way the songs sort of bleed into one another in a stuporific sonic daze. I really dig the cleverness of this album, but I also really miss the cheeky, poppy songs she used to bust out now and again. A bit of variation on tone? I love a low-key alto cruiser of a song as much as the next very depressed person, but I don’t only love that, you know?

MS: I’ve always had this thing I’ve tried to do where everything I ever write is set in a consistent universe. And when I say always I mean always, way back to before I even had consistent concepts to rely on. I still keep an old deviantartaccount with sci-fi written in my teenage years from as early as 2004, and sometimes I will reference it in newly published stories. It’s not so much that I expect (or even necessarily want,) anyone to ever see my very early fiction, but I’m fascinated by creating narratives with histories. It makes things feel a bit more real to me, and it’s been an interesting challenge to pull in these little disparate (often contradictory, at first,) bits of world-building from wildy unrelated stories to create an illusion that they’re set inside a living universe. It was really hard to make it all fit together at first. But once you go along and get a feel for the timeline of your stories, how everything fits together, you’d be amazed at how much extra detail you can cram into them without having to affect the normal flow or word-count. I love that throwaway references to media in say, my book, are these arcane references to things I wrote when I had no idea what I was doing. That they have some substance, beyond being a name or phrase, even if no one will ever see it. 

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MJW: This?

CJW: Dying Culture

I’d kinda forgotten about this post until Ahmet A. Sabancı mentioned it in his latest newsletter. The post originally started as something I wanted to put in the newsletter, but I quickly realised that with the hefty quotes and my own commentary, it was quickly going to get out of hand. So, here’s this - a discussion about art and culture, spurred on by Damien Williams and Darren Allen.

MS: Maybe it’s because I got really into Nietzsche at an early age, but it’s hard for me to see the flattening of culture as an ending rather than the start of something else? That idea he had about eternal recurrence, life running in a circle, seems pertinent here. The rehashed nostalgia of media like Stranger Things is one side of the coin, the endless, nameless hybrid forms we’re seeing is another. I keep thinking about Bandcampmusic, how that’s practically become a genre of its own. You hear it in a project like Black Dresses, who are obviously connected to the alternative music of the past (they sound a bit like Xiu Xiu’s Dear God I Hate Myself, except they keep on expanding on the theme rather than discarding it for something else), but mostly only reference themselves, or in Thelma’s unclassifiable mix of Kate Bush by way of Katie Jane Garside vocals over delicate, almost-childish synth lines, matched with diarylike lyricism on The Only Thing. It seems to me we’re in a transitional stage between the flattening (or ending) of culture, and the start of something unnamed after that: of course it’s historically marginalised groups that lead the way there, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain, but I don’t think that process will stop with us, especially if things like automation and basic income mean that everyone has the time and motivation to create (as Bertrand Russel predicted in In Praise Of Idleness, an essay that I recommend quite often in my conversations, and feel the need to mention again here). I think we’re looking at the start of a post-culture period of increasingly uncategorizable innovation and artistic change, and since culture itself is a patriarchal, largely middle-class phenomenon, a value system artificially imposed upon a larger world, the death of it looks wonderful to me. I think about the end of everything a lot, because climate change will probably mean the end of the world in our lifetimes. But I think as long as we retain a biosphere, which admittedly is optimistic, there’s a lot of hope in that. The world is too broken and too big to fix, and I believe that culture is the same. Perhaps the end of things will lead to new beginnings after all the dust has settled. New ways of thinking about everything. It’s better to have hope for that then dwell on what we’ve had to leave behind. I guess that’s what was on my mind when I wrote Leisure Culture, my new short story coming out in the September 2019 issue of Aurealis about an almost extinct group of working class Australians consuming media in VR to survive. I have some free ones up online as well if anyone is interested. Alyssa, The Pastel Queen of Nightmares is my personal favourite, though you might also like The Hunter if you’re interested in the post-apocalyptic style of cyberpunk I mentioned earlier. I’ve also got some others you can find on Google if you look around. I try to make the bulk of what I do as open and accessible as possible. I strongly believe that all art should be free.

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CJW: And that’s it for another issue. I’m feeling a little rough around the edge, and this letter’s getting on a bit, so let’s keep this brief, shall we?

Look after yourselves, and reach out if there’s anything we can do for you.