I received The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi, as a christmas present, and the lazy season being as it is started reading immediately. I was initially interested and a little disappointed, but the book soon turned a corner and became an excellent and impressive read.

The book is set in a medium-future post-collapse Bangkok, after global warming has devastated the climate, peak oil has devastated the economy, and international agribusinesses have (possibly deliberately) devastated the biosphere. In a world without oil or significant biodiversity the economy depends heavily on calories – energy for large swathes of the population is generated through human or animal motion, i.e. through converting calories to electricity, and stored in springs and batteries. It is a world of windup radios and huge genetically-engineered elephants generating power through treadmills. It is also a world in which basic foods and animals we take for granted have disappeared through the reckless (or perhaps deliberate) behaviour of the calorie companies, whose genetically-engineered disease have gone wild and destroyed much of the plant and animal life of the world, leaving whole nations dependent on the genetically engineered crops that the calorie companies release every year.

In amongst all of this the kingdom of Thailand survives independent of the calorie companies and free of starvation, and is slowly reintroducing species of plant that have passed out of living memory. The suspicion is that they have a seedbank, but were this to be confirmed the calorie companies would happily destroy the kingdom to find it. The story concerns the interactions of several characters – a foreign businessman seeking the seedbank and his Malaysian Chinese refugee assistant; a Japanese genetically engineered “New Person,” (the eponymous “windup girl”); and a representative of the Thai Environment Ministry. These people are slowly brought together in an environment of intense pressure as the political pressures within the city slowly build up to breaking point.

My initial disappointment at this book was the standard trade in racial stereotypes. The Malaysian Chinese man was so racist and thought in such stereotypical “old” chinese lines as to be a caricature; the Japanese girl is genetically designed to be subservient, obedient, and enjoy sex even when it is rape – she moves with strange, awkward movements and attracts and repulses foreigners; and the Thais are all lazy and corrupt (bar one). Everyone distrusts every other race and everyone follows their own racial tropes. But in a rare achievement for any book of any genre, the characters quite quickly begin to overcome supposedly powerful racial and cultural traits, becoming instead well-rounded and interesting individuals whose personality reflects their cultural background without being overwhelmed by it. The Malaysian Chinese refugee, initially quite a detestable character, is portrayed (I think) quite sensitively in the light of the traumatic events of his flight from Malaysia and his new-found paranoia and trauma, and his behaviour becomes increasingly understandable as the story progresses. The Windup Girl’s continuing battle against her genetically-designed instinct to serve makes her a strong and interesting character, even in the face of her obvious personal weaknesses; and the Thai characters very quickly differentiate themselves from a common mass of corrupt and lazy “Asians” to become a society who, despite their many flaws, survive proudly where all around them have collapsed.

This book also does something which I am disappointed to say is very rare in science fiction: it attempts to portray a post-global warming, post-peak oil world. We know these things are coming to us, and although we don’t necessarily expect them to be catastrophic (as this book portrays them) they nonetheless make excellent fields of inquiry for speculative fiction, but they’re sadly rather thin on the ground. Why is this? It seems like a woeful dereliction of duty by the speculative fiction world to have not bothered to create such settings. It’s not as if Sci-fi hasn’t concerned itself with post-apocalyptic stories, so why doesn’t it make more effort with post-semi apocalypses? I would have thought that even if one rejects the claims of climate scientists, it still makes a very interesting world to explore. But there seem to be precious few. This book does a really good job of portraying the kind of world one might imagine would arise after the end of oil, as well as the consequences of a general biodiversity catastrophe, an interesting challenge to think about. Even though at its heart the spring-driven energy storage concepts described in the novel are completely unrealistic, and the calorie economy probably overly optimistic (modern agriculture turns oil into calories, and is unlikely to survive peak oil), the presentation is believable and sets up an interesting set of constraints and demands for the characters to work within. The concept of a seedbank as a treasure worth destroying nations for (as is implied happened in Finland) is a very nice touch, for example.

This book also has a tight plot and a really good way of merging a couple of different stories together. My only complaint about the plot is that ultimately the thread involving the foreign businessman seemed strangely unnecessary (except for its role in an important coincidence) and it could probably have been made more relevant in the final third of the book with a few minor plot tweaks. There were also a few unnecessary sidelines involving the Environment Ministry workers, which could have been cut out I think. But besides that, the plot was tight, believable, exciting and tense. It reminded me in many ways of a good Neal Stephenson book without the sudden collapse at the ending, and where everything comes together well instead of looking all a bit confused and wayward.

This book is, overall, an excellent read, with a believable post-apocalyptic world with a really interesting back history, engaging characters who you really come to feel for, in an exotic and novel setting where everyone plays for very high stakes. Well worth trying out, even if you don’t think environmental apocalypse is on the cards, or aren’t that interested in Asian settings.

Comments on my last post have become bogged down in a debate that makes it hard to think clearly about the things I’ve been discussing in this series of posts about Tolkien and racism. Specifically, I think we’ve drifted off the main thread of the arguments, and become distracted from the issue of racial essentialism in Tolkien by a nasty debate about whether Tolkien’s work was fascist. So this post is an attempt to regather my thoughts (I find the cut-and-thrust of internet debate can cause me to drift off of the main thread of a thought).

I think my interlocutors have become a bit bogged down in defending Tolkien against a misinterpretation of scientific racism, which gives it a stronger set of conditions than it actually and historically carries, so I’m going to try and clarify that. In this post I will remind my readers of the way scientific racism works, and discuss the additional properties of Nazi racism. I’m also going to try and set out a method by which an author can unintentionally make a Nazi racial model for their work through combining two quite separate narrative ideals, and I’m also going to try and set out an alternative plot for Lord of the Rings that would be almost exactly the same as the original but substantially less concerned with the inherent moral differences of races, in an attempt to show how a very similar text could be less vulnerable to scientific-racist interpretation.

Scientific racism and racial essentialism

The fundamental property of a theory of scientific racism or racial essentialism is that it ascribes moral properties to a race, and assumes they’re racially inherited. This is different to, say, racism, which ascribes moral properties to a race but assumes they’re not genetic; or scientific analysis of cultures, which assigns certain properties to a culture and assumes that you have to grow up in the culture to get them; and connects this to a race only inasmuch as a race is connected to the culture.

When scientific racism assigns a moral property to a race, that assignation isn’t absolute or invariant – it’s an average level around which the race is generally assumed to deviate, and in most models it’s not absolute. As we’ll see, the exception to this is Nazism which (pretty much) assigns immutable, eternal and unvarying evil motives to a single race (Jews). So in general a scientific racist theory will make statements like

  • [Race A] is less moral than [race B]
  • [Race A] is inclined to savagery and barbarism [with the implicit contrast to race B]
  • [Race A] cannot rise above their base instincts, and will never aspire to the higher art or culture of [race B]

These statements tend to allow for diversity within the framework, and specifically they allow members of race B to be degenerate. In fact, the concepts of degeneracy applied to [race A] tend to be grounded in discussion of the “worst types” of [race B], and historically they’ve often been taken from descriptions of the poor and working class members of the society of [race B]. Saying [race B] is better than [race A] is not a statement that is everywhere and absolutely true; it’s sometimes (or often) the case that members of [race B] behave like [race A] or can be corrupted to so behave – this is the essence of the fear-mongering and salacious marijuana scare books of the 50s, for example.

Further, it’s important to note that a lot of scientific racism is based on an underlying fear of [race A], and especially of [race B] becoming like [race A]. For such a fear to be viable, there has to be some real life risk that [race B] will occasionally (or frequently) behave like [race A]. This is especially evident in racial essentialist arguments against cultural mixing. The fear isn’t just that the races will interbreed, but that the mere presence of large numbers of [race A] doing bad things will cause [race B] to do more of them.

As a concrete example, consider some more modern racial essentialist theories based in pop pscyhology. Under these theories black people have “poor impulse control.” This means that, for example, young black girls can’t resist the urge to have sex, and get pregnant as teenagers. This theory doesn’t preclude white teenage pregnancies, because it allows for the existence of white girls with poor impulse control (usually it sees these girls as poor or working class, often living in neighbourhoods with lots of black people). But it is used as an explanation for high black teenage pregnancy rates (and is often followed up with an argument that special funding for programs to reduce teen pregnancy in black communities are a waste of money because the problem is “biological”). This racial essentialist theory will be stated as “blacks have poor impulse control” but it doesn’t actually exclude poor impulse control in whites.

Nazism’s special additions

Nazism is unique among these theories for adding a narrative of purposeful evil and corruption to the racial model. Jews are seen as not just immoral but always and everywhere evil, as represented in the essay The Eternal Jew. This evil is racially inherited, so immutable, and the deviousness and evil of the race is seen as such that mere exclusion is insufficient – extermination is the only solution. This model does not, however, preclude the possibility of evil in the “superior” races of whites. It presents a heirarchy of corruption, in which Jews are, for example, much better able to manipulate blacks than whites, and Germans and British are much more resilient to manipulation than, say, slavs or (sub-human) Russians. In fact, this racial theory was adapted quite neatly to explain the importance of Jews in American life, and a theory of cultural isolation and racial and cultural mixing was used to explain the “special vulnerability” of Americans to Jewish manipulation.

Nazi racial theory doesn’t assume that all white people are pure though; in fact, it allowed for the possibility of genetic flaws in whites, and had eugenic programs to manage them; and it had a criminal justice policy which, though racially-oriented, also assumed that white people could do bad things. The key point here is “could.” The Nazi view of race was that white people could do good or evil according to their free will (though they were always looking for genetically eradicable causes of propensity to do certain things); but Jews could only do evil. This kind of model is essential to explaining the presence of gay Aryans, and of Aryans who voted against their racial interests (i.e. voted Social Democrat).

Nazism also has a narrative of corruption, with the Jew whispering in the ear of the white man to corrupt him from good. Such a narrative doesn’t preclude people choosing to do evil acts by themselves, but the big movements of the time were all seen in the light of Jewish corruption: Bolshevism was Russians being corrupted by the international Jewish plot of Marxism; British views of Germans were the fault of the Jewish media; and Germany’s defeat in world war 1 was the fault of Jews corrupting Germans at home through fear and hunger.

Tolkien and racial essentialism

Tolkien’s work fits perfectly into a racial essentialist model, presenting tiers of morality in the races. Elves, Dwarves, Halflings and humans have the power to do good or evil by their own free will; Orcs and Southrons do not, with Orcs being always and everywhere evil and Southrons somewhere in between. Amongst humans, levels of goodness are genetic, with the Rohirrim and Gondorians at the top, then the men they interbred with, and then the Dunlendings, and then Southrons etc. (all the servants of Sauron). These traits are clearly presented as racially inherited – even halflings’ resistance to the siren song of power is racial.

Note here that “level of goodness” is defined as a propensity to do good; a race doesn’t have to be presented as everywhere and always good in order to fit a racial essentialist model. It simply has to be more moral than other races.

Tolkien’s model has the further unfortunate property of mapping these genetically-inherited racial differences to a geographical and morphological scheme that fits our real world, making the races very easily interpreted in real-life terms.

Tolkien and Nazi racial theory

In addition to presenting a race as immutably evil, just as Nazis do, Tolkien’s work includes an additional narrative of corruption, which brings it closer to Nazi racial theory. The evil races are corrupted by a pair of evil Gods, and the most evil movements in human and elvish history are related to corruption and deception by these evil Gods. From a Nazi racial theory perspective, this is Morgoth as Marx and Sauron as Lenin. They deceive and corrupt other races to following an evil creed, but unlike the real-world versions, they don’t rely on races being created inferior; they corrupt them with their magic so that those races become their permanent servants. The inclusion of this additional magical element to a fantasy text doesn’t rescue the racial theory from the interpretation it deserves; and the use of supernatural figures to do the corrupting, rather than representatives of the evil races, is simply a device of the genre. These points don’t fundamentally change the narrative, which is one of corruption of basically good peoples by the representatives of an evil race. In this case the representatives are magical, not political activists; but the effect is the same. The single difference is that these representatives pre-date the races they control, and created the (genetically-inherited) corruption in those races, rather than arising from it. This is not a hugely important element of the narrative structure of the Nazi racial theory represented in the text, though it suggests a way in which a Nazi racial theory can be constructed by accident.

Creating and recreating racial stories

In this section we will consider narrative structure and intent, but by inferring possible intents we shouldn’t assume that we’re commenting on the author’s actual intent or character. It’s generally assumed, I think, that because Tolkien put a great deal of thought and work into his world then any representation of racial essentialism must also have been intended. I don’t think this is necessarily the case. All Tolkien had to do to put a racial essentialist context in his books was to a) want to put non-human races in and b) recreate the social and cultural theories of his time uncritically. Having spent years developing the languages, geography and histories of his world, it’s entirely possible that he didn’t put any specific effort into thinking about the underlying racial cosmology; he just assembled it unthinkingly from the standard model of his day. Just as today many sci-fi authors unthinkingly write the democratic and liberal structure of their own culture into their novels, so he may have reproduced the racial theory of his time.

I think this seems hard to believe to some people because of the detail of his effort, but I’ve been reflecting on gender and fantasy recently and I don’t think it’s so unusual. Ursula le Guin put a great deal of thought into the race of her protagonist in A Wizard of Earthsea, she outlined the geography of the world and the peoples therein, and she is generally respected for creating a detailed and internally consistent magic system that formed the core of the narrative of the stories; but when she sat down to write the book she unthinkingly reproduced the gender conventions of the genre even though she’s a feminist. By contrast, Tolkien seems to have been a bit of a radical in women’s issues and I think this shows in the text – I think he consciously chose to eschew the gender politics of the genre he was writing in (which at that time was not fantasy). In order to eschew the conventions of a genre or a social order, you have to make a decision. Reproducing them merely means writing within the genre without effort. If le Guin could do this with one of her central political ideals (feminism) I don’t see any reason to believe that Tolkien wouldn’t have done it with a political ideology that may or may not have been his central concern (I don’t think it was). The result is a powerfully racially essentialist narrative.

Unfortunately for Tolkien, he also put in a narrative of corruption and downfall, probably based on his Catholic principles (though again he may not have thought about this). I think it’s very easy to write two separate themes – one of corruption, and one of racial essentialism – in a text and produce by accident a Nazi racial theory. That’s pretty much what the Nazis did – they combined pre-existing religious ideas about corruption and downfall with a particularly strong racial theory of evil, and the result was an exterminationist racial theory. They did this deliberately, but I think you could do it by accident and get a quite similar politics. If you unthinkingly reproduce racial theories of the interwar era and consciously put in a narrative of corruption, you’ll probably get Nazi theory.

Another way of looking at this is to consider a modern version. Suppose you write a fantasy book in which one race – from amongst whom you select the protagonists – go to war to save another race from an evil magical ruler who has enslaved them. Now, without thinking about it at all, simply make the society the good guys come from be a democratic liberal society – that’s what you know and politics isn’t your central concern, so you just write it that way. Then, because you’re really concerned with censorship, or because you want to make the evil magical ruler an allegory for the Wizard of Oz, or because you want to make a feminist comment on beauty culture, or for some other similar reason, suppose that you write into your story that the evil magical ruler has banned all images of himself. Without meaning to, you’ve produced a fantasy text which is a perfect image of modern liberal interventionism, with the bad guy a model of the Prophet. It’s US vs. Iraq all over. Having done this, I don’t think you can complain if your novel is trumpeted by the Hitchens and Abramovitch’s of the world as the next Orwell.

An alternative racially neutral text

Now I’m going to present a slight modification of the original story which would make it less racially essentialist, though I don’t claim this version would be better – I’m doing this just as an example. First, suppose that Tolkien had written the Orcs as humans, whose savagery was caused by a curse invoked on them by Sauron. This curse is tied up in the one ring, which has been lost. The one ring maintains all its other properties, too. So long as this ring exists, any descendant of the original nation cursed by Sauron is reduced to barbaric savagery – i.e. behaves like an Orc, but is human in form. The books proceed in exactly the same way, except that at the end when the ring is destroyed it undoes the curse, and the cursed humans resume normal human traits. This provides an explanation for the sudden victory at the Black Gate, it allows us to understand what happens at the end of the story, just as does the original, but it removes the genetically inherited trait from the Orcs. Even if the enslaved humans at the end of the story remain evil, their children will have free will. In such a story the inherited evil is a transient curse, rather than a genetic property. I think this version probably still is open to criticism, but it’s also much more defensible because an inter-generational curse that can be lifted by killing the magical source is (within the genre) completely different to an inherent trait that is genetically transferred and renders a race of “mongoloid” people evil by birth.

A final note on racial theory and free will

It’s important to understand that in all of its incarnations racial theory isn’t just a piece of pointless propaganda or a catechism to be invoked in foxholes. It’s a model of how society does and/or should work, and as such it has to take account of the real properties of the people it describes. This is why the Nazis had to write a special pamphlet explaining why the Japanese are superior to other Asians, and this is why racial theories in all their hideous variety have to accept that the “good” races aren’t purely good. This is usually done by ascribing to the “good” races more control over their baser instincts, and the free will to choose between evil and good, between delayed impulses and immediate drive, and between their personal desires and their racial survival. But such free will has to include the possibility of being a traitor to one’s race; being an impulsive criminal; or being evil. All racial theory arguments – even in their purest form under the Nazis – rely on acceptance of variation between individuals within a race, and build a structure based on averages and tendencies. The singular exception to this is the representation by the Nazis of Jews as especially and unavoidably evil; and this is a trait that the Nazis’ imaginary Jew shares with Tolkien’s imaginary Orcs. If the parallel stopped there then it would be meaningless, but the additional tale of corruption in the novel, and the geographical and morphological similarities to Europe, make it ideal Nazi propaganda, which is what we see in action today.

Conclusion

One doesn’t have to accept the similarity between Tolkien’s model and modern Nazi theory to accept that the races in the Lord of the Rings are based on a racially essentialist model. It’s important to note that Nazi racial theory gives no explanation for the genesis of Jewish evil (or black/slavic/Russian inferiority) – there is neither a natural selection nor a religious depiction of this. This means that the order of corruption in the Lord of the Rings – Morgoth corrupts the orcs, rather than being a political leader of that corrupted race – is not an important determinant of whether this book’s racial model is essentially Nazi. There is only one racial model in history which assigns one race to be pure evil, on a genetic basis, and sets them against a race capable of moral judgment and attainment of superior moral qualities. That model is Nazism, and Nazi racial theory has a lot in common with the racial theory of the Lord of the Rings.

This commonality, however, should not distract from the broader, and more insidious problem of scientific racism. Racial essentialism survived the Nazis, and has been reborn multiple times – most recently in the contentious IQ debates in the US. Tolkien’s works accept racial essentialism in full, and make it an essential part of the story; and there is nothing in the novels that contests this.


Kraken, by China Mieville, is another “city-within-a-city” novel, like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Mieville’s previous (rather lacklustre) effort, UnLunDun. In this case the city-wthin-the-city is a supernatural world of grafters, shonksters and magicians, all oriented around a plethora of cults who worship “cast-off” deities and apocalyptic visions, all residing within London. There are some parts of London that are hidden or secret but the majority of it happens in plain view, in the same London that you or I know.

Unlike Mieville’s previous effort, the elsewhere London in this novel is really apt to the real London. It’s a world of cockney arseholes, criminals, rip-off merchants and sleazebags, where people construct their magical lives from cast-off objects and ideas, working their magic in the interstices of objects and cultures. Even the magic itself is beautifully London, a type of make-do enchanting called “knacking” that depends on the resemblances between real objects and the spells constructed from them. The magic is often low-key, cobbled together, not-quite-right, and a bit dirty. Just like London. The elsewhere world perfectly reflects the realities of London’s fragmented, higgledy-piggledy reality, its dirt, the way everyone in the city has to make the best they can of what they’ve got. It also cleverly reflects that sense in London of ideas and cultures all packed together, confused, borrowing from each other and overcrowded in the same supposedly English space. London is a broken, nowhere town, full of transient people, transient plans and transient cultures. Mieville seems to have finally put all this together into a science-fantasy of quite stunning brilliance.

He’s also managed to merge the modern and the arcane in quite clever ways, just like Jim Butcher has in the Dresden Files. A few small examples:

  • a character uses the internet to search out her lover, and discovers a whole hidden world of “knackers” and cultists working online
  • a character is paid for his work in Star Trek memorabilia that has been “knacked” so that it works
  • cultists and believers steal ideas for their “knacks,” their style and manner from science fiction and fantasy, so that their work is self-referential, and sometimes their magic is intended to mimic the magic or tech of their favourite shows
  • a chameleon character uses his magic to infiltrate organizations by appearing to be one of their members; but the way he does it is perfectly and completely dependent upon mimicking and exploiting modern corporate culture

My absolute favourite so far has been the chapter devoted to describing the background of the guy who runs the Familiar’s Union. He used to be  a statue that served Egyptian souls in their afterlife, but he ran a strike there, then left the afterlife and swam back up through the netherworld to the world of the living, to become an organizer. This story is uniquely brilliant to me because it merges cultures rather than technologies from two different times. Instead of him being simply an Egyptian magician who wears an ankh necklace and hangs out in a club, he’s an Egyptian magical slave from a slave-owning time, who has transcended the netherworld to become that quintessential element of the modern Industrial age – a union organizer. But the things he’s organizing don’t always have souls, and work in an industrial landscape that is pre-modern (the cottage industries of wizards). This is Mieville at his best, blending politics, culture, and history through sci fi fantasy for the pure purpose of having fun.

The plot is also beautifully self-referential without being wanky. Essentially, it involves the theft of an embalmed giant squid from the London Natural History Museum. The squid is probably a dead god, and is worshiped by a cult of messianic krakenists, who believe that at the end of the world they will be drawn to a heaven in the Ocean’s deeps. The whole thing is full of cthulhu references (sometimes directly) even though there’s no admission that either the squid or the cult are directly cthulhu-worshipers. The theft coincides with some kind of magical change in London, and the chase is on to find the squid before something really bad happens. Of course the people doing the chasing are in conflict with a sinister, evil organization or organizations, who are really really evil and constructed from a really interesting pastiche of modern images, sub-cultures and cults. The book includes two bad guys, Goss and Subby, who are almost up to the standard of the bad guys in Neverwhere.

I thought that Mieville went off the rails a bit with Iron Council (pardon the pun) and UnLunDun, but he’s back on track with this gem. I haven’t finished yet but so far it’s brilliant, and I recommend it to anyone who needs a bit of science-fantasy entertainment. This book also cements my view of China Mieville as a great writer of, and possibly the main exponent/inventor of, some kind of new sub-genre of science-fantasy, Urban Chaos Science Fantasy, maybe, or CityPunk, or something. His three best novels that I’ve read – Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and now Kraken – are all based in a kind of city, and the vibrancy of the city itself is essential to the plot of the books. The city is almost a character on its own in his work, and his strength is in his representation of the extraordinary and ordinary lives of its denizens.

I also think that Mieville’s leftist politics is a complete furphy in analysis of his work, because although it clearly informs the creation of some of the characters, and his depiction of the different strata of the societies he creates, I think ultimately his works are surprisingly devoid of political messages (though rich in political conflict). For a man who is generally caricatured as a cardboard cutout lefty from the Politburo, his work is actually both suprisingly anarchist (not leninist at all!) and generally devoid of strong left-wing political messages. I don’t think I’ve met a single character outside of Iron Council who ever could be said to represent Mieville’s politics, nor have I read a plot that shows them clearly. Even The Scar, which is a bit of a Utopian quest, if it has any political interpretation at all, would be a guarded critique of the folly of trusting vanguardists – which would be a bit wierd coming from someone of Mieville’s supposedly Marxist-Leninist views. The key to understanding Mieville’s work is his representation of cities.

So, again: read this if you have the time and money, ’cause so far it’s great!

Many years ago I ran a campaign I referred to as “The Apocalypse Campaign,” set in a post-apocalyptic Europe in which the sea level had risen. This was back when A4 drawing tablets for a computer were hideously expensive, and scanners were expensive too. So to make my higher sea-level Britain, I photocopied pages from an atlas (A4 size), did some careful calculations of enlargement scales to get all the different-scaled maps up to the same A3 size, then carefully joined them together, traced them out onto a new, single huge piece of paper on a light table I found in an abandoned garage next to my house[1] (even light tables were quite expensive, I recall!) and then painted over the lines.

So I spent, obviously, a lot of time on this, and I came up with a quite fascinating piece of work in which England was broken into several significant islands drawn on a crappy map coloured by one of the worst artists the world has ever known (me). I had to flood the world by quite a bit – maybe 50m I think – to reproduce the effect I wanted, which was the beautiful world map from the White Bird of Kinship novels[5], and this took some work, and I think I used a bit of GM’s license in there too (it’s not like anyone was going to check, this was before the internet could host massive maps, so no silly nerd was going to come along and complain I had my contours wrong).

Today I discovered that this site, using google maps, can produce the whole effect in a few seconds. Not only that, it can give street-level detail of anywhere in the world, hardly a comfort if you live in Bangladesh or Amsterdam; but it did enable me to check the location of my own flat, and determine that with a 5m sea level rise I’ll be on water-front property! Any more, and I’ll be going uphill in a hurry.

Perfect material for post-environmental-apocalypse gaming, if only it showed values more extreme than 14m. Who cares about that? (Besides a couple of 100 million South Asians, and the entire Pacific Island diaspora).

fn1: an interesting story that. I went digging through that garage with my flatmate, who had written some excellent art theory articles about Bladerunner[2], and we discovered a box full of old documents. Sorting through this box, we discovered a bunch of jewish religious material and some schoolbooks from world war 2. We contacted the owner of the garage to tell them what we had found, and it turned out that the owner was my boss, and the school book pictures were some material from her own childhood that she had lost. I think her parents had been refugees from Germany, though I don’t recall that clearly. Anyway, we kept the light table.

fn2: The gist of them was, 1) that Roy Batty plays a role very similar to that of the Gnostic Redeemer, come to Earth to destroy his maker and to tell the people that the Earth is a trick created by Satan (or some such), and 2) that photo that Decker examines on his super-crash-hot computer[3] is a close simulacrum of some painting by a dutch master, which famously has the picture of the painter in the mirror; but in the Bladerunner version, there is nothing in the mirror, and the investigation of the photo is physically impossible. This serves to cause the reader to question their own humanity, whereas in the original painting the figure of the painter in the mirror is meant to restore your sense of self as a viewer, and remind you of the presence of a human creator. Or something[4]

fn3: I watched Bladerunner again 2 nights ago, and it’s interesting how in some ways the vision of future technology is really basic, such as the TV on which the photo is examined, but in other ways really advanced, such as when Decker directs a computer to do things with commands like “no wait! back up!”

fn4: They were actually really good, but after 15 years the details are a bit blurry.

fn5: Which I recommend, strongly

In my previous post I mentioned stumbling across an analysis of cyberpunk and orientalism, which interests me for a lot of reasons, and I’ve subsequently decided that since I’m living in the shadow of the zaibatsu without a job, maybe it’s time I embarked on a shady criminal information-hacking project, so I’m going to try and read through the thesis I found and draw together some kind of themes or conclusions from the tangled mess that is postmodern critique.

… So to start with I thought I’d do a survey of what is already available on the internet about cyberpunk and postmodernism. According to this (awesomely brief) description,

markers of postmodernism recurring in cyberpunk include: the commodification of culture, the invasive development of information technology, a decentering and fragmentation of the “individual”; and a blurring of the boundaries between “high” and “popular” culture.

which maybe helps to pin down why cyberpunk is considered to have such strong links to postmodernism, and also to nihilism – which, incidentally, I didn’t realise had a whole branch of academic theory devoted to it, primarily stemming from the work of Baudrillard. I don’t want to pursue the discussion of nihilism too far though because I find it seems to get incomprehensible very rapidly. Interestingly though, the intersection of cyberpunk, nihilism – which posits an absence of external morality – and postmodernism, with its reputed objection to “truth”[1], draws in a lot of young christians. For example, this blog describes some common misconceptions about postmodernism held by its christian critics, and maybe helps to show what postmodernism is not. Obviously, those whose religion is based on a single text are going to have some big issues with postmodernism, which is all about criticising the relationship between “the text”[2] and “truth”.

Modern feminism has also found an interest in cyberpunk, as a fictional representation of the liberating effect of technology for modern women. This is briefly discussed here, with again some reference to the Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway.  This could be interesting if it led me back to Haraway, whose work I struggled with many years ago with the help of a friend. I hope it doesn’t, though, because I’m largely not up to dealing with her language… But I don’t think I’ll be pursuing any further feminist involvement in cyberpunk in and of itself (though I may stumble across some in time), because I only have limited time and my main concern is the Orientalist part[4].

The thesis I have started reading states its perspective on the importance of cyberpunk for postmodernism in the introduction:

Cyberpunk’s postmodern scene, the flow of people, goods, information and power across international boundaries, is theorized in Fredric Jameson’s work on postmodernism as the cultural logic of late or third stage multinational capitalism, fully explicated in Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism(1991). Importantly, Jameson finds cyberpunk to be a significant manifestation of this, the “supreme literary expression if not of postmodernism, then of late capitalism itself”(419). … Moreover, this postmodern scene, a global array of disjunctive flows, specifically encompasses Japan: the multinationals, for example, are depicted as Japanese zaibatsu.

I’m inclined to agree with most of this position, though I’m going to skip over the supreme importance bit to see what our resident theorist has to say about Gibson’s view of Japan from the perspective of Orientalism, which he goes on to say will try to

“get beyond the reified polarities of East versus West” and in a “concrete way attempt to understand the heterogeneous and often odd developments” (Culture and Imperialism 41). By exploring a number of particular theoretical positions and terminologies, my intention is to work toward highlighting the dynamic of reflexivity inherent in postmodern orientalism.

(The quotes here are quotes of Said). This paragraph is easier understood in the context of the abstract, in which our resident theorist explains that his view of “postmodern orientalism” describes

uneven, paradoxical, interconnected and mutually implicated cultural transactions at the threshold of East-West relations. The thesis explores this by first examining cyberpunk’s unremarked relationship with countercultural formations (rock music), practices (drugs) and manifestations of Oriental otherness in popular culture.

This distinguishes the modern cyberpunk narrative of the orient from that of previous centuries, described by Said, in which the imaginative process is entirely one way – western writers and academics taking parts of the orient that appealed to them to form their own pastiche of cultural and aesthetic ideals of the orient which suit their own stereotypes; and then using these to bolster a definition of the West in opposition to an imagined Orient. In the cyberpunk world, characterised by postmodern orientalism, the Orient is actively engaging with, challenging or subverting the images which western writers and academics form of the East, and importing its own distorted images of the West, in a form of postmodern cultural exchange.

This cultural exchange is very interesting to me, and has been a topic of rumination for me on my other blog ever since I came to Japan. It’s clear that the West “dreams” the orient[5], not seeing much of what is really happening here; but at the same time the Orient has its own fantasies of the west, which have become increasingly influential in the west as the power of Japanese and Chinese media enables them to project their own images of the West back to it[6]. Both parts of the world also have their dreams of their own identity, and often these definitions are constructed at least partially in contrast to their dual opposite; but recently, with increased cultural exchange, it’s possible to see these identities becoming more diverse (at least in the Orient) as the “Other” hemisphere becomes less alien and the distinction between “Eastern” and “Western” blurs. I am interested to see if this phenomenon is sufficiently identifiable as to be described by a theory of postmodern orientalism, and that’s why I’m reading this thesis…

So, that’s the outline of what we’re aiming for. Strap yourselves in kids. We’ve taken the Blue pill…

[1] I think this is a misreading of postmodernist theory, which mainly seems to argue that the way we interpret truth is coloured by our cultural and linguistic assumptions. There’s an excellent example of this in the paper “The Egg and the Sperm: How science has constructed a romance based on sterotypical male-female roles”, Emily Martin, Signs(1991): 16(3), 485-501.

[2] “the text” is like a classic postmodern bullshit bingo cliche, but I actually think it’s a really useful word for catching the broad sense of what post-modernists[3] talk about when they do their critical analyses

[3] I’m really quite certain that I routinely confuse post-modernists and deconstructuralists, (deconstructionists?), but I don’t care because it’s their fault not mine. Nobody confuses a statistician and a mathematician, do they?

[4] Though actually I doubt one would have to google very far to find that Orientalism as a concept would have been significantly boosted by better consideration of gender relations…

[5] mostly, in the case of Japan, through a series of wet dreams or nightmares, but still…

[6] Consider, for example, the West as presented to the West by Miyazaki in Kiki’s Delivery Service, or in Full Metal Alchemist[7]

[7] I just want to point out here that if I was going to be a proper academic wanker like Said I would present these names in untranslated Japanese, on the assumption that you, dear reader, can just read everything, or that if you can’t you’re a worthless loser who doesn’t deserve to know what I’m talking about. Aren’t I nice?

In two months I’ve managed to fly through the series of books called The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. I’m up to book 9 already, and it’s been a ball. This series of books is about a Wizard called Harry Dresden, in modern day Chicago, who advertises himself in the yellow pages and takes on cases involving mysterious beings, Faerie, Vampires, and all manner of other nasties. The first book starts fairly light, with Dresden taking on a mysterious case with links to the criminal underworld and a vampire. But over the series of books it becomes clear that something much bigger is on the move, and Harry Dresden is at the centre of it.

The books are done in a generally pulp detective/ film noir style, a kind of Maltese Falcon meets Harry Potter sort of writing which is easy to read, very plot-heavy, and self-consciously deals in stereotypes and plot twists you are meant to guess. The plots are clever but never so complex as to be misleading, and Harry Dresden is a likeable and funny chap who is just imperfect enough that you are willing to believe it when his emotions lead him astray, or he makes silly mistakes. Like every good private Eye, he has his own dark past which is continually coming back to bite him, and he isn’t always on the side of the righteous – and all the “good” powers in the book are pigheaded and silly, just like they should be. Every story is a tale of an ordinary man with ordinary flaws, overcoming extraordinary challenges to ultimately triumph because he is, ultimately, a good man.

These books also remind me of the Flashman Papers, in that the anti-hero is immediately likeable, and they mingle the pulp writing of the genre with some really nice writing. In the first book, for example, the scene where Dresden traps a faerie by a lake using pizza, in order to get information, is both very pulpy, very funny and eerily otherworldly. It is well written and classically pokes fun at every genre it is part of, while self-consciously revelling in the details of those genres. Even in the later books, when the challenges facing Harry Dresden are much greater, the books remain light-hearted and well aware of the rules of their genre, without being bound by them. This makes them both entertaining, engrossing and very impressive. And, at the same time, just as with the Flashman Papers, the reader (well, me at least) is confronted with that most artfully constructed of characters – someone whose beliefs and motivations you don’t necessarily agree with or support, but whose humanity and believability cause you both to support him through thick and thin, and to challenge your own views and assumptions. This is, I think, a rare and well-written character.

So, having consumed 9 of the buggers in 2 months, I strongly commend them to you, dear reader.

In the interview linked to below, China Mieville claims that high fantasy is conservative, and that due to its prominence the fantasy genre in general is judged as conservative by critics. This seems pretty uncontroversial to me, but over at Monsters and Manuals this claim was disputed as a shallow interpretation of Tolkien and of high fantasy generally. It’s not just the 3 people I’ve been arguing with over there, either (hi guys!). Many people try to rescue Tolkien (or their other favourite high fantasy writers) from this claim, because they think that somehow being conservative means they shouldn’t be reading it  (or that people think they shouldn’t be). But it doesn’t work. Tolkien’s books are fun but they are politically pretty obnoxious, and the same goes for high fantasy generally. I’m going to expand on Mieville’s throwaway points in that interview, and add in a few of my own, with examples. Then we’ll discuss the core issue of choices. It’s been a while since I read much high fantasy, so I hope my examples aren’t too off beam – and of course when i say “High Fantasy novels say that…” I don’t mean every novel shares every point. Just add a silent “in general” to my phrases. Let’s first look at the characteristics common to most high fantasy novels:

  • Racial Essentialism: This is the main criticism of Tolkien, and it’s definitely a strong one. High Fantasy tends to divide the world into races with really clear essential characteristics, both physically and psychologically. The physical characteristics are exaggerated, and the psychological characteristics are really restrictive. Dwarves are stubborn and proud, elves are more intelligent and creative than anyone else, etc. This extends to the evil races too, which are clearly intellectually and socially inferior. The stereotypes of the evil races clearly relate to stereotypes of black people that were extant in the 30s, and in general the evil races also happen to be swarthy and kind of, well, blackish. If the humans ever have any racial diversity, this also follows strict characteristics – the “cruel haradrim”, for example. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether the races follow black/white colour lines, because the key conservative point is the essentialism. Races are different, and they shouldn’t mix, and when they do society degenerates. The model for Gondor and the mingling of High and Common Men is a clear reference to racial theory of the 30s. Wriggle as much as you like, but Tolkien is an established eugenicist and his writing doesn’t shy away from that. This trope is repeated in an awful lot of subsequent high fantasy – it’s a struggle to find any that doesn’t contain this idea, and this idea is a cornerstone of 20th century conservatism.
  • Racial exclusion: almost all heroes in high fantasy are white. For more information about this – and for some example of what it means and has meant historically for non-white readers – I recommend this article, which I came to from Ursula le Guin’s website. This problem has been discussed extensively as well in the world of literary criticism, and as far as I can tell it’s not up for debate anymore. High Fantasy is white. Now, it may be that the authors only want to write about their own colour, but if that’s the only reason, it’s kind of an unfortunate coincidence that racial exclusionism also happens to be an essential element of much conservative politics.
  • The male saviour: Most fantasy stories involve a male saviour rescuing a crumbling nation state from an external threat. The saviour is always male, and of course white. Harry Potter, Belgarath, Frodo (not to mention everyone else in that story), Eragon, the kid in the Robert Jordan series, Druss, Tanis Half-elven, Conan, whatever… they’re all male. When women enter high fantasy they do so as teachers or wise women, or occasionally in support roles.
  • External threats and nation states: In LoTR, the world of men was crumbling through racial intermixing, and awaited a racially pure king to resurrect the nation state. In most High Fantasy there is an external threat which only a strong nation state can protect against, and the role of the hero is to uncover their puissance and take power over the nation state, guiding it again to greatness. Although the nation state was not a strong concept in Dragonlance, the external threat was (it was an evil god); but the presence of both together is prevalent throughout the genre. The enemy within is usually a nerdy, anti-war figure who accomodates the enemy out of fear and is used as a spy or traitor. Consider the Wheel of Time, that awful Terry Goodkind stuff, Stephen Donaldson, the Worm Ourouboros, Eragon, the Belgariad, Magician, etc. It’s a very common idea.
  • Gender roles: sure, in modern High Fantasy there are sometimes female characters, but the world itself is continually recreated as a world in which women serve and men rule. It’s fantasy, anything goes, but for some reason women always are “goodwives” (shudder) or feisty aunts at best. And the female characters are not acually quite the feminist achievements one might expect – read this review of the Wheel of Time for a good description of how female characters often serve to reiterate classic stereotypes of feminine weakness, intransigence or triviality. Often as well the powerful ones get knocked down a peg or two before the end, and although women in general can’t rule in these worlds, they are often over-represented amongst the bad guys (e.g., there are two female characters in Dragonlance and one is evil). Harry Potter is a good example of this – Hermione is ostensibly a strong female character, but at every climax in the first novels she is knocked unconscious or otherwise unable to be an active participant in the plan she helped formulate, ultimately being rescued by the boys.
  • Nuclear family: we know that in the middle ages Nuclear families were not the norm, and that this is a modern invention, as is childhood as a concept. Yet High Fantasy worlds – which are sticklers for the truth when it comes to the role of women in peasant societies – seem to be very good at ignoring the real family structures of their carefully reconstructed societies, and instead populating them with perfect nuclear families. The nuclear family is a touchstone conservative issue, and is reproduced out of time and place in almost all fantasy novels.
  • Inherited Wealth: Not necessarily in the form of money, because in fantasy worlds money plays second fiddle to magic, which is usually inherited either as a talent or through attendance at a special school which it is only possible to enter through selection. Even though magic breaks the rules of conservation of matter, and therefore in principle enables High Fantasy worlds to be utopias like The Culture, magic is always hoarded by a powerful class who dispense it amongst their favourites. Harry Potter is a really good example of this – there is an elite world which he is allowed into by dint of his having inherited this form of wealth, and throughout the novels he is given for free things which only the very rich can afford. Free to those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t – a conservative trope, and well reproduced through the medium of magic.
  • Heteronormative: do we know of any gay characters anywhere in High Fantasy? How coincidental, in a world of nuclear families…
  • Glorification of war: having read the Silmarillion, I find it impossible to comprehend the claim that Tolkien doesn’t glorify war. That’s all his stories are about. I  suppose you could excuse it because he’s british, but still… it’s also not the case that “glorifying war” means saying “yay! more people dying”. Literature which glorifies war always talks about the tragedy, the loss of youth, the hardship. It’s part of the admiration of muscular masculinity and discipline which is going on beneath this glorification. It’s a hard life to be a soldiering bloke, but how noble it is, etc. This is prevalent throughout fantasy too – in The Worm Ouroubouros, at the end of the novel the battles are over and they all go back to their homes to plan the next war because life without war is boring. The Sturm side story in Dragonlance is a classic example of this mixed glorification/tragedy complex. High Fantasy stories without war at their centre are rare.
  • Genocide is cool: because of the glorification of war and the racial essentialism, it’s inevitable that the bad guys are going to be wiped out to a man. This has been discussed extensively as a criticism of D&D and it’s true – there is an unquestioning acceptance throughout High Fantasy that mass murder is acceptable. It’s worth noting that when the genre began, eugenics had taken over in anti-semitic literature, and extermination as the “final solution” was beginning to become an acceptable notion, because racial essentialism based on biology (rather than culture) demands it. You can read about this link in Hitler’s Willing Executioners (which is otherwise a pretty dodgy book). I don’t think anyone believes Tolkien supported genocide in reality, but the logic of High Fantasy demands it and that is essentially what was planned throughout the novels, by both sides. It has continued to be an acceptable act in subsequent iterations of the genre.
  • Libertarian or authoritarian communities: High Fantasy tends to allow the good guys only two types of community. On the one hand we see small rural idylls run on generally libertarian or communitarian grounds,  because life is so simple that they can be self-managed, and there is no racial mixing to cause crime; and on the other we see large kingdoms run by strong men, usually inheriting their position but sometimes voted in. The concept of a strong man appointed by popular election was popular in the interwar period, when liberalism and democracy were beginning to look a bit shonky, and it was supported by a much larger segment of the world than  just Germany and Italy. In fact most of Europe was under this leadership, and many in England and America beyond Oswald Mosley were looking for the same thing. This is reflected in modern High Fantasy, whose origins lie in that turbulent time. In contrast, the bad guys often have a classless or semi-classless society, run by a strong man or sometimes anarchist, often with strong inter-racial mixing. Sounds a bit like a well-described conflict from that time…

We can’t help that the original stories were written in the interwar period when racial essentialism, nuclear families, eugenics and dictatorship were popular. But we can help the choices we make as modern authors. Why, for example, do modern authors decide to be meticulously careful in their reproduction of mediaeval gender roles for their fantasy society, but completely ignore the family structures of the time? In both cases, the result fits perfectly with a conservative project. Why do they go to great lengths to reproduce the poverty of that time, while sprinkling the world with a series of perpetual motion machines (i.e. magic) which could solve all economic problems overnight? Because they want to reproduce and intensify structures of inherited wealth, and present them as inevitable, objective facts even where the solution is freely available. This is why those early fantasy novels provided the means to ensure free health care to everyone (healing magic) but you never saw it in action – except when the king goes to war, and his soldiers go to the healing tent.

Many authors are no doubt reproducing these tropes without thought, but when you reproduce a conservative worldview without consideration, you are by definition being conservative. That’s what conservatives do. Some authors (such as Goodkind and Tolkien) are more actively using their work as a political screed in favour of conservatism. The beauty of the High Fantasy world is that it is fun, so you can reproduce these things without boring your readers’ socks off. But let’s not pretend that the world couldn’t be just as interesting without a few changes – women and men being equal, for example,  or racial intermixing being positive instead of negative. And if you don’t want to do these things, you have to accept the conservative label which this kind of thoughtless reproduction of conservative politics will earn you.

Sometimes I use music to get myself into the mood for a session, not so much when I’m DMing (which I find a little distracting) as when I am preparing the atmosphere. Of late I have had occasion to drop the characters into the middle of a war zone, and in preparing the mood for that war zone I listened to a particular song, Chosen by VNV Nation. The lyrics to this song are from a short story by Guy de Maupassant, which it just so happens also describes a type of compromise, though exactly how essential or conceited it is I suppose everyone shall have to judge for themselves (I’ve not read the story). The lyrics of this song seem aptly suited to the theme of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival, so I present a version of  them here for those times when one needs to conjure a suitably chaotic war-zone feeling for a session. I particularly recommend listening to the song while reading the first chapter of Iain M. Banks’ A Song of Stone.

Orders shouted in an unknown, guttural tongue rose to the windows of the seemingly dead, deserted houses; while behind the fast-closed shutters eager eyes peered forth at the victors – masters now of the city, its fortunes, and its lives, by “right of war.” The inhabitants, in their darkened rooms, were possessed by that terror which follows in the wake of cataclysms, of deadly upheavals of the earth, against which all human skill and strength are vain. For the same thing happens whenever the established order of things is upset, when security no longer exists, when all those rights usually protected by the law of man or of Nature are at the mercy of unreasoning, savage force. The earthquake crushing a whole nation under falling roofs; the flood let loose, and engulfing in its swirling depths the corpses of drowned peasants, along with dead oxen and beams torn from shattered houses; or the army, covered with glory, murdering those who defend themselves, making prisoners of the rest, pillaging in the name of the Sword, and giving thanks to God to the thunder of cannon–all these are appalling scourges, which destroy all belief in eternal justice, all that confidence we have been taught to feel in the protection of Heaven and the reason of man.

So, with my partner still living overseas one would think I have been passing time by reading many many books. Sadly this isn’t true, but I have read the odd one or two of late. One was even role-playing related, though terribly embarrassing on the train… Here is a brief review of books I have read lately, role-playing related or not.

  1. The Third Reich in power, Richard Evans: Part 2 of a 3-part series, discussing the trials and tribulations of a youthful Nazi movement preparing for a catastrophic war. I get into these kind of third reich funks, and one started with this book… unfortunately I am not skilled at reading history, and have found it’s very easy to believe a really shoddy historical analysis if one is not trained. I swallowed Hitler’s Willing Executioners hook, line and sinker, and only discovered a year or two later that it was largely a crock. I believe others have done this with Iris Chang’s book on Nanjing, which includes a fake picture, just as the author of Hitler’s Willing Executioners apparently used some pretty shoddy research. So I shan’t give an opinion on this book… 
  2. The Drowned and the Saved, Primo Levi: Primo Levi’s masterpiece If this is a Man was in my wedding Amazon wishlist, and I pretty much read it twice as soon as I received it. That book was the story of his survival in Auschwitz; this is his attempt 20 years later to understand why and how it happened from a more philosophical viewpoint, and particularly to dwell on those who did it, and those who abetted them. The chapter called The Grey Area is perhaps the core of the book, because in this chapter he attempts to understand the motivations of those (Jewish and non-Jewish) who protected themselves in the camps by coming to an accommodation with the Nazis. This book is a compelling read, of course, as is everything in this topic, but it is particularly compelling because of the balance of Levi’s perspective. He refuses to judge, and also refuses to forgive, while approaching the whole question with a strong sense of sadness and compassion. I think Levi’s is a rare voice, and it’s a shame that he died soon after this book was written.
These books are totally unrelated to the entire topic of this blog of course, I have just presented them in order to defend my intellectual credibility, since I have also been reading comics, which are particularly unserious
  1. Emma, Mori Kaoru: a comic about a maid called Emma (why would I be reading this, I wonder, when my partner is still in Japan and happens to have the same name…) who is currently the object of 4 men’s desire. Emma is set in Victorian London, which seems to be a bit of an object of fascination in the whole maid culture, but it doesn’t have any of the titillatory effects one might expect of a comic about a maid being chased by an elephant-riding Indian Prince. It is more of an attempt to resurrect the well-mannered and archaic society of the time, and portrays Victorian London as the very height of genteel society, in which a man of high birth and income falls in love with his old governess’ maid and (typically of a Japanese boy) completely fails to pursue her. I’m sure it will come good in the end. Unfortunately the comic is in Japanese so I am reading it at a rate of 2 pages a week. (My efforts to read in Japanese are described here). The end will not come for a long time yet…
  2. Daemonifuge, a Warhammer 40000 comic about Ephrael Stern, a Sister of Battle, who is possessed by an ancient power and is a weapon against chaos. Warhammer may be a shit gaming system, but its world rocks, and the whole chaos-war idea is great. This comic has very broody, gothic artwork and a massive amount of slaughter. Everyone who is worth anything dies horribly, anyone who should be trustworthy has long since been tainted by chaos, and you just know that nothing good can happen. In fact, I don’t think anyone fighting chaos uses the word “good” at any point in the novel. They use words like purge, cleanse, eliminate, eradicate. There is no “good”. This is exactly what you expect in a universe beset by Chaos. I love this world but I think it is so replete with allegory that sometimes it is painful to read. Ephrael Stern is the embodiment of teenage male fear of nascent sexuality; or she is the woman every teenage boy wants to protect, simultaneously frighteningly powerful and vulnerable, needing only the guiding hand of a (slightly nerdish, but well-meaning) boy to set her on a … cough … better path. Warhammer is replete with this imagery, like a bad novel written by a nerdy teenage boy living in cold war England. It has a lot in common with Adrian Mole’s diary. And wouldn’t Adrian Mole be fascinating in a post-fantastic technological chaos-warped future? Dear diary… also, just by way of explanation, this Daemonifuge comic is doubly excellent because random words are marked in bold all through the text…