2019 has been an interesting year for Rowan Tree Editing. I have encountered many new clients, built up new editing relationships and worked on some fantastic manuscripts—both fiction and nonfiction, in various genres. My Medium blog has been fairly regularised, with a new essay or review now reliably scheduled for each Friday (as of the time of writing, I have posts planned for two-weeks ahead). This website's blog has suffered a little in consequence, but I aim to change that by making it somewhere I do updates on my writing and editing, give out more general, pithy advice and post shorter pieces in general.
When considering how to learn to write a narrative fiction, pretty quickly you start teasing apart the elements of the books you read and liked. How does good dialogue work? What’s important to achieving a satisfying pacing? How do you pick a point of view? What is at the core of a good character? This is also where many teachers of writing start, and more worryingly, where they end too.
Prior to reading Chris Bateman’s The Virtuous Cyborg, I was becoming infatuated (somewhat late to the fad) with the augmented reality mobile game Pokémon Go, which Bateman uses as a (qualified) example of the good kind of cyborg, making exercise ‘essential to its play (for all that it also trades on the player’s compulsions through the free-to-play business model).’ This is illustrative of the types of analysis Bateman offers of cybervirtue, but I am getting ahead of myself. Like any thoroughgoing philosopher, Bateman begins with terminology, ‘What I mean by “cybervirtue” is nothing more than the desirable qualities that a cyborg might possess, and what I mean by “cyborg” is a combination of living being and inanimate thing that acts with a greater range of possibilities than either being or thing can achieve alone.’ The rest of the book robustly expands and unpacks this idea and the antonym, cyborgs that are ‘cyber-debilitating, which is to say, they bring out moral debilities.’ Central to all of this is virtue ethics (the notion that morality is best understood in the good and bad qualities of moral agents) and Chaos Nova, a metaphor for ‘the near-infinite diversification of identities that resulted from the fracturing of traditions’ entailed by the collapse of virtue ethics.
The problem with the seduction of facts is that it prevents politics by making experts into ‘superiors’ against whom everyone is ‘inferior’. Even the experts are judged inferior to each other, as anonymous peer review demonstrates. What lies behind this distraction is a faith that expertise can be purged of metaphysics, as the Vienna circle believed, or that there can be metaphysical views that have no moral or political bias.
It is not officially morning but everyone in the world has already reported waking up from dreams either completely or partially encrusted with black mold. The general consensus: it is black mold, all right.
These snapshots (interconnected, but by the barest thread) of the apocalypse are laden with unknown references to veiled wider world lore and impressionistic aesthetics that lend them an oppressive, dreamlike quality. In Kristine Ong Muslim’s The Drone Outside,the boundaries of speculative fiction are pushed into a surrealist fantasy space. Muslim envisions our species’ shared narrative limits. Some of these pieces are descriptively rich, others merely fragments of dialogue such as ‘The Outsiders’ or contextually obscured epistolary microfictions such as ‘Demolition Day,’ a series of letters, at least one to the dead. From the first page to the last, we readers are haunted by something so incomprehensibly vast (in its consequences and reach) that it becomes, essentially, a limit experience to contemplate. The longest and most memorable story (the most sensibly narrative based) is ‘The Early Signs of Blight,’ which obeys many of the conventions of a supernatural horror, only to be so enigmatic about the locus of its horror — which is only semi-perceived and even then largely from a child’s point of view — that it becomes something more than this genre categorisation helpfully indicates. It is eerie not chiefly because it is cosmic or alien, but because those qualities are barely detectable beneath a kitsch domesticity, but sufficiently present to invoke the eerie.