by Arkady Martine (a book review)

I’ve often wondered why Star Wars hasn’t generated a subgenre of literary fiction. I don’t mean tie-in novels, I have shelves of those. I don’t mean space opera more generally, I’ve got shelves of that, too. I just think it’s odd that those of us who grew up with Star Wars as a dominant narrative didn’t end up reading and writing a great mass of smart, poetic books about galactic empires that are clearly reactions and challenges to Star Wars in the same way a lot of ‘high fantasy’ novels are to Tolkien. Not just Aldi own brand remakes, but ones that use the original as a lens to discuss bigger themes, or as a place to jump off from at a complete tangent. There are discussions of race, politics, gender, philosophy and so on and so on around Star Wars, but they never seem terribly meaty. There’s not been the artistic response that would seem to have been inevitable. Where’s the deconstruction?

Perhaps it’s that Star Wars is already found poetry, that it’s constructed from bits of lots of other things. Perhaps it’s the exact opposite, and that Star Wars is an incredibly specific thing that’s very hard to play with. Or that it’s, at heart, a swashbuckling adventure for kids, and it can’t really bear the weight. It may just be that if you want Star Wars, there’s not exactly a shortage of branded stories, and they’re offering enough of a critique of the saga to get by. I think the best answer is that Star Wars is so good at bombarding you with sights and sounds that it’s never going to translate well to the written word, that any novel trying to do an introspective, emotionally complex Star Wars will just be dancing about architecture.

This is a slightly long walk to get to me saying that I’m always on the lookout for ‘smart space opera’: stories about galactic empires that pick away at all the ‘good and evil’ stuff, that have some relationship with the empires of history. [I know they exist. Ask me about my dramatic recital of the whole of Player of Games from memory. But there aren’t that many, and a lot of them – like a lot of science fiction – plays to the home crowd a little too much.] Last year, Arkady Martine’s debut novel A Memory Called Empire scratched the itch for me, to the point that the other day I realised that I’ve been planning my other reading around finishing everything in time to clear the decks for the arrival of the sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, which is out on March 2nd. The first book won the Hugo, and if you’re reading this, there’s probably a good chance you’ve already read it, or you’re planning to. I won’t intentionally spell out or spoil plot points here.

What did I like about it? It’s got a title that could easily be for a book that’s a popular history of, say, the British Empire, or a general history of what empires leave behind, and that’s … what this novel is, basically. It’s set on the edge, then quickly right in the heart, of a Star Wars-ish galactic empire. It’s about empire. How it works, the elusiveness of what it’s for. Martine pulls off the impressive trick of making the Texicalaanli Empire echo the empires of history and space opera, while not just being a generic mush. It’s a very specific place, but it’s sort of Aztec, with a palace that feels like the Forbidden City in China, at the heart of a planet that feels like Space Constantinople, or perhaps Space London in the Astronaut Warren Hastings era. You know this place, this very odd place. It’s not alien, it’s just that everything they do there is completely different. This is a book about empire, how empires work, what sustains them, the story they tell about themselves, how they dominate the lives of those in and around them. What they take for granted.

I think it’s Gore Vidal’s line that a civilisation is defined by what it never needs to talk about, and what I love about A Memory Called Empire is that it very, very rarely falls into the black hole that a lot of SF (and historical fiction, come to that) does of characters expositing to each other to keep the reader up to speed. We start to piece together the Texicalaanli’s worldview by what’s not said, by what they take for granted. The newly-coined Ambassador Mahit Dzmare really, really doesn’t want anyone to know how little she knows about her new posting, which means she’s working it out as we do … and in turn we readers piece together her own culture from what she doesn’t need explaining, because she’s not an everyman character, either.

The Empire is seductive. Even when Mahit’s placed under house arrest, we see she lives more luxuriously than she ever did at home (she’s from a sterile space station packed with miners, who have to live frugally and precariously). The heart of Empire has amazing architecture, spectacle public places, civil servants progress based on the quality of their wit and poetry. Mahit falls in love with it. She falls in love with her liaison, Three Seagrass, but so subtly that it’s hard to say when, or how, and it’s not entirely clear Mahit herself has noticed until long after the reader has. Martine keeps us tightly focused on what living there is like for one person. And she falls in love with it, and some of it is Stockholm Syndrome, and some of it is that she’s surrounded by beauty and melodrama. It’s a place that seems poised between conquest of the whole galaxy, and toppling tomorrow night, and it feels like Mahit is right at the heart of that destiny.

There’s something far more interesting here than a standard plot where there’s a dark secret at the heart of the empire which only our heroine can learn which, once uncovered, collapses the story and the whole galactic order with it. For one thing, we’re never quite allowed to take a reading from the moral compass of the Empire. It’s clearly bad and wrong and stuff, but it’s very hard to say where and how it’s being or doing bad. The Empire, like all Empires, is a hyperobject. It surrounds your whole life, but you can never quite point at it, only collect datapoints. The Empire contains, controls and assimilates all dissent from stray thoughts to terrorist cells. It’s all part of the story, because Empire means everything is part of the story.

I find the plotting really quite fascinating. It’s a detective story, and follows the rough arc of a detective story, but the image that struck me was that reading it was often like watching an unboxing video. In a good way, in a good way! As we move to each different location, Martine just very deftly unpacks each situation, shows us around, explores nooks and crannies, lets little details stand in for the whole, and it never outstays its welcome, but it definitely takes its time. We get the sense something’s being hidden, even as everything is opened up, and displayed for us. Then just as we’re on firm footing, and we’ve figured out what the story is, and where it’s going, there’s something jarring in there (at one point a literal explosion), that propels us to the next, very different, stage of the story. We’re in an art exhibition, and there’s something wrong with the picture we’re staring at. It’s not quite clear what, then we move on to the next picture, and the same thing’s wrong … no, not the same thing, but … there’s a gallery here, and it adds up, you can sense there’s a theme, but no one’s there explaining what that theme is.

What we have is an Empire where everything can be qualified by saying ‘ostensibly’. It is ostensibly meritocratic. Ostensibly, there is sex and gender equality. Ostensibly, everyone is well-educated. There’s no obvious racial discrimination, there are poor people but no one seems abject. It’s a police state, but there’s very little we’d think of as crime anyway. It all seems rather well run and abundant. But there are clearly power dynamics, there’s clearly dominance and submission, just … not where you’d usually look. It’s all in the gaps, and the reader can’t help see the gaps.

Underlying all this luxury and poetry is violence. Actual violence, the threat of it, the ability to wield it, the reality of it and the ability of people to ignore that reality. In the end, all the rules, traditions, and the stories they tell each other aren’t as much use as commanding a battle fleet, or being able to raise a mob. And you’ve just read me saying that, and you know it’s a SF novel, and so you think that in the penultimate chapter, there’s going to be a scene where the protagonist leaves the city and sees the real suffering, or that there’s a dark secret like the fact what they’re eating is people, or something like that. I said Aztec before, so go on, it’s gotta be human sacrifices, right? And this is a book full of twists, but none of them cheap ones like that. It would be really easy, wouldn’t it, if all an Empire was was a vampiric Emperor and his loyal minions who deactivated when he died?

This is the sort of science fiction that I pretend all science fiction is like. No, hell, it’s what I pretend all fiction is like: smart, well read, political conscious, funny, seductive, memorable, a journey that illuminates our world by confronting us with one that’s not ours, beautifully constructed. Loved this book.

Retreat of the Daleks … full draft


A very long time ago, I was writing a very quick, for-fun, Doctor Who script, and sharing it on my blog just to give a little insight into how my writing developed as I went.

I never finished that script, but had a few hours spare recently and thought ‘why not?’. So here it is.

So this was an exercise.

It’s not meant to be a broadcastable thing, I’m not saying ‘look at me, I’m better than X’. I certainly don’t want you to compare this thing I knocked out in about ten hours at the keyboard with something that’s been edited, redrafted, refined and so on, because that comparison won’t work out well for me.

Hell, I’ve not even timed it. It’s probably an hour and a half long.

I can see many, many faults and problems with it. I am not saying ‘they should have made this instead’.

Clear on that? Agree? Then … read on.

I wanted to write something quickly; I wanted to articulate some thoughts I’d had about Doctor Who on the telly recently. This was a good way to kill two birds with one stone.

It’s a technical exercise. There are things I’m not keen on or sure about with the current version of the show. More importantly, there are things unique to this era that I like that I wish they’d do more of.

I really wanted to get a feel for the regular characters.

The thirteenth Doctor. I found myself writing the Doctor, not a woman Doctor. I set out to do something clever about patriarchal power, or whatever, but it never showed up, not explicitly.

I was very keen to dial down the ‘zany’ – I hate it generally, I utterly despise it when it’s attempted in Doctor Who. I think the problem in Doctor Who is that ‘oh, I once took the Mona Lisa up Mount Everest on a mule’ or whatever might actually be literally true. Anything’s possible in Doctor Who, and you do need it to be a bit mad, but that means you have to ground it somewhere. The thirteenth Doctor done wrong has consistently been a ‘hey, I’m right mad, me’ version. But she’s clearly not some vampiric player on a thousand chessboards or whatever, either. So what is this Doctor?

What I found myself doing was writing an incarnation who dials up ‘impish’. This is a trickster god Doctor. But not a plotter, not a planner, not even a judger. A Doctor who’s a down the line chaotic good. What I found quite interesting is that it’s not whimsy, it’s genuine capriciousness. This isn’t a Doctor who is playing the fool, a steel fist in a velvet glove, cunning, or whatever, not one who’s holding it all in and you don’t want to see the Doctor angry … this is a version who may or may not swat you over, depends how she feels. May or may not intervene. Might mention you’re standing on a trapdoor, if there’s a lull in the conversation. Will poke the thing with a stick.

She was actually quite easy, and I was a little surprised how distinctive she was.

The companions …

I found that it was staggeringly easy to walk into the trap of writing a line of companion type dialogue and then randomly assigning it to one of the three, adding ‘isn’t that right, Doc?’ for Graham, ‘mate’ for Ryan and some police jargon for Yaz.

Now I’ve seen that, well, um, I can see it happening more than once on the show itself.

Three companions is a doddle *if* you approach each situation with an eye to making sure four people will have different things to do, that they’re all different people with slightly different agendas.

The complete cheat, of course, is just split them off into pairs. You get all the advantages of a Doctor and companion (you can cover twice as much ground, see the situation from two vantage points), while also instantly giving the familiar character someone to talk to.

So I did that, mixing and matching to see how they work together.

The interesting combination for me is one (I don’t think) that we’ve seen that often on screen: Graham/Yaz.

GRAHAM is way too easy to write for. Whatever happens, he’s at the side with a quip. If you’re not careful, every single line becomes ‘blimey, is that all?’.

All three of them suffer from backstory that’s the exact opposite of the character. Graham is a quip machine who’s a recent widower and he might still have cancer. Good luck writing that.

RYAN is a series of minefields to avoid, too. It’s very easy to define him by what he’s not. He’s surprisingly similar to Graham, which I suppose shouldn’t be a surprise.

YAZ is, as presented on screen, utterly impossible to write for. Graham does the jokes, Ryan does the endearing physical stuff. Yaz is a lukewarm substitute for both.

So, I did what you’re not meant to do – an on the fly rejig of the character. She’s the sensible one, in mine. The one who approaches the situation carefully, professionally. She’s reliable, and usually right. The one you’d actually want on your team, as your first pick. Over the Doctor, if we’re being honest.

And most of all … I wanted to write for the Daleks. I did that very, very briefly for a John Hurt story in a charity anthology. I tried to do it for the EDAs, but the editor was not in any way interested in it. Just wanted to have Daleks shooting at people shouting ‘exterminate’. That’s basically 80% of the reason I actually did this.

PDF below:

Retreat of the Daleks Feb 20

Le Grand Oeuvre D’Alan Moore

Coming Soon: the French edition of my Alan Moore biography (Magic Words, in the English language version). As always seems to be the way, the Continental version includes some lovely extras: a shortish afterword from me bringing things up to date; a transcript of the panels at the Evening With Alan Moore event that launched the book, and some photos of that event. Unknown.jpeg


We’ve listened, and can assure you that from now on there will be a level playing field.

The field will be the regulation size: rectangular, 100 metres long by 70 metres wide. We’ve heard concerns that in the past the goalposts have been moved. Rest assured, each goalpost will be fixed at the centre of its goal line. The field will have all the traditional lines and markings, the ones that have served us so well for over 150 years.

We want this playing field to be accessible, so we’ve placed it not far from the heart of the city. As part of the project, we have been able to set up public/private partnerships to develop the surrounding areas, clearing semi-abandoned areas and converting those residences into far more desirable units. The city has issued bonds to pay for this, and given the developers a range of tax incentives. Indeed, one measure of success is that private investors have already snapped up 87% of the new units, and some have already sold them on for five times more than they paid for them. We can already claim that a part of the city which has always had the reputation as a high crime, low income area is seeing the start of a boom.

As part of the agreement with developers, the city has pledged to develop the transport infrastructure around the playing field. A light rail line will connect three Park N Rides which will be built less than half an hour’s ride from the playing field itself. Using these services couldn’t be more convenient, and season ticket holders will qualify for a 20% discount if they pay with their credit card. There may need to be cutbacks in other areas of the transport budget, which the city hopes to keep to a minimum.

While on the face of it the financial outlay the city has agreed to make will be vastly more than the revenue from property taxes, the city benefits in the following ways: thousands of people will be employed for the ten months it is projected it will take to build the playing field; increased tourism; a spur to job creation; the increased prestige of having a state-of-the-art playing field.

The playing field will seat eighty-five thousand. There have been concerns that activities on the playing field will play to half-empty stands. This is why we want to ensure that all events have a broad appeal, and are working to bring top names to our city.

We have already secured corporate sponsorship for the first five seasons. We’re not in a position to say exactly who, yet, but we can tell you that a major insurance company, a bank and a well-known pharmaceutical company with roots in the area are among them. Rest assured that they will have no day-to-day say in the running of the events, and have laid down very few guidelines, most of which are common sense, and cover potentially defamatory or overtly political material.

As should be clear, we want to maximize our playing field user base. Local residents qualify for substantially reduced entry fees. Tell your friends about us! See our website for details, please ensure you are running the latest browsers. As we value an ad free experience, there is a paywall.

We’ve had concerns that at past events, security has been a little too zealous. Rest assured that we only want to keep users of the playing field as safe and the space as family-friendly as we can. New and existing security personnel are now given a full half-day course on diversity awareness. Here’s hoping that means the isolated incidents we’ve seen are a thing of the past. We reserve the right to run background and credit checks on all people purchasing a ticket. Photo ID will be required, to avoid the risk of playing into the hands of the ticket touts. We reserve the right to refuse admission. The dress code is business casual.

There are plans for wheelchair access, we are currently debating where best to place the ramp.

If anyone is unable to gain access to the playing field for whatever reason, there is a dedicated pay-per-view Playing Field Channel, PFCTV, available from 72% of all providers as part of their premium package.

And now comes the exciting part!

To launch the new playing field, we are going to have an inaugural debate, and it will take on one of the biggest topics going, perhaps even the biggest: RACISM.

No-one likes the R-word, but sometimes, as the African novelist Tanehisi Coa’tes put it in her now famous – or is it infamous? – article for The Atlantic, ‘the Big R’ has to be addressed.

How does this involve you?

We’re glad you asked. You have received this communication because you have been identified as one of the key voices in the racism debate. You may never have thought of yourself in these terms, but as someone who is (a) black, (b) university-educated to the PhD level, (c) a female, (d) a prizewinning author in her own right, (e) was active on social media until very recently, we think you are uniquely qualified to talk about racism.

For too long, the debate has been an emotive one. We’re hoping you can anchor your points with facts, and not anecdotes. This is an opportunity to avoid clichés like referring to your own parents’ experiences, and to avoid being sidetracked by issues such as media representation, police victimization or education policies. Remember: this is a debate about race, not gender, and it’s generally agreed that it transcends party politics and affects all sides. Please avoid quoting other people, there would be little point building a new playing field just to warm over old material.

Your opponent – the chairman of our society – will be objective, and you should seek to be the same, if you want to have any chance of winning the debate.

We don’t want anyone distracted by outlandish costumes or hairstyles. How a person dresses may seem trivial, but it’s been known to sway opinions. Please give some thought to your appearance. Your author’s photo is perhaps a better ‘look’ for this forum than your current profile picture.

Obviously, the debate will be conducted in English. Foreign names are allowable, of course, but participants should ensure they take the time to define any unfamiliar words. The racism debate is often a grim one, so please, please use try to use humour as a tool. Castigat ridendo mores.

Remember: there will be 85,000 people in the seats around the playing field. Be sure not to bamboozle them with obscure historical terms or bore them with niche concerns. Try your best to appeal to everyone in the audience, not just those who are already sympathetic. Think how what you’re saying relates to your audience, not just yourself.

Each side will speak for ninety seconds. The adjudicator – the treasurer of our society – will then ring a buzzer, and the speaker must conclude his or (in your case) her remarks at the end of the current sentence.

We’ll follow the Oxford Union rules, on this occasion. The motion will be ‘this House does not believe racism is structural’. The House will speak first. To keep things interesting, we’ll decide which team takes the role of the House with the toss of a coin. That means you have a fifty-fifty chance of going first, and we know you’ll agree we literally can’t be any fairer than that.

Thanks for your interest!

Ahistory – Fourth Edition

This year will see the publication of the fourth edition of Ahistory, the unofficial, unauthorized, absurdly comprehensive timeline of the Doctor Who universe. It’s basically the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of this book, which mutated from a slim fanzine published by Seventh Door in 1994, to the Virgin edition A History of the Universe in 1996, to its current incarnation published by Mad Norwegian. Lars Pearson deservedly gets a co-writer billing, seeing as he does a vast amount of work for the book.

OK … this time round, the book’s a million words long, 1500 big pages with small writing, and that means it can no longer be published as a single volume. There will be three – the past, the present and the future. Their covers look like this:

An easy payment plan is available on Patreon.

Almost everything else you could ever want to know is covered by the MNP press release.




The Last Jedi has attracted a lot of the usual gamergate era nonsense from denizens of the comment sections about how it’s unrealistic that a woman can win a fight with a laser sword – the ‘unrealistic’ thing being ‘woman can win a fight’, not ‘laser sword’ – and that it’s a betrayal of everything Star Wars stands for that Princess Leia is now concerned with issues of social justice.

And it’s clearly fair to say that a lot of this criticism is not based on ‘watching Star Wars thoughtfully’ so much as ‘barely-veiled misogyny, and/or not-even-veiled racism’. There’s a good article here spelling out that case.

That’s part of it. Fifteen years ago, internet commentators tended to make coded references, perhaps even unconscious ones, to the fact Padme was played by a Jewish actress. Nowadays, they’re emboldened, they’ll flat out come out and say it. And The Last Jedi actually gives us so much to work with, and the commentators have moaned so often, that we can establish the hierarchy in these guys’ minds, and by no coincidence whatsoever, it looks like the sort of lists from Victorian books about which of the races of the world were better than others.

From the perspective of these guys, it’s plainly wrong that a woman provides moral instruction to a man (Rose/Finn), it’s wrong that a black man can win a fight with a white woman (Finn/Phasma), but it’s also wrong that a white woman wins a fight with a white guy (Rey/Kylo Ren).

Got that?: women of colour < men of colour < white women < white men.

This is, of course, almost exactly the opposite of what the movie says, if you go by the results. Rose has insight and bravery that Kylo Ren lacks. She’s better, the movie tells us. If you have a choice, be Rose, not Kylo Ren.

But The Last Jedi also twists this a little. The First Order is mostly white guys, but not exclusively. There are a fair number of women. There are some non-white officers – and we know because Finn used to be one of them that not all the stormtroopers are white under that armour. This neo-Nazi group is, on the face of it, more diverse than, say, the board of the Walt Disney Company.

The Resistance goes further by, um, resisting the whole idea of those kind of hierarchies. It’s a military organisation. You are expected to follow orders, even if it means going to your certain death, but within that, there’s no discrimination because of what you are. You’re judged by results, not by your gender, not by your species, not even by if you’re organic life.

If you think men are better than women, then you are baffled by why the general of the entire Resistance doesn’t stop what she’s doing to justify herself to a recently-demoted fighter pilot. If you don’t think that men are better than women, you read that sentence back and go ‘oh, wait, she doesn’t owe him an explanation’.

Now … OK. We need to put a caveat in here. There’s movie logic at work here: we care about Poe more than we do about Holdo. Not because Poe’s a guy, but because we’ve literally only just met Holdo. Now, OK, she’s Laura Dern, so that’s cool. But Poe was the first major character we met in The Force Awakens, and the first major character we see in The Last Jedi. Even though he’s just got a lot of people killed, the audience instinctively takes his side, and not because we’re all a bit sexist, and think this is man’s work.

The movie plays with these kind of expectations quite a lot – Rey and the audience both have ideas about how ‘Luke Skywalker’ will act, for example.

The world of the Third Trilogy is very simple: it’s one full of Star Wars fans who are stuck with the consequences of the first six films. The prequels showed us a galaxy of palaces, silver starships, grand opera houses, massive senate chambers, beautiful landscapes and huge parades. A generation later, that had been swept aside for a galaxy of military bases, factories, farming, mining and gangsters. A generation after that, and Rey and Kylo Ren live in the ruins, physical, psychological, spiritual of over sixty years of war that’s downgraded and smashed and lowered the quality of life for an entire civilisation. The Republic era was beautiful and rich, the Empire was at least functional and impressive. Now, it’s just rubble, with nature reclaiming what it can. Obi Wan was nostalgic for the prequels in Episode IV. The First Order – in their role as the least imaginative fans – are nostalgic for The Empire Strikes Back. Rey or Kylo Ren’s relationship to the past is different. They have only a glimmer of what a golden age might look like … they just don’t know any different from where they are. They’re overshadowed. They salvage from the wreckage. They can reenact, they can’t create. Not at first.

The final battle in The Last Jedi is practically a dogme low budget remake of the ones from the previous movies, with a big gun being dragged along a salt flat standing in for the awe-inspiring Death Star, and a bunch of clapped out speeders instead of the various amazing toys the Rebels have been able to field before now (even at the start of this movie). The great age of heroism got us … this. The only people who have any sort of luxury after sixty years of galactic war are the arms dealers. Because of course they are. Kylo Ren’s entire military strategy is ‘moar AT-ATs, doing more shooting’.

(There’s a beautiful, small moment in The Last Jedi where Rey just lets herself get splashed by a wave. Until a few days ago, she’d spent her whole life on the desert planet Jakku. She’d briefly been able to admire the trees and lakes on Maz Kanata’s planet, but even that quickly turned into a battle for survival. Here, for the first time ever, she gets a minute by herself where she can just savour a whole new experience).

Rey has come to see herself as the protagonist of a Star Wars movie. Luke asks her why she’s here – that’s the answer. She, the protagonist of this movie, is calling in a favour from the protagonist of the previous trilogy … this ought to be straightforward. It’s exactly what Luke did with Obi Wan, after all.

Kylo Ren thinks that actually the protagonist of the previous movies was Vader, and if you count the prequels, he’s got a really good case. At some level, the entire movie is about which out of Rey and Kylo Ren gets to be the protagonist and why. They both think they’re the main character of a Star Wars movie, they both pretty much come out and say that to the other multiple times. ‘Dude,’ the argument runs, ‘this is my movie, not yours, so just do what I say and I’ll win and the movie will end, and we’ll all live happily ever after.’

(The protagonists of the Star Wars saga are C3PO and R2D2. I mean, you know, let’s talk about that later, we can even pretend it’s up for debate, if you like, but it’s them.)

So this is a world of Star Wars fans, it’s a world where knowing how the Star Wars universe operates is the key. And Rey and Kylo Ren are basically operating like the many millions of people who’ve bought a Star Wars videogame or roleplaying game, or played with the toys, or built the Lego. They know the rules, they’ve come up with the silly names, it’s time to get kitted out and decide if they’re good or evil, and what colour robe to wear, then have a fight.

The thing is … George Lucas was consciously working with monomyths, with ‘universal’ stories. He studied in the sixties, when the idea was that we were all the same, deep down, where the future would be the Star Trek melting pot, where we’d all be equal regardless of race, colour or creed. It was a polychromatic world where we looked different, but anyone could be a hero, or a leader, or a pilot, or secretly a Jedi Master.

You can take this two ways. Yoda is small and green, and a Jedi Master. Is his smallness and greenness relevant or not? It matters. One way of looking at is is that we celebrate his difference. Another is that, deep down, it doesn’t matter that he’s small and green.

Neither of these views is wrong, or entirely incompatible, but they do lead down different paths, and they’re broadly consistent with a right/left ideological split, and because of that you can take it to extremes.

A conservative reading would be, to simplify a little, that Yoda is a Jedi Master despite being small and green. That he is, in effect, overcoming a handicap. And only a couple of steps down that same path, you come to what the handicap is: that would define normal as being of average height, with skin colour as … well, at the very least ‘not green’.

This is not a completely alien mindset to anyone, however liberal-minded. Luke and – impossible though it is to remember now – the original audience had expectations of a default value ‘great Jedi master’ and it’s … well, Alec Guinness, only moreso. A distinguished, powerful, elderly actor. Even if George Lucas had cast a non-white actor, Toshiro Mifune say, he would have cast a physically commanding male. It’s meant to be surprising that Yoda is the Jedi Master.

There’s a reading of Star Wars, then, where difference simply doesn’t matter. In a polymorphous, weird galaxy, why would it matter if a human being has dark skin? The political system and history of the Star Wars galaxy is not ours. Lando Calrissian is played by an African-American actor, he’s not an African-American character. Mel Brooks got some great laughs in Spaceballs from imagining Leia as a ‘Jewish princess’.

‘Race’ doesn’t really work in Star Wars like it does in our world. It doesn’t even work like it does in other fantasy worlds like Lord of the Rings, where the different races all conform to the stereotypes, and the closer they live and the whiter their skin, the better they are. Where ‘fair’ is ‘fair’. Middle Earth is basically a UKIP version of Game of Thrones, and it’s no surprise that the ‘alt-right’ tend to love it. I mean, it is worth noting that Star Trek also builds a galaxy where whole planets only have angry warriors, logical scientists or randy bald babes.

But if Star Wars doesn’t conform to that model – and it doesn’t seem to, there’s no ‘planet all the black people are from’, say, like there is in Flash Gordon – surely it’s a category error to start applying our standards of race and gender to Star Wars.

Which, you know, is a really, really handy argument if you happen to be sexist and racist.

In The Last Jedi, ‘white and male and strong’ isn’t the default.

There isn’t a ‘strong’ white man in The Last Jedi. Even if we count Poe as white for the sake of this argument (he’s played by Oscar Isaac, whose parents are Guatemalan and Cuban), Poe’s consistently shown to be brave but wrong. His great revelation is that sometimes you don’t fight, sometimes you do, and it’s best to trust your leaders, which is hardly the stuff of Joseph Campbell.

Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?

Over at the dark side, where’s the badass?

There are some people who feel the moral of Star Wars is that the Empire is right, that Darth Vader represents true power. These tend to be life’s losers, and the fact that some such men can rise to power and wealth says more about white privilege than any liberally-inclined essayist or academic ever could.

Darth Vader’s badass. Darth Maul was a badass. Boba Fett was a badass. Count Dooku, General Grievous, some of those other bounty hunters. Those guys are cool, yeah?

The men who think that seem to feel that it’s a flaw in the Star Wars movies, some sort of plot hole, that the hapless slapstick Gungans can beat the droid army, or that the Ewoks can take down a legion of the Emperor’s best troops, or that a fully-armed Boba Fett loses a fight with Han Solo when Han’s blind and doesn’t even know Boba Fett’s there.

It’s not a flaw. It’s the point

The whole point of Star Wars, all along, was that these guys who dress up as badasses aren’t cool. The prequels made it absolutely explicit: Darth Vader and Boba Fett hide behind their masks because they’ve never been able to grow beyond being scared little boys.

The guys who identify with Darth Vader and Boba Fett found themselves saying they’re immature losers, paper tigers.

The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi kick this up a notch. George Lucas trusted his audience to be smart and attentive. Episodes VII and VIII just flat out say it: Kylo Ren’s a snotty little insecure kid, who cosplays at being a hard man. And he’s not even the most pathetic – General Hux isn’t even that good, he’s a snivelling little worm. Fans have asked how he got that rank, how he rose so high. Well … not merit, is it? Not his awesome prowess with a sword. He’s got a rich dad, perhaps. The answer, at its root, can only be ‘white male privilege’. And Luke’s revelation in The Last Jedi is simple: it was people who looked like me who ruined everything. We’re the problem, not the solution.

The commander of the Dreadnought knows, in his final moments, that Hux’s poor leadership has led to his death. More than that, the look on his face seems to be that he’s always known that he’s serving a mediocre cause.

The problem the internet trolls have with The Last Jedi is not the strong women, it’s the weak men. Now they’ve seen what’s under Vader’s mask, and it’s an arrogant, pasty dude who … well, is kind of pathetic. They wanted to be Darth Vader. Turns out Vader was them all along.



This is the one fact you need to know to understand gun control in America: half the guns are held by 3% of the people.

First, let’s just make this clear: the other 50% of the guns still represents over a hundred million guns.

And let’s repeat the one fact that should lead to immediate gun control: two-thirds of the people who die of a gunshot wound – over 20,000 people a year – commit suicide, and most do it with the one gun they own, and half of them do it with a gun they bought in the last week, and the fact that the gun industry has fought tooth and nail to prevent even basic suicide prevention measures – that they have successfully lobbied, in fact to prevent treating gun deaths as a health issue – means that the gun industry has 20,000 deaths a year on their hands before you even start talking about the 10,000 times a year someone kills someone else with a gun. (For reference, about 60,000 Americans died in the entire Vietnam War).

The thing is … those 3% owning half the guns are not, on the whole, psychotic loony survivalists.

The business model for the gun industry is the hobbyist one: the same as for comics, or scrapbooking or model trains – you have a very small, but very loyal market, with a completist instinct, with the need to buy all sorts of accessories and equipment to display and organise their collection. And, as with comics, and scrapbooking and model trains, there are specialist hobby stores, and as with those other hobbies, it’s much easier to get an existing, regular customer to buy another thing than to get a new customer into your door. And the store owners want new products all the time, to make sure that their customers come by (and buy) every few weeks, not every few years.

Attempts by the gun industry to widen their market have failed dismally. They tried marketing smaller guns to women … women didn’t buy them. So, making lemonade from that lemon, they started telling their existing base that, sure, they owned a big gun, but what they needed was a little gun, one they could carry around, hidden for when they needed it. A problem with that was that it was illegal to carry a concealed gun … so the gun industry ‘lobbied’ (to use the polite word, because the actual words are so gauche) politicians at the state and federal level to pass ‘concealed carry’ legislation making it legal.

And the gun hobbyists hurried to the stores and bought the little lady guns that the gun companies hadn’t been able to sell to the ladies. And now they had another gun that needed kitting out and accessorising.

These gun hobbyists, the 50% … they won’t say this themselves, but the industry says it behind their backs: they collect Barbies. The gun industry calls the guns hobbyists buy ‘Barbie guns’. Because they’re not for self defense, they’re for dressing up with accessories – holsters, bags, sights … now silencers. It’s guys playing with little metal Barbies.

AR-15 Barbie Doll for Guys


So here’s the problem: if you’re a comics fan, and the government decided that there had been too many people dressed as the Joker killing people (a thing that has happened at least twice), and so there should be background checks on people buying Batman comics, you’d think that was a ridiculous, impractical infringement of your legal rights, and wasn’t addressing the real problem. You would say, and you’d be right, ‘wait, just because I like Batman comics doesn’t mean I want to dress as the Joker and kill people’.

Then again … if the comics industry was killing 30,000 people a year, including 20,000 suicides, then I’d like to think that the comics companies and comic shops and comics fans would agree there was a problem, not spend millions ‘lobbying’ politicians so it became illegal for doctors to ask someone with suicidal thoughts if they had comics in their house.

The gun industry wants to keep making money, and with a saturated market made up of obsessive hobbyists, it has to push its customers ever further down the road of owning a massive bunker full of military grade weapons. Smith and Wesson, whose sales have collapsed recently, bought Gemtech, one of the biggest makers of silencers, earlier this year. For no reason at all except they want to sell a silencer to everyone who ever bought one of their guns. And … amazing coincidence, soon after Smith and Wesson did that, politicians they’d given money to started talking about making silencers legal.

And so the marketing of guns now is pushing the customer base deep into psychotic loony territory. With comics, you know you’ve crossed a line when you can reel off facts about the Earth-2 Hawkman that may not apply to the Rebirth version because the New 52 didn’t establish what happened to the post-Crisis status quo. With guns, it’s that there are now guns seriously marketed as ‘the best one to survive the zombie apocalypse’. Do people seriously think it will happen? That it might? Perhaps not zombies, but the exact threat doesn’t matter. Gun companies stoke inchoate paranoia that someone, some nebulous alien threat, is coming for gun owners, their families and their stuff.

Survivalist horders make for good repeat business. The business model of the gun industry has become to take their existing customers and to literally give them a bunker mentality.

There are two ways to fight it:

1. Get to the customers. Treat it like smoking, drink driving, seatbelts. Explain that they’re harming themselves and they’re handing their money over to an industry that doesn’t care about that. Make it clear that it won’t make them cool rebel Malboro Men, rather the opposite. Use the industry phrase ‘Barbie guns’ a lot.

2. Make it unprofitable for the gun industry to keep doing this. Make it easy for the families of the 30,000 people killed by guns every year to sue. If it was established that the industry bears some legal liability, then like the cigarette industry, like the alcohol industry, like the car industry, then the gun industry would be forced to start changing its marketing and product design.