Yoharie. Neighbors are suspicious.
Yoharie has moved in with his settlement money and his blended family. The Witticombes have a mapping methodology for catch-phrasing and rumor-mongering. Trevor Royce has a website for fans of The Totem-Maker, and another for conspiracy theorists. Jeremiah Hibbler, watch captain, suspects too, that his good buddies have turned against him . . . perhaps even Beatty the dog.
A story of the surveillance society.
What’s going on, here? Yoharie is a novel-in-progress, that I’m crafting on this page. I have a volume of notes for the story; I pull out episodes and write them. Eventually, I’ll start putting the puzzle together. Part of the story is a second book that factors into the plot, The Totem-Maker, a famous fantasy novel of the early 70s. The Totem-Maker‘s author is known only as Southey, and rarely publicly heard from, though said to be living in St. John, New Brunswick, where his (her?) fans gather for an annual full-costume pilgrimage.
Trevor Royce on discovering The Totem-Maker
As you all know, I started out going chapter by chapter, in depth, and after that, character by character. I haven’t got around yet to weighing the book critically. This post is the first in a new series.
I talked a little about how I got started. I never liked seeing first-person narratives in fantasy. The voice isn’t majestic; it doesn’t come down from on high . . . that’s what, for me (pardon the pun), it comes down to. And of course, fantasy is meant to tackle heroic-sized themes. It’s not about someone’s interior monologue, his neuroses. If you were Homer (for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll accept the bard’s existence at face value), singing the Iliad, you were not going to have Achilles saying to himself, “I hate Agamemnon. What a jerk!” The point was all in the framing of these events in monumental terms: the conflicts of gods, not men.
But that’s the way it is, with something you don’t expect to like, and end up loving. I’ve dedicated a whole blog to The Totem-Maker, so I think everyone knows how I feel. I’ve organized the pilgrimage to St. John, two years now. (Thanks to Edgar for letting me take over!) So I admit it . . . The Totem-Maker actually gains heroic status from the fact the narrator never has a gender or a name. And to make this device plausible, one can see why Southey (who, for the public record, hasn’t got a gender either. See my post, “Who is Southey?” for more on the controversy!), chose first-person. It would be hard, through all the hero’s adventures, to maintain that mystery. It would be somewhat affected, even, if the narrator, rather than acceding to the name of “Outcast”, had to be continually referred to as “the outcast”—or a series of other epithets. And there are only a handful of occasions when the character is named by the others even this.
So let’s go to an excerpt, from the start of chapter three, “Winter Alone”:
As no one came this way, I had time enough; I could…and of necessity, I did, draw near the fire, ladle water from the boiling pot, and hold this steaming basin at my peril under the blanket, sitting very still. In that way, I whiled my hours thinking, taking myself round the toll-house, listing for myself all I might do for my greater comfort.
I was no hand at weaving, had I known, even, how to fashion a loom. If traders crossed this pass, I would offer for their rugs, if rugs they carried…what? I asked myself. What can I make or do of value? I can trap, and so have skins. And had the stock the old toll-keeper had left behind him.
But it was not the time for shearing. Selling would be unwise. I calculated that the earth here would be meagre and gravel-sewn. But winter-hardened or no, still one could chip at soil as at a stone wall. Each day my trench another fingernail’s depth, until perhaps in a month, I would begin to lay there the fire’s ashes. Sift the pebbles, and salvage the dust. And in the spring, I might lay seed, hardy dock, in the barest patch of fair humus. The roots would prime the ground for the next season.
Then, would I demand the toll; and then, would I tender it back for goods, which I had no right to do?
Below: excerpt from Trevor Royce’s other blog
Don’t be a tool
The Formula for Ensnarement
(Some of this is cribbed from the Witticombes’ cheat sheet, so the language might get a little high-flown. Thank the Witticombes for all the data-crunching, and don’t forget to download the PDF, so you can witness, too.)
The sweet spot, the point where someone hangs inert between being afraid to break away, and regarding his/her controllers as untrustworthy, is what keeps people usefully zombified. If the people who “follow orders” were given authority to issue orders, the acts of brutality they could be tempted into, would become accountabilities. They have some advantage, then, in resisting a change of status; they need this “low man on the totem pole” framing of their position, so that they can seek their pleasures in a permissive environment.
If the low men (women, too) completely trusted their controllers, they would end up not sufficiently locked into keeping their controllers’ secrets. They would think they were part of a good thing; be inclined to boast and share. They must suspect what they’ve been made party to is not a good thing, that its being brought to light will bring ruin (since the low men are the ones who will be persuaded to acts and errands, this for them is likely true), but still want more of whatever the inducement to participate has been.
Ways to the sweet spot include:
- Opportunities for voyeuristic sadism, as applicable to individual tastes
- Opportunities to obtain those things the enlistee finds pleasurable. The controller becomes a supplier to him of these; may offer to the enlistee the guise of good citizenship as cover for his eagerness
- Flattery: general You are one of us; you get what we’re saying.
- Flattery: specific to subject’s wanna-be heroism You are smarter, more uniquely talented, more trustworthy than others; this assignment is very important, the work is vital to the company, the community, the country
- Suspicious-mindedness Other people are “getting away with things”; some law, procedure, benefit, is unfair to you…to us.
- Fear-mongering. But fear played on is often secondary to stated terror, so interpret carefully. Manson may be lurking in the shrubbery, but they will say the bad thing happened because you failed in your duty.
- Dominant/subordinate relationship: use of jargon, clinical speech, veneer of expertise, authority, specialized experience Holding or having held a professional position; doing or having done “secret work for the government”
- Embarrassment of being exposed*
- Abstraction of personal responsibility Here is where “only following orders” fits in, also every sin of omission—failure to report information, failure to investigate claims.
You may ask how someone sees himself simultaneously as a good citizen, and a citizen not personally responsible for his own acts. The Witticombes would say fragmented communication, token speech as substitute for thought.
*Our work is to free people from this fear, by showing them every day the extent to which they are already exposed.
Don’t make a bigger job for yourself, when the one you have is big enough.
Because ultimately, if we suppose these are cold, genocidal mechanisms, that the poor are being tortured remotely with DEW to get them on Fentanyl, to kill them off without “having done anything”, bureaucratization will for once do some good. The more you expand your “mandate” the more you place power—and the greater power of information—into self-interested, incompetent hands. There’ll be accidents. You can’t take it back, once you’ve disclosed. All you can do is pursue crazy-baiting…
And that’s why we CRers don’t want any chemtrails. We want only witness. Each act of witness is data; all data is witness.
We’ll draw a map. The map will show patterns that can be overlaid with other maps and other patterns. We’ll go back to 1950, say. We’ll match witness with what could have been done, technologically. We’ll go forward to 1980, etc. We’ll trace the rise of new types of incidents, in correlation with new types of technology. You all get the idea.
Excerpt from The Totem-Maker, Chapter Four: “Use for Use”
I couldn’t have easily feigned something devil-may-care, as though I had seen all the world, and chose living here, at the toll-house, on a mountain road so untraveled the law I was trusted with enforcing had weight only with the honest. I would have looked, to the stranger’s eyes, sadly wasted at the end of this long winter. I fumbled with the latch in nerves and eagerness, and promised him with too much chatter I did indeed have a bit of jewelry, one or two stones of value to trade, even if the peddler had brought in his wagon only hard biscuits and salted meat.
He did not feign, either, although what he wanted, I would not have guessed. He walked in, and saw on my work table the seeds I’d been shaping—not managing to break—as I have described, by pounding the face of one against another.
“Now those,” he said. “They are taking on the proper form. One or two look nearly done.”
I ignored this speech, the import, because it was no use to me, allowing myself to understand what I had not been told.
He was holding one under the window’s light, and the eyes seemed to glint, the totem having itself woken this visage, by charm or by wickedness.
I felt a pressure of reticence.
Speaking openly before it, I must speak of it with respect, not knowing its power. I said, “Those are only things I’ve found here.” This seemed a chance. I was sure he would trade for it, and I was sure he would cheat me. “The earth,” I said, “is poor here. I know it is within my duties to make of it what I can, for myself.”
“Found them…lying on the ground?”
“No, they were well buried.”
His face was oddly still. I thought he expected me to have gone wrong, but was baffled by this news, uncertain I had. It made me nervous again—and I explained how I’d used the fire ash, laid it out warm, so I could dig. That every day, I’d done this. I bent to touch the top of my boot: the depth I’d got to.
“Well, that makes me think. I don’t guess anyone has done a lot of digging, up here. You’ve seen you can’t crack them. You can’t eat them!”
He winked, laughed, saying this. He was clean, and warmly dressed, and might count my suffering as an outcast, entertainment.
“No,” I said.
Excerpt from Yoharie: Giarma meets Trevor
Roberta swore…or she didn’t swear…
She avowed, maybe.
Dr. Witticombe wasn’t a friendly woman, per se. She didn’t have brio, among her habits of speech. She was, Giarma considered, sort of an exasperated wizard. She came out of her home study, imparted the wisdom you sought from her. Then her eyes strayed to the hall clock.
“He has a blog, Iron Seeds. And another blog, Conspire Right. I don’t really know how he gets his money…advertising, I guess…because, why would I know that? I’m not Kate Hibbler.”
Dr. Witticombe—the other—had laughed through an open doorway. Roberta rolled her eyes; then she heaved a sigh and shook her head.
“I apologize. I shouldn’t mention the Hibblers at all.”
She’d avowed, though, that you could knock with confidence at Trevor Royce’s door, that his weirdoness was ordinary weirdoness, not the scary kind. Giarma still, home again in her dad’s front hall, putting on gloss in the mirror (of that whatyacallit of Dawn’s…parson’s bench); putting on a fleece vest, to make her shoulder-to-waist area formless and lumpy, resented this deeply. What was wrong with Dawn, she couldn’t do this herself? Was she afraid of him?
Walking to the end of the cul-de-sac, weighed by reluctance, Giarma thought: what a ship of fools this neighborhood is! She also thought, iron seeds, conspiracy…some creepy male vitamins. Does Dawn understand what she wants Val involved with?
He had a doorbell. She found herself riven on Trevor Royce’s stoop, with irritation, certain this bell would play something cute and stupid. It didn’t. He opened the door, after two rounds of classic ding-dong, after a minute in which she’d heard thudding feet approach. He didn’t bug his eyes and jump back, Busby-like, or say, “What can I do for you?”
He did have an ugly beard, like a cartoon-show prospector. He was a little smelly.
“Howdy,” he said. “I think I know you.”
“I’m Giarma Yoharie.”
“I think,” she said, “you’re kind of friends with Dawn.”
“Dawn need something?”
“Um.” She looked past his shoulder.
“Oh, yeah. You wanna come in?”
I sure don’t, buddy. She followed him. “Do you know I have a brother?”
“Yeah. I like your brother. Cool kid.”
His living room looked like the house had been staged by a realtor, and he’d bargained for the furnishings. One wall—the one with no fireplace, no shelves, and no opening to the stairs—was covered in artwork, push-pinned through the paint, drawings or print-outs, most of them, some tacked over posters. They were done in umbers and a persistent purple, brownish-eggplant, a repetition of melancholy-eyed, thin-featured figures, robed and booted. Medieval fashion, as interpreted by comic books.
It seemed to her manifestly not, but she said, “Did you make all that?”
“Nah. People send them to me.”
The purple caught her eye again. A stack of books on his coffee table, the paperback on top yellowed and dog-eared, the hue progressing from book to book, newer and brighter. Oh, yes. That was the thing about Trevor.
“So has Val ever read Totem-Maker?”
Something in this was offending Giarma. She didn’t know what…possibly the insider-y dropping of the article. She said, “That’s a weird question.”
“I’ve never read the Totem-Maker, maybe you’d like to know.”
“Well…so…you have a brother. Sit down.”
She crossed her arms, standing.
“Don’t sit down.”
“Oh, this is getting retarded.”
Giarma pulled a crocheted throw off the recliner, and sat. “Dawn would like you to be Val’s friend. And she wanted me to come over and say so.”
He sat, on the sofa, reaching for the uppermost of his books. “Aren’t we friends?”
“It’s like everyone thinks we ought to be.”
“Welcome to the war zone.”
At this came silence, the awkward one. And her job to break it, because she’d come with a request. “I don’t mean retarded.”
“Because…you think I’d take personal offense?”
She laughed, and Trevor laid the book on the cushion beside him. He drew the one at the bottom of the stack out. “Take this. It’s the edition from 2010. They’ve got an anniversary reboot coming in October, with new art and all. Should’ve asked me to write the foreword.”
“Okay…thanks…so,” she said. Now, a second late, it came to her she should have given his joke a laugh.
Continued from “his joke a laugh”
“Hey, you wanna look at Iron Seeds?”
He jumped up, tugged on the closet door under the stairs, and where she’d expected coats, Giarma saw a mini-office. He wheeled out a stool. His work desk was the white-laminated-panels-on-metal-legs type, his overhead light, the exposed-bulb-on-metal-arm type. He caught the corner of the desk between thumb and forefinger, and gave it a jog. The screen of his computer lit.
There was no purple here, only black and white. A dark green banner. No art, only a thumbnail of Trevor and his cat. The sidebar had advertising; recent posts took up the main of the page.
“You ought to show this to Val.” It was sort of getting back to the point.
“You got his email, hook him up as a subscriber.” Trevor put his finger on the screen and scrolled to a form. “I don’t want you to give him that book, now. I want you to read it. Fair’s fair.” He edged around her, tapping her shoulder to keep her from crowding him back.
Val was not going to bristle…so why not? For one thing he read fantasy, drew comics. Trevor Royce was his likely-enough soul mate. And, for another, Val drifted with the current. She could have signed him up for a drumming circle, or an artisan bacon club. He would thank her, smile his wistful smile, and ignore the whole thing.
Her dad, though…
The thought occurred. “Trevor,” she said. “Do you mind if I do a little search on your computer?”
A moment later: “Look at that! They really have one. Trevor, can I order something?”
He moved to lean over her shoulder. “Cool.”
She came back to his recliner, and flopped down. “Sorry.”
“Beer and pop in the fridge,” he said. “Or, I’ll make coffee.”
“I’ll make coffee.”
This idea of coins, though I knew they were used in coastal towns, those places ships porting dyed silks, barrels of wine, the horns of animals, put in; and where such things were of great use, and yet of no immediate use…seemed to me a dubious magic. The peddler’s words confused me. That he would give me a thing, a marker in a game…that I would give it back, and by this means have enriched us both. I’d urged on him two of the totems to sell, and he had, in exchange, given me a number of things for my larder. That, I’d thought the end of it.
The totems were nothing of value to me. I disliked their watchfulness, expected evil from it.
But the peddler said even kings would barter for them, bestow titles and estates, if the return proved worthy, if the totem were the right sort. Such grandeur, I took for blatherskite, a traveler’s yarns with which to ply a shut-in.
“I am going to leave you with these, though you don’t like believing in them,” he’d said, and dropped, one by one, a handful of bright gold on my work table. “And when I am back this way, you may like to buy of me something that catches your eye…something more than a loaf of bread and a skein of wool.”
He’d rummaged under the wagon’s canopy, and drawn out a cap, placed this on my head. “Now that’s no use, you not having a mirror. But see this!” He bent, and brought out again a round glass on a handle; this handle, some white material that flashed a glorious rainbow in the sun.
“You see,” he said.
I saw a thing I never had, being somewhat shamed to study my reflection in pools of water. The hat was red, with gold braid trimming the visor. The face beneath was strained and dirty.
“It’s what you lack, and why you collect your tolls from pity, and not authority. A proper cap of office.”
“Clink, clink,” Trevor said. He had two mugs. “Just black. I should’ve asked.”
“Oh, that’s fine. If you had some creamer.”
“No, I’ll get it.”
She left his living room, walking her mug with care not to spill it, seeing with a backwards glance that he’d picked up the book, and was checking what passage she’d left it open to on the seat cushion.