An odd film, certainly. There were two things that struck me particularly.
- The repeated mention of the chiff-chaffs happened on the same day that I saw an eviscerated pigeon on the pavement. It looked as if it had been placed there, in ceremonial fashion and seemed quite beautiful until I got closer and realised what it was.
- This intro sequence for the film-within-a-film is quite tremendous
Well, for some reason I've ended up reading the Walter Wotsit biography of Steve Jobs and my over-riding conclusion was that Steve Jobs was Not A Very Nice Man. Personally, I don't give that much of a shit whether there are iPhones in the world, but the fact that he tried to cure cancer by eating beatsprouts shows he wasn't that much of a fucking genius. In the interests of full disclosure, it's worth stating that I didn't pay for the book, but instead downloaded an illegal ebook, which I then transferred onto my horrible Archos reader. Conversion from PDF to ePub files has a strange side effect where double lower case "l"s are rendered as a single "l" and a space. This leads to some odd reading. The head of the Mac engineering team, Bob Belleville, transforms into a Firestorm-like hybrid of the lead singer of Bell Biv Devoe and Ice T's DJ, "Bob Bel evil e"
I also watched Funny or Die's iSteve, which was shit, but endearingly so. Written in three days, filmed in five, it stars Justin Long and Jorge Garcia. Clearly, it's not going for factual accuracy, a fact which some elements of the technology press have failed to grasp. It reminded me of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, just because of the ridiculousness and general lack of reverence toward the real-life inspirations behind the comedy. iSteve isn't as funny as Dewey Cox (which is a hugely under-rated film, I think), but I like the fact it exists, probably just because it annoys some of the right people.
I think it was in Lawrence Block's Telling Lies For Fun and Profit that I first read the maxim that coincidences can only ever work against the main character, as a source of strife and turbulence. Warren Ellis' Gun Machine pays no attention to this principle whatsoever.
While I seem to follow him on every social network going, I'm pretty ambivalent about Ellis' work. I never got into Transmetropolitan or his work on Iron Man. I did, however, greatly enjoy Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. and I thought his first novel, Crooked Little Vein, was pretty good, although it seemed more like a succession of individual scenes (issues, perhaps, speaking to his background as a comics writer) rather than a natural sequence of events. This thing happened, then this thing happened, then this thing happened... which is OK, because they were all interesting things and, besides, the book was basically a road trip, so can be forgiven for being structured around its stops.
Gun Machine, however, promises a much less linear experience. Where Crooked Little Vein was a straight line, Gun Machine promises a web, much more tangled and expansive. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problem of linearity and therefore doesn't fulfil its early promise. The premise was good - a room full of guns, each tied to a single unsolved murder and arranged in an apartment in a meaningful, but cryptic manner. The setup offers a hint of something deep and weird, but the book spends a lot of its time just going through the motions of a detective novel and not a great one, at that.
About two-thirds of the way through, I realised that my main problem was that everything that moved the plot forward had just fallen into the protagonist's lap without him ever doing anything. It was, again, a sequence of things happening. I don't know why that isn't enough (that's what plots are, surely?) but once noticed, it made the book deeply unsatisfying.
(It also has that same slight futurism that I found jarring in Crooked Little Vein, where details appears contemporary apart from one or two pieces of technology which make the motion of the plot not just easier for the characters, but also the author. )
Perhaps I've missed the point. One of the themes of Gun Machine is the idea of invisible maps, be they ancient tribal sites or the flow of data through modern Manhattan. The fact that that Detective Tallow and his CSU colleagues find information so easily may be because of some kind of predetermined path that they are consciously unaware of, but follow on an instinctive, spiritual level. I have no idea if that's the author's intent, but having typed it out it seems like the kind of authorwank I might say to someone who criticised one of my pieces. I don't think Warren Ellis is prone to that sort of thing. I suspect he would just tell me to fuck off and then go and roll around in his pit of money and whores.
If he ever tires of that, I hope he writes more novels. Both of them are flawed, but interesting ways. I may be projecting here, but I think one of the problems is that they're both tied within the constraints of genre. If Gun Machine wasn't quite so detective-y, it might have been a lot more interesting. And, now that I think about it, if the main character was one of the Crime Scene Unit officers rather than a cop, the pattern and methodology might have been more open for exploration. I really didn't expect to read a Warren Ellis novel and come away dissapointed that it wasn't weirder, but there you are. It's enjoyable enough, but I'm not sure it's worth the £13.99 asking price.
Today I read a copy of Viz for the first time in about fifteen years. I've never really been that into it to be honest, despite owning a 'Pathetic Sharks' t-shirt as a teenager. I don't think I ever bothered reading the articles and letters, though, which are by far the best part.
One strip in the latest issue really struck me, though. We Buy Xmas is a pretty good assessment of what it's like on the British high street at the moment.
I'm in the process of redesigning my website and transferring the existing content from Wordpress to Squarespace. There might be some broken links and odd things as this is ongoing. Please bear with me.
Video by Cyriak.
Having had a full time job for all of two months now, I'm obviously qualified to make an expert analysis on what's wrong with modern capitalism. It's nothing to do with supply and demand or the means of production. The reason that everyone's so stressed out and miserable isn't down to the bubble bursting or the double dip. I just think hardworking five days in a row is too much. Having a cycle of two days on, one day off would lead to most people having a much more enjoyable life. You wouldn't have that long slog toward the weekend and then use half of it getting over the week just gone or preparing for the one ahead.
I think I just solved modern society. Time for a biscuit.
The real lives of superheroes has become a well-worn trope in recent years and while Soon I Will Be Invincible isn't on a par with Watchmen or the Incredibles, it manages to flesh out its characters well enough. Usually, authors seeking to comment on superheroes either tend to make them too campy or too dysfunctional, but Grossman manages to strike a reasonable balance. Despite this, there was something that bothered me about the cast of Soon I Will Be Invincible and it wasn't until I read the author bio that I pinpointed what it is.
Austin Grossman graduated from Harvard University in 1991 and became a video game designer at Looking Glass studios. He is currently a freelance game design consultant and is studying for a Ph.D in English Literature. He lives in Berkeley.
And with that little bit of the author's history, the focus of the novel snapped into place. You see, all the main characters in the novel went to Harvard, be they heroes or villains (although I seem to recall that Doctor Impossible didn't graduate). What's more, they all seemed to know each other while studying and when the time came to form allegiances, they relied on their alma mater for suitable connections. While there are characters in the book that didn't attend Ivy League schools, they tend to be relegated to the roles of underdogs and also-rans. The intrinsic notion that of course the bravest and the boldest would originate from Cambridge, Massachusetts seems to speak volumes about the entitlement that education at such an establishment gives you. (That and the fact that you mention an institution you attended 20 years ago as the first line of your bio.)
It's interesting in this context specifically because it runs against one of the central principles of the superhero genre, namely that anyone from a immature paperboy to a millionaire playboy can find themselves in a cape and a mask if the right set of circumstances dictate it. What Soon I Will Be Invincible does is undercut this notion and suggest that, no, it's actually going to be the privileged, well-funded and overachieving bright young things of America's academic elite that will take on the capes. The occasional schlub might get a lucky break and be hit by a truck of radioactive waste, but generally the Justice League and the Ivy League will be pretty much synonymous. When this became clear, I started thinking about the parallels to The Social Network and it struck me that most of the heroes seemed distinctly Winkelvossian – born into privilege, with enormous resources at their disposal and genetic advantages that their competitors can't hope to emulate. Doctor Impossible, by contrast, has all the smarts but none of the connections and spends his life trying to reconnect with the girl that got away. He's the Zuckerberg, with one big difference.
He doesn't win at the end.
Despite the fact that I settled a long time on my favoured writing instrument, I still spend an inordinate amount of time trying out different ones. While I still use a Uniball Eye for pretty much everything, I do occasionally have a yen for using a pencil. With that in mind, I bought a Parker mechanical pencil for about a fiver off Amazon. Not only this, but I thought it would be a good idea to write about it, if only to reassure myself that I'm not the only maniac who Googles reviews of pencils before buying them. It writes well enough, but the barrel tapers to quite a slim width, which initially felt a little awkward for my long fingers. That seems to be easing a bit as I adjust to it, but it does feel a little strange. Others might find it suits them perfectly from the off. With this being a Parker, however, it's boxed and packaged on the shelf, meaning you can't give it a go before you buy it in a shop. There's a bit of rattle as you handle it, but that may just be the lead inside the body and there's no noise as you write. It's not quite as solidly put together as I imagined, but perhaps I had unrealistic expectations given I was paying five pounds, not fifty. I certainly find it nicer to use than plastic propelling pencils and feel confident that I can keep it in my pocket without it breaking. There's a solidity to it that I find reassuring. Given that using a Parker is a nod to the old school, it's nice to occasionally use it and pretend that I'm a civil servant in the 60s. (I know they wouldn't use a pencil, but I'd rather die than use a ballpoint and am too clumsy to use a fountain pen). There was perhaps an outside hope that it would be the right implement for use with a Moleskine and cure my ongoing obsession with how much writing shows through to the other side of a page. Unfortunately, that seems to just be the way the paper is made and something always shows through, no matter if you're using the softest lead or the crappiest biro.
I don't think it's perfect, probably because I prefer something with a wider and darker line, but it has a certain quality that pleases me – a mixture of the classic and the modern. Maybe that makes me a ponce, but I don't care. Sometimes using a chewed Staedler simply won't do.
I've watched the first episode of The Newsroom twice now. Not because I wanted to, but because the hubbub surrounding Aaron Sorkin's new drama seemed to demand that I do so. (Usually, my re-watching of his work happens late at night, when I'm having trouble sleeping. It's not that I find his work boring, you understand, just that I'm a nervous sleeper and am reassured by the thought of a world run by people so dedicated to politics, baseball or late-night sketch comedy that they'll do with an endearing mix of gravitas and levity and make poignant speeches at exactly the right moment.) I'm not ashamed to say that I'm a Sorkin fan, although it's possibly because he consistently portrays writers as heroes. Still, The West Wing remains one of my favourite television programmes, I thought Moneyball was great (despite not much about baseball apart from the fact that my team – the Mets – really seem to suck) and I've even grown to like the parts of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip that don't focus on the show-within-the-show (don't get me wrong, there's still much that's wrong with Studio 60, but the fact that the sketches aren't funny stopped being a concern when I actually watched a whole episode of Saturday Night Live and found it just as stilted and heavy handed as any of Matt Albie's gems).
I'll be interested to see where The Newsroom goes, but I think I'll avoid reading about it, not least because the criticism seems to be more about Sorkin than the show itself. This is perhaps inevitable, given unusual amount of authorial presence he has compared to other showrunners, but the whole tenor of TV criticism seems to have become skewed into a twisted perception of the medium it covers. The AV Club, for example, seems to have stopped assessing media on its merits and instead seems to give grades based on what the reviewer thinks it will, could or should be. It's difficult to tell whether this is because there's a lot of good television around at the moment, which makes it difficult for reviewers to create scathing hack and slash eviscerations (always the most fun to write) or if it's because TV's so good that they feel they have something to do with its success and by association can write whatever they damn well please, because they're part of a golden age. (The AV Club also seems to be developing a strange king of Stockholm Syndrome with its commenters. When a journalist of any stripe says:
And with that, I’m going to say this grade is both entirely provisional and able to be affected by you. I drop in on the comments from time to time. Convince me this was either better or worse than it was over the weekend. I’ll change the grade (or not) on Monday.
I think it's time to acknowledge that you're no longer a critic, but a chat room moderator.)
Anyway, the main thrust of the criticism of The Newsroom states that it's more of the same from Sorkin - highly polished, wordy drama that doesn't say anything new and is based around the same tropes as the rest of his oeuvre. But Sorkin has always recycled his material and his fans don't really care. You either dig it or you don't and you're not going to change your mind whether it turns up one time or twelve.
Indeed, there's probably an element that welcomes the reappearance of his idioms and tropes, be like the return of an old friend. I'm less enthusiastic, but I'm willing to give it a go. I've only seen the first episode, so can't say how things will develop. I'm not sure I agree with Warren Ellis that The Newsroom is Studio 60 redux and I'm certainly not qualified to disagree with Dan Rather's assessment, but The Newsroom seems like it's at least the right context for the heart-felt speechifying that Sorkin does so well. For better or worse, I'll probably end up watching it all, and probably more than once.
But if another character say they "could care less" when they mean "couldn't", I'll switch the fucking thing off right there and then.
I really enjoyed The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe (much more so than The Rain Before It Falls, which I didn't even finish), but the last few pages seemed odd and I don't know if they were entirely necessary. While Coe's insertion of himself as a character didn't piss me off as much as "Douglas Coupland" appearing in JPod, it didn't seem a natural fit with the rest of the story, either. While the final coda was reminiscent of What A Carve Up's repeated refrain that the narrator can never die (at least, not until the end) the conclusion of Maxwell Sim (both the character and the book) seemed to be handled less elegantly than in Coe's earlier work. The concept of author insertion comes up here and there. As mentioned, Coupland's done it and I believe that Stephen King himself pops up in one of the Dark Tower novels (although this was written during his recovery from the traffic accident that nearly killed him, so perhaps we can excuse it on compassionate grounds). While I'm not so arrogant as to put myself in this company of successful authors, I have put a proxy of myself into one of my novellas before and it's only when I see that if these guys can't do it successfully, maybe I shouldn't attempt it either. It seems to be the point at which the author stops serving the needs of the reader in order to satisfy his or her own. (Do female novelists insert themselves into their stories? The only examples I can think of are by male authors.) I don't think that Coe's appearance at the end of Maxwell Sim is egregiously bad, but it's an odd way to end a novel. I can't imagine Christopher Nolan popping up at the end of Inception and explaining that he came up with the idea when he fell asleep on holiday and woke up to see his kids playing with a spinning top, before adding a few other titbits about the making of the film before saying "well, that about wraps it up - g'night folks!". Woody Allen might do it, or maybe Wes Anderson. Spike Lee almost did it at the beginning of Jungle Fever, but thought better of it. The Coen Brothers would probably relish it, but I suspect they'd make most of the facts up, just to mess with the audience. Anyway, this digression gets away from the basic point, which is that as readers we don't really want or need to know where an author's ideas come from. Although it's probably the question that's asked most often, the truth is that we probably don't want to know. The truth is almost always depressingly mundane and the effect of finding out is akin to understanding how a magician does their tricks, leaving one muttering, "You mean that's it?" and feeling vaguely ill at ease. The truth is that we don't want to know. We want to guess, to imagine a rich life of imagination rather than the banal truth of someone sitting at a keyboard and pressing buttons. It’s an instance where the reader is allowed to use their imagination and I think authors revealing their methods actually do the readers a disservice. It's OK to do it in an interview or a Q&A, but to plonk it into one of your books just seems a bit shabby and robs the audience of the chance to work things out for themselves.
In the case of Maxwell Sim, long-standing readers of Jonathan Coe should find it easy to trace the inspirations and literary tropes. The themes of coincidence, memory and miscommunication are all present, but while they are all woven together with Coe's typical delicacy, the story feels more intimate than most of his more recent works. While many miles are covered geographically, it doesn't encompass the scope of the multi-generational arcs of The Rotters' Club and The Closed Circle. If anything, it most resembles A Touch of Love, with its awkward protagonist and the multiple epistolary sections that reveal the inner life of the characters through external observation. The fact that Maxwell Sim is a smaller book isn’t intended as a criticism. While it didn’t give me the rush of exhilaration that The House of Sleep or What A Carve Up! did on first reading (much of which could also be attributed to the excitement of finding a new author who speaks to you in a way you didn’t know possible), but it didn’t have the muted sense of disappointment that The Rotters' Club or The Rain Before It Falls did, either. It’s perhaps indicative of where Coe is at in his career. After eight novels, he perhaps no longer feels the need to try grand experiments or prove any kind of point and so can settle into simply telling a story. While Maxwell Sim retains a definite political agenda, it manages to sit within the environment of the narrative, rather than straddling and squashing it as some of his other books have done. Similarly, there are examples of long run-on sentences, but not as conspicuous as the bombing passage in The Rotters' Club. Perhaps it’s as innovative as some of his other work, but it’s a really good, new Jonathan Coe novel that manages to satisfy the things I love about his work without venturing into the aspects that interest me less.
And that, really, is all I’ve been wanting since I finished the last page of my paperback edition of The House of Sleep in 1998.
The latest story in my 52 Murders project is a branching narrative called Breakdown. It's my first proper attempt at interactive fiction, which is an area I have a sort of love/hate relationship with. On the one hand, I think it's an interesting idea to introduce choice into stories, offering the reader different ways of experiencing a story. On the other hand, I find old-school text adventures to be impossibly frustrating and a horrible waste of time. I've watched Get Lamp, which details the rise and fall of the text adventure, and I came away with two main points.
- The idea of interactivity in fiction isn't a new idea, but it is one that still hasn't been done well (as far as I'm concerned).
- I never want to be like the people who write, program or enjoy text adventures.
While I've always liked the idea of adventure games, I've come to the conclusion that I'm not really the sort of person they're aimed at. I've completed The Secret of Monkey Island, got a reasonable amount of the way through the Indiana Jones Adventures and a fair way through most of the Broken Sword games, but I don't think I've ever got past the first room of a text adventure. Why is this? I think there are a couple of reasons.
The first is that my primary interest is making stories. I'm used to writing them and I enjoy being told them. What I don't like doing is writing other people's stories for them and that, for better or worse, is what text adventures feel like to me. I don't want to work out what you think the right thing to say to the gatekeeper is. I either want to decide for myself or have it told for me. Text adventures feel too much like work, and not work that I enjoy.
The other reason is that I don't like puzzles. Some people love being stumped. I'm not one of them. I don't mind working things out, but I don't enjoy the obtuse leaps of logic that are the main selling points of some of these games. I'll freely admit that part of it's laziness. I just can't be bothered to devote the mental energies. Also, there's the problem that games tend to be made by programmers. While I'm not disputing the writing quality of many text adventures, the inherent skills required for making such a thing depends on a logical understanding of locations, variables, logic, strings, integers and conditional loops. As a result, the thinking needed to progress tends to stem from this kind of thinking and it's not something that I'm interested in, nor am I willing to relearn the skills needed to do so.
Truth be told, I'm a child of the GUI. Yes, I had an Amstrad CPC, but I didn't program it. (I tried to learn by typing in the program listings from Amstrad Action, but would arbitrarily change variable names to ones I liked better. It was no surprise, therefore, that these programs never worked for me.) My only uses were playing games and writing stories. A few years later, I got an Amiga. Again, it was mainly games and stories, but I would also use coverdiscs to explore graphics, music and other things. This was all done with a mouse. The keyboard was for typing, triggering samples or quick-selecting tools in Deluxe Paint. When I inherited a friend's 486 PC, it had Windows 95 on it. I never had to tangle with DOS. What I learned about HTML, I learned from Dreamweaver. What I learned about motion graphics, I learned from Flash. I've never been a hacker. I don't even like games that involve hacking. I prefer kicking in the door and shooting everyone with a bazooka.
But I keep coming back to the idea of interactive stories, because I feel there's something there that appeals to me. Having admitted to myself that a blank screen and a command prompt isn't the way for me to start, I've been seeking out alternative ways of making these things - something with buttons that I can click. I use a brainstorming program called xMind quite extensively for story ideas and it occured to me that there should be something similar for mapping out branching narratives.
Twine is a cross-platform toolbox for creating interactive stories and is simple enough for someone like me to use. You have a start point and you add branches from there by adding boxes and linking them together. There's some other stuff under the hood for setting conditions, but these are so simple that even I could get my head around them. In short, it's the tool I've been looking for, at least in the short term. Rather than have to sit down and learn syntax and structure, you just write and string things together. I wasn't really looking for sophistication, I just wanted something that I can use. Twine fit that bill perfectly. The overview lets you see how sections of the story ("Passages" in Twine's parlance) interconnect. Links are created by enclosing options in [[double square brackets]] and the whole process is amazingly quick.
My first effort with Twine was a story called Breakdown. I'll freely admit that it's not amazing. The setting is a cliche in itself and the options presented aren't particularly interesting. As it's been created in the context of 52 Murders, virtually all options lead to a death, which would probably be hugely frustrating and unfair if it were a game, but that's not the intent of the piece. The aim isn't to win, but to explore the options laid out before you, hopefully in a manner that's accessible as possible. The choices tend to be either/or and I don't think there's any backtracking or loops in the story (apart from one obvious one, which was a cheap ploy by me to excuse the fact that I didn't know what else to do).
If nothing else, Twine made me feel as if I could just jump in and start writing, which tends to be the way I like to work, even if it's just outlining the barebones and then going back and filling in the details. In this case, I laid out the choices and plot points as I went. This is probably the wrong approach to take, as I sometimes found myself painted into a corner, faced with logistical problems of how to link up various passages so that the overall plot made sense, no matter which way you went through it. I didn't mind, though, because it was the sort of thing that I like to do. Making the pieces of the various plots work was my puzzle and one that I enjoyed working out. (This may mean that Breakdown was more fun to make than it was to play, but that doesn't bother me too much. Experimentation is about failure as much as success.)As much as anything. I hope that Breakdown will have allowed me to get some of the more hoary cliches out of my system. It's a really straightforward adventure-style story in the second person. I think I'd like to try some more interesting things with it.
The good thing is, I'm not afraid to try.
Addendum - Technical Problems
The main problems I had with Twine were technical. I couldn't get it to install on my Windows XP netbook and the Mac OS version crashed a few times on me, usually at the point when I thought "I should probably save soon". Hit "Save" after doing anything. Seriously. It's not that bad, but the immutable law of crashes is that they'll happen at the worst possible time.
* [[Option A]] * [[Option B]]
To this customised version, which blanks out the alternates when you choose one.
I thought I was being clever by laying out my story in the normal way, then exporting the source code into a text editor and replacing the square brackets with the pointy ones. I was not. When I reimported the source code, my carefully laid plans came out like this:
Which made tracing the story impossible. Luckily, it didn't prove to be too much of a problem, as it was at the very end, but if it had been mid-way through a large project it could have been a real nightmare.
By actually refreshing the page, all the data and variables are cleared and the story restarts properly from scratch.
(I mention this stuff, just in case anyone else is having similar difficulties. The answers are probably on the Google Groups for Twee, but I always find discussion groups fairly impenetrable).
Wesley was a bigot, but he was a reasonable one. While most of his prejudices were handed down from his father, Wesley had never had the same zeal for zealotry and tried to apply an empirical model to justify his beliefs. This was fine as far as it went, but as he grew up and his experiences varied he found that his assertions were not as certain as he had once believed. He had spent the first twenty-two years of his life stating categorically that white people were mentally and physically superior to black people, but he had to let go of this notion after getting the shit beaten out of him by a Kenyan semiotics professor. As he tended his wounds, Wesley had no choice but to admit that he was wrong. He resigned from the Aryan Brotherhood and set about finding a new group of people to discriminate against. Undeterred, he set about proving the inferiority of women, declaring himself to be an unrepentant misogynist and seeking at every turn to denigrate the female gender. Although his constant invective made him a social pariah, he nevertheless managed to convince a naïve young woman to marry him. This, he thought, would be a chance to really prove his point about the superiority of men, which he did with a constant barrage of physical and mental abuse. Finally, when she could take it no more, his wife responded by stabbing him with a carving knife. The wound almost killed Wesley, but when the chain of events leading up to it was read out in court, the judge (a man) declared the assault as justifiable self-defence and ruled that Wesley should pay damages. Wesley was forced to conclude that men were not superior and another avenue of hate was closed off to him.
He remained undaunted, however, and set out to find a new group of people to hate. He tried anti-Semitism, but found he had a real taste for matzo ball soup and thought Woody Allen and Jackie Mason were hilarious. Similarly, his attempt to wage war on Islam came undone when he actually read the Qu'ran in order to 'know his enemy' and actually found it to be rather beautiful.
It was depressing. It seemed all people, no matter what shape or hue, had their merits. Wesley was starting to think that maybe he wasn't cut out for the prejudice game after all. It was then that a bright idea struck him. Rather than concentrate on a section of humanity to despise (and then have to revoke his prejudice when it was proved false) he should concentrate his efforts on creatures that were by their very nature sub-human. He would turn his bigoted eye on the animal kingdom and prove that he was at the top of the food chain.
Well, not at the top, exactly. He couldn't claim superiority over the creatures larger than him. He wasn't about to pick a fight with a lion. Or a bear. Or an elephant, shark, alligator, rhino, gorilla, tiger or octopus. In fact, he didn't feel comfortable having a go at any animal larger than him, so that ruled out horses, cows and even some large pigs. And, if he was honest, he didn't like the idea of antagonising anything poisonous, so he decided not to pick on snakes, squids, frogs or lizards. He had no great love for dogs, but had to concede that they helped blind people and were useful for finding drugs in airports. Cats were small enough to be picked on, but were too aloof to take any notice of his ranting and as such made frustratingly unsatisfying victims. And he really couldn't be bothered chasing mice, voles and hamsters around.
That left insects. Those bastard insects, coming into our homes and gardens, eating our sugar and buzzing on our windows. They would have to pay.
Pleased that he'd finally found an indisputably inferior victim, he set about taking his prejudicial actions to new extremes. Having rounded up a collection of maggots, he created a small concentration camp to house them in. This, he decided, was the perfect way to show them the error of their ways. Wesley's position as prison warden only lasted a few weeks, however, after which the maggots turned to flies and buzzed away over his carefully modelled guard towers.
Non-winged insects, then. They were the real problem. They were the ones coming here and ruining everything for us decent, two-legged mammals. Reworking his concentration camp into a work-farm, Wesley installed a colony of ants – racially inferior ants – to work as his slaves. Occasionally, he would fry one or two with sunlight and a magnifying glass, but found this lacked the visceral impact he was after. After a short period of experimentation, he created a small gallows using a bonsai tree and fishing wire, which he used to hang the occasional ant as a warning to the others.
Truth be told, however, it wasn't that satisfying. Asserting yourself superior to ants didn't seem that much of an accomplishment. Besides, Wesley had to admit a sneaking admiration for the way the ants worked together. It was like they were all striving for some greater good. Like communists.
That gave him a shock. His dad had always told him that communists were evil - the puppeteers of blacks and jews. His dad had been a great racist – never questioned his beliefs or thought about what he was saying. Wesley had never really been able to live up to his dad's standards of bigotry and now that the old man was dead, he would never know if his own discrimination would have pleased his father. Perhaps, then, the best he could do was try to live a good life and be happy. Perhaps it wasn't necessary to express hatred of a group of people just to honour the memory of one dead racist. Perhaps, Wesley thought, he should just try to be nice to people. It sounded like a good deal to him.
He took his concentration camp into the garden and let the ants run free. Staring out into the afternoon sun, he felt good about the world for the first time. So what if he turned out to be a communist, or a liberal or even a socialist? It wasn't the worst thing that could happen.
It was at that moment that a bee stung Wesley. In and of itself, this would have been simply unfortunate (and slightly ironic given his reformed view of the world), but matters became decidedly worse when Wesley had an allergic reaction and went into anaphylactic shock. He was dead in seconds.
Freed from the mortal plain, Wesley's spirit entered a state of awareness that the living can never experience. He was aware of the universe both as a whole and as each individual component and saw that each and every part was equally necessary. Every dimension became clear and Wesley's consciousness was able to see how his life had touched those around him and how his actions had rippled out throughout the totality of space and time. Past, present and future were as one and formed the true holy trinity. Wesley's consciousness reached out to his father and they stood together, finally able to see and share the breadth and beauty of all creation. In that moment, Wesley turned to his father and said that he got it now, that he could see that everything was connected and the idea was to harmonise and spread love throughout the universe.
His father turned to face him, his eyes shining with tears and in a wavering voice said: