Sunday, November 27, 2011

My debut mystery novel.

c2011 (S)

I am just putting the finishing touches on what is actually my seventh novel, although I have only published five so far. It will be published December 1.

This one, 'Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery,' is my first full-length novel in the detective/mystery genre. It's based on a character created in the short story, 'The Handbag's Tale.'

That's available in multiple formats from Smashwords, and it's also available in a Kindle book. Over on Amazon you can read some mixed reviews. One of the reasons for writing a longer piece with the Maintenon character was to try and address some of the critic's concerns. While a short story is always going to have its limitations, the expectations of paying readers are definitely a matter of concern.

The basic plot is simple: an aircraft crashes, only the pilot has been dead a little too long. As noted in a previous post, I struggled from about the 20,000 to the 40,000-word mark. If nothing else, I'm happy to have completed the thing.

Themes sensitively explored in the book include loss, grief, remorse, self-recrimination, as well as religious prejudice, unpredictable consequences of the simplest actions, and covering up a lie with another, bigger lie.

This is probably the densest prose I have attempted to write, and everything from 'Glenfiddich' to 'n'est pas' have been checked for validity and accuracy of spelling if nothing else.

At 65,000 words, it's very tight, yet I've managed to weave all the narrative threads together in a compelling and satisfying read.

Okay, I admit it. I'm actually kind of pleased with myself.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


c2011 (S)

When I was growing up, it seemed Northern Ireland and the Middle East were never out of the headlines. Northern Ireland is a different place today. The Middle East still festers.

Once a week it seemed, another airliner was hijacked by terrorists, there was another bloody attack by the Red Brigade or the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, or Carlos 'The Jackal' had carried out another atrocity somewhere in the world.

In Canada, here in Southern Ontario, we probably felt pretty much immune to such dangers, although the thoughts of air travel for business or pleasure might have brought a few sweaty palms. Yet we reassured ourselves that everything would be fine and it usually was.

Going to school, we knew what prejudice was. It's in all the dictionaries.

I went to a Roman Catholic school, and right across the street was a 'public' school.

When the province extended full funding to Catholic high schools, there was a debate about whether it was appropriate for taxpayers to fund religious education. I won't go into the whole siege, capture and surrender of French Canada by the British.

There were and still are other sides to the story, some of them quite vehement, and some of them even relevant.

However, at that time, by treaty, full religious rights were extended to the 'habitants,' and French Roman Catholic schools were already in existence. Not fully funding those schools could have been construed as withholding something very valuable from a minority, that is to say if a high school education has value. Most people think it does. It is a requirement for university, where tomorrow's political and social leaders are often trained. There are economic considerations as well. It really doesn't pay to enforce a kind of low productivity among a major segment of the population. Governments are not so much about dogma today, as they are about the economy, which is another kind of religion and dogma. (More on that some other time.)

When I was a kid, students heard the national anthem played over the PA system and, once a day we had to say our prayers. It was from the Protestant rite. They had a picture of Queen Elizabeth II on the wall, the titular head of the Church of England. They probably still do, and for pretty much the same reasons. I know that because I also went to a public school for several years, where I was perfectly welcome to attend. They didn't try to keep me out--they wanted me in there.

You can take bigotry out of a system of government, but it takes some very sensible and hard-working people to make it all work. This is not to say that there was never any bigotry in this country, because there was. On the plus side, we have dealt with it fairly well, and continue to do so.

Thank you for your efforts. And, keep up the good work.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I like my coffee unambiguous.

Am I real? Are you real? Is any of this real?

Are we making progress?

(Are we having fun yet? –ed.)

I will cut the silver cord,

And go see.


“Every cultural phenomenon can be studied as communication,” this according to Umberto Eco.

A medievalist, philosopher, critic and novelist, Eco wrote ‘The Name of the Rose.’

On the Food Channel, I saw another one of those ‘bison burgers.’ This is a cheeseburger made from 16 oz. of ground sirloin, about eight slices of American process cheese, three sliced onions fried in butter, and a quarter pound of bacon, topped with generous scoops of mustard, relish, ketchup, mayonnaise, handfuls of lettuce, and thick slabs of tomato.

Why would anyone want to watch such a thing on TV? I see it as a kind of food porn.

It is a kind of ‘hyper-reality.’ It is a kind of behaviour, one closely tied in to our biological evolution and the modern social environment. It is ‘the search for stimulus,’ exactly as outlined by Desmond Morris, author of ‘The Human Zoo.’

No one needs to eat a hamburger that big. So why do it? It is a statement, and it has symbolic meaning. It’s a form of communication, which helps to lubricate group dynamics.

We no longer have to go thirteen days without food, while our little band of hunters tracks a wounded mastodon across the frozen tundra. We no longer get to hack into the hot and still quivering flesh with a stone knife, ramming a chunk of dripping red meat into our jaws, and slaking our thirst with its blood. We no longer saw out a hunk and give it to a friend.

That bison burger is highly symbolic.

The bison burger represents many things. It represents the kill of the successful hunter. It represents excess, (or plenty, if you will,) and reward. It represents comradeship. It represents survival, and so it is a kind of comfort food. It represents socialization, for if consumed alone at home it is merely gluttony. These burgers are often consumed in social settings. It represents status, in that the biggest burger represents the biggest kill. The biggest hunk of meat is taken ahead of other members of the group. If you were a part of this group, sitting at the table in the bison burger restaurant, and if you ordered scrambled eggs and toast, much commentary would arise, wouldn’t it? The bison burger represents dominance. The fact that no one would seriously cook such a thing at home reinforces this. The bison burger comes with a submissive form of service, as a socially lower-status being carries it to your table. Someone else cooked it.

It's best to go with friends, and it is helpful if they can’t finish theirs. That makes you the winner. It is a contest, a game, where points are scored.

If you can actually eat the thing, then your social status is reinforced. The guy with the smallest meal gets picked on or commiserated with.

“Dentures acting up again, Stan?”

It is the avian ‘pecking order,’ where socially dominant members of the group administer more pecks to others than they receive. This is one reason why, when we feel threatened, we are biologically inclined to lash out.

We are administering ‘pecks,’ in hopes of increasing our status and therefore our feelings of security within the group. Or maybe a kind of threat display. Or maybe in my own case, a cultural rant of the op/ed nature. But then, in my own little world, I am the greatest living artist of his age…you have to like that, ladies and gentlemen.


I live in a world where nothing is ever wrong,

For nothing can go wrong

In Hyper-world, we can have our cake and eat it too

We can all have our own opinions

And we are always right, all of the time.

So is everyone else.

It’s like ‘Westworld,’ starring Yul Brynner.

In ‘Westworld,’ nothing can go wrong…go wrong…go wrong…


Wikipedia lists a few examples of hyperrealism. These include sports figures, digitally enhanced or computer generated effects in films, exaggerated sex toys, or gold pens encrusted with diamonds. Other examples of the hyper-real include impossibly white teeth, impossibly talented fourteen year-old singers, and other cultural artifacts.

It’s like those TV commercials where a pickup truck splashes through a river. It’s something a tiny minority of drivers will ever do. Therefore, it is a kind of ‘hyper-reality.’ In the mind of the viewer, the premise seems perfectly reasonable as criteria for judging the value of a purchase! But the vehicle itself is also a kind of hyper-reality, where a mid-size pickup truck is exactly the same size and weight as a full-size truck used to be, and in fact at nine feet tall is considerably higher.

What a sense of pride and accomplishment ensues, when we realize that it won’t actually fit through the seven-foot tall garage door opening. A phallic symbol. I wonder how many men have driven through the garage door ‘because it was asking for it.’

There are no four-cylinder pickup trucks anymore—they were a phenomenon of the 1970s and 1980s. The new trucks have leather seats, club cabs with seating for six, and 21-speaker surround sound. Such features are hardly work-related. They are stimulus related and status related. You could make a case for them being comfort related, although leather seats are often slippery and cold, and loud music can be uncomfortable to most passengers. But it’s our truck isn’t it? Few of the options are particularly work-related or have anything to do with carrying a heavy load, which is what the vehicle was ostensibly built for.

The truth about those vehicles is that they were meant to evade passenger vehicle regulations back in the 1980’s when market share really began to climb. If they made the tailgate much higher, they would essentially be useless as a truck.

In terms of simplicity, cost, functionality and durability, the vehicle is inferior in every way to a 1960 Ford pickup truck, (a red one with ‘three on the tree,’ and a six-banger under the hood.) It is inferior in almost every way except hyper-reality in terms of luxury and status.

The vehicle is a symbol, and completely illusory in terms of its usefulness and cost. These are the fastest selling vehicles on the market today.


Have I gone somewhere?

Hyper-reality extends most obviously to the internet.

Am I really ‘on facebook,’ talking to my ‘friends?’

Or am I ‘actually’ staring at a computer screen at pixels arranged into patterns in
some artificial collective blog, with no verification process? We are who we say we are…right? What you say happened must have happened because you say it did and I did not dispute it…and so it becomes ‘fact?’ It’s on the legal record for about nine months, and then reality is deleted, and then it may be archived by the Library of Congress?

You say your face is chosen from a copyright-free stock photo website somewhere?

That’s cool. It’s all the same to me.

Is my ‘behaviour’ to write things, and to publish books, or am I merely trying to project my persona and impose my superior intellect and will, my ‘indomitable human spirit,’ through an electronic distribution channel to those who have elected to receive, view and interpret it? Is it a book, or is it a string of code imprinted on a small electric current?

Do our minds really touch and understand each other? When we get an emotional response from facebook, is that a real person doing that? What about me, the one who feels it?

The emotional response has physical characteristics. These can be measured. It is ‘real.’ It is the stimulus that is ‘unreal,’ a virtual reality. If someone speaks to me when I am ‘working,’ I am upset or impatient with them. I prefer my new hyper-reality, and want to get back to it as quickly as possible. My new work place involves sitting in a chair pursuing mythical mastodons through a virtual landscape, for reasons which are implausible at best. It is a game, one played by many people.

Literally forgetting to feed our real bodies in the real world at times, we have become Verner Vinge’s ‘zip-heads.’

Objectively speaking, why should I care if a bunch of pixels are rearranged unfavourably, in my subjective and very personal interpretation?

We live within a context of hyper-reality. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

“The myth of progress states that civilization has moved, is moving, and will move in a desirable direction. Progress is inevitable...philosophers, men of science and politicians have accepted the idea of the inevitability of progress," according to David Montague Eder, an English physician.

Writing in 1932, he argued that the advancement of civilization is leading to ‘greater unhappiness and loss of control in the environment.’

(Buddy, I have total control of my environment. I blog on an iPad while seated on the toilet eating an apple a day. So go away. Physician, heal thyself!)

Others have written about progress as a myth. His pessimistic view of the future saw progress for the few and pending environmental doomsday for everyone.

Logically speaking, many people would tend to agree with this, and even ‘know’ it to be true.

How many of us actually act as if it were true? Our behaviour has become slave to the hyper-real, as opposed to the actual situation as it exists on the ground.
Wiki lists a few examples of hyper-reality in our modern world. The research goes back many decades, and I’ve thrown in a few more. (If you don’t agree, sign up and edit the file!)

A well manicured garden, nature as hyper-real.

Any massively promoted versions of historical or present ‘facts.’ The recent events in Egypt spring to mind here.

Certain places did not evolve as functional places with some basis in reality.

They were created out of nothing. These include Disneyland and Dubai, Las Vegas, and resource towns in the arctic. (When the oil is gone the town is gone, there being no other reason for its existence.)

TV and film in general, because our creation of a world of fantasy depends upon the viewer engaging with these fantasy worlds.

A life which cannot be, i.e., the well publicized and well-managed, perfect life of a celebrity.

A high-end sex doll, used as a substitute for an unattainable partner. Paraphiliac behaviours in all forms.

A newly made building or item designed to look old, or to recreate or reproduce an older artifact, by simulating the feel of age or aging. ‘Mock Tudor,’ and ‘Cape Cod’ homes.

The Playboy Mansion.

Constructed languages such as E-Prime or ‘reconstructed’ extinct dialects.

A weak virtual reality, one which is greater than any possible simulation of physical reality. This would obviously include things very much like facebook.

Normally this writer is not much of a gamer, either role-playing or otherwise. I refer to the sort of games where people immerse themselves in a world where the rules are all different.

(Not like facebook and Twitter, you mean. –ed.)

The goggles which allow radio control aircraft to be guided as if the pilot were seated in the model are common, everyday examples of ‘hyper-reality.’ They meet all the criteria.

When I was wearing ‘Fat Shark’ virtual reality goggles and a friend was flying a model airplane with the camera mounted upon it, when he rolled the aircraft, I reached wildly for something to grab onto—anything would have done. When he landed the plane, I braced my feet and leaned back in anticipation. A reality that is artificial and purely visual can give a person vertigo and affect their sense of balance.

When ‘Jaws’ came out, the scene when the head is thrust out of the sunken boat—everybody who ever saw that movie in a theatre probably screamed when that happened.

At some higher level of logic, of course I ‘knew’ it wasn’t real, but the brain and the biology of evolution can be fooled with appropriate stimuli.


I like the hyper-real world we live in. Now I can sit in the discomfort of my own little bungalow and exploit the wilderness of a virtual cosmos and the innermost recesses of a simulacrum of the human spirit.

If I don’t like what I’m seeing, it’s time to change the templates, tighten up the filters, or plug into a new hyper-reality.

Our awareness is expanded into the realm which we have always sought, the world where rules do not apply anymore, a world of the supernatural in everything but truth.

Truth, the most uncomfortable manifestation or aspect of all ‘reality,’ has been expunged. It is the perfection of that most unattainable goal, ‘good censorship.’ I am what I want to be, for the first time in history.

I am both real and unreal, the first-known or best-documented adventurer of the electronic age.

It’s almost if I was Christopher Columbus, sailing across an unknown sea, or perhaps some ethereal spirit, flying alone and disembodied through the galaxy.


What amazing powers we now have.

What an amazing discovery for one such as I to make.

You can fool most of the people most of the time.

If I could fool all of the people, however briefly…

What a marvelous window of opportunity would arise.


Every up side has its down side. If you have ever wondered why politicians have such a disconnect between fantasy and reality, or how they are so divorced from our everyday concerns, which include super-mortgages on our monster homes, ‘killer’ insurance on our mega-automobiles, and our ‘neo-plastic’ value systems in general, it is because they are perfectly rational human beings trying to govern hyper-reality.

Human society has evolved into a pseudo-society. It is a virtual community. It has its good days and its bad days. It will have its winter of discontent and its summer of love. It will have its baroque and romantic elements, for surely this is the highest expression of human achievement, at least insofar as I know.

And even more so in this cowardly new world of the future, will the unwritten rules of society be enforced by group pressure. For without some kind of pressure, there is no real community at all.

We can all hunker down in our snug little concrete cocoons, deep underground, spreading peace and love electronically about the globe, lighting up the screens of other readers, and every once in a while, we can click on an icon and lob a very realistic and noisy but ultimately futile kid’s game-type simulated missile at the noisy little girl next door.

Because in a world without any truth at all, nothing really matters very much, does it?

We all get what we want and nobody gets hurt.


Hyper-realism as a lifestyle.

Mind-stuff floating in the aether.

A connection is made and broken again.

...the place is just crawling with bots and avatars and entities. It is another realm.

How do I like my coffee?


Thanks for listening. You’re beautiful people.



{Thank God. -ed.}