Wednesday, May 28, 2014

On Pete Seeger, the FBI, and the USSR

Awhile back, I got into a big argument with a friend of one of the pastors of my church on his Facebook wall about Pete Seeger, who had recently died. Seeger was a fairly controversial fellow and most of the discussion centered around the legitimacy of his being investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Al-Jazeera this morning had an article on the release of FBI files pertaining to him.

The common view of those under HUAC's scrutiny, particularly among those on the political left, is that they were innocent victims of a witch-hunt who were being persecuted for their beliefs. To a large extent that is true. The person I was arguing with acted as though Seeger was this kindly fellow oppressed for his support of peace and love and was particularly aggravated that I accorded HUAC any legitimacy whatsoever. However, this position ignores the historical context of these events and the nature of foreign Communist parties.

After the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentropp Pact that divided Eastern Europe between Hitler and Stalin, Moscow instructed foreign Communist parties to support the Germans. Although to be fair this disillusioned many Communists (who subsequently left the party), those who remained deliberately undermined the Allied fight against the Nazis. In France, for example, the French Communist Party took an antiwar line politically, committed acts of sabotage in the armament industry, and during the German occupation, published anti-British and anti-socialist propaganda with tacit German consent. The British Communist Party strongly supported strikes during the war and claimed the working class had no dog in the fight. There is a quote from the book Warlords: In the Heart of Conflict 1939-45 that's basically a Soviet order to the British Communists that "no steps should be taken" to stop a German invasion on the grounds that Nazi occupation would be a step forward on the road to Communism. The Western Communist parties of course changed their tune once the Soviet Union was attacked, with the British Communists claiming strikers were really agents of Leon Trotsky and the French Communists forming an effective resistance group (seriously, better late than never).

In the United States the risk of sabotage and overt collaboration with a military invader was essentially nil, but there was the strong danger of espionage. According to The Haunted Wood, there was a fair bit of espionage by Communists in the United States, including an effort to run a Soviet-backed candidate for Congress. Fortunately Stalin's purges of his intelligence apparatus and the American Communists' own ineptitude rendered that rather ineffective.

What does this have to do with Seeger? Well, during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Seeger and his group the Almanacs put out anti-war songs, including several on the album Songs for John Doe. When the Nazis attacked the USSR, this album got yanked and a new album, Dear Mr. President, that supported the war effort was released.

Seeger obviously had the right to speak his mind. Randolph Bourne said "war is the health of the state" and James Madison said that if "tyranny and oppression" were ever to come to the United States, it would be in the name of fighting a foreign enemy. One should always be skeptical of the use of "WE'RE AT WAR" to justify trying to shut down dissent at home, something I admit (with shame) that I'd participated in before I realized how much of a bad idea the Iraq War was.

However witch-hunty McCarthyism in general was and how amusing Seeger's retorts to Congress were (see the one about Pontius Pilate), the government's investigation of Seeger did not occur in a vacuum. Seeger and other American Communists had been for all intents and purposes propagandists for a foreign government, one that after WWII was an enemy of the United States. HUAC investigating pro-Soviet individuals is the next logical step, given how it was originally formed to investigate pro-Nazis. To Seeger's credit he later realized what manner of monster he'd been propagandizing for and went so far as to claim that if the U.S. became a Communist country he'd have been imprisoned immediately.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

In The Grim Darkness of the 1940s, There Is Only War...

I had an idea the other day for a parody of Warhammer 40,000 that made fun of the people (mostly on the political left, like Bill Blum) who complain endlessly about American foreign policy post-1945 but overlook or even defend the exact same thing the United States did during WWII.

(Frex, complaining about US support for dictators in Latin America, never mind that they defend similar allegedly "defensive" imperialism by the USSR in its own border zones or U.S. aid to Stalin during the war, complaining about civilian deaths in bombing during Vietnam or Afghanistan and not caring about Hamburg or Dresden, complaining about McCarthyism and ignoring how Trotskyists and isolationists were tried as seditionists alongside legitimate fascists during the war, etc. Blum went so far as to claim in the edition of Killing Hope I read in high school that the United States was beloved after its victory in World War II but squandered this goodwill by "intervening" everywhere.)

Here goes:

It's a dieselpunk 1940s. The Western Allies are dominated by a United States united in worship of the comatose Franklin Delano Roosevelt kept alive in a gigantic golden wheelchair and sustained by the daily sacrifice of Japanese-Americans from the internment camps. The United States Marine Corps serves as the vanguard of the armies of the United States and the other Allies as they fight to destroy the armies of the Axis all over the world, all of them sustained by the US, Commonwealth, and what remains of the USSR's vast military industrial complex. Hoover's FBI and Beria's NKVD hunt for enemy agents and seditionists within the Allies, since only through unity of purpose can victory be achieved.

Ranged against them are the dread forces of the Third Reich, forced back into their own homelands in the west but compensating by occupying vast swathes of what was once the USSR, sustaining their war effort by offering Jews and Slavs in human sacrifice to supernatural evil forces. In the East the ever-victorious Japanese have placed Hirohito on what was once the Imperial Throne in Beijing and harnessed Asia's vast manpower in service to the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

In the grim darkness of the 1940s, there is only war...

This started out as a bit of political snark, but this could actually be a really interesting war-game. For example, the Australians could be played very similar to the Cadians, since they'd be on the front lines against uber-Japan like the Cadians are against Chaos, or possibly the Catachan Jungle Fighters since they'd be fighting in the East Indies and New Guinea a lot. Soviet or Scandinavian Allied troops could be like the Valhallan Ice Warriors and the "Desert Rats" of the North African war like the Tallarn Desert Raiders. On the other side, the Ahnenerbe could be played something like the Thousand Sons Marines and Ahriman, while Admiral Yamamoto could be a saner and less ridiculous version of Ghazghkull.

I'd be leery of trying to market a game like this, since I would imagine I'd catch a lot of hell from pretty much everybody--making the WWII U.S. into some kind of super North Korea complete with a personality cult, depicting an East Asian polity as a vast army of warlike barbarians crushing their enemies beneath their numbers, etc. Given how it took me quite some time to find a source on the 1944 sedition trial in the US that didn't come from some entity like the Institute for Historical Review (cough *Nazis* cough), I could easily imagine my customer base would consist of people who try to drag the US and (Western) Allies down into the mud so they can claim moral equivalence with the Nazis, whom they secretly sympathize with.

However, there's a dieselpunk anthology accepting submissions until August and I could write something more subtle in this vein...

Friday, May 16, 2014

Writing Update...

So here's the latest on my writing:

*Battle for the Wastelands has been sent off to several agents after the latest rounds of revisions. These were made at the request of one agent willing to take a second look and were an overall improvement to the story--one character had very little physical description before and differentiating two characters helped better develop one. I think I'll send it off to one more agent and then I'll let it rest for a bit. Many agents don't mind "simultaneous submissions" but other agents do. I've been careful not to send it to agents whose profiles online or in my (2011 Novel and Short Story Writer's Market) say not to send simultaneously, but still.

*I finally managed to get The Thing in the Woods up to 50,000 words. It's actually 49,557 words, but after years of nit-picky word counting in my short story submissions, I was told to round. Even if the rounding is to the nearest hundred and not thousand (i.e 49,600, not 50,000), I've printed the whole manuscript for another round of revisions. One of my writing group members who took the time to read the whole manuscript warned me about some problems with antecedents (i.e. it's hard to tell which "he" is which character in a conversation) and a general need to show and not tell. I'd like to get it to 60,000 words, since several presses will only put out print editions (or even publish at all) novels if they're that length minimum. I've got some ideas to further develop the female lead and her relationship with the male lead that'll surely help. Fingers crossed.

*Printed and marked up the novella "Son of Grendel." Haven't plugged the edits into the document yet. If things work out with Battle for the Wastelands, I'll need that novella sooner rather than later.

*My friend Nick is having a summer writing contest in which participants write a short (1,000-2,000) word story per week. At the end of the summer, participants vote on the best ones and they might be packaged as a Kindle collection or something. He said they must be completely original--i.e. new characters and new worlds. The goal is to write something different from what one is already writing. I haven't written any sword-and-sorcery in a long time and I haven't really written any dieselpunk (other than 1,000 words for a novel about this character who's basically Indiana Jones if Indiana Jones were a racist with PTSD from WWI and the bad guys were Japanese instead of Nazis). I think I'll try to do some for this, especially since there's a big dieselpunk anthology with a deadline at the end of the summer.

*The collection Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire continues gestating. I'm thinking I'll have some tidbits to tantalize you with soon.

*I'm doing a new cover for "The Beast of the Bosporus." More tentacles and more Ottoman architecture. I'll post it when I get it from my artist.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Prime Minister Halifax, or an Amiens-type Peace with Hitler

A lot of time in alternate-history fiction, the fall of Winston Churchill and his replacement with Lord Halifax (or Halifax becoming Prime Minister instead of Churchill in the first place) is considered the death knell of the (Western) Allied cause. Hitler is left to dominate the Continent, with Britain eventually (or even immediately) doomed to become a Nazi satellite. This section of the Wikipedia article contains several such instances.

However, if you want a different look at what Halifax might've done as PM, there's a timeline on my alternate history forum simply entitled "Halifax." Halifax does seek to negotiate a peace with Hitler during the dark days before the evacuation at Dunkirk, but this is no supine surrender to the Forces of Darkness. Instead it's something like the Peace of Amiens, which ended the War of the Second Coalition against Revolutionary France. Everybody knows there's going to be a rematch--Hitler wants to secure his western flank before his long-awaited invasion of the Soviet Union and the Western Allies (Paris has not yet fallen and so France is still in the war) need time to reorganize and rebuild after the drubbing they get.

Some interesting bits of the timeline include the Nazi implementation of the Madagascar Plan, which is an improvement (but by all that much) over the Holocaust--Soviet Jews are still murdered en masse and Madagascar is basically one giant pit of deprivation and forced labor for German and Polish Jews. There's also the earlier deployment of British jets, which give the Luftwaffe quite a hiding, as well as a pro-Nazi insurgency (that in our history didn't really accomplish much).

If you liked "Halifax," the story continues with a sequel entitled "Clem's Vision." It seems to fizzle after three pages, but it does set the stage for some interesting future developments.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

The American Principate Or, The Right-Wing Dystopia That Wasn't

Writing stories in order to play on present-day political issues is walking a dangerous road, since the stories will lose much of their urgency if the political winds shift. This is especially dangerous if they're set in the present day, or in the very near future, since current events can render them obsolete. Let the following be a lesson to you...

One of my unfinished novels--which will almost certainly never see the light of day--is called The American Principate. The Principate refers to the early Imperial period in Rome. The Republic still survived--on paper--and the emperor was referred to as princeps or "first citizen." Instead of being a monarch, he just happened to have hold multiple Republican offices at the same time and command the majority of its military. However, the wider culture was so anti-monarchical that even the emperor couldn't openly call himself king.

How does this apply to the American context? Well, those of you who were politically aware during the presidency of George W. Bush will surely remember there was a lot of fear in certain circles of creeping dictatorship due to things like the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, etc. Things like Muslims being put in internment camps were bandied about as if they were plausible. This was mostly on the left (in particular on sites like DemocraticUnderground), although some Libertarians and dissident conservatives got in on it too. This supposed quote from Julius Caesar made the rounds on the Internet. That was when I started writing the book, to tap into that zeitgeist.

My scenario begins in 2007 with an Iranian nuclear test. The United States under a president who is not George W. Bush (cough) and Israel jointly raided the Iranian nuclear facilities. The Iranians retaliated by sinking the carrier USS Ronald Reagan (symbolizing the later repudiation of Reagan's ideals in his name by men who claim to revere him) in the Persian Gulf using a nuke modified to fit on one of their Sunburn missiles, although in retrospect I would have simply had them use "missile spam" to do it, with the nuke appearing later on. The United States nukes Tehran and launches another war of "regime change."

(If I were writing this now, the nuke would be a giant land-mine, since fitting a big first-generation atomic bomb onto a cruise missile and hoping it gets through a carrier battle group's defenses is REALLY hard to swallow. The nuking of Tehran would come in reprisal for the Iranians detonating said nuke under a large number of US ground troops during the actual invasion, delaying the pivotal events in the United States by weeks.)

This kicks off a massive antiwar movement in the US that the administration uses the Patriot Act and other ostensibly anti-terrorist measures to suppress. Protesters are interned in Guantanamo alongside real or alleged al-Qaeda members. The Secret Service assassinates Not-Bush for this (acting under the orders of dissident members of Congress) and Not-Cheney becomes president. He uses a combination of regular US Army units (most of whom follow his orders) and "Red State" National Guards to defeat Congress's forces (some regular troops but mostly "Blue State" National Guards) in a yearlong civil war. Most countries begin selling off American assets and calling in US debts as soon as the mayhem begins and it's the Chinese that save the Not-Cheney regime's bacon with some large loans--in exchange for a free hand against Taiwan and later the extradition of Chinese dissidents in the U.S. to be executed. The prologue depicts the destruction of the last major Congressional military force and the battlefield execution of Not Ron Paul, who was retreating with them to the Congressional strongholds in New England for a last stand.

Once firmly in power, Not-Cheney federalizes the electoral system in order to ensure that both major parties' delegations to his puppet Congress are sympathetic to his aims (i.e. Republicans like Ron Paul would be excluded and Democrats like Joe Lieberman permitted) and third parties are excluded entirely. When Islamists take control of Egypt and Saudi Arabia U.S. forces repress them and occupy those countries. Domestically the regime uses a guest-worker program to ensure it has adequate soldiers for the wars without a draft (that would risk popular discontent), buys off unions with an equipment-heavy military buildup that generates manufacturing jobs, and throws some bones to the Christian Right. The most notable is the suppression of pornography and even artistic nudity using the "erotoxin" argument (this to keep the appearance of legality, since explicitly doing so on Christian grounds would fail the "Lemon Test").

(The story itself takes place in 2015 and involves a college student given the choice between jail and the military who goes on the run and join a resistance group.)

Those of you reading this may be surprised I plotted this out, given how conservative I am on most political issues. However, most "right-wing dystopia" novels (think The Handmaid's Tale or the relatively new Christian Nation) are written by leftists and REALLY implausible. Although The Handmaid's Tale is a very well-written book, the back-story--the US military launching a coup and imposing a Christo-Taliban regime in which an obvious 1980s televangelist is a major figure and women are forbidden from reading and writing--is, simply put, not going to happen.

And Christian Nation, which depicts Sarah Palin (and more importantly, her successor) establishing an overt Christian theocracy, doesn't even have the quality-writing defense. The one person I've spoken to who thinks the book is remotely plausible is basically a Christian fundamentalist's straw-man of an atheist--he claims not to believe in the Christian God but pretty obviously hates Him. This is exemplified by how he kept a thread on my alternate-history forum on the movie Noah going for weeks asking questions about the film to obviously reinforce his own views--i.e. he asks if Noah's daughters-in-law are different races or is non-whiteness depicted as a punishment for sin, are the deaths of children depicted, etc.--rather than seeing it himself.

Although I have too much respect for Bush and Cheney as people (even if I disagreed with many of their actions and policies) to think they'd ever, EVER actually do this, my intention was to write something more subtle as a cautionary tale. The power of the Executive Branch, in particular in the realm of war, has been growing unhealthily over the last few decades. Our government becoming a a de facto presidential regime with representative government as window-dressing is a lot more realistic than the U.S. becoming an overt Christian theocracy or even a president declaring himself President-for-Life or even Emperor. It's easy to write off ridiculous scenarios like the other two books I've mentioned because they're implausible, but something subtle will make you think.

From a writing POV, if I'd sent this to publishers in 2004, I'd have good odds of selling it if it were good enough. However, once 2007 passed and Iran doesn't test a nuke and Bush leaves office like every other president before it, it would have been good only for the landfill.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Writing Update (Some Very Good News)

Here's an update on my writing:

*I submitted an anthology of ten stories to my friend James R. Tuck, who is going to help me make it into a Kindle (and CreateSpace, for print) collection. In particular he's going to do the cover art and given his day job as a tattoo artist (and the good art he did for the cover of his Special Features collection), it's going to be good. Not sure when it's going to be available, but when it is, believe me you'll hear about it. Most of the stories in it have been previously published in print or online, but there are three all-new stories for your enjoyment. The title is Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire: Ten Tales of Valor and Imagination and I could easily imagine a future collection with a title like Flashing Steel 2 if this does well. :)

*An agent who rejected Battle for the Wastelands said she'd take another look at if I "tightened" it. At the time I thought she meant it had to be shorter, but a mutual friend clarified that there were characters that were interchangeable and scenes that were "dead." I didn't know how to handle the latter, but I knew from experience revising and finally selling "Nicor" how to differentiate secondary characters. I did this with some characters in the first three chapters and I'll go over the rest of the manuscript with an eye for this soon. I sent the updated submission package last night. Fingers crossed.

*Speaking of Battle for the Wastelands, I had the idea for some major changes for the storyline of Catalina Merrill, the major female POV character. The changes that had to be made for Battle weren't significant, but the events of Battle for the Wastelands: Escape (the second book) through the fourth book are going to look rather different.

*I started a short story entitled "Packmaster" set in the space-opera universe of The War of 2512, which will be the first in a multi-generational saga I've called "James Michener IN SPAACE." I wrote 3,000-odd words of it before it suddenly mutated into the second, fourth, and possibly fifth chapters of War. Originally protagonist Captain Aldo Singh was the sole POV character, but now Arban Andreas Macrynikola, pilot of a frigate and commander of a squadron of ten armed drones in service of the warlike Khaganate, gets to tell his side of the story. And I have plans for Mr. Macrynikola, believe me...

*I'd planned to submit "Packmaster" to my writing group this Sunday for critique next Sunday, but that's obviously not going to happen now. It looks like I'll be submitting the prologue of The Atlanta Incursion, the sequel to The Thing in the Woods, since it's the only thing I've got that's ready.

*Speaking of The Thing in the Woods, now I need to revise it based on the suggestions of my writing group. One group member seemed to like it pretty much as it was, but another had major issues with it. Some of his critiques had merit and so I anticipate some major work. The good news is that implementing some of them (he had some "show don't tell" issues) might get it to 60,000 words, the minimum length for some publishers to do a print book.

I don't have class until the first week of June. Let the games begin. :)