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Eric: Now, if *religious* people were upset, I could understand that. Of course, I'd have no sympathy, but I'd *understand* it.

Something Positive!

(From Something Positive. Click on the thumbnail for full sized 'snap!')

There are a few strips out there that really nail geek culture. They understand geek culture, and when they satirize it, it is often spot on. Home on the Strange is one of the most prominent right now, and it's good -- it really is. But it's not brutal. It doesn't go for geek culture's fucking throat. It's sympathetic to geek culture. "Look how silly we can be," it says. "We don't talk about season five of Babylon 5! Hee hee!"

On the other side of the equation, you sometimes see... well, newspaper strips try to make fun of geek culture. Curtis goes there sometimes. But the problem with a lot of those strips are they come from non-geeks, so it's not that it's mean spirited -- it's that it's clueless. Like trying to buddy up to a pack of rabid Browncoats by saying how you really liked Captain Kirk and Han Solo, the best response you can hope for is pity.

No, to really savage geek culture you must be inside geek culture, but be willing to tear all pretension away from it.

Ladies and gentlemen, Randy Milholland.

Now, this is not a remembrance of Robert Jordan. I'm not really qualified to do a remembrance of Robert Jordan. I have a copy of The Eye of the World sitting on the bookshelf behind me in the office where I'm typing this, given to me by an associate going on ten years ago, but I haven't read it. I've never really done the whole Wheel of Time thing. In my defense, I've also only read one Harry Potter book.

That isn't the only Robert Jordan book I own, by the by. But that's getting ahead of the essay.

Regardless, Jordan has clearly done something remarkable. I mean, really really remarkable. And it may be the greatest testament to a writer I can conceive of. And I mean that exactly as it sounds -- there is no higher praise for a writer than I can think of than the one I'm about to give Robert Jordan.

Robert Jordan's work has so enthralled his fans, both hardcore and jaded, that with the announcement of his death, everyone -- in or out of the fandom -- thought "oh my god he's not going to finish Wheel of Time!" instead of "oh my God Robert Jordan is dead."

In part, this stems from the knowledge we've had of Jordan's illness. We've known he was sick, and we've known he was not likely to survive. I wrote an essay about that in 2006, entitled "There is life, and there is living. But they're best done together. In volume." I talked about his cardiomyopathy in that essay, and my own cardiomyopathy as well. And I mentioned I would buy his latest book the next day (as it turns out, I bought Crossroads of Twilight. I have no idea if that was his latest or not, but it was there. I haven't read it, but it's made me think of finally reading The Eye of the World.)

Well, here we are, a year later and he has succumbed. Whether it was to congestive heart failure or to complications in the chemotherapy or something else I don't know. Someone reading this probably does. And I am saddened by this. But even though I've never read any of his books, my immediate thought on hearing the news was "Oh Christ -- he didn't finish The Wheel of Time." When I told someone else, afterward -- someone else who to my knowledge has never read Robert Jordan either -- the response was, immediately, "did he publish that last book first?" We are both sympathetic people, with absolutely no investment in the series to date, and before sympathy or reflection or even the "oh, what a damn shame" response, we both immediately jumped to "aw, shit. He didn't make it. Now the series won't be finished."

I can think of exactly one other writer who would have provoked this reaction. If J.K. Rowling had been hit by a bus before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, the outpouring of grief would have been monumental, but it would have been eclipsed by the shrieks of "OH MY GOD SHE DIDN'T FINISH THE SERIES!"

Robert Jordan inspired that. He did it by creating a series that hooked enough people that it became a holy quest for them. As God was their witness, they were going to make it to the end of The Wheel of Time. When others gave up on Jordan, they hung in there. They kept the faith. And now....

And now.

Of course, they will in fact see the end of the story. Even as J.K. Rowling went on record that the end of Harry Potter had been fully outlined in case she did get hit by a bus, so Jordan went on the record that he had kept his family fully appraised of what needed to happen in this final book, so that it would be completed in case he died. This was a necessary precaution, given his health.

But, the argument will go, it won't be the same. And that's true. And a number of fans will vehemently boycott the book that "the family clearly put out to profit on his legacy," even though it's clear Jordan intended for this story to be finished.

In other words, Geek Culture is in full swing. And that brings us back to Something Positive.

Now, we know that God, in Something Positive, is a full on bastard. We've seen it before. He does horrific things to Davan just to see the look on his face. This is a foundation of the strip.

Therefore, it is entirely in keeping with the spirit of Something Positive that God would cause Jordan's death purely to finally break Mike. Who, you will recall, is the face of Ugly Fandom, all the way to the present. He is Geek Culture at its least palatable, and even as he continues to walk the path of redemption he can backslide.

I know that there are Jordan fans who are pissed over this episode of Something Positive. For "belittling his death," apparently. To me, this validates the strip. Because this isn't about Robert Jordan, even as this essay isn't a remembrance of the man. This strip is about the fandom. About geek culture. About us. From Mike's innately selfish point of view, God did kill Robert Jordan just to make him snap. Freaking out at Milholland for this is A) missing the point of the strip, which is not about Robert Jordan but is about geeks, and B) making it clear you're exactly who he had in mind when he wrote it.

Does that deny the real pain people are feeling? No. But it is observing it, and it is not being gentle about it. That's the business Milholland is in, and business as always is good.

Robert Jordan was clearly a remarkable writer. He inspired passions and dedication and a general sense of his magnum opus that rivals Harry Potter. And we, as geeks, think first of that work -- and how it impacts us -- before even feeling grief for his death. Milholland nailed this one, and nailed us with it.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at September 18, 2007 10:26 AM


Comment from: aaronbourque [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 18, 2007 12:18 PM

I'm a Robert Jordan fan, I just found out this morning, my first reaction was "Oh no, that sucks! That's horrible! . . . And he'll never finish the series! NO!"

AND . . . I found this comic hilarious. Everyone else? Go read George R. R. Martin. He's a better writer, anyway, and aside from weight issues, his health is fine.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque

Comment from: GG [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 18, 2007 12:32 PM

I say this with all love of the comic, because I've been reading it faithfully for years and years.

That said, it's Something Positive. If you're only just NOW being offended by it, you clearly haven't been paying attention.

Comment from: DavidCSimon [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 18, 2007 1:00 PM

I've never read Robert Jordan, but went through something similar when David Gemmell died suddenly last year before completing the final installment in his "Troy" trilogy. Yes, I know he had the whole thing outlined, and I know his wife is going to finish the work, but there's always going to be that nagging voice which asks "Is this what HE would have written?".

As for SP, I'm not a fan, but this particular strip did make me smile in a "Yeah, sometimes it really does feel like that, doesn't it?" kind of way.

Comment from: Lady Luna [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 18, 2007 1:57 PM

"I can think of exactly one other writer who would have provoked this reaction. If J.K. Rowling had been hit by a bus before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, the outpouring of grief would have been monumental, but it would have been eclipsed by the shrieks of "OH MY GOD SHE DIDN'T FINISH THE SERIES!"

I can think of another one as well -- one that came within literal inches of that same scenario. Stephen King was hit by a van and nearly killed 4 books into the 7 book Dark Tower saga. Thankfully he lived, and the tower stands, but I've heard fans before talk about how their heart jumped when they heard King had been hit and that there was a pretty solid chance that nobody would ever know the fate of The Gunslinger.

But, King pulled through. And he finished the massive series (Which I'm just finishing reading now). The Dark Tower fans were lucky.

Not so with Robert Jordan. I have a queer sick and hollow feeling at the knowledge of his death... Both because we lost a good solid fantasy writer who seemed to be a genuinely nice human being, and because we'll now never know what really -- REALLY -- happened to Rand al'Thor ...

Comment from: PerfessorEvil [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 18, 2007 2:05 PM

And then there are the authors who just leave a series hanging for 15 years or so.

Yes David Gerrold, I'm looking at you

I read the first three WoT books, realized that there was no end in sight, and since then I've been collecting them, but not reading them... looks like I won't until they have someone finish the last one.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 18, 2007 2:57 PM

I don't think Stephen King would count for this. Yes, fans of The Dark Tower would have this reaction, but it wouldn't be universal. King has been simply too seminal in the horror field -- no single of his works defines him, not even so... er... definitional a work.

Comment from: quiller [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 18, 2007 3:59 PM

Well, this was pretty much the universal reaction in my office (full of geeks with a tendency towards high fantasy fandom) when we were told the news. "He's dead? Holy crap! Did he finish the series?" A couple of, "Condolences to his friends and family, of course." and then, "So who are they going to get to finish the last book?" Chris Tolkien was jokingly suggested.

The fact is none of us here knew or even met Robert Jordan, one can feel for the situation in the abstract, but the concrete part is, "How does it affect me?" And really we were all pushing for the guy, when you have someone who is terminally ill, whose biggest desire is to outlast the illness and finish what he's started, you really are rooting for him to make his deadline, which I suppose this literally was. Now the true last half of the 12th volume becomes another book in Dream's library. (And I think even more than the Library of Alexandria, the one library I'd really like to browse would be Dream's from the Sandman series.)

If it was like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and it was fans pressuring the author to continue, I'd feel a lot more guilty about such thoughts, but when it is the author's desire as well, when it is what he wants to do with the rest of his life, I think you can feel the loss for the story as a tragedy that is there alongside the loss for the family, and though it shouldn't be said to eclipse it, the loss of the story affects more people.

Story's are made by authors but they are separate from them. I can find an author a right bastard, but still read their stories if they speak to me. Likewise, I can personally like someone a lot, but if their stories aren't to my taste, I won't read them. When we study the lives of authors we are usually studying them in order to better understand their stories and how they came to write them, not their lives.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 18, 2007 7:19 PM

Actually, I'm the only terrible person. Because my reaction was "You know, if he held on another 30 years, we'd *still* say 'Guess that means he's not going to finish The Wheel Of Time'." Actually, my first reaction was to look up his age and feel sad about someone dying. That was my second reaction.

You know what I think would be an appropriate legacy, in part because it would get the whiners to shut up?

First, his estate refuses to say anything about the series for ten years. Just talk about how much they miss a dear husband/father/uncle/brother/best friend, and ask that everyone remember him for the things he'd want to be remembered by.

Then, after that, the estate releases the exhaustive version of the final book (or books) - complete with all the outlines and the like so that people can clearly say "Yes, that was his original intent."

And then, donate all the profits of the book to the American Heart Association (as I imagine they're the ones doing research on what killed Jordan).

That would get the comeuppance of Ugly Fandom, satisfaction for Good Fandom, and charity work to have one last honor for the author. Did I miss anything there?

Comment from: CaptainBooshi [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 18, 2007 9:23 PM

32_footsteps, the problem with that plan is that Jordan explicitly made clear that were he to die before the series was finished, he wanted the rest of his last book to be written and published. Waiting ten years would kind of be an insult to his memory, because he didn't want that.

Comment from: MasonK [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 19, 2007 1:16 AM

Nice, Bro. This is exactly what I meant to say when I saw this strip and messaged you with "Oh my God, Randy is awesome." You understood just what I meant with those words. :)

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 19, 2007 10:45 AM

I recall, perhaps correctly, that Wednesday has 'snarked the comic strip on the official Star Trek website. I look at that every once in a while to see if it's improved, but it never has. The last time, I actually wrote to the website editor. I complained that, though the cartoonist's bio on the site claims he's a Star Trek fan, the strip itself reads like a mainstream comic strip about Star Trek fans - generic jokes with trappings of Star Trek fandom - instead of a strip by Star Trek fans for Star Trek fans.

Is there anyone here who doesn't know that when I started my webcomic I committed to a twenty-five year run? Though my doctor keeps telling me my heart and lungs are in great shape for my age and weight, I can't help but wonder whether there won't be a day before 2029 when a few [immodesty deleted] people worldwide shall say, "But now we'll never know whether Arthur survives Bedegraine in the space arc!"

Comment from: Robotech_Master [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 19, 2007 10:35 PM

You know, this is exactly the way I felt when Roger Zelazny died. He ended the second Amber series with the most god-awful cliffhanger, and was planning to take a few years to do other things before coming back to it, but he never did. And now we'll never know how Merlin et al got out of it.

And I agree: for an author's epitaph to be not "Oh no he's dead" but "Oh no he won't finish it" is one of the highest compliments his fandom can give him.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 19, 2007 11:24 PM

Dammit. I meant, "whether Arthur survives Salisbury in the space arc". Bedegraine comes at the beginning. Senility, folks. I promise I'll leave notes.

Comment from: Horus [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 20, 2007 8:22 AM

I haven't checked Websnark in a while as I've been busy and I note you haven't quite gotten back into full stride posting yet (maybe this has been addressed) but it's reassuring that when I read Something Positive I knew there would be a post over here about the comic and Robert Jordan's death. So thanks for that, my faith in the universe is restored.

Comment from: Tangent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 20, 2007 8:55 AM

Actually, the first thing I thought of was "Damn, another favorite author of mine is dead?" The second was "His fans are going to freak." And the third was "Great. Now I'm behind on writing two in memorandums."

Because two weeks ago last Tuesday, Madeleine L'Engle, the writer of "A Wrinkle in Time" and so many other novels, died. And while she hasn't put out any fictional novels (that I'm aware of) I still loved her writing... and consider her works to be my favorites.

I feel bad for Jordan's wife, and for his friends... and finally I feel bad he didn't prevail against his illness. But I'd fallen out of love with his stories. The last book he wrote that I truly got into was his Wheel of Time prequel. After book 6, his writing became overtly bloated and cumbersome (in my opinion). And while his last published WoT book was overcoming those flaws, he still hadn't overcome the inertia that had killed the series for me.

If the last book is published... I'll buy it and read it. If it's not... then I won't waste any time crying over it.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Comment from: Tangent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 20, 2007 9:04 AM

Curse the lack of editing function... yes, L'Engle has put out fiction. I meant recent fiction. I believe "Troubling a Star" was her last fictional work, though in many ways it did bring closure to the Vicky/Adam relationship (in that it seems likely they'll remain together).

More amusing, my friend called me after I e-mailed him about the death and said something to the effect of "I want you to read Bill and Hillary Clinton's books and start to like them."

Though that would end up killing their ghost writers, not them... =^-^=

Rob H.

Comment from: Jennifer the Chaos Queen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 20, 2007 2:33 PM

Well, supposedly L'Engle was working on a book about Meg as an older adult...so when I heard she died, I promptly whined, "Now we'll NEVER find out how Meg is doing!"

Comment from: leons1701 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 20, 2007 3:10 PM

I'm not surprised George R. R. Martin got a mention, he might be the closest thing to a third author whose death could evoke that sort of reaction. Of course, his pace on Song of Ice and Fire has been so legendarily lethargic that most of his fans have already resigned themselves to the idea. Darnit George, nobody wanted more Wild Cards. Now get back to work :)

As for Gerrold's War Against the Chtorr, after the complete rewrite of the first two novels and 15 years of nothing, I doubt you could scrape together enough people who cared anymore that it was unfinished to fill a telephone booth. Which is kinda sad, because it had potential.

Comment from: HitScan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 20, 2007 3:27 PM

Lady_Luna: At the risk of sounding insensitive to his accident: I'm not entirely certain that Dark Tower fans were "lucky," exactly.

Before the accident they read as if the story is really happening across real worlds; after the accident, they're all just make believe characters in make believe places that have to come to the "real" world just so King can write a couple pages about how much of a stoner retard the guy that hit him was.

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 20, 2007 7:05 PM

Chtorr went from two books of a trilogy, to three books of five, to four books of seven...I still want to see more in the series, but I long ago accepted it would never be finished...every time Gerrold finishes a book, he realizes he needs to extend the overall storyline by two books.

Comment from: LurkerWithout [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 21, 2007 6:42 AM

Darnit George, nobody wanted more Wild Cards.

Now thats not just a lie, its a damn lie. ;)

Comment from: leons1701 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 22, 2007 5:21 AM

Oh sure, once they announced they were making more, people said, 'Hey, more Wild Cards, cool!'

But before that, how many people ever said 'Gosh I wish George would stop making that Song of Ice and Fire junk and edit more Wild Cards.'

Of course, I got rather burnt out on the whole Wild Cards thing because to too many of their original authors, mature and realistic meant sex-lives of the superhuman. A little of that goes a very long way. Here's hoping the new stuff is better.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 22, 2007 2:44 PM

Well, when Randy first ran the strip I thought, "Has Randy been planning all along to do a storyline when Mike backslides, or unravels completely never to return to actual personhood, and was just waiting for something like Jordan's death to send him over the edge? We'll find out tomorrow!" But it's been several days and we haven't seen Mike again. Perhaps Randy drew this gag and updated with it, and only then said to himself, "Crap. Now I have to write the rest of it."

Comment from: Alexis Christoforides [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 24, 2007 5:02 AM

I wonder if that's the way people felt when Frank Herbert died. I remember feeling sadness that the Dune universe would have to be limited to the six books that were completed before his death*. But then again a lot of people probably gave up at 'God Emperor'.

*I know I'm supposed to joke that 'we don't talk about the Brian Herbert/Kevin Anderson books, hee', but I honestly have no idea how good they are, objectively. I know it's not going to be the same, but I'm no longer the huge Dune fanboy that I used to be, so I'm okay with something different but entertaining.

Comment from: B. Durbin [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 29, 2007 3:13 PM

I actually had this reaction when I found out that Robert Jordan was sick, and I find it completely natural. From all accounts, James Rigney was a personable human being, full of energy, and a great friend— but I never met the man. My relationship to him is entirely through his books, and therefore I worry about the books, not the man.

Incidentally, the "who is going to finish the series?" question was actually the first thing that came up after hearing about Jordan's death, because we're cynical bastards. :) I actually jokingly suggested Kevin J. Anderson, on the basis that no one could then complain about the slow pace. I think we decided that Robert Silverberg would be a decent choice, since he can be a bit of a chameleon when he wants to.

(Alexis— the Anderson/B. Herbert books are entirely different from the Frank Herbert books. They're full of action and entertaining as space opera in a previously defined universe, but there's very little in the way of philosophy and mysticism. They're close to the different feel of the extra "Foundation" books by authors other than Asimov— entertaining, but in a completely different fashion.)

Comment from: larksilver [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 2, 2007 12:51 PM

That strip was quite funny, and the snark certainly nailed it.

I do find myself agreeing with GC up there, though - no one should read Something Positive if they are the type to get offended by anything. Herr Milholland seems to take such joy in pushing those hotbuttons, and ohboy does he do so well.

I didn't know about Robert Jordan's death - that's very sad. I guess most people go out thinking that they left something unfinished, but to have a literal Something Unfinished is hard.

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