A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay – THE REVIEW

I wasn’t surprised by the existence of a book called A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay in the world. Or it’s painfully high sales ranking on Amazon. At only 15 pages, Hunter Fox’s story of dinosaur homosexuality may be, word for word, the most profitable piece of writing of the year. But I did wonder, aloud on Twitter, why it was so successful. I should not have been surprised to be sent an intelligent answer.

Phronk writes odd speculative fiction, such as his first novel, Stars and Other Monsters: The Last Vampire Novel. He writes a lot of odd things, actually. He wrote a PhD dissertation about the psychology of horror films. He gets paid to write about technology and abuse words like “synergy,” “leverage,” and “utilize.” Buy enough of his novels and he’ll stop inflicting that on the world. He also wrote Baboon Fart Story, an experiment in publishing. John Scalzi sarcastically called it “arguably the highest achievement of humanity.” That blog, Putting Weird Things in Coffee, about putting weird things in coffee? That is also written by Phronk. As is Phronk.com, strangely enough.

“it seems like there might be an important message about race and economic inequality hidden in this story about financially-savvy dinosaurs taking over the world”

I HAVE no idea what kind of dinosaur the billionaire is in Hunter Fox’s short story A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay. Other works of cryptozoological erotic literature, such as Christie Sims’ Taken by the T-Rex, explore the logistical challenges of initiating and carrying out sexual relations with a dinosaur. Fox, however, takes a more minimalist approach. All that matters is that the billionaire is gay for humans; it’s almost incidental that he is also a vaguely greenish-purple thing with claws.

The helicopter pilot is definitely a pterodactyl though.

Fox describes himself as “growing into an experienced novelist,” despite none of his stories being over 15 pages long. His confusion with the word “novel” extends to many other words as well. He uses commas like they’re going extinct, and seems to find the most awkward way to word a sentence before committing it to e-paper. Observe:

“I grabbed his cock with my hands and began rubbing it in circles while I sucked on his shaft.”

I picture some kind of “pat your head while rubbing your tummy” thing going on here, but I’m really not sure what is supposed to be happening.

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Perhaps the writing can be forgiven if there is an underlying meaning to it all. Indeed, it seems like there might be an important message about race and economic inequality hidden in this story about financially-savvy dinosaurs taking over the world. We learn early on that the main character, John, has a father who is a bigot and can’t tolerate dinosaurs in positions of power. However, if we follow the real-world analogue too far, it gets very questionable very quickly. The billionaire dinosaur is just as bigoted (“how do you think we as a species have risen so quickly to the top?” he asks rhetorically, apparently referring to all dinosaurs as a species), and John later comes to agree with his intolerant father. Awkward.

So I’ll be clear: A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay has no intrinsic redeeming qualities. It is horribly written, morally questionable, and even the sex in it seems like an afterthought.

But there’s something appealing about all this, isn’t there?

The title alone is delightful, tapping into deep-seated cynicism about post-50-Shades erotica and today’s publishing industry. Its unjustifiably high Amazon ranking delights and frustrates traditional authors and self-published authors alike. And the horrid writing only underscores how ridiculous it is that this bizarre artifact even exists.

There is an underlying meaning to it all, but it lies in the reactions to the book rather than the book itself. Just look at the reviews, which are more enjoyable to read than the story, but could not have existed without the story having been written. The mere fact that it is successful has meaning and appeal. It’s the Kardashian of crappy erotica.

I found a similar extraction of delight from the terrible when I wrote Baboon Fart Story (a novel consisting of the word “fart” printed 100,000 times), and saw its own hilarious reviews. My pal Leonard Delaney taps into it with his “erotica by a virgin” series. There are many other examples, and I dig deeper into the ironic enjoyment of crappy things over on my blog.

A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay probably isn’t worth three bucks to the average person, but its existence is a wonderful, and maybe even important, thing. Let’s mock it, sure, but we’re getting enjoyment out of that mockery, so if the point of a book is to entertain, Hunter Fox has done an admirable job.

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There is no such thing as exposure

There is one absolute and inalienable fact about creativity; your success as a creator is 100% dependent on how good you are.

I say this as a pre-cursor to talking about one of the most pernicious problems creators are faced with. Being asked to work for free.

The shady types who make these requests rarely phrase it this way. Instead, like Juan Luis Garcia, who provided concepts for Spike Lee’s new Oldboy movie for free, you’re asked to work in exchange for “exposure”.

There is no such thing as “exposure”. if you believe there is, as many creators and artists of all kinds clearly do, it means you are operating on a faulty paradigm. And the cause of that fault is not understanding the opening statement of this blog.

Your success as a creator is 100% dependent on how good you are.

The entire concept of exposure is built on the denial of this fact. On the assumption that your writing, or artwork, or music, or app, is already good enough. And that the only reason it hasn’t rocketed to the lofty heights of success we all dream of is that it hasn’t had the right “exposure”.

It is so much easier to believe this. Because as long as you can keep telling yourself that “exposure” is the problem, you can duck the hard truth. You aren’t good enough. Not yet. And the only way to change that are the hours of hard work and toil it takes to get good at any creative discipline.

So much easier instead to focus on “exposure”. So much easier to blame nepotism in your industry, or a lack of money and time, or any of the forms of self delusion creators place between themselves and that absolute and inalienable truth: your success as a creator is 100% dependent on how good you are.

If anyone ever asks you to create in exchange for “exposure”, say no. Don’t explain yourself or bother negotiating. If they come back with an offer worth the value of your creation, then OK. Otherwise don’t waste your time. Instead, get back to your studio or desk or wherever it is you do the hard work of creating, and get better.

The 3 core qualities of a digital nomad

Nearly half a year ago I stuffed my life in to a backpack and my work in to a laptop and set out on the road as a digital nomad. It’s been a wonderful and intense five months, and time enough to learn a little about how working and travelling combine, and why so many people today are choosing this lifestyle.

At the moment I’m in Chiang Mai, Thailand which has become the unofficial capital of digital nomadism. It is an amazing city and one I’ve already written about and will no doubt write about more. In just a week here I’ve already met dozens of other digital workers based in the city. They’re a diverse group from all corners of the world, most in their 20s or 30s, many running successful online business, others building their’s from scratch as they travel. But all of them seem to share three core qualities that are the foundation of this lifetsyle.

Creative – It might go without saying that people who choose to travel and work around the world are creative. But it’s creativity in the broadest sense. At the co-working space in Chiang Mai where I turn up daily, the membership board lists coders, entrepreneurs, bloggers, podcasters, marketers, writers, and an array of other roles that can follow their owner wherever they travel, with the right technology and a good internet connection. All of the digital nomads I’ve met are building, making and creating, be it a new book or a new business. Having a clear creative focus for your travels is an essential part of digital nomadism.

Interdependent – Going nomad requires a high level of independence. Getting on the road means leaving behind family, friends and all things familiar. But being on the road needs more than independence, it demands interdependence. Co-working spaces are at the heart of digital traveller communities because they put you in instant contact with an extended group of your peers. These are people you can talk to, learn from, and share your experiences with. Choosing a city like Chiang Mai, with a high concentration of expats, digital workers and creatives is an extended version of the same thing. It’s essential to think through how you connect with other people as you travel, and not allow travelling to become long term isolation.

Minimalist – Living out of one backpack enforces minimalism. But there’s also a common pragmatic minimalism among the other digital nomads I meet. People have the items and technology they absolutely need or want, because part of the appeal of nomadism is not being weighed down by possessions. In the words of Chuck Palahniuk, “The things we own end up owning us.” Some  digital travellers are making small or even large fortunes from their businesses, but still have the same laptop they did when starting-up. Travelling and finding new experiences aren’t helped by having a lot of stuff. Buying and owning as much as you can is still hardwired in to most of our culture, but it might be one of the things you go travelling to unwire yourself from.

I’ve been asked a number of times now how I went about preparing to work and travel together. I think these three core qualities suggest three kinds of questions as a first step. Do you have a creative ambition that you want to fulfil? Are you happy saying goodbye (temporarily!) to old friends and open to making new ones? Can you let go of things and replace them with experiences? If you’re saying ‘yes’ to these questions, you might even be on your way already.

How to be in the moment and write better words

Where is your mind when you write?

We immediately think that our mind is far away. Away with the fairies. Gone to another world. The world of the story. Our mind is inside the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters. Inside another mind.

Have you ever begun to write and realised you’ve been just staring at a blank page for an hour or more? Your mind may have started out in the story, but it was enjoying the sights without noting them down. The it went off all together. Dreaming, scheming and worrying about anything and everything, as minds do. There might even be some words on the page, but they aren’t good ones.

To write well our mind needs to be right here, present and correct in the moment. Because it’s only in the here and now that it can focus on the task of writing itself. All the techniques that help shape good writing – sharp sentences, focussed paragraphs, well turned scenes, insightful narration – all need you to be focussed in the here and now even while you are also inhabiting the story.

Being present in the moment is often called mindfulness. To be mindful of what our senses are showing us moment by moment. Not hanging on to memories of what just happened, or imaging what might happen next. The more mindful you are of the present in fact, the more space you leave for the story, because the less your mind is cluttered with all kinds of other thoughts.

Mindfulness is a habit. You cultivate it by doing it. Lots of people today and through history use meditation to cultivate mindfulness. But that’s a long process, and I tempted you here with a “How to” statement that shouldn’t culminate in me telling you to go and read Jack Kornfeld.

Before you begin to write, set a timer for five minutes. Spend the five minutes mentally listing everything you see, hear, smell, touch, think or feel. If you hear a siren, add “Siren” to your list. If you feel hot add “Hot” to your list. If you start to worry about a work task make a note “Worrying About Work”. You can make the list on paper, or when you get good just make a mental list. The point isn’t the list. It’s that while you are making the list, you have to be mindful of your present, moment by moment as it happens.

For every hour you write, spend five minutes being mindful of the present. Often you will find the other 55 minutes become many times more productive. Try it out, and let me know how it works for you.

Running Without Pavements

Exercise in Chiang Mai means waking with the sun. By 7am it’s still just cool enough to run outdoors. By 8 the full heat of day is already building. I tie on the Merrell barefoot running shoes that are the best footwear I’ve found for travel in hot climates. Super-light, flexible enough to cram in to my single backpack, and as well suited to strolling the walking market and many temples of the city as to running on its highways.

The light is still hazing through moist morning air as I cross the marble foyer of the apartment block. Chiang Mai, like Bangkok, lacks the psychic membranes that demarcate purpose and wealth in Western cities. The broad steps and bubbling fountain of a boutique hotel terminate abruptly in a cracked concrete alleyway walled with rusting corrugated steel. The glistening glass of a shopping mall is skirted by the dirt smeared plastic awnings of street vendors. Lethal black Mercedes with mirror shade windows stop dead in the road for a pack of emaciated wild dogs crossing the six lanes of the Huay Kaew road at their own stubborn trot.

I have doubts about the health benefits of running the stretch of road that connects Chiang Mai’s chic Nimman district with the historic Old Town. It’s the perfect location for a pedestrian writer to explore the city, but there isn’t an alternative exercise option that doesn’t involve the deep inhalation of traffic pollution. I head towards Doi Suthep, the mystic mountain to the west that is Chiang Mai’s best navigation aid. Near the peak of the mountain, where it meets the misted cloud line, are the ever glittering golden towers of a buddhist temple that calls to me every time I glance up from this city.

Huay Kaew is anchored at the city end by the Kad San Kuaew shopping centre, an epic fortress of brickwork some dozen stories high that almost, but not quite, challenges the mystic mountain for dominance of the surrounding skyline. Highrise residences proliferate up the length of Huaeykaw, evidence of the cities fast growing and ever more affluent population. At the intersection of Huaeykaw and Nimmanhaemin a new challenger for king of the shopping malls is clawing its way out of the dirt. A behemoth of white steel and diamond sapphire glass that will, when complete, house the western brands still to infiltrate far in to Chiang Mai. High end car dealerships sell the 4×4 trucks that most Thai’s favour, a reasonable choice given that beyond Chiang Mai’s pocket of metropolitan living the northern highlands are thousands of miles of hardcore jungle.

I am setting a good pace on the first kilometre and heading in to the second. But the street is like running an obstacle course. The basic problem is the pavement, which when it exists at all is a crazy paving of shattered stones, random slopes and steep drops in to the gutter. Then the next problem is the lack of respect for the pavement, which is from the perspective of the SUV driver just a place to park, or an additional lane for the 82 trillion scooters that are the main local transportation. When the pavement runs out it is often at an intersection. Crossing the intersection of two six lane arterial roads is like being a character in an early video game, where poorly timing your move from one platform to another results in death. Lights and road markings, on the rare occasions they exist, are a cause of amusement to Thai drivers. Why would I stop for you? Make me stop! There isn’t a point where the traffic stops. You step in to it and hope it stops. After half a dozen times, you realise you may as well just run across. It’s no more or less insanely dangerous. The run continues.

It’s possible the tuk-tuk drivers like the absent pavements and insane traffic, but they hardly seem a powerful enough lobby to enforce bad pavements as official government policy. Which points the truer cause. Thailand is growing at the full speed of hyper-capitalism. Where that capital pools it forms chic boutique hotels and glittering cathedrals of commerce. But there are no pavements connecting them. Like a body in the early stages of formation, the emerging economy of Thailand is all internal organs, no muscle or bone.

Britain, my home state, is a nation of pavements. The idea of a road without a pavement, indeed, a road without two full pavements, one on either side, stretching its entire length, would be quite likely to spark a national debate and outraged opinion pieces in the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Guardian. It is, quite literally, a more pedestrian country. The pockets of capital are, for now at least, better interconnected by the pavements of society. But of course, the greater freedom of the pedestrian comes at the great frustration of the drivers who want to power their vehicles along roads between shopping malls.

I have no more patience for the pavement. I step in to the road and push a few feet out from the gutter. There’s nothing for upping the pace of a run like an impatient tuk-tuk dogging your heals. In fact, the Thai traffic is rather gracious to runners. They slow and give you space as they pass with a smile and a wave. It’s hard to imagine British drivers happily ceding their road to runners. Thailand won’t give you pavements. But its people will will try hard not to run you down when you step in to their path. I think in the crowded, high speed future where we’re all in the road together, the Thai approach might be the winner.

Chiang Mai

Wow. So it has been a week since I left the UK for Thailand I can barely describe everything that has happened. Long haul flights, airport layovers, jet lag sleep deprivation and constant change have given the last seven days a hallucinatory quality. Arriving in Bangkok after dark felt like stepping in to Bladerunner. Every single second of my three days in that city was saturated with intense sights and sounds. Bangkok looks more like the future than any city I’ve journeyed to. A monstrous entity bristling with glass and steel towers. And down at their roots on the blistering hot streets is an indescribable density of human life. Every inch of space is crushed with street hawkers, food stalls, tuk tuks, mopeds like flocking birds, cripples and filthy children preying over begging bowls, trendy hipster kids, immaculate office workers, McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC and the other brands of hyper-capitalism, christian missionaries, orange robbed monks meditating on smartphones. And traffic. Traffic like you can not believe. Like the city sounded an evacuation alarm and never switched it off. All broiling under the stark sun. Anything that isn’t a condo tower, skyscraper or shopping mall is crumbling in architectural decay. Gaping cavities reveal gangs of grease covered men smashing together engines, ranks of women going blind over sewing machines. Stuttering towers of reclaimed circuit boards and computer monitors. The gaunt murderous eyes of two hundred feral cats. And then another Starbucks. As the sun sets the side alleys of Sala Daeng are populated with squads of costumed bar girls and their pimps, touting laser printed catalogues of possible sexual services, and affluent college students in pristine uniforms navigating from one high end coffee bar to another. Hippie back packers and tattooed ex-pats all standing out in the crowd. And me, the flaneur pedestrian writer in a hat, soaking every sight in.

Three days and I escaped to Chiang Mai, my destination for this journey.

North, and high in the mountains, Chiang Mai is a few degrees less overheated than Bangkok. It was the capital of its own kingdom as late as 1774, and nominally independent until 1939. It’s famed for its unique character, great culture, and increasingly world famous as a traveller destination. The old town sits within a wide square moat, and its Eastern quarter is dedicated to western backpackers and a growing cohort of Chinese tourists. Kikie’s guest house furnished me with a private room for two nights while I hunted an apartment for my stay in the city. When I imagined Chiang Mai, the old town was what I imagined. Narrow winding lanes, local street cafes and a bunch of backpacker friendly nightspots. Chang beer is famous among travellers who come to the city, as is a local brew whisky which can be bought by the flask almost anywhere.

But my expectations of Chiang Mai were defeated on my second day when I ventured in to Nimmanhaemin, or Nimman. The western distract of Chiang Mai outside the old walls and along the Nimmanhaemin road has become home in the last five years to what can best be described as a community of globetrotting yuppies, reinforced by Thailands own ever more prosperous creative class. Nimman is a mecca of coffee bars, international cuisine, boutique residences, galleries, craft shops and more. I’m typing this in Punspace, a co-working space where twenty other western and thai young professionals are writing, coding, designing and the other kinds of work a Macbook and internet connection allows you to do anywhere. My thumbprint has just been taken so I can access the space, its good seating and free coffee, 24/7.

I’m partly here to think and write about the phenomena of the “digital nomad”, professionals who can work from anywhere, so choose locations that, like Nimman, offer a high standard of living at a very low cost. But for the moment I’m just enjoying the experience of the place. I’m full of ice tea because the restaurant I had lunch in kept giving free refills and it was the best ice tea I have ever tasted. But I realised something today, as I walked Nimman after settling in to my new apartment. I don’t know quite what I expected of Chiang Mai. But I didn’t expect to be living within two minutes walk of – not just one – but two Apple computer stores. And on that thought I’m going to track down the Mexican restaurant I passed earlier.

Where in the world is Damien G Walter?

Since going nomad back in July I’ve been living out of a backpack and my trusty Macbook Air laptop. My first destination was France visiting my extended family. Now, after a month or so back in the UK sorting various work tasks, I am back on the road. But where am I?

Thailand!

At this exact moment, the Too Fast To Sleep cafe in Bangkok. Which is full of funky Thai kids studying. In less than 24 hours Bangkok has already proved to be an amazing city. But it is really only a pit-stop as I recover from my 22 hour flight from the UK and conquer the inevitable jet-lag.

My ultimate destination in Thailand is the northern city of Chiang Mai. Why Chiang Mai? When I began thinking about travelling almost two years ago I found lots of travellers raving about this small city. In recent years it has become a hub for digital nomads, people like me who can fit their work in a laptop and pack their bag for any destination in the world. I decided then that if I ever wanted to dig in and work on a long piece of writing, Chiang Mai might make a great base.

Which is exactly what I am doing. I have a work-in-progress that needs some concerted attention, and a variety of freelance work as well. I’m also curious about the community of digital nomads gathered in Chiang Mai and I want to learn more about other people living this lifestyle. And as an accidental buddhist I am also going to use my time in Chiang Mai to learn more about meditation. There are monks in orange robes everywhere here, which I’m guessing means I am in the right place?

Oh. And I’m going to eat my weight in Asian street food. So. Good.

 

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The revolution will not be realism

We live in times of immense change. Technology is a tool of change, but it’s the lives and desires of all seven billion humans on the planet really driving change. And, whether you welcome the change or not (I’m among those greeting it with open arms) you can’t doubt that it is very real.

But to shape our changing world we must have ways of envisioning what the world we are entering will look like. In my essay Rebuilding the World for The Ascender magazine I argue that science fiction – as the meeting point of science and art – is among the most powerful tools of planetary imagination we have. And I’m not alone in that perspective.

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I write about science fiction primarily as a way of finding the other like minds who share my view that it has great potential. But there are two very different constituencies engaged with science fiction. One is a naturally liberal and progressive community who believe in the genre as a powerful tool for imagining – and hence building – a better world. The other is a community that is naturally socially, and often also politically, conservative. Science fiction for them is primarily entertainment and escapism. The second constituency is larger, but the former is more influential in shaping the genre and guiding its development.

The increasingly frequent arguments about race, gender, sexuality and other forms of representation in science fiction (I put forward this increasing frequency as a good thing, to be clear) arise at the faultlines where the two constituencies of science fiction meet. For the more liberal camp, science fiction is directly about reimagining our world and challenging injustices built in to its current structures. Science fiction is innately political. For the more conservative camp, science fiction is about escaping the problems of the real world, and reinforcing their comfortable preconceptions of how the world is. For this camp, science fiction is innately apolitical, and the protests of more liberal readers about issues of representation are seen as a politicisation of a much loved hobby which fans want kept separate from stressful political arguments.

The two groups will never be fully reconciled. My sympathies lie firmly with the more liberal camp, although I can appreciate some people just want to watch Star Trek without worrying about the worrying racial connotations of the Federation. But if science fiction is to be more than idle entertainment, these are important issues, especially for those who seek to create it.

Because beyond fans of science fiction, we’re still caught in a paradigm of discussing our world as it is, rather than as it could be. Worse, the world as it is, is only the world as we have made it, and we have made it imperfectly and in ways that are often deeply unjust. Realist literature quickly reaches limits in its ability to imagine other worlds that we could create, limits that science fiction is able to transcend. That makes science fiction, at this time at least, a far more potentially revolutionary literature than its realist cousins.

Read Rebuilding the World ; can science fiction help build a better world? At The Ascender.