This weekend I’ve been staying in Torquay. The weather’s been suspiciously perfect for it and it’s been lovely. When I checked into the B&B I was confronted by this accurate metaphor for life at the bottom of the stairs:
I’m on the top floor, but it wasn’t too hard a climb to my room. I’m still trying to reach success, but I live in hope.
I’ve also been reliably informed by this next sign that I’m not allowed to catch my own dinner. I’m tired of being held back by all the damned rules, man.
They say that envy is one of the ugliest emotions. I tend to agree with that sentiment. Envy is insidious and treacherous and it’s caused by the fortune of others. You see what they have and not only do you begrudge them for it, even if they’re fully deserving, it also makes you take what you do have for granted. As if not having their exact brand of happiness makes your own worthless. It can creep into friendships and build walls that are impossible to break down because you can’t speak their cause aloud. You can’t admit envy because it makes you look small and petty. So it simmers and stagnates and ruins joy. And all of this is ridiculous because it’s so unnecessary.
But if you can remove the bitter aspect of envy, the part of the emotion that would take what others have to satisfy itself, then a respect and desire for what others have achieved can be positive. It can inspire you, motivate you, make you try harder. It requires not feeling sorry for yourself when you see somebody who has done something you haven’t yet managed or has something you haven’t yet found, and that’s difficult. It’s so much easier to dislike them and blame them for your lack than to realise you have to work harder yourself. Envy can be ugly, but only if we let it make us ugly.
On a side note, I was going to post a photo along the Daily Post theme of ugliness, but I’m lucky enough this weekend to be in a lovely spot surrounded by unrelenting niceness, so I couldn’t find anything appropriate. Instead of moaning about this, I will be grateful and post a picture of the bear the B&B I’m staying in leaves on every bed in place of pillow mints.
I have named him Hathaway.
I’m terrible with confrontation.
Really, ridiculously terrible. I’ll do whatever I can to avoid it.
I don’t mind a decent discussion with somebody who holds a view that’s different to mine. In fact, I rather like that. It makes for interesting conversations.
But confrontation — facing actual aggression, verbal or physical — that I do not deal with well. Or at all. I bow out, keep my mouth shut, walk away. I react to anger with silence and I manifest my own anger through silence.
This is not a good thing. Yes, it can avoid fights with strangers or even friends on drunken nights when emotions and bravado get a bit out of hand.
But my complete aversion to confrontation means that sometimes things go unsaid that deep down I really think should be said. Sometimes people who should be confronted about their behaviour go unchallenged. And my inability to say those things at those times makes me feel cowardly. It’s easier to stay silent and not draw attention to yourself in difficult or awkward situations, but it doesn’t always feel very good.
Still, I have nobody to blame but myself. Maybe I’ll practice my confrontational skills by giving myself a good talking to.
The tanner was tired, his weariness bearing down on him like a solid weight. The day had been long, and the next wouldn’t be any shorter. Still, he trudged through the dark, his feet dragging a little but his gaze fixed on the light before him, nearer with every determined stride.
He reached the alehouse and pushed through the door gratefully, breathing in the warm, stuffy air and familiar rumble of conversation. He sank into a seat and sighed as the alewife set a cup of brew before him. The beginnings of a smile twitched at his lips as he reached out and —
— raised the glass to his lips, taking a long, satisfied gulp. The pub was packed on this early summer evening, but he’d found a spot outside in the beer garden and now he was waiting for the arrival of his friends. He was perfectly content to bask in the rare peace of the moment, the sun warm, the beer cold, everything as good as it gets.
His mobile rang, the sharp buzzing pulling him out of his vague reverie. He slipped it out of his pocket, glanced at the screen and smiled.
“Hey,” he said, “I was hoping –”
“– to see you tonight.”
He smiled as she sat down across from him. The colour of her dress shifted as she smiled back, glowing a warm orange, and the jewellery in her eyebrow and lip piercings synced immediately to match.
“Let me get you a drink,” he said. “What would you like?”
She glanced at his own drink. “What are you having?”
“Just a beer,” he said.
“Then I’ll have the same,” she said.
He nodded and tapped the console set into their table, selecting the beer icon. Thirty seconds later, a fresh bottle of beer with their table number stamped neatly on the label appeared on the conveyor belt that weaved its way unobtrusively circled the edge of the room. She plucked the drink from the conveyor and held it aloft.
“A toast,” she said.
She shrugged. “Tonight.”
He raised his own bottle and clinked it against hers and they both drank.
Yesterday I finished reading Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker, the third book in her science-fiction series about time-travel, immortal cyborgs and the sinister company Dr. Zeus.
I love this series more with every book of it I read. The premise is great–using the development of time travel and cybernetic augmentation, an all-powerful corporation has infiltrated every era of history with secret immortal operatives ordered to study, preserve and pilfer all manner of rarities and treasures before they’re lost to the ravages of time. What this secret history formula gives you are very well-constructed historical novels with a futuristic sci-fi slant. Mendoza in Hollywood is set in 1863, in the area of California that will one day become Hollywood, but the protagonist is over three centuries old. She can never die. None of the Company operatives can–the darker consequences of this immortality are a major theme in the series.
It’s hard to say exactly why I love these novels so much. They’re not the most action-packed of stories. Indeed, there are long stretches where little can be said to really happen. But they’re extremely well-written. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but there’s something fascinating about a historical setting being narrated by a character who is living through that era but also intimately familiar with the centuries that have preceded it and the developments that will come. Individual points in time mean almost nothing to these characters because they are aware of history in its entirety and know they must live through it.
The characters are the most successful aspect of these novels for me. They’re well-drawn and compelling–you come to really care about them, which is an admirable achievement for Baker considering they can be so difficult to relate to at times. Mendoza is the narrator of this instalment, as well as In the Garden of Iden, the first in the series. She has experienced real pain and that is always evident in her character without becoming clichéd or overwrought. It’s a real talent to depict heartbreak convincingly in literature, and Mendoza’s heartbreak is devastatingly convincing. The only thing I missed in this book was the character of Joseph, a favourite of mine from the other books who will doubtless be appearing in the next instalment.
So far, the three books in the series have each related a self-contained and historically-specific drama but hinted at wider mysteries and strife to come. Clearly all is not well with The Company and their staff of immortals in the future, but the exact nature of the trouble and how the main characters might deal with it has been held back until the later books. Each book is more than entertaining enough in itself to keep me interested and reading until I get to the big revelation. That said… I am mightily curious and I can’t wait until the big conspiracy makes its proper entrance into the series. This book gets a solid four stars, the series as a whole gets a big thumbs up and I’ll definitely be reading the next book soon.
Tonight I’ve been doing some research into what the world might look like in 100 years time, and the vision I’m left with is both exciting and a little terrifying. Is it naive to hope for a future that ends up looking more like Star Trek than 1984?
Science fiction has become incredibly pessimistic. It seems that if we develop advanced technology, we abuse it. If we come across alien civilisations, it immediately results in war and enslavement. We create artificial intelligence and it tries to destroy us. Freedoms will erode, nature will be destroyed beyond repair and governments will sink into ever deeper pits of corruption. There’s so little hope or optimism in our visions of the future.
And it isn’t surprising. Humanity is clever and we are developing technology at an astonishing rate. A future in which every aspect of your life is networked, where you are connected 24/7 via an interface that can be incorporated into your body, where every moment of your social and physical life can potentially be monitored and indexed, is not only possible but plausible.
But humanity has issues with morality. Issues which are far from being solved. It’s part of the fabric of our society, part of our history, part of our present. We’re all aware that people can do terrible things. Especially when group mentality overrides the morals of the individual. Especially when governments and institutions are given significant power without accountability. So what happens when our technology advances enough to allow for the constant surveillance of the populace? Can we handle it without completely destroying the principles of personal freedom and responsibility? If our popular fiction is any indication, most of us strongly doubt it.
I’m no different. I’m writing a science-fiction story about invasive tech and a pervasively networked society called Not Compatible. It is not shaping up to be an optimistic version of the future.
But surely there can be. Surely there’s still room for a little faith in the inherent goodness of humanity, utopia over dystopia. Maybe it’s time for a renaissance in optimistic sci-fi. We can’t all be cynics, can we?