27 Apr 2015

On Sequels and Politics

‘Alex!’ you cry; ‘wherever have you been?’ you enquire forlornly. Rest assured that—though occupied with many an hour of math homework, courtesy to my charming math teacher—I do nevertheless have a great deal to discuss. First up: politics. Yes, it’s that time of the year.


Though an inclement beast, my school has for once been daring: it has organised a ‘mock election’ in which candidates (that is, me; and a few others) must campaign in order to win the student vote.

Presently, there are eight parties involved: moi, representing the Reason Party (of course); the Tories; the Lib Dems; Labour; along with the Communists, the Greens, the kippies (may Hell feast upon their empty souls), and a joke party called ‘4Uture’.

We firstly began with a debate. This proved a fortuitous moment in my rise to power: the kippies were promptly humiliated (claiming that an NHS policy cost us three times the entire NHS budget is bound to do that), the Tories’ policies were—despite a rather poignant appeal by the party candidate—revealed to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor (alas the Communists were instrumental in that particular coup), and Labour droned repetitively and without the slightest inkling of conviction.

Then we were asked to deliver a speech in front of the entire school. This proved a somewhat daunting proposition—the audience is 1100 strong after all—but I’m pleased to say that I and my peers delivered an excellent performance.

The kippies made another spurious claim (the EU apparently costs us £120B—the figure is closer to £12B), the Tories busied themselves with trite insults against the other parties, Labour… was Labour. The Lib Dem’s performance was more solid, along with, of course, the Reds. The winner of this particular battle will likely be between the Reds, the Lib Dems, and myself—though the Tories, Greens and unfortunately the kippies will likely remain in the game.

You, however, probably don’t read this wonderful blog of mine purely for my antics. Thus, here’s a bit of serious analysis for you.

Proposition A: ‘The Tories believe in the good of all, including the less well off, for they are the party of aspiration.’

Ironically this is actually genuinely believed by a lot of Tories. Indeed, the Tory candidate made an impassioned appeal; having lived in a council house, he said, he was not a man of the rich—but he did believe in aspiration; in aiming high rather than stooping low.

Unfortunately, while the Tories may believe this is what their party accomplishes, the truth is rather different.

Firstly, the desire to be successful is usually not what is in short supply. We would all wish to be successful; to earn well, to provide for our human wants, desires, and needs. But people are not poor—or indeed merely not particularly successful—for lack of desire. No: the problem is that people can’t fulfill their dreams. It’s all well and nilly to say that tax incentivises entrepreneurs; but no one is going to be an entrepreneur if they have to choose between eating and heating.

And that is the great contradiction in Tory thinking. People want to be successful—of course they do. And having to live in a smaller mansion or buying a Mercedes instead of a Bentley isn’t likely to make them any less keen.

But if people cannot go to a good school; if people cannot attend university, if they do not have a stable environment… if, were they to fail (and it is conveniently forgotten that 65% of small businesses go bust within 3 years, and that liquidation often leads to debt) they would be without help… then they can never succeed.

In some instances, there is a poverty of ambition. Pupils doing badly at school often do badly not because they are stupid; but because they have no hope. If you have lived a life in poverty, success seems to belong to another galaxy.

But lowering taxes won’t make these kids sit up and learn. For that matter, hiring more teachers probably won’t either. The problem is that Britain suffers from a perpetuating cycle of poverty.

Proposition B: ‘Europe is the cause of Britain’s ills.’

This is essentially the entire premise by which the kippies argue from; often they do so implicitly, but if you look at their complaints—immigration, EU funding—you’ll quickly realise this is their bête noire.

But let us examine the veracity of so grandiose a statement. Chiefly among ‘Britain’s Ills’ would be the Credit Crunch of 2007 onwards. That, however, was instigated by the collapse of the Lehman brothers (remember them?) after which much of the banking system went down with them. This of course was caused by two things: banking—particularly when it involves the trade of other debts—is a risky business; and of course, the banks lent massive mortgages to people who never had an icicle’s chance in Hell of paying them off.

That is why Britain is in a financial crisis. The problem has very little to do with bureaucrats in Brussels and everything to do with greed and irresponsibility at home.

Neither can Greece be blamed. Greece’s economy is small; bailouts, when shared among Germany, France, the UK and other EU nations amount to little; and most of these bailouts, sadly, need to be repaid. (So the creditors don’t actually lose any money.) What’s more, Greece actually suffered in no small part because of the crisis caused by the UK: Greece has a significant tourist economy, and one that was badly affected by the British credit crunch—us being the single largest nationality of visiting tourists.[1]

This is not to say that Greece is without blame for having such a tourist-dependent economy. It is also true that Greece’s tourism profits were unsustainable—since the money British tourists used to pay for those holidays was somewhat based on credit card loans that needed to be paid off eventually (and painfully, as in now).

Greece also has a major sovereign debt problem—due primarily to the corruption of former governments. That, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish. But it does lead me onto proposition three.

Proposition C: ‘Britain is in debt; we must eliminate the deficit; we must pay off the debt.’

Some of the greatest lies are half-truths, and this certainly is a half truth. (Though probably not the greatest of lies.)

Firstly, some data:

UK Debt 1945 to Present

Firstly, note that we were far, far more in debt post-WW2 than we are now. The debt reached 240% of GDP in 1945, and is currently at 80% (edit: 90% as of latest figures). Thus, to state that Britain ‘must’ pay off the debt (or some terrible fate is imminent) is false: we have sustained much greater levels of debt in the past than we have now. And, if you’ll care to observe, we were able to pay all of it off. (The small increases you see post 1975 is from new debt.)

But how far are we in debt now, why are we in debt, and is this a concern?

With regards to the cause, the bank bailouts cost us £124B [2] in the immediate term (though at its peak ten times that amount was offered as guarantees) and another £5B per year in interest. A ballpark figure of around £150B may thus be derived.

The UK GDP is around £1500B as of 2014 [3] so these bailouts have added around 10% to the total debt. However, post-2007 sovereign debt increased by 40%. Where is the other 30% coming from?

That is likely due to the not-insignificant deficit the government has shored up: averaging around £90B post-2007 [4], which makes up most of the rest.

So, let’s recap: Britain is in much lower debt that in 1945, has less debt than the US and quite a lot less than Japan (neither economy is doing especially badly), and most of the debt is from a budget deficit, with some from bank bailouts. The final question remains: is this a concern?

Well, it is a concern insomuch as 80% GDP public debt is not small, and in that it is increasing—albeit less rapidly than immediately after the Great Recession (as it is misleadingly known; the 1930s one is much more accurately described as such, while this fiasco is proving to be one of long-term stagnation).

But is this an immediate, and terrible concern? No. Debt levels have been much higher previously, and it did not crush our economy (yes, France and Germany’s post-War boom was considerably more pronounced, but then they were either not as badly damaged or got more help). Indeed, Keynesians would propose—quite reasonably—that we keep borrowing to help us initiate a growth period, and pay the debt when we are more able to do so.

This is not entirely without flaw (it is unlikely, for example, that we will have the same growth as we did in the post-war period, since we are not rebuilding) but it is certainly quite misleading to portray the current debt problem as a bomb waiting to explode.

Okay: enough with the economics lesson.

Why Do People Believe This?

I believe I have bored you long enough (I have news on a sequel!) but do humour me for this last, important point.

People believe what they want to believe. The Tories ultimately act out of greed, and selfishness, but also because many are well-meaning but mislead. Frankly, lower taxation for the wealthy or even middle class will spell very bad news for the many that are less fortunate. And it won’t get them out of poverty.

The fiasco on Europe stems in part because people need a scapegoat, and are unwilling to face the truth: the growth we experienced post-WW2 happened because we were rebuilding to our pre-WW2 height, and because we had cheap hydrocarbons. There is also strong evidence to suggest that we have reached an economic state where the major breakthroughs from industrialisation that generated strong growth previously are no longer present.

But people still remember the good times. They remember when they could expect regular payrises and a better future for their children. And they tried to keep it going—through debt. That, unfortunately, is stupid. And dangerous. The hard truth is that people blame Europe because they won’t look themselves in the eye, and realise it’s their own bloody fault. (Other agents such as the banks, the landlords, etc. are far from innocent as well.)

Our final proposition does have some merit, but it is ultimately an attempt to blame Labour and our political system in general, for our own failings in the personal sphere of fiscal responsibility.

Private debt levels UK 1975-2014

Above: private household debt as a percentage of GDP. Source: Touchstone Blog, citing OBR.

Finally! Sequels

Our tedious but hopefully informative foray into the murky realm of political economy over, I’ve got news. Specifically: a tale is a-coming. But it isn’t the one you think.

I’ve mentioned my plans for a sequel to the Necromancer. That would have been called the Deathbringer, and I had many a plan for it. But plans change. My reasons for deciding not to write the sequel now (you may be thankful to know I haven’t written it off for future endeavours) are twofold. Firstly: the Necromancer is not going to be my greatest work. This is not to say that it is bad (how can it? It’s got flying zombies!) but rather that the powers of the imagination have different tales to tell.

This leads me onto my second reason: this is a story I’ve been waiting to tell for some time.

It’s about love. You may not be surprised to learn this, if you’ve followed this blog. Inevitably, the life of a teenager (no matter how intellectually minded or capable) features love—or at least the desire for love. You may be surprised to learn that said lovers are male. But would you really?

I have many other details. It is set in a time of beautiful desperation; a time when space is salvation—and the Earth is but a sweet, decaying tomb. Its name is the Ark; and though much may be said of it—of its bitter, hopeful struggle; of its pain, and its awe and its love—the sweetest tales are those first discovered.

I shall leave you, now. You have much to dwell upon. And, alas, school never was a kind beast…

11 Apr 2015

Dulce Bellum Inexpertis; A Poem

Good morrow readers!

Firstly, I ought thank Jenna Hiott—out interviewee for the post prior. Her musings have not only been intriguing (and perhaps even sought to enhance my inchoate philosophical knowledge) but they have also been blessed with your attention.

In any case: being a tour host for our darling Sage’s Blog Tours is not a mere one-time affair. Indeed, it requires commitment, and variety; both of which will be met in my upcoming book review. I won’t speak too much of that now (the details are not yet revealed, anyway) but what I can say is that I am planning to review a fantasy come dystopian sci-fi novel. It should make for interesting reading—I hope.

The review will be available on Goodreads (and perhaps Amazon) and will also make a brief appearance on the blog—along with all the pertinent details. This has two purposes insofar as you are concerned: firstly, you will check out Mr Stargazer’s reviews. This is very important; for Mr Stargazer is an avid, assiduous reviewer, and will be terribly cross if you were to ignore his musings.

Secondly, it will be a good opportunity for Mr Stargazer to bash other authors. Ooops—best not say that... oh, dear, he’s heard me now... too late...

The Fallen Saga

I have promised you another episode in the Fallen Saga; and I am happy to inform you that my promise is fulfilled. Meet Dulce Bellum Inexpertis: a tale of war, of death, and of the humanity behind the angelic. (For those of you unfamiliar with the immortal Latin tongue, the former is an oft-said phrase meaning ‘Sweet is war for those unknowing’.)

Firstly, you may want to read it...

The Fallen Saga

Brief Analysis

Since I am meant to be revising (school never was a kind beast, alas) my analysis shall be brief. Apologies; blame fate.

The first stanza is basically an objective-correlative (with perhaps a dash of pathetic fallacy):

Oh, how sweet is war!
How the very earth trembles in awe
And delighted fear; how even the sky—seemingly
So insouciant; so untroubled by dark countenance—
How even it must grow vermilion
As if in sweet expectancy.

You may notice such oxymorons as ‘delighted fear’. There are two reasons for its use: firstly, this Saga is a treasure trove for oxymorons. I suspect it may be source of oxymoronic inspiration for many poems to come.

But more importantly, I believe it captures an inherent contradiction. War is a terrible business; and even the strongest of forces will lose men. And few can say they do not fear death. Yet there is also something ecstatic—delightful, even—about those who wish for war. Perhaps the delusions of grandeur may be adduced; perhaps some, though unwilling to admit, desire blood and death and suffering. Alas, a deeper analysis is not on the books for now.

As for the last two lines: there’s something of that same hunger for blood imbued within the very world itself. Make of that what you will.

I’m going to fast forward through much of the rest—pointing out a few of the more vivid sections, e.g:

How soft
Are those traitor wings; how frightening
Are those wicked swords of darkness; those
Arrows past graced
With blood.

In order to reach what I believe are particularly noteworthy sections:

And so Lake Ayre
Claimed many a fallen being
That dark day. They smile, now;
Death’s cruel grip
Imbues them with eternal unlife.
Peace is not their gift.

Lake Ayre, as you know (or at least you should know, if you’ve been paying attention to any of this) has been referenced previously. It is a key feature of the Valley of Angels—specifically, it is where the most peaceful denizens reside. Mermaids, nymphs, harmless water creatures, and so on call it home.

Thus, Lake Ayre’s ominous degradation—‘The Ancient mirror—Lake Ayre—/ Grows pregnant with dark seed’—to this terrible culmination has symbolic meaning. In war, it is often the innocent that are most deprived of what is precious.

Another important stanza is:

‘Aye, teller of truth,’ says he;
‘Do you wish me—indeed—
‘To bring peace to tormented souls?’ he asks
As if in jest.
‘In light, shall they not abandon us for good?’

To speak further of this stanza would require far more time than I have on offer. It’s meaning is clear, as it is; you, dear reader, must ask why.

Our closing lines are the age-old Latin truth:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
Set dulcius pro patria vivere.

(Sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s fatherland; sweeter still to live.)

3 Apr 2015

An Interview with Jenna Hiott, Writer and Theologian

Hello readers! Today—as promised—I have published my interview with Jenna Hiott: writer, theologian and historian. My questions are largely philosophical in nature (as befits both my nature and that of the story in question) but there are also some more general literary discussions. Alas, there is no talk of favourite seasons—I deemed such matters too trivial for discourse.

You say, in your words, that Revelation was a book somehow inspired. I believe all works of art are inspired; but of the inspiration, I am not so sure. What inspired you? And how did you feel—excited, nervous, perhaps even a little awed?

I agree that all works of art are inspired. In fact, I believe that every action we take is inspired by something. For me, this trilogy was almost a channeled experience. I saw the whole story flash before my eyes and then it took on a life of its own. As I would sit down to write, I would simply watch what the characters were doing and then write that down. Although it definitely felt like creative work on my part—and continues to—it was also as though the story (and characters) transcended my existence. It’s sort of like the trilogy is its own living entity and I am the medium of expression. As far as my feelings about the experience go, I would definitely say that awe is part of it. Writing this trilogy is my sacred time. In the moment of seeing the story play out before my eyes, I felt thrilled and honored and humbled. Then I felt lit up and excited to start writing!

In the first sentences of the trilogy, you write,“The three Deis moved as one, spoke as one, though they kept silent in the absence of time and space.” My question is: how, in an atemporal dimension, can the Deis both impart and experience change? What do you really mean by an absence of time? No change—or no continuum of existence in the sense we experience and comprehend?

Great question! It is a challenge to discuss the ‘absence of time and space’ using language created within the paradigm of time and space, but I will give it my best shot. The Deis exist where (see? a place-based word) there are no limitations of perception. By their very nature, time and space limit perception. The Deis perceive infinity. They simultaneously (a time-based word) perceive existence within and without time-space. More importantly, they create within or without whatever limitations they choose. It is through creation that they experience change, and yet they are also unchanging. I know this is a complex topic so, maybe to put it a little more simply, the Deis exist in “the absence of time and space” because they are wholly unlimited.

Have your religious studies influenced your work? If so, how?

Absolutely! I don’t think there is a single aspect of the trilogy that was not informed by my studies of religion in one way or another. There are too many things to list them all here, (Although, I will say that I am nearly finished with The Todor Concordance, which does this very thing. It will be available for free on my website very soon!) but I can tell you that I drew character and place names from various traditions. If you look hard enough, you will find parallels to Christianty, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Science of Mind, and many ancient pagan traditions throughout the trilogy.

In your book, you speak of the Joy; an idea which—if I understand correctly—means experiencing life for what it is, at least in its normative sense (perhaps a la Søren Kierkegaard, though with less focus on negative experience?) Also, is the pursuit of Joy similar to the ethos of utilitarianism,—and by this I mean not hedonism, but utility in all its abstract and complex forms—or is it something altogether different?

Joy can only be defined by the individual experiencing it, or seeking to experience it. What joy means to me, means something else entirely to another. This is one of the many things the characters in the trilogy struggle with. Is the thing that brings me Joy, the thing that would bring everyone Joy? Or does my Joy result in others’ suffering? The Ten Truths are supposed to be the guidelines for living a life of Joy, but until the characters can define Joy and Suffering for themselves, they will experience confusion. The Ten Truths do not use the words ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘moral’ or ‘immoral.’ Rather they point out that the choice to sustain Oneness will bring Joy while the choice to disrupt Oneness will bring suffering. On the surface, it appears that any choice that helps the greater good is the one that will sustain Oneness. This is what I believe you mean by utilitarianism and it is this very thing that keeps the characters in turmoil and conflict. The crux is that they do not understand the true meaning of Oneness. Without giving any spoilers, I can say that in Disintegration (the second book of the trilogy), the concept of Oneness is clarified for one of the characters. Of course, this character still struggles with making the choices that would bring Joy, but that’s all part of the story. For me, personally, joy is simply a stirring—a blossoming—of Divinity or Lifeforce within.

Is the Viyii a single entity; and, if so, can it be considered meaningfully different from the three Deis that form it? Is it more than just the sum of its parts? What about the Christian Holy Trinity—is the Viyii like the pot, in which each Deis is water, earth and fire?

The Viyii is the entity formed when the three Deis come together as one. It is totality. The Viyii could be compared to the Hindu concept of Brahman. Although it is the three Deis as one, it is also more than the sum of its parts because it is additionally the connection and relationship among the three: body, mind and spirit, as well as the wholeness that their integration means. Yes, the Viyii could also certainly could be compared to the Christian Holy Trinity. The three aspects of God as One. Another interesting point is that the Zobanites have come to interpret the Viyii as the place where the Deis live, much like Valhalla of Norse mythology. They believe the Lifeforce of a person travels there when they die. Even within the land of Todor, everything is subject to interpretation.

Was writing the books difficult? If so, what were the greatest challenges?

There is no question that writing a book is a challenging undertaking, but The Todor Trilogy has not had the same sort of struggle for me as I experienced with previous books (unpublished). There is an ease in flow of this work, which goes back to the first question about it feeling channeled. The biggest challenge for me has probably been prioritizing time for writing. One of the best things I ever did was make an appointment with my Time Alchemy coach (shout out to Cynthia Lindeman). She helped me set time aside EVERY SINGLE DAY for writing and reminded me of my commitment to this work. The thing I find the most challenging as far as the actual writing goes is killing off characters. It breaks my heart every time, but they assure me that there are no hard feelings.

Do you believe ars gratia artis, or do you believe your art has some external purpose? Or do you think there is really some combination of the two?

Interesting question. I guess I believe it’s a combination of the two and then some. Art for the sake of art, art for the sake of the artist, and art for the sake of the world. I feel like The Todor Trilogy serves all three of these. It serves itself, it serves me, and, hopefully, it serves the world. Really, any creation fits this model.

What are your opinions on poetic writing—is it just a silly exercise; is it wonderful, to be used in novel and poem alike; or is it, indeed, beautiful, but not in the way a novel should be?

I wouldn’t presume to define what any creative work “should” be. Poetic writing can be magical and, if it serves the creation, then I’d love to read it!

PS: for more information on Jenna, her books and goings on, check out her website.

2 Apr 2015

Greetings from the Ether

Hail faithful readers!

You may be wondering why Mr Stargazer has not posted his little interview with the theologian-come-fantasy-writer, Mrs Jenna Hiott. This, my dear, is because Mr Stargazer has actually been requested not to do so—and not, (as you are no doubt thinking) because he is a lazy bastard. Although, really, he is. But never mind.

And before you despair (and perhaps break some unfortunate nearby entities) know that the interview is not cancelled; merely delayed. (Yes, I know we all say that; but it’s true. Really.)

To further alleviate your fears, Mr Stargazer can confirm to have received the transcripts.

To answer your final question: the interview date is tomorrow.

Moving On...

Mr Stargazer has now, officially, moved house. This has proven to be a slightly traumatic experience—due in no small part to having no Internet access for four days, in which time he was unable to keep you lot on your feet—but it is now over. After carrying enough furniture to crush a car with, Mr Stargazer has everything in place.

As for the Fallen Saga (a collection of poems following a broad narrative of a war between angels and demons, for those unaware) that will be receiving a fourth episode; to read the first three, do acquiant yourself with the Poems page.

Stargazian Vicissitudes

Mr Stargazer is also terribly occupied with school. The final year exams are but a few months away; and Mr Stargazer ought be assiduously revising. That he ain’t doing (moving is a terrible business, as he says) and, furthermore, he has been busy researching universities.

There are good reasons for this also. Firstly, he must make the quintessential choice that troubles all burgeoning intelligentsia: Oxford, or Cambridge? With regards to the latter, monsieur Stargazer spent an entire day taking ‘Masterclasses’ at Corpus college. (He was, of course, selected by the school to attend; a fact which balloons his already remarkable ego, and must therefore not be mentioned.)

With regards to the former, our darling literati has already visited the university multiple times. He considers it most appealing—a difficult choice indeed.

Aside from this, Mr Stargazer has spent many an hour researching foreign universities. There are good causes for this too, of course. Firstly, the Dutch, Swedish and Swiss universities offering English bachelors provide a very international outlook—and this, in a globalised world, is rather valuable.

Secondly, English universities are—for many reasons, not least of which include the Tories, the lying Lib Dems, Labour, a cultural obsession with going to university for ‘fun’ (i.e. getting drunk and partying), and many more reasons besides—very expensive. Indeed, to study in the Netherlands, I would save £22,000—enough to buy a nice car. To study in Sweden, I would save £27,000; that’ll get me a Mercedes.

Finally, our darling Mr Stargazer finds England increasingly dull. England—though possessed of a great history, landmarks, and the quintessential green hills—lacks snow, mountains, easy access to mainland Europe, and multilinguality. It’s also quite poor in comparison to these other nations.

Okay, Alex, Can You Get on Already?

Tergiversations aside, I have over a week of holiday left. I will revise, and of more concern to you, I will write. Stay following for the interview, the poem, other blog tour goodies, and maybe even an essay or two.

Until then, may the stars watch over you...