The Curators of Culture

Wise and great are the Keepers of the Books, for they provide the People with all the knowledge that we need.

There is the Red Book, and there is the Blue Book.

The Blue Book tells us how to plant the pobble seeds, and when to pick the pobble fruit, and how to cook the pobble fruit, and the proper manners for spitting out the seeds after the pobble fruit is eaten, so that we will not look like the brute beasts.

Also the Blue Book tells us how to harvest the stems of the pobble plant, and how to make them into fibre, and how to weave the fibre to make the grundle cloth, and how to wrap the grundle cloth round our bodies to cover our nakedness in the approved manner.

And the Blue Book tells us not to stare at the light, for the light of the sun is too bright to stare at, and it is the only light we need; all other lights are a snare and a delusion. We have one food, one plant, one cloth, and one light; who could want for more?

The Red Book, now, the Red Book is a thing of magic.

The Red Book contains the Song, and the Poem, and the Exciting Story. It contains an excellent colour plate of the Picture, and a detailed plan from which we can rebuild the Statue if anything ever happens to it. We thought that the plan was needless, because who wants a plan when we already have the Statue? Then one day the Statue was struck by lightning, and we perceived that the Keepers of the Books were wise to make the plan.

O great and varied Culture that we enjoy, having all the things that we need, thanks to the Keepers of the Books! Praise be to them.

Now I hear that a madman, an infidel, a disturber of the peace, is writing a Yellow Book. What can this be, but evil?

For what can there be in the Yellow Book? It cannot be about food, for we already know all about the pobble fruit. It cannot be about clothing, for we already know the grundle cloth. It cannot be about the false lights, for we need only the true light of the sun.

Moreover, the Yellow Book cannot have a song, for we already have the Song. If there is a song in the Yellow Book, either it is the same as the Song, or it is different. If it is the same, we do not need it; and if it is different, it is false. For who could sing any song but the Song? Surely it is a great evil that anyone should try to deprive us of the Song, by luring us with false substitutes.

Likewise, there cannot be a poem, or an exciting story, or a picture, or a plan for the Statue, for we already have all those things.

What can there possibly be in this Yellow Book, but confusion, lies, and destruction?

Therefore you must pardon me, while I join the rest of the People. We go now to smash the maker of the Yellow Book with stones, until he is dead.

Our Culture must be protected!

‘La libertà di pensiero’ (‘Freedom of Thought’), by Trilussa

Un gatto bianco, ch’era presidente
der circolo der libbero pensiero,
senti che er gatto nero,
libbero pensatore come lui,
je faceva la critica
riguardo a la politica
ch’era contraria a li principi sui.
–Giacchè nun badi a li fattacci tui,
–je disse er gatto bianco inviperito–
rassegnerai le proprie dimissioni
e uscirai dalle file der partito:
chè qui la poi pensa’ libberamente
come te pare a te, ma a condizzione
che t’associ a l’idee der presidente
e a le proposte della commissione!
–E’ vero, ho torto, ho aggito malamente. . . .–
rispose er gatto nero.
E pe’ resta’ ner libbero pensiero
da quella vorta nun penso’ piu’ gnente.


A white cat, who had been made the chair-cat
Of an Association for the Freedom of Thought,
Got news that a black cat,
A member of the same Association,
Would criticize his views
For he did not agree
With the white cat’s political principles.

–Since you won’t mind your own bloody business
– said the white cat to the black one in a rage –
You will resign – out of your own free will –
And leave our Party ranks for good:
’cause here you can think freely and as you please
So long as you accept the chair-cat’s views
And the Political Commitee’s proposals!

–It’s true, I’m wrong, what I’ve done wasn’t right . . .–
the black cat answered;
And to be allowed to remain Freethinker
From then on he never thought anything again.

[Translation supplied by Fabio Paolo Barbieri]

Bridget McKenna on Shakespeare

I’ve heard his stuff is off-genre, and he can’t even get an agent. One rejection said: “Make up your mind, Will. You can’t be writing thrillers one day and sappy romances the next. Readers want to know what to expect. Pick a genre and stick with it, fergodsake. Then maybe I can do something for you.”

Bridget McKenna

Lord Talon’s Revenge



A man with no name, no country, no face, has one simple desire: revenge on the tyrant who robbed him of all else. Just a few small obstacles stand in his way. . . .

Greed: Sagrendus the Golden, Prince of Dragons, has a good business: abduct princess, collect ransom, repeat until rich. He charges extra for taking sides.

War: General Griffin, ogre mercenary, always fights for his client — even if there is nobody to fight against.

Hatred: Princess Jacinth hates the man she will have to marry — whoever he is. She also hates kings, rescuers, men, women, and especially porcelain dolls.

Betrayal: What keeps King Talvos on the throne of Ilberion? He’s better at double-crossing than anyone who double-crosses him.

And then there is one young fool with a sword, who still believes in heroes. Revenge is about to get a lot more complicated.

[Read more…]

The cry of the highbrow

‘Ah, Shakespeare. Quite a promising poet in a minor way, when he was writing those sonnets and sucking up to Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers. All very proper. Pity he squandered his talents by going into that low-brow theatre business.

‘I wonder what ever became of him? He could have been somebody if he’d stuck to proper literature.’

Extruded Books: a cautionary tale

For some thirty years now, I have been following the commercial publishing industry, particularly in its various New York mutations, and trying (for commercial reasons of my own) to figure out why apparently intelligent people would do business in such cockeyed ways. I don’t pretend to have figured out the whole story, but I have pieced together a good deal of evidence, and I believe I can point out the major turnings in the road that led publishers to the pass they are in today. Rather than bore you, my 3.6 Loyal Readers, with dry details and rubbishy statistics, I shall shamelessly exploit my status as a spinner of tall tales to set forth the data under cover of a fictitious example. All names have been changed to protect the manifestly guilty; so let me introduce you to Nathan Extruded, founder and publisher of Extruded Books. [Read more…]

The publisher’s tale

‘I would have liked to know my great-great-great-great-great-uncle Cholmondeley Witherhead,’ the Publisher told me sadly. ‘He used to work as a gatekeeper on London Wall, two or three hundred years ago. Terribly upset he was, when he heard they were going to knock it down; and not just because it put him out of a job. It was a whole way of life that he mourned, and what he feared was nothing less than the end of civilization.

‘ “By my good faith, Sir,” said Uncle Cholmondeley, “I and my Brethren at the Gates are true Servants of the Publick, and London will be the worse without us. How will any one get in or out of the City, if there be no Gatekeepers to let them pass?”

‘And you know,’ the Publisher added in a tone of sad reflection, ‘I have never figured out how those Londoners ever managed without him.’

John C. Wright on the Nebula Awards

John C. Wright explains how they pick the Nebula Award winners:

The selection process is relatively simple: the survivors of a Deathball tournament are examined by the Colossus-Skynet system for irregulationary defects, and if found acceptable, are sent to the haunted planet Arisia for mind-to-mind examination by the alien superbeing known as Mentor, and those who return sane are conducted to Wallach IV where the Bene Gesserit Witches test the candidate with a “gom jabbar” and the Box of Pain to distinguish the true humans from the mere human animals. Survivors are taught the Martian Language in order to achieve fourth level consciousness and exposed to the mind-altering rays of the Evolutionary Granolith, and expected to make at least one “drop” in full kit onto a planet controlled by the Klendathu. Then any remaining candidates are sent to Trantor, or maybe some other world covered entirely with buildings, and examined by the Jedi Council and the Psychohistorians to see whether passing the candidate will cause a disturbance in the force or throw off the predictive plan of history. The remaining candidates then cover themselves with walrus grease and wrestle nude with Harlan Ellison, or his evil twin Zebulon Ellison, in the Arena of Death, on a tightrope above a field of radio-active radium-knives. The winner is granted by the Padishah Emperor any space-kingdom on any of the garden-planets accidentally created by the Genesis Machine in the Multiple Green Sun system at the core of the galaxy, and any space princess for his bride, with the one exception (obviously) of the voluptuous yet deadly Princess Venomia, the Black Widow of Outer Space. The year Leigh Brackett won, instead of a space princess, she demanded her beloved World-Wrecker Hamilton be released from his disembodied confinement within the death-asteroid of the limbo dimension. The Padishah Emperor was loathe to set free so dangerous a planet-killer, but he had no choice.

I always thought SFWA was up to something fishier than meets the fishy eye.

Internet sociology

I have done a meticulous and exhaustive study, and found that 94.6% of flamewars in message boards and blog comments begin something like this:

Poster #1: X.

Poster #2: What do you mean, Q?

#1: I didn’t say Q, I said X.

#2: There you go again with Q.

#1: No, I’m telling you I said X.

#2: Q? Q?!! How DARE you say Q, you (expletives deleted)!

Poster #3: Calm down, buddy, he’s only saying K.

#2: That’s what I said . . . he’s saying Q . . . and don’t tell me to calm down!

. . . . . . .

Poster #1138: Oh, for Pete’s sake.

Meritocracy: a fable

The Lion having been shot by a passing hunter, the other beasts held a council to decide which of them should succeed him as King. All were agreed that the new king should be the one best fitted to rule, as excelling in the highest and most noble qualities of a ruler. But there was a trifle of difficulty in agreeing which quality best befitted a monarch.

[Read more…]