Re-reading the 90s: Girlfriend in a Coma

I’m re-reading some of the books I loved in the 90s to see what I make of them now. First up: Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland. This post contains spoilers.

What I Remember

I enjoyed reading this book, but my recollection is short on details. I know there were a group of friends in the 80s, one of whom becomes the titular girlfriend in a coma. Years later, she has revived and the world has ended, with the group of friends somehow untouched. They live on in an empty world, talking about their lives. A couple become obsessed with jewels and drugs. There are some powerful reflective passages, where Coupland speaks through his characters about ageing and youth.

The main thing I remember about this book is being entranced by it, even if the details have all slipped away. I once lent it to a lover, who returned it with her dismissive review that it was “gash”.

I was looking forward to re-reading it, but not sure whether I would find it entertaining or superficial.

What it was like

Girlfriend in a Coma is a book filled with wise and startling observations, and the story often feels like it’s only there to hang these observations on. It’s also a profoundly weird book, with several strange elements co-existing – Jared’s ghost, the coma, and the end of the world.

The book divides into three sections, with the first part following the characters from adolescence through to Karen’s return from the coma. I found this part of the book wearing, often too quirky, and didn’t feel as if I knew the characters; but when Karen awoke from the coma I found myself moved so I guess something was working.

Just as the book settles into Karen’s return, it takes another abrupt lurch, with the end of the world arriving. It transpires that Karen’s coma was because she had somehow glimpsed the coming apocalypse. People begin falling asleep and dying around the world, and Karen and her friends are the only people untouched.

Coupland’s first novel was 1991’s Generation X. He’d been given an advance to write a handbook about GenX, but instead wrote a novel (which the publisher rejected). Traces of that handbook remain in Generation X as the box-out definitions throughout the book. I feel like Girlfriend in a Coma is similar, in that Coupland is using this novel to give us his observations about ageing and cynicism. I’d love to read a compilation of Coupland’s best sentences and paragraphs, but I’m not sure how well he works on the level of a novel.

Re-reading this, I’m not sure why I had it as one of my favourite novels. The abrupt turn to the plot comes late, and doesn’t work well. The combination of ghosts, apocalypse and the miraculous reawakening make the book feel overstuffed. A simple novel about a girl from 1979 emerging into the 90s would have been powerful enough.

Book review: United We Fnord

One of the aims of our Mycelium Parish News was to cover discordian events in the UK. I wondered what other groups were about, and re-read Brenton Clutterbuck’s United We Fnord to learn more. This book is subtitled ‘more discordian tales from the UK’ and arose from Clutterbuck’s longer Chasing Eris project, which published in 2018. United We Fnord was inspired from a Chasing Eris review by Cat Vincent. While positive about the book, Cat points out that there was more scope for discussing some of the details.

I found the two chapters on the British scene were notably lacking in the kind of in-depth description of the people and scenes that are the lifeblood of other chapters: other than his presence at the Horse Hospital fundraiser for Cosmic Trigger, Clutterbuck didn’t seem to have spent as much time simply hanging out with the people, and so the two chapters on the UK scene focus more on the history

I guess Clutterbuck didn’t want the UK section overwhelming the book, and this additional book features several people who were cut from Chasing Eris. It’s an interesting glimpse into the Discordian scene at the time of Clutterbuck’s visit – or, I think visits, given some of the timings of some of the interviews. He was in the country for the Horse Hospital event, ‘The Late, Great Robert Anton Wilson’ on 23rd October 2013 – but one interview with Ben Graham took place after Festival 23 in July 2016.

The ‘Late Great Robert Anton Wilson’ event is now almost ten years ago. That gathering at the Horse Hospital was described by Clutterbuck as “a fun but unassuming night that never seemed to warn that it would explode outwards with so much power – books, plays, magazines, conferestivals and more can trace their roots back to this event”.

Being at this event introduced Clutterbuck to Jon Harris, the Money-Burning Guy. The interview with Jon shows him early in his explorations of money burning. The book also notes that Jon Harris’s first burn was on 23rd October 2007, six years to the day before the horse hospital event.

One of the most interesting discussions was with Dr Syn, who ran the Syntacalypse Generator press. There are a dizzying number of publications listed, some featuring compilations of online epherma (a ‘web scrounge’), others serious attempts to construct a new Discordian scripture. There’s a part of me that wants a clear bibliography for Discordianism, but the maybe these authorships and publishing histories should be chaotic. The Black Iron Prison book is referred to in several interviews. A Discordian bibliography is listed on wikipedia and on a Discordian fandom wiki. There is a separate list elsewhere of Syntacalypse Generator Press publications.

Clutterbuck found some of his interviewees through the principiadiscordia.com forum, and there are discussions of opaque forum drama, and we see how that relates to the real world. There is also an interview with psychogeographer Morag Rose (albeit with only a brief reference to Discordianism). I also enjoyed reading about Hagbard, who got into discordianism via the ddate utility that was bundled into linux, which generated the Discordian date and led him towards the Principia Discordia.

I signed up for the principiadiscordia.com forum, but things seem quiet and I am not sure if they are taking new members. There may be other Discordian groups on Facebook, but I’ve not been a member there for years. I assume that there are others out there, doing the Discordian thing of ‘sticking apart’.

(The book is currently available only on Clutterbuck’s patreon, which probably limits the opportunity to access it – although I’m not sure if you can get if by signing up for a single month)

Why I Love Mastodon (and why I won’t be running my own instance)

In December, I moved from Twitter to Mastodon. It’s a lot quieter, but the interactions feel like Twitter’s early days – friendly, more interactive, and not overwhelmed by news and ‘trending topics’. There’s a feeling people are still figuring out how this works, how best to use the medium. It’s going to be some time before I have a network as engaging as the one on twitter, but Mastodon has great potential.

(I still have the Twitter account as a way of receiving messages and contacting people, but my day-to-day posts are now written to my mastodon account)

A lot of Mastodon’s calmness comes from its design. Mastodon works more like email than a big social media site – your account is managed by a particular instance, which can interact with other instances. If an instance has poor moderation, or a large number of undesirable accounts, that entire instance can be disconnected from your own.

I like that Mastodon is a protocol rather than a platform. In the early days, Twitter had elements of a protocol, with a powerful API that allowed people to produce their own clients and websites based on it. Over time, Twitter restricted the power of the API, in order to protect its revenue. Eventually, Twitter began the transformation into a media company, privileging engaging (or enraging) posts over communication between friends. Now, all traces of openness of Twitter have gone as Musk recently closed down many third apps.

One great thing about having local instances in Mastodon is that each one can set its own local rules ,as described in a vice article. There is a server that only allows registrations at specific times, so new people can be welcomed. There is oulippo.social, which enforces constrained writing, with people banned from using the letter ‘e’. This is made up for by dolphin.town, where people play at being dolphins and are only allowed to use the letter e in messages. (Matt Webb wrote a brilliant essay on interactions between oulippo.social and dolphin.town)

Local instances also means moderation can be applied locally. Hate speech can be banned completely, rather than suffering arguments with moderators about what is appropriate. If you don’t like the choices made by your local instance, you can move to another one. There’s no need to suffer anything like Instagram’s awkward (and shifting) definition of art as pornography. You can ban nazis, TERFs and trolls from the local instance.

Local instances also means that you become part of a community. I joined mastodonapp.uk since a friend had decided to use it, and that saved me working out where to sign up. But I now feel a responsibility towards the instance. There are server fees to be paid, and moderation takes energy. I follow the site owner’s account to keep in touch with what’s happening.

I had thought about hosting my own mastodon instance, but I’m now aware of the work required for that. Most of all, I don’t want to take on the responsibility for moderation. Looking at the threads discussing moderation and the list of banned servers, there are some horrible people in the world. I don’t want to even have to think about the existence of paedophile mastodon instances, let alone be responsible for protecting a community from them. There was also a good essay On Running A mastodon Instance, which looked at some of the challenges (and joys) in running an instance.

For the moment, mastodonapp.uk seem happy to absorb the impact of maintenance and moderation. Moderation is essential, but it is expensive and hard, as we’ve learned from the mass social media platforms. I quit Facebook in disgust at how its poor safeguarding had led to genocidal behaviour in places such as Rohingya. Mastodon makes the problems of moderation more explicit, making each community responsible for it. That is both a challenge and an opportunity.

The Mycelium Parish Magazine

The Mycelium Parish News is a zine about what happened in a particular corner of UK counter-culture during 2022. It was produced by Dan Sumption and me over the past 3-4 months, and was released just in time for Christmas. It’s 44 pages, but is just light enough that it qualifies as a letter, meaning you can order this for £2.30 including post and packing from my etsy store.

I’m really pleased with this. It includes roundups of events, podcasts, videos, books and more over the last year. There are also a couple of longer updates from Commoner’s Choir and the Church of Burn. We’ve also set up a URL-shortener to save having to type in long links for the online resources.

I had originally suggested to Dan that we work towards doing something like this for 2023, and Dan insisted we get something together for this year. I wasn’t sure but decided to give it a try. I’m glad we did – it’s exciting to see all the things our tribe has done over the year. Dan has also managed to give it a wonderful and peculiar look.

With a project like this, there will always be things that are missed out. Dan texted me this week to tell me about a massive omission. I would also have liked on particular to have much more about the Post Apocalypse School of Teeside. But that’s OK – I’ve already started collecting things to include in the 2023 edition.

I’m basically the world’s worst Discordian – I’ve already started work on the next parish magazine, due to be published in a year’s time. I think that Eris likes having some organised Discordians about to help make the others look more chaotic.

Monthnotes: December 2022

December was dominated by settling into my new job. Things are chaotic at present, with five hours of meetings some days, and little time to do my actual work. I’m mostly enjoying it but the job has sometimes felt vampiric. Christmas preparations were continually blown away as work took all my energy, and I sent many of my cards late and never got a tree. I didn’t transition to a crunch-mode lifestyle, so my diet was very poor. Things should calm down at the start of next year, but this was a tricky month.

I have done a few things other than work, with Kaylee coming to visit, and Vicky bringing Libby the Greyhound after Christmas. I also worked on the Discordian Parish Magazine, which we’re selling via etsy. I’m enjoying the social side of working in an office in Leeds, including the office Christmas party where we went to a darts venue. Hebden Bridge had snow in December’s second week, which looked beautiful, but turned the streets into a dangerous ice-rink.

I walked 317,061 steps in November, an average of just 10,227 a day, with the highest daily total being for a walk to Howarth. That trek also included a wintry fresh water swim – very short but invigorating. I also had a good snowy walk to High Brown Knoll with Lola the Labrador. There was a failed attempt to walk to the Bridestones where we left too late in the afternoon. We might have annoyed the boggarts, since Jamie’s shoes fell apart. My weight remained pretty much unchanged through the month.

Elon Musk managed to turn twitter into a fiasco with surprising speed, and this spurred me to start using my Mastodon account. First impressions are that Mastodon is slower and quieter, but it’s also friendlier, with some of the feeling of early twitter. The local moderation seems to work much better than the one-size-fits-all approach taken by Twitter or Meta. It’s a very different experience, but could be a good replacement. I’m @orbific@mastodonapp.uk.

With the end of the year, I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing and decided that I’d rather not spend so much energy on submitting stories to publications. I’d prefer to make my own little story zines, or other artefacts. I’m excited about the prospect, although self-publishing brings its own challenges.

I read 9 books in December. Last One at the Party was a sort of lit-fit versions of the 80s kids comics where only one person survives the apocalypse. Robin Ince’s Bibliomaniac was a cosy book-tour diary that should not have worked, but was a good book companion and got me excited about second hand bookshops again. Keiron Gillen’s Immortal X-Men was fun, but much of the wider plot was inscrutable. I think current Marvel continuity is very much aimed at people who want to be reading the whole X-Men franchise. I don’t really have the attention or the funds to keep up with plots across several ongoing series.

I agreed with most of the points in Laura Bates’ Men Who Hate Women, but sometimes the journalistic/sensational tone did not work for me. The issues Bates discusses are indeed sensational and horrifying, but I would have liked some deeper analysis. For example, while the men described are awful, there’s an odd tension between the sympathy for the boys and young men who are being radicalised, and how those embedded within the communities that were described as evil and irredeemable. Quibbles aside, it was an important book, and a brave one too, given the viciousness of the communities Bates wrote about. Violence and misogyny have been normalised in our culture, and sadly Bates’ book is not making the impact it should.

One Man and His Bog was an account of walking the Pennine Way in the 1980s. I found the humour a little forced, but the Goodreads reviews suggest many people disagree with me. Also disappointing was Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger 3, where Wilson had drifted from multi-model agnosticism to gammony opinions about feminism and PC. I also published a blog post listing my favourite books of 2022.

I watched the rest of The Peripheral, but never felt as gripped as I wanted to. Inspector Lowbeer stole the limelight once she turned up, making me wish she’d been the show’s focus. I watched a little of Netflix’s Turkish linguistics dystopia Hot Skull, which was interesting but didn’t quite take for me. Star Wars prequel-prequel Andor was mostly relegated to background watching. It was exquisitely made, but I wasn’t sure what aspect of the story required it to be set in the Star Wars universe. I did love much enjoyed seeing Cleveley’s seafront repurposed as the resort world Niamos. Just after Christmas, Disney Plus finally dropped the new season of Atlanta. I’m enjoying how disinterested this feels in being a regular show.

I watched 7 films in December, with highlights being Norwegian kaiju flick Troll, and star-filled drama Cop Land. X was a surprisingly good slasher film, with some editing that was so weird and disconcerting that I fell in love with the film. Saint Maud was a slow movie with a surprisingly strong payoff. Silent Night was a very dark Christmas movie that surprised me with how grim it was prepared to get. Even more than the film itself, I loved the reviews by outraged viewers who felt it went Too Far.

Some odds and ends:

  • After getting some awful headaches at the start of the month, I’ve been completely off coffee. However, I do have cravings for decaf most mornings.
  • Last December we had the log4shell issue, and this year we had the disasters at Lastpass. I’ve closed that account and updated all the passwords I had stored in that manager. Very frustrating.
  • Tim Harford hosted a podcast episode called The Conspiracy Theorist Who Changed his Mind which had some interesting discussion of how people do not change their views from argument, but rather from community. Some interesting lessons there.

2023!

2023! A new year!

I like the idea of setting intentions at new year, although these are often soon discarded without much thought. That’s fine. Take this as a reflection of where my head is when 2022 comes to a close, rather than a set of promises I’m holding myself to.

New Music

Spotify Unwrapped is a clever trick, a sort of Barnum Effect that makes everyone feel that their musical tastes are excellent. My own 2022 Spotify Unwrapped was disappointing. It was very similar to 2021, with two songs appearing in both top tens, and most of the songs being old. Only one record from 2022 (Zheani’s Napalm) was in the latest top ten.

Spotify gives me access to the greatest database of music in history – it’s basically magic – and I’ve been using it to listen to records that came out 30 years ago. I’d like to find new things that I love as much as the things I played on CD as a teenager. I’ve even started to explore using Spotify API to discover new music.

Reading

I will be reading a lot less in 2023 than I did in 2022, when I was consuming a couple of books most weeks. I’m not someone who needs reading goals and projects, but I do want to do a little more re-reading in the coming year. As I unpack my library into a new home, I find myself wondering if the copies of books I’ve transported to so many different places are as great as I remember them being.

I want to go back to some of these personal classics and see what I think of them years later. It will be fascinating to measure books like House of Leaves, Girlfriend in a Coma and, um, American Psycho against the person that I am now.

Writing

I wrote a longer post about this a few days ago. I will be focussing less on submissions this year and more on self-publishing zines. My recent investigations into ARGs has also got me interested in what experiments I can do.

Travelling

I’ve mostly stayed close to home in the last year, but made some long drives for short trips – to Brighton overnight for a Rosy party, to Stratford-Upon-Avon to brunch with Tom, and to the midlands for a couple of hours of a bonfire. Interesting that the short trips with long drives stick in the memory so much, and I should make more of them – which means dealing with my nervousness about driving. It would also be good to visit some of the interesting places around my new home. I’ve also been meaning to visit both Liverpool and Sheffield for the last year, and need to get on with that.

Looking back to 2022

It’s amazing how quickly we get used to change. 2022 has been a dramatic year and, looking back, I’m amazed at the journey I’ve taken. In January 2020, I was living in Brighton, getting used to a new job, and expecting things to continue as they were. In January 2022, I was renting a flat in Halifax and working remotely for a company in Leicester. Now I’m living in a house in Hebden Bridge, working in Leeds, and feeling happier than I’ve ever been.

In three years, I’ve had three house moves and three jobs. Thinking back to January 2020, I couldn’t have imagined ending up living in Hebden Bridge, surrounded by beautiful countryside and working in a job I love. Obviously, the pandemic helped move me from my comfortable everyday life, making me look for new things, but I’m still amazed that I’ve taken this leap.

(I remember, in the darkest days of the pandemic, how it felt as if I had slipped into an alternate universe. There’s some of that same feeling now, as if there’s another me, that did not have the pandemic, and did not leave Brighton. It would have been so easy to stay there, doing the same things and I’m grateful to be in the universe I am)

Another change since January, and easy to forget is the pandemic. In January 2022, the country teetered on the edge of another lockdown. Now, the UK Health Security agency has announced publishing the R-number is no longer necessary as we’re now ’living with covid’. Covid is definitely not over, and I’m not entirely comfortable with how society as a whole ignores the impact of repeated infections. I’ve still not had covid, but catching it now seems unavoidable. We’ve gone from forcing people into isolation to avoid the disease to forcing people to catch it or be isolated.

In October/November I had a five-week break between jobs. I had lots of projects I wanted to work on, but restricted myself to just a handful. Even then, I made little progress. As suggested by Oliver Burkeman’s 4000 weeks, I need to be realistic about how much space I have in my life, particularly with the new job hotting up.

At some point in 2022, I also stopped drinking alcohol. I may well take it up again, but at the moment I’m not feeling any particular interest in it.

Overall 2022 has been a good year, and I am happy with where I have ended up. I hope that things stay like they are for some time yet.

My favourite books of 2022

Picking ten books out of the 101 books I read in 2022 was an interesting task. There are many different criteria I could have used, but this is a list of books I’m most likely to recommend to other people, or to pick up again at some point in the future. I choose ten as an arbitrary number, and some other excellent books have not made the cut, so I’ve listed them at the bottom of the page.

In alphabetical order by author’s name, here are my top ten:

Tender is the Flesh by Argentinian writer Agustina Bazterrica, is one of the darkest books I’ve read. It’s set after a pandemic has made it impossible for people to eat animals. Instead, groups of humans are bred for meat. It’s a simple idea, but one that Bazterrica pursues pitilessly, with the matter-of-fact treatment of grotesquery making it all the more shocking.

Oliver Burkeman’s 4000 weeks is a great self-help book, in that it undermines the genre’s usual hucksterish enthusiasm and admits that we’re not going to get all that much done in the 4000 weeks that we’re allotted. I wrote about this in October. It’s definitely got me thinking about my life and all the things I want to do differently.

I wrote about Ru Callendar’s What Remains in October. It tells the story of someone who was inspired to become an undertaker, and succeeded by doing things very differently. It’s a searingly honest book that refuses to sanitise death, but it also has a lot to say about the lessons that counter-culture has for mainstream life. Highly recommended.

I was definitely more interested in the Beatles sections than the Bond ones in John Higgs’ combined history Love and Let Die. It’s another good entry in John’s series of books analysing Britishness. I particularly enjoyed seeing how perceptions of the Beatles have changed over the years.

I bought Robin Ince’s Bibliomaniac on a whim during a stressful period of work. It’s an account of a book tour to more than a hundred bookshops and was a delightful, cosy read. It also rekindled my love of second-hand bookshops, which had suffered from the convenience of Amazon. Ince writes “I think I love books even more than I love reading,” and he does a great job of showing why this might be.

Tabitha Lesley’s Sea State was not the book I was expecting. I’d picked it up for an investigation into the lives of oil workers, but inside was a searing account of being the other woman in an affair. Lesley described her life with vivid details, as well as a giving a powerful sense of place for Aberdeen.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb once claimed that you can learn more about politics from books than newspapers. Simon Kuper’s Chums is a good example of this. Looking at the origins of the current political class in their university days, you can see how an Oxford Union style has taken over modern politics. This style seems to be something that the current Labour leader is ill-equipped to deal with.

Ben Myers’ Under the Rock is a wonderful description of the Calder Valley’s history and landscape. In particular, the descriptions of the recent floods are vivid and shocking. This transcends the usual books in the ‘new nature writing’ genre.

qntm’s There is no antimemetics division is a short story collection in the form of a novel. It’s not perfect, but the energy of the stories here makes up for the flaws. Influenced by creepy pasta (and originally written as part of the SCP Foundation) this is very much modern horror, and it feels incredibly fresh.

Olivia Yallop’s Break the Internet was a compelling book on social media, looking at lives of influencers. It’s a topic that dozens of books have been written about already, but Yallop produced an interesting book that moved beyond the cliches and was filled with interesting vignettes. This was also the first book I read in 2022.

Also recommended:

  • Nick Cave’s interview Faith, Hope and Carnage explored both creativity and grief, and continues Cave’s transformation into a spiritual figure.
  • Harry Cole and James Heale’s Liz Truss bio, Out of the Blue, was a good explainer of how that disastrous premiership happened. I wrote about this in detail on my blog.
  • Horror novella And Then I Woke Up by Malcolm Devlin was a clever twist on zombie stories. It did a great deal of work in a short space and was one of those rare works of fiction that should have been longer.
  • When the Dust Settles by Lucy Easthope was about disaster recovery. It was a shocking book in places, but shows the care that is needed after catastrophe. There’s also some shocking discussion of what austerity has done to preparedness.
  • David Keenan’s This is Memorial Device was a great novel about a band, and would probably have made my top ten if I’d given it the focus it deserved. It’s a novel that suffered from being an ebook and I will be reading a physical copy next year.
  • Slug by Hollie McNish was a book of very personal poetry, structured like a gig, with discussion around the poems. It’s a beautiful and frank collection.
  • Emily St John Mandel’s new novel Sea of Tranquility was beautifully written and incredibly moving, but I the auto-fictions sections felt somehow coy and didn’t work so well for me.
  • Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life was just as great as everyone says – entertainingly written, and packed with crazy ideas.
  • Dark Slivers by Nick Soulsby was a revelatory book on Nirvana, based around an exploration of their minor album Incesticide.
  • Herve Le Tellier’s The Anomaly was a airport-novel style thriller that was also deeply weird, written with a nod to the oulippo.
  • Bodies by Ian Winwood was a good book on mental health and addiction in the music industry. The discussions of Lemmy and Lost Prophets managed to go beyond the usual talking points.

Writing in 2022

2022 has been a good year for writing, and I’ve had several stories published:

I also published two more volumes in my South Downs Way series: Weird Tales of the South Downs Way and A Foolish Journey. I also launched an etsy shop in January to sell my work.

In April, I joined the Todmorden Wednesday Writers group and have enjoyed the fortnightly writing challenges. I’ve also made some new friends, and was published in their annual anthology.

Also in April, Dan Sumption made a video of his reading of my story A Disease of Books.

I’ve been working at submitting stories this year. I sent out 55, of which 8 were accepted, and 38 rejected. Sending out stories is hard work, since you’re part of an avalanche of slush; and it’s not just about being good, it’s about appealing to a particular editor. And, looking back on the last year, I’ve had more satisfaction from self-publishing than I’ve had from my submissions.

I don’t have a large audience. That’s OK. Of all the writers I’ve met, the one who seemed happiest with their career was a woman who spoke at Slash Night. She wrote about a minor fandom for a group of about 100 people who passed around samizdat novels. The audience was responsive and engaged, and the way she spoke about her career was more passionate than anyone else I’ve encountered.

There’s an obvious question here: do I work harder at submitting my stories, or do I focus on self-publishing?

A major factor here is that the response is better from self-publishing than submissions. It’s great to be published in markets I love, but receiving a personal response to the work means more. I had an enthusiastic review from the Zeenscene blog (“These are affecting tales, well-written and honest, and well worth setting time aside to read“) and, several months into the etsy store, I found my reviews (“all of the stories in the pamphlets are consistently well-written and simultaneously strange and comforting“). It’s not simply about validation, it’s about participation. Some of my published pieces have received little or no response, whereas I’ve loved seeing social media posts about the Mycelium Parish News as readers get their copies.

Sending work out for submission means tailoring my work. Editors provide an important filter for writing, and self-publishing runs a risk by not having this oversight. But, at the same time, not everything I want to write fits into a market. I like the weird pieces. I’m tired of giving stories with a cosy beginning, middle and end. I’d prefer to focus on my own type of strange and aggressive little pieces, and I’m producing more of these than there seem to be markets for.

A third thing: I like producing physical objects. I like putting writing into a container and sending it out into the world. There’s a magic to the postal system. The tiny A7 books of stories I produced a few years back were hard work to make, but they were fun. I’d love to produce more writing like the short story I did on an origami crane.

I don’t want to continue gambling with my happiness, working hard submitting pieces I love to receive form rejection emails. I’d rather use my energy on something that will definitely bring me joy, and that is building tiny publications. My design skills might be rudimentary, but they are tighter than some of the online magazines I’ve found myself submitting to. And, you know, if I decide to produce several thousand words of Death Stranding fanfics, self-publishing means I can find them a home.

So that’s my plan for 2023, to focus on zines and postal experiments. Most of this will be fiction (I have two more South Downs Way zines on the runway), but there may be some non-fiction work too. I’m not 100% sure what else I will focus on, and that in itself is exciting.

Book Review: Cosmic Trigger 3 by Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger tells the story of his experiments with reality. It’s a classic, filled with mad, beautiful ideas, and was adapted for the stage by Daisy Campbell, helping to accelerate the UK Discordian revival.

Wilson subsequently expanded Cosmic Trigger into a trilogy. Volume 2 is an unconventional autobiography, exploring the influences that made Wilson who he was. Volume 3 contains some personal passages – notably one where Wilson responds to an inaccurate announcement of his death, as well as a moving chapter on the death of his collaborator, Bob Shea. But most of the book is taken up with shorter, less personal articles on things that interested Wilson in the mid-90s.

There are two different approaches taken by Wilson fans. There are the Discordians, who enjoy the crazed speculation and philosophy. And then there are the libertarians, who respond to the politics.

Traces of the visionary Wilson remain in Cosmic Trigger 3, but there are also some unpleasant passages where Wilson attacks feminism and political correctness. He comes across as a regular gammon, even saying at one point, that he feels “tempted to start a Straight Pride movement”, or talking about how feminism oppresses men.

One of Wilson’s great ideas was that of reality tunnels – how we need to be aware of how our views are constrained. He urged his readers to experiment with taking on new ways of viewing the world, eradicating any pull toward dogmatism. Wilson finds himself trapped in a reality tunnel, where he sees another group (in his case, feminists) as dogmatic, and therefore himself becomes dogmatic in response to them.

At one point Wilson says, “I cannot imagine a first-rate artist or scientist who could possibly qualify as Politically Correct, since P.C., like all dogma, creates an information-impoverished environment and art and science always seek information enrichment.

This lack of imagination feels like a failure in Wilson. I’d argue that the struggle towards diversity over the quarter-century since Cosmic Trigger 3 was published has produced a richer information environment, with many different views entering the mainstream. I’d like to think that Wilson would have loved exogenders and trans-pride, that he would have been thrilled by the increased visibility of translated science fiction. Cosmic Trigger 3 shows Wilson trapped in his own politics, and the weirdness suffers for that.