A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.
Autumn Equinox 2020
Happy Autumn equinox everyone. That’s three quarters of 2020 done – only a quarter to go.
The big news from me is that the paperback of The Future Starts Here will be here in just over three weeks, on 15 October. It includes a brand new lockdown-written afterword to bring the story into 2020. (For those that have already bought the hardback or audiobook, I’ll make a recording of this new bit so you won’t miss out – more on that next newsletter.)
If you haven’t read it yet, know that pre-ordering is much appreciated and most helpful. It’s available from Hive, Waterstones, Amazon or wherever you prefer to buy books. I liked this review from RAWIllumination very much.
You might have noticed that the subtitle has been changed from ‘Adventures in the Twenty-First Century’ to ‘An Optimistic Guide to What Comes Next’. Normally I avoid the word ‘optimism’ unless I can clarify the difference between blind optimism and pragmatic optimism. In this instance however, using it seemed significant.
When the book was being put together in 2018, there was no chance of getting a word like optimism on the front cover. It would have been commercial suicide, or so the prevailing wisdom went – such was the general mood and the unquestioned dominance of the only-doom-allowed worldview. So when my publishers suggested putting the word on the paperback, this struck me as important. Many things have got worse in the last couple of years, but the near-total pessimism hegemony does seem to have cracked. Better futures are now being openly talked about. There were certainly no articles like this in the press when the hardback first came out, that’s for sure.
There’s also a Greek-language edition now available from Metaixmio, have a look at this handsome fella.
A COACH RIDE WITH LORD GEORGE GORDON
The current state of politics puts me in mind of something that happened over a couple of hundred years ago.
It was the eighteenth century. George Gordon was the sixth and youngest son of the Duke of Gordon, a family of which Prime Minister Robert Walpole said ‘They were, and are, all mad.’ George Gordon was sent away as a child and bullied at Eton, then entered the Navy where he was considered ‘a damned nuisance wholly unsuitable for promotion.’ A seat in parliament was subsequently bought for him, where he soon became something of a joke.
You might recognise the type. Privileged, damaged, generally mediocre – it is a background that can tip into narcissism. Lacking any genuine talent, the narcissist searches for ways to satisfy their need for attention and praise. For Gordon, the answer was to stoke popular prejudices, claim to be the voice of the people, and care nothing about the coming violence that is the natural end point of encouraged bigotry. As I say, I suspect you know the type.
In George Gordon’s day the popular prejudice was anti-Catholic. He became President of the Protestant Association, and he led a campaign against a Catholic Relief Bill which allowed Catholics to join the armed forces. Gordon organised a protest of around 50,000 Protestants, who marched on Parliament. Here they abused and beat politicians attempting to enter, kicking off a week of the most violent rioting London has ever seen. Catholic churches and the houses of establishment figures were methodically looted, burned and destroyed, while the prisons and breweries were opened and Irish communities attacked. Each night the sky was as red as modern-day California, while hundreds of bodies washed up in the Thames and the army attempted to calm the protests by methodically shooting into crowds.
By the time the Gordon Riots burnt themselves out, at least 850 people were dead. George Gordon hadn’t planned this, of course. But he had caused it. He failed to stop things from going too far because he was getting off on the adulation.
At one point, Gordon was spotted leaving Parliament by a politician called Sir Philip Jennings-Clerke. Fearing the mob, Sir Philip had a bright idea. He would get as close to Gordon as possible, and that would keep him safe from the protestors and allow him to share his coach home. Or at least, that was the plan.
Once the pair were in the coach, a shout of ‘Let’s take Georgie off!’ came from the crowd. People unharnessed the horses and about twenty men began pulling the coach at frightening speed, in completely the wrong direction, deaf to Gordon’s pleas for them to stop. For the next couple of hours, Sir Philip was trapped in the mob’s hellish tour of burning London, fearing for his life.
You couldn’t get away with a scene like this in fiction. It’s too on the nose and too obvious in its subtext. But history is a slutty novelist. History has little shame.
I can imagine Sir Philip’s face at the moment reality hit him. When he first decided to stick close to Gordon, he thought he had made a brilliant act of self-preservation and self-interest. At some point, however, the reality of the situation hit. You can deny reality for a frighteningly long time, but it will win out in the end.
I think about Sir Philip when I see those who choose to stay close to narcissistic, incompetent, populist leaders who are weaponising division, destroying what they will, and marching towards disaster. The British Conservative Party and the American Republicans are the obvious Sir Philips here, but you can cast the net wider to include assorted media faces and even individual voters if you so wish.
I suspect you can guess what happened to George Gordon. He dropped the Protestant cause when it was no longer useful, converted to Judaism and died in jail. All that’s entirely predictable – it never ends well for people like him. The question of what happens to those who take a coach ride with Lord George Gordon, however, has many different answers. As we get closer to the US 2020 election and the end of the Brexit transition period, keep an eye on the faces of all the Sir Philips out there. If you’re lucky, you might just catch the moment when reality hits.
ROUNDUP OF STUFF
I hosted the after-work online drinks for the Social Gathering a couple of weeks back, which resulted in a playlist of hidden gems from the fifty-years of post-Beatle Paul McCartney records. The reaction to this has been amazing, and it seems to have made a fair few people look at McCartney in a whole new light. The Spotify playlist is here and my tweetalong commentary is here.
I very much enjoyed talking to the American comedian Young Southpaw on his Etcetera Etc podcast – topics covered included Robert Anton Wilson, supernatural James Bond, Iron Maiden’s mascot Eddie and other random rambling. Fun times!
The exciting news of evidence of life on Venus prompted Tim Arnold to release one of the songs he wrote for my pandemic-scuppered play HG Wells & the Spiders From Mars – if only for the next few weeks. I explain the whole thing here, but it seems a good way to welcome our potential cloud-living neighbours. Enjoy!
Until next time!