Today’s Art (6th April 2017)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the third episode of “Damania Reverie”, a new webcomic mini series. It has been way too long since Harvey last had a case!
Plus, if any of you were worried about the unusually “light and cheerful” tone of the previous mini series, then the humour in this one will be a lot more cynical (perhaps on par with my “Time Travel trilogy”, that can be read here, here and here). Even more comics can, of course, be found here.

In case you haven’t read the earlier updates (one and two), this comic takes place within one of Harvey’s dreams – which explains why the setting is a strange combination of old Hollywood movies and modern-day Britain.

But, yeah, I remember all of the fuss about “24 hour drinking” when it was introduced quite a few years ago – and, since then, I’ve only seen one bar that was actually open 24 hours a day (and even that eventually just restricted this to weekends, after various people moaned to the council about it).

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Reverie - Mean Streets" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Reverie – Mean Streets” By C. A. Brown

Editorial: London Attack – Why You Shouldn’t Let It Scare You

[Note: [3:53pm GMT] Sorry about even more updates/amendments to this post but I thought that I should update it after seeing more news coverage.]
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I don’t usually write about current events on here but, earlier this morning, I read about the horrific attack in London. My first reaction was, of course, shock and fear. This sort of thing doesn’t happen here in Britain! I know people from London, and people who have visited the city recently! And that sort of thing. My mind flashed back to the news coverage of the 7/7 attacks from 11-12 years ago.

But, the more I read about the attack, the more I realised that – as tragic and unforgivably outrageous as it was – Britain is still one of the safest countries on the planet when it comes to this sort of thing. It’s natural to be shocked and disgusted by what happened. But, you shouldn’t let the actions of one evil man scare you. This is why.

For starters, this was the first major attack to take place (in Britain) in 11-12 years. There has been more than a decade where no major attacks of this type have happened here. As horrific as it is, it is very much the exception rather than the rule. Attacks like this one are shocking because they are incredibly rare. There are many, many more days when something like this doesn’t happen than there are when something like this does.

Secondly, from what I read, the criminal was prevented from using a bomb for the simple reason that our security services are some of the best in the world when it comes to detecting and stopping bomb plots. Although this evil bastard still caused a lot of harm, he was thankfully prevented from causing much more harm due to the fact that we have highly-experienced security services who are really, really good at stopping things like this (again, no major attacks in 11-12 years!).

Thirdly, the police did their job perfectly. One brave policeman gave his life to protect others and, thanks to lots of preventative planning, there were also armed officers stationed outside parliament who prevented the killer from entering the building. There were well-equipped (and, more importantly, properly trained) police officers ready and waiting to stop something like this turning into something far worse.

Likewise, the murderer actually had to leave his car before his attempted attack on parliament due to the fact that parliament was already well-protected against vehicle attacks, thanks to it’s fences and barriers. All of this shows that our police and security services are some of the best in the world when it comes to mitigating or, much more commonly, completely preventing atrocities like this. So, don’t be afraid. We’re well-protected.

Fourthly, and I know that this is probably a touchy subject for some of my American readers, it’s reassuring to note that the killer didn’t have a gun. Thanks to our strict firearms laws, a man intent on mass murder was only able to get his hands on knives and a car. Yes, he unfortunately still murdered several people (and injured many others). But, he would have probably murdered many more if he had been carrying a gun. Thankfully, the only people with guns there were highly-trained police officers with years of regular firearms practice. So, Britain is safer than many other places because mass murderers can’t get hold of guns easily.

Finally, violent religious radicals (which, from everything in the news since my last update to this article, the attacker seems to be) are very much the exception rather than the rule.

For every violent religious fanatic, there are hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of perfectly ordinary non-violent, non-fanatical people who follow that particular religion. Statistically, violent religious extremists are thankfully very rare.

So, whilst it’s perfectly ok to hate the individual person who committed this crime, don’t make the stupid mistake of hating or fearing whole groups of people – almost all of whom are perfectly ordinary and innocent, just like anyone else ( and who probably hate him as much as everyone else does).

Terrorists thrive on creating fear and panic. This is one reason why I was reluctant to use the (scary) word “terrorism” earlier in this editorial. But, historically speaking, there isn’t too much to be scared by these days. Compared to the frequent IRA terrorist attacks during Britain’s relatively recent past, compared to the atrocious Admiral Duncan bombing in 1999, compared to the horror of the 7/7 attacks in 2005 etc.. we are living in one of the safest times in modern British history. This recent attack was horrific, but it’s far from the worst that Britain has ever endured. We are safer now than we were then.

We are living in an age where these things are shocking because they don’t usually happen. Even twenty or thirty years ago (or even 11-12 years ago), this wouldn’t quite have been the case. Don’t let the disgusting actions of one evil man trick you into being scared. Yes, something terrible has happened – but Britain is safe.

Don’t let the terrorists scare you, don’t let them win. In the words of that famous poster, keep calm and carry on.

The Joy Of… Stories About “Obsolete” Crimes

2017 Artwork The Joy Of Obsolete Crime Stories

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about one of my favourite elements of the detective/crime genre – I am, of course, talking about stories that deal with “obsolete” crimes. This is something that I was reminded of after I happened to find a cheap second-hand DVD of the first season of an amazing historical crime drama called “Boardwalk Empire“.

Although I’ve only seen about three episodes of it at the time of writing, it’s a drama series about prohibition-era America. The main character (played by the one and only Steve Buscemi) is a corrupt city official who is involved in several bootlegging operations, whilst trying to fend off the attentions of a fanatical revenue agent and to deal with the complex politics of various roaring twenties-era criminal gangs.

In a way, it’s very slightly similar to “Breaking Bad” but, as I’ve mentioned before, I absolutely couldn’t stand that show. Although both shows are about the grimy world of the trade in illegal substances within America – there’s one major difference between the two series. The shady world of bootleggers and prohibition-era gangsters in “Boardwalk Empire” doesn’t exist any more.

The idea that alcohol was ever criminalised is (especially to a British person like me) absolutely laughable. In other words, bootlegging is an “obsolete” crime. Depictions of it can’t be seriously depressing, scary or disturbing for the simple reason that it shows a “crime” that virtually no sensible person these days would consider to be immoral or terrible. It shows people gleefully breaking an unjust and irrational law (unlike, say, the sensible laws against the manufacture and sale of hard drugs that the main characters in “Breaking Bad” go against).

Stories that deal with “crimes” that society has long since rightly decided shouldn’t be criminal are absolutely fascinating, especially since historical LGBT stories also fit into this genre too (I mean, it’s only been 50 years since the old unjust laws regarding this even began to be repealed in the UK).

Stories about “obsolete” crimes are both rebellious and reassuring at the same time. Since, not only do they reassure us that both common sense and basic human nature will always win out against harsh political ideology, but they also allow us to think about our own lives in a slightly “rebellious” way.

They remind almost everyone that, at various points in history, the establishment saw virtually everyone as “dangerous” in some way or another.

After all, unless you’ve never enjoyed listening to any kind of rock or rap music, unless you aren’t LGBT, unless you’ve never voted (regardless of your gender, ethnicity, economic class, religion etc.. at some point in history, the establishment somewhere didn’t want you to vote!), unless you’ve never drank any booze, unless you’ve never played violent videogames, unless you are a devout follower of the dominant religion in your country, unless you’ve never disagreed with the government etc… then you’ll probably be able to see a little bit of yourself in the protagonists of these stories about “obsolete” crimes. You’ll feel like a little bit like a “rebel”, even if you lead the most non-rebellious life possible.

These types of stories are absolutely fascinating because they turn the crime genre completely on it’s head – the “criminals” are the good guys and the detectives are the villains.

So, these stories automatically set themselves apart from most other stories in the crime genre since, even in “traditional” crime stories where the criminal is the protagonist, there is still usually a large degree of moral ambiguity involved. This isn’t a bad thing, but it changes how the audience interprets and reacts to the story when compared to a story about an “obsolete” crime. The emotional dynamics of the story are totally different.

Another interesting thing about these stories is that they also make us think about the whole subject of just and unjust laws. In other words, they make us look at our own moral principles, because these stories often have parallels with the modern world. In other words, they make us think more critically about the legislative process and help us to refine our own moral opinions about the merits of current legislation.

They also show us how political ideology or vested interests can often go wildly against popular opinion. I could probably give a giant list of examples of how political or financial dogma has resulted in badly-made, unfair or unjust legislation, but some notable areas include things like copyright legislation, cannabis legislation etc…

These stories can obviously also be used to satirise present-day attitudes and politics too. I mean, the contrast between the wild spectacular parties and the dour, depressing temperance hall meetings near the beginning of the first episode of “Boardwalk Empire” are an absolutely brilliant send-up of a certain type of modern conservatives and/or “liberals” who just instinctively hate any kind of joy, laughter, relaxation or freedom – and want to see it all stamped out immediately.

In conclusion, these types of stories are an absolutely brilliant subversion of the crime genre, which also hold a mirror up to the audience and make us question our own moral and philosophical principles in a way that “traditional” crime stories just can’t do.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

All Five Of My “Back To The 1990s” Short Stories :)

2017-artwork-complete-back-to-the-1990s

Well, in case you missed any of them, I thought that I’d provide links to all five short stories in my “Back To The 1990s” series. You can also find links to many more short stories here.

This collection was something of an experimental project and, in part, I consider it to be something of a failure. It was one of my first attempts at writing vaguely “realistic” stories (compared to science fiction, horror etc..) in quite a while and, well, it isn’t exactly my best genre.

Likewise, whilst I’d expected to write a lot of stories about different years in the 1990s in both Britain and America, I hadn’t really put aside enough time for research. So, most of the stories were set in mid-late 1990s Britain because, although I was fairly young at the time, I still actually remembered it. Likewise, I’ve never actually been to America, so “realistic” (as opposed to stylised) American settings quickly seemed like a bad idea.

Anyway, here are links to all five stories, with brief plot summaries. Enjoy 🙂

1) “Grey Cartridge” By C. A. Brown: Two game journalists in early 1997 receive a strange parcel in the post…

2) “One Hit Wonder” By C. A. Brown: A singer has found fame! Or has she?

3) “Routine” By C. A. Brown: American stand-up comedian Jack Carlicks dazzles London with his brilliantly cynical humour. It’s just a shame that there’s a time traveller from June 2016 in the audience, who is hell-bent on heckling him.

4) “Silly Rules” By C. A. Brown: Back in the 1990s, film censorship in Britain was hilariously strange.

5) “Booze Cruise” By C. A. Brown: A couple go on a short holiday to France, displaying the high level of international knowledge and cultural sophistication that makes British tourists so widely respected and well-loved around all of mainland Europe.

“Cache” By C. A. Brown (A Cyberpunk Christmas – Short Story #10)

Yes, it's a series of daily festive cyberpunk stories :) Stay tuned for the next one tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT.

Yes, it’s a series of daily festive cyberpunk stories 🙂 Stay tuned for the next one tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT.

Things started to go downhill when I signed into “Winter Wonderland”. Or, rather, didn’t. Sure, I’d set myself up for two weeks of cyberspace hibernation and snow-covered dreams but, when I reached the golden gates, a LANCorp representative had been standing beside them like something from the old obituary cartoons. As if the irony couldn’t be more apparent, his name badge read “Peter Saint”.

He spoke with the kind of robotic formality that belied his humanity. ‘We apologise but, due to backup server issues, we have had to cap the number of users to ninety million. It’s one in one out, you’re welcome to take a ticket and wait in one of our subsidiary sites.’

How many tickets are there?‘ I’d asked.

Just two million so far.‘ Lowering his voice into a well-practiced conspiratorial whisper, he said: ‘If you’re lucky, there might be another outbreak of necrotic ebola in the peninsula this year. That should free up quite a few spaces.’

I’d logged out. It wasn’t out of disgust, but boredom. The routine was so predictable. Start by establishing facts, then use gallows humour to establish a rapport with the dissatisfied customer. The representative had barely even bothered pretending that he wasn’t reading from a script. All that was missing was a subtle plug for LANCorp Pharma’s “EbolaIhardlyknowya” preventative pills.

Not that I could blame the guy, he’d probably given the speech more times than an NPC in a fantasy SIM. After all, with virtually all of the city’s bandwidth mysteriously going to the main “Winter Wonderland” servers at this time of year, they probably didn’t even have the spare petabytes needed for a simple greeter NPC.

So, I was stuck in the city for Christmas, with next to no net connection and two million lost souls haunting the streets. On the plus side, the bandwidth crunch had crippled the city’s piracy detection algorithms. Sure, they still worked, but they took as long to find you as the first screen net buccaneers took to download a single MP3 over their copper wires.

It didn’t matter though. Everything was relative. With the bandwidth in the gigabits, you could literally spend a whole week downloading a single concert pattern or a celebrity neural archive. No, dream scans were the only game in town at this time of year. I felt like a bottom feeder even thinking about it. But, it still seemed better than doing nothing this Christmas.

Dream scans are small. They’re also impervious to every conniving copy-protection method the corps come up with. It sounds great in principle, but they’re fricking Weird. With a capital W. What happens is that some poor sap in the eastern bloc gets paid by the crowd to go on an epic intravenous stim binge, spending as many days as he can survive doing literally nothing but running a single program over and over again.

When the emergency cardioregulator eventually kicks in and he can do nothing but sleep, a REM-sensitive neural reader maps the 2-6 hours of dreams. Since his short-term memory contains nothing but the program, all it takes is a few basic repetition algorithms and interpolation programs to have a functional replica of the program stored on disk. And, yes, because it’s just a couple of hours of basic brain patterns run through an emulator, you can actually store the whole thing on a disk.

Sound confusing? Think of it like how the ancients used to record radio broadcasts on magnetic tapes and barter them with each other. Still, there was nothing better to do – so, I flash-downloaded three of the latest SIM games. The download speeds almost made me feel like things were normal again.

The first game was a bust. Sure, it had started out with a reality-perfect recreation of the battle of Aberystwyth. But, I soon realised that the dreamer had such a fear of death that he’d switched immortality mode on throughout the whole binge. Sure, there was something to be said for messing around with plasma grenades but the combat felt as boringly unfair as an early 21st century first person shooter game.

The second game was hardly any better. Obviously the dreamer wasn’t a fan of quiet, contemplative adventure games. Needless to say, the clothing data for all of the attractive NPCs was missing and pages from some badly-written hint guide were quite literally plastered over every available surface too. Except, of course, the attractive NPCs.

The third game showed promise at least. That was until I realised that the dreamer was perhaps the worst gamer on the planet. I’d breezed through the first level in five minutes, only to find myself right back at the start again – as if I’d been foolish enough to fall into the first lava pit that came into sight more than once. Much more than once.

So, what did I do? I went back to the first game, of course. Well, it is the holidays after all.

“Return” By C. A. Brown (A Cyberpunk Christmas – Short Story #3)

Yes, it's a series of daily festive cyberpunk stories :) Stay tuned for the next one tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT.

Yes, it’s a series of daily festive cyberpunk stories 🙂 Stay tuned for the next one tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT.

By the time we moved into Murkport Shopping Centre, even the vandals had lost interest in the place. From the brittle decorations, faded footprints and gnawed fairy lights, we all knew that it had closed at Christmas, but we weren’t sure when.

My guess is that it was sometime before the great upgrade, but LarAX reckoned that there would be something on the screen net archive about it. There wasn’t. Even Burn’s dive into the museum’s secure database came up with nothing.

It was a place that never officially existed. Just another collection of concrete squares on the city horizon. Another pair of rusty shutters amongst fifty thousand of them. Even the city had decided it was cheaper to keep the power on than to waste time sending a disconnection drone. Not even the “Winter Wonderland” SIM had bothered recreating the place. It was perfect.

What about talking to the oldies?‘ I asked, fumbling through a stack of wafer touch drives that I’d found behind crumbling Santa Claus statue in one of the hollowed-out shops near the main doors.

LarAX was too deep in the net to even hear me. Burn just shrugged and dipped his soldering iron back into the board. It was a stupid idea, all of the oldies would be impossible to find at this time of year. Everyone was twenty on the net. And everyone spent Christmas logged into Winter Wonderland.

I returned to the wafer drives. After we’d crashed out of our old multi-storey in a hail of laser beams and targeting markers, we had to leave all the good tech behind. Sure, Burn had wiped our traces from it and LaraX had shot down four of the drones, but the city knew about the place now.

From what I’d seen on the map, it was still standing. But, they’d probably coated everywhere with tracer dust. The instant we went back to get anything, our genetic patterns and neural prints would be logged and transmitted.

So, we were stuck with a cheap third-generation net terminal, some old quantum boards that Burn had nicked and whatever I could find around here. At least the other collectives would just assume that we were taking a couple of weeks off in Winter Wonderland. We’d never hear the end of it if they found out that we were here.

The wafer touch drives I’d found were sill viable, although most of them just contained old SIM games whose servers had died long before anyone had bothered logging them. Even after I’d cracked the write protection and reformatted them, they only gave us a few measly petabytes of extra storage. Hardly enough for a single bot script.

LarAX gasped and convulsed as she pulled out of the net. Cracking open a cheap can of Japanese cider, she rubbed the back of her neck and muttered ‘Worst Christmas ever.’

Get anything?‘ Burn asked, still prodding away with the soldering iron. She ignored him. He kept on soldering.

Instead, she turned to me and said: ‘You were right, the security routines wouldn’t even detect this old clunker. But, the processor almost burnt out when I tried to run a cutter algorithm. It’s the frigging paradox of obsolescence.

I handed her the wafer drives. She eyed them derisively for a few seconds, before shaking her head. I muttered something about data storage and wandered off back into the corridors of the centre. Even though it hadn’t seen a customer in years, some of the shops still seemed to be open.

After trudging through a swamp of mouldy Christmas cards and nearly getting tetanus from a rusty counter bot, I hit paydirt.

Don’t ask me why, but someone had left a Nexus Classic terminal in the mildewy backroom of what used to be a tropical fish shop. Despite it’s age, the classic could crunch a trillion digits without a single error. Although it took aeons longer, it could run data loads that would kill a modern terminal without even a single groan of complaint. Naturally, it had been discontinued. Once you bought one, you didn’t need to buy another.

When I returned, the look on LarAX’s face was priceless. She handled the terminal like it was some kind of holy relic. Even Burn remained in reverent silence. When LarAX had reconnected and set the cutter algorithm, she pulled out smoothly and asked: ‘What the hell is this thing doing here anyway?

Burn grinned and said: ‘Isn’t it obvious? This was the first machine with the power to run Winter Wonderland. It was also the first machine to include a full transaction suite. Once you bought one of these beauties, you never had to visit another shop again.’

I smiled too ‘It’s like in those old detective stories, I guess. The killer always returns to the scene of the crime.’

Today’s Art (13th December 2016)

Well, I was in the mood for painting something a bit more “realistic” today. So, I ended up making this self-portrait that was based on a photo from last year.

This painting required quite a bit of digital editing after I scanned it, mostly because I messed up the shading in the original (eg: in the original, the shadows on my neck were too large and the shading on my right cheek looked more like a bruise than a shadow) and because the original background didn’t look quite as good as I’d hoped.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Self Portrait From An Old Photo" By C. A. Brown

“Self Portrait From An Old Photo” By C. A. Brown