6 Vital Skills for High-Functioning Autistics

If you’re high-functioning autistic, there’s a high chance you’re starting life on the back foot. You may have significant social difficulties, poor motor skills, sensory issues and other deficits. It’s not your fault, it’s just how your brain is wired. But the real kicker is that to most people, you appear mostly normal — if a little eccentric — so they’re going to treat you like a normie. You may not even recognise that you’re significantly different from others until later in life.

Society is built by neurotypicals for neurotypicals. This is simple demographics. If you’re not neurutypical, you’re going to have to adapt as best as you can. One of the major difficulties growing up autistic in an NT world is that society assumes you’ve adopted the skills, norms, and behaviours that enable you to function in that society. Most NTs can do this unconsciously, if with some guidance, and this assumption is baked deep into every civilisation.

For those of us who, for some reason or other, have not grokked these concepts growing up, life becomes a daily struggle to make sense of an illogical world.

It’s nice if the NTs accomodate your special needs — I am certainly grateful when they do — but I don’t expect everyone around me to do it. Especially complete strangers who don’t know me or my specific needs. Likewise, I don’t expect NTs to change their behaviours and attitudes to accomodate the needs of autistics either. I despise being touched by people I don’t know, but physical contact is a common NT way of expressing positive emotion, and telling all NTs to stop touching just because I don’t like it is selfishness beyond compare.

The world is not made for the neurodiverse. To survive, to triumph, we must adapt to the world while retaining who we are.

1. Develop Baseline Social Skills

people-2557396_960_720.jpg

Humans are social creatures. You included, no matter how much you may think otherwise.

if you live in modern society, you are part of an interdependent whole. You are reliant on other people for food, water, electricity, clothing and other essential services. The only way you can get around that is to walk away from modern civilisation and live a self-sufficient life in the boonies (in which case, you wouldn’t be reading this).

To persuade people to give you these things, you need to demonstrate your value to them — which, in practical terms, means working for people to earn money to buy stuff, understand what others need and how to meet them, and how to communicate your needs to others.

You don’t need to be the life of the party. You don’t have to transform yourself into a social butterfly overnight. But you do need a baseline minimum of social skills to function in society. You may not feel that such skills are important, but everybody else around you will — and expect the same from you. If you can’t live up to their standards, they have less reason to help you when you need the help.

What is this baseline? It depends on what you do and what you want to achieve.

If you’re a day trader who works mostly on a computer with minimal human contact and with no desire for human relationships, you only need enough social skills to communicate your basic needs. If you’re a writer you need to understand what your customers and audiences want, and effectively communicate with them. If you seek a lover, you must know the language of intimacy.

At the same time, society imposes a set of requirements on you. Proper etiquette and social rituals, such as mealtimes, small talk, cultural taboos and expected behaviours. Basic work skills like being punctual, diligent, meticulous and repsonsible. The written and unwritten laws of communication. Reading body language to tease meaning from vague words. Knowing the most appropriate response to a given situation.

And, more often than not, you only have one chance to get it right.

But don’t fret: social skills are skills that can be learned. Most NTs simply pick them up unconsciously. You, too, can learn them — you just need to be conscious about it. Study the spoken and unspoken norms of the circles in which you travel, put these skills into practice, and don’t be afraid to ask. I’ve found that people are perfectly willing to help someone if you make it clear that you are there to learn from them.

It is exhausting. It will take a lifetime to learn. You may not ever be as smooth or confident or skilled as others. You’ll probably make many mistakes, and make even more missteps you won’t be aware of. But if you want to enjoy the benefits of civilised society, you must act like a member of that society.

2. Manage Your Emotions

meltdown-1312488_960_720.jpg

Every day fresh tempests of emotions threaten to blow people left and right. The media is ever-searching for the latest outrage to grab viewers and grab advertising revenue. Race-baiters, social justice warriors and outrage-mongers fill the airwaves with nonsense day in and out in a bid to capture and retain the limelight. Activists and bloggers shout from every social media platform, trying to sway you by your emotions.

In a world of outrage, microaggressions and trigger warnings, he who is constantly outraged will be blown about and used as a pawn. He who cannot control emotions will be stressed out perpetually, leading to chronic diseases and an early death. He who chases the highs of self-righteousness and anger will burn out and be destroyed by the inevitable crash. And for autistics, this constant emotional load will make it increasingly easier to trigger a meltdown.

You must remain calm and centred. You may consider yourself a rational creature, but humans are rationalising creatures. Many humans are motivated by feelings, and only invent justifications after acting. Emotional appeals are powerful means of social influence because they short-circuit the brain; when activists and politicians and salesmen pressure you to act, you must know when and how to re-engage your brain’s capability for rational thought. The last thing you need is to get caught up in some pointless Internet feud, or to do something you’ll regret.

The trick is to breathe. Breathe gently, deeply and rhythmically. Keep your focus on your breath and maintain a regular rhythm. I prefer a four-count inhale and exhale cycle, but you can pick what suits you best.

As you inhale, gather up any emotions you feel, and expel them on the exhale. If you are angry, you may visualise a dark roiling ball of red light in your lungs; if you are sad it may be a dull gray ball. As you breathe out, visualise them flowing out your lungs and nostrils and dispersing in the air. As you inhale, imagine yourself breathing in a stream of pure white, spreading throughout you and bringing you to a state of calm.

You may feel yourself being pressed by a constant assault of negative emotions. That is fine. Simply let them pass through you instead of stagnating within. By concentrating on your breath, you are purging these negative emotions from your body and refreshing your brain with oxygen.

I’ve found that this trick also works if you’re on the verge of a meltdown, or are in the middle of one. Concentrating on your breath helps to sooth outraged nerves, accelerating the recovery process.

As a rule of thumb, the more negative emotions you feel — sadness, anger, grief, fear — the more impulsively you’ll act, and the more impulsively you act, the likelier the possibility of long-term negative consequences. You can’t take back the past. Better to avoid making a mistake if you can. Whenever you find yourself roiled up, step away and breathe. You can always come back to the situation later.

3. Take the Red Pill

Red Pills.jpg

The Red Pill is the truth. The truth about the world, the truth about men and women, the truth about relationships, the truth about sexual politics. If you are autistic and suffer from social deficits, the Red Pill is a powerful paradigm to put you on a level playing field with everyone else in the social arena.

It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. Knowledge of the Red Pill is critical to understanding sexual dynamics. It is crucial foundational knowledge if you want a lover while avoiding predators in human skin.

The Red Pill is often misconstrued as the body of knowledge for pickup artists. It’s true PUAs use it. But the Red Pill applies to married life, to people seeking fulfilling long-term relationships, to people trying to understand why men and women act the way they do — and to both men and women.

At its heart, the Red Pill is about the differences between men and women, and how they strive to establish meaningful complementary relationships. Concepts like sexual marketplace value, female hypergamy and male socio-sexual status help you judge where you stand in relation to others, understand why people act the way they do in love, and how to maximise your own value through self-improvement.

The same tactics used by sleazy PUAs to seduce women are the same tactics a husband uses to maintain a happy marriage. The Red Pill must be paired with ethics. Seek self-improvement through nutrition, exercise, constant learning and meaningful hobbies. Build confidence through employing body language, vocal practice and mindset development. Hold yourself to high standards of moral conduct and demand your intimates to do the same. Recognise how men and women interact, and with this knowledge achieve your relationship goals.

You may not want to use the tactics of pickup artists. Touching strangers or being touched by strangers may feel repulsive. Prolonged conversations may be draining. Your relationship goals may be different from mine. And that is fine, but you still need baseline social self-defense skills.

You must, at the very least, be able to identify scumbags, liars, abusers, narcissists and predators. You need to know whether someone is truly interested in you or just toying with you to get something from you. The Red Pill shows you their tactics, allowing you to see them coming a mile away. And it gives you the confidence to see them off and help your loved ones defend themselves against them.

4. Know the Game of Influence

handshake.jpeg

6 Vital Skills for High-Functioning Autistics

3 minutes ago

cheah 64 in life

If you’re high-functioning autistic, there’s a high chance you’re starting life on the back foot. You may have significant social difficulties, poor motor skills, sensory issues and other deficits. It’s not your fault, it’s just how your brain is wired. But the real kicker is that to most people, you appear mostly normal — if a little eccentric — so they’re going to treat you like a normie. You may not even recognise that you’re significantly different from others until later in life.

Society is built by neurotypicals for neurotypicals. This is simple demographics. If you’re not neurutypical, you’re going to have to adapt as best as you can. One of the major difficulties growing up autistic in an NT world is that society assumes you’ve adopted the skills, norms, and behaviours that enable you to function in that society. Most NTs can do this unconsciously, if with some guidance, and this assumption is baked deep into every civilisation.

For those of us who, for some reason or other, have not grokked these concepts growing up, life becomes a daily struggle to make sense of an illogical world.

It’s nice if the NTs accomodate your special needs — I am certainly grateful when they do — but I don’t expect everyone around me to do it. Especially complete strangers who don’t know me or my specific needs. Likewise, I don’t expect NTs to change their behaviours and attitudes to accomodate the needs of autistics either. I despise being touched by people I don’t know, but physical contact is a common NT way of expressing positive emotion, and telling all NTs to stop touching just because I don’t like it is selfishness beyond compare.

The world is not made for the neurodiverse. To survive, to triumph, we must adapt to the world while retaining who we are.

1. Develop Baseline Social Skills

people-2557396_960_720.jpg

Humans are social creatures. You included, no matter how much you may think otherwise.

if you live in modern society, you are part of an interdependent whole. You are reliant on other people for food, water, electricity, clothing and other essential services. The only way you can get around that is to walk away from modern civilisation and live a self-sufficient life in the boonies (in which case, you wouldn’t be reading this).

To persuade people to give you these things, you need to demonstrate your value to them — which, in practical terms, means working for people to earn money to buy stuff, understand what others need and how to meet them, and how to communicate your needs to others.

You don’t need to be the life of the party. You don’t have to transform yourself into a social butterfly overnight. But you do need a baseline minimum of social skills to function in society. You may not feel that such skills are important, but everybody else around you will — and expect the same from you. If you can’t live up to their standards, they have less reason to help you when you need the help.

What is this baseline? It depends on what you do and what you want to achieve.

If you’re a day trader who works mostly on a computer with minimal human contact and with no desire for human relationships, you only need enough social skills to communicate your basic needs. If you’re a writer you need to understand what your customers and audiences want, and effectively communicate with them. If you seek a lover, you must know the language of intimacy.

At the same time, society imposes a set of requirements on you. Proper etiquette and social rituals, such as mealtimes, small talk, cultural taboos and expected behaviours. Basic work skills like being punctual, diligent, meticulous and repsonsible. The written and unwritten laws of communication. Reading body language to tease meaning from vague words. Knowing the most appropriate response to a given situation.

And, more often than not, you only have one chance to get it right.

But don’t fret: social skills are skills that can be learned. Most NTs simply pick them up unconsciously. You, too, can learn them — you just need to be conscious about it. Study the spoken and unspoken norms of the circles in which you travel, put these skills into practice, and don’t be afraid to ask. I’ve found that people are perfectly willing to help someone if you make it clear that you are there to learn from them.

It is exhausting. It will take a lifetime to learn. You may not ever be as smooth or confident or skilled as others. You’ll probably make many mistakes, and make even more missteps you won’t be aware of. But if you want to enjoy the benefits of civilised society, you must act like a member of that society.

2. Manage Your Emotions

meltdown-1312488_960_720.jpg

Every day fresh tempests of emotions threaten to blow people left and right. The media is ever-searching for the latest outrage to grab viewers and grab advertising revenue. Race-baiters, social justice warriors and outrage-mongers fill the airwaves with nonsense day in and out in a bid to capture and retain the limelight. Activists and bloggers shout from every social media platform, trying to sway you by your emotions.

In a world of outrage, microaggressions and trigger warnings, he who is constantly outraged will be blown about and used as a pawn. He who cannot control emotions will be stressed out perpetually, leading to chronic diseases and an early death. He who chases the highs of self-righteousness and anger will burn out and be destroyed by the inevitable crash. And for autistics, this constant emotional load will make it increasingly easier to trigger a meltdown.

You must remain calm and centred. You may consider yourself a rational creature, but humans are rationalising creatures. Many humans are motivated by feelings, and only invent justifications after acting. Emotional appeals are powerful means of social influence because they short-circuit the brain; when activists and politicians and salesmen pressure you to act, you must know when and how to re-engage your brain’s capability for rational thought. The last thing you need is to get caught up in some pointless Internet feud, or to do something you’ll regret.

The trick is to breathe. Breathe gently, deeply and rhythmically. Keep your focus on your breath and maintain a regular rhythm. I prefer a four-count inhale and exhale cycle, but you can pick what suits you best.

As you inhale, gather up any emotions you feel, and expel them on the exhale. If you are angry, you may visualise a dark roiling ball of red light in your lungs; if you are sad it may be a dull gray ball. As you breathe out, visualise them flowing out your lungs and nostrils and dispersing in the air. As you inhale, imagine yourself breathing in a stream of pure white, spreading throughout you and bringing you to a state of calm.

You may feel yourself being pressed by a constant assault of negative emotions. That is fine. Simply let them pass through you instead of stagnating within. By concentrating on your breath, you are purging these negative emotions from your body and refreshing your brain with oxygen.

I’ve found that this trick also works if you’re on the verge of a meltdown, or are in the middle of one. Concentrating on your breath helps to sooth outraged nerves, accelerating the recovery process.

As a rule of thumb, the more negative emotions you feel — sadness, anger, grief, fear — the more impulsively you’ll act, and the more impulsively you act, the likelier the possibility of long-term negative consequences. You can’t take back the past. Better to avoid making a mistake if you can. Whenever you find yourself roiled up, step away and breathe. You can always come back to the situation later.

3. Take the Red Pill

Red Pills.jpg

The Red Pill is the truth. The truth about the world, the truth about men and women, the truth about relationships, the truth about sexual politics. If you are autistic and suffer from social deficits, the Red Pill is a powerful paradigm to put you on a level playing field with everyone else in the social arena.

It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. Knowledge of the Red Pill is critical to understanding sexual dynamics. It is crucial foundational knowledge if you want a lover while avoiding predators in human skin.

The Red Pill is often misconstrued as the body of knowledge for pickup artists. It’s true PUAs use it. But the Red Pill applies to married life, to people seeking fulfilling long-term relationships, to people trying to understand why men and women act the way they do — and to both men and women.

At its heart, the Red Pill is about the differences between men and women, and how they strive to establish meaningful complementary relationships. Concepts like sexual marketplace value, female hypergamy and male socio-sexual status help you judge where you stand in relation to others, understand why people act the way they do in love, and how to maximise your own value through self-improvement.

The same tactics used by sleazy PUAs to seduce women are the same tactics a husband uses to maintain a happy marriage. The Red Pill must be paired with ethics. Seek self-improvement through nutrition, exercise, constant learning and meaningful hobbies. Build confidence through employing body language, vocal practice and mindset development. Hold yourself to high standards of moral conduct and demand your intimates to do the same. Recognise how men and women interact, and with this knowledge achieve your relationship goals.

You may not want to use the tactics of pickup artists. Touching strangers or being touched by strangers may feel repulsive. Prolonged conversations may be draining. Your relationship goals may be different from mine. And that is fine, but you still need baseline social self-defense skills.

You must, at the very least, be able to identify scumbags, liars, abusers, narcissists and predators. You need to know whether someone is truly interested in you or just toying with you to get something from you. The Red Pill shows you their tactics, allowing you to see them coming a mile away. And it gives you the confidence to see them off and help your loved ones defend themselves against them.

4. Know the Game of Influence

handshake.jpeg

Civilised living is a game of influence. People are trying to influence you, and you are trying to influence others.

‘Influence’ is value-neutral. This could be a pushy salesman demanding a customer buy something he doesn’t need, or a more thoughtful one helping a customer meet his requirements. This is a manager convincing a low-performing worker to get his act together, an employee asking for a raise, or you trying to convince someone to hire you.

85% of autists are unemployed. If you don’t want to be part of this statistic, you have to convince people that you can bring value to their lives. It means convincing an employer to hire you, persuading your boss to give you a wage, selling your product to customers, and so on. Doing this successfully requires knowledge of the art of influence.

You must know how to influence people to achieve your goals. You also need to recognise when someone is trying to influence you into making a bad decision. Think of the salesperson getting you to buy products you don’t need, an attractive girl luring you into a cult, a colleague who wants to shove all his work to you while claiming the glory. People who are mind-blind and lack social skills are especially vulnerable to such predations; to avoid being prey, you must spot incoming predators.

Learn the ways of social influence and power. The 48 Laws of Power, the 9 Laws, Verbal Judo and books on salesmanship and public speaking are essential. You don’t have to be adept at social influence — you just need to be good enough to get by — but you must protect yourself from manipulation.

Above all, whatever skills you learn, you must employ them ethically. To be part of civilisation is to abide by its norms and customs, and that means holding yourself to the highest moral standard. Be as harmless as a dove, but as wise as a serpent.

5. Build Your Talent Stack

stacking-stones-667432_960_720.jpg

Autism is a gift and a curse. The singular defining trait of autism is an all-consuming obsession with something. This could be high-order mathematics, the history of 15th century Europe, cephalopods, dinosaurs, trains, the list goes on. In my case, I don’t have any particular area of interest — because everything is my area of interest, and I will spend vast amounts of time chasing down nuggets of information related to whatever subject currently catches my eye. This area of obsession is your greatest strength, and by cultivating it you will achieve success in your chosen field.

However, this obsession may also be your undoing.

If you define yourself as your obsession, and only by it, nobody will care about you. I am a writer, but so is everyone on Steemit, every copywriter and adman, every journalist and blogger. With only ‘writer’ to go by, I am indistinguishable from the crowd. Nobody has any reason to pay attention to me, and therefore buy my stories.

If your area of interest is not in demand, this is incredibly challenging. You may know the value of pi to the thousandth digit, but it has little demand outside some highly specialised applications. You may be able to name every bone in the human body, but if you’re not in a medical-related field it’s little more than a neat party trick. If nobody wants the one thing you are good at, they aren’t going to care about you.

Thus, you have to be more than just your interest. You need to build your talent stack.

A talent stack is the sum of your skills and talents. Any singular skill may be formidable or mediocre, but when put altogether you achieve a union greater than the sum of its parts. You have your brand, your value proposition to the world, the essence of you.

In my case, the top of my stack is obviously writing (excellent fiction, very good non-fiction). After that comes research and analysis (very good), holistic thinking (very good), creativity (very good, but only when applied to fiction) history (good), martial arts (above average), interest in technology (above average), and social communication (below average).

Armed with this talent stack, I write science fiction and fantasy stories with heavy emphasis on history, culture, technology and martial arts. It makes the most of my talents, enabling me to build my brand.

Think about your talent stack. Go beyond your area of obsession and figure out your other strengths and weaknesses. Put them all together and you have that one compelling thing that you can offer to the world: you.

6. Always Improve Yourself

Forge.jpg

You are not your autism.

It is a major part of you, but it is not the entirety of your being. Don’t be trapped by it.

Growing up, I’ve had to deal with a huge number of issues. At sixteen I was still prone to tripping over myself. I was barely able to function in a social setting until I was twenty, and even today I still have difficulties. My senses, if anything, have grown even more sensitive over the years.

But I am more than that. I am more than my flaws, more than my mistakes, more than any other arbitrary identity marker anybody would paste on me. I am a writer. I am a Singaporean. I am a man. I am more. As a sentient being, I can choose to be someone better every day.

Every day I make that choice. I try to be civil to people, regardless of whether I like them. I try to manage sensory and social deficits through studies and training and practice. I try to bring value to others’ lives. I try. And in trying, I become.

You are what you have done and you become what you do. Build self-destructive habits and mindsets and you destroy yourself; develop positive habits and mindsets and you become greater.

If you want to be someone who can live an effortless and fulfilled life, able to practice your talents and capable of managing your challenges, start now. Learn and practice the skills you need to get there — and do not stop, ever.

To live in modern civilisation, you must adapt yourself to its norms while retaining and growing who you are. A paradox — but one that, if squared, yields success in life. With the above-mentioned skills, an autist has the foundations of success.

Now become the best person you can be.

nogods_256

My dedication to self-improvement allowed me to write NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS, and it has since been nominated for the Dragon Awards under the Alternate History category. If you’d like to check it out, you can find it on Amazon here. To vote in the Dragon Awards, please click here.

Drama at the Dragon Awards

Dragoncon

The Dragon Awards made a colossal mistake: it caved to the whims of writers who disrespected their fans.

Alison Littlewood and N.K. Jemisin withdrew their novels from the Dragon Awards nomination. John Scalzi, who initially withdrew, decided to withdraw his withdrawal. The former two claimed they were being used as proxies in the culture war. Scalzi came back because the organizers asked him to reconsider.

This isn’t obvious to outsiders, but these are classic social justice entryist tactics.

The Dragon Awards was conceived of as an award by the fandom. No gatekeepers, no entry fees, no backdoor politicking. Just fans nominating their favourite works.

None of the major SFF blocs — PulpRev, Superversive, Puppies — had any intention to destroy the Awards or drag personal politics into it. The recommendations they made were in good faith. None of them recommended Littlewood, Jemisin and Scalzi; those works do not meet their tastes — but they didn’t go out of their way to actively discourage people from nominating the trio either.

The fans of these authors nominated them in good faith. By withdrawing their stories, the writers spat on their own fans.

Littlewood and Jemisin demonstrated that they didn’t have faith in their audience. In Littlewood’s case, she believed that she was nominated because Vox Day, the most controversial blogger in SFF, recommended her work. Jemisin claimed there was “no way to know if [her] book’s presence on the list was legitimately earned through individual, freely-chosen votes by a representative sampling of DragonCon members.”

Littlewood is saying that she didn’t want fans with the wrong politics to read her works. Jemisin’s rationale is utter nonsense: there is no way to enforce block voting over the Net, and Dragoncon had measures in place to prevent repeat votes. Jemisin was simply posturing to her loyal fanbase, allowing her to win the Hugo Award.

It seems odd that a writer would accept the Hugo Award for her latest novel, but refuse any chance of winning a second award for the same novel. But that’s because the Hugo Awards have been converged.

The Hugos used to be about recognising the finest SFF works. But for three decades and counting, it’s been about recognising the most propaganda-heavy message fiction produced by the most superficially diverse group of creators. The Hugo Awards is where SJWs in SFF go to congratulate themselves and shut out everybody else — it’s little wonder that the number of nominating ballots and final ballots dropped by 50% from last year.

Social Justice Warriors aren’t going to fight fair. They want the rules to be changed in their favor, and in so doing change the nature of the organization they are targeting.

By pushing for the right to withdraw their nominations, these entryists want to change the Dragon Awards from a fan-centric award to a talent-centric award — an award dictated by the whims of the people involved.

As for Scalzi’s case, when he first tried to withdraw, the Awards’ organisers refused. Then they changed their minds and allowed the withdrawal. Then they asked Scalzi to reconsider. This flip-flopping signals that the organisers lack spine, and aren’t willing to enforce their own rules and standards. Organisations that cannot stand fast will bend to suit the whims of the outrage-mongers.

In my last post, I stated that while you may not care about the culture war, the culture war cares about you. This is what the opening shots look like: an attempt to influence the targeted organisation to abandon its mission and serve the whims of those who will not respect their fans.

I don’t want the Dragon Awards to go the way of the Hugos. Nobody from the fandom does. We must roll back the entryists before they can gain a foothold.

John Scalzi cannot be allowed to win an award. If he wins, it will galvanise his fellow social justice warriors, giving them incentive to put even more pressure on the Dragon Awards next year. I would urge you to vote instead for Brian Nemeier’s The Secret Kings. Nemeier is one of the leading indie SFF authors of this generation, and should he win the award, he will cede it to L Jagi Lamplighter, whose work catalyzed the Superversive movement.

The Dragon Awards’ organisers must enforce their mission through a clear and unbendable withdrawals policy. Either they prevent authors from withdrawing once nominated, or they allow withdrawals on the understanding that it will irrevocably bar those authors from ever being nominated for the Dragon Awards again. I am personally in favour of the latter: any author who withdraws his work from a fan award has betrayed the trust of everyone who deemed his work worthy of the award.

The Dragon Awards is for the fans. Anything that compromises that cannot be tolerated. It’s time to kick out the entryists, enforce the core mission, and get back to celebrating the best of SFF. Life is too short for drama like this.

nogods_256

I am grateful to my fans for nominating NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS for the Dragon Awards under the Alternate History category. If you’d like to check it out before voting, you can find it on Amazon here. When you’re ready to vote, click here to sign up.

Between SocJus and PulpRev at the Dragon Awards

Jirel.jpg

The science fiction and fantasy community is divided by a long-standing culture war. On one side are the social justice warriors and their allies, who wish nothing more than to churn out thinly-disguised propaganda and shut down everyone who disagrees with them. On the other are PulpRev, Superversive, the Sad and Rabid Puppies and those who side with them, united in a singular purpose: to make SFF great again.

The old pulp tales were the literature of the masses. They were tales of high adventure and excitement; stories of distant worlds, exotic cultures and superscience; fiction filled with hope, courage, verve, heroism and, most of all, fun. Free from genre conventions and ideological shackles, writers were free to let their imaginations soar and entertain their readers. From this age came the cultural icons of the West: Conan the Cimmerian, John Carter of Mars, the Shadow, Jirel or Joiry. This age birthed the great writers of the modern SFF canon: Robert E Howard, Poul Anderson, Leigh Beckett, C L Moore. Cheap and cheerful, the pulps made reading enjoyable for everyone.

But, in the words of pulp advocate Jasyn Jones, “Every age of F&SF after the Pulps has been about less: less variety, less action & adventure, fewer heroics and less heroism. Less imagination. Less of all the things that make F&SF great.”

Today, when you look at modern SFF, you’ll see the same catch phrases: subversive, challenging dogmas, progressivism, inclusiveness, post-modern. They are codewords for ‘boring’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘contemptuous of the reader’.

To the social justice warrior, the personal is the political. Everything one does must in some way be linked to political activity–and the only acceptable politics is ‘progressivism’, ‘liberalism’ and other -isms of the day. Thus, social justice fiction can’t settle for being fiction; they must brainwash the reader into accepting the core tenants of social justice and denouncing everything else as doubleplusungood. To survive, SocJus must drown out everything that is not itself, and it must not tolerate dissent — never mind that it is the surest form of cultural suicide.

Marvel went full-blown social justice with its comics, employing everything from gender flips to race-switching to suddenly-queer characters. The Ghostbusters 2016 remake replaced the original cast with women and made that the sole selling point. The result: financial disaster.

It’s not enough for these social justice warriors to cram their ideology down their audience’s throats. They aim to destroy their competition through whisper campaigns, social exclusion and outright lies. Aided by cliquish editors and a horde of fellow travelers, they drown out non-believers by smearing them the labels of ‘discrimination’, ‘racist’, ‘sexist’ and other nonsense.

The Young Adult industry saw its latest controversy with SJWs attacking The Black Witch by cherry-picking selected passages and proclaiming the entire novel to be ableist and racist and other -ists. When the Sad Puppies campaign recommended a number of writers for the Hugo Awards, the mainstream media denounced it as a ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ campaign by white supremacists to reserve the Hugo awards for white men — never mind that the founder, Larry Correia, is Portuguese, and that the Sad Puppies recommendations had far greater diversity of race, sex and politics than the past three decades of Hugo Award winners. I have myself been denounced as a ‘hard-core Puppy’ (and therefore racist and sexist) just because I wrote a blog post thanking my fans and editor for recommending one of my stories for the Hugos.

Social justice corrodes everything it touches. Today, there are precious few SFF books published within my lifetime that I can stand. Almost all of them come from two publishing houses–Baen and Castalia House–and all of them have one thing in common: they place the reader above politics.

This is where PulpRev and other groups come in.

PulpRev pays homage to the great masters of the past, figuring out what made their stories great and how to apply these lessons for future fiction. The Superversive movement wants to go one step further, creating fiction that is uplifts and builds up instead of degrading and tearing down. We come from many nations, represent both sides of the political spectrum, hail from a wide range of backgrounds, but we all believe in the same cause: to create entertaining SFF.

Social justice fiction is fatally flawed. It assumes that any fiction that does not explore and expound upon the cause du jour — minority representation, global warming, Strong Female Characters, anti-capitalism, anti-religion, LGBTQ — are fundamentally incomplete, daring so far as to say that creators who do not include these elements are saying that these things do not exist. SJWs overcompensate by making their fiction all about these causes and nothing else, leaving no room for everything else.

PulpRev recognizes that life is more than just these causes, that fiction isn’t simply about expounding a cause but about building worlds within worlds. Worlds of splendor and beauty and truth and reason, worlds populated by men and women and children and talking animals and monsters and spirits and demons and angels and gods, worlds that recreate the breath of your love and the dry heat of the summer sun and the crackling of dry leaves and the sticky sweat of an honest day’s work, worlds built on awe and wonder and courage and virtue even as they recognise lust and vice and sin and fear and naked evil. Worlds, in other words, that are worth living in.

And we take these worlds and cram them into our prose and offer them to our readers with hopes and prayers, believing that to someone, somewhere, these stories will chase away sadness, catalyse joy and inspire heroism.

You may not wish to declare for one side or another. PulpRev and Superversive will not denounce you if you do not join us. But understand that the SJWs will not leave you alone. To them, you are either ally or heretic, with no in-between. If you keep your head down you won’t be noticed. But if you speak about something that does not toe the party line, they will come for you. They don’t care what you did, be it mildly disagreeing with accusations of racism, praising books on the wrong slate, or daring to produce a story that does not conform exactingly to the agenda of the day.

You may not care about the culture war, but rest assured, the culture war cares about you.

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The Dragon Awards are the next front in the culture war. Aiming to represent all of fandom, the Dragon Awards seek to recognise the best SFF of the previous year in wide-ranging genres and media. Here is an opportunity to recognise the creators whose mission is to make SFF great, while sending a message to the SocJus nominees that thinly-veiled propaganda is no longer welcome in the field.

Speaking only in my personal capacity, I would recommend the following:

Best Science Fiction Novel: The Secret Kings by Brian Niemeier
Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal): A Sea of Skulls by Vox Day
Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel: Swan Knight’s Son by John C Wright
Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel: Rescue Run by Jon Del Arroz
Best Alternate History Novel: No Gods, Only Daimons by Kai Wai Cheah
Best Apocalyptic Novel: Codename: Unsub by Declan Finn and Allan Yoskowitz
Best Horror Novel: Live and Let Bite by Declan Finn

These nominees (myself included), are known members and allies of the PulpRev, Superversive and Puppies movements. Further, Jagi L. Lamplighter, author of Rachel and the Many Splendored Dreamland, is also an early founder of the Superversive movement and was nominated for Best YA/middle grade novel. However, Brian Niemeier has very graciously offered to grant the award to her should he win. Thus, to prevent vote dilution, I would recommend voters to pick Swan Knight’s Son and The Secret Kings.

In addition, I must point out the nominees known to be affiliated with or are social justice warriors.

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa
Mass Effect: Andromeda by Bioware

Scalzi reportedly withdrew from the Award today, but if his name is still on the ballot, consider this a warning against him. The Collapsing Empire was so badly written that a hastily-written parody quickly outsold it on Amazon.

Jemisin is a racist who hates whites and denigrates fandom. Everything associated with Marvel Comics is tainted, and Ms. Marvel is no exception. Mass Effect: Andromeda is a buggy mess that was, and remains, critically panned for its game-breaking bugs and phony dialogue — and among its key developers was a white-hating racist more focused on SocJus than making a great game.

The culture war is not merely about left or right, liberators versus supremacists. It is about whether creators should place entertaining their audience above personal politics. PulpRev and Superversive prioritise the audience, SocJus prioritises politics. The former creates fantastic fiction, the latter overpriced propaganda. With your help, we can keep the momentum going and support the creators who respect the craft and you. Together, we can make SFF great again.

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Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Harem

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata is an anime all otaku can resonate with. Season 1 follows the ups and downs of a high school indie game development group, with a mix of humour, harem hijinks and character interplay. Season 2 exchanges the humour for drama, with interpersonal tension and conflict threatening to tear the group apart. With its mix of superb voice acting, characterisation and production values, Saekano is an excellent piece of entertainment – if you don’t think too hard about the relationships.

This is not a review. There are plenty of reviewers who can do a better job than me. Instead, I’m going to write how Saekano is emblematic of everything wrong with modern harem anime.

The Boring Harem

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Just a high school boy and his groupies, nothing to see here

Saekano is centred on Aki Tomoya, a Japanese high schooler who happens to be a diehard otaku. Right off the bat, you can tell who the anime is aimed at: like many high school otaku of his breed, Aki is the audience stand-in, distinguished by his undying love for all things otaku—light novels, anime, manga, video games—and his utter obliviousness to emotions.

One fine day, while Aki is cycling home, he sees a beret floating down a slope. As cherry blossoms swirl around him, he looks up to see a girl at the top of the slope. The encounter inspires him to create the perfect dating sim. Returning to school, he discovers to his complete shock that his classmate, Kato Megumi, was the girl he met.

Aki ropes Kato into his project, and quickly enlists his friends (naturally, all girls) to help out. The team artist is Sawamura Spencer Eriri, Aki’s half-English childhood friend, who also creates adult-themed art for a famous doujin group Egoistic Lily. Third-year student Kasumigaoka Utaha, in reality a bestselling author who writes light novels under the pen name Kasumi Utako, handles the script. Later in the first season, the anime introduces Hyodo Michiru, Aki’s cousin-cum-other childhood friend who plays in the band Icy Tail, as the music composer. Together, they form the doujin circle Blessing Software.

We see here the essential ingredients of a Japanese high school harem anime. First, there is a male otaku main character with the emotional intelligence of a rock. Second, a bunch of girls who for some inexplicable reason are attracted to him. Third, a joint endeavour that demands all of them to work together.

If Aki resolves the romantic conflict by choosing any of the girls, it would end the primary source of tension, humour and drama within the series – and, quite likely, end his life. Every girl except Kato (maybe) is motivated by romantic intentions, so if any of them are forced to give up on him, it’s quite likely they will quit the group. Thus, the story demands that the harem situation be strung out indefinitely, even well past the point of unrealism.

This is the primary pitfall of harem-type fiction where the harem members are motivated primarily by amorous intent: the second the romantic conflict is resolved the whole cast, and thus the story, must fall apart. To keep the story going, the MC must remain an idiot into eternity and the harem’s character development must centre on their relationship with the MC.

Of Stereotypes and Romance

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Go on, guess who’s the normal one

Saekano sets itself apart from other harem stories by making half of the female cast otaku. When placed side-by-side with the non-otaku, the audience can see a sharp contrast in their personalities and how their hobbies and lifestyles influence their behaviours.

Unfortunately, the show confines these characters to their archetypes instead of doing much about them.

Sawamura is the classic tsundere: blonde, twin-tailed, slightly shorter, zettai ryouki stockings, and prone to violently abusing Aki at the drop of the hat. She defined her entire relationship with him based on being childhood friends, having gone to the same elementary school as him. They fell in love with the same works together, be they dating sims, light novels or anime. However, their elementary school classmates started insulting and shunning Aki for being an otaku, and fearing the same treatment, she began to hide her otaku self and distance herself from Aki. Even though they still talk otaku stuff, their relationship is clearly strained. This becomes the focal point of her story arc in the anime.

Kasumigaoka is a yandere without the murderous intent…probably. They first met at a book signing, when Aki recognised her as his senior. Eventually they started talking intensely about her books, with him praising them to high heaven and starting a fan site that single-handedly accounted for a significant fraction of its sales. While she acts cold, sarcastic and domineering most of the time, she is also highly obsessed with Aki and will manipulate everyone around her to get time alone with him. She is the most aggressive among the girls, and can match Sawamura for jealousy. Many of the show’s comedic beats come from her verbal sparring with Sawamura and her cutting remarks, but her arc is focused on her trying to express how she feels about Aki through her work.

Through their portrayals, Saekano displays a stunning lack of understanding about romance. Shared hobbies are the basis for friendship. It can graduate to romance, but it needs more than what is portrayed on-screen.

In Kasumigaoka’s case, we see Aki chatting excitedly about her work and later helping her with her writing. This is functionally no different than the relationship between superfan and author, and then editor and author. As a bestselling author, Kasumigaoka would have received similar praise from other fans, and she works with an editor to produce new stories. Aki doesn’t offer anything beyond that.

As for Sawamura, it’s shown that she and Aki spent lots of time together reading the same books, playing the same games and discussing the same fiction. But nothing else. They don’t do much more than that, and we don’t see them trying to talk about stuff other than the otaku culture. Sure, Aki may celebrate and promote her work enthusiastically—but that is simply who he is, and as an artist of a renowned doujin circle she would also receive similar praise for her work from her other fans.

To be perfectly cynical about this, the girls’ feelings for Aki reflect a distorted image of romance: that obsessing over common hobbies and interests will lead to someone falling for you. That is simply not true. You need trust, emotional intimacy and overall compatibility, and throughout the show there are no indications of any of this between Aki and the girls.

Why would Sawamura and Kasumigaoka fall for him and act the way they do? Just because he is a superfan? Because they have similar interests? This is the basis for friendship, not romance. Romance demands both sides to get closer than that, and that emotional closeness is simply lacking.

Hyodo’s motivation is even more suspect. She and Aki were born on the same day at the same hospital, and they played together a lot as children. Eventually she moved away, enrolling in an all-girls’ school and joining a band. When she meets him again, though, she acts overly-familiar with him, deliberately dressing skimpily and clinging to him whenever she can. She is not herself an otaku, so she doesn’t even have the excuse of having a similar hobby, and they aren’t so close that Aki immediately thinks of her when putting together his circle. She is flighty and whimsical, but it’s hinted that she has feelings for him.

But why?

Her presence in the show basically serves two purposes: to throw Sawamura’s identity as Aki’s childhood friend into disarray, and to satisfy the disturbing Japanese obsession with cousin romances. There is neither rhyme nor reason for her to act the way she does with Aki, unless she were either toying with him or genuinely interested in him, and the show doesn’t make it clear either way. While they were close as children, such childhood experiences do not translate into shared intimacy as teenagers; indeed, after she moved away, Aki doesn’t even mention her until her it’s time for her arc. Throughout both seasons, Hyodo enjoys the least character development among the main cast, and her feelings for Aki remain as nebulous as her heart.

Throughout both seasons of Saekano, there’s only one character with whom Aki shares a quantum of emotional development: Kato Megumi, the titular boring girlfriend. It’s clear from the start that she’s meant to win his affections. As a non-otaku she isn’t read into the culture, but she begins to enjoy the process of making games. As the heart of the circle, she helps to mediate conflicts and keep everyone on task. True to her epithet, she is very reserved and has little outward expression. This sets her apart from the rest of the cast’s exuberance, and when she finally displays a wider range of emotional affect in Season 2 you can tell she is warming up to Aki. She is the only normie in the entire cast and, in a realistic setting, quite likely the only person for whom he would even have a snowball’s chance in hell of having anything resembling a romantic relationship with.

Our Hero, the Masochistic Idiot

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Otaku intensifies

Aki is an idiot.

Let’s examine his relationships with Sawamura, Kasumigaoka and Hyodo. What do they have in common?

Violence.

Again and again and again, the girls’ first response whenever they feel jealous or angry or embarrassed is to take it out on Aki. Sawamura smacks him all the time. Kasumigaoka alternates between acting scary and acting out. Hyodo reveals her secret passion for wrestling. Somehow, this is supposed to be hilarious.

It’s not.

Firstly, it’s predictable. Casual female on male abuse has been an anime and manga staple since well before I got into the scene. Whenever Aki trips up (read: all the time), you can expect a girl to lash out at him. The outcome is already guaranteed; the only question is how she, or they, will do it. By being predictable, it becomes eye-rollingly stale.

Secondly, why doesn’t Aki walk away? The violence is always out of proportion to what he did. He may simply be a high schooler, but why would he consider girls who routinely abuse him as his friends and co-workers? We don’t see the violence affecting him or his relationships with the girls; it’s almost as if it’s just some kind of harmless quirk that can be laughed off.
I can’t buy this. Abuse and violence poisons relationships, and a show that aspires to be a drama must capture this.

Abuse aside, I find it unbelievable that Aki can be so oblivious to emotions. He isn’t some random otaku; he is explicitly portrayed as a fan of dating games and romance novels. Instead of learning from them, however, he plays out the dense protagonist stereotype to a T, and continues to do it even though associating with the girls leads to emotional and physical violence. That makes him completely predictable and utterly boring—the only difference between him and other similar otaku MCs is his over-the-top reactions. It takes Aki most of two seasons before he finally wises up.

Despite his lack of emotional maturity, the girls still flock to him anyway. Because, well, harem. He doesn’t display any sign of romantic interest in the girls, nor does he display any attractive qualities. Only in Season 2 do we finally see Aki coming to grips with his immaturity…and even so, there will still be a harem if Season 3 ever comes around.

A Foundation of Sand

This isn’t to say that Saekao is unsalvageable. If anything, it’s remarkable how well the anime played out in spite of its shaky foundations. It remains true to the tenets of storytelling, marked by steady character development and its insights into the doujin industry. However, it asks the audience to accept as given the girls’ feelings towards Aki instead of diving in depth into them, and this as a creator I cannot do.

Giving every girl a romantic interest in the MC, and thus a personal stake in events, is an extremely tricky situation. If I were the creator, I would have gone on a different tack, even changing sexes if necessary.

The artist would be motivated by a desire to heal the rift between her and the MC once and for all, and take the opportunity to create work more meaningful than mere pornography. The writer joins the circle because she feels obligated to the MC for her success, and from a professional perspective, she wonders if she can do more than just light novels. The musician may not be an otaku like the MC, but she thinks it’s a chance to reconnect with her long-distant cousin and for her band to hit the big time.

By taking away romance and combining professional ambitions and personal motivations, Saekano becomes more than a high school harem. It becomes the story of young creators seeking to be greater than they are while grappling with puberty and emotions, with Aki providing the spark and the platform for their future. In this light, even if Aki picks any of the girls, the story can still proceed apace. In fact, other than the titular boring girlfriend, they don’t even need to be girls.

And, done right, you won’t need a boring harem.

NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS has been nominated for the Dragon Awards!

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I am pleased to announced that my novel, NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS, has been nominated for the 2017 Dragon Awards under the Alternate History category. The Dragon Awards seeks to represent the finest works in science fiction and fantasy, giving all of fandom a voice in selecting the best books, games, TV series and movies. This is the first time a Singaporean has been received a nomination for the Dragon Awards. I would like to thank all of my readers and supporters; this historic achievement could not have been done without you.

To celebrate, my publisher, Castalia House, has made NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS available on Kindle Unlimited, which you can find here. With 31 reviews and an average rating of 4.3 stars out of 5, it is among the highest-rated and best-received Singaporean novel on Amazon today. If you love the novel, please register to vote here and vote for NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS by Kai Wai Cheah under the alternate history category.

Thanks for your support, and please look forward to the next novel titled HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.

SIGNAL BOOST: The Ronin Genesis by Steven Hildreth Jr.

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I’ve known Steven for 13 years and counting. Back then, we were newcomers on the writing scene with more ambition than skill. Nonetheless, we kept each other going over the years, even though I veered off into science fiction and fantasy while he stayed a purebred thriller writer. With THE RONIN GENESIS, I can confidently say that he has reached new heights.

Previously in THE SOVEREIGNS, former Special Operations soldier Benjamin Williams intervenes in a terrorist attack at the Saguaro Towers in Tucson, Arizona. But the strike was a false flag attack engineered by Iran to breach the American covert intelligence infrastructure — and the true mastermind has fled the scene with a thumb drive filled with sensitive information.

With no other options, the Central Intelligence Agency turns to a small Private Military Company to find the Iranian and recover the thumb drive. The PMC in turn hires Williams and members of his former Special Activities Division team. Pursuing their target through Mexico, Williams and his teammates must battle mercenaries, a ruthless drug cartel and a shadowy wet work team. And in this multi-factional drug war, the Ronin Defense Institute will be born in blood and steel.

Steve made his mark writing hard-hitting action-packed thrillers intertwined with surprising depth of character. As a beta reader of THE RONIN GENESIS, I can confidently say he took his skills to the next level. Action scenes explode from the page from the first trigger pull, and once the shooting stops there’s no letting up until the last body falls. The operators are portrayed authentically, displaying the mindset, training, techniques, tactics and procedures that separate the best from the rest. When Williams and his allies clash with the opposition, both sides do their best to outwit and outfight each other, creating satisfying scenes of suspense, drama and all-out action.

It’s not all blood and guts and gore. During breathers, Steve explores his characters’ histories and personalities, letting his characters evolve with the plot. We see more of Williams’ backstory, gain insights into why the bad guys do what they do, and even peek into the hearts of many minor characters who, in other stories, would be shown once or twice and soon forgotten.

Steve’s writing is clean, precise and hard-hitting. Brisk and workmanlike, it is highly reminiscent of the best of Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, with events proceeding at breakneck pace. While there are plenty of acronyms and military jargon in there, the book also comes with a glossary for readers new to the genre.

THE RONIN GENESIS also takes the series into a darker direction. Steve has never shied away from graphic depictions of violence and torture, but this novel kicks it up a notch. Even so, it’s never employed gratuitously for mere shock effect; instead, it underscores the brutality of Mexico’s drug war, creates chilling portrayals of human evil, and demonstrates the terrible cost of sustained violence on the human spirit.

I only have one main issue with the novel. Now and then the characters make references to past adventures that Steve hasn’t written yet. Having sat with Steve and discussed his ideas for the series, I can say that the novel will spoil some of his future novels set prior to the events of the currently-published series. Among the many stories I’ve read this is a novel issue — but it will not in any way affect your enjoyment of the novel.

You can pick up THE RONIN GENESIS on Amazon in Kindle or paperback here.

No One is Obliged to Read You

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I approach writing as a craftsman. I produce stories for sale on the market. I measure my success in book reviews, social media engagements and royalties. My goal is to entertain my readers, and if I can communicate deeper ideas in my stories, all the better. For professional writers, it doesn’t matter if a story touches on rarefied subjects, if it espouses some transcendent matter of politics or philosophy, or if it attempts to understand the human condition: if it isn’t entertaining enough to excite a reader’s passions, it is a poor story.

This interview of prominent Singaporean literary figure Gwee Li Sui is a telling reminder of the vast gulf that exists between the craftsmen and everybody else. Observe this snippet:

Bharati: How do you think we can practically achieve this?

Gwee: For starters, it would be good if an MP could cite a Singaporean writer. Then we change the dialogue where writers stop becoming just people in a corner in a library activity, talking to people who are interested. They become part of a larger conversation. I think as a writer in Singapore, I feel we are not allowed to enter the sphere of a larger conversation.

Bharati: Why do you feel that way?

Gwee: Because we don’t have an audience. We speak through our books, we speak through our poems, people read our stuff but it’s still the same group of people. We hope to find new voices to engage the issues but again, that’s slow.

It’s tied to how the press covers us, how society perceives what we are doing. If you’re seen as just doing subversive things, that’s not very helpful. Because the point of literature or at least for writers is that we want to explore possibilities. We want to ask questions. We are not against any techniques per se, or any way of seeing the world per se. But we are never happy with any way of seeing. Let’s just put it like that. No technique is going to be satisfying. That’s our job. Our job is to be free, to be able to look at things from various angles.

Gwee: I don’t think writers not being to reach their audience is the writer’s fault. We don’t have the instruments, the levels in place where the writer’s work can reach out to a certain audience.

At one stage of course there’s the censorship, there’s also the level of values. We have a work culture that makes it irrelevant to read. We also have a level of propaganda which is that writing has to reach a certain economic advantage or political advantage in order to be celebrated. Or it has to talk about nation, or talk about certain places in Singapore in order to be of value. We have so many layers that makes writing misunderstood.

Bharati: I understand that you have several things working against you. But while this is a complex issue, involving a lot of different players and societal factors, shouldn’t you bear some responsibility?

Gwee: That’s a lot of things you want a writer to do. Our first responsibility is the art.

Bharati: But what is the point of the art if it doesn’t make an impact?

Gwee: It will make an impact when you read the work. It cannot make an impact until the work is engaged.

Bharati: So if you don’t want to take responsibility for that, who do you think should?

Gwee: Okay, on one level, the different agencies do engage us and bring us in so that people can listen to us talk. In that sense, the library is taking up the responsibility. When you say it’s the writer’s responsibility I keep wanting to stop going in that direction because at some stage it’s all going to collapse back on us and the writers will have to do everything. We’ve already for a time been doing everything. Sometimes we are also self-publishing. Sometimes we are being our own editors. Poets anthologising poets. Writers publishing writers. That’s sad. We have to go beyond saying the writers do everything.

Running throughout the interview is the undercurrent that Singapore literature deserves to be read. The writers have already done their part; the onus is on everybody else to make Singlit part of the cultural conversation.

This is a mistake. If you don’t produce works worth reading, much less remembering or discussing, then no one is going to care.

If you’re a writer, no one is obliged to read you. It is your duty to produce the best works possible and promote them to the best of your ability. You’re not going to get very far by demanding that others talk about the wonders of Singlit. Better to pull them to you, let them see for themselves the wonders you have made, and allow them to advocate your works for you.

Previously, I’ve made my thoughts on Singlit quite clear: I don’t believe Singapore literature has a body of work compelling enough to capture the popular imagination and become part of the cultural backdrop. Singapore has no shortage of writers, but this isn’t enough. If a story can’t connect with the intended audience, the audience isn’t going to read it. If the stories that make up the Singapore literary canon can’t command the attention of Singaporeans, they aren’t going to engage with them.

The West has the great pulp writers and the grandmasters of science fiction and fantasy. From their works came Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, The Lord of the Rings, and other such masterpieces. These stories have inspired the Superversive and the PulpRev movements, which aim to take the art of storytelling to new heights. Japan’s horizontal integration of light novels, manga, anime and gaming ensures rapid dissemination of fiction to domestic and international audiences. These industries have a ruthless approach to fiction: series that fail to sell well will be axed, leaving only the best and most popular on the shelves. Such well-loved stories sustain the otaku subculture, which do their party in preserving and disseminating Japanese culture to the world.

Without the body of work, without memorable writers creating compelling content, there won’t be fans and influencers willing to go to bat for you. All responsibility is on the writer to make memorable stories and leave an impact on the reader.

Here’s another snippet from the interview:

Gwee: …Our responsibility first is to write.

Bharati: True, but also why do you write? You write so that you can also engage society, make an impact, right?

Gwee: No, I think we write because we have certain existential issues that we grapple with as a person living in society.

Bharati: That sounds self-indulgent.

Gwee: It’s not self-indulgent, because writers feel that in seeing our issues and then to go with a conscience, we are finding something that someone else may actually understand as well. We don’t think we need to step out in order to understand. We feel that we step in to be able to become universal. And that’s a difference.

On the contrary, it is self-indulgent if you’re writing primarily to grapple with ‘certain existential issues’. Writing is communication. It is well and good if you write just so you can thresh ideas in your head, but if you want people to read what you write, then you must write for them.

The audience comes first. If you write to expound on some weighty philosophical matter, you’re better off writing non-fiction in the form of blogs, essays and articles. People inclined to read such material would already be predisposed to such content. People who want to read fiction want something else: to be entertained. If the primary purpose of your story is to shove an idea down the readers’ throats, they will choke on it, hack it up, then close your book and walk away forever.

If you write fiction, literary or genre, you must entertain your audience. If you can awe them with wondrous feats of plot and prose, and capture their hearts with memorable characters, your audience will remember you. They will speak of you. They will make your stories part of their everyday lives.

And, as a bonus, they’ll pay you to write more stories.

The industry has changed. Online distributors and self-publishing platforms have made gatekeepers and censors irrelevant. No longer do you have to pray that your story meets a publisher’s desires — which, in Singapore, is inevitably a book about Singaporeans set in Singapore about Singaporean culture. Just write your story, edit and format it, and publish when ready. If the censors take issue with it, they can find out if Singapore law applies to overseas publishers.

Likewise, social media have made it possible for writers to reach wider audiences and access deep pools of literary resources. A fast-paced world demands fast-paced production, and a world full of distractions demands novelty. It is no longer enough for a writer to simply write books and let publishers take care of the rest. To reap the benefits of modern technology, writers must step up to the plate.

To remain relevant, a writer needs to push out at least one book a year. To make a living from writing, however, a writer must be prepared to write multiple novels a year. The pulp greats were famous for their prodigious outputs as much as their skill, and today the highest-paid independent writers are also the most prolific ones.

In addition, a writer must build his brand and pull in readers with his force of personality. My blogging is part of my content marketing activities. I engage other readers and writers online whenever I can. I talk about my stories whenever I can, and promote those of my fellow writers when the opportunity arises. All this is part of my efforts at branding. It isn’t enough to write great books; people must also be aware of your existence, and that means you need to go the extra mile and promote yourself at every opportunity.

Readers aren’t obliged to read you. You must give them something to be excited about. Write stories that make their souls sing. Make your presence felt everywhere you go. Build a canon and your fans will come.

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As for myself, my latest novel No Gods, Only Daimons is one of the most well-received Singaporean novels on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars from 31 reviews. You can find it on the Amazon Kindle store or the Castalia House ebook store.