Cullen’s Whiplash Writing Recommendations: On the Benefits and Risks of the Common Cliche

And that title? Redundant. Cliches are common by definition. I think. Or is it that they’re just really common with certain groups of people? Anyway, let’s get to it! Back to the comfortable abstractions of imaginary worlds instead of the uncomfortable abstractions of the real one! Ha, you know, the massive computer simulation that we’re all trapped in. Right? You’ll notice I didn’t include pictures this time. I don’t want to shoehorn them in where they don’t make sense, you see (except when I really want to.)

I’ve mentioned cliches before. Give me another few years of bursts of activity followed by months of silence, soon I’ll have mentioned everything before and my blogs will turn into a Shelobian web of cross-linking. Have I used Shelobian before? Because I want to coin that as a Tolkienesque adjective. Like Tolkienesque. Anyway, cliches. You and I and everyone we all know will, if we’re pressed, say that we are at best lukewarm towards cliches. Which is funny, because ‘lukewarm’ is an extremely cliche way of saying ‘passive bordering on disliking.’ In fact, consider all the slang you’ve ever heard. Why is it slang? Because it’s extremely popular in common idiomatic speech (possibly common idiotic speech as well). Deliberately ironic double cliches are my personal favorite: “Avoid cliches like the plague.” That’s from a list a friend of mine found for me a while back. See, here’s the problem we encounter when trying to avoid cliches: they are everywhere. Such as the phrase, “They’re everywhere!” Cliches, in point of fact, have us surrounded, and they want us to drop the dictionaries and keep our pens where they can see ’em.

This is getting disgustingly meta, isn’t it? Meta is also a cliche. Oh god, what have I done? Wait, that’s a cliche too! And I can’t scream in horror because even that is a cliche! If you can’t see the problem by now, it’s either because you stopped reading or you just don’t like me very much. Or both. Both would be a logical combination of circumstances which would contribute to your recalcitrance regarding further reading. Now, that phrase I just used is most certainly not cliche (though it dips into the ‘overly intellectual’ stereotype), but it was also way too long and just generally awkward, like a cyborg giraffe who received a telescopic cyberneck. In my usual fashion, observe as I now segue into the demonstrative part of my post. Example one, engage!

“Gerry the Giraffe, a decorated giraffe war hero, was caught in a brutal ambush by King Croc’s cybercroc supersoldiers, and spent three months missing all his legs and most of his spine at Giraffeston Military Memorial Hospital, before Dr. Josephine the Giraffe Cyberscientist had him inducted into her special cyborg construction cyberprogram. He was outfitted with an experimental telescoping cyberneck which ate up 90% of the allocated budget, leaving him with obscenely glitchy prototype laser cyberlegs. This made walking difficult, because Gerry’s cyberlegs often shot the ground by accident and sent him several hundred feet into the air. Fortunately his indestructible admantium cyberneck meant that at worst, another Cybergiraffe with a crane-equipped cyberneck had to hoist him out when his entire head became buried. It was never determined whose decision it was to put the lasers on Gerry’s legs instead of feeding them through his eyes, but it was probably Donny. Freaking Donny.”

How many of the cliches can you spot in this sentence? Because I made sure to put a lot of them in there. Choice examples include using ‘cyber’ for everything way past the point of necessity, and the ‘That one asshole’ joke at the end. In my particular circle of friends that role is actually assigned to a Brad, which is approximately 400x worse. I say ‘assigned’ because ‘that one asshole’ is determined by group consensus, not necessarily his own behavior. Friends can be extremely horrible. Also, Brad’s a frat boy. He wasn’t at first, but then he became one, leading me to conclude that people named Brad ultimately join fraternities out of a sense of community, thus perpetuating that particular Brotastic stereotype. Two more cliches I’ll give you, by the way (there are more, but again, figure ’em out): The ‘obscenely large multiple’ cliche and ‘Brofixes’. For more on that second one, see Broforce, which is fucking awesome and entirely too much fun if you like side-scrolling, pixelated games in which you’re doing things wrong if you don’t make Michael Bay look like he has Explodophobia.

So, here’s the ‘recommendation’ part of this whole thing: since some cliches are unavoidable, picking where you’re going to have them so that they actually work. Cyborgs are cliche, no doubt about taht. But they are also, as with Broforce, fucking awesome. And yes, I am very much devaluing the ol’ F bomb today. Good thing about cursewords is they work on an inverse principle from non-nuclear proliferation: the more you say them, the less people care. A ridiculous non-anthropomorphic giraffe army, however, is more of a children’s book crossed with ’80s cartoons and ’90s platforming video games. It’s just awful. I need to excise that in favor of some other, more maturely insane reason for cyberfying a giraffe. Also, no more cyber everywhere. So, here you go:

“Gerry was kind of a joke to the team, at first. See, back in 2017, some asshat at the Pentagon, or some entire rack of asshats, maybe, decided they should plonk our next research black site in the middle of the goddamn African Savannah. I won’t say they were wrong, I mean, if we need to disappear someone out here for seeing us, we just shoot ’em and throw ’em to the lions. We don’t like doing that, but a fucking hunter-gatherer should have the survival sense not to follow an armored, MG-equipped humvee for eight miles, y’know? But the bigger problem was testing. Can’t go putting high-end cybernetics on every random dickbag we see. We need to test if the stuff works.

The Army, the Airforce, the Marines, they basically drowned us in diverted funding to get their candidates in for the human trials. Thing is, they’d be pretty pissed if we had a repeat of the Larrick incident. Poor girl still can’t taste anything. The problem with the Savannah is this, and I don’t know why we didn’t set up in the jungle where only hippie morons would ever go, but all the chimps and apes and so on are way South. Again, in nice, isolated jungle. Closest relatives, so they’re the next best test subjects, right? No moral repercussions for blowing them to hell if they try to use their upgrades on us. They beat each other to death all the time anyway.

But we can’t do that with people. You can be damn sure every jack one of them would try to off us, and we’d never get any testing done. Can’t do it on the Military candidates, either. We want them intact so we can give them the finished hardware. Don’t waste talent, you know? So here we have to test things in different ways. We test material shear strength- sorry, just another word for tensile strength- by taking it out to really stupid long lengths. And that’s where Gerry came in. Lions and cheetahs are fucking predators and wicked fast already. Don’t wanna give those bastards more of an edge than evolution did. But Donny, and this is why we let him take half the first pot of coffee every day, he suggested maybe we should take a giraffe.

Elephants are high profile, bad news there. Too much international coverage on poaching those. Don’t know what the hell we’d use a hippo for, and they’re worse than the crocs anyhow. But a giraffe? No one gives a shit about giraffes. We could take every giraffe on the continent and I bet no one would notice they were gone. So we sent Stevenson and his boys out with tranqs, and sure enough they got us the biggest goddamn giraffe you’ve ever seen. I was the one who suggested the telescoping neck. Stretch the fucker way out, see how thin we could make the plating. That wasn’t the cruel part, though.

The cruel part is, my idea worked. So Gerry can reach any leaf on Earth now. Doesn’t matter, though. His belly’s a little fusion reactor. There’s capacitors where his heart should be, and he doesn’t breath anymore. Only parts of him still biological after all this time are those two wide eyes and that little, scared herbivore brain. But hey, it worked, right? At least, that’s what I hear.”

Here are the cliches I’ve used here: 1. Cyborgs, 2. Government black site for questionable research, 3. Amoral scientist, 4. Casual racism and 5. Animal testing. I’m sure there are others, but I wasn’t paying as much attention this time. I consider these cliches valid, for the following reason: 1, Cyborgs are still awesome. 2, the U.S. government totally does that (usually but not always excluding the ‘questionable’ part), 3, Who else would do this kind of work? 4, It still exists, and 5, so does this. The first one is fiction (for now; I refuse to count prosthetics that offer inferior functionality rather than superior. If my arms are going to be metal, I want to be able to throw cars, dammit!), the second is (again, except for ‘questionable’) necessary because no, civilians should not know the intimate particulars of, say, building a freaking railgun. By the way, you may be aware that the U.S. Navy announced that railgun project in 2010. What they didn’t announce is that, given they’ve completed Phase One (as for 2012), that weapon is now apparently ready for long-term service and they’re working on managing the heat to allow rapid fire. America: Making the scariest parts of sci-fi real, since the 1980s.

The other three cliches just fit the contents of the monologue and characters who would do this kind of work. Simple as that. So basically, those are your parameters for cliche usage: when they make sense and aren’t too obvious. That’s it. Nope, no authoritative dictums here. We’re dealing with colloquialisms, my friend, there are no hard rules because language changes even faster than your friend Tina’s relationship status. HA! BURN! By the way, ask Tina to call me later. I don’t want to ask her out, I just want to destroy her self-esteem. Because writers are awful miserable people who want everyone else to feel the same.

You hapless sack of ever-doomed flesh and blood, you.


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