The Matrix Resurrections – Not Worth Watching

I said in a blog post last year that I was not sure whether I wanted to go and see The Matrix Resurrections. So many of these sequel/reboot-many-years-after-the-originals-but-with-the-same-actors films that Hollywood has chucked out in recent years have just been rubbish – why go and see another one?

In the end it was just curiosity.

I have a tendency to waffle on, so I’m going to start with my conclusion. If you haven’t seen this film yet, there’s no point seeing it. It’s not good. That’s not to say that there weren’t one or two nice moments – there were – but overall this is a confused mess of a film. The pacing is all over the place; it feels like it should be three films rather than one, but if it were three films, they’d probably be even less enjoyable. Its use of music, dialogue, and imagery are undistinctive, and not reminiscent of that of the originals. And it feels like a fan film more than a sequel.

That last point is the main one. This really felt like a fan film. This film undermined the consistency of the world of The Matrix – contradicting many established rules. Normally I would find that very annoying with a film (I did with The Last Jedi), but with this film I don’t. I think that’s partly because I was expecting this film not to be great, and to do something like that, but also because this film seemed so much like a fan film, that it simply doesn’t register with me as being part of the Matrix series.

There are many reasons why it seemed more like a fan film. One is just the aesthetic of the film – this film had a completely different aesthetic to the other three. The aesthetic of the first three films was very distinctive, and a big part of what made it iconic. The green tint of the computer-generated world of the Matrix, the monotonous architecture, the excessive orderliness of things in the background – all of these things gave the films a distinctive aesthetic. And it reinforced one of the key ideas in the film as well – that there is something wrong with this simulated reality, and you can tell that there is, but you can’t necessarily put it into words. There appears to have been no attempt to replicate this in The Matrix Resurrections, however. The Matrix of this film appears to be bright and colourful. It appears to have the same level of disorderliness as the real world.

The music of this film is completely undistinctive. Even immediately after watching the film, I couldn’t remember any of it. But even more than just being forgettable, I noticed, even as I was watching the film, that the music was not used to any great effect. It should be obvious to any filmmaker – particularly one as experienced as Lana Wachowski – that music can greatly heighten a scene if used correctly. The music of this film was generic, and added nothing to any scene.

And a third reason – a very big reason – why this film felt like a fan film was the dialogue. I think there were only four actors in this film who reprised their roles from previous films – Keanu Reeves as Neo, Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity, Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe, and Lambert Wilson as The Merovingian. For all four of them (although mainly for Neo and Trinity as they were on-screen much more than the other two), their dialogue seemed completely dissimilar in tone to what it was in the previous films. The most jarring example of this was at the end of the film, where Neo and Trinity confront the new Architect character (who apparently is called The Analyst – a nice reference but lacking in the dramatic weight of ‘The Architect’ (the character I think was also badly cast, and lacked the ‘unknowability’ of The Architect or the other machine characters from the original films). Neo’s and Trinity’s lines in this scene are sarcastic, banter-y, and quippy – entirely unlike how they spoke in the original films. It is a style of dialogue that plagues American films, and rarely works.

Dialogue like this – that is so unsuited to the characters – is often an identifying feature of fan fiction – where the writer just wants to have the characters play out the scenario in their head, having given little thought to whether the characters would do or say the things they are made to.

All of this is made worse by the film trying to be very meta. Now, I like things that get a bit meta – when done well, it can really enhance a film (see Deadpool). However, it can also backfire, and it did with this film.

At the start of the film, Neo is in a new Matrix, and he believes that ‘The Matrix’ was a world-famous computer game he developed. The games company that he works for has now decided that they are going to make a fourth game in this ‘Matrix’ game franchise. And various characters say all the same things that have been said about the original Matrix films and the possibility of there being a fourth film: The Matrix was original; it was different; it was philosophy, but exciting; it’s a metaphor for capitalism; it’s a metaphor for being transgender; it was about cool action scenes; it was about ‘bullet time’; a fourth one can’t be a reboot. There’s even the idea of the creator of the Matrix (in-in-universe Neo, out-of-universe the Wachowskis) not wanting to make another game/film in the series, but being forced to by the parent company or studio. They even name-drop Warner Bros. as the ones making them do a sequel in the film!

And I think the makers of this film thought it would be clever to put this in. But it actually just comes across as pre-empting criticism of the film, while also kind of being a dig at the studio. I think the makers of this film thought this would be clever because surely an even better Matrix simulation than the first one would be one where people could even be aware of the idea of a Matrix but still not perceive it. Because making a fourth Matrix film despite the original creators not wanting to is a form of control, similar to the Matrix simulation itself, and being meta is a way of referring to the Matrix that is our real world, where this system of control exists. It all sounds clever, but it just breaks the immersivity of the film.

The whole opening to the film is us seeing a new version of the opening to the original Matrix film. We follow it through some new characters, and the whole thing just feels like someone pointing at the original film and just going ‘Look! See! Wasn’t that cool!’. When the new Morpheus appears to Neo for the first time, he says the famous ‘At last.’ line, and then talks about how he wasn’t sure about the callback but that it was hard to resist. (He then makes a joke about the rather mundane setting – this film tries to be funny in places too and it REALLY doesn’t work.)

All these references back feel like the makers of the film trying to give the fans what they want, while also saying ‘fuck you’ to them. It’s like they’re saying ‘Fine. You want the same thing over and over again? Here you go!’

And there are SO. MANY. CLIPS. from the previous films. Every opportunity the film can find to put them in, it does. And this is just disastrous – the films spends A LOT of time reminding me of better films I could be watching. This has got to be the number one thing not to do in a film: don’t remind the audience that they could be watching something else.

The film feels like a ‘fuck you’ to the studio, who, presumably, forced the making of a sequel, a ‘fuck you’ to the fans, even though only a very small number of them actually wanted a sequel, and for shallow reasons. It feels like the makers of this film both hate it, but also think they did something very clever with it anyway.

The only points in the film that were interesting were where any world-building was attempted (which I consider to be an indictment of the people who think that world-building doesn’t matter – it was the only interesting thing in this film). Learning what happened after the events of the third film was interesting.

However, this was catastrophically undermined by much of that world-building making no sense, or leaving vast, unsatisfying gaps. It’s a nice idea that perhaps some of the machines came over to the human side, but … why? Why actually wasn’t there peace? Why did some of the machines remain at war? This idea goes no further than an aesthetic in the film – some cool-looking machines on the human side. If the Anomaleum, where Neo and Trinity are kept, is so vital to keeping this new Matrix running, why isn’t it more heavily guarded? Why aren’t there sentinels in the main chamber?

Why can’t Neo fly? He can later – what was stopping him? This is just dismissed as a joke in the film. He can now seemingly project force-fields with his hands, which he couldn’t do before (except for bullets) – why have his powers gone forwards in some ways but backwards in others? Why does Trinity also have ‘The One’ powers at the end? (This could be explained by the fact that it’s a new Matrix simulation, with different flaws to the last, resulting in two ‘The One’s, but this kind of undermines the unknowability of ‘The One’. There was previously this implication that no-one really knew why ‘The One’ existed in the first place – not even the architect – just that it was inevitable, and that the extent of his powers – which worked outside of the Matrix – were also unknown. He was described as being able to change whatever he wanted in the Matrix, but we never saw that in the original films – the most unusual thing he did was to fly. At the end of this film, they can literally do whatever they want with a Thanos snap.) Why does the new Architect have control over bullet time? And why does he lose that control at the end of the film?

The film has big pacing problems. We go from the Matrix being back to the new Architect being defeated in one film. One film reverses the ending of the last film, and then repeats it. Has doing that ever worked in a film?! The final sequence is played like a ‘heist’, cutting back and forth between the planning and the action, which is not at all what you want from a Matrix film, and certainly not for your big finale.

And the action scenes in the film are dreadful. The way martial arts are used in this film is undistinctive and forgettable. The way guns are used is undistinctive and forgettable.

The Merovingian comes back, but only for one scene. He doesn’t appear to move from one position, and I don’t recall him actually interacting with the other characters – his scenes might even not have been filmed in the same room as the other actors. He just shouts at Neo for a bit. What a waste.

So, all in all, there’s almost nothing to like about this film. It shouldn’t have been made. Its main redeeming quality is that it seems so unlike a Matrix film, that it’s easy to mentally discard it, and continue enjoying the original three.

A Week in Writing #6 – Finishing the audiobook for On The Subject Of Trolls

I actually completely forgot about this last week – it was about Thursday or Friday before I realised that I hadn’t done it, and by that point I might as well merge it with the next week’s one.

The last two weeks have been absolutely fantastic. I have made fantastic progress on the audiobook for On The Subject Of Trolls.

The third story in OTSOT – Fluncg the Indignant – was, as I’ve said many times, very difficult to get right (both in audio form, and the original text of the story actually). I expected Hluthg the First to be a lot easier, and it was.

I had already recorded all of the audio for Hluthg the First – I did it in two parts – the first many, many months ago, and the second fairly recently. It was an easier story to read than some of the others. So I just had to edit it. I did most of this the weekend before last. I went through all of the audio, and removed all of the takes of lines that I wasn’t going to use. Then I applied the various audio effects. Then I went through and adjusted the timings of all of the lines (an essential step, as when you take out the bad lines, you’re left with completely irregular timings).

I then listened back to it to do a final check. I found that there were a few lines I wanted to re-record – I thought I could do them better – so I did. This pretty much left the audio in a finished state – I just had to do one final listen of the whole thing, then add the music.

And that’s what I did this last weekend. I checked it one last time, added the music, and it was ready to go.

I also did Plolg the Common this last weekend. Well – there wasn’t really much to do. I had already recorded and edited the audio for Plolg the Common. It’s much shorter than the other stories, so it was quite easy to do. I just had to check it and add the music.

So both stories were done. I made both into videos, and they’re both going live on my YouTube channel this week. (Hluthg the First went live yesterday; Plolg the Common is going live tomorrow.)

So finally, after two years, this project is done. I could not have imagined, when I published On The Subject Of Trolls, that the audiobook would take so long. On the one hand, this is quite annoying. On The Subject Of Trolls is not a long book – how could it take two years to create an audiobook for it? On the other hand, there’s been a huge amount of trial and error involved in creating this audiobook. I have tried lots of different things in terms of audio setup, as well as just the process for recording and editing a long piece of audio, and so it makes sense that it would have taken a long time.

In the beginning, of course, I was much more focused on creating videos of these stories – not just videos where I read out the text – videos where the stories are actually performed. This is because I like the idea of the experience of watching or listening to these stories to be as full as possible. The trolls are also very physical creatures. But making these kinds of videos is extremely difficult in itself. They take an extraordinary amount of time to record and to edit, but then there are all the usual difficulties in creating a video on top of that, like lighting and colour grading (which I don’t do yet, but would need to in order for the videos to be really good). And if these videos aren’t perfect, it can really take away from the story.

I still want to do some videos where I perform these stories, but I think this might be better suited to livestreams.

I swapped to focusing on just the audio for the stories. But even this on its own has its complications.

At first, in order to try to get the best audio quality possible, I decided to try to record in a small walk-in wardrobe that I have. The wardrobe is in the middle of the apartment, so it has thick walls around it, but then another layer of thick walls around that. It’s pretty sound-proof in there – you don’t hear anything from outside.

However, the wardrobe is so small that you can’t sit down in it – you have to stand up. It’s pretty difficult to stand and perform an audiobook for more than about half an hour, so I had to record in half-hour blocks. This is quite impractical – it can take many, many hours to record even quite a short story – stopping and starting really slows you down. It’s a lot better if you can sit down while recording.

Ideally, you do also need to be able to see what you’ve recorded on your computer screen immediately. It makes it easier to tell if something’s going wrong. In that small wardrobe, I wasn’t connected directly to my computer.

So after several attempts at recording in the wardrobe, I decided it wasn’t the best way of doing it.

There was also a lot of trial and error involved in using the right microphone. In early attempts, partly because I was in that wardrobe, I used a small Zoom recorder that I have. I bought it a few years ago, and it can produce an excellent audio quality. But I realised, over time, that in order to get that good quality, you have to use the microphone in a very specific way. You have to be extremely close to it, and it has to be angled towards your face just right. If you lean away from it, or turn your head, or change the volume you’re speaking at, the audio quality changes. This is very impractical for On The Subject Of Trolls. (When I read the stories into the microphone – particularly the trolls’ lines – I do take on the ‘big’ physicality of the trolls – I move around a lot. The trolls also shout a lot.)

Eventually I swapped to using my Samson C01U condenser microphone. I’ve had this microphone for about seven years – it’s been very useful over that time. I had previously avoided using it, however (even though it might seem like the obvious choice) because the sound it produced didn’t really sound ‘audiobook-y’. The sound that it produced just sounded like some guy reading into a microphone. (Of course, that’s what an audiobook is, but there’s a certain tone and quality to the sound of an audiobook that that microphone just didn’t produce.)

It was only after a lot more experimentation with audio effects that I figured out how to get the audio from that microphone to sound like what you typically hear in an audiobook. The two key effects are both a bass boost and a treble boost – that’s the magic. I’m not an audio engineer, but I would guess that the microphone itself has its greatest sensitivity to mid-range frequencies, and less sensitivity to higher and lower range frequencies. So these higher and lower ranges needed to be boosted in the editing to compensate. Boosting the lower ranges gives a richness to the audio – it makes it sound like the speaker is in the same room. Boosting the higher ranges gives a clarity to the audio.

So after all of that I knew where I was going to record, and what I was going to record with, but getting the process right took even more trial and error.

When it comes to actually writing stories, my process is pretty well mapped out. First I have the idea, then I write an outline, then a detailed plan, then the actual text of the story, then I just keep doing editing passes until it’s finished. It’s pretty similar to what a lot of people do. But with audiobooks, I had no such process, and it turns out what you do can have a drastic effect on how long it takes.

One thing I’ve worked out is that it is generally A LOT easier to re-record a line than it is to try to record a line perfectly the first time. If you try to get it exactly right the first time, you’ll end up having to make several attempts at it. This then gives you A LOT more stuff to have to sift through when editing to try to find the best attempt, and this is what takes a lot of time. It might seem like going back and re-recording lines would take a lot of time, because you have to slot the audio in place, and maybe re-apply effects, but it is actually less time.

Along with this, every time you have to stop and redo a line, you lose some of the fluidity in your speech – the intonation won’t quite match between that line and the previous one, and the pacing might be off. That, in turn, means you have to make more attempts at the line to get it right. It’s circular. The best thing to do is, even if you make a mistake, just carry on – fix it later.

When it comes to editing, it’s tempting to try to do everything in one pass – to remove the bad takes, record new ones, and adjust the timings. This is quite exhausting. I now split it into several distinct ‘passes’. The first pass is just to remove takes that I definitely won’t be using. Generally after that pass is when I apply the audio effects. On the second pass I go through and adjust the timings, and it’s now when I’ll re-record any lines that I want to re-record. And then any subsequent passes are to check it.

This tends to be a pretty quick way of doing the process. And it means you only have to listen to the whole track a few times. These tracks can be quite long, so you don’t want to have to listen back to them dozens of times if possible.

So, as you can see, there has been a lot of trial and error. And it’s all of this that’s meant this first audiobook has taken two years. The next one should be a lot quicker. I may also put all of this information into a video.

So that’s been the last two weeks: a lot of success with the audiobook. I will, fairly soon, attempt to make these audio tracks into an ‘actual’ audiobook, and have it available on Audible.

Also, Friday is the First of October, and three years since the publication of my first book, Zolantis. The First of October has always been a special date. I am planning to do some livestreams over this weekend to celebrate.

A Week in Writing #5 – Two weeks in writing

I skipped last week’s ‘A Week in Writing’ post (not completely intentionally – I just kept putting it off), so this week’s post is going to be for the last two weeks. And why not? It’s my series, after all.

The last two weeks have been very productive, despite only being able to spend a relatively small amount of time on writing and writing-related projects.

The week before last, I did a good chunk of writing, and I managed to finish the fourth story for OTSOT 3 (which is going in fifth position in the book). This is great – after months of going very slowly with this book (for many reasons, which included getting distracted by other stories), I seem to have sped up again. It feels like I’m getting very close to finishing now.

I did also start on the fifth story for OTSOT 3 (which is going in fourth position in the book) the week before last, and I continued it last week. OTSOT 3 has now passed 20,000 words, and I think this book is going to end up being slightly longer than the other two. I suspect this fifth story is going to be quite long. If I remember correctly, OTSOT 1 is around 22,000, and OTSOT 2 is around 20,000. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one ends up around 23,000-24,000.

The ‘feel’ of this book is, I think, slightly different to the other two. (Similarly, I think the ‘feel’ of OTSOT 2 was slightly different to OTSOT 1.) I quite like this. To me, this suggests that each book is not just treading the ground of the previous books – they are each introducing something slightly different. I think this is good – I think this expands the world of the stories.

Also over the last two weeks, I’ve had tremendous success with part of the audiobook for OTSOT 1. The week before last, I went through the audio story for Fluncg the Indignant, and cut out all the bad takes. Listening back to what I had recorded, I still liked it – a good sign. Then last week (well, over the weekend just gone), I went through the track and arranged all of the clips – making sure that the timings between them were correct. I also applied all of the audio effects (normalisation, equalisation, et cetera).

I also added the music that goes at the start and end of the story. I was then able to listen back to the story in its complete form for the first time. I REALLY liked it. I thought it had turned out very well – not perfectly, of course – they never do – but really well. The voice, while not absolutely perfect for Fluncg, is funny and annoying – great for a short story like this – it’s entertaining, while also making its point.

And in fact I think this audio story might just be the best one I’ve made so far. It’s difficult to really say, but it might be. (That’s partly helped along by the text of the story itself – Fluncg the Indignant is shorter, with fewer details, than something like Throch the Cunning.) Spending all this time agonising over the audio has paid off, it seems.

The audio story has been exported, made into a video, and uploaded to my main YouTube channel. It’s going live on Wednesday evening at 10:00.

The audio story for Hluthg the First should be a lot easier – I’ve always known what Hluthg’s voice sounds like. I’ve already recorded the whole thing – I’ve just got to finish editing it (which doesn’t take that long, if I make myself do it – I just hate editing audio). With any luck I can get that out in a few weeks’ time (though I’ve said that before).

Do I even want to go and see The Matrix Resurrections?

This week, the official trailer for The Matrix Resurrections – supposedly the fourth film in the Matrix series – was released, and despite really liking the Matrix trilogy (I’m one of what seems like a minority of people who like the second and third films), I find myself wandering whether I should even go and see this film at all.

In recent years, Hollywood has created a lot of sequels to films and series’ that had seemed to be over and complete many years or even decades ago: Disney’s attempt at a Star Wars trilogy, the new Jumanji films, the Jurassic World films, the Fantastic Beasts films, Independence Day: Resurgence, and more that I can’t remember.

Many (but not all) of these haven’t been very good, and some – like Disney’s Star Wars films – have been absolute garbage. (You’d think that, given how obsessed Hollywood seems to be with sequels, that they’d have gotten good at them by now.)

And at this point, I have very little trust in Hollywood that they can make a sequel to a film or series – particularly one that was made over a decade ago – that doesn’t just completely ruin the whole thing. This is no longer a per-franchise problem – it’s no longer ‘Oh well that sequel film wasn’t very good but sequel films for other franchises will probably still be great.’ – I think we’re at the point (well beyond the point, some would argue) where we just cannot trust Hollywood with any sequel to any film or series.

This problem does seem to be particularly prominent for films or series’ made over a decade ago. (Unbelievably, The Matrix Revolutions came out in 2003!) I think this is partly because filmmakers don’t want to imitate the style of older films (even though they could do so very easily) – either the style of storytelling or the technical style. This is one of the apprehensions I have about The Matrix 4 after seeing the trailer – it seems very apparent to me that they have not tried to reproduce the visual style of the original three films. This will make it very difficult for this film to sit alongside the other three.

But even more important than that, the ending of The Matrix Revolutions was conclusive – the end of a war – it doesn’t get much more conclusive than that. Continuing the story after that necessarily means that you either have to have a ‘quieter’ period within the world of the story, where the necessary world-building can happen to build up to a more dramatic time period, or you have to undo something about the previous ending. Hollywood always seems to go for the second option, which is the incorrect option, as it undermines the previous story, and any character development that happened in it. (This is the option that Disney went for with the Star Wars films, and it’s a big part of what killed the franchise.)

Based on the glimpses that we get from the trailer, it appears that the matrix is still running, and Neo and Trinity are somehow back inside it, despite both dying at the end of the last film. (Now, it’s generally not a good idea to try to work out the story of a film like this based on its trailer – the trailers are designed to confuse you as to what the actual story is – but this is what appears to be true.) While the conclusion to the last film was that the matrix would continue, but anyone who wanted out would be freed, it does look like something is going to be undone with this new film.

(Also, Laurence Fishburne is not returning for this film, despite the character of Morpheus being in it. I don’t know why this is – it’s possible that he simply didn’t want to. But Laurence Fishburne was iconic as Morpheus, and it really lowers my confidence in the film that he’s not in it.)

So I really don’t know if I want to go and see this film at all. It seems likely that this film is going to undo part of the ending of the previous films. That will in turn make this film unpopular, reducing the chances that a subsequent film or two are made to complete what will almost certainly be a new trilogy of films (because how can you follow a big trilogy of films with just one more film – surely you have to have another trilogy?). That will leave us with the original trilogy, plus one, maybe two more films that undermine the original trilogy, and which aren’t in themselves complete. It seems to me like this series is likely to end up a mess.

I will probably decide closer to the time whether I actually want to see it or not.

A Week in Writing #4 – Success with the trolls

It’s been both a productive and unproductive week for writing.

I had my second vaccine dose this weekend. When I had the first dose, for the following two days I was extremely tired – particularly on the day immediately after it. This time it was the same – I had the jab on Saturday, and on Sunday I was completely knocked out – I could hardly move – I was completely shattered. I don’t think I was awake for more than two or three consecutive hours the whole day. And then Monday was mostly the same – until very late in the evening, when I started to get more energy again.

So effectively the whole weekend – that huge block of valuable time when I had been planning on focusing entirely on writing and related things – was just gone.

Despite that, there have been other small islands of time when I’ve been able to do things. Early last week I re-recorded the entirety of Fluncg the Indignant for the audiobook. It was very quick to do. (I’ve done it so many times now.) I did change the voice of Fluncg ever so slightly again, but it really wasn’t much – I just changed the way the gravelliness comes through in it a bit. The result is that it emphasises Fluncg’s arrogance and over-drama a bit more, which is fun.

I began editing that audio, but I haven’t finished – there’s still quite a bit to do. But … if you get into it, you can get through a lot of the editing fairly quickly – maybe I’ll be able to finish it this weekend.

The voice of Fluncg is enormous fun to do. (The voices of all the trolls are. I think my favourite of the ones published so far is probably that of Gogog. But the one I’m really looking forward to doing is that of the head of The Company, from More On The Subject Of Trolls. I’ve known that voice for years, and it is endless fun. It’s a completely full-body voice.)

I have also done more planning of Project 201811 this week – that’s been extremely useful. There’s lots of funny stuff going into that. If I ever write and finish the whole thing, that will probably be my funniest story.

And I have also written more of OTSOT 3 – about 1500 words – which doesn’t sound like a lot, but the OTSOT stories, being short stories, tend to cut out a lot of the … not ‘filler’ but sort of ‘adjacent’ material that you often find in novels. The stories in OTSOT often really try to avoid anything that isn’t directly relevant to the moral of the story. And so a lot can happen in 1500 words.

Also, with a much clearer outline for this story, writing it has become a lot easier – the value of planning is revealed yet again. It should be quite easy to finish it now, leaving one story left in OTSOT 3 to finish.

I have a great many three-day weekends lined up over the next few months. This is something I’ve done for many years in order to maximise my productivity on things I’m doing – arrange to have as many three-day weekends as possible. It’s amazing what one extra day can do.

A Week in Writing #3

Well the time has just evaporated this week. It seems like I’ve had hardly any chance at all to do some writing since the last of these posts.

I haven’t done a lot of writing of actual story words this week – i.e., words that might actually be part of the final book. In fact I don’t think I’ve done any. But I have done something else that’s very important – I have done planning for at least two stories.

I’ve mentioned recently how nowadays there are times when I can write out a story exactly how I want it first time. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, and one of the disadvantages is that you can sort of get used to it. If you have a few stories like this in a row, you start to expect it for subsequent ones – and that’s a problem, because it simply won’t happen for all stories.

But on top of this, sometimes not only has a story turned out well straight away, but the idea for a story had been fully formed in my head as I sat down to start writing it. This has gotten me into the bad habit of not necessarily planning stories before writing them. This is despite me being a strong advocate for planning stories. (It’s also worth pointing out that being able to write a full story without planning it is made a lot easier when it’s a short story (particularly one of my short stories, which tend to be about 3000-5000 words long).)

Writing the final two stories for OTSOT 3 has been trickier than I anticipated, so in order to make it easier, and in order to get out of this bad habit, I have made a deliberate effort to plan these final two (even though they are pretty simple stories). One of them I think I did over a week ago, the other one – the longer one – I did this week. And the value of planning is once again revealed – I was able to identify several important things that should happen early in the stories by planning them.

Also this week, I tried to do more on the audio story for Fluncg the Indignant. I did a lot of editing of the audio that I had, trying to produce the final cut. However, I found that the audio I had for the different lines in various places didn’t really ‘gel’. Some of the narrator’s lines didn’t really gel with the characters’ lines, and it occurred to me that the simplest thing to do would just be to re-record the whole thing. (It sounds like a drastic action, but I’ve gotten a lot better and faster at recording audio stories, and at least this one’s not as long as Throch the Cunning – this one’s actually quite short.)

In entirely non-writing news, over the last week I have made fantastic progress in drawing out my family tree. This is a project that I’ve been interested in and working on slowly for (I think) about two years. I had access to a lot of data for my family tree – both my parents had partial trees drawn out already, so I just had to copy the data in those. What I wanted to do was combine all of the data, and have a computer program draw out the tree.

I had previously started creating a program to read all of the data from a file, and then draw out the tree, in Python. However, Python’s built-in image-drawing abilities are very lacking, and I realised that in order to draw the tree nicely, I needed to switch to a language with better image-drawing abilities. So I swapped to using C# – a language I used to use a lot years ago, but which I haven’t used very much since. Doing this has allowed me to produce a much better-drawn tree. I also finished typing in all of the data from the existing trees. So I now have a very large image that shows the tree, and it looks quite nice.

I’ve been rather obsessed with this project over the last few days, so over the next week, when I’m not writing, I will likely be doing this. The next things to do are to improve the visual design of the tree even more, and to do more original research to find more ancestors to put on the tree.

A Week in Writing #2

It’s been a slow week. Many things have interrupted my writing.

I did write some more in Project 201811 – only a few hundred words, but they were good words. What I wrote almost certainly won’t change much between now and the final draft.

This is something that I find often now. I can often write something just the way I want it the first time. Many of the stories in OTSOT 2 and some in OTSOT 1 were like that, as well as many of the off-series short stories. This is different to Zolantis, and all of the stuff that I was writing before that, where the text changed drastically between the first and last drafts.

On the one hand, I quite like that this happens now – that I can get things right the first time. It saves a lot of time. Editing single lines to make the language better is a pretty quick thing to do, but changing the structure of a story once it’s been written, or adjusting the emphasis of a plot point or character trait, can add a huge amount of time to editing, because there are just so many things that need to be changed if you do that.

On the other hand, sometimes I try to aim to get something right the first time, and this is not ideal. When something just happens to turn out right the first time, great, but when you aim for it, you can end up spending a lot of time trying to anticipate every problem you’re going to encounter trying to write the story, and this is not so great.

Despite not writing very many words in the last week, I did do something else that was very important.

I have been trying to do the audiobook for On The Subject Of Trolls for two years. I thought it would take a matter of weeks, but it has taken years. That’s in large part because I keep getting distracted from the project – it’s more fun to write new stories than to record old ones. But it’s also partly because making an audiobook is not as easy as it seems.

Getting the right audio setup to begin with is quite difficult. Microphones can differ quite drastically in the quality of the sound that they produce – it’s only recently that I bought a new microphone that produces a really nice sound. The room that you’re in has a big effect on the sound. I do have a small, walk-in wardrobe that blocks all of the sound from outside, and which has almost no echo to it, and I did try using that when I first started trying to make the audiobook for OTSOT. However, you need to be able to sit down when recording an audiobook – it takes hours and hours to record, even for a short book like OTSOT – you can’t stand the entire time – and that room was too small to sit down in. So now I record audio at my desk (that you see in the videos). That’s in quite a large, echoey room, but with a certain arrangement of foam shields, the echo is mostly blocked.

There are many other technical hurdles to recording an audiobook, but on top of all of these, I had a creative hurdle too. I knew what the voices of Throch, Gogog, Hluthg, and Plolg sounded like long before I published OTSOT. (In fact, I knew what Throch’s voice sounded like the moment I started writing the first sentence of the book.) But with Fluncg, the voice that I used in my head when writing the story is not a ‘performable’ one – it’s entirely abstract – a voice that cannot exist in the real, physical world. So I needed to choose a real one.

I have been trying to come up with a real voice for Fluncg for two years, and none of them have been right. But this week, finally, I think I might have done it. I had an idea for a new voice, and I spent a while analysing it, to see if it really contained the essence of Fluncg. (That sounds like a rather disgusting perfume.) Fluncg has a very specific personality: Fluncg is easily offended, Fluncg is overly dramatic and self-centred, and Fluncg is infinitely spiteful. The voice must match that, but it must also be a fun voice – these stories are intended to be fun. I think this latest voice finally gets the balance between all of those things.

I recorded Fluncg’s lines with this new voice in just a few minutes. All I need to do now is edit the audio. I hate editing video and audio, so I always put it off, even though it never takes as long as I think it’s going to. But I’m going to try to drive towards finishing this audio story over the next week or two – it has languished for far too long.

A Week in Writing #1

The start.

This post is the first in a new series on this blog. Starting a new series is a dangerous thing for me. When it comes to blog posts and videos, I tend to start series’ and then not finish them. Hopefully this one will be different, and I think the format will help with that.

The idea for this series is just that, every week, I will write about what writing and writing-related things I’ve gotten up to in the last week. It will be quite similar to a journal. (I do in fact write a journal too – I write in that every day, and have done for (almost) eight years – I was doing it before it was cool.)

The reason for doing this series is partly so that I have more stuff on this blog. I don’t do very much with this blog – I want to do more with it. But it’s also because, every week, there are lots of things that I’m thinking about with regards to writing, and making videos, and all of the other stuff, that no-one ever knows about, and I think this can make it seem like what I’m doing is quite erratic and disconnected. These blog posts should hopefully connect together the various things I do.

They’ll also end up giving a look behind the scenes of the stuff I do. In the past I’ve tended to mention this sort of thing at the start of videos on my YouTube channel. However, I realised that it tends to stop the video dead if I start out with a long and rambly explanation of how the video came to be and why I wanted to make it, so I don’t do that now. I think that kind of information is better on here.

So that’s the introduction to the series. Will I make it to week two? Who knows.

Now to the actual point of the blog post: what have I been doing over the last week?

The last week has been a mixture of zero productivity and maximum productivity. During the week last week, I didn’t do any writing. Over the weekend, however – specifically, on Saturday – I did loads. I wrote over 2500 words in one story idea.

It wasn’t in OTSOT 3, however – it was in a different project. It was actually a project that I had the idea for more than three years ago. I couldn’t believe the date on Draft 1 when I came back to the project this weekend. I was sure I’d had this idea maybe only one year ago. This idea’s been swimming around in my head for three years.

I have tonnes of new story ideas at the moment. Everything about my stories stays completely secret until they are published, of course, so I can’t tell you anything at all about this one, or any of the others – I can’t even tell you the possible title or the genre. But I’ve got so many story ideas now that I’ve done something on, and may continue with, that I’ve realised that I need some codenames so that I can refer to them. The codename for this project is simply going to be Project 201811 – a name from which absolutely nothing about the story can be determined.

But as I say, Project 201811 is one that I had the idea for more than three years ago, and started writing almost three years ago. All I’d written so far was the opening to the first chapter. On Saturday, I wrote the remainder of chapter one, and started on chapter two.

This story’s just been sitting in my head for three years, and in that time, I’ve thought about it a lot – developed a very clear idea of what happens in that first chapter. So when I started adding more to it on Saturday, the words just flowed onto the page. I’m very pleased with how it’s turning out so far.

While I can’t tell you the exact genre of Project 201811, I can tell you that it is slightly comedic in tone. I seem to have ended up doing a lot of slightly funny stories in recent years – OTSOT has a slightly funny edge to it, as do many of the off-series short stories. I didn’t intend to do this at all – it’s just by accident that a lot of what I’m writing at the moment is more humorous. At some point in the near future I will pivot to more serious stories again.

As for writing-related things that have happened this week, I have continued trying to do more on the audiobook for OTSOT 1. This project has hung around for ages, and I could rant for ages about it. The first two stories for OTSOT 1 have been recorded and edited – they’re on my YouTube channel – and the fifth story has been recorded and edited too, but it’s not online yet – I’m putting them online in order. I’d previously recorded about half of the fourth story too, and that had gone well. But the third story – Fluncg the Indignant – has been a massive problem.

I have not been able to get the voice for Fluncg right. I have tried many, many times to get it right – done loads of recordings of Fluncg’s lines. But whenever I get something that I at first like, when I listen back to it a few days later, I don’t like it. It’s never quite right.

I’ve been trying to get this story right in audio form for months, and it just isn’t working. It’s this story that’s been holding up the audiobook for OTSOT 1, and consequently the audiobook for OTSOT 2. I think I’d’ve finished both of them a while ago if it weren’t for this story. (The story of Fluncg was always a difficult one to get right – even in its written form, it took longer than the others to get right.) I’m tempted to just say that it’s good enough with the last voice I’ve used. At some point you just have to stop spending time on something.

So on Sunday, instead of trying to do more on Fluncg the Indignant, I just recorded more of Hluthg the First. That went astonishingly well – I just have to edit that one now, and it’ll be done.

So that’s been the last week in writing: productive, but nowhere near as productive as I have sometimes been.

A Rebellion of Most Brave and Beautiful Persons, Non-Persons, and Entities of Unspecified, Indeterminate, or Variable Personness

Approximately 5.34 giga-light-years away, in the galaxy Kadradax, approximately 192 petaseconds ago, the Ourokamaedian Star Empire was at the height of its power. With tens of thousands of star systems and over a million cubic parsecs under its control, no-one and nothing could stand in its way.

The capital planet of the empire – Ourokamaedia – was one giant city. The surface was a forest of glass and chrome skyscrapers, the foundations of which were just older skyscrapers. (If there was mud or rock beneath it all, it had not been seen in millennia.) The people of Ourokamaedia travelled from building to building by flying car.

And those people were most varied, for, over the years, many of those of species native to other planets in the empire had travelled to its capital. Some of those aliens had green skin, while others had blue. Some had skin that was luminescent, while others had skin that was transparent on Tuesday afternoons. Some of those aliens were made of bone, blood, and brain, while others were little more than spheres of fat surrounded by a thin, greasy film – whether they had any intelligence at all was a subject of much debate. There were, predictably, robots – of many different kinds. Some were made of polymer and titanium, of transistors and electrochemical cells; others were made of brass and glass, of boilers and flywheels. Some robots were the overthrew-their-creators kind, and others were the actually-we-get-along-fine-with-our-creators kind.

Any form of life that could exist existed on Ourokamaedia. However, the species that had evolved on the planet (and which had first set out to the stars and established the empire thousands of years ago) remained the majority of the population. They were similar in appearance to us humans in a way that is narratively convenient.

It was the year 3504, and the Ourokamaedian Empire was ruled by Emperor Zhang Song, the Fifty-fourth Emperor of the Karamaxium Throne. He was old and withered; he had ruled for a hundred and twenty-nine years. His hair was as wispy as broken spiderwebs, his skin tore as easily as wet paper, and his bones were as brittle as those flakes that fall off cinnamon swirls and stick to your jumper. But his wit was still as sharp as it was when he was in his youth, and his voice still cut through the pride of most. His grip upon his soup spoon was weak, but his grip upon power was strong.

And something that must be impressed upon you, dear reader, is that Emperor Zhang Song was evil. Not the kind of evil of a politician who takes a bribe from a large corporation. Nor the kind of evil of someone who violates the unspoken rules of queuing. No, Emperor Zhang Song was properly evil – the evil of skimmed milk, or sweet potato fries, or moussaka. The evil of boiled tofu or quiche. The evil of vegan cheese. Zhang Song was a person who savoured inflicting pain on others – whether it was a physical agony or a psychological one. Anyone who dared oppose him, or even just someone he didn’t like the look of, was sent to a prison camp on one of the moons of Renlor, where they were worked to death or simply shot. When a planet rebelled against the control of the empire, it was blown up. Zhang Song was the epitome of an evil dictator. The quintessential fascist. A person upon whom history will not look favourably. A person whose moral principles were highly questionable. A thoroughly bad guy.

As such he was despised by all of the people of the empire. Every day the people of the empire spoke of how much they hated the Emperor, and of how much they wished to remove him. They went on and on about it.

One day, there was a man sitting in a café on the eight-hundred-and-eighty-eighth floor of a skyscraper who had just about had enough. He was a man without any particularly unusual traits. He was neither particularly short nor tall. Neither particularly fat nor thin. Neither particularly ugly nor beautiful. He spent a lot of time watching holographic television and he thought punning was the highest form of wit. He had spent a good part of his life working in the ice mines of Ourokamaedia’s third moon – an occupation known for being arduous and one that didn’t get you much money. His past was bleak and his future was bleaker.

‘I’ve had enough!’ this man without any particularly unusual traits said, repeating what I already said to you in the last paragraph – which is something that some authors would call inefficient. ‘And I’m going to do something about it!’ he said.

‘What are you going to do about it?’ said a character who will not appear again in this story.

‘I’m going to kill the Emperor!’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘He is the cause of all of our problems. He is evil! He must be removed!’

The people in the café cheered.

The man without any particularly unusual traits stood up, feeling bold. ‘I will kill the Emperor! And all of us will be free from his evil rule! No longer will we suffer!’

The people in the café cheered louder.

‘This is the start of our rebellion! Who will join me?’

‘I will join you!’ said a man with green skin – he was an Ooloog-ogarian – they are similar to the Ourokamaedians in almost all ways, except that they have green skin, and green blood. He stood up too. ‘I will fight for what is right! And to overthrow this evil dictator!’

‘Welcome, brother! Together we will bring justice to this empire again!’

‘I will join you!’ said a woman with no arms or legs. She did not stand up like the other two … because she had no legs. ‘I will give every cell of my body to end the House of Zhang!’

‘Welcome, sister! Together we will bring justice to this empire again!’

‘I will join you!’ said a robot (a Tzi-tzio Tiriko’ to be precise) in a voice that sounded all techno-y, but which definitely wasn’t just lazy writing. ‘I will give every wire of my body to end this autocracy!’

‘Welcome … … … you …’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘Together we will bring justice to this empire again!’

‘I will join you!’ said a fat Ganrarian, in a voice that was coarse and guttural. The Ganrarians have a strong warrior culture, and this Ganrarian, like many, wore layers of thick, black armour, and his face was covered in tattoos signifying all of his great achievements in battle. ‘I will help to defeat this fascist for the glory of Ganraria!’

‘We will join you!’ said a purple blob (an Obloobe Powemblon, to be precise – they have no arms, no legs, no head – no discernible features of any kind – they are just blobs), in a voice like bubbling yoghurt. ‘We will help to rid the galaxy of this oppressive regime!’

‘I will join you too!’ said a lesbian. She was … just a lesbian. ‘I will help to rid the universe of Zhang Song!’

‘Welcome, friends!’ said the man without any particularly unusual traits. ‘Together we will bring justice to this empire again! We will march on the Emperor’s palace, break inside, find the Emperor, and kill him, for he is most evil!’ Everyone in the café cheered. ‘But not only this! For too long, so many of us have been second-class citizens in this society! For too long, robots have been treated no better than slaves!’ he said, gesturing to the robot.

‘It’s true!’ the robot said.

‘For too long, Ganrarians have been expected to fight the empire’s wars!’

‘It’s true!’ the fat Ganrarian said.

‘For too long, Obloobe Powemblotthlo have been ridiculed by the media!’

‘It’s true!’ the purple blob gurgled.

‘But no more!’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘Our rebellion will not be like this! Our rebellion will be fair! No-one will be a second-class citizen! No-one will be looked down upon or disrespected! No-one will be made to feel uncomfortable simply for who they are! For we are all brave fighters in this rebellion!’

Everyone in the café cheered.

‘We will be accountable. If any of our group does something wrong, they will not simply be allowed to get away with it, as the Emperor and his ministers are so often. We will take swift action to be rid of such a person, and in doing so we will keep our rebellion pure! For who are we to remove the Emperor if we are no better than him?!’

Everyone in the café cheered.

‘Our rebellion will never be tainted! From when we leave this café to when we take off the Emperor’s head, our rebellion will be fair, just, and equal! No-one will be mocked or ridiculed! No-one will be disparaged or disrespected! No-one will be made to feel uncomfortable! Come, brave friends! Let us storm the imperial palace!’

And the rebels charged out through the glass doors of the café, onto a balcony in the clouds. Everyone else in the café cheered and waved to the rebels as they got into a flying taxi that hovered next to the balcony.

The man without any particularly unusual traits, the woman with no arms or legs, the man with green skin, the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian first went to the home of the fat Ganrarian, for he owned a large number of laser rifles (which are rifles that shoot high-power laser beams) and laser grenades (which in truth are just regular grenades, but it sounds cooler if you put ‘laser’ in front). They landed on the balcony outside the fat Ganrarian’s apartment. He rushed inside, and returned moments later with weapons.

‘My fellow Ourokamaedians, Ooloog-ogarians, Tzi-tzio Tiriko’, Ganrarians, Obloobe Powemblotthlo, here is where our rebellion begins!’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘We will go to the imperial palace, break through its gates, find our way to the throne room at its centre, and kill the Emperor! Doubtless our fight will be hard! There will be many obstacles in our way! We may have to climb up tall walls, leap over perilous gaps, and crawl through narrow spaces. We will likely have to fight off the many guards of the imperial palace, and we will do so with these weapons! Take as many as you can carry!’

The rebels picked up the weapons, and searched through the other equipment that the fat Ganrarian had for things that might be useful.

‘Um … excuse me!’ the woman with no arms or legs said. ‘How am I supposed to fire any of these weapons?! How am I supposed to climb up tall walls, leap over perilous gaps, or crawl through narrow spaces?! I don’t have any arms or legs!’

The other rebels all stopped what they were doing.

‘I confess, I did not say at the café, but I do not think you will be able to join us in this fight.’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘Without arms or legs, you will not be able to do these things. I do not think you will be able to help us enter the palace and kill the Emperor.’

‘This is unacceptable!’ the woman with no arms or legs said. ‘I have just as much right to storm the palace and kill the Emperor as you do! This rebellion was founded on the ideals of fairness, justice, and equality, and yet now I am being denied an opportunity that everyone else has! This is disgusting! This is disgraceful! This is discriminatory! I am being treated as less than everyone else!’

‘No’, the man without any particularly unusual traits said. ‘It’s just that in order to break into the palace and fight off the guards you need to be able t-’

‘AND NOW I AM BEING SILENCED!!! THIS REBELLION CLAIMS TO BE ABOUT FAIRNESS, JUSTICE, AND EQUALITY, BUT NOW I SEE THAT IT IS ANYTHING BUT! THIS REBELLION IS ROTTEN TO ITS CORE! WELL ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE SHOULD END THIS HATEFUL RHETORIC ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!’

‘She is right!’ said the man with green skin.

‘Yes, she is right!’ said the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian.

‘This rebellion is rotten to its core!’ the man with green skin said. ‘We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of him!’

‘Yes!’ the others, apart from the man without any particularly unusual traits, said.

‘What?!’ the man without any particularly unusual traits said.

The man with green skin took one of the laser rifles, and shot him in the head.

‘At last!’ the man with green skin said as red blood washed over the fat Ganrarian’s balcony. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’ They kicked the man without any particularly unusual trait’s body off the edge of the skyscraper.

‘We must choose a new leader!’ the lesbian said.

‘Yes, we must!’ the man with green skin said. ‘We must take a vote!’

‘I vote for this brave and beautiful woman here!’ the lesbian said, gesturing to the woman with no arms or legs.

‘I also vote for this brave and beautiful woman!’ the man with green skin said. Everyone else voted for her too.

‘It is agreed, then! She will be our new leader!’ the man with green skin said. ‘What must we do next?’ he said to her.

‘We must go to the palace! Come, brave friends!’

The man with green skin, the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian lifted the woman with no arms or legs back into the taxi, and they flew off through the clouds.

Within minutes they came to the long avenue that led up to the front gates of the imperial palace. The avenue was suspended in the air, hundreds of metres above the lower levels of the city, by great chrome circles. Columns made of a marble-like stone lined the avenue, and two great iron braziers – which were lit 32/9 – stood at the end. The taxi perched right on the end of the floating avenue, and the man with green skin, the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian lifted the woman with no arms or legs out of it.

The rebels charged along the avenue towards the entrance of the palace, as the taxi flew away. The road leading up to the entrance is 2 kilometres long, so it was a while before they arrived at the gates – they should have landed closer – but when they reached them they found them to be open and unguarded.

‘Look, brave friends!’ the woman with no arms or legs said, being carried by the fat Ganrarian and the lesbian. ‘The gates are open! There are no guards! What luck that today of all days the imperial palace is unguarded! It is a sign! The black blood of the Emperor shall wash the floors of the palace today! Not a single drop of red blood – the blood of the fair, the just, and the true – shall spill from our veins!’

The rebels were about to charge through the gates into the palace, when …

‘Um … excuse me!’ the man with green skin said. ‘What do you mean “red blood”? Some of us have green blood!’

‘I confess’, the woman with no arms or legs said. ‘I forgot that not everyone here had red blood. I simply meant th-’

‘YOU FORGOT!!!’ the man with green skin (and green blood) said. ‘IT MUST BE NICE TO FORGET HOW OFTEN OOLOOG-OGARIANS ARE MOCKED FOR HAVING GREEN SKIN! THIS CLEARLY SHOWS YOUR ANTI-OOLOOG-OGARIAN BIAS! THIS IS DISGUSTING! THIS IS DISGRACEFUL! THIS IS DISCRIMINATORY! I AM BEING TREATED AS “OTHER”! I AM BEING TREATED LIKE I’M SOME SORT OF ALIEN!’

‘Well, technically you are an alien. We’re all ali-’

‘AND NOW YOU ARE TALKING OVER ME!!! THIS REBELLION CLAIMS TO BE ABOUT FAIRNESS, JUSTICE, AND EQUALITY, BUT NOW I SEE THAT IT IS ANYTHING BUT! THIS REBELLION IS ROTTEN TO ITS CORE! WELL ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE SHOULD END THIS HATEFUL RHETORIC ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!’

‘He is right!’ said the robot.

‘Yes, he is right!’ said the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian.

‘This rebellion is rotten to its core!’ the robot said. ‘We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of her!’

‘Yes!’ the others, apart from the woman with no arms or legs, said.

‘What?!’ the woman with no arms or legs said.

The robot raised his laser rifle, and shot her in the head.

‘At last!’ the robot said as red blood washed down onto the paved avenue. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’ They kicked the woman with no arms or legs’ body off the edge of the floating road. It fell down into a street in the lower levels of the city, crushing a man’s kamcha stall.

‘We must choose a new leader!’ the lesbian said.

‘Yes, we must!’ the robot said. ‘We must take a vote!’

‘I vote for this brave and beautiful man here!’ the lesbian said, gesturing to the man with green skin.

‘I also vote for this brave and beautiful man!’ the robot said. Everyone else voted for him too.

‘It is agreed, then! He will be our new leader!’ the robot said. ‘What must we do next?’ he said to him.

‘We must find our way to the throne room at the centre of the palace! Doubtless this will be hard – there will be many guards along the way! Come, brave friends!’

The man with green skin, the robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian charged through the gates.

Beyond the gates was a narrow bridge over a moat that encircled the inner palace. The surface of the grey water, flat and glassy, was a hundred metres below. The inner palace was a towering structure made of polished, veined black stone. Turrets and halls, bridges and balconies piled on top of each other. The rebels stormed over the bridge, and through the main doors, which were a glossy black, decorated with gold inlay, and wide open, into the inner palace.

They went up a wide, polished stone staircase, then along a hall. Then they went down a different staircase with rich red carpets, and through a small garden that had a fountain in the centre and violet flowers in the borders. At no point did they see any guards. Then they went up another staircase, down another, up another, and after a short while they were completely lost.

‘This palace is a maze!’ the man with green skin said. ‘Doubtless it was designed to confuse enemies of the Emperor! But fear not, brave friends! Luck has been on our side thus far, and it is only a matter of time before we find the throne room! For our hearts beat with the vengeance of a thousand conquered peoples!’

They were about to continue running up and down staircases, when …

‘Um … excuse me!’ the robot said. ‘What do you mean “our hearts”?! Some of us don’t have hearts!’

‘I know – it’s just a metaphor.’ the man with green skin said.

‘OH I SEE!’ the robot said. ‘THAT’S VERY BIO-NORMATIVE OF YOU! YOU KNOW IT’S EXACTLY THAT SORT OF LANGUAGE THAT CAUSES ORGANIC LIFE-FORMS ACROSS THE EMPIRE TO TREAT ROBOTS LIKE ME AS NOTHING MORE THAN COMPUTERS! THAT’S THE SORT OF LANGUAGE THAT CAUSES SUCH HIGH RATES OF DEPRESSION AND SUICIDE AMONG ROBOTKIND! YOU’RE BASICALLY MURDERING MILLIONS OF PEOPLE BY USING THAT KIND OF LANGUAGE!!!’

‘How is that committing m-?!’

‘AND NOW YOU ARE TALKING OVER ME!!! THIS REBELLION CLAIMS TO BE ABOUT FAIRNESS, JUSTICE, AND EQUALITY, BUT NOW I SEE THAT IT IS ANYTHING BUT! THIS REBELLION IS ROTTEN TO ITS CORE! WELL ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE SHOULD END THIS HATEFUL RHETORIC ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!’

‘He is right!’ said the fat Ganrarian.

‘Yes, he is right!’ said the purple blob and the lesbian.

‘This rebellion is rotten to its core!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of him!’

‘Yes!’ the others, apart from the man with green skin, said.

‘What?!’ the man with green skin said.

The fat Ganrarian raised his laser rifle, and shot him in the head.

‘At last!’ the fat Ganrarian said as green blood washed across the polished, tiled floor of the hall. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’ They shoved the man with green skin’s body into a garbage chute. It dropped down eighty floors onto a pile of rotten food, and was incinerated moments later.

‘We must choose a new leader!’ the lesbian said.

‘Yes, we must!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘We must take a vote!’

‘I vote for this brave and beautiful person here!’ the lesbian said, gesturing to the robot.

‘I also vote for this brave and beautiful person!’ the fat Ganrarian said. Everyone else voted for him too.

‘It is agreed, then! He will be our new leader!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘What must we do next?’ he said to him.

‘We must find our way through this maze!’ the robot said. ‘Maybe there is a computer interface somewhere that I can connect to, to get a map of the palace!’

The robot, the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian continued running along the hallways and up and down the staircases of the imperial palace. They didn’t see a computer interface anywhere – just smooth walls and pillars made of different colours of veined stone, rich tapestries with pictures of the Emperor woven into them, as well as oil paintings, statues, and holograms depicting the Emperor.

‘Damn it! There is not a single interface!’ the robot said. ‘The Emperor must have known that his enemies would look for one! He is most cunning!’

‘Look!’ the purple blob said. ‘It is one of the Emperor’s evil ministers!’

The other three turned and looked down a hallway, and saw one of the Emperor’s ministers walking across it. He had not seen them.

‘He must know the way to the throne room!’ the robot said. ‘Great friend!’ he said, turning to the fat Ganrarian. ‘Go and rough him up! Then he will tell us where it is!’

The robot, the purple blob, and the lesbian all looked towards the Emperor’s minister, waiting for the fat Ganrarian to charge ahead and pin him against the wall. But instead …

‘Um … excuse me!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘Why did you choose me to go and beat him up?!’

‘What?’

‘Is it because I’m a Ganrarian?’

‘No, it’s just becau-’

‘Do you think all Ganrarians are brutes who are only good for war?!’

‘No-’

‘You know it’s that kind of attitude that makes it so difficult for people like me to find occupations outside of the military! You are the reason why so many of my people are living in poverty, which is what leads to such high death rates among Ganrarians! You are basically murdering millions of people with that attitude!’

‘I just chose you because you were standing next to m-’

‘AND NOW I AM BEING SILENCED!!! THIS REBELLION CLAIMS TO BE ABOUT FAIRNESS, JUSTICE, AND EQUALITY, BUT NOW I SEE THAT IT IS ANYTHING BUT! THIS REBELLION IS ROTTEN TO ITS CORE! WELL ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE SHOULD END THIS HATEFUL RHETORIC ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!’

‘He is right!’ said the purple blob.

‘Yes, he is right!’ said the lesbian.

‘This rebellion is rotten to its core!’ the purple blob said. ‘We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of him!’

‘Yes!’ the others, apart from the robot, said.

‘What?!’ the robot said.

The purple blob enveloped a laser rifle, angled it at the robot, and shot him in the head.

‘At last!’ the purple blob said as wires, screws, and jagged, red-hot pieces of metal scattered across the stonework. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’ They chucked the robot’s body out of a high window – it overlooked the moat. The robot’s body fell down into the steely water a hundred and fifty metres below.

‘We must choose a new leader!’ the lesbian said.

‘Yes, we must!’ the purple blob said. ‘We must take a vote!’

‘I vote for this brave and beautiful person here!’ the lesbian said, gesturing to the fat Ganrarian.

‘We also vote for this brave and beautiful person!’ the purple blob said. Since there were only three of them left, they carried the vote.

‘It is agreed, then! He will be our new leader!’ the purple blob said. ‘What must we do next?’ he said to him.

‘We must chase after that minister, and force him to tell us where the throne room is!’

So the fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian ran after the minister. They soon caught up to him. The minister wore flowing sable robes. His mouth was thin, his eyes were sunken, and his jet black hair was pressed flat. The fat Ganrarian held the minister up against the wall by the neck, but he couldn’t speak when they did that, so they let him down again. He immediately told them everything they wanted to know.

‘Go down that hallway, turn left, pass three doorways on your right and then go down the fourth. The throne room is at the end of that hallway. There you will find the Emperor.’

‘Come, brave friends! We are minutes away from victory!’ the fat Ganrarian said, and the three of them ran off. They forgot to kill the minister, which was most unfortunate, as he was the Emperor’s Minister of Re-education. After he was let go, he went off to the prison camp on one of the moons of Renlor to oversee the execution of a thousand dissidents.

The fat Ganrarian, the purple blob, and the lesbian followed the directions that the minister had given them, and, sure enough, they came to a long hallway, at the end of which was a towering set of doors, brushed with gold leaf, and inlaid with diamonds and emeralds and opals – the door to the throne room.

‘At last!’ the fat Ganrarian said. ‘Victory is at hand! The Emperor shall bitterly regret having employed such a foolish man as one of his ministers! Such foolishness is not tolerated on Ganraria! Our fight has been hard, brave friends, but we have stayed true to our cause and to ourselves! After all our trials, I am glad to be standing here next to the two of you! Onwards, brave friends!’

The fat Ganrarian and the lesbian stepped forwards, but …

‘Um … excuse us!’ the purple blob said. ‘What do you mean “the two of you”?’

The fat Ganrarian turned. ‘What do you mean? I mean the two of you! You and this lesbian here.’

‘Are you calling us one person?!’

‘What do you mean?!’ the fat Ganrarian said angrily. ‘You are one person!’

‘How dare you! You ignorant anti-multiplist! We are a collection of hundreds of symbiotic organisms!’

‘Well how was I supposed to know that?!’

‘WELL IF YOU CARED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT OBLOOBE POWEMBLOTTHLO, THEN YOU WOULD HAVE KNOWN! YOU KNOW THAT’S EXACTLY THE SORT OF ATTITUDE THAT LEADS TO OBLOOBE POWEMBLOTTHLO BEING RIDICULED IN THE MEDIA!’

‘I can’t be expected to know everything about every species on this planet – there are tens of thousands of d-’

‘AND NOW WE ARE BEING SILENCED!!! THIS REBELLION CLAIMS TO BE ABOUT FAIRNESS, JUSTICE, AND EQUALITY, BUT NOW WE SEE THAT IT IS ANYTHING BUT! THIS REBELLION IS ROTTEN TO ITS CORE! WELL ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE SHOULD END THIS HATEFUL RHETORIC ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!’

‘They are right!’ said the lesbian. ‘This rebellion is rotten to its core! We cannot tolerate a leader who is so intolerant! We must get rid of him!’

‘What?!’ the fat Ganrarian said.

The lesbian raised her laser rifle, and shot him in the head.

‘At last!’ the lesbian said. ‘We are finally free of this tyranny! Never again will we allow this poison into our rebellion! From now on we shall be pure!’

‘What a brave and beautiful action you took!’ the purple blob said. ‘He was probably not a good fighter anyway! We’ve never seen a Ganrarian who was so fat!’

‘How dare you!’ the lesbian said. ‘That is a disgusting remark!’ She raised her laser rifle, and shot the purple blob in the goo.

Being many organisms, the purple blob didn’t die right away, so she fired several more times, until the entire purple blob had been vaporised. She did the same to the body of the fat Ganrarian, until there was little left other than smoking blood and brains on the floor of the hallway.

‘Alas! So many of those who were once in this rebellion turned out to be just as evil as the Emperor! It is up to me to finally rid the world of this evil!’

The lesbian charged along the hallway, laser rifle in hand, and kicked open the golden doors. (They were not locked. There were no guards.)

Beyond the doors was a great crystal hall. Pillars of agate held up a roof of quartz. The floor was tiled with squares of malachite and chalcopyrite. Copper-framed windows along the sides of the hall looked out over the rest of the palace, and over Ourokamaedia. The great hall was empty – there were no tables or chairs, statues or tapestries – not even a potted plant – except for at the far end of the hall, where the Emperor’s throne stood. It was made of a single, massive diamond – the largest ever retrieved from the planet Huruigon. Its edges were jagged and sharp, and a short flight of steps led up to the seat itself.

And on that seat was the Emperor. He was having lunch. On a plate on his right were some slices of crusty bread, some slices of ham, two or three different cheeses, and a bunch of juicy, red grapes. (By sheer genetic co-incidence, they do have bread, ham, cheese, and grapes on Ourokamaedia – a planet that has no biological connection to our own.) The Emperor chose a few grapes from the bunch and ate them, and took a sip of an iced drink – apparently unaware that someone had just charged into his throne room. There were no guards, and the Emperor had no weapon.

‘At last!’ the lesbian said. ‘I have found you! Do not try to run – there is no escape! I have come to avenge all the peoples of this empire, who have had to live under your oppressive rule! I have come to restore fairness, justice, and equality to this empire! I have come to end you!’

The Emperor did not look up. He continued eating.

‘Ha! Your arrogance is surpassed only by your malice! You have been outwitted. I have fought past every obstacle you have put in my way! Your ministers have betrayed you! No-one is here to defend you! Only the cold hand of justice is left for you! Not even your wife and children shall mourn for you!’

The lesbian raised her laser rifle, ready to fire.

‘Did you just assume that I’m heterosexual?’ the Emperor said. ‘I could be gay for all you know.’

The lesbian paused, shocked. ‘I … I didn’t … … … oh no. I am just as bad as all those other people! I am just as bad as you! I am no longer worthy of being in this rebellion!’

The lesbian turned her laser rifle towards herself, and shot herself in the head.

And thus ended that attempt to kill the Emperor … just like the previous 354 attempts.


Original story and artwork, Copyright © Benjamin T. Milnes

About Magnathor the Forgetful and On The Subject Of Dragons

I’ve just published a new short story on my website, titled Magnathor the Forgetful. You can read it here.

This story is the first in a series of short stories called On The Subject Of Dragons, a spin-off series of On The Subject Of Trolls.

I’ve mentioned before in videos that I had plans for two spin-off series’ of On The Subject Of Trolls. This is one of them. (The other one has a title, which I won’t reveal yet, but it is highly guessable.) I’d normally make a video to announce a new series like this, but I find making videos rather tedious these days.

The stories in On The Subject Of Dragons will be a bit different to those in On The Subject Of Trolls. They will probably all be shorter, and they are lighter – unlike the trolls stories, they are not trying to depict an extremely unpleasant phenomenon on the internet (though they are still metaphorical). Because of this, I’ve decided that I’m going to release them one at a time on my website, rather than waiting to have lots of them and putting them in a book. (They’re so short, and I plan to do them so infrequently, that it’ll take a long time for me to have enough to make a book out of them.) Once I’ve got enough for an OTSOT-length book, I will put them into a book, which will of course just be called On The Subject Of Dragons.