Micheal Cobley

Interstellar Tactics




Why We Write: Describing The World Or Changing It

Posted on February 14th 2009 | 1 Comment so far

Motivations and reasons for writers doing what they do are plentiful. For many it is a driving compulsion for expression, exploration both inner and outer, and for understanding. For others, writing fiction is a way to propagate a world view, or some understanding already arrived at. For yet others, its a job of work,  a matter of getting the words down, assembling the story, paying attention to technical execution, and fulfilling the contract. Now, from a reader’s point of view, there’s no way to be absolutely sure which mindset lies behind what`s being read, although a propagandist might stand out if s/he were less than skilled in their craft.

Yet beyond the purely internal needs of the writer, its worthwhile asking just what the heck fiction is for? Is it to lay out facts, to create an influence in the readership? You could take a look at Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and say, yes, she was definitely attempting to persuade the reader of the efficacy of her totally bonkers philosophy of Objectivism, and yet a cool technical eye would look over the narrative itself and pronounce it stodgy and long-winded. Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy was essentially a narrative exploration of marxist theory (concealed behind his Fall of Empire overtext), as if it truly was a science of history and human social trends which could be manipulated. And you have to wonder how many American SF readers took in the psychohistory stuff and understood what they were reading. Didn’t seem to create a 5th column of secret marxists amongst fandom, as far as I know.

The notion of a book which changes history, like Stowe’s Uncle Toms Cabin, or Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species, is a romantic, almost heroic template that nearly all writers secretly yearn to produce. Sadly, we live in an era where the influence of books has waned somewhat – a film or a TV series or even a video game (hey, ya never know) is more likely to influence events than 400-odd sheets of dead tree. Yet still they try, folk like John Pilger and Noam Chomsky, Greg Palast and Mark Curtis – but where are the SF/fantasy books which take a hefty swing at the idiocies of the day and land a solid blow? Is it because we deal in fictional matters removed from the contemporary world by several steps? If we write about a future Earth society in which a democratically-elected World President, say, cooks up paperthin justifications for invading an independent Moon, will it have folk out in the street, suddenly awakened to the madness ruling over them? Or is the metaphorical depiction sufficient to render it….mostly harmless?

Posted in history, philosophy, Politics | Tagged , , , , , ,
1 Comment



Posted on December 15th 2008 | Leave a comment

Did anyone see that clip of Bush in Baghdad getting a pair of shoes hurled at him by a raging Iraqi journalist? Hilarious, even ironic. Maybe that’s how we opponents of the Occupation should register our disapproval – send the sweatiest, mankiest shoe or trainer that you own to the pro-war dirtbag of your choice. Mmm mm, asymmetrical protest (or even bioprotest if you suffer from athletes foot) to the max.

Here’s the link:


BTW, Bush’s reflexes were pretty good for a warmongering smugpants, and them shoes were travelling!

Posted in humour, Politics | Tagged , ,
Leave a comment


Freedom Is On The March, Y'all!

Posted on September 4th 2008 | Leave a comment

….as his Cretinosity the Shrub once assured us, back when his popularity ratings were somewhat above dachshund-belly level.

But just what is this freedom thing of which you speak, earthman? Well, funny thing about freedom is…not enough of it and society and culture disintegrates into authoritarianism and corrupt social relationships (or sometimes goes into a kind of hibernation). But, too much freedom and you end up with a similar degradation into tyranny. How’s that, I hear you declaim? Simple – it’s what’s known as the Paradox of Freedom. Complete, untramelled freedom is literally freedom for the strong to enslave the weak; this why we have a system of laws which, generally speaking, qualifies freedom and sets out the limits of actions both individual and collective.

However, as a society becomes more authoritarian with rafts of new draconian legislation, it almost always is the case that the governing elite is above such legislation and is seldom penalised under it. Cases in point, Russia and America today, where money and power has become concentrated in very few hands, and with money and power comes that well-known fashion accessory, expensive lawyers. So when your favourite Republican/Nu Labour/Tory politician starts dribbling on about his love of freedom, just remember whose freedom they`re talking about.

There is another paradox, the Paradox of Tolerance – a society which extends unlimited tolerance is likely to be wrecked and tolerance along with it. So a tolerant society must, in certain circumstances, be prepared to suppress the enemies of tolerance, although only if they constitute a genuine danger. Of course, criticism and open debate are essential components in a society which aspires to egalitarianism; a sense of proportion is also necessary since there is a world of a difference between a lone bedsit zealot muttering about foreign students while scribbling letters to the paper, and a group of self-deluded people cooking up bathtub bombs or re-engineering replica guns into working models.

Then there’s the culpability of the nation-at-large, too. My own country, Great Britain, colluded with the USA to invade Iraq which presented no threat and possessed no WMDs, in the course of which 100s of thousands of innocent Iraqis have died in awful agony. My country is guilty of war crimes, so when any New Labour or Tory politician sounds off about the morality of any other country actions (Russia, Georgia, Sudan etc) they are being vile hypocrites. This is no excuse for stupid murderous atrocities like the London Underground bombings, but Blair, Brown and Cameron have no access to the moral high ground.

In terms of writing, remember the politics of these times when you come to frame fictional societies – and consider the way in which politicians try to frame themselves and their actions.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , ,
Leave a comment