Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Friday, August 31, 2012

STORYBUSKING: The City of Rotted Names

Evenfall in the Afterworld

A way away over fields of illusion is this city, far ago & now here, on the edge of blueblack night & sea. Under a louring blankout of clouds, goldmolten flames of Evenfall, flakes of sunset, flitter & fall as burning autumn leaves, flown in a breeze, down into deep ravines of twilight, riverroads of dust, slidestreets of ash & rust. The razing flood of shadows flows, take form: a storm in this nocturnal city of nostratic dreaming...


"The City of Rotted Names" is the last and first in the "CoRN, PoET, WatCH, ToMB" Cycle otherwise comprised of "The Prince of End Times" (Solaris Book of New Fantasy,) "The Whenever at the City's Heart" (Interzone #209) and "The Tower of Morning's Bones" (Paper Cities). Like those three, it's set in the same mythos as VELLUM and INK -- forms the direct bridge between that cycle and the diptych itself indeed. With The Book of All Hours being a closed work, it's not a part of that narrative per se -- given the 3D timespace at play, it takes place as much beyond the two novels as between them -- but the whole cycle is... a mandala of apocrypha for anyone who cares to explore beyond the core story told in those four volumes. So if that piques your interest...

It was set to be a chapbook for a while, should really have been the first in print, but the best laid plans of mice and men, as they say... the chapbook fell through, and being too busy with other things I never did manage to find an appropriate venue for nine thousand words of shamelessly Joycian cubist fantasy. So, I've decided to make it available direct as an EPUB, MOBI or PDF ebook, payment by Paypal, for a limited time.

How much for a copy? Whatever you think is reasonable for a half-hour's entertainment. Whatever you can afford to throw into the hat at the moment. The price of a coffee, a beer, a bagel and lox? As with any form of busking, it's up to you what the story's worth. What's more important to me, to be honest, is getting the cash into the virtual cap ASAP. I am, like no few writers before me, trying this direct distribution experiment right now because I need to get some money in the bank toot sweet. (I'll say no more, preserve my dignity. Oh, the joys of being a starving artist.)

Hence, to that end, the story will only be available until Monday midday BST, so if you want it you're going to have to move sharpish. It's simple though. All you have to do is click on the Donate button over there to the left, Paypal me the amount you reckon is fair, in whatever currency works for you, and I'll email you your very own copy of "The City of Rotted Names." Simple as that.

UPDATE: at first posting the novella was only available in PDF; it's now also available in EPUB and MOBI (many thanks to Gary Gibson -- whose Brain in a Jar ebook imprint has more fiction, come to think of it, including my own "Escape from Hell!".) I believe you can add a comment when you make a Paypal payment, so just let me know your preference there, or drop me a line from your Paypal account email address at: hal AT halduncan DOT com.

Should you feel inclined to pimp and link via social media, that would of course be much appreciated; my experience with direct distribution like this has left me somewhat skeptical, to be honest, so prove me wrong. And if you happen to be at Worldcon this weekend, do feel free to spread the word to anyone drunk and in charge of a wifi-enabled laptop... the drunker the better. (What? Drunk people are more generous, right? And let's face it, Worldcon being on probably makes this the worst possible time to try this out, but the countdown to cashflow crisis doesn't leave me much choice. Or much shame.)

So, yeah. If you fancy it, go on and click. Hell, if you donate £10 or more out of sheer beneficence, I'll even throw in "The Beast of Buskerville" or an MP3 reading of your choice.

Act now though. The offer won't be available for long.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Defective Gods

A wee while back, in my critiquing for the Writers' Workshop, I had the pleasure of reading a rarity in that line of work: a novel that wasn't just publishable but actually, in my opinion, rather good. I found myself with little to say about it in my critical capacity other than tweaks and twiddles -- "a little infodumpy here, tenses a bit fankled there." My main suggestion was that the writer hit up an agent, actually. I vaguely recall saying that an editor in a commercial genre editor imprint might want to push it in this direction or that but that the right sympathetic editor might well, like me, reckon it worked as is, feel that it shouldn't be forced to fit a certain mould more.

Anyway, sadly, the suggested agent didn't work out, but the writer, Jack Wiltshire, has taken thing into his own hands and put out Defective Gods as a self-published ebook, with a promotional website here. If quirky is your taste, you could do a lot worse than check it out; I really rather enjoyed the somewhat Vonnegutian absurdism of an observer/narrator who's basically a ghost but so rationalist he refuses to consider his discorporeal post-life existence in such superstitious terms. While himself being subject to complete mumbo jumbo. Excellently conjured period setting too, I think. Hell, just plain solid all round.

And most of all, if you can make an interesting novel about the building of a stretch of the M4 motorway... well, that's a definite cause for kudos, as far as I'm concerned. Seriously, when I got the MS through from Writers' Workshop, the prospect of a book set in the wild exotic wonderland of motorway engineering didn't exactly fill me with anticipation, but it won me over quickly, and the more I read the more I liked it. So, yeah, I'm happy to blurb it there, and I'm happy to pimp it here. Go check it out. Amazon has the Look Inside function enabled, and you can get a pretty good sense of the tone/approach from the opening few pages.

Pimpage over. As you were.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Weird Words, Bold Images

By way of Juliette Wade, check out this awesome set of bold graphic interpretations of obscure terms, like the example below for "yonderly":


From the Department of WTF?

I'm not sure what's more WTF about this article from Zouch magazine by Ally Mookerjee, "Queer-Washing Fictional Characters" -- the handwringing over the projection of queer love onto fictional characters, the fact that this is done as if fictional characters don't have sexuality by default unless and until that sexuality is actively erased, or the fact that this is done by a writer who, judging by her Twitter stream, herself identifies as gay. All I can say is huh? on all counts.

I mean, the article is sparked by a simple ad campaign, a fictional break-up between the titular logo/mascots of Mike and Ike candies. So, yeah, after however many decades, the company's pulled a publicity stunt with updated packaging (with either the Mike or the Ike scribbled out), and posts on Facebook and Tumblr where each fictional mascot gives his fictional reason for the split, one stropping off to pursue his art, the other harrumphing away to focus on his music. Like so:

I know it’s hard to believe, but yes – Mike and I split. It is what it is. We just couldn’t agree on stuff anymore. Some call it creative differences? Whatever. The guy is awesome, if you don’t count that he’s color blind. Lime is green dude! Cherry is red, not purple. Get it? Go write some songs since that seems to be where your focus is right now.

So far, so whatever. So far, so what the fuck does this have to do with buttsex?

I mean, maybe I'm missing something in that company site, but clicking around the links, there's not a whole lot I see that isn't wholly interpretable as the break-up a fictional variant of the creative double-acts to be found working in any medium. Laurel & Hardy, Simon & Garfunkel, Dolce & Gabana, Rogers & Hammerstein. The phrase "creative differences" is even right up there in black and white for you.

Oh, sure, the little clip of fake celebrity reactions has a few comments that play to the notion of a romantic relationship, but for the most part... frankly they seem to be deliberately maintaining ambiguity, leaving it a fictional split of the most abstract nature. What's being conjured is no more a "divorce," as Mookerjee has it, than it's the break-up of a seminal musical duo or a big name business partnership. So how the fuck do we get from that notional rendering of a double-act splitting over creative differences to this:

But, what troubles me is to see fictional characters being imbued with a sexual orientation. Couldn’t we have been content with perceiving Mike and Ike as a playful pair instead of a romantic couple; as chums, not lovers?

Apparently there are rose-tinted glasses and butt-sex-tinted glasses, and Ms. Mookerjee seems to be wearing the latter. Because nothing I see in that ad campaign is really "queer-washing" those characters at all, not to the extent of painting them as lovers in the physical sense. Has Ms. Mookerjee ever seen a Pegg & Frost film, I wonder? Has she heard the word bromance at any point in the last half dozen years? For Cock's sake, it's not like the fictional Mike is bemoaning Ike's compulsive use of poppers and male prostitutes, while Ike is spilling the beans about BDSM game-play turned to non-consensual abuse.

Get a grip.


With the two subsequent examples -- the Facebook petition for the creators to marry off Sesame Street's Bert & Ernie and the "controversy" over potential readings of Nickelodeon's Spongebob Squarepants and his friends as gay -- now here at least there's a bit more substance to the handwringing over "queer-washing." Viewers are projecting gay romantic relationships onto these characters on the basis of certain signals. But so what? With Spongebob, Mookerjee weasels that "none of these habits and attributes is the acid test of his blunt gayness," but that's not how it works with the ambiguities and quirks viewers are latching on to. Bouncing off pointers to read into the negative spaces isn't like trying to prove Spongebob and Patrick pulled a bank heist in a court of law.

Yeah, so Bert & Ernie sleep in the same bed; so did Morecombe & Wise, so did Laurel & Hardy. The former doesn't mean we must read them as queer. But does the latter mean we must not? So Spongebob's behaviour is often associated with homosexuality; but Peewee Herman without a female love interest would be weirdly camp in much the same way. We're not obliged to read either as gay. But are we obliged to read them both as definitively not gay? Some things that bark are seals rather than dogs. Some dogs don't bark at all. If barking isn't an "acid test" of dogginess, it's still a fair foundation for imagining that the thing in the box just might be a dog.

One can open that box to some extent though -- or check with whoever put the barking thing in there at least, for what that's worth. Mookerjee quotes the creators and producers here, appeals to Hillenberg's authority, his assertion that Spongebob is "asexual." But we should bear in mind that the Spongebob controversy came from Christian evangelists attacking the cartoon as promoting homosexuality, and note that Hillenberg's denial of gayness is not the straight-ironing certainty those bigots were looking for -- because hello... asexual. That's what the A in QUILTBAG stands for. It's one of the atypical orientations included under "queer" because, you know, queer != buttsex.

Hell, Hillenberg's talking gender as much as orientation here -- the biological asexuality of the Porifera phylum. It's not that we must not sully this chaste kid's cartoon by projecting non-normative sexual orientation onto it -- as if that would make it any less chaste -- rather that such norms are intrinsically at odds with an anthropomorphic sponge that can reproduce by budding, for Cock's sake. Spongebob isn't a cisgendered male, either heterosexual or homosexual. The issue isn't gay viewers queer-washing him. Asexual and gender-atypical, he's about as queer as you can get, and Hillenberg's defence against right-wing nutjobbery only insists on the freedom for him to be such. It's a rejection of the ugly bullshit spewed by those whose buttsex-tinted glasses lead them to piously prejudiced censure. They're not queer-washing; they're so profoundly homophobic they see phantom faggotry everywhere, and their aim is to eradicate it. I can't help but hear an echo of their perennial "Think of the children!" pleas for purity, their revulsion at the so-called "sordid," in this from Ms. Mookerjee:

Spare them their cute innocence, please. Why can’t we allow them to lead lives, uncomplicated and unmarred by sexuality?

No, spare them your expurgations and bowdlerisations, your prejudices masked as morality, your abrogation of ethical judgement, your saccharine, sanitising, pseudo-righteous exhortations in which the concern for chastity somehow only kicks in when it's buttsex we're talking.

But we'll get to that.


So, with Mike & Ike painted as partners of the most generic sort, and Spongebob an essentially queer character challenged by bigots seeking to suppress "homosexual propaganda," we're left with the Facebook petition about Bert & Ernie as the only legitimate example of this terrible lamentable "trend toward queering just about everything." This is the nearest thing to a solid example in the whole article of the dread influence of "identity politics" tarnishing the precious icons of childhood.

Not that it's that near. I mean, the majority of signatories on that petition, I'd hazard, probably don't count as "extremists," have probably never heard the phrase "identity politics." The majority, I'd hazard, are likely just hip kids and codgers of the 21st century, straight and queer alike, who like the idea not as cold warriors of political correctness, but as common-sense post-pomo humanists. I'd lay odds that most can and/or do just totally see Bert & Ernie as gay, and have way more of a problem with NOMnuts who freak at that reading than they do with making that the official narrative.

Ask those signatories about why they signed, and my money's on most of them shrugging: it's Bert & Ernie; it would be so sweet if they got married; and it would be kind of an awesome fuck you to NOM. That's "cute innocence" for you, that attitude right there, in a slacktivist gesture of support for marriage equality made, more than anything, because that wedding just seems... a heart-warmingly sweet idea.

Sadly though, that wedding is not to be, because in the world where fools are still walking around in their buttsex-tinted glasses, an ugly attitude utterly opposed to that true cute innocence is just too predictable. If such fools can see homosexual propaganda in Spongebob, it's not hard to imagine the bile they'd spew at Bert & Ernie getting hitched. And so instead we get Sesame Street's shrewd side-step, which Mookerjee applauds:

“Bert and Ernie are best friends.” Even though they’ve been anthropomorphized and do exhibit human traits and frailties, “they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”

I call shenanigans. I can appreciate the practical reasoning behind the cop-out, but as close as this might look to Hillenberg's "asexual" rationale, it is a complete cop-out in contrast. Spongebob is poldered in his own little world of asexual and genderqueer weirdness, of sponges and starfish and crabs; but the weird world of the muppets is one with a whopping big instance of sexual orientation at the very heart of it. Like Kermit and Miss Piggy don't have a sexual orientation? Like the anthropomorphic projection of gendered atttraction doesn't so wholly set them as a romantically-paired male and female couple that it overrides the fact that one is a frog and the other a pig?

A frog and a pig, dude. Clearly gendered male and female -- explicitly so with Miss Piggy. Clearly romantically attached. Clearly sexually oriented towards each other if nothing else. The fact that they're puppets doesn't override the projection of human emotions such as romantic love. On the contrary, it allows that human dynamic to trump the complete biological incompatibility of two wholly different species.

A frog and a pig, dude.

A frog. And a pig.


Think about it. Kermit and Miss Piggy are less anthropomorphised than Bert and Ernie physically, equally anthropomorphised as characters when it comes to "human traits and frailties." Do they somehow "remain puppets." Do they somehow "not have a sexual attraction"? No, they do not. Miss Piggy is a veritable crazy and controlling predatorial stalker for her Kermie, and a physically abusive one at that, ready to karate chop him whenever he steps out of line. Sexual attraction? We're talking Fatal Attraction. It's not only a romantic relationship but an unhealthy one. And maybe interspecies romance doesn't count as bestiality if neither of the parties are human, but somehow in the world of the Muppets a female pig and a male frog can be an item -- that's all A-OK -- but when it's two male humans... suddenly they're puppets and just don't have a sexual orientation.

Bullshit, I say. If Bert and Ernie don't have a sexual orientation being puppets and all, neither do Kermit and Piggy: they're just sweet on each other, chastely romantic. But if Kermit and Piggy can have a chaste romance sans sexual orientation, so too can Bert and Ernie.

Don't get me wrong. Saying that Bert & Ernie are just best friends isn't the problem in and of itself. I wouldn't grouch if the producers at Sesame Street had just said they were riffing off comedy acts like Laurel & Hardy, Abbot & Costello, Jack Lemmon & Walter Mattheau, that those are bromances at heart, that to marry the characters would change the relationship. That's a legitimate argument whether you agree with it or not. However, the handwaving that as puppets they don't have a sexual orientation at all is just a cop-out. And behind that transparent handwaving it's hard not to see the true reason, the true denial: it's not that puppets don't have sexual orientation; it's that they don't have buttsex.

Not that puppets have sex at all, I mean, but if there's no need for a denial of "sexual orientation" with Kermit and Piggy, no need to insist on the absence of the genitalia and carnal desires that would lead to sex between a male and female muppet, there is no need for such a denial with two male muppets. If it's impossible to deny the straight desire because it's blatantly displayed indeed, the denial of desire per se (inconsistently) applied to gay desire is equally unsustainable and can only logically be a strategy for indirectly denying something else. Since the only difference in play here lies not in the desire but in the genitalia and the nature of the sex acts performed with them, the only possible purpose to a denial of Bert & Ernie having "sexual orientation" can be to banish the spectre of buttsex.

Doing so without actually mentioning buttsex is of course preferable. More probable too, I reckon, in so far as the denial is patently neurotic. If you don't feel the need to insist that Kermit doesn't muff-dive Miss Piggy, but do feel the need to insist that Bert doesn't sodomise Ernie, if a straight pairing doesn't but a gay pairing does spark a buttsex angst expressed via insistence on the sexlessness of puppets who might be imagined buttsexing, it doesn't take a Freud to recognise that such denials are largely about trying so hard to not imagine the angst-inducing buttsex that your buttsex angst is constantly throwing out denials that are largely about trying so hard to not imagine the angst-inducing buttsex... and so on.

For the love of Cunt, for the sake of humanity if not your own sanity, if you're dysfunctioning due to buttsex angst, please to deal with it and not inflict it on the rest of us.


For those of us without that buttsex angst, you know, that whole "puppets got no gonads" gambit with Bert & Ernie is just pathetic. We don't suddenly see muppets as creatures that fuck just because it's two men rather than a male frog and a female pig. I don't, anyway. How about you? You don't throw a conniption over Kermit and Piggy, do you? You can miraculously imagine them being in love, maybe even marrying, without suddenly thinking, No! No! Muppets don't have genitalia! Muppets don't have carnal desires!

Kind of the point of bawdy/subversive parodies like Meet the Feebles or Avenue Q is that we hardly imagine Miss Piggy's somewhat aggressive expressions of affection going full-on BDSM. We don't imagine her leading a gimp-masked Kermit around on a leash, whipping his ass with a riding crop. We don't even imagine them engaged in the most vanilla of sexual interactions. Miss Piggy doesn't have a coil up her vageegee. Kermit doesn't roll a Trojan down over his dong. They don't make love in the missionary position or any other, rattling the headboards until he cums and she orgasms, then lying back to share a smoke. Not unless it's a ribald parody deliberately fucking with the whole notion of muppets.

If the image of Bert & Ernie standing in tuxes at an altar has a different effect on you than a comparable image of Kermit & Piggy, more in line with some sort of Meet the Feebles filth, I humbly suggest that that's your fucking problem, and you should deal with it, thank you very much, because as a wise man once said, I am not innarested in your condition. No matter what your sexuality, bullshit like this is still bullshit:

Retrofitting Mickey Mouse, or SpongeBob, or Mike and Ike, or Ernie, or Ratatouille, or the Pillsbury Doughboy, with genitalia, and by extension, carnal desires, is brutish, I think. It despoils them.

Mickey Mouse, I'll simply note, first appeared in a silent 1928 short called Plane Crazy, which also featured the female character of Minnie Mouse... who Mickey repeatedly tries to kiss through the course of the story.

Three quarters of a century later, don't fool yourself into thinking this is about the "cute innocence" of cartoon characters, keeping them "unmarred" by romantic attraction in general, when it's wholly about the fact that Mickey hitting on Minnie would suddenly lose its "cute innocence" if it had been directed at Donald instead, and apparently because you can't help reducing gays to, defining them by, a sexual act you're prissy about.

It's not an onerous request. Somehow, from 1976 to 1981, from the age of 5 to the age of 10, I managed to watch The Muppet Show as it aired in the UK and understand that Miss Piggy and Kermit had a romantic relationship (albeit a dysfunctional one,) without this ever requiring them to be "retrofitted," in my imagination, with genitalia and "carnal desires." The wonder of the world conjured in this little nipper's noggin was not "despoiled" by lurid visualisations of cunnilingus and fellatio, no more than seeing Bert and Ernie in bed together soiled that "idyllic land of imaginary beings" known as Sesame Street with image of buttsex. I do not think I was alone then in not picturing Kermit and Piggy making the beast with two backs. And I do not I am alone now in not picturing Bert & Ernie making the beast with one back.

In both cases, I'll go so far as to say, I rather think that if you're not with me, you may want to carry out some self-scrutiny before you start playing protector of the innocent. Because every stain of despoiling, every brutish ruination of the pure you see through your buttsex-tinted glasses is the ugliness in your own deep and dirty being reflected back at you.

Me, I think it's sad that Ms. Mookerjee's buttsex-tinted glasses seem to lead her to much the same position as the NOMnuts who got up in arms over Spongebob Squarepants, that worldview in which desire automatically conjures the "carnal" gratification of desire with "genitalia," in which a (frankly unhealthy) sense of sex-acts as essentially shameful apparently gets her as hot under the collar at her imaginings as a Victorian preacher at the sight of a lady's ankle. It's sad that she sees a life bereft of sexuality as one "unmarred" by it. Sad, but basically just priggish.

It's really quite lamentable however that someone who herself identifies as gay should join the bigots not just in this neurotic debasement of the sacred communion of flesh but in the pathological deepening of it, whereby it's specifically homosexual desire that conjures the carnality, while heterosexual desire... not so much. It's bad enough when the Christian Right turn us sodomites into an encapsulating symbol of all the squick they attach to sex, to the flesh itself, when the fuckupery of their miserable rotted souls means they can't look at two men holding hands without picturing a cock in an arse. It's truly grim when someone who should know better seems rather to be fighting their corner.


Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Goodies in the Mail

Just in from Lethe Press:

Tom Cardamome's Green Thumb

Described as a "post-apocalyptic, psychoactive pastorale." Works for me. Also...

Jim Elledge's H

An A-to-Z-structured sequence of prose poems with an emergent narrative by the looks of it. Gorgeously produced and most enticing. (Kudos to Alex Jeffers there, I believe.)

Furstratingly, I'm too busy with BFS Awards stuff at the moment to read either. But you're not, right?


Thursday, August 02, 2012

An Open Letter to Matthew Norman

Dear Matthew,

Let me start by agreeing with you on one fundamental issue in your Independent opinion piece, "It's Tom Daley's tormentor who requires the law's protection.". Where you say, "The freedom to cause offence is not one in defence of which many would march on Parliament, but it is a human right all the same," I couldn't agree more. I'd be on that march, right up front, banging the drum as loudly as I could. As one who appreciates humour like Frankie Boyle's that cuts not just close to the bone but into it, I'll go further than you in that regard, in fact. Where you say, "If the price of one Danny Boyle is 100,000 Frankies, we'll just have to pay up," I don't even see 100,000 Frankie Boyle's as a price. He has his downside, but I see him and others like him as a net gain.

From the days of flyting to the days of trolling, the lashing tongues of the vitriolic have always been, and will always be, I'd argue, not just invaluable but necessary. Propriety needs to be subverted, constantly and radically; the most vicious humour is often a flensing of the fat that hides a hard ossature of power and prejudice in its cosy cushioning. Because the ugly humour is exposing an ugly truth, I'll even suffer the outright bigoted who bolster the ugly truth; the price I'm willing to pay for one Frankie Boyle is a 100,000 Bernard Mannings whose cruel wit isn't just crass and cruel but abjecting, indirectly harmful to me in fuelling homophobia. I'll bite that bullet for the team.

I'll refrain from fighting hate-speech legislation others feel is necessary, but personally, I'd rather the bigots were as free to send me homophobic hatemail as I am to attack religion in ways that would get me burned at the stake for blasphemy in days gone by. Way I see it, I can't have the freedom to offend by taking a chainsaw to sacred cows, if the faithful don't have the freedom to spew agitprop about the "homosexual agenda," compare my sexuality to paedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia, even speak out for the likes of Section 28. So it goes. I'll stand my ground against that venom but... well, disagree with what you say, defend to the death your right to say it -- you know the score.

I'll also commend your article for being one of the few to actually quote the death threat tweeted to Tom Daley: "I'm going to find you and I'm going to drown you in the pool..." After initially coming across a Queerty article that led on a Welsh footballer's (swiftly disavowed) homophobic "TeamHIV" tweet and only mentioned in passing that "a teenager in Weymouth was arrested after threatening to drown the 18-year-old swimmer," I was surprised, then confused, then concerned to find most other articles I hit on barely mentioning the death threat, focusing instead on the initial snipe from the tweeter about his dead dad; yours was the first I came across that didn't seem to be burying the lede so deep it was... bizarre. Worrying.

From most of the coverage, I mean, the spin I got conjured the story of a 17 year old gobshite tweeting a harmless albeit contemptible tweet exploiting the diver's dead father as a weak point, a story in which the heavy hand of the police came down on this poor kid just for being, for want of a better term, a fucking douchebag. When I pointed out on Twitter that reports were glossing over if not eliding the death threat, here's one response I got: "To the extent that I haven't heard about the death threat at all." You see why I was worried, yes? It took me a good while to find this report detailing a substantially different story complete with threats to Daley's defenders -- to shoot one, stick a knife down another's throat, and more.

I still can't find any reports even mentioning that if you scroll back through the timeline, you'll find rape threats and claims to have a gun license.

I'll repeat that, let it sink in: rape threats and claims to have a gun license. But in the majority of reports I've seen you'd be hard pushed to even pick up on the drowning threat, with the focus largely on the original "you let down your dad" tweet. Going by the coverage, you'd think this is a story about cruel barbs, not luridly explicit threats of violence. Even in your opinion piece which acknowledges what it's really about, that death threat is quoted only to be dismissed. "Little space," we're told, "need be wasted on acknowledging that this melded the cretinous with the vicious."

Which is why I'm addressing this to you, Matthew, because that's kinda worse. No, I might be inclined to say if I were Tom Daley, let's not be economical with the space here. Let's not be miserly with our column inches, our words, our due consideration for the import of a fucking death threat.

Let's spend some fucking thought on it.


So, Matthew, that death threat is, in your opinion, "wildly implausible"? Who truly believes, I read you as saying  in that "little space" between the few lines you pinch out from your pursed mind, that this teenage douchebag would really enact any of his bluster? For all his insistence that he's ready, willing and capable, in our haughty position as objective onlookers, we can surely all agree that this wee gobshite is just a teenage wanker being rude as teenage wankers are wont to be. Right?

Except we don't get to make that call. As I said in my comments on your piece, we don't get to say "pfft!" with some random yob tweeting murderous ire at Tom Daley. You don't get to say "pfft!" with some mate of yours who couldn't possibly, as far as you're concerned, be stalking a woman he's obsessed with -- not a "nice guy" like so-and-so. I don't get to say "pfft!" with some bloke who keeps talking about going on a killing spree in a cinema, but is "clearly" just a nerdy fantasist. If that random bigot emailing me out of the blue, enraged at my "homosexual agenda," actually crosses the line into death threats -- as one crank did quite recently to a fellow writer, Lavie Tidhar -- you, your journalist colleagues, and your whole host of naysaying bandwagon-jumpers decrying the folly of a "draconian" response, don't get to wave your hands and say, "pffft! never gonna happen!" Or well, to be fair, you get to say it, but you don't get to be treated with a shred of respect for that sort of arsewipery.

If you think you do, with all due respect, you can go fuck yourself.

(See? Totally down with the whole "right to offend" platform, me. I'll do my best to remind you of that with occasional demonstrations as we go.)

In your armchair certainty, you seem to think "highly implausible" is the easy answer, and that's it, QED. For at least one respondent on that article, it's impossible to believe that "anyone involved in this affair ever believed that it was anything else." Wow. His risk-evaluation is not just right; nobody else could have possibly arrived at a different judgement. Somehow this psychic can even see into my thoughts to tell me I don't really believe my own words when I say my risk-evaluation would be different. That's the thing about armchair certainty: it's for fucking douchebags who can't see past their own bloated opinion of their opinion. I suspect this idiot is so incapable of doubting his own omniscience, he genuinely can't imagine me disagreeing with him. But the truth is this just ain't so. I do indeed disagree.

Wonder of wonders, contrary to that respondent's divinely graced vision inside my noodly noggin-stuff, it is logically, metaphysically and temporally possible for me to sustain a different evaluation as to the credibility of that threat. No, really, it is. And by golly gee, professor, goshdarnit if that don't mean that Daley could have a different opinion too!

I'd say it's perfectly plausible that an 18 year old kid dealing with celebrity fixation the way Daley is would be genuinely worried about the tweeter's mental state. Just as a woman might, you know, actually be worried about a creeper who just won't back the fuck off. Just as someone who's been to the edge of meltdown might see the horrible possibility of that nerdy fantasist going over that edge. Just as I might actually take pause if some bigot threatened to put a bullet in me at a public appearance just for being "THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!" (sic). Or for that matter, for writing a book they reviled, for failing to satisfy, for "betraying" them in whatever twisted logic the obsessive is swallowed up in.

Point is, in such circumstances, I'll thank you to leave my judgement call over my personal safety in my hands. I don't get to play Deerhunter with you in your sleep, click click BANG. You don't get to wave off my concern that a crank may be gunning for me. I'll repeat: If you think you do, with all due respect, you can go fuck yourself.

You can clear the tiniest nook in your noggin, take all of two seconds to cross-shelve that death threat under "cretinous" and "vicious," and move on. But who the fuck are you to assume that your blasé gesture at judgement pre-empts that of the person actually getting the fucking death threat?

That judgement call over how "highly implausible" a death threat is belongs in the first instance to the victim. They get to decide if maybe they ought to phone the police, just to be safe, and put it in their hands. They even get to err on the safe side, because it's a fucking death threat. The judgement then passes to the police who investigate said threat, with a duty to that victim to do so in all seriousness, a duty to us all to decide reasonably as to whether to caution or charge, grant bail or not, refer to psychologists, whatever. It belongs to the justice system to decide if prosecution isn't necessary or if a negligible punishment is sufficient, whatever. It's not for you to cry shenanigans over one case so badly reported it makes a Queerty article look good, to declare the whole fucking process a sham and raise the banner for new laws ensuring no poor gobshite suffers unduly for making a fucking death threat.

For Cock's sake.


What's that you say? Blah blah airport bomb threat blah blah burrrrp?

Yeah, whatever. I was right there in that case, joining the #IAmSpartacus twitstorm over the abhorrent miscarriage of justice that saw Paul Chambers' rhetorical venting grossly misrepresented as a bomb threat when it clearly wasn't. But that's a different case. That's a failure of the justice system to live up to its responsibility to make a reasonable decision on content, not credibility. Credibility isn't an issue with Chambers's tweet because, as you say, it's irony; the sense is reversed to render it a Canutian gesture, to find comedy in absurd grandiosity that advertises its own ineffectuality. The Daley death threat is not irony. It may be hyperbole, an exaggeration of abilities and intent, but the claim to have a gun license is an assertion that it is not. The Chambers case is a false comparison then: there's no real question that it inverts meaning to take that ironic tweet literally; with Daley's death threat the meaning is equally clear but straight, the only question being the extent to which it's empty bluster.

The better analogue here is Daniel Tosh's joke about how funny it would be if a female heckler was gang-raped, which can be read rhetorically as an invitation to the audience, as a veiled threat. Although that's still weak; the power-play message is a subtler "Of course, we're not gonna, but you see how the guys here are on my side, bitch, you see how we could?" The better analogue of the crude bluster would be if some random stranger in the audience had rounded on that heckler, shouted out, "Let's rape the cunt! Let's track her down after the show and rape the cunt!" That douchebag might just think he was being funny. That douchebag might just be willing to put his muscle where his mouth is.

You do get, don't you, why I'm saying it's not your judgement call as to whether that douchebag is a credible threat? How it becomes a tad different when we're talking individual targets, interpersonal aggression, threats of death and rape? Right?

Is it fair to bring gender in here, map murder to rape? I don't see why not. To many, it might seem similarly "highly implausible" that a rape threat sent over Twitter to a female Olympian who had the temerity to fail in her event would actually be enacted. It would be equally said female athlete's prerogative to nevertheless call the police in pronto. It would be equally the police's duty to act on that call, arrest and charge the culprit. It would be within their remit to allow bail -- as they did with the tweeter in this case -- after an informed assessment of the credibility of the threat. That's no mean responsibility given that they're freeing someone who could then carry out said threats if that assessment is dead wrong. But so it goes. Suspects get released, and sometimes regrettably so, with calamitous results, but this is better than the actual draconian response we ought to fear.

But maybe you'd see the rape threat as so "highly implausible" that its tweeter shouldn't be dealt with any more than Daley's. Shall we abolish this aspect of the justice system then? Shall we enact legislation so the creeps can make their "highly implausible" threats with impunity? Cock forbid the police step in to investigate the poor unfortunate who, say, tweets at Rebecca Adlington how he's going to slice her snatch open with a switchblade. After calling her a whore for losing a race, then cravenly apologising in the face of a massive backlash, claiming he's just such a fan he was gutted at the loss, saying he's only jealous of her talent, and he's so so sorry, then lashing out again when she ignores his fawning, lashing out time and again at her defenders, copying her in on his threats to shoot and stab and rape, his claim to have the weaponry to do so, until finally he spews out that snatch-slicing tweet. Yeah, let's bring in legislation to fix the problem of victims of such abuse being able to turn to the police.

I mean, how could any victim of such a threat not see just how "highly improbable" it is that the complete stranger at the other end might actually act on their graphic fantasies? Can the stupid prick/bitch not take a fucking joke? Who the fuck does that fucking stupid fucking whore/faggot think they are calling the police over a tweet?

Yes, I'm associating your complacency with the self-absorbed victim-blaming of the gobshite. Your arrogant dismissal is a step on the road to theirs. You're not giving a whole lot more of a fuck for the victim's sense of being menaced than they are. You're equally rejecting any such sense as silly. To which I say: fuck you. At the end of the day, Matthew, is your judgement that the threat was "highly implausible" really worth a shit? Is mine? Or is it kinda more important whether the victim is freaked the fuck out by the fucking death threats?


But OK, let's ask the hard practical question. You have zero doubt that the threat is empty bluster, so let's be douchebags about it. Let's second-guess the victim, take the "better safe than sorry" card away from them, and ask if they could really, legitimately, not see the threat as empty bluster. Like, come on!

Apply a bit of Theory of Mind here, for the love of Cock. Look at it this way: Daley's experiencing the backlash after being the best thing since sliced bread. He knows how deeply many complete strangers were invested in him without really seeing him as a person at all -- seeing him as this wonder boy on a pedestal, a celebrity sports idol everyone in the country owns a piece of -- and now he's suffering the flip-side where adoration turns to animosity. Matthew, baby, I can easily picture him thinking of Jodie Foster or Jill Dando, worrying if he's picked up one genuine crazy among his 900,000 followers. Sure, it's "highly implausible" the threats have any substance. But then the murder of Dando was hardly something we all had a pony on at the bookies, was it?

"One in a million" is the definition of wildly implausible, right? Well, allowing for even 100,000 not on Twitter, Daley has those odds covered. How famous was Jodie Foster when John Hinkley Jr. fixated on her? How lauded was Jill Dando when she was shot? Fuck, I can be an obscure cult writer and still get hatemail. Most writers are nothing when it comes to celebrity, but we still get loons fixating on us like this. A kid in Daley's position...he's a lightning rod for that one in a million nutjob right now. He has every reason to be on his guard for genuine stalkers.

If you don't believe this, tough. You don't get to impose your willful disregard of the realities of Daley's situation in a fatuous judgement that he couldn't possibly have legitimate cause for concern. Shall I say it again? If you think you do, with all due respect, you can go fuck yourself.


And narrowing in from this general context in which Daley is a prime target, looking at the actualities of this case, the specifics of the tweets sent to Daley and his supporters are graphic enough material that we're well into "lurid fantasist" territory. I had to go to the source to find the claim to have a gun license, and the threat to rape and murder someone's mother, but they're there, and the article in The Digital Report -- unlike most everywhere else -- does report the threats to shoot X in the back and to stab Y in the throat. Sure, that could be just a vivid imagination. But it's exactly what you'd expect to see from a genuine risk. I see some red flags being raised here, and not much reason to lower them other than a complacent disregard of the gobshite as too full of shit and too pathetic to be a killer. Thing is, I'd say full of shit and pathetic are two of the red flags.

I mean, let's see...

What we have here is a personally targeted death threat from someone who starts out with ice-cold abuse that demonstrates a classic combo of zero empathy and deep investment. The guy who uses your dead father as a weak point to attack you for failing to meet his expectations in a sporting event... that's fricking creepy. The guy who moves on to fawning apologies after the backlash -- he becomes doubly creepy as he refuses to accept you ignoring him, pushing for you to acknowledge his posturing of contrition, twisting unction through vitriol in a fucked-up anti-apology like "why don't you respond to me you prick stop getting me hate alright I've said I'm sorry now fuck off," Man, that's Stage Two in the textbook stalker's refusal to just back the fuck off.

When his bitter outburst at your continued disregard reveals the insincerity of that apology, the fact that you're now the focus of a vicious animus for not pandering to his manipulative mewling... that's when you've got every right to be genuinely worried. Well, whaddaya know, for all the uberfan/antifan's remonstrations, he blames you for the terrible hurtful "hate" he's getting. For hitting you below the belt. As I say: full of shit and pathetic. You could just say boo fucking hoo here, the infantile oaf just needs to grow up, but when he goes over the line into actual death threats, maybe you want to sit the fuck up. And frankly, all of that history makes it perfectly legitimate to call the police. And expect them to fucking do something. Cause if there's even 0.0001% chance your harasser is a bona fide nutjob, all it takes is for him to be that one John Hinckley Jr. in a million.

Short of mystic powers of mindreading, Matthew, how do you suppose we recognise the racist, homophobic, misogynist sociopath who's actually gone off the deep end in a fixation with some complete stranger and may well cause them or someone else actual bodily harm? Well, a good starting point is when they say they're going to cause someone actual bodily harm. Duh. An even better starting point is when they spout their bluster repeatedly or as part of a recogniseable pattern of behaviour. Surely see-sawing between unction and vitriol like Daley's tweeter did is the very model of the unstable over-investment that distinguishes the casual hater from the dangerous obsessive. That such over-investment sucks the stalker into fantasy, unmoors them from judgements of what's socially acceptable and even what's realistic is what makes the threat all the more credible the more graphic it is, the more it may indicate someone swallowed up in the echo chamber of their own egoistic daydreams.

I may not have mystic powers of mindreading, but I don't find it too hard to see the stalker psychology bubbling under the surface of an embittered uberfan/anti-fan. It's a recogniseable mindset of objectification and entitlement, desire and contempt, the empty bluster the fuel and the flames they're stoking, building a feedback loop of narcissistic rage. The only question is whether it's gone full-blown pathology.


So yeah, sure, many gobshites are merely posturing the full-on sociopath. When you're on the receiving end of it, then you'll have the wonderful joy of deciding just how "highly improbable" it is that they're not just posturing -- as they spew their insistence that they're not just posturing, their bilious demands to be taken seriously or else. If you serve in the justice system or are called to a jury, maybe one day you'll have the awesome honour of deciding just how serious a legal response is required in one case.

Until then, you don't get to turn back the clock to the days when the police might well just dismiss the "hysterical over-reaction" of a stalking victim who'd got death threats. Pfft! they might well say to some young lad, or a "silly girl" in her twenties or thirties -- or a "darkie" or a "poof" being harassed for other reasons. Don't be ridiculous, they might say in their infinite wisdom as middle-aged white men. Lads will be lads, and that young lout's all bark and no bite, and life is a sea of fucking platitudes, and it's "highly improbable" that you've got anything to worry about. And maybe even, as the victim walked out of the door with absolutely nothing having been done, they'd roll their eyes at each other, and one would make some blithely dismissive comment about how that "death threat" from Wee Franco Begbie was so blatantly baseless that, why, they doubted even the histrionic victim really believed it was credible. Just attention-seeking, eh? Insert comments about celebrities inviting such treatment, women dressing provocatively, people of colour not integrating and gays shoving it down people's throat here.

Fuck that shit. And why? Who do you think is the first to be seen as blowing things out of proportion, making mountains out of molehills? Who do you think is the first to get the shitty end of the stick when you let the racist homophobic misogynist fuckdogs off the leash? Who pays the price, not of a 100,000 Frankie Boyles but of one Franco Begbie in a million, just because you have the luxury of thinking you're God All-Omniscient-Fucking-Mighty when it comes to the credibility of a death threat levelled at someone else? I'll give you three answers, and you can be right each time if you just think race, gender and sexuality.

Fuck that shit.

You don't get to say Daly shouldn't/couldn't really feel harassed by threats that this tweeting gobshite is patently not going to follow through on. You don't get to say that some female analogue is just a silly girly to feel intimidated by emails of empty rape threats. When the racist, homophobic, misogynist fuck latches on to anyone and plays the role of total sociopath to them, you don't get to wave that off, override the caution of the victim and condemn the enforcement of anti-harassment law as, Cock forbid, a slippery slope to some thought-police dystopia. You don't get to rally the cretins to a dream of stalker utopia, to an actual dystopia of bullying fucktards who'll as happily threaten to burn a "faggot," lynch a "nigger" or rape a "whore" as they will to drown a "celeb." You don't get to spout your moronic call for legislation to protect those who cross the line into fucking concerted intimidation, you stupid fucking clueless fucking privileged fucking twat.

No, scratch that. You do get to say all of that... any of that. Because that's the glory of free speech when it doesn't cross the line into death threats, dufus. Indeed, we're not even on different pages over the issue of "gross offence" as regards where that part of the line is drawn. But the harassment meted out to Daley by his tweeter was not just a crass joke about his dead dad, (nor even bigoted as per the homophobic "TeamHIV" tweet which, I'll note, did not seem to merit police involvement -- and rightly so, in my opinion as a free speech hardliner -- despite arguably constituting hate-speech.) No, Daley's harassment wasn't just arrant offence but a series of increasingly disturbing tweets culminating in a threat to hunt him down and kill him -- and if that's not, in your opinion as a fucking imbecile, a legitimate place to call in the police, well I disrespectfully disagree. I think you have to be a mewling thought-puke of a brain damage victim to argue that, indeed. But hey, far be it from me to silence you.

Rather, why not just go the whole hog, fuckwit, and defend repeated rape threats to a female Olympian? You've got that right of free speech, and I support it. You could even, if you want, attack the victim with all the bone-breaking breathtaking "did he just go there" rancour of a Frankie Boyle -- or a Daniel Tosh, say. You've got that civil liberty, and bully for you. I wouldn't deny it to you or anyone. What I really mean by "you don't get to say" is just, of course, please don't.

Please shut the fuck up, fucktard, is what I'm saying. Rhetorically, you know. Not with menace. Not with intimidation. Not as an actual literal claim that you have (or should have) no right to articulate an obnoxious opinion. It's just that you're talking through your arse here, I mean, your dribbling fart of an article stinking up the joint, shit-smearing its grandiose claim in that "highly implausible" and all that follows, its asshat assumption of authority, as if your idiot idea of legislation tying the police's hands for the sake of a scrote-wart like Daley's gobshite wouldn't override every stalking victim's recourse to law.

You're full of shit, ya fricking glaikit numpty tool, is what I'm saying.

You, me, anyone else, we all have the freedom to call for legislation to allow a gobshite to make death threats with impunity. But really? Think it the fuck through. We're free to mouth off to our heart's content about the dread spectre of a world in which -- oh noes! -- the police follow up on reports of death threats, where by Cock they countenance the victim's absurd notion that "I will hunt you down and kill you" might just maybe possibly perchance be coming from someone far enough off their fucking trolley to do so. We're free to lament the folly of legislation that doesn't enshrine every and any random cuntmunch's sacred right to menace whatever victim they fixate on, for whatever cracked and twisted reason, in their cracked and twisted fantasies. We get to spout such unmitigated bully-facilitating bollocks all we want.

It just makes one a fucking idiot to do so.

Get the fuck real. In the age of cyber-bullying, you actually want to extend the leeway on menacing messages so that every shit-head who's zeroed in on someone vulnerable can threaten to murder, rape, or torture them as long as he has plausible deniability of his bluster as empty -- which is pretty much always? You want we should tell a harassment victim they need to lighten up, not take those threats so seriously, because no matter what detailed methods of murder the gobshite is conjuring, it's not for the police to be impinging on his right to "play" at being a sociopath; no, his unwilling victim will just have to suffer the threats to cut off their pet dog's head and fuck its throat. Lads will be lads, ma'am. The likelihood of that spurned uberfan/anti-fan causing real trouble for you or someone else is just so minimal that no matter how genuinely concerned you are, ma'am, it would be a veritable outrage to civil liberties if our assumption that his bluster was empty didn't trump your peace of mind and our duty to public safety.

The majority of bluster is empty, but so fuck? The majority of bullying works by exploiting the uncertainty of a victim who can't know that for sure -- and doing so in systems where the victim has no way to ascertain the reality. Is that the system you want here? Can we expect a consistent defence of the right to intimidate when the next tweeting fucktard threatens to rape your sister/daughter/son/brother/father/mother/dog? How about emails and phone calls from a friend of the family who's just the last person you'd expect to do that sort of thing? Are you going to pat your loved one on the head and tell them it's "highly implausible" that Uncle Joe could be sending those creepy-ass sexts, and even if it is him, that's just his twisted sense of humour a la Frankie Boyle? Are you going to defend the refusal of the police to act on a friend's complaint regarding an ex-colleague who won't take "back the fuck off" for an answer?

Would you be hailing it as a triumph of free speech if, in another timeline where the police didn't intervene, just a few months from now, Daley's gobshite came knocking at his door and gave him the Jill Dando treatment, the fixation of an uberfan/anti-fan having festered at Daley's "betrayal" in the Olympics, this "nobody's" failure to just suck up the deservedly cruel taunt, this cocky "prick's" outrageous offence in exposing the poor gobshite to his fans ire, his unconscionable refusal to engage with an abuser's fake apology? Seriously, that rotted mindset of resentment is loaded into the gobshite's tweets. Take off the blinkers, apply a bit of foresight, and it ought to be blindingly obvious that it's a perfectly legitimate judgement call with this sort of empty bluster to set whatever wheels in motion as will ascertain if there's any real cause for concern.

It should also be blindingly obvious, I'd say, the sheer fucktardery of spinning it so as to downplay the menace, create a Straw Man of draconian punishment for trivial slight, and thereby argue the fucking abolition of a hard-won right for victims of harassment not to have their concerns swept aside by clueless cuntfucks. You're going to make a death threat your exemplar of what not to waste police time on, for fuck's sake? Because you can't imagine a racist, homophobic, misogynist gobshite like this being a full-blown sociopath entirely ready, willing and able to act on his irrational, fixated animus?

Some of us don't have that fucking privilege, mate.

Hugs & kittens,

Yours sincerely,

Hal Duncan