here on the Pseudopod section of the Escape Artists forums. In case you didn't already know, I'm the erudite (and handsome!) ElectricPaladin.
The discussion gyrates madly around a recent Pseudopod story, Set Down This, by Lavie Tidhar. Set Down This is the testament of an ordinary person who finds that he has become obsessed with the brief encounter between two men, an unnamed American pilot who fires a missile at and kills a group of Iraqis, and one of those Iraqis. The horror comes from the narrator's inability to escape his obsession and the terrifying ease with which human lives can be erased by modern technology. The creepiness of the "hillarious military YouTube videos" culture - the narrator's brother is a part of this world, which is how the narrator was exposed to the video in the first place - is an added bit of surreal and disturbing.
In a lot of ways, Set Down This isn't a great story. It's kind of a non-story, in that nothing happens, characters do not develop, and the world does not change. It's more a reflection or a character study than a story. If you like that kind of thing, you'll probably just think Set Down This is pure brilliance; if you don't, you'll probably find it a little frustrating. The story is redeemed, however, by excellent craft and a truly disturbing exploration of the subject matter. I'm not a big fan of non-stories, and I found Set Down This striking and interesting.
Anyway, the discussion: what I find really disturbing about the discussion is that Set Down This is being called political.
What is political about pointing out that war is bad? How is it political to acknowledge that the people who die in war are people, not faceless foreign devils? Is it particularly leftist of me to feel sorry for the people who get blown up, maimed, mangled, and killed across the sea? Since when is it political to say that war has consequences for everyone from soldiers to civilians, from the families of those who are killed to those who just watch the deaths on YouTube?
Now, in order to favor the war, do you have to pretend that it's a good thing? Do you have to imagine that the people who die don't exist, or that they aren't people? Is it now impossible for us to acknowledge that we sometimes do things that are bad in pursuit of a greater good?
I'm not in favor of the war in Iraq, but that's neither here nor there. I'm definitely a leftist - in fact, I'm kind of a Communist - but that's also neither here nor there. Do the people who favor this war really believe that admitting that war is bad is a leftist political statement?
Because that scares the crap out of me.
More to the point, the story is being criticized by a forumite who complains that he comes to Pseudopod to be "entertained."
I'd argue that the power of literature - especially fantastic literature - is it's ability to simultaneously entertain and do so much more. When you read, watch, and/or listen to a story you are entertained and transported. You live another life and learn how to emphasize with someone completely different. This expands you, enhances you, and has the power to change the world.
... I feel better now.
Anyway, if you want to join in the discussion, I'd be glad to have you. Otherwise, stay tuned. Up next, an intro to the craze that's sweeping the internet, Echo Bazaar, and then a guest post by the brilliant brain behind The Guild of the Cowry Catchers and The Prophet of Panamindorah (I can never seem to spell that right on the first try), Abigail Hilton.