Mark Schilling’s latest article in Variety discusses some of the issues facing modern anime, including the ever-growing rush to outsource, plummeting demographics and hybrid contents. Yours truly is briefly quoted with a very conservative estimate of the size of the foreign labour pool — Ryosuke Takahashi puts it a lot higher. Schilling suggests that declining numbers of children are responsible for declining numbers of anime, but I do not entirely agree with this, or at least, not with the way that the data is presented here. The peak of production in 2006 was generated by an insanely high investment interest from abroad, which is still playing out today as all the investors sue each other over what went wrong.
When I handed in my manuscript of Spartacus: Swords & Ashes, I decided to call myself J.M. Clements. I thought it would be a smart move to stop Amazon spamming everybody who’d bought one of my non-fiction books and expecting them to like my fiction, too. I mean, they might. But I figured Spartacus is for Spartacus fans, and my name on the cover shouldn’t influence them one way or the other.
“It’s pretty obvious who you are,” sniffed the Editrix. “It’s about as likely to fool the public as Iain ‘M’ Banks.”
“I know,” I said. “And I’m proud of the book. I’m just trying to keep fact and fiction in separate areas. I hate it when some douche on Library Thing decides I shouldn’t be allowed to write about one subject because he thinks I can only write about something else.”
“That’s stupid,” said the Editrix. “That never happens.”
“It always happens!” I protested. “And they’ve got a particular hard-on for people who switch between fact and fiction, which people often do if they write for a living. I dread to imagine what these one-track people are like in real life, as if they don’t think it’s possible to be a father and an insurance salesman, or a Saturday footballer and a chef. They probably have conniptions if they have to do two things at once. Then they review themselves and say: ‘I cannot possibly walk and chew gum, for those activities are mutually exclusive. Worst gum-chewing walk evarrr.’”
“You are over-reacting,” said the Editrix.
“If they ran the world,” I ranted, “they’d say Neil Gaiman could only write about Duran Duran. Lynda la Plante would be good for nothing but Rentaghost. Robert Silverberg could only write popular history. And Tolkien can piss right off and stick to Anglo-Saxon etymology.”
“All right,” sighed the Editrix. “Have it your way.”
The next day, the Editrix was back.
“The distributors want to know about the other things you’ve written,” she said. “It’s so they can tell booksellers how brilliant you are.”
“But won’t that make it really obvious who I am?” I said.
“Yes, probably,” she said, without pause or apology.
So I told her about The Destroyer of Delights, which was a Doctor Who audio I was very pleased with, which had a recurring subtext about the nature of slavery. And since there were lots of fights in it, I thought that my Highlander story Secret of the Sword, was probably worth a mention. I decided it probably wasn’t worth bringing up the biography I once wrote of the president of Finland. He doesn’t crop up much in Spartacus.
A day later, the Editrix was back again.
“The distributors want to know where you live,” she said.
“Jupiter’s cock! Why!?”
“They like it. Their sales people like being able to say, ‘he’s a local boy’, to a bookseller near you.”
“But isn’t it more productive if everybody thinks I am a local boy?”
“Do not question the House of Random!”
“All right, all right.” So I told her where I lived. It felt a little bit like I was handing over my bank details to a Nigerian prince.
All of which meant was that by the time Spartacus: Swords & Ashes was up on Amazon, some bright spark had already worked out precisely who I was, and it was listed with all my other books. My attempt to carefully separate my fact and fiction had failed again.
“I’ve got a translation of The Art of War coming out in the summer,” I protested. “But shelvers at book-stores are going to look me up online and order their copies on the basis of the sales of this novel, which is full of sword-fights, swearing, rape and adverbs. It will be the most heavily over-ordered classical text in living memory.”
“You say that,” said the Editrix, “like it’s a bad thing.”
J.M. Clements is the author of Spartacus: Swords & Ashes, available now in paperback and on Kindle. He has written a few other things, too.
I’m a guest blogger this week over at Starburst, discussing Roman law, the history of slavery and allegories of zombie outbreak in the Roman Republic. There’s also a chance to win a copy of my Spartacus novel.
And that’s not all, for there’s another guest blog from me over at A Temporary Distraction, this time analysing my love of the earthy language of Spartacus — probably the only time you’ll see someone discussing Derek Jarman, gladiators’ groupies and the use of the indefinite article all in on the same page. If you’ve ever wanted to know about how to insult someone’s mother in Latin, now’s your chance.
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? If that’s not enough, I appear yet again over at Blogomatic 3000, this time discussing the pitfalls of writing something that has to displease all readers equally. How obscene is too obscene, in a world where people get their faces hacked off? I hasten to clarify, when I say in this piece “crushed and broken by empire”, I’m using “empire” in its post-colonial studies sense as a “decentred and deterritorialising apparatus”. Spartacus lived at the time of the Roman Republic, of course, but the empire was already on its way.
And yet another, over at What Culture, where I talk about the nature of time in television. Probably the only time that EastEnders, Downton Abbey and Spartacus get mentioned in the same piece.
One more for luck: here’s me over at SF Review, discussing the sort of picture you see when you walk into the National Museum of the Philippines. Now, what on Earth does that have to do with Spartacus and “empire”…?
There’s a short piece on director Ryosuke Takahashi up now on the Manga UK blog, drawn from our many conversations at last year’s Scotland Loves Anime. Takahashi was the unquestionable star of the festival, and a great raconteur, with stories about scrubbing gold paint off naked actresses, robots on rollerskates, and his early days as a dogsbody at Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Production.
His quote of the week was delivered to the audience as they took their seats for the Armoured Trooper Votoms: Pailsen Files movie.
“Pailsen Files and golf have a lot in common,” he said, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “Both are the inheritors of long traditions. And both are quite boring to watch!”
Gaius Verres was an asshole. He persecuted the Roman citizens that he was supposed to be ruling. He exploited a disaster on the mainland in order to line his own coffers, by accusing locals of harbouring escaped slaves. A man who stood up to him was so badly beaten that he died from his injuries. Another was crucified in sight of the mainland, taunting him with the knowledge that he died almost, but not quite out of the jurisdiction of the man who’d had him killed.
The people of Sicily got their revenge in the end, when they hired the young, up-and-coming litigator Cicero to plead their corruption case against their former governor. Cicero went for Verres like a man possessed. We know this because we still have the transcripts of his court-room arguments: a scathing, sarcastic series of personal attacks published as the Verrine Orations. Cicero never got to deliver them all because Verres, realising that bribes wouldn’t save him, fled the country, but Cicero was so keen on taking him down that he published the rest of his notes anyway.
The accusations from the Verrine Orations read like a…. well, like a proposal for a tie-in novel for Spartacus: Vengeance. As Spartacus terrorises the mainland, Verres uses his own position as governor of Sicily to exploit the disaster. He accuses locals of harbouring escaped slaves, and confiscates their property on trumped-up charges. He puts an incompetent crony in charge of his anti-pirate fleet, so that he can steal the man’s wife. The newly appointed admiral is so useless that the pirates actually attack Syracuse harbour.
My novel Spartacus: Swords & Ashes had to take place during the first season of the TV series, just before Verres took office in Sicily. But the temptation was irresistible to treat it as a prelude to the Verrine Orations. Why would Cicero be so keen to take Verres down after the Spartacus War? Could it be that they had met before, in a story unmentioned in the history books?
One of the stand-out characters in the Verrine Orations is Timarchides, a freed slave who works as Verres’ hatchet-man, intimidating witnesses, beating up rivals, and purloining government property for parties and orgies. For a story like that of Spartacus, obsessed with the state of slavery and what it means for human beings, what kind of man would Timarchides have been? How would he feel about having won his freedom, and what sort of attitude would he have to those who were still slaves?
So I put all three of them into Swords & Ashes. Gaius Verres, the newly-appointed governor of Sicily, ready to frisk the province for all it’s got. Timarchides his right-hand man, a former gladiator who despises slaves. And Cicero, the good-hearted young investigator, who comes to Neapolis on senatorial business. All are thrown into new intrigues at the funeral games of a noted local lanista, whose Capuan colleague Batiatus is providing the gladiators… including his celebrity warrior, Spartacus.
What could possibly go wrong…?
David Langford has kindly sorted out a list of all the entries I have written so far for the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Which is nice. I think I still have a good 100 or so to do before the Japan section starts to look ship-shape, and the same again for China.