Saturday, February 28, 2009

Silent malevolent voices


You'll be seeing a post more or less identical to this one on a number of blogs this weekend, I think. But to add one personal note: it's been impossible to watch what's been happening in Britain over the past few years without a sense of surreal horror. It's as if the government wants to turn the UK into a theme park devoted to recreating scenes from 1984, The Prisoner, and V for Vendetta, but they're doing it so slowly and quietly that too few realize what's happening until it's too late to say anything.

Philip Pullman wrote an essay on this topic for the Times of London which would be worth reading for the power of its language alone. That essay appeared in the print version and then online. Now I'm posting it in its entirety below. Many other bloggers are posting this text on their own sites, for a reason I'll note at the end.

To mark the Convention on Modern Liberty, the children’s author has written this article

Are such things done on Albion's shore?

The image of this nation that haunts me most powerfully is that of the sleeping giant Albion in William Blake's prophetic books. Sleep, profound and inveterate slumber: that is the condition of Britain today.

We do not know what is happening to us. In the world outside, great events take place, great figures move and act, great matters unfold, and this nation of Albion murmurs and stirs while malevolent voices whisper in the darkness - the voices of the new laws that are silently strangling the old freedoms the nation still dreams it enjoys.

We are so fast asleep that we don't know who we are any more. Are we English? Scottish? Welsh? British? More than one of them? One but not another? Are we a Christian nation - after all we have an Established Church - or are we something post-Christian? Are we a secular state? Are we a multifaith state? Are we anything we can all agree on and feel proud of?

The new laws whisper:

You don't know who you are

You're mistaken about yourself

We know better than you do what you consist of, what labels apply to you, which facts about you are important and which are worthless

We do not believe you can be trusted to know these things, so we shall know them for you

And if we take against you, we shall remove from your possession the only proof we shall allow to be recognised

The sleeping nation dreams it has the freedom to speak its mind. It fantasises about making tyrants cringe with the bluff bold vigour of its ancient right to express its opinions in the street. This is what the new laws say about that:

Expressing an opinion is a dangerous activity

Whatever your opinions are, we don't want to hear them

So if you threaten us or our friends with your opinions we shall treat you like the rabble you are

And we do not want to hear you arguing about it

So hold your tongue and forget about protesting

What we want from you is acquiescence

The nation dreams it is a democratic state where the laws were made by freely elected representatives who were answerable to the people. It used to be such a nation once, it dreams, so it must be that nation still. It is a sweet dream.

You are not to be trusted with laws

So we shall put ourselves out of your reach

We shall put ourselves beyond your amendment or abolition

You do not need to argue about any changes we make, or to debate them, or to send your representatives to vote against them

You do not need to hold us to account

You think you will get what you want from an inquiry?

Who do you think you are?

What sort of fools do you think we are?

The nation's dreams are troubled, sometimes; dim rumours reach our sleeping ears, rumours that all is not well in the administration of justice; but an ancient spell murmurs through our somnolence, and we remember that the courts are bound to seek the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and we turn over and sleep soundly again.

And the new laws whisper:

We do not want to hear you talking about truth

Truth is a friend of yours, not a friend of ours

We have a better friend called hearsay, who is a witness we can always rely on

We do not want to hear you talking about innocence

Innocent means guilty of things not yet done

We do not want to hear you talking about the right to silence

You need to be told what silence means: it means guilt

We do not want to hear you talking about justice

Justice is whatever we want to do to you

And nothing else

Are we conscious of being watched, as we sleep? Are we aware of an ever-open eye at the corner of every street, of a watching presence in the very keyboards we type our messages on? The new laws don't mind if we are. They don't think we care about it.

We want to watch you day and night

We think you are abject enough to feel safe when we watch you

We can see you have lost all sense of what is proper to a free people

We can see you have abandoned modesty

Some of our friends have seen to that

They have arranged for you to find modesty contemptible

In a thousand ways they have led you to think that whoever does not want to be watched must have something shameful to hide

We want you to feel that solitude is frightening and unnatural

We want you to feel that being watched is the natural state of things

One of the pleasant fantasies that consoles us in our sleep is that we are a sovereign nation, and safe within our borders. This is what the new laws say about that:

We know who our friends are

And when our friends want to have words with one of you

We shall make it easy for them to take you away to a country where you will learn that you have more fingernails than you need

It will be no use bleating that you know of no offence you have committed under British law

It is for us to know what your offence is

Angering our friends is an offence

It is inconceivable to me that a waking nation in the full consciousness of its freedom would have allowed its government to pass such laws as the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the Terrorism Act (2000), the Criminal Justice and Police Act (2001), the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Extension Act (2002), the Criminal Justice Act (2003), the Extradition Act (2003), the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003), the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004), the Civil Contingencies Act (2004), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), the Inquiries Act (2005), the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005), not to mention a host of pending legislation such as the Identity Cards Bill, the Coroners and Justice Bill, and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Inconceivable.

And those laws say:

Sleep, you stinking cowards

Sweating as you dream of rights and freedoms

Freedom is too hard for you

We shall decide what freedom is

Sleep, you vermin

Sleep, you scum

Source: Times Online - Malevolent voices that despise our freedoms

The above link now gives a 404 error.

Update: After being missing from the website for around three days, the original piece has been restored and can be seen at the above link. No word yet on why it took so long to fix. Thanks to Garrie Burr for the heads up in the comments!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Aqua marina


Ms Vessey's mermaid tail was created by Wellington-based film industry wizards Weta Workshop after the Auckland woman wrote to them two years ago asking if they could make her a prosthetic tail. She was astounded when they agreed.

She lost both legs below the knee from a medical condition when she was a child and told Close Up last night her long-held dream had come true. "A prosthetic is a prosthetic, and your body has to be comfortable with it and you have to mentally make it part of yourself," she said.

Mermaid dream comes true thanks to Weta

That sound you just heard was the world becoming slightly more awesome.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

All stars, all lamps, all sources of light

As previously mentioned, the original broadcast of Between Time and Timbuktu in March 1972 was a major formative event of my childhood. With a script by David O'Dell based on characters and ideas from novels and short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, I found it endlessly fascinating and deeply disturbing, with the sense it was introducing me to truths about the world I wasn't actually supposed to learn just yet.

Many years later I acquired the published version of the script, loaded with stills from the broadcast, and that did a lot to refresh my memories...but I was never able to view for a second time the actual program that had such an impact on me. Until now.

Thanks to a fellow by the name Randy Wilharm, Between Time and Timbuktu can now be seen in its entirety on YouTube starting here.

My first reaction after thirty-seven years? I'd remembered the show as being dark and dystopian; I'd forgotten how funny it was. I remembered how funny Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were, but the rest of it has more humor and less savage social commentary than it seemed when I was little. But if you give it your time and attention, you might still see what unsettled a nine year old so much as to make me read all the Kurt Vonnegut books on my parents' shelves.

I'm indebted to Mr. Wilharm for making this available. Randy's blog Pre-70s Sci-fi Pictorial is full of stuff you will enjoy looking at, so go look at it.

"If all places in the universe are in the Aleph, then all stars, all lamps, all sources of light are in it, too." -- Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Putting the pieces together


Thanks all for your patience with my continued lack of updates! I devoted this past week after NYCC to getting some work out of the way, some of which was directly or indirectly the result of the convention. So, a brief update on where I'm at and where I'll be in the weeks to come...

I had some misgivings going into NYCC this year...partly to do with not yet being fully recovered from my medical stuff and not feeling quite ready for all the running around congoing entails, and partly to do with various unrelated personal and professional stresses weighing on my mind the night before. But it all came out well in the end. I felt a bit shaky the first day, and folks told me I looked pale and wobbly, but the exercise did me a world of good and by the end of it I was in great shape. Right now I could do another convention standing on my head if they'd only let me.

I had a good time, but I won't be doing one of those massive con reports this year. My one big regret is failing to hook up with fiend of this blog Sean Witzke at any time during the weekend, but it sounds like his dance card was full up without me. Much quality time was spent with Patrick Meaney, Redhead Fangirl, and the indefatigable Rob Kelly, Rand Hoppe of the Kirby Museum, and the folks from TwoMorrows and Sequart. Also, former Doctor Who star Colin Baker turns out to be a mighty engine of sheer charisma and likeability who turns otherwise sensible people into blabbering starstruck idiots. Not, some might say, so very far a journey for me, but there you go.

Since the con, I've finished my third script for Flashback Universe. (You know, if Jim had asked me first, I would have advised him against those initials...) My second script for them -- a two-fisted pulp adventure starring Flashback's Doc Savage homage character, Doc Nomad -- is on hold, so the new one would be my second published story for the line. I'd like to see the Doc Nomad story released someday, mainly because it has one scene in it I'd been waiting over fifteen years for a chance to write! But the new script features Flashback's most popular character and I'm pleased with how it turned out.

(In unrelated comics news, because people have asked: yes, I wrote a six-issue miniseries for an indie publisher last year. The book is currently being drawn. I've seen the first few pages and they're spectacular. Given the present state of the market I have absolutely no idea whatsoever when this project will appear, but it won't be this year. I can't discuss the story itself because my contract includes a confidentiality clause. I think telling you even that much violates my contract, so let's keep this between us for now.)

I'm also going to be editing a new book for Sequart, the publishers of Teenagers From The Future. This will be another anthology, but very different from the Legion book. The contributor notes in Teenagers included word of another project I've been writing for Sequart; that book has been pushed back -- entirely due to extreme slowness on the part of the writer, I hasten to add! -- and this one is being brought forward.

And as a reward for wading through all this self-promotion, here's something awesome:

Behold the Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage" lavishly recreated in Lego form by Flickr user Detail Man 60, a.k.a. Frank Elchesen: part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Con schedule update

I've been very busy and slowly recuperating from surgery over the past month, so my pre-convention blogging hasn't been up to much lately...but things are starting to improve both healthwise and schedulewise. Just to clear up some questions about my plans for NYCC this weekend:

I will not in fact have a prearranged signing schedule at any publisher's table this year. However, if you see me at the con, I will be more than happy to sign copies of my Fantom Force comic or my essay in Teenagers From The Future. If you don't already own a copy of the latter but will be at the con and want to purchase one there, the publisher, Sequart.com, will be at booth 2251. I'm just saying. If you don't already own a copy of Fantom Force as well as everything else published by Flashback Universe...what's your freaking damage? You did realize they're all free, didn't you? Yeesh!

I will not be appearing on or moderating any panels this year. However, I am willing to pay someone else to ask Dan Didio a certain question about the horrific train wreck that was published claiming to be Legion of Super-Heroes #50.

I will not be announcing any new miniseries or ongoing titles. I've been asked to wait on these until the moment is right/the economy has improved/this group of pigs receive their FAA certification as airline pilots rated for instrument-assisted takeoff and landing.

I will not be doing sketches or taking new commisions at the con. For a small gratuity, I will write you into my next script for Flashback Universe or another publisher to be named later. For a larger gratuity, I will give you a lead role, subject to editorial approval.

I will not be selling RAB-themed merchandise this year, nor will I be giving out t-shirts saying "Richard Bensam is Indifferent" to the first 100 people who speak to me. I'm sorry, but the logistics simply didn't work out this time. I'm not at all sure about the prospects for a line of RAB action figures at NYCC 2010 next autumn; I'll have to get back to you on that.

I will not autograph copies of the Richard Bensam nude calendar, as this was released without my permission and against my wishes. Nah, I'm kidding. There is no nude calendar. I just wanted to see if I'd get any hits on this blog from people searching for "Richard Bensam nude calendar."

What I will do is keep my eyes peeled for anyone whose blog I read who's attending the con -- or who reads this blog and mentions in the comments below that he or she will also be there -- and I look forward to the chance of putting faces to names as well as catching up with some really cool people. As in past years, my nametag will once again say "Estoreal" so as to spare you the ordeal of perhaps seeing my name but not remembering where you know it from, walking up to me to start a conversation, then awkwardly backing away in embarassment.

Hope to see some of you there!