Trump, Demagogues, Populists, and Fantasy Fiction

Demagogue 

:  a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power

:  a leader championing the cause of the common people in ancient times (from Merriam-Webster)

If you follow american politics, even a little, then you are aware that Donald Trump is RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT. Depending on your political inclinations you either find this awesome, scary, funny, or some combinations of similar emotions; I suspect there are very few people who have a neutral opinion of Mr. Trump.

The American pundit class, a huge group of people who churn out endless articles, opinion pieces, and TV shows that try to influence the world’s most powerful democracy have a love-hate relationship with Donald Trump. They love him because he is easy to write about and draws a large audience. They hate him because they have very little power over him.

Trump is one of the great Demagogues of capitalism. He may seem crass and tasteless, brash and ignorant, but to many he is a prophet of the real gods of our times: money. power, and fame. He has a large body of work advising people on how they can be like him (SUCCESSFUL!), and while his guidance might be dubious, it is something he has consistently pushed for the better part of three decades (Art of the Deal came out in 1987) and he has staked out that territory very loudly. The Trump name is synonymous with glitz, gold, and the gaudiest branding in the world.

What does Trump have to do with Fantasy Fiction you ask?

Well for one, heraldry might not be as gaudy as huge, golden “TRUMP” letters on the side of a building but it serves a very similar purpose from a times when literacy was very low. The trappings of the trump empire are very similar to the luxuries sought after by the nobility of old; we’ve just traded in the castles for magnificent glass towers and the garden for the gold green and country club. The gold, the glitz, and the heraldry are still there.

One large difference between Trump and a medieval nobleman, however, is that Trump not only puts his name on everything so that people recognize that it is his and he has power, but also because he wishes to reside in the public consciousness. Trump is very concerned with what the working and middle classes think of him, not because he is afraid of a peasant revolt like a wary noble, but because he understands the power of opinion in a democratic society. In fact, as a master of branding, Trump definitely understands that opinion can outweigh the truth.

Trump is a Demagogue. He would call himself a populist, a man of the people, and in some ways he is. He certainly seems to spend a lot of his time trying to tell people how to be successful. It is quite possible he genuinely believes that he is helping people and not just pretending to care in order to cash in on his brand and make more money. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he actually wants to help people be rich and successful like him. Does that make him a populist? yes, however, even genuine concern about the people does not stop him from being a Demagogue.

Demagogy relies on abusing information in order to provoke an emotional reaction and circumvent rational debate. It is very similar to branding in many ways. Here are a few examples of Trump using false factoids to stir up the people he is currently selling to (the Republican base), just from this past week.

  • There are 93 million unemployed people in America. (The population of the US is 321 million, and that includes people who aren’t looking for work.)
  • The US is the most highly taxed nation in the civilized world. (What?)
  • There are 32 million illegal immigrants in the US. (WTF? 1 in every 10 people in the US is an illegal O.o)

These claims are easily verifiable as not true. But the people Trump is aiming his comments at are willing to take these comments on faith. They fear illegal immigration and everyone hates taxes and is terrified of unemployment. Trump confidently exclaims that he has THE BEST SOLUTIONS and moves on. When someone tries to poke a hole in his plans or call his ideas into question he insults them and moves on. The modern pundit class uses these same techniques, so they know what he is doing, but their business model isn’t based on the truth or good journalism so they don’t really have an easy counter for Trump. Trump appeals to the same visceral emotions that they have been using to sell their work for years. Cynical and well-informed people can see right through the man, but they aren’t his target audience and he knows it. And this brings me back to Fantasy Fiction.

Modern fantasy often scoffs at brash, larger than life villains as much as it does with heroes. And yet in Trump we have someone who often seems like a caricature of a man mining a deep vein of resentment and anger in order to gain power. A villain like Sauron suddenly seems less unrealistic when you compare him to The Donald. Its not like Trump is going to try to take over Middle-Earth any time soon (can you imagine what he would do to The Shire? even Saruman would blanch) but it is easy to see how one can appeal to fear and hatred to gain a fervent following. History can teach us how such a movement can spiral out of control, as well. Trump is just abusing people’s prejudices for his own ends, but he serves as a reminder that sometimes the simplest type pf villainy can be compelling in both real life and fiction. Racism and fear-mongering may be cliché, but they sell baby, boy do they sell!

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.23

Tis thursday, and time for my weekly serial!

The first arc, blade breaker, can be found here. The first post of Red Fangs is here. And last week’s post is here.

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“Do you know what I miss about being mortal, Twiceborn?” asked Lazar Vintul.

I was tempted to say sunbathing, but it was uncalled for. Lazar was doing me a favourby seeing me, after all. “Anonymity?” I asked instead.

Lazar smiled. “An interesting response, Nordan, but I have never been one to fade into the shadows for long. I miss getting drunk, really drunk, off good liquor. I can get drunk by drinking the vitae of a drunken person, but its not the same.`Other than that I don’t  miss a thing really. You’re here to ask me about the vampire you call Cinder.”

“I am,” I answered, unsurprised that he surmised the reason for my visit. I suspected that Cinder’s activities did not meet with the approval of his bloodsucker peers; life in Myrrhn was easy for them, and Cinder was rocking the boat.

The vampire’s features were almost elven, like depictions of the Aven of the first Empire, before that ancient people fractured, but I could not place his true origins. His hair was pale blonde, cut short, and his eyes were blue. He exuded a sense of easy menace, like a hunting cay lying in the shade, surveying its domain. I waited for him to speak, sipping the brandy.

“Cinder is a problem child,” said Lazar. “One of my old associates took him in because he was energetic and handsome. He made a good plaything, she thought. But Cinder is something else. He is a predator’s predator, Ragnar. After learning everything he could from his mistress, he killed her, somehow managing the transformation in the process.”

“If you knew he was a problem then why has he been free to roam Myrrhn?” I asked.

“We thought he was dead,” said Lazar. “This event I speak of occurred a long time ago. It was the beginning of a rebellion. Cinder stirred up old hatreds, old ambitions. He gained allies among my kind and made war upon his betters. It was an ugly time. In the end we saw him burn for it. He cursed us from the pyre and swore he would return.”

“Is he a Twiceborn?” I asked. The thought was both unnerving, and exciting. A vampire was a worthy foe, an ascended vampire was the sort of foe that would earn me a place in the greats sagas, if I beat him.

“If it is the real Cinder, then he would have to be,” said Lazar. “But, I do not know if he is. You see, from time to time among my kind the name of Cinder is taken up as an act of rebellion, an gauntlet dropped to those who uphold the status quo. It is a powerful symbol. Either way, I would see the  vampire who bears this name hunted down and destroyed. I am willing to make it worth your while if you bring me proof of his demise.”

“Gonna kill him regardless,” I said, shrugging. “This is personal, Lazar. I just need information from you, and your help in avoiding any misunderstandings with your people.”

“I am glad you are so eager for the hunt,” said Lazar, smiling. “As for information, I have something that will help you greatly in navigating our world.”

“What’s that?”

“My daughter will accompany you in your search for Cinder.”

Teaser Tuesday

This week I have a teaser from my newest Domains of the Chosen Book: Bloodlust the Blades of Khazak Khrim.

Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim Cover

Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim Cover

“How close do I have to get us before you can do damage to one of those guns?” Goldfin asked.

“Fifty paces,” said Blue Hornet.

Goldfin surveyed the field, noting the position of patrols and sentries as well as available cover. The Vvath had cleared the area outside of their fortress, but there were trenches and ruts from supply waggons in which they could hide.

“Rub some mud on your arms,” said Goldfin. “It will help us blend in while we crawl.”

Blue Hornet followed her instructions.

“Do we have an escape plan?” he asked.

“Always,” said Goldfin. “We are going to flee south toward the area where the moat has spilled out over there. The Fologi will get us back into the city with ease. If we do this right, however, they won’t even come close to catching us. If we do it wrong thought, they might pummel us with cannon-fire.

“That could sting,” said Blue Hornet, glib despite his concern for Goldfin.

Goldfin held up her hand, motioning him to silence. She had seen an opening. The pair crept forward, stopping when a patrol came close. Blue Hornet felt his hair stand on end as a score of Vespath passed within a body length of the rut where he lay hidden.

“Too close,” Blue Hornet whispered to Goldfin as the patrol vanished in the distance.

“I’ve had closer,” said Goldfin, smiling. Despite the danger, she was enjoying herself. Having her own personal Chosen with her was exhilarating, although she did not want that sense of power to erode her caution.

They crept the rest of the way on their bellies, using the terrain to mask their movements. Blue Hornet was a quick study, which pleased Goldfin immensely. He adapted quickly to following her through the ruts and debris, the stumps of Kirrute, and even the mud, never once complaining.

This scene is taken from a chapter describing the kind of conflict that is undertaken before a major battle, as the scouts of both forces poke and prod and try to gain advantage over the enemy under cover of darkness.

I wanted to show just how important this function is, especially in an age before drones, satellites, and aircraft. The scouts are the eyes and ears of the army. The most effective manoeuvres in the following fight, from both sides. are those that involved the unexpected.

Of course a high price is paid for this information, since in this age if you can see the enemy scouts they can see you as well.

Of course, as a former master of scouts for the Ninth Legion, Goldfin/Auria really shines here.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.22

It has been an eventful week for me and my family. On Thursday, we welcomed our baby boy, Ronan George Garret Harris, into the world. Ronan surprised us by disguising his gender in the womb, making us all think that he was a baby girl named Athena. It only adds to my delight in having him that he surprised us so thoroughly. Obviously, I pushed back Thursday’s post, so here it is!

Link to the first arc of the Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker.

Link to the first story of this arc.

Link to last week’s post.

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Bull was right: the Kaemoulian Absinthe burned spectacularly. Eerie green flames shot high into the twilight, making ghosts of old masts and broken sails.

Of the ten bottles we salvaged, I took two for the twins, and gave Bull the rest. The Scavenger made them disappear into the deep leather pockets and satchels that covered his kit.

“You will have to lay low for a while, my friend,” I said. “I expect that Cinder will be looking to lash out. I would prefer that I am his only target. Makes it simpler for me to find him. Do you have some place to go?”

“Makes sense,” said Bull. “I have a place. Don’t worry about me.”

I nodded. I liked Bull, and preferred that his pride remained intact. The truth was that I did not want Cinder to kill him or tear the Jetties apart to get to me. I still didn’t understand what the Vampire was doing. At first it appeared that he simply running gangs as a front for the illegal blood trade, but smuggling Kaemoulian Absinthe spoke of another dimension. The only common thread was money. I still had little information on Cinder.

“I appreciate your assistance Bull,” I said as we both stared at the green flames as the hull of the ancient ship began to sink.

“It was no trouble Ragnar,” said Bull. “Too many people have gone missing around this area lately. It was past time to see unwelcome guests gone.”

“That may be true,” I said. “But when time came to shed blood and risk life for your home, you had the courage to do so. I will not forget that, nor will your people I wager.”

Bull nodded, his chin a little higher. We watched til the fire burned low, wary of the growing shadows, then parted ways after a drink at The Broken Whale. I petitioned Helma to watch over Bull then made my way into the night. The Jetties were treacherous in the dark, but none dared attack me. If I were given to fancy, I might even say that the lesser predators parted ways for me, a dubious honour for blood shed to make the city safer.

As I strolled through the wrecks toward the darkened streets of the most dangerous city in the world, I considered my quarry. In the end I decided that it was time to consult an expert.

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People of any creed or race is accepted in Myrrhn, so long as they can prove that they can keep the peace. That peace is extended to vampires. If it sounds foolish, then remember that the Assassin’s Guild and other powers are willing to solve their problems with extraordinary brutality when the need arises.

Older, wiser Vampires can amass extraordinary wealth. Still I always found it surprising that the elite of the city would willingly live beside a bloodsucker like Lazar Vintul. Then again, perhaps sharing the rarefied air of high society compensated for the fact that vampires viewed most mortals as prey.

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I found it surprisingly easy to arrange a meeting with Lazar Vintul. His house was in one of the more crowded sections of old town, away from the spacious estates of the seven families. It was a tall, sombre building with spires and carvings that looked more like a small cathedral than a residence. As I arrived, late at night, I noticed a large number of guests partaking of the Vampire’s hospitality. Lily Gemarkand’s carriage was among those parked nearby. Rarefied air indeed.

I was met by one of Lazar’s footmen, a burly man with a predatory air about him. He led me silently to a private sitting room, far away from any guests, and bade me wait. We got along just fine.

There was a crystal decanter of amber-coloured liquor on a low table made of dark wood surrounded by elegant couches. The room was lit by expensive alchemical lights designed to look and smell like torches and candles.

There was a note sitting by the brandy. “Help Yourself,” it said. I did. It did occur to me that Lazar might be trying to drug or poison me, and might even have access to the type of stuff that could hurt a Twiceborn. It seemed unlikely, however, especially considering that he could simply ignore my request for an audience and never cross paths with me in the guarded confines of old town, or just use his wealth to hire an assassin skilled enough to end me.

The liquor was brandy, the finest that I had ever tasted, and after the first sip I lost any concern for poison. I was on my second glass when the door opened and Lazar Vintul slid into the room.

I raised my glass in greeting, drawing a fanged smile of appreciation. Without a word, Lazar walked over to the table and poured himself a small glass, sniffing it at letting out a long sigh as I watched him. After a moment our eyes met.

“You know what I miss most about being a mortal Twiceborn?” the vampire asked.

Teaser Tuesday

Another throwback Teaser this week, this time to Bloodlust: Will to Power, the second book in the Domains of the Chosen series. Gavin is trying to fight his way through the Death Leagues to confront Valaran diVolcanus. The Death Leagues of Dregs are some of the more extreme side arenas in the Great Games, a bloody mix of the desperate, the mad, and the great. Gavin’s presence here is offensive to the fans, who are eager to see him bleed out in their favoured fighting ground.

The Cover for Bloodlust: Will to Power

The Cover for Bloodlust: Will to Power

Baron Bones hopped up. His cultured voice carried over the din of the crowd as Gavin and Choker met in the centre of the arena and turned to face him.

“Welcome supplicants,” said Baron Bones. “Today is a good day for one of you to die.”

“BLEED FOR US SLAGFUCKERS!” shouted someone nearby.

“I WANNA SEE YOUR GUTS!” came another voice.

“They’re talking about you,” said Choker, his voice singsong and mocking. A Shadow-Elf, he carried a heavy whip made from metallic cords and a short, brutal-looking serrated sword. Gavin knew that his opponent was a skirmisher by training, versed in life magic and dirty fighting. It was Gavin’s guess that, unlike his beloved Sadira, Choker had developed his natural shadow manipulation abilities: such powers were just too useful to a Gladiator who relied on misdirection. He could not guess at what other training the man might have.

Gavin ignored the jibe.

“We have a special guest today,” said Baron Bones.

Baron Bones is an amusing character, the sort of archetypal ring master that seems appropriate to the Death Leagues. His mix of class and mummery is especially fun to write and I bring him back in Bloodlust: Red Glory (and I intend to make use of him again soon enough)

Baron Bones cadaverous disguise is a nod to Baron Samedi, but also to the religious origins of the Roman Gladiatorial games as the funeral games for a culture where ritual sacrifice still held significance. Baron is also a title that has little real significance in the Domains, a relic of the times before the Reckoning.

The Baron quickly becomes a foil for Gavin, trying to force him to accept the harsh realities of the Death Leagues. This clash of ideology is central to the tension of Gavin’s battles here, and leads to a fateful decision.

Choker’s eyes went wide. Lionfang had performed flawlessly, accounting for the impact of his blades and pain while delivering the fatal blow. It was a master-stroke, almost unbelievable in Choker’s eyes. Gavin let go. The heavily armoured Shadow-Elf dropped his weapons and toppled, hands tugging at Gavin’s sword. His mouth worked but only blood came out.

Gavin’s spear flew into his hands. He looked down at Choker.

“KILL HIM!” came a shout from the crowd.

“MAKE HIM SUFFER!” came another.

“BLEED HIM, BLEED HIM, YEAAAAHHH!” another shout.

Gavin’s eyes met Choker’s. He saw defiance and acceptance there, a strange mix. He supposed that very few Gladiator’s came to the Death Leagues expecting to lose. The thought of killing Choker filled Gavin with disgust. He thought of Omodo on the ground, hacked to pieces, a gleeful Valaran getting ready to foul the corpse. Gavin did not want to be like that; he was tired of pointless killing. He placed the tip of his spear at Choker’s throat.

“Yield, and I’ll let you live,” he said. “Do you yield? Nod if you can.”

Mercy in the Death Leagues demonstrates Gavin’s growth as person. He confidently rejects the demands of the crowd, placing principles above popularity. It is a simple twist, but one I am proud of.

The writing in book two is better than book one, but could still use a touch up. On the whole though, I think it is a strong work, and well worth delving into for anyone who loves action and magic.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Red Fangs 2.21

I missed this Thursday’s post. It is a hectic week here with a baby on the way. This week’s Shadow Wolf will also (likely) be moved to Sunday as well.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas are my weekly serial. The first story arc of the series is called Blade Breaker . You can find the first post of this story arc, Red Fangs, here and the most recent post of this arc here.

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Bull, still weak-kneed from the healing potion, gasped when he saw what was in the hold.

To be honest, I was expecting blood, bodies hanging from hooks, draining blood into tubs, or something like that. Instead I was greeted by a hold full of oddly shaped bottles filled with a clear emerald liquid. I could not fathom why Bull was staring at them with wide eyes.

“Bull, would you mind explaining what this is?” I asked the Burly scavenger.

“Kaemoulian Absinthe”

“Alcohol?”

“Yes… a fucking fortune’s worth.”

“I expected something more sinister.”

“You don’t understand, Ragnar,” said Bull, dropping down lightly into the hold and grabbing a bottle, which he held up for me to examine. “This stuff is contraband. You can see that none of these bottles has a label or a customs stamp. For this particular product that is very telling. One of the families controls the entire supply out of Kaemoulia. Our bloodsuckers here are smuggling and selling goods that have been taken by pirates. This hold represents as significant investment. We would be rich men if we could do anything with it.”

“What’s stopping us?” I asked, more out of curiosity than greed.

“I’d rather not end up hanging by my guts from cliffs of The Abattoir. There is only one source for this stuff, and they do not take kindly to others selling it. This would definitely get their attention and alert customs as well.”

“So why don’t we call the rightful owner, I’m sure they would be willing to reward you for the return of lost goods.”

“Or they might just decide to torture me to find out what I know. Or maybe tear down The Jetties in order to see what else they can find. I don’t really trust the old town families. We have plenty of reason not to out here.”

I shrugged, “So what do we do with it?”

“We can move a handful of bottles through the local markets. That will escape any serious attention and make enough coin to keep me in Jetties ale for the rest of my days. The rest, we will share with a few friends while we set fire to this vessel and purge the evidence.”

“Right,” I said.

“Cheer up Ragnar,” said Bull. “It burns beautifully — almost like a firework. And besides however powerful your friend Cinder might be the loss of this cargo will hurt him.”