Nothing Here Newsletter

If the updates here on the website are too infrequent for your tastes, then your best bet is to sign up for the Nothing Here newsletter, which I run with some friends of mine. I think of it as something like a podcast in text form – we share a bunch of interesting links and recommendations, with room for a little conversational back and forth.

If you’re here at this website, then you already know who I am, but let me introduce the rest of the nothinghere team:

We occasionally have guests on board to talk about their projects, interests, et ceteras, and we also have a paid subscription tier for bonus letters – more in-depth reviews, short fiction, weird essays, and other miscellanea. Sign up below, or if you visit this link you can hit the “Let me Read It First” button to get a taste of what it is we do every fortnight.

This is the Sound of My Voice

It’s been a weird few weeks hasn’t it? Things are going well here on this end (relatively speaking, and all things considered), I finished the first draft of my next book, and have mostly been able to stay level.

I’ve been lucky enough to chat to some folk about Repo Virtual in the past few weeks, and wanted to share that with you.

First off, I was interviewed for the Nerd Feuilleton podcast – it’s a German language podcast, but the section with me (in English, sadly I’m not bilingual) starts at around the 54 minute mark.

I was also interviewed by Andrea Johnson over at Nerds of a Feather. This one is all text, so you don’t have to stuff about with podcast apps, hear my voice, or hear me sniffling.

And finally, Jonathan Strahan interviewed me for the Coode St podcast – they’re doing a series of short 10(ish) minute episodes with authors during this lockdown time. It was a great chat.

I’ll have a couple more links to share with you soon. Thanks for spending a little time with me here, and I hope you’re doing well with the situation we all find ourselves in, and I hope you’re keeping healthy and safe.

Repo Virtual is out now!

Repo Virtual is out now! Unless you’re in the UK, in which case you have to wait a few more days… Sorry!

I’ve got high hopes for this novel, but it’s hard to know how it might go with a global pandemic leaving thousands dead and millions unemployed. Whether or not my book does well seems a very minor concern right now, but I hope if nothing else it might give people a break from ubiquitous Coronavirus news for a few hours.

Repo Virtual was name one of Amazon’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books for April 2020, and made the same list on Kobo Canada.

It’s available in hardcover (Bookshop, Powells, IndieBoundBarnes & Noble, Overstock, WalmartBooksaMillionAmazon), ebook (Kindle, B&N NOOK, iBooks, eBooks.com, Google Play, Kobo), and audiobook formats. These are some obvious links, but with any luck you can get it from your local independent book store.

Here is an excerpt of the book in handy ebook formats, and I’ve got an audiobook excerpt here I can share with you.

Here’s what some people have been saying about Repo Virtual:

“Cyberpunk’s critical update, for these mixed-reality days of dark money, livestreaming cults, machine gaze and life lived on the razorwire edge.” —Warren Ellis

“Repo Virtual constructs a stunningly vivid cyberpunk world that blurs the line between illusion and reality, dripping with the neon panache of a technological juggernaut in an action packed heist that’ll steal your heart with ideas that are as revealing as they are powerful.” —Peter Tieryas

“A richly imagined, futuristic stand-alone with appeal to gamers, SF fans, and armchair futurists alike.” —Kirkus Reviews

“What follows is an action-driven plot that, perhaps not surprisingly, bears some resemblance to William Gibson’s latest novel, Agency. It seems as though cyberpunk is not only back but may have come full circle.” —Toronto Star

“If I had to list four cyberpunkish books you had to read, I’d probably give you Neuromancer, Snowcrash, Equations of Life (Simon Morden), and now…Repo Virtual by Corey J. White.” —Amazing Stories

Hyper-individualism

I read John Higg’s Stranger Than We Can Imagine at the end of last year, and I highly recommend it. It’s a cultural history of the 20th Century, looking at different paradigm-shifting ideas that completely changed the way we think, and uses that as a basis to try and grapple with the past century and see what we can carry forward into this new one.

A lot of the ideas, discoveries, movements, etc that Higgs discusses will likely be familiar to anyone with a decent understanding of modern history, but it’s the context that it’s offered in that makes it such an interesting read. By the end of the book he reveals a sort of thesis that he’s been building toward the whole way: that the politics, culture, and economics of the late 20th Century have caused us to shift away from communal concerns to an extreme of individualism. You don’t have to exist online for too long to realise how right Higgs is – see people arguing with artists about the intended meaning of their own art, see people unflinchingly arguing a scientific topic against a person who holds a PhD in that very thing, or even watch the way people try and turn themselves into brands, as though they’re such an important figure they should be a youtube star/instagram influencer/viral sensation. Authorship, expert knowledge, and reality itself mean nothing compared to our individual entitlement. (A lot of people, especially Gen X and Boomers try and say this is a Millennial trait, but if they looked in the mirror they’d see it’s a broadly Western pathology that crosses generational divides.)

Watching the coronavirus situation unfold, I can’t help but come back to Higgs’ thesis. The panic buying, the hoarding, the racketeering – it’s the behaviour of frightened individualists with no concern for the wider community. It’s also exactly the sort of behaviour we should expect from people when the neoliberal hegemony has spent decades decaying social welfare systems and public infrastructure, privatising everything, atomising society, and pushing us into precarious work and predatory financing so that we’re too broke, over-worked, anxious, and stressed out to even be able to think about anything other than our own needs.

So I understand how we got here, I understand people are scared and uncertain. I realise that the worst case scenarios here are genuinely awful and terrifying (and even the medium case scenarios don’t look great). But there’s a very good chance that this situation could last for a long time. We’ve had a few weeks of panic buying and food hoarding, but now it’s time to stop and realise that there is a society – a community – out there, and our best bet at getting through this pandemic is working together and looking after each other.

The age of individualism needs to end. We need to realise that we each aren’t the single most important thing in the universe. And I’m not just talking about the current situation now with the unfolding pandemic – I’m also talking about climate change going forward. Maybe we’re going to have to get used to a little individual discomfort if it means a better chance for a livable planet. Maybe we’re going to have to sweat a little instead of running the aircon, maybe we’re going to have to give up meat, maybe we’re going to have to get a bus instead of driving a car, maybe we’re going to have to take a second to really question whether we really need that random object that our lizard brain is demanding we buy. Maybe all of our selfish actions, however minor they are on their own, are having a massive collective impact, and maybe we already know this, but we’re so caught up in our comfortable lives that we’d simply prefer not to make any changes until we absolutely have to. Maybe that will be too late.

The best thing that could come out of the coronavirus pandemic is the realisation that things can and should change. We can’t continue on the way we’ve been going, not unless we want to irreparably damage our biosphere. We can’t allow medicine to be tied in any way to profit. We need governments that actually work for the people instead of slowly strip-mining the state for parts to sell to private industry (that is, if we need government at all). And more than anything we need to look out for each other. Whether that’s your family, your neighbourhood, your suburb, your state, your country, or our entire world. We need to do better, we need to be better.

Those are just some things that have been on my mind lately. I’m trying not to let the pandemic get the better of me, I’m trying to find some hope in amongst it all, but our only real hope is for a complete overhaul of the status quo toward a society geared towards helping people, rather than increasing GDP…

I’ll stop there. I could keep going, but I won’t. I don’t even know if this all makes sense…

Anyway, while I’m here, I thought I would share a little something for everyone stuck in self-quarantine: the CREEPER ISSUE 1 PDF FREE FOR DOWNLOAD. It contains a personal essay from me, and a whole slew of great fiction, non-fiction, and art from some fantastic contributors.

That’s it for now. Stay well, keep safe, and think about what you can do to make this situation a little better for someone else.

Kentucky Route Zero

‘Kentucky Route Zero’ Pays Off on Nine Years of Hope and Doubt


I bought Kentucky Route Zero years ago, played through the first act and loved it, but never went back to it. I always told myself I would, and the release of the fifth and final act last week was a good excuse to return. The above, by Austin Walker, is as good an essay/review on the game as you’re likely to find, but you’ll want to play at least until the end of Act IV before you read it. (And yes, I do recommend you play it if the aesthetic appeals. It is a weird and compelling story told in fascinating fashion.)

On twitter I saw someone say about Kentucky Route Zero, “What if the next great American novel wasn’t a novel?” And whilst I understand what they meant and even agree as so far as it goes, I also think it diminishes the role of the language of video games in helping craft the story of KR0. The final moment at the end of The Entertainment is so shocking because you’re the one turning your head to look. For all the reams of text contained within KR0, this isn’t a novel masquerading as a game, this is one of the best arguments yet made for video games as art (assuming that debate is still ongoing).

Which is a funny thing to say when I would also describe KR0 as less of a game, and more of an experience. Usually only RPGs have this much text, and this many dialogue choices, but as you play through KR0 you get the feeling that the choices you make don’t really matter. You can perhaps control the tone at times, and decide which character’s story you want to explore further, but ultimately the developers have a story to tell, and you are simply along for the ride. You become the mechanism by which the story can be told.

It’s at times melancholic, at times hopeful, obtuse, beautiful, Lynchian, touching, and on at least one occasion, tedious. It’s about people, and the ways we are used as fuel for the capitalist systems that dominate our society. But for every tragedy touched on in the story, there are also connections being forged, friends being made, family being found. The final act centres around the potential of a new community separate to the capitalist structures, and for that reason it feels important. Looking forward, more and more it seems like collective action and community engagement will be our best hope, and that’s where the game will guide you, if you let it. Also, in the last act you play as a cat and you get to meow at people. What’s not to love?

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

There’s a refrain repeated throughout the book, aimed at its main character: You care about more about animals than people. That resonated with me, partly because of how I’ve felt my entire life (I’m unable to watch nature documentaries because I can’t stand to watch animals suffer), and partly because of where my current fiction is going as I try and use it to grapple with climate change and our culpability in mass extinction and destruction of habitats.

The narrator doesn’t really see animals as something different to or lesser than people, something demonstrated by the way she will give names to animals and people, ignoring a person’s given name because she feels they rarely match the person. She even rails against her own name. By denying these human identities it’s as though she diminishes the sacred aspect that we hold for ourselves and our own. None of these people is more important than these animals, and every animal killed in the forest near her house deserves a proper burial in her cemetary yard.

So what we see through her eyes is a community of humans and non-human animals who are simply neighbours. And thus she sees people hunting and poaching in the area as murderers, and bothers the local authorities endlessly to try and get them to do something about even the legal hunting activities. The book does a great job of showing how her fellow villagers might see her as “just” a crazy old lady – constantly writing letters and working out people’s astrological charts – whilst also convincingly arguing her point of view.

It’s a slow burn of a book, but worthy of your time.

Beautiful and Dangerous

I came across a post via Peter M. BallDying on the Mountain: How Goals will Kill You and How to Focus on the Process, written by Fred Venturini and published at litreactor. In it, Venturini references a couple of different books about positive thinking and goal setting to argue against some common wisdom.

The Power of Positive Thinking is supposedly able to literally change your life, but:

In studies performed by Gabriele Oettigen, visualizing how well things could go actually reduces your motivation, and at a subconscious level, we can confuse visualizing success with having already achieved it. […] Fantasizing about your greatest successes can slow you down, reduce your motivation, and make you feel like you’ve already achieved them.

He also warns against tying your goals into your identity, which is something I’m sure many writers struggle with. For the longest time your goal is to become a published writer, but if (and hopefully when) that happens, you’ve suddenly undermined a part of your identity by achieving your goal and realising that little has changed. You don’t immediately become happy/successful/famous/rich/whatever overnight – not only does publishing move slow, but there’s little chance of riches and fame unless you’re extremely lucky.

And he ends the piece by suggesting that goals can be broken down into processes anyway, and it’s these processes that will help you to achieve whatever it is you’re hoping to achieve with your writing career. Chop wood, carry water, which is something I’ve talked about before.

And these are all great points. I definitely get where Venturini is coming from, and mostly agree with him, but in my mind it’s bumping up against something else.

In an interview with Pagan Dawn Magazine, Alan Moore said:

Your art is as big, as powerful, as beautiful and dangerous as you yourself are able to conceive of it as being.

This is one of the quotes I’ve written onto a post-it note and stuck up in my writing area because it resonates with me. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, if you’re only able to conceive of your own work at a shallow level, then all you’ll be able to write is shallow work. Repo Virtual is a cyberpunk AI heist, but I don’t know that I ever would have written it if that’s all I was able to conceive of it as. More important than that basic plot is the philosophical core of the book focusing on the personhood of non-biological intelligences, and the way those intelligences could become our heirs if we ever let them. Yes, there are still multiple heists and shoot-outs, and a car chase through flooded streets, but I wrote the book because there were philosophical concepts I wanted to explore. (One day I hope to write a book that can explore deep ideas without guns, chases, mayhem, and explosions, but I’m not there yet.)

I’ve talked previously about the struggles I’m having with my next book. Frankly, I’m frightened. And the reason I’m frightened is because my conception of what this book could be is huge. In it I want to explore eco-fascism, eco-terrorism, and the various possible (horrifying) outcomes of the stresses that climate change will place on our civilisation, and I want to do that through the lens of truly disturbing sci-fi horror, which is not a genre I’ve written in at great length. The book has the potential to be serious and important, and also successful, and I desperately want it to be all those things. I desperately want it to be big, powerful, beautiful, and dangerous.

But Venturini is right. That’s not a goal I can work towards; you can’t write a book that is all those things, you can only write a book and hope. But Moore is right, because I need to still hold onto my hopes if I want to make this book the best thing I can write here and now.

I need to have my hopes and my dreams for this book so I can strive to do something more and greater than my previous work, but I also need to say “Fuck the results,” and focus on the process so I can actually get it done. I need to find that balance. And I’m almost there. The further along I get with my new and improved outline, the more confident I feel – not that it’ll be everything I want, but that I’ll be able to write it. That I’ll be able to put one word down after another until I have a novel.

The rest will come, I hope. With all the research and planning I’ve done, and with all the writing and editing I will do, I just have to hope it comes together. Maybe it won’t be important, or successful, but it’ll be the best thing I can write right now, and that’s enough. It has to be.

No Friend But the Mountains, by Behrouz Boochani

I recently finished reading No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani. I previously mentioned Behrouz last year in the nothing here newsletter when he won one of the most prestigious literary awards in Australia. He’s a refugee who was trapped in Australia’s offshore refugee prison for years, and is still stranded on Manus Island even now. He wrote reportage about Manus and this entire novel via text message on a phone he wasn’t even supposed to have in the prison. The logistics behind the writing, translating, and editing of this book alone demonstrate Boochani’s drive to get this story out into the world, and we should be thankful for that, because it’s a story that needs to be told.

The story starts with his first attempt at crossing the ocean and continues on from there (ironically/sadly if this first boat hadn’t sunk he might have been able to settle in Australia because with his second attempt he arrived just a few days after the fucked up “no one coming by boat will ever be allowed to set foot on Australian soil, regardless of the validity of their status as refugees” law was passed). It’s poetic while remaining grounded in the systematic horrors of the prison and the situation all the refugees find themselves in. It’s an important read for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that governments all over the world are taking inspiration from Australia’s offshore detention regime, and as time goes on, and climate and ecological pressures cause more people to need to flee their homes and homelands, we will see more countries establishing similarly barbaric prisons – sorry, “processing centres” – cropping up all over the world. These refugees will find themselves locked up in prisons like the one at Manus Island for the simple “crime” of seeking asylum.

I want to see every politician who has served since the (fabricated) child overboard “scandal”, and hasn’t publicly condemned Australia’s refugee policies, be locked up in Manus Prison, indefinitely. I want their wealth taken from them, I want their exorbitant fucking pensions stripped from them and used to provide all our tortured refugees the kinds of lives they deserve here (and the therapy they will no doubt need after all that we have inflicted on them).

The book opens with a long introduction from the translator, and one of the (unrelated) things from it that really caught my eye was this:

His use of metaphors related to wolves is exceptional and haunting … I once heard that in Iran when a sheepdog fights off a wolf to defend its flock it aims for the jugular. In most cases the wolves are too strong and ferocious for the dogs. But there are times when the sheepdog manages to lock its jaws around the wolf’s throat and remains clamped onto it until the wolf can’t withstand the pressure anymore; the dog persists until the wolf submits. The sheepdog emerges from the victory with an extraordinary self-realisation – the experience transforms the dog, the encounter empowers it. The sheepdog develops a new sense of self beyond self-confidence – it re-identifies as a wolf. The shepherds know the dangers of this phenomenon; they know that when a dog’s identity morphs in this way it is no longer controllable. They put it down.

Dying Culture

There was a chunk from a recent Technoccult newsletter that I had considered sharing in nothing here. It would have been too large a quote, especially after I had a chance to add whatever commentary to it I felt necessary. But it’s still something I want to talk about, so… blog post.

Writing in Technoccult, Damien Williams says:

The majority of the people who want to pin [mass shootings] as “Mental Illness” are just out to reinforce all the structurally ableist notions we have about mentally ill people, including the fact that it makes it, once again, the personal “failings” of a single individual, rather than the systemic, cultural failures that incite, inspire, reinforce, and encourage these men toward these actions. Our attitudes towards violence, and about who a “valid recipient” of that violence is. Our attitudes about who “really deserves” what—food, shelter, cultural resources, access to another person’s body—and what is or isn’t okay to do about either a) someone “taking” what they “don’t deserve” or b) not being “given” what we “do deserve.”

If you are raised and trained, every day, by, let’s call it 85% of the people and cultural products you consume, much of which has built directly into it a disincentive to take seriously any opposing position, then is it reasonable to mark as “mental illness” the following of that education to one of its logical conclusions? And, if so, then doesn’t that make the whole culture sick?

Because I think, quite seriously, the whole culture might be sick.

And I think, looking back, there is a crux, a particular point of inflection, when every piece of pre- and peri-millennial possibility—every attitude or technological hope, each mythic future potentiality— feels like it was inverted at its moment of highest vulnerability, right as the Millennium™ was waking up… And i think, if we’re honest, it feels like we’ve never fully recovered.

Like we’ve just gotten progressively meaner, and harder, and more afraid, and more paranoid, and more spitefully willing to fuck ourselves into oblivion to prove some kind of point.

I don’t know how to fight an illness of the collective cultural consciousness. I know how to promote the culture I want to catch on—the plays, the comics, the TV, the music, the illustrations, the films, the poetry, the paintings, the stories and essays. I know how to spread those far and wide and shout about them from the rooftops. But I don’t know how to heal or carve out the hate, the fear, the nihilism, the frustrated and entitled rage that says “It’s All Their Fault And You Should Kill Them.”

When I’m just one person, who writes and talks. When I’m not wealthy and my rooftops aren’t that high and my voice and lungs are, quite frankly, tired from shouting. When I don’t even know anymore whose ear to whisper in, or whose eye to catch that might actually be able to do some good at a broader and deeper reach than I have. Is it you? I kind of hope so.

If you’re reading this, you can do this, and I really hope you will. Promote culture you want to see. Build communities of compassion and exploration of the possibilities of what we can do and how we can live. Be loud, be brave, be ready.

Because we need each other now, as much as or more than ever.

And after I put that in our shared newsletter doc, Austin pointed me at this piece by Darren Allen:

What passes for culture is not culture — the wild — but cultivation — domestication; the covering of the unnatural inner life of men and women with superficially stimulating effects, dead knowledge divested of its living core and the economically and socially profitable pretense of art:

To be cultivated means: to hide from oneself how wretched and base one is, how rapacious in going for what one wants, how insatiable in heaping it up, how shameless and selfish in enjoying it.

Culture is dead, for the same reasons that nature is. Everything that can be said about the death of nature, everything we know about why it is happening — the insensitivity, cowardice and greed that lead to its destruction — along with everything we know about the effects of an unnatural life on human beings — the confusion, misery and corruption that result from being estranged from the wild; all this applies to culture also. Culture is supposed, like nature, to produce true human beings. That is its purpose — or can be said to be. Really nature and culture have no purpose, they are ends to themselves; there is no ‘why’ to them, yet this is the inevitable result of their ‘what’ — the genius of mankind which, because nature and culture are dead, is dead also.

Look around you now at the stunted men and women in your town — good people sometimes, even brimming with potential, but so drastically reduced; limited, cut-off from life, half-dead and, in many cases, quite insane. Look at how many geniuses surround you — real human geniuses I mean, not the fantastic automatons that can win fifty games of chess simultaneously or play the piano with their feet; I mean miraculously beautiful and utterly unique people, able to ‘hit the mark that no-one can see’. Not too many of those. They are as easy to find as eagles and tigers, and for much the same reason. There is no habitat for them, no sustenance, no society that recognises them, no ecosystem for them to fit into. The entire point of education, work, law, politics and the propaganda of the world is to destroy — or at best ignore — them. When they do appear, they seem like eagles and tigers — terrifying, out of place or a cause for titillating excitement. Freaks.

Culture may be dependent on nature, which is to say, on an expiring wasteland, it may be forced into unnatural channels, like this machine you are reading these words on, and it may be at its last gasp. But — it only takes two of us to nourish it. Two people can keep the flame lit. I don’t mean passing on book recommendations and sending copper disks into time-capsules, I mean passing on the spirit of mankind, the instinct that seeks above all its own uniqueness, or genius. It only takes two people to love that, to recognise its reflection in great art and wild nature and to be courageous enough to make sacrifices for it — to suffer for it — for culture to live. And those two people are me, and thee.

I’ve been reading a lot of Mark Fisher lately. Largely that’s because I’m slowly going through the massive tome that is K-Punk, but also I’ve read Capitalist Realism and The Eerie and the Weird recently, and the cultural sickness/death that Damien and Darren talk about is definitely something both explicitly and implicitly detailed in Fisher’s writing. Following the history of late 20th Century pop and dance music he can expertly detail the cultural shifts away from the new, the futuristic, the forward-looking, and the political, and (being Mark Fisher) he ties this into the neoliberal “End of History” – this flattening of culture in music, film, etc, as the broader sociopolitical culture insists that we have reached our peak.

And it’s hard to argue. You don’t need to look too far to see the cultural saturation of nostalgia and pastiche. From our politics (though, really, that’s fauxstalgia), to T-shirt designs on Instagram littered with imagery from 80s and 90s cinema, to some of the biggest shows of the moment – The Walking Dead (a “prestige” rehash of all the zombie stories we’ve already seen), and Stranger Things (pure, weaponised 80s nostalgia). Hell, Lovecraft is a perfect example of this. I think there’s plenty of great stuff coming out of Lovecraft-response fiction (Providence, The Ballad of Black Tom, A Song for Quiet, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, etc), and plenty of people are doing interesting things around Lovecraft and philosophy, but this is still a widespread (sub/counter-)cultural obsession with stories that were written 90 years ago.

(Or maybe I’m being too harsh with that last example. I think there is value in revisiting products from the past if you can do it without nostalgia – do it with a critical eye and a sense of creating something worthwhile. I think that’s why the Lovecraft response works – he was “just” a pulp writer at the time, and was thus largely overlooked, so there still remains facets of his work worth interrogating.

So, rehashing and referencing some of the biggest cultural products of a previous era (*ahem* Stranger Things and Spielberg) can feel creatively bankrupt, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go back to the overlooked and under-valued works from that same era. It’s like looking to the past and seeing what could have been – where could our culture be now if something different had risen to the top? What might we be creating and consuming today if things had gone differently?)

I was saying just the other day that I can’t remember the last time I was shocked by a novel that was truly new. I know the truly new is out there, but it’s coming from writers and artists who are marginalised and are having to release their work on their own or through minor markets. So much of what’s released today fits into that comfortable zone  – the same but different. And I don’t know how much of this is purely down to marketing having warped all our minds. It might be reductive, but the best elevator pitch is “It’s like X, but Y!”, and this has trickled down into how we talk about art, and undoubtedly how we think about the art we’re creating. (I’m not immune to this. As original and personal as I like to think my work is, it’s not hard to draw comparisons).

But recently I’ve found a few shards of the new. I’ve come across the writing of Elytron Frass (in Creeper and elsewhere), which is weird and fucked-up, and mind-bending in the best sort of way. And I found the music of MY DISCO, who simply need to be seen live to be comprehended (links here and here). And in the space of gaming there are countless talented developers creating truly bizarre and/or deeply personal works of art – The Cat Lady comes to mind, which I recently started and found stunning in its sense of singular purpose in the way it explores depression, suicide, and responsibility through the lens of a nightmarish afterlife. I plan to return to it soon and write about it in more detail – that’s how impressed I was.

With any of these examples I could be reductive if I wanted to, and draw comparisons to other works or other artists, but for obvious reasons (it’s right there in the word) this simply diminishes the work, flattening them into something palatable instead of letting them stand on their own weird feet. I need to avoid this impulse. If a work of art deserves nothing but comparison, then make comparisons, but if it contains that spark of the new and the weird, let it be.

I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not even sure of the question. But I agree with Damien that our culture is sick. Our precarious worklives, the way our agency and freedoms are slowly being stripped away from us due to “threats” of “terrorism” and the ubiquity of surveillance apparatus, the flood of social/media outrage keeping us agitated – all of it works to ensure that we are too tired and/or depressed to create or consume anything that is truly new. We need the familiar because it is all we have the energy to digest.

But both Damien and Darren end on a positive note – a call to community. And if you read the nothing here newsletter you know I’m all about community too – it’s happening slowly, but we’re definitely building a network of interesting thinkers and creators through the newsletter and through Oh Nothing Press.

There’s still a chance that we can cure the culture in our own worlds and lives – start interesting conversations, suggest interesting art and philosophy that can help change our thinking, avoid social media and the mainstream and the homogeneous culture it’s trying to shove down our throats. Share the things you love, and challenge yourself to create things that might be different – different to what you might normally do, different to what your peers are doing. Simply make an effort. We can’t all be the eagle-tiger geniuses who can reinvigorate a dying culture, but we can be the sorts of people on the look-out – we can be searching and scouring for something to break through the malaise so that when it comes we can embrace it.

We need to understand our cultural history, yes, but we can’t get lost in it. We can’t lose ourselves in endlessly rehashing old milieus. We need to strive for something more than that.

The Ascent to Godhood, by JY Yang

(I had to trim some reviews out of the nothing here newsletter to get it to send, so here’s this.)

The Ascent to Godhood

With The Ascent to Godhood, JY Yang continues weaving together the disparate threads of the Tensorate world. Instead of a simple, linear series, these books slots together like a jigsaw puzzle, with each piece illuminating more of the whole.

Not only is each beautifully written, filled with unique worldbuilding, and populated with fully fleshed-out characters, but with each Yang has pushed themselves to explore different narrative styles to great effect.

I hardly read fantasy, but I love these books.

Square Eyes, by Anna Mill and Luke Jones

(I had to trim some reviews out of the nothing here newsletter to get it to send, so here’s this.)

Square EyesI was put onto this comic thanks to the About Buildings + Cities podcast, and the series they did on Katushiro Otomo’s Akira. For the final episode of that series, Luke and his co-host, George Gingell, also had Anna Mill on, and they talked a bit about Square Eyes, and the influence of Otomo on Mill’s art. (You may have also seen it mentioned in Orbital Operations, because we can’t go one issue without referring back to the President of the Republic of Newsletters.)

The Akira comparisons aren’t obvious or immediate, but that hardly matters because Mill’s art is phenomenal. The characters, clothing, buildings, and assorted ephemera of city life are exquisitely rendered, and the colours almost glow on the page, soft but vivid at the same time.

The story concerns a software designer/engineer/superstar who has dropped off the grid for a few months, forcibly interred at a sort of digital detox facility. The book starts with her return to the city, desperate to be reconnected to the digital realm. The digital and physical facades of the city are shown subtly, the ways the digital has come to usurp the real (similar to my upcoming Repo Virtual). As Fin tries to regain her memories and her old life, we see images of overlaid memory and reality, blurring together in hallucinatory moments, multiple layers of art pressed down on one another as the disparate bleeds together. And in one section we see Fin and her friend George navigate parts of the city hidden from the digital realm in a way that could only be done in comics.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the story, but artistically and aesthetically, Square Eyes is unparalleled. Just the lettering alone is fantastic, and I hope other letterers take notice of what they’ve done here. This style won’t suit every project, but with a setting like this, where layers of reality are laid one atop the other, the see-through word balloons add another subtle layer to the whole project.