Still officially on my break, but I thought I’d share some news I received yesterday via email regarding Systems. I’ve been awarded a Finalist medal in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Category of the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Archive for Systems Related
In 2009, I was the co-writer of a ‘good news’ show called Deliver!, which aired on Venus TV in the UK. In the last show of the season, we covered an ‘alternative’ economy model called LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) that was helping communities across the planet to get through recession. We described it as something that takes money ‘out of the equation and rewrites the rules’. It’s still up at YouTube here:
Fast-forward a couple of years to 2011, when Dr. Imran Chaudhry at Pakistan First Research Institute, the research division of PakistanFirst, asked me to co-author a paper for an alternative economy. (I had worked with PakistanFirst once before in a consultative capacity, on a paper making recommendations for provincial reforms in Pakistan.) He was aware of the alternative economy model covered in our news show, and liked the idea enough that he wanted PakistanFirst to present a model specifically tailored for Pakistani rural communities and villages. The resulting paper offers a system based loosely on LETS. We’ve dubbed it VSLE (Value, Skill and Labour Exchange). Like LETS, it’s interest-free and works on the principle of cooperation (collective interest) instead of profit (self interest), but it also has some distinguishing features of its own.
The paper was completed a few weeks ago and it has just been published at Smashwords under the grand title, Emergency Economy (though it’s not necessarily a model just for periods of recession; and its comments apply beyond just microeconomy).
Marghdeen Learning Centre participants: I’d be particularly interested to know your thoughts on this, in light of the fact that the next MLC course promises to contain something ‘practical’. Do you see any similarities – in principle – between this alternative economy model and the ‘Marghdeen’ that Iqbal envisioned? Even if you don’t read the paper, the above video should give you a good idea of what I’m getting at. And this recent post offers a clue as well.
Today is the first year anniversary of the release of Systems, and to mark the occasion I’ve changed the colours at this blog to match the rear cover of the paperback … a lovely shade of dark blue/violet. Wild, I know!
A newly edited version of this title will be released in spring. A CD of the song My Fate will accompany the book – and the CD might contain a hidden track. I say no more.
I’m also tinkering with the idea of presenting the Cohesive Ethics Theorem in a creative way. I have put off writing a formal piece on it for a long time, for various reasons, but mainly because I don’t want to couch a simple concept in stuffy language. That was my primary reason for presenting it in a novel in the first place, to give the abstract some context to which everyone can relate. Even if some formal discussion proves to be unavoidable, at the end of the day the concept is for all people, and not just academics or oddballs like yours truly.
Whatever I end up doing, it will likely be made in the first instance for the Marghdeen Learning Centre. (As you know, the novel is already available as a free download to anyone who joins the Marghdeen Learning Centre courses on Iqbal.)
I should add one more thing: I have other plans for the theorem too. But I’ll leave that for a future post.
Finally, a big thank you to all who have read my novel and sent me your wonderful feedback.
Today I came across a fascinating post at renowned author Lynn McTaggart’s blog, in which she explains why modern society might be on the verge of collapse:
… our biggest group delusion … has to do with the collective assumption and acceptance of the idea that individual ambition serves the common good. That idea, which built modern capitalism, will be at the heart of its downfall.
(Emphasis in original. See full post here)
What she is practically describing is the ‘invisible hand‘ concept in economics, used to defend capitalism. But it is also another way of saying, in theorem-speak, that when we actively choose ‘liberty’ (individual ambition) over ‘justice’ (common good), we are doomed to fail. In the Systems Experiment too, capitalism fails because, to quote Omar, it ‘focuses on freedom, at the cost of stability’.
McTaggart adds that if society wants to succeed in the long term, its people must adopt a ‘good for me, good for all’ mindset.
In other words, we must choose justice.
Hopefully this sheds light on why the theorem in Systems is summed up in the line: Choose justice and return to Liberty.
Postscript: Liberty (with a capital L) is different to liberty (with a lowercase l). The latter, as individualist ambition, is illusory and not really freedom at all, however it may appear in a society focused on short-term gains. Only by choosing justice can society earn authentic freedom for every individual.
!ہارون، اسم شوما عجیب است
شوما اجتماعیت را بر افتراق
شوما بر کوہ (طور) عدول حکمی برتر خود کردید
!بلا شبعہ شوما خضر ایست توندارد روح ندارد
Translation from Persian:O Aaron, irony is thy name! You upheld unity, not dissent, And defied your brother at the Mount. Indeed you are Khizr* in the flesh!
This ‘Ode to Aaron’, in English blank verse, came to me when I was reaching the end of writing Systems in late 2011. Just as the Peace Man is representative of justice, and Hitoshi of liberty, my other lead character Aaron Lloyd represents the unity principle – only he shares it with his Biblical namesake.
Dr. Shabbir Ahmed of Florida (of QXP fame) kindly turned the English into Persian for me not long ago. I planned to put this up at the main section of my site, but couldn’t find a place for it.
So I decided to post it here today, since I needed an excuse to test post again anyway.
Yes, that’s right. This is just another test post. But who wants to read a post that just says, ‘test’?
* Khizr is the name that Muslims have given to the mysterious stranger in the Quran (verses 18:65-82). The stranger shows Moses a series of strange events, where all is not as it seems. Moses’s impatient response to these events is actually a prelude to what he later experiences at Mount Sinai, when he is astonished to find that Aaron has allowed the Israelites to resume their idol-worship of the calf during Moses’ absence. Moses confronts his brother; and Aaron explains is that he let the Israelites do as they wished only in order to avoid a division or a rebellion amongst them.
2012 has been an extremely eventful year for me. At the beginning of the year I published Systems and launched this blog soon afterwards (18 Jan). I thought I’d write the odd post here and there, but so much happened this year that I never got round to sharing some of the news here. So consider this post a roundup of 2012, with the previously untold news thrown in.
On 2 July, Systems (and its trailer) first became a part of a course (rather aptly, The Wisdom of Moses* course) at the Marghdeen Learning Centre, an associative educational body of Iqbal Academy Pakistan. By 11 October, with the commencement of the course on Biological Unity, Systems attained a permanent part of the reading material, alongside Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam and Khurram Shafique’s 2017: The Battle for Marghdeen (which was published by Libredux Publishing). Anyone who joins these courses gets a free copy of the novel.
And Systems also made a brief appearance on the big screen, with the airing of my brother Shahid Karim’s Terminator spoof titled The Procrastinator at the Bang! Short Film Festival in Nottingham on 24 November.
* In Systems, Prof. Omar is very loosely based on Moses. He is from Egypt, his son is named Aaron, and parts of the Systems story line allude to Moses’ exodus. And of course, E3 is based on the tyrants who were also Moses’ opponents in his time.
Systems was published under the imprint name Libredux Publishing. I had no other plans for Libredux, but it also became the publisher of Khurram Shafique’s 2017: The Battle for Marghdeen on 14 August (Pakistan Independence Day) and also the co-publisher of two other titles shortly afterwards (below).
This year saw the release of two titles edited and translated by myself and my father Fazal Karim: The Qur’anic System of Sustenance and Did Quaid-e-Azam Want to Make Pakistan a Secular State?, both authored by G.A. Parwez (1906-1985). Both titles were co-published by Tolu-e-Islam Trust and Libredux Publishing.
At present, The Qur’anic System of Sustenance is also being turned into an audio book. My brother Shahid is the narrator.
On 23 March this year this article of mine appeared in the Pakistani newspaper’s Dawn Special Report on the Lahore Resolution of 1940.
This year I collaborated with the think tank PakistanFirst on a paper for an ‘alternative economy’, inspired by a model that was covered in Shahid’s news show Deliver! in 2009 (aired on Venus TV in the UK. See the clip from that show here). The paper is on the verge of release.
Visionary Fiction Alliance
I and eleven other authors founded the Visionary Fiction Alliance (17 August), dedicated to promoting fiction of the kind that explores human potential. I’m now one of its admins. The story of how we came together can be found here.
Most of you won’t know that I have taken part in a documentary on Dr. Iqbal’s philosophy, produced by the Iqbal Academy, Pakistan. Parts of it were shot in Cambridge. The filming of my part took four hours in a very hot room (it was the middle of July) but quite enjoyable considering that I have a total (and I mean, total) fear of public speaking. You probably won’t catch me in front of a camera again. The documentary is still in production and it should be televised some time in 2013.
… And that’s just about everything.
Coming up in 2013
1) The re-release of Systems (re-edited, and with extras)
2) Hitoshi’s song My Fate from Systems to be recorded
3) The Cohesive Ethics Theorem should get a formal write-up, but with a twist
4) Re-making of The Way: My brother’s first ever film, which can be described as having a visionary story line, is being re-made this year. I was the composer of its original soundtrack, and I’ll be the composer again for the remake.
5) More to come. Watch this space.
Happy New Year 2013.
*Warning* – This post contains spoilers, and should only really be viewed by those who have read Systems.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
On 14 January 2013, Systems will have been in print for exactly one year. For those of you who have already read it, you’ll know that at the end, Hitoshi, Aaron and Elise meet at the nightclub, intending to return to Creux Island and take down the Paragon3 computer program that is presently controlling the world, and replace it with Libredux’s code. We don’t get to see this happen, but it’s obviously implied, so the good guys have as good as won. The story has come to its proper closure.
For some of you, apparently not. A significant number of you have said that the novel’s ending was either too ambiguous or at least left sufficiently open-ended for a sequel. I’ll quote one reader word for word:
I thought it was brilliant – but I was so disappointed by the ending!
Is that how you felt? Now I don’t deny that there is an open-ended, er, ending. I borrowed the idea from Mortal Kombat, at the end of which Lui Kang defeats the sorcerer Shang Tsung and the world is saved. But just as Lui Kang leaves the temple with Raiden, Kitana, Johnny and Sonya, the evil emperor Shao Kahn suddenly appears as a giant crashing through a tower, and announces he has come for their souls. Raiden says: ‘I don’t think so.’ And the fighters all pose for the next battle.
‘You humans are so unpredictable’
That to me was a perfectly wrapped-up-and-yet-open-ended close to the movie, and I wanted to do something similar. So I wrapped up my story up as far as possible in the last few pages, in particular the hospital scene where Aaron and Elise discover what Hitoshi had really found at Creux Island. And at the nightclub, I ended with Hitoshi’s devilish smile to imply that the fight will go on.
But some of you said you would have liked to see the world change in a more definitive way by the end. Others were upset that Hitoshi destroyed the data from the original Systems Experiment, because it would have proved once and for all that Omar’s Libredux model proved an ideal society was possible. (Apparently, one of Hitoshi’s many lies that the Systems Experiment results were ‘inconclusive’ may have put doubt in some readers’ minds.)
I took this complaint seriously. I was concerned that I had failed to communicate the point of the ending well enough. I wrote in confidence to a friend that I was thinking of tinkering with the ending – not to change it but to extend it and clearly show that Hitoshi was similarly tinkering with the Paragon3 code, which was better than having the original data. My friend’s emphatic response:
Please, no. I liked the ending very much. The destruction of the disc is not evil because what it implied for me was that the Truth is not even dependent on one-time data. It will find some other way of manifesting itself.
Well, at least he got it. But he doesn’t count, since he also happens to be a genius. My instincts on this are that my original ending was right. I would never show how the world changed at the end, because that would conflict with my convictions that one should never seek to provide a ready-made blueprint of a vision for an ideal society. (Remember: Jinnah and Iqbal never provided blueprints either). But I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I have come to realise where the issue might really lie. And it’s not the Systems Experiment.
Nineteen Eighty-Four - A mirror opposite
One or two readers have compared Systems to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and I can see the resemblance. Orwell’s novel is set in a future and a dystopian world run by Big Brother. In fact, it’s set exactly 30 years before mine, which essentially begins in 2014. My fictional world is a semi-utopia that is later revealed to be a dystopia run by E3. In both novels, the bad guys deal with rebels by murdering and then writing them out of history.
Whereas Nineteen Eighty-Four has an undoubtedly tragic and pessimistic ending, Systems ends on a decidedly positive note. But in both stories, the evil rulers persist, and we don’t see them get the comeuppance they deserve. And this, it seems, is the real offending issue in Systems. It’s not the Experiment, or the data, but E3 … the appearance of E3 ultimately getting away with everything.
The penny finally dropped for me after a conversation with an academic who said she wanted to know what would happen to E3 in a sequel. I immediately thought: ‘But E3 is already doomed, once the good guys go back to Creux Island…’ And then I realised that I hadn’t explicitly stated this in the novel. Or rather, it had only been implied, and probably not clearly enough.
Know the Truth and Return to Liberty
So why wasn’t E3 finished off properly, or at least exposed? Well, aside from the fact E3 does lose (albeit after the closing pages) that isn’t even the point of the story. The end of Systems is not about the battle against an external evil, but about an inner battle … of human self-belief. That’s why it’s visionary fiction. It reaffirms a belief, in Manner’s words, ‘in all that is possible’ … what we think is ‘ideal’, but which is not only absolutely possible, but moreover necessary for our evolution. The end of Systems (see what I did there?) was to show that no matter how powerful our dictators and tyrants might seem, it’s a deception. All it takes to defeat the sorcerers is to see through the illusion. Whatever they tell us, human destiny really lies in our own hands, and unlocking our potential is a simple case of knowing it, and acting on it.
Truly the flimsiest of houses is the spider’s house; if they but knew. - The Quran *
When I first started writing this post, I was going to announce my intention to change the ending. But since then, my conversations with some readers have shown me that I only need to change maybe a line. As Roz Morris has recently suggested at her blog, readers are usually right when something is wrong. But they are not always right about what is wrong.
So the ending will stay the same. Phew! But I am planning an edited edition (including that added line, obviously), with some extras …
More information will be made available on the first anniversary edition of Systems, in January 2013. Stay tuned.
* Incidentally, that Quranic quote is directly responsible for the title of Chapter 33 (The Spider’s House), and is a massive clue to the reader as to whether E3 is going to really get away in the end (especially since the Quranic ‘spider’s house’ is a literal allegory for Pharoah, Hamaan and Qaroon, the three symbols of tyranny on which E3 is based!). And Chapter 34′s title, Know the Truth, aside from being the tag line to the novel, is borrowed from the Biblical You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. That too is a clue linking Aaron and Elise’s discovery of the truth to the implications for their world … and for E3.
What the title says.
The first part of Chapter 4 from Systems has appeared over the the Visionary Fiction Alliance. It’s the first scene in which we are introduced to the serial killer Peter Manner, aka the Peace Man, properly.
Click here to read it.
Do pop over and say hi.
You might remember a post I wrote back in August in which I mentioned my brother Shahid Karim’s short Terminator spoof film The Procrastinator. He had just submitted it to the annual bang! film festival in Nottingham, and today he has been notified that it will be screening there on 24 November, in the Crash bang! Wallop section. Since a copy of Systems happens to make a brief appearance, it’s as good as an advert.
If you are anywhere near Broadway Cinema from 3 p.m. onwards that day, maybe we’ll see you there!
Completely by accident this morning I have seen a post at the Science Fiction & Political Thought blog that briefly reviews my novel. The blog’s name is pretty self-explanatory. Its author, Dadrocant, is interested in exploring the links between sci-fi and political thought. In his latest post, ‘Can Science Fiction help us redefine our political system?‘, he mentions Systems as an example of sci-fi that questions whether or not democracy really is the best possible political system. This passage from that post caught my attention:
The center dilemma of this story lies in a social experiment simulation conducted 20 years before the events of the book, where several political systems are put to the test in a comparison, and even though there is no explanation as to what exactly the ideal system that is the center of the test [Libredux] is exactly like, it does hint at some interesting points, which can be seen today in some of the discourses from those who are discontented about the current state of affairs in western democracies …
That, of course, is the point Systems attempts to make. There is no such thing as a fixed ideal system. The distinguishing characteristic of an ideal system is that it is never fixed. That’s why you won’t find a blueprint for the Libredux model in Systems. And for any Pakistanis reading this post, this should be big clue as to why Iqbal also never offered any sort of blueprint for an ideal political system, and why even that epitome of pragmatism, Mr Jinnah, was supposedly ‘vague’ about what Pakistan’s system would be like.
So, does Systems question democracy? Yes, it questions the modern democratic state – just as it questions all fixed ideologies – but not democracy in principle, which is based on both the ideals of liberty and justice. In fact, I always assumed that the Libredux model would likely be set up as some sort of democracy and evolve from there, in line with what I have said in SJ2 about ideal systems being able to develop by using any contemporary polity as a starting point. To reiterate: A ‘Libredux’ system would be one that theoretically takes the shape of almost any system, as long as it was fit to survive in the conditions of its time, and it retained its ideals (as per the theorem). Like a living organism, its body or structure can take any shape but its ethical DNA remains ultimately the same. I wrote this in an earlier draft of the manuscript for Systems – in its long-winded synopsis, actually - but it never made it into the final version of the novel. I didn’t want too much technical stuff to get in the way of the story.
The whole post on sci-fi as a medium for exploring future political systems can be found here.
Note: I accidentally titled this ‘Rebirth of Thought’ when it should have said ‘Reason (for) Rebirth’. Corrected now. I’m half asleep today!
Note (again): It was really bugging me why I had thought ‘raison’ meant thought, so I double-checked. Turns out that when I originally chose the word ‘raison’ (some years go), I picked it for its second meaning: reason, mind. So my memory wasn’t mixed up after all. Note to self: Never second-guess yourself during a migraine!
I intended to put up an entirely different post today, but will leave that for later (though that one is important too). Just wanted to mention something that has come up at the Marghdeen Learning Centre’s present course, The Wisdom of Moses, where Systems also happens to be part of its required reading list.
This week’s question was asking about what is common between two seemingly unrelated passages written by Iqbal. They are quite long so I won’t reproduce them in full here, but in short both of them mention the passage in the Quran in which there is a reference to ‘resurrection’ or ‘rebirth’.
As Iqbal quotes it:
Your creation and resurrection are like the creation and resurrection of a single soul. (31:28)
Aside from a few who believe that this is literally a reference to reincarnation on earth (and yes, I used reincarnation as a metaphor in Systems), most understand that this is a comment on the recycling of the universe (including life), and it is also a statement on the birth and rebirth of humanity as a whole, treated as a ‘single soul’. In addition, it’s saying that the fate of human society rests equally on each and every one of us. So each of us is also society (or humanity), and what every one of us does will affect its evolution.
But there is a bit more to it than even that – from Iqbal’s viewpoint. He was interested in the method for reviving society. His comments from the two aforementioned passages are as follows:
First passage: Allahabad Address: Is it possible for you to achieve the organic wholeness of a unified will? Yes, it is. … Pass from matter to spirit. Matter is diversity; spirit is light, life and unity. … One of the profoundest verses in the Holy Quran teaches us that the birth and rebirth of the whole of humanity is like the birth and rebirth of a single individual. Why cannot you … as a people, … live and move and have your being as a single individual?
Second passage: The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam: A living experience of the kind of biological unity, embodied in this verse [as cited above], requires today a method physiologically less violent and psychologically more suitable to a concrete type of mind.
Now this has caused a stir over at the course. What is biological unity? What is ‘rebirth’? How do we achieve it? What does Iqbal mean when he says about society: live and move and have your being as a single individual?
The question becomes easier to answer if it is reworded: How do we reboot the mind (of society)? Obviously, through re-education, or, in biological terms, by rewiring the brain. We know how difficult it is in science to differentiate between brain and mind anyway. (Now you also know why reincarnation and psychic ability – what Hitoshi called a ‘worldwide neuron network’ – appear together in Systems.) If a society can achieve this, it will also achieve unity of collective thought – and unity of purpose. This is what the theorem (and the Systems Experiment) in the novel highlights as well (Chapter 11). Oh, and it was something I mentioned a few times in SJ2 as well, though there it was phrased ‘intellectual unity’.
In other words, this is all theorem stuff again. My favourite Iqbal line, the one I call the ‘muse’ for the theorem, speaks of rendering the three intangible ideals (equality, freedom, solidarity) as ‘space-time forces’:
Muse line (Reconstruction): The essence of ‘Tauhid’ [Unity of God] as a working idea is equality, solidarity, and freedom. The State … is an endeavour to transform these ideal principles into space-time forces, an aspiration to realise them in a definite human organisation.
As far as I understand it, there is scant difference between this passage about the ‘state’ and the ones about ‘biological’ unity. Both are describing the meaning of true Unity. It’s just the subject that differs. One is the human being; the other the political state. In fact, the muse line technically mentions both ‘state’ and the human being (‘human organisation’).
Incidentally – more trivia for you – a key location (and a chapter) in Systems was quite deliberately named René Raison dam. It was a wink and a nod to René Descartes, the father of the dualist doctrine, as well as a phrase in French – ignoring the bad grammar. Literal meaning is in the title of this article, and its implication is that we need to rethink what reality means. Is it split into spirit and matter, unseen and seen, thought and material, body and mind, space and time?
Or is it Unified?
Apparently, humans are not the only readers of my novel. In this short spoof, the Terminator (or rather, the Procrastinator) has a habit of putting things off with meaningless tasks. He also has interesting reading habits.
This short film, titled The Procrastinator, was in fact created by my brother Shahid Karim, and it has just been submitted to a local film festival (bang! film festival in Nottingham). You’ve seen his work before: He created the trailers for both Systems and SJ2.
(And yes, this really is my third post in as many days. A record from me, and not likely to be repeated any time soon. Just had a lot of news. )