Book Burning in the 21st Century

News & Events
TikTok screengrab of J.K. Rowling books being burned.

J.K Rowling has a torch-wielding mob after her and and the purpose of the torches is for burning her books. The reasons for the outrage are not what this post are about but, if you want to read Rowling’s side of the story, it’s on her website.

What this post is about is book burning, a practice that, as a way of cancelling those you disagree with, makes as much sense in the digital age as sending a letter by owl.

Manuscripts by Definition.

Page from a medieval manuscript.
13th Century beach read.

Back in the 11th century, every book was more rare than a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, because all books were truly unique. Every page was hand copied by someone with infinite patience, excellent penmanship and a life expectancy of 45 years. Burning a book would be a huge waste of money.

Still, that didn’t stop some people. In 213 B.C., Qin Shi Huang (the Chinese emperor most famous for his terra cotta army) ordered a bonfire of books as a way of erasing history and consolidating power in his new empire. He also had over 400 scholars buried alive, So, yeah, Quin was a diq.

Johannes Gutenberg introduced the movable type printing press in 1440 and from then on, books became progressively more plentiful. By the early 1920s, the common man could own his own copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, James Joyce’s Ulysses and T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. Also, lesser known titles such as Ethel M. Dell’s The Lamp in the Desert and The Autobiography of Margot Asquith.

Book burning Becomes a Thing.

Nazis burning books.
Nazis up to no good.

It was the Nazis who brought book burning into the 20th century when they took to incinerating any text that contradicted Nazi ideology. On the to-burn list were socialist playwright, Bertolt Brecht; Karl Marx, author of both The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital; Erich Maria Remarque, author of All Quiet on the Western Front; and Ernest Hemingway, author of a bunch of books you probably had to read in high school. After the incineration of the Third Reich, book burning was seared into the public’s consciousness as something fascists do.

Book Burning Enters the Pop Culture.

Still shot from the 1966 movie version of "Fahrenheit 451."
François Truffaut’s 1966 movie version of “Fahrenheit 451.”

In 1953, Ballantine Books published Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a tale envisioning a dystopian society where “firemen” burn any and every book they can get their hands on. Fahrenheit 451 was successful in its day and has sold more than 10 million copies to date, more of which have probably been lost to general wear and tear than flames. The story has also been retold in other media many times since then, most recently in a 2018 film adaptation by HBO. Like George Orwell’s 1984, Fahrenheit 451 became a common point of reference for anyone warning against a totalitarian future.

So Many Books, So Few Flamethrowers.

Now here we are, well into the 21st century, when book burning is nothing anyone need be concerned about. First of all, we have lots of books, tons of books, so many books that people in my neighborhood leave them out on the street to be taken for free .

Cover image of "A Shore Thing" by Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi.

Some of that tonnage is outdated books, Frommer’s Barcelona 1993-1994 is an obvious example, also Excel 2002 for Dummies. You could also fill a fleet of cargo ships with bad books like, well, Das Kapital. And Mein Kampf. Then there’s the inconsequential and ephemeral, A Shore Thing by Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi for instance.

That said, Moby Dick wasn’t given its due until after Herman Melville’s death so keep writing, Snookie.

And we have ebooks now, thousands of which can be set loose on the world in the time it took a medieval monk to dip his quill in his ink pot. A gang of brownshirts could delete books from their Kindles all day and be no closer to their goals when the sun set.

I’m as Mad as Hell and You Can Follow Me on TikTok.

These days, book burning is a way of publicly demonstrating disapproval rather than an effective way of silencing one of the most successful authors of the age. So burn “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” if you want. Burn a hundred. Make a bonfire. Just remember to practice basic rules of fire safety. And don’t burn down a library. That will get the cops after you.

X-Men Angel Munny Figure

Model Building

I got this Munny figure as a Christmas present and, like so many other kits, it sat in a box for years. Thinking of a theme was a project in itself. Each figure comes with three random accessories. Mine had a sports visor, frying pan and the item I went with, angel wings.

The Angel, a.k.a. Warren Worthington III, was an original member of the X-Men and has undergone a few costume changes over the decades. I chose the 1960s yellow and blue costume.

This is for sale on my Etsy site.

Timmy, Jimmy and Jeffy: How I Know When the Author Doesn’t Have Kids

Writing

I read a short story today about a boy and the monster living under his bed. It’s a clever idea written by an author who doesn’t have kids. I’m assuming this because the boy in the story is named Tommy.

I’m a dad so I know what parents are naming their kids. There isn’t a single Tommy in my neighborhood, a part of Brooklyn that is literally a breeding ground. Parents abandoned those names decades ago. In fact, the author of the story has a name more typical of millennials, the first generation born to parents looking to express themselves through the naming of their children. She should know better.

To avoid sounding like you’ve never sweated a preschool application or had a run in with a library cop, give your boys creative names like Chancellor, Omri, Soren or Cyrus. If you need something less conspicuous, try Max, Miles or unshortened classic names, like Thomas or James.

Wacom Cintiq Pro “13

News & Events

The Wacom Cintiq has been around for almost twenty years and I only bought one in April. I had an Intuos tablet that work just fine, even after over a decade of use, but the old driver wouldn’t play well with the OS on our newest MacBook Pro so I was forced into an upgrade. The Cintiq is an upgrade.

I bought the 13″ version for budgetary reasons and for what I do -storyboards and comics- that’s big enough. Drawing feels more natural on the Cintiq and it’s easier to maintain line smoothness.

The Cintiq and the computer still have their disputes and I always restart the computer when I connect the tablet. Also the touch feature on the tablet – what allows navigating the screen with your fingers- is way too squirrelly to be useful. The Cintiq does one other weird thing – a radial menu pops up randomly while I’m working, for reasons that neither I, nor anyone on the Internet, can explain. But, even with all that, it’s still better than my ancient Intuos.

So how to pronounce Wacom? I’d always said Waycom. Watching an online tutorial on how to hook up the tablet (because the instructions included are no help) I heard it was pronounced Wackum, But then I watched another video series on the specifics of Wacom products and learned it’s pronounced Wahcom.

I’m more than halfway through an 8-page comic story done completely on the new Cintiq, I’ll post some of it when I’m done.

Reality: It Is What It Is.

Writing

We speculative fiction writers have a problem with the physical sciences. The life sciences, too. Sure we ‘ll wear “Let’s have a moment of science” t-shirts -some of us even wear lab coats at work- but when science tell us that a man of Mark Ruffalo’s proportions can’t transform into a 1,400-pound monster, well, we’ve heard quite enough from the eggheads.

The planet Tatooine from Star Wars.
But if Tatooine is all desert, how can it support life?

I’ve noticed in my spec fiction writers groups that the first “But if… then…?” question unleashes a cascade of similar questions. Quibbles about why the zombies in the story need specifically to eat brains inexorably lead to the unassailable observation that “living dead” is a contradiction in terms.

The only subgenre that sidesteps this issue is alternate history. It was physically possible for me to marry my college girlfriend and for Germany to win World War II.

Or was it? There are some smart and learned folks who’ll contend that this is the only possible universe. To them, my first serious relationship and the Third Reich were equally doomed.

The only thing I can say for certain is that this universe works the way it is and could not function otherwise. Change one thread and the entire sweater unravels. Life cannot exist in the same universe as a vampire. Introduce, a potion that causes the drinker to fall in love with the first person she sees, and every atom would wink out of existence.

But I’m not going to let that ruin the Marvel movies for me.

UFOs Are Real. But You Knew That.

News & Events

This week the Pentagon released three declassified videos taken by U.S. Navy pilots. The videos, one taken in 2004 and two in 2015, were leaked in 2007 and 2015. You’ve probably already seen them on YouTube and wondered why the Navy can’t put color video cameras on an airplane that costs thirty-million dollars.

From the Pentagon: “DOD [Department of Defense] is releasing the videos in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos. The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified’.”

So they’re UAPs, not UFOs, because no one would take the Pentagon seriously if they claimed to have videos of UFOs.

Still frame from U.S. Navy video of UFO
It came from outer space.

This revelation caused barely a ripple in the midst of a global pandemic, but I suspect that, even without a medical emergency, the response would have been the same. By now, we Earthlings have become comfortable with the idea of extraterrestrials. UFOs, and the aliens they transport, are part of the culture. We’ve all seen the movies and the New Yorker cartoons. Well, the movies at least.

If the DOD were to admit to having the crashed flying saucer and alien bodies that some say are hidden in the Nevada desert, the U.S. public would still be more concerned with Covid-19, the upcoming election, and Tiger King. In fact, if the Pentagon could confirm that Carole Baskin killed her husband, that would be news.