Extract of a thing

‘Why was he shot?’

‘Have you ever seen a cow?’ the man asked. Alex’s mouth hung open at a loss of a reply. She closed it again, opened it a second time… and then closed it. She cupped both hands around her scalding mug, ignoring the discomfort.

‘Yes, there’s one on the billboard in Pasteur Avenue,’ she said.

‘No, a real cow? Alive, mooing?’ the man asked. Alex did not know what mooing meant. Seeing as she was the journalist – the wordsmith as it were – she didn’t think it appropriate to admit such. She covered up her ignorance by drinking from her coffee. It was bitter and smoky. Not unpleasant.

‘No,’ she finally admitted.

‘And yet you’ve eaten beef?’ he asked. He didn’t blink often. It made his unremarkable face that more markable. Eyes stop looking like eyes without regular blinking. The fire gave a sudden splutter, finding something in the most recent print distasteful.

‘I’m a vegetarian,’ she replied. The man waved away her comment irritably. His mouth curved as though she had just confessed to a horrific crime.

‘A cornfield then? Or a cabbage patch? Have you seen them?’ He snapped. Alex didn’t see what that had to do with anything but guessed you didn’t get deemed mad by the city press without talking about vegetables at some point.

‘No,’ she humoured him. The man’s smile widened, stretching the lower half of his face wider than should be possible. His head was practically seventy per cent smile.

‘And yet the shelves are well-stocked.’ Said the man. Alex conceded the point but was beginning to think she was wasting her time. Though she had to admit it was an improvement on the usual knowing she was wasting her time.

‘Is this why Shapcott died?’ She asked. The man appeared to ponder upon this for a time.

‘In a sense,’ He said.

‘Can I get a proper answer?’ Alex was beginning to lose her patience. The man tossed another newspaper upon the fire. This one carried a startling statistic on the front. They always were. Statistics were invented to be startling. They served little purpose otherwise.

‘What would you accept as a proper answer?’ The man responded, his magnified eyes staring unblinkingly into hers.

‘I just want the truth,’ she said feeling the hot tongs of frustration squeezing on her temples. A man doesn’t get gunned down because he’s never seen corn.

‘People are rarely able to accept the truth.’ The man shifted his weighed in his armchair. It gave a little creak and dust swirled out from the fabric and danced in the cold lines of light.

‘That doesn’t make it less true.’ Alex sniffed.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes.’

‘Even so, if no one accepts it, what good is it?’ The man challenged her.

‘If you can prove it, people will accept it.’ She said. The man gave a dry little chuckle.

‘Why did Alan Shapcott die?’ She asked, for what she hoped was the final time. The man took off his glasses and began to rub at the lenses with his jumper. As is always the case when glasses wearers remove their glasses, he looked like a completely different man. There were skin sacks drooping under his eyes, his forehead looked wider and his ears seemed to double in size.

‘Because,’ he said pushing them back on across his nose, ‘he asked questions. And he accepted the answers and went on to ask the questions those answers brought up. They had to stop him, otherwise, he’d keep asking questions. He’d get others to ask questions and they’d keep asking questions. They’d question until they died, and then their children would go on asking questions after that. He had to be stopped. The Mayor had to show that no good came from asking questions.’

Alex took a deep breath. So, the Council were to blame for Shapcott’s death. He was asking questions, so they took him out. What conspiracy had he uncovered? and what did that have to do with him never seeing corn? Or cows for that matter? What truth had he gained from this madman that meant he had to die alone in the cold?

‘Questions have to be asked. People should not be afraid to question the government. He shouldn’t have died for that,’ she said sternly.

‘Oh, he wasn’t questioning the council. No, he was questioning reality.’

Alex could feel herself deflating. They were going in circles. There was no way she could turn this conversation into an article, at least, not one people would read. She rubbed at her eyes with warm, clammy fingers. It seemed Shapcott was just as mad as the man who spent his days burning the newspapers that had branded him insane. ‘And he died because he questioned reality?’ she asked doubtfully.

‘No, he died because he was getting answers.’

‘And?’

‘And answers lead to –

‘More questions.’ Alex finished for him. She stood up. Seeing as she was getting nowhere, she didn’t see the point in getting stuck there. It seemed the mystery of Shapcott’s death would remain just that. This was one case were a question didn’t lead to answers and subsequently (no doubt much to the relief of the council), no more questions.

‘Thank you for your time. I should get going.’ She said, making for the doorway.

‘Go to the edge of the City.’ The man said, ‘Go to the edge where the bridge is and keep going.’

‘Goodbye,’ said Alex.

She showed herself out, pulling the door closed as sharply as she dared. She walked through her own footprints back to the roadside. The snow glittered under the pale light above. The sheer blue sky stretched over the city’s rooftops like a tarpaulin.  Not a cloud to be seen. She strode along through the snow so lost in her own thoughts that she barely noticed the old lady and her dog coming back the other way.

‘Good morning again,’ She said.

‘Morning again,’ Alex replied a little startled.

The woman paid no more attention to her as she hobbled along the street. Alex carried on and felt her foot land on something that wasn’t snow. She glanced down and groaned in disgust at the inch and a half of dog muck now smeared across the bottom of her shoe. If she wasn’t mistaken, it very much acted as a visual metaphor of some description.

If she wasn’t careful, there’d be more shit ahead and it wouldn’t just be her shoe getting covered.

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Monday Motivation

Next week I turn 27. This is decidedly adult. By now I should have achieved things, but instead, I am a mere wage slave working many long hours and putting in large amounts of effort (in a job I actually quite like mind), in order to not be freed of this wage slavery. It’s an unfortunate reality that this freedom comes with an inability to pay rent or internet bills, which means I’ll have to sit outside and not watch porn.

It feels as though I have been alive forever and my best years are behind me. Yet, it’ll be another 38 years before my state pension kicks in, and another 308 years before I can realistically retire, by which point it’ll be fairly moot. This sits uneasily upon my brow.

It’s fair to say, we are not particularly happy.

Advancement in technology allowed us to offload tasks onto machines, giving us humans more free time. We are at the stage where really, we should all be doing nothing but lounging about eating pizza, lovingly prepared for us by machines. This pizza should be pushed slowly and tenderly into our mouths by other machines, and then yet another machine should be massaging our jaws to make us chew. We should have evolved into weird slug creatures by now, due to our legs falling off due to lack of use.

Alas, this utopia has passed us by. In offloading many tasks to machines, instead of filling that saved time with relaxation and reflection, we decided that we should feel this time being more productive. In making things faster and more efficient, we have decided that this means we should be doing more things at once. Quickly, FASTER!

We must get out there, get a job. Work hard at the job. Keep working hard at the job. Never let up, not for a second.

You must check your emails, answer the phone, write a report and attend a meeting all at the same time, and this is before you’ve even got dressed. You can relax when you’re dead, a state of being you are rapidly hurtling towards and will ultimately welcome. Time is money. Only it’s your time, but someone else’s money.

Don’t relax for a second. Don’t get complacent. Everyone’s replaceable. Especially you. Don’t make mistakes. People make a big deal out of them and remember them more than the numerous times you haven’t made mistakes.

Don’t take your foot off the pedal, not even for an instant. Keep it floored. Keep going, faster and faster until you eventually drive straight off a cliff. Be grateful you had air conditioning. Even if it didn’t really work.

I am a proper adult. I finally bought a sofa the other day. It’s a nice sofa. It fills the room. It’s a shame about the rest.

What’s for dinner

It is not often I find myself questioning my sanity. Usually, I question the sanity of others. If there’s one thing I am usually certain of, is that I am a rational human being in a world infested with madness. That said, I had a jacket potato tonight and couldn’t stop laughing at it.

I have had many jacket potatoes in my time and never given it much thought. There is almost an endless combination of toppings one can slop over the most popular of the tubers. Beans, beans and cheese, chilli, chilli with cheese, tuna… well maybe not endless, but still.

Because my bank card broke and, in this technological age, one cannot get money or buy things without a bank card, I am unable to buy food. As I work full time and the banks don’t ever seem to want to be open when the general population can visit them, what I will eat in the coming days remains a mystery to me. Why banks open when everyone is at work, close for an hour at lunch and then close at half past five is quite ingenious in many respects. It’s well known that those in work will be the ones with money. If they’re in banks withdrawing their money, then the banks will have less money, and they don’t want that.

Anyway. A broken bank card and no cash is what led me to be eating a jacket potato. With butter… a crack of pepper and a pinch of salt. This, I am assured, constitutes a meal. A single potato.

This solitary spud sat on my plate, steam rising from its scored outer flesh, its innards cooked to a soft and fluffy perfection. I had a potato for dinner.

That’s it.

What are you having for dinner?

A potato.

Oh, very nice.

It’s the only vegetable where this is acceptable.

What are you having for dinner?

A butternut squash.

You fucking weirdo.

What’s for dinner mum?

A single grilled parsnip.

 

This has been my evening. This is what happens when there’s no beer in the house.

 

Let the stag do die… kill it if you have to

I currently sit writing in a Welsh cottage sipping a glass of wine and pondering the written word. One, because I am a pretentious douche and two, because I am waiting for a spag bol to cook. I feel I can’t leave the pan because the last three times I have left something on simmer, I forgot about it entirely and ruined a perfectly edible dinner and a perfectly decent pan. The wine is a white one, the name of which I don’t know because I only tend to drink wine when I’m flexing my pretentious douche muscles or it’s the only thing on offer.

It was on my way to Wales (albeit just in Wales – my bed is probably half in half out), that I stopped in a service station. These are bizarre places. A hidden magical world contained within our own. They are convergence points in time where all manner of creatures from every decade imaginable may pass through, brush shoulders and share tales of the past and warn of things to come. Mostly, however, it was where they pee and then buy an overpriced coffee.

It was here I happened to overhear a group of men. They were all men, and not just biologically male, but MEN. They were extremely vocal about how male they really were. These were the sort of people who viewed being born with a fleshy appendage between their legs as a thing to be regarded as an achievement and therefore worthy of boasting.

I have a penis, but I tend to regard it with casual indifference these days, much like the rest of the world. This group of MEN belong a subset of the male gender (a word that’s becoming increasingly confusing these days, it’s an interesting linguistic journey we have embarked on in recent years). They are lads. In much the same way that all Uruk-hai are orcs, but not all orcs are Uruk-hai (no doubt I am misremembering my LotR lore. Do not engage me in a lengthy debate; I am on holiday), all lads are MEN but not all men are lads.

Very occasionally, a group of lads split off from the general horde of slathering shits and embark on an age-old ritual known as ‘a Stagg Do’. It is my sincerest hope that this dies a painful death. I hope it dies choking on its own blood, writhing in the mud and filth from which it sprang. Once dead, I hope it is stricken from the annals of history. I hope anyone who dares utter the phrase ‘Stagg Do’ is castigated and cast out of society if not immediately bludgeoned to death with the nearest blunt implement.

Not wishing to seem to hard on MEN and lads, women (those born without penises and possessed of a womb in this definition) occasionally do similar things. Their ritual is known as a Hen Do. These are still relatively deplorable, but apparently, they are steeped in sexual liberation (for womankind, of course, men have always been fairly free when it comes to sex). There are many reasons why the woman’s ritual is called a Hen Do rather than a Hind Do. The most obvious is of course that, as far as the Lad and MEN are concerned, women are so inferior that they can’t even be considered as regal as a deer. No, where Lads and MEN are concerned, Women are weak, ugly and scraggly looking hens. In fairness, to continue this imagery, you would think the Stag Do would be referred to as the ‘Cock Do’ seeing as there tends to be one dominant cock or rooster among a … (gaggle?) of hens. However, it isn’t because cock – being a slang term for the penis – means a cock do would sound somewhat homoerotic, and if there’s one thing a Lad feels is worthy of more scorn than a woman (or hen), it’s a homosexual. Which is quite interesting all things considered. I will delve into it more later.

This group of Lads, on the way to complete their Stag Do, were travelling in the opposite direction to myself, which gladdened me. From my research, I believe the Stag and Hen do is a pre-wedding celebration, falling sometime after an engagement party and a brief period before a wedding. People cannot get married unless they’ve had a certain number of celebrations prior to the main celebration that is the wedding. To some, it is viewed as a final farewell from the groom or bride to be to their friends. To others, it is to revel in one last night of freedom. The former is an acceptance that their youth lies behind them, and they start a new chapter in which they are committed to another human and, as such, may not have the same amount of time for their friends. The latter is an ostentatious fuck you to the one you intend to marry. It is an expensive way to demonstrate the sheer lack of respect you hold for the person you intend to spend the rest of your life with.

Ironically, either way, you look at it, shows that those who feel the need to have a Stag Do or a Hen Do, should not be getting married. If you feel that when married, you must sacrifice your friendships to devote more time to this other person, then the chances are, you will spend too much time together and end up resenting one another. If you feel that sharing your life with one other person and refraining from sleeping with anyone else is synonymous with imprisonment, then you are a cunt. Marriages to cunts tend not to last long.

‘The Dos’ which they shall now be referred to, have evolved over time. Once, they involved going out with close friends and having one too many at a pub. Then they became going out with a few friends and having nine too many, before falling into a deep existential despair, crying and/or fighting before eventually throwing up. The last step is apparently to dispel demons.

Alas, for the modern Stag or Hen, this is no longer enough. The Dos involve spending a ludicrous amount of money flinging each other around the world to spend a long weekend at an overly extravagant resort or going go-karting or paintballing. The last to are unfortunately more common among the MEN to once again prove their manliness. Men like fast cars and men like violence, so it makes sense to drive fast fake cars and take part in faux violence all whilst reaffirming the fact that they like having sex with women.

Having not been privy to any Hen Dos and only seen a few at a distance, I don’t know if this is the same as them, although, in my experience, women tend to be a bit more relaxed about sexuality than MEN, that is to say, Lads.

You see, a lack of self-awareness is an unfortunate genetic trait of the Lad. Were they to take an objective look at what they were doing, there would be many a revelation. At the very least, they’d tone it down a bit.

They’d see that the Stag Do involves a man, going out in a group that is strictly male where they often talk about how much they like having sex with women and how wonderful it is to have a penis, whilst celebrating their last night of freedom, before they are forced to spend their lives having sex with a woman. They’d put all this together and realise that maybe they don’t want to be married and maybe…they don’t like women. At the very least, they’ll realise that their notion of ‘manliness’ is flawed and prevents them from being anything other than a crude cut out. They would realise they no longer have to strive to prove themselves to be MEN, because the word has no relevance anymore.

If we could rid the world of the blight of the stag and hen do, the gender divide would lessen. Homophobia would decrease and we’d all be a lot happier. The only thing that would remain would be racism and we could easily get rid of that by all agreeing that the notion of ‘culture’ is an arbitrary barrier extrapolated from the weird shit our ancestors used to get up to before Netflix came along.

More on that later in the week.

 

Note: I am very much aware that this whole piece comes across as patronising and a touch classist. I am aware that increasingly, stag and hen dos are being seen as a celebration of love and tend to be mixed (primarily in more middle-class metropolitan areas and those who read the Guardian). In terms of classism, the notion of the lad (or whatever the female version is, if you’re the type that needs one) transcends class. I know many a ‘laddish’ type with the ‘lad’ mentality and mannerisms who live in detached houses in the suburbs and drive expensive Audis that their fairly wealthy parents bought for them. The Lad, is not then, a working-class cheeky chappy. Unless of course, you believe these Audi driving types able to get onto the property ladder in increasingly expensive areas working class. In which case, the classes make less sense than they ever did and we should all shut up about it.

I am also aware of the distinct possibility that my grammar is all over the place. My day job involves a hefty amount of proof reading. I’m on holiday. Fuck punctuation.

 

 

 

Final Space – is Meh

I rarely write reviews.  I owe my 124 followers more than that. I know that’s a very low number for a blog that has been going on for a number of years, but they’re my followers and they deserve quality. They are not fickle like the followers of those blogs that have hundreds upon hundreds. I once read a post that had 327 likes and it was just pictures of logs. I know I can’t compete with pictures of logs.  Also, my best-viewed blog was entitled “13 Reasons Why is Shit” so I guess it’s what the people want.

I have nothing of value to say today. So, I will write a review of Final Space, I say review; it will devolve into a longwinded, directionless ramble.

Recently, I wrote about my current viewing habits. That was current back then. Now circumstances have improved somewhat, and I can afford Netflix again and my viewing habits have changed a little. However, to return to the article I linked (yes, I refer to my posts as articles; it makes me feel superior), I briefly touch upon the likes of Adventure Time and Rick and Morty. It’s worth reading for the nonsense I’m going to spout upon in this one. Go on, open it up in another tab and read. It gives me extra views.

A friend of mine repeatedly told me to watch an animated show called Final Space. He did so by saying it was hilarious. As it sits, I have watched three episodes. I have not laughed once. Admittedly, I haven’t laughed much for some time, which probably hints at a deeper psychological problem than the quality of an animated show.

Here is the premise, lifted from IMDB.

An astronaut named Gary and his planet-destroying sidekick called Mooncake embark on serialised journeys through space in order to unlock the mystery of where the universe actually ends and if it actually does exist.

Wikipedia quotes it as being an “… animated space opera comedy-drama.”

Thus far, I can say that it is indeed animated and it is set in space. As for the rest. Well…

Having been promised by my friend (who up until this point I trusted) that Final Space is hilarious, my first observation was that it wasn’t all that funny. I’m sure it was supposed to be. Gary screamed words and waved his arms around. At first, I was certain he was voiced by Chris Pratt. He is in fact voiced by Olan Rogers, who is also one of the creators. This is perhaps one of the issues. I find Gary’s voice and delivery irritating. Rogers seems to take the view that if you shout it manically, then it must be funny.

It also has the voice talents of Tom Kenny and John DiMaggio because every animated show has to have one or the other. Surprisingly, it also features an unrecognisable David Tennant. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter who’s doing the voices because the scripts largely consist of something ‘whacky’ happening and Gary shouting ‘Woah! That whacky thing just happened.’

Rick and Morty (which this show is seemingly trying to be only without the wit) would have whacky things happen, to which the characters would hardly comment upon before continuing their regular conversation. Rick and Morty (the first two seasons anyway) has a great deal of rewatch value because amongst the surrealism are some great lines and little subtleties that can be missed on first watch.

Even at it’s best (thus far) Final Spaced has to have Gary spell it out, in case we miss the joke. I came close to laughing at this exchange.

Gary: Are you the Helper?

Helper: No, I am his assistant.

–   That would have got a laugh out of me, that’s all that’s needed. Only the scene has an extra line. –

Gary: So… you’re a helper helper?

It was funny when it wasn’t explicitly said damn it!

The sci-fi setting allows the show to be crammed full of ‘whacky’ (I will now donate money to charity every time I use ‘whacky’ within quotation marks) characters that seems to be a necessity to get an animated show produced these days. If Matt Groening wanted to get the Simpson’s made today, Marge would have to be a lizard woman, Bart a floating Brain and Liza an embodiment of the metaphysical concept of guilt.  Case in point will probably be Disenchantment if I ever get around to giving that a watch.  My only experience of that thus far has been to look at the poster, and I immediately think Adventure Time.

Final Space has a cat-like alien called Avocatdo. See, that’s funny, isn’t it? Mad. Absolutely crazy. A cat person… whose name is similar to avocado but with cat in it. Sure, the joke could be that it’s so banal that it’s funny. Like an ironic ‘this is a shit dad joke but we’ll include it anyway’ kind of thing, but thus far I’ve not seen any evidence that this show is smart enough to lift any irony.

Relax, it’s a kids’ show. I hear you cry.

It is not. It is another show that despite being animated, is in fact for the adults. Cartoons aren’t just for kids, man. They’re art. Yes, in the hands of artists perhaps. This series does have an overarching narrative, in which the adorable alien ‘Mooncake’ is, in fact, a planet-killing weapon and the evil Lord Commander (Tennant) wants to use it for his own nefarious deeds and there’s some sort of rift open somewhere. There’s violence aplenty and apparently, there are moments worth sticking around for that makes it more than just a ‘whacky’ animated comedy. Already, I know there are two Gwen’s, one apparently from the future who has come back to ensure Gary survives because he’s important. No doubt this will lead to the notion of alternate realities or timelines or lead us to question our very universe, but anyone who’s sat through one philosophy lecture can do that.

This is yet more evidence for my ‘everything is trying to be Adventure Time/Rick and Morty’ theory. There are lots of shows like this floating about, and it’s indicative of the dark times. We have had the luxury of passing through the Golden Years of television. We have seen the rise of streaming services. We are no longer slaves to terrestrial TV. We make the television schedules now. We can watch what we like, when we like and as often as we like. What we want is more, when is now and we want to do this forever.

It is consumerism at it’s very best. Great television and convenient services have created an insatiable demand and studios are desperately trying to supply. It is capitalism at its very finest. Endless, easy to digest blandness is coming our way. It’s the only way to keep us content. Greedy fuckers that we are.

It’s not that the show is necessarily bad it’s just not that good. I would offer a rating as critics tend to, but here I get confused. Do I offer stars or a percentage? Sites tend to vary. Also, Amazon’s maximum is 5 stars, IMDB goes up to 10. Does that mean one Amazon star is inherently more valuable than one IMDB star?

With IMDB, I refuse to watch anything that has less than a 7. Anything below that is going to be awful. People will watch anything so if it has 6.9, it’s not worth watching surely? And yet, that’s 69%. That’s markedly better than average.

So instead, I will rate it ‘meh’. It’s by no means a ‘bleurgh’ but it’s certainly not an ‘oooh’.

I’ll give it until episode 6 to change my mind. I gave 13 Reasons Why that courtesy before I condemned it.

The Golden Age is ending. All good things come to an end. Mediocrity goes on forever.

 

Extract for the sake of it.

I need to update my blog. Here’s an extract from something I wrote…

The steaming blood returned some warmth to Alan Shapcott’s bony fingers. With a sharp sigh he let his head fall onto a pillow of fresh snow and stared through half closed eyelids at the thick grey sky, stained slightly by the multitude of streetlamps. The bullet had entered through his back and punched its way out through his stomach. He felt it before he heard it. He knew it had killed him. He wasn’t dead yet, but the shot had done its damage.

After the initial shock, there was only the physical pain. Sharp and near unbearable as it was, he knew it was only temporary… as all things are. His assailant knew he was dead too, didn’t even bother to come and finish him off. He was permitted his last moment of reflection. From his unique vantage point on the edge of oblivion, he could see everything so clearly. Looking up at the sky he could see it for what it really was. He could see the shimmer. Had it always shimmered?

It was only now that death was standing over him, that he realised how foolish it was to fear it. Death was simply your reward for putting up with life. Soon, everything would be over. Everything. No longer would he feel the sting of injustice. No longer would he feel the oppressive weight of responsibility. No longer would he feel so fatigued, so weary. Sorrow was just a word and soon he would not be able to comprehend it. He would, as everything does, become nothing. He would be free from the shackles of thought.

His breathing was becoming shallower now. Filling his lungs required too much effort. Closing his eyes and dropping over the edge was all too easy. With weak and bloodied fingers he felt inside his long jacket, tugged at the envelope within his inner pocket and brought it into the fresh air. He glanced at it. He eyed his sprawling, rather rushed writing.

The Truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…

He fell over the edge. He felt the rush of air on the back of his head and in his ears. He plunged and plummeted. He became nothing.

He was free.

Beard Syndrome

I write this having consumed, currently consuming and planning on consuming more wine. That is wine consumption in both the past present and future, which is quite a feat. I say this now so that my loose approach to grammar and inability to write a sentence that doesn’t meander on and go off on tangents is put down to the imbibing of alcohol, not lack of talent.

First and foremost, I love the fantasy genre. This needs to be said because it will seem like I’m throwing a lot of shit at this beloved section of literature. There was a time when fantasy was much maligned. I remember trying, as a young adult, to find an agent for my young adult fantasy series. Most websites for such and a few smaller publishers (that were still excited by the prospects of new authors) who accepted unsolicited manuscripts categorically did not accept fantasy. It was as if it was the literary world’s shameful secret. Like an obscure fetish that should be hidden at all costs. It was something to be sneered at.  Why this was is beyond me. LoTR is fantastic and it depresses me that I’ll never see The Shire. Star Wars is life. Yes. Star Wars is fantasy. Spaceships and laser guns is not the definition of sci-fi. If anything, Star Wars is LoTR in space… old wizard, young unsuspecting farm boy, destruction of an ultimate weapon.

Good fantasy is far superior to any other genre out there. That is fact.

Noticing the literary world’s apparent disdain for the genre, esteemed academic (me) wrote in his (or her) dissertation Is Fantasy Fiction Worthy of Academic Study? That: “Yes… yes, it is.” Although, he (she/I) went on to say that, “Whilst it is undoubtedly worthy, maybe it shouldn’t be.” Primarily because I feel the idea of reading a book with the purpose of ‘studying’ it is the most preposterous pursuit one could ever undertake. To steal and then paraphrase a quote, and use it entirely out of context (my method throughout my academic career) E.B. White once remarked “Analysing humour is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested, and the frog dies of it.” It works the same for analysing a book.

This prompted my tutor to ask why I chose to do an English Literature degree. My go-to response was ‘Because theatre has very few career prospects.’ She laughed, but in hindsight I know she was laughing at the irony of it all.

Now as a proper adult (26), having given up on the young adult series and concentrated on some literary fiction,  every bugger seems to be accepting fantasy. I put this down to all the money Game of Thrones is making. The fantasy section is packed full of books. The Kindle marketplace has even more to offer (though this is largely down to the fact that just about anyone can publish there). There’s so much choice. There’s fantasy in abundance. However, the last three attempts I have made at reading a fantasy book have not gone well, and I have started to realise why (historically) fantasy has struggled so to finally find acceptance in literary circles. It’s because so many people are shit at writing it.

Fantasy seems to attract a lot of people to it. I put it down to the fact that it’s packed full of excitement and imagination. It can cover the entire emotional spectrum, feature interesting characters who have to make hard choices. It ultimately holds a mirror up to reality and allows us to see reality from multiple perspectives all whilst being entertaining. With fantasy, anything can happen.

Which makes it all the stranger that the same thing keeps happening over and over again.

It takes me a long time to settle on a book when I’m choosing, primarily because I have to sort through the books that suffer from what I have called ‘beard syndrome’. Beard syndrome is a funnier way to say a cliched piece of shit. I am drawn to a book by its cover, which is apparently something we shouldn’t do, but then if that’s the case why don’t books just have blank covers and why do publishers spend so much money making fancy colourful ones? Well? Why? Of course, you can judge a book by its cover, even if you’re taking it metaphorically. See a man with a man bun, you can almost guarantee he’s a cunt. Sorry… that’s the wine.

Any fantasy book that features a photograph of a model holding a sword is instantly out. They usually look all dark and brooding. Book covers should never have photos… it just seems wrong.

If I like the cover I read the blurb, which is usually where most books are discarded. Here is a blurb:

Centuries ago, the Thru’ghar were defeated and their dark powers contained by the Sandstone Order. Peace and prosperity have reigned over the land and innocence have been allowed to flourish. Alas, all good things come to an end. Rosha, an orphaned thief plies her trade on the streets of Vericia. Each night she dreams strange dreams.  A shadow is rising in the south.

 The gates to the Sandstone Temple have opened once again.

That was the blurb for The Shadow’s Heir a fantasy novel that was just made up by me just now to illustrate a point. This is the general format of the blurb found on books with Beard Syndrome.  A dark age, followed by a golden age, interrupted by the coming of another dark age. There will be Dark Lord’s galore. Cloaks will billow. A sinister and world-changing threat will loom on the horizon and at some point, a bloke with a beard will turn up. It might be a big long beard or a short well kept one, but it will be there. He’ll know a lot about a lot and will generally be fairly two dimensional.

Anyway, I’ll save a deeper explanation of beard syndrome for when I’m less drunk

So, of the massive amount of fantasy novels that exist, many are discarded because of their covers and many more are discarded because of beard syndrome. Then what of those that remain. Well, some will appear to have an interesting premise or a certain flair, after all, even if their plots do seem cliched and worn out, it’s often about the journey, not the destination… and all that. So it’s about the way they’re written. And so, some books shall eventually be bought by me. Then I shall start reading them. And then my frustration mounts. Because of this small percentage of chosen books, a large portion of them are written by people who can’t write.  And I seem to be the only person who notices!

I say this fully aware that I am not a published writer, so therefore have no grounds to accuse successful novelists of being bad writers. But I will do just that damn it. Not outright, just in case they read this and decide to track me down and try to kill me.

The book I’m currently struggling with has an average of 4 – 4.5 stars on most sites. That’s almost the highest number of stars you can have. In theory, this should be good. In theory.

“___ chest tightened a little as he watched her. As the last few months had flown by, he’d faced plenty of fears about becoming a Shadow. It had been only recently, though, that he’d realized that never being able to see Asha again was far and away the worst of them.”

This is immediately after the first female character has been introduced. I did a few creative writing modules at uni and discovered they were terrible. However, the main thing they kept banging on about is show don’t tell. This is a clear case of the latter. Whilst I disagree with the notion as if well written, telling can be much better than showing, this is not well written. The character has literally just turned up and straight away it’s rammed home that there will be some form of romantic subplot. I hope that the character develops into something more than an object of desire, but such is the demand for romantic subplots, I very much doubt she’ll escape this particular shackle.

“Students were not supposed to speak to non-Gifted about their training, but he and Mistress ___ regularly flouted that rule. She had looked after him for years after he’d been left to the school’s care as an infant. She had the right to know at least a little of what was going on in his life.”

Originally, this seemed to be from the point of view of the main character. Now it seems to have shifted to omniscient. If so, it’s clunky exposition. If it is still from the position of the main character, then his thoughts are odd to say the least. The author is trying to give us context, introduce context and characters, and their relationships. This is a novel that spans close to 700 pages. Why are these points crammed into lifeless paragraphs?

Why?

It’s this that gives fantasy its bad name. It’s this struggle that leaves me grappling with a love/hate relationship. It leaves me worrying what’s going to happen in the remaining 575 pages I’ve yet to read, not because I’m caught up in the adventure, but because the writing is sub-par.

I suppose that’s why literary fiction gets such an easy ride. When the story is about nothing and everything that happens must be grounded in reality. Then the writing needs to be damned good. Otherwise, what’s the point? Who’d read about reality otherwise? Reality is boring. You can see reality by looking out the window, it won’t cost you £8.99 to do that.

Anyway, that’s the third glass down. I’ll stop there, because I realise this has lost its way and the point isn’t really worth making.