As nearly as I can tell, I contracted Covid on a flight back from The Pas at the end of April. I’d spent a week up in The Pas, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t infected or infectious there, as I phoned around and checked with contacts.
Symptoms started in heavy on April 29. I won’t bore you with them. They were the usual. I went downhill fast. I was exhausted, but I could only sleep for short spells and only sitting up. If I laid down, I could feel my lungs filling with fluid. When I went to sleep, I’d startle awake within an hour, with the sensation I was drowning inside my own lungs. That lasted a miserable week.
After that, symptoms abated rapidly, with a minor relapse. But at the end of two weeks, the home Covid test was clear.
It was over and done. Except it wasn’t. For the next two weeks, I struggled with the after effects – exhaustion and fatigue, even minor exertions left me worn out. I had trouble remembering, trouble focusing. I would watch a sitcom and be unable to follow the plot. At one point, I almost set fire to my kitchen making dinner. Underneath the feeling of normality, I could tell I was off, I wasn’t safe to drive a car on the road.
It was odd, I felt normal, and with effort could even function or act relatively competently for a brief spell. I was certainly free of the nightmare of the first two weeks. But this normality was deceptive. I think it’s called brain fog, but the truth was that I wasn’t functioning, or couldn’t function effectively. The simplest things, everything took so much longer, felt so much more difficult. It’s insidious, it’s almost impossible to describe how disabling it was, particularly when I could force moments of clarity, and yet it was disabling. Brain fog.
Instead, I drifted through the next two weeks like a ghost, trying to do the absolute minimum, trying for recovery.
So here I am, June 1. I’ve lost the entire month of May. It feels like a hazy blur. I did some work for clients, did some panels at Keycon, I had contact with friends, did basic maintenance. But it all feels so remote, barely remembered, half forgotten. Mostly, it’s exhaustion and incomprehension, waiting in a kind of limbo to swim slowly back to myself. I lost a month from my life, and I have this desperate sense of everything slipping through my fingers, I need to do things, I need to do so much, I need to live while I can… and instead, I just existed.
Hoping to get back to myself. I think I’m getting better, clearer, more lucid. I think I’m getting clear of it. But this is deceptive. Sitting here, you can feel fine, it’s only when you try something you discover you’re still dragged down. What I’m most worried about is Long Covid, that this haze I struggle with will last and last and be my new reality.
But here we are in June, a new month, a new chance. I want to live, not just exist.
How about that war? Huh?
Nobody saw that coming. Go figure.
Exactly how or why the war started, and what the motivations are is a bit of a mystery. When you look at it, there doesn’t seem to be a precipitating incident. Relations had not worsened. There was no crisis. Instead, Russia calmly builds up troops along the border for several months, assuring that everything is business as normal, and Whoops! Invasion!
To be fair, Russia has been invading Ukraine since 2014, when they took over Crimea and set up the phony Donbas and Luhansk “People’s Republics.” Since that time, there’s been ongoing low level terrorist attacks and fatalities arising from Donbas and Luhansk. So this seems to be a continuation of Russian aggression starting in 2014.
But why now? The situation’s been reasonably stable for eight years. It’s not like any of the conquered areas were destabilizing or boiling over. It was an unhappy state of affairs for Ukraine, but Russia was still sitting pretty. It’s not like the Crimeans were revolting.
There were some issues in Crimea. The Ukrainians cut off the canal that supplied water, and Crimean farmland was undergoing desertification. But that wasn’t yet a crisis, and the Russians had invested in desalinisation.
On the lefty side, there’s the theory repeated and regurgitated this is all NATO’s fault. Basically, the idea goes, NATO’s relentless expansion as a warmongering alliance relentlessly enlisting new members has pushed Russia into a corner. Expansion has left Russia no ‘comfort’ space, and therefore, it’s defending itself by invading Ukraine.
Okay, got to call bullshit on that one. NATO’s last eastward expansion was 2004 – eighteen years ago. That’s when Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia joined. Call me crazy, but if the expansion was eighteen years ago, I’m not convinced. What? The Russians didn’t notice? Nobody gave them the memo? The mail was really slow? Seriously.
A while back, a famous local artist came to me with a challenge. Write a story about one of their artworks. More than one actually. Anything I wanted.
Actually, there’s a little more to it than that. They were doing a portfolio, fifty or sixty pieces of art, full of surreal images and scenes, glimpses into a strange otherworld, both Buck Rogers and profoundly abstract. Here were the rules of the game.
There would be four writers, working independently:
- Write stories about the artworks and the artworks only.
- No cheating, no going by artwork titles, or by the artists sequence, no asking the artist, no talking to each other, no inside knowledge, outside knowledge, nothing.
- No limits – write about as many or as few pieces of art as you wanted. Write as much or as little as you wanted, for each artwork and for the whole. Write anything you wanted. You could write a hundred words on a single drawing, or a hundred thousand words on all of them. Write it any way you wanted.
- In six months, send it in.
That sounded like a blast. It was definitely working without a net. Of course I said yes.
So here I am, a week ahead of schedule, and I’ve delivered – thirty stories and forty thousand words.
Well, I know this is a writers blog. But what the hell, I’ve got a platform here, and the beauty of obscurity, is that I can say anything I want at any time I want. Most of us trudge through life in silence, or we ‘tweet’ or post ‘memes.’ But I’m a writer, I like to write. I like to develop complex thoughts and ideas. In this world of flash and brevity, I like to go a little longer.
Anyway, back to the war. The Ukraine/Russia War. March 17, officially three weeks in. When it started, everyone thought it would be a rout. Two weeks or less. Russian tanks would be in Kyiv in days. Funny how it didn’t turn out like that.
It’s still Russia’s to lose. They’re probably going to conquer Ukraine, but it’s not looking nearly as certain as it once did, and it’s definitely not going to be as easy as anyone thought.
I’m going to offer a few meditations and thoughts as to how things are going.
Stalin is alleged to have said “Quantity has a quality all its own.”
I don’t know if he actually said that. Stalin was at heart, a cheap thug and something of a buffoon. So maybe he said it. Maybe someone else did, and it just got attributed to him.
So it may be that sheer overwhelming numbers are going to win out. Putin has gone in big. Just to repeat – the Russian armed forces are about 750,000 strong. It’s supposed to be just over a million, but there’s evidence that they don’t have a full head count. Of that 750,000, a lot are engaged in aeronautics and space, a lot are in the navy, a lot are in the border patrol, and some are in the National Guard.
The actual effective Russian army, ground forces, including air support and Special Forces, are around 325,000 give or take. Of that, it looks like the invasion, counting both the forces in Ukraine, and the folk just outsides supporting in Russia and Belarus are about 210,000. I’m ballparking obviously. But that means that about 65% of Russia’s entire ground army has been committed. That’s a huge effort, that’s about the maximum you can get away with – the rest is infrastructure, manning bases, readiness, basically all going on skeleton crews.
Now, some interesting things coming out of this. Almost from the beginning, we’ve been hearing stories about Russians running out of gas, short on food, uncoordinated actions, etc. I tended to dismiss a lot of that for three reasons. First, its not propaganda, but they’re the bad guys, so the media is interested in making them look bad, there’s bias there; Second, there may be a lot of ignorance of tactics and operations and stuff that might make no sense or look like weakness to a layman is actually seasoned soldiers methodically making their preparations; Third, sure its real, or some of it is, but in an operation this gigantic, taking up so much of the army, even with extraordinary preparedness, hiccups and screw ups are going to be an inevitable drumbeat.
I wasn’t sure it was real. Probably wasn’t. If it was an illusion, or simple teething, that would prove out over a couple of weeks.
But it’s persisted.
One of the horrible things about Covid was that we were forced to confront the reality that humans are just awful contrary asses who would rather swim in a bilge of conspiracy theory, than act or think rationally. And no, this is not an attack on Trump Supporters or Covidiots, as moronic and fascistic as those jerks are. This time, we’re seeing it in Russia’s war on the Ukraine, wherein people who really should know better on both the right and left are embarrassing themselves.
I bring you THE LIE OF THE DAY: The US engineered a coup in Ukraine in 2014, overthrowing a legitimately elected President, and thus setting in motion the events leading up to today. So it turns out the current situation is all America’s fault.
The chain of logic to get from here to there is sort of like that of the underwear gnomes. If you haven’t heard of it, the Underwear Gnomes scheme is as follows: 1) Collect Underwear; 2) ——; 3) PROFIT!!! I wouldn’t have thought that would be convincing, but a lot of people have bought into it.
This lie is premised on a very important assumption: That the Ukrainian people are sheep, or perhaps automatons, they have no will, no ideas, no wishes of their own. Their opinions don’t matter. They are simply mindless pawns without agency, seduced and abused by the ‘Evil Americans’ / NATO / The International Monetary Fund & World Bank / ‘teh West!’ George Soros or whatever the villain du jour is in populist or leftist circles. Honest to god, it’s so arrogant and condescending that if it was spoken about an African or Latin American or Asian nation, it would be racist as hell. But whatever, if it’s one thing that populists and leftists have in common, it’s that Ukrainians are mindless brutes without an opinion of their own.
Except for Donbass. Apparently, some form of Agency is allowed for the Brave Donbass People’s Republic, bravely forging and ethnically cleansing their new micro-state with only a little help from the Russian Army. The rulers of Donbass are allowed to have opinions, but not the rest of the Ukrainians. I’d like to call this sarcasm, but golly gee, nope, that’s just what they think. Go figure.
I’m going to advance a revolutionary proposition.
The Ukrainian people kicked Yanukovych out in 2014 all by themselves. It was their choice. Not the Americans, not some vague international conspiracy. It was them.
Now to explain this, I’m going to have to take a little dive into recent Ukrainians history, just to talk about how Ukrainian politics works, and who this guy Yanukovych was, and how he managed to get himself kicked out of the country.
All right, here we are in the midst of another bit of humanity’s ugliness. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
And once again, the stupid is on the rise. Let me deal with it and make sure I offend everyone, then we’ll get on to the real discussion.
First of all, all this appeasement talk? Stupid, this isn’t WWII. No fly zone? Stupid idea, unless you want a thermonuclear war. What about the Palestinians? It’s been 80 years, not even the rest of the Arab states care about the Palestinians – heartbreaking but true. What about the US invasion of Iraq? That was wrong then, it doesn’t make Russia right now. This war is really NATO / the EU / the IMF / the US fault? Nope, sorry, that’s particularly stupid. That’s about all the time that stuff is worth.
Now, let’s get down to the reality on the ground.
Russia is 146 million people, GDP of 1.7 trillion making it the twelfth largest economy in the world, behind Italy, Canada and South Korea, spends 60 billion a year on the military which places it fourth or fifth place, after the US, China, Saudi Arabia, India, and puts it just barely ahead of the UK, France, Germany, South Korea.
The Ukraine is 44 million people, GDP of half a trillion, it spends five billion.
So it looks like a big swat. Classic case of a big powerful country picking up a small country and throwing it at the wall hard to teach it a lesson. We’ve seen it before: The US in Iraq. Saudi Arabia on Yemen. Israel on Lebanon. The Russians on Crimea. Israel on Hamas. US in Afghanistan. Russia in Afghanistan. The US on Iraq before. Everybody on Syria. China on Vietnam The US on Vietnam. Russians against Angola and Ethiopia and Somalia. Americans against Central America. It always ends in tears. Why should this be any different.
Well, it is and it isn’t.
Because here’s the thing that people aren’t paying attention to.
Just putting up an interview that I did with Sea Lion Press, a noted British Small Press specializing in alternate history. I think it’s pretty good.
Well, so much for 2021. I thought I’d step back and take stock, do a year in review in terms of my career as a writer, or as an attempted writer.
The Bottom line:
All titles collected, I sold almost a thousand books this year, and legitimately made more money as a writer than I’ve ever done in my life. I released three new books this year: LEXX Unauthorized, Little Blue Marble; Axis of Andes and New World War. I had two more books almost ready to go, but couldn’t quite get the right artwork for the cover. In terms of unpublished new work wrote another novel and several short stories. Published a story in Wild Hunt Press’s anthology, Duel of the Monsters. Altogether, I think I wrote about half a million words.
I was recognized and certified as an Artist for purposes of Canada Council and Manitoba Arts Council, which will allow me to apply for grants. I did three Workshops for the Manitoba Writers Guild and appeared on or presented panels for Keycon, When Words Collide and three panels for World Fantasy Convention Montreal, including a reading. Less successfully, I pitched a couple of novels to over fifty agents and a few publishers, no takers, but maybe a couple of nibbles.
All in all I think I can say I worked pretty hard at being a writer, all the while keeping the day job going. Is this bragging? I dunno. I remember something the late Lex Gigeroff said to me. “That’s a lot of work to put into such a mediocre career.”
I keep bashing my head against the wall, I’m not sure there’s a future in it. But I keep plugging away. You take your small victories when and where you can.
Hey, that’s me at the bottom!
Welcome to Wild Hunt Press’s Duel of the Monsters, Volume 2. Chris Nigro, the publisher of Wild Hunt invited me to contribute.
The rules were:
- They had to be recognized monsters – Frankenstein’s, Vampires, Wendigo, Sea Serpents, Krakens, Sasquatch, Grizzly, Lizard men, known to folklore, movies, television etc.
- They had to fight!
- There had to be a definite Winner!
World Fantasy Convention 2021 – is coming up in Montreal, Quebec. And guess what? I’m part of the programming. This year, I’m doing two panels and a reading at the Convention
Possession is 9/10ths of The Law – Thursday – November 4, 2021 –
“Ownership is a Storytelling Battle. My story of ownership versus your story of attachment.” (99% podcast) – Can you possess (own, trademark, copyright, etc.) story plots that give you the sole right to a setting, a type of character or even a name? We know the answer is no (or is it?). So how do you stake your claim. What happens when estates get involved, and how do you IP the fantastic? Who does the law side with? Who gets the book? Who gets the Revenue?
Moderator – Mary G. Thompson. Participants – Den Valdron, Leo Vallquette, Louise Herring-Jones, J.R.H. Lawless .
St. Laurent 7-8 Hybrid – in person and online.
Law in Fantasy and Why it Matters – Friday – November 5, 2021 – 4:00 pm.
Law drives a world as much as economy, religion and magic systems. But how does law affect fantasy worlds, and in what ways do we see that presence in these worlds. Panelists explore how the legal systems in speculative fiction worlds shape everything the characters do and how to make and identify conscious choices in legal system world building.
Moderator – Louise Herring Jones. Participants – Den Valdron, Louise Herring-Jones, Ian McKinley, Su J Sokol.
St.Laurent 7-8 Hybrid – in person and online.
Den Valdron, Reading Live and In person – Saturday, November 6, 2021 – 11:30 am
Yep it’s me! I’ve got half an hour to entertain people with a reading, and I promise you, the fun never stops. Maybe I’ll read a smashing section from my current work – Empress of Asylum, a light hearted romp. Or maybe a bit from The Luck, a fantasy noir about an Orc on a quest. Or a dive into alternate history with Axis of Andes. Could be X-rated or family friendly. Afterwards, a Q&A.