Jack Lusted

Science-fiction writer

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On Utopias

Utopias are never meant to be, they’re ideal fantasies. The name even says it. Coined by Sir Thomas More from Greek it literally translates as “no-place”. Of course the word’s meaning has changed a bit in the five centuries since he came up with it, but the implication is still the same.

So writing a series about how a utopia comes about certainly poses some challenges. Setting it in the future certainly helps to a degree, but the rest come down to what the utopia is, how to make it believable.

Reading the Culture novels by Iain M Banks, with its post-scarcity Utopian society, I always wanted to know how it came to be. Especially with much of the political going-on’s of the past few years, imagining how a society might evolve into something that would be better for everyone is appealing. It is the slightly bonkers challenge I’ve set myself with these books.

Of course the fictional society that the books will end up showing won’t be a true Utopia, that’s sort of the point of them, instead it will be depicting a society that could be considered Utopain. A society where people never lack for shelter, food or water. A society built on the principles of democracy and equality.

The point of these books is going to be reflecting the real world and some of the issues we face to do and show a society moving beyond that. Spoilers I suppose, but not really as the story is about the journey and the destination.

Hopepunk

Hopepunk is a term that emerged from this tumblr post by Alexandra Rowland. It from the start was positioned as something opposed to grimdark, saying that if grimdark is all about pessimism and that the world is awful/bad in many ways then hopepunk is all about optimism. It’s about how being kind can be a political act of rebellion.

From there the term seems to have bubbled along for a bit, Alexandra Rowland elaborated more in this piece on festive.ninja and panels talking about hope and science fiction & fantasy started to appear at some conventions.

Then late last year it sort of sprung into a much wider debate, sparked by a piece on Vox. Rather than have me talk about it, I’d point to this excellent piece by Cora Buhlert, the Hopepunk Debate, that nicely covers the article and the debate that came out of it.

Whilst the term may only have been coined recently, there has to me been a trend of more hopeful works recently. From the list she includes I’ve read the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie, The Wayfarer books by Beck Chambers, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, and the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (along with her Inheritance trilogy that wasn’t on the list).

Whilst all of the above have an optimistic tone, they all approach it in different ways. The Wayfarer series is all comfy books that are so warm and lovely and awesome, but the Broken Earth trilogy is hard and harsh and all about oppression and breaking the world to fix it. But both have hope.

One of the main criticism’s thrown at hopepunk is that it’s too ill-defined, that hope alone isn’t enough. But I’d argue back that none of the examples I can think of are just about hope. All of them have change happen, have characters and the worlds they live in grow and evolve over the course of them. Hope alone is not enough, but I can’t think of stories that are like that. The criticism feels like it’s aimed at a version of hopepunk that isn’t there.

Hopepunk is a term I’d agree with, that I feel describes what I’m aiming for in my writing as well. I want to tell stories of a world, a galaxy that is to a large extent broken in many ways, and how hope is turned into a dream, an idea, a weapon if you will to fix the future. That’s my hope at least.

Return of the blog – 2019

Hello and welcome back to the nth revival of my blog! If you look through the article you’ll see I’ve proclaimed it a few times before, as you’d have to go back to 2013/14/15 to find an era when I was regularly posting here.

This time I do have a few posts queued up ready to go live over the coming weeks and months as I’m now back to a point with my writing where I’m making good progress again. There will be posts talking about some of the change in direction I’ve done, and why exactly the gap has been so long.

So this site will no longer be dead as I’ll talk more about the series I’m working on, the themes behind it as well as the occasional update on how the writing itself is going.

Here’s to 2019.

Changing Point of View

Not doing well with my promise to blog more so far, but here we go with some more!

In working on the new draft of Hope, I realised that the book would work a lot better if it is written from the first-person point of view. There’s a slight problem with that. I’ve never written anything using first-person before. Every single thing has been third-person objective, with what people are thinking never being said.

So needless to say deciding that Hope needs to be first-person has meant I’ve had to get some practice in, as well as going back and reading some of my favourite books that are written in the first-person to see how much better authors than I have done it. I’ve enjoyed challenging myself and am looking forward to seeing how a whole draft in first-person turns out.

Besides that I’ve been thinking more about every aspect of the outline I’ve gone and I’ve been tweaking it, from how the nature of some planets will change how some social aspects are shown to what happens to each character in the plot.

Once more I stand before the mountain of a 100,000 – 120,000 word draft ahead of me. Some of the paths along the way are familiar, but enough has changed to make it a new experience. Time to start climbing again.

We Could Be Heroes

This week saw the deaths of two greats. On Monday morning I woke up to the news that David Bowie had died. I had to read that headline a few times before the reality sunk in. For someone who felt so timeless it was weird to hear the news of his passing, especially given the amazing scope of his influence on music, fashion, and culture. Not just in his constant reinvention driven by his curiosity, but also in how he played with gender and challenged the norms of the day. It took me a while to get into Bowie but when I did I realised just how many of his songs I knew, how much they’d been part of my life for so long. He was simply a genius.

And then to top the week off was the news of Alan Rickman’s passing. Also 69, also from cancer. I find it hard to decide what his best role was. The Sheriff of Nottingham in Prince of Thieves. Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest. The Metatron in Dogma. All fabulous to watch. My wife and I celebrated his life by watching Dogma and then Prince of Thieves. Any of them we could have watched and equally paid tribute to him. For many others he was Professor Snape from Harry Potter, though personally I didn’t enjoy the films. Nothing to do with the quality of them, I know there are millions of people out there who love and adore them. The films vision of Hogwarts just didn’t mesh with my internal one from reading the books and I found it off-putting.

Their deaths have left a lasting impression on me. not just because of what amazing people they were, but also in relation to a lot of other celebrity deaths there have been over the past few years. Robin Williams, Christopher Lee, Leonard Nimoy, and my favourite author of all time Terry Pratchett. Some have been talking about all these deaths as a passing of a generation, a group of unique people and talent we won’t see again. That we won’t see these people who dominated a genre or genres creatively.

I’m not sure I agree with that entirely. Okay yes, there will never be another Bowie, or another Pratchett. Their creativity, the way they connected with people, came from who they were, and no one can be like they were.

I do think it’s less likely we’ll see people who so totally seem to dominate an era, who speak to millions in such a way. Sure, there will be some, but I think our changing world will work against that.

One of the changes I think has happened over the past few decades, and which is accelerating thanks to the internet, is a broadening of niches. There are a lot more creators out there, whether they be writers or artists or musicians, who are much more able to connect with a fan base that is incredibly passionate about their work. That fan base may not be as large as the millions for Pratchett and others, but its one that will morn the loss of their favourite authors just as much.

I think about Amanda Palmer and the almost 25,000 fans who helped fund an album of hers for $1.5 million. I think of the birth of Patreon and the many comic artists and writers that can create more thanks to the money given by fans who are interested in what they make.

There are going to hundreds if not thousands of people out there all with their own curious followings making a living doing what they want creatively. The internet has allowed that connection to flourish and grow, and for artists to stand more and more on their own. To the point I think we’re entering a golden age of creativity.

With more and more ways for people to share their work, and to make money off of what they create, I think more and more people will. It makes me want to create too.

Thinking about the impact people like Bowie and Pratchett have had on peoples lives, I can hope to come close to 0.1% of that if I’m lucky. All I really hope for, and aim for, is that one person reads something I’ve written and lets me know they’ve loved it or that it’s had an impact on their life.

I think that’s a good thing to aim for, for myself and others. Have an impact on one life. Sounds good to me.

Who knows, it could even be your own.

Me and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

I’ve not really blogged about anything too personal on here before, but I think this is a topic worth talking about. A little warning, the word bowel is used a lot and a lot of talk about a medical condition I have.

Hi, my name is Jack Lusted, and I have Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

What is IBS?

Well luckily the NHS have a very good definition on their website:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation.

The symptoms vary between individuals and affect some people more severely than others. They tend to come and go in periods lasting a few days to a few months at a time, often during times of stress or after eating certain foods.

This is also followed by what I think is a wonderfully British sentence:

You may find that some of symptoms improve after having a poo.

Hehe!

I was diagnosed with IBS back in 2012. I’d been having problems for a while with pain in my gut/stomach and, well, my bowel movements were pretty damn running. Think shitting out a bowl of cheerios with the milk. You can thank me for that mental image later.

Result was taking quite a few days off work sick to the point where I went to my GP about it. They thought it was likely to be IBS and a series of blood and stool tests ruled out the other candidates. It was really nice to have a diagnosis for what I was suffering from, and it helped me take steps to improve my quality of life.

I don’t have the worst IBS in the world, there are others out there who have to deal with the pain on a daily basis and use pills to combat it. I have luckily been able to minimise it’s impact on me via changes to my diet and reducing the amount of stress in my life. Stress has been far the biggest trigger for my worst IBS episodes.

YO deal with IBS certain foods have been cut out of my diet or reduced a lot. For some people eating more wholegrain helps them but for me its the opposite, and some fruits such as apricots go right through me. I now eat a couple of cereal bars with oats in every day as that kind of fibre helps give me more solid bowel movements. The diet stuff has helped reduce its day to day aspect, though it still has an impact.

A good example of this was on holiday recently. Me and Clare went to Tenerife for a week, spending a lovely week at an all-inclusive hotel. It was lovely, the room we stayed it was bigger than some flats I’ve lived in! But I did have low level gut pain for most of the week. That was caused quite simply by the change in diet. It was a buffet meal service with a wide range of food available, but different enough from what I regularly have to cause me problems. Not ideal by any means but it is something I’ve simply had to learn to live with. My IBS is something I’m probably going to have for the rest of my life.

But what’s really driven me to talk about my IBS is a recent painful bout of it that’s been the worst for years, and which was triggered by high levels of stress. Part of the stress was from work, some from other personal life stuff, and a big part from one of our cats, Flynn, sadly being diagnosed with terminal cancer. We sadly had to put him to sleep last week. He was an amazing cat, and we were very lucky to have him as part of our lives.

The net result of all the stress was missing almost a complete week off work. I do have to say that my work have been incredibly supportive and understanding of my IBS. If i’m having an off day I can work from home so not got the stress of going to the office and they’ve offered a lot of other support as well. Generally I can reduce the stress I’m under as I lead my own team so schedule my own workload which also helps. With that bad week they understood I needed to take it off ill and kept in regular communication with me before and after to see if I could use any extra support. My stress levels have reduced again now and i’m back to normal, or as normal as I ever am with IBS.

It’s never fun to spend a whole week in pain, especially when I know I do so much to manage my diet and my stress to keep my IBS under control and sometimes you just can’t control the stress and it has a big impact.

Apparently around 10-15% of people suffer from IBS, but there are only one or two people I know in real life who’ve talked to me about it. It’s a condition you have to live with and deal with as you can, whether that’s via diet, reducing stress, or medication. What works for each person will be different as each person will have different triggers and severity of IBS.

My recent holiday and stressful painful week of IBS have reminded about how little I’ve seen people talk about it, but I think it is important to bring this up. Too many people suffer from IBS for it not to be a condition we feel comfortable talking about, and I hope someone who reads this takes comfort in me describing my person experience with the condition.

My name is Jack Lusted and I have IBS, and that’s something I have to live with. I hope this has been informative, and maybe if you’re reading this you’ve learnt something new. Not all medical conditions are big and showy, many people you know will have conditions they have to deal with every day that you might not know about. This is mine, and it has a constant impact on my life. But I have to live with it. I don’t have any other choice. So, I deal with it as best I can.

Thank you for reading.

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