Sierra Foxtrot 2

  • Keep in mind things like gravity, when you set things on alien worlds. The Crashlanders in Larry Niven, for instance, have an average height of seven feet (213 cm) for a male. Given the average human male (globally) is 5'8" (172 cm) tall, their planet, We Made It, must have a surface gravity only (68/84) 81% of Earth's, or about twice that of Mars (if they're all from the US, with an average height of 5'10"/178 cm, it's still 83%). I don't know how broadly the probes defined "habitable points", but that seems a bit low to me.

    Unfortunately, on the other hand, we don't actually know the effects of prolonged not-weightless-but-different-from-Earth's gravity exposure. We've never really had a chance to research it. Some people were planning to do some experiments to test it—it involved mouse-sized spin-gravity habitats, in zero-G—but given their domain name, marsgravity.org, is up for sale, I don't think they're around anymore.
  • I was recently considering making the zled official language (and its relatives, because I've worked one of those out, because, well, yeah) ergative-absolutive. It wouldn't take too much work to do, although I've been having real trouble getting my brain around the anti-passive voice.

    But, researching how passive constructions worked in E-A languages (in part to find out what the hell anti-passive is), I discovered that they don't have them. They probably can't, the way agency is expressed in the verb system basically precludes it (Tibetan has things sometimes called active and passive, but that's actually because it marks verbs for volitionality, which is something different). And that was a deal-breaker, because I had a thing in zled etiquette (it's a part of honorific speech in Korean, Japanese, and several other Asian-Pacific languages) where you make someone the agent of passive constructions, and never the patient thereof, as a sign of respect.
  • I'm not certain that it always holds, but, apparently, if the accretion-disk model of solar-system formation is correct, all planets in a system will revolve around the system primary in the same direction. Which means that the model I used for deriving galactic north from spin and core will also work in a solar system. Spacefaring cultures can now use galactic North (or East) for navigating in interstellar space, and stellar North/East for navigating in interplanetary.

    Awesome, but on the other hand, oy vey (or, more correctly given where Yiddish is from, "oj weh"). I'm gonna have to add this thing to some space-scenes, there's really no way around it. You don't come up with a concept like "stellar north" and let it go to waste.
  • A commenter on a right-wing blog had an interesting point, about why science fiction writers are some of the few outspokenly right-wing writers outside the niche press—namely, the modern Left is technophobic. In contrast with the "engineering" paradigm of Marx and Lenin—that is not my framing of the concept, it was his—modern leftists are Gaia-worshiping hylozoist vitalists (that is my way of putting it). Hence probably also why politics is not something where fantasy works like science fiction, fantasy writers are politically far more in line with the rest of the litterati.

    Since my political views have been summed up (by me) as "both parties are unlettered skin-clad savages, but one of them doesn't go in for cannibalism", this datum is interesting in a largely impersonal way. Unlettered skin-clad savages have many intriguing folkways, after all. (And how sad is it that Firefox's spellcheck knows "folkways" but not "litterati"?)
  • You know "To Serve Man", the Twilight Zone episode? The alien's played by Richard Kiel, AKA Jaws from Moonraker and Spy Who Loved Me (and AAKA Eegah, from, well, Eegah). But the thing they did with the alien language—capital vs small letters!—is goofy. There is exactly one other language with the print vs. cursive distinction (the latter is what the minuscules actually are), and that's Greek; Byzantine and Latin scriptoria worked very similarly. Arguably hiragana and katakana, too, but katakana are used as a different typeface (namely italics), not a different case.

    Why not have it be that the Kanamit (yes, I know the alien race's name without looking it up, I'm as disgusted as you are) writing system uses logograms, and not always in a self-evident manner. Idioms in logogram languages can get freaky, especially when they're adapted to other languages. I mean, do you know what Tenchi Muyo, as in the anime title, actually means? If you answered "No need for Heaven and Earth", you're being misled by an idiom. No, "Tenchi Muyo" means "this end up". Since it's written as "heaven, earth, no good", they don't usually write it that way anymore.

    See, in the sort of Classical Chinese that the idiom comes from, a "Heaven-Earth" is, in some contexts, a top-down motion (sometimes mako and kesagiri are called "heaven-earth cuts", in swordfighting), and can mean vertical generally. So "Tenchi Muyo" means, basically, "vertical inversion is no good" (if that kind of diction strikes you as bizarre, congratulations, you're having the normal human reaction to Classical Chinese's way of doing things).
  • In a manga I was reading—name omitted to prevent teh spoilerz—a guy's troubled by the fact he's attracted to his older sister, who, of course, turns out not to be really his sister, and indeed not even really his conspecific, because spaceship AIs in bioroid bodies don't have families, or species for that matter. (He's her ship, she decided to raise him as a normal kid after they crashed on Earth—the bioroid body was never really explained.) Given that "not really blood-related" is how those plots usually turn out (see, e.g., Oniichan no Koto Zenzen Suki Janaindakarane), you'd think characters would start expecting it (although if you raise real siblings apart, the Westermarck Effect doesn't come into play, and icky things can happen if they meet).

    But also, and perhaps manga writers should reflect on the fact this actually comes up often enough to need addressing, if you turn a ship into a person, why not just tell them? People who are actually spaceships can live quite happily with the knowledge, but people who are actually spaceships and don't know it can be very dangerous when they get startled by alien monsters who show up seeking their marvelous technology. And please consider the kind of technology—specifically, the kind of power-plant—that probably goes into a spaceship that not only has a full-blown AI, but can turn itself into a bioroid body, even rendering its excess mass into a form that doesn't change the bioroid's density.
  • It is by now common knowledge that the thing in that one...I wanna say James Bond...movie, with the ice bullet that melts so you can't trace it, is hogwash—the propellants would melt it. But what about if you made the bullet from a salt, that dissolved in the body's fluids? That would at least obscure any identifying marks.

    Of course, in reality, tracing bullets to particular guns is a hell of a lot harder than TV would like you to think. This is one of those misconceptions I'm not terribly concerned to combat, though; the likelier people think they are to get caught, the less likely they are to misbehave.

    And this is included here because the techno-thriller is considered a branch of SF, if you're a lumper and not a splitter. Also because io9 claims CSI, a by-the-numbers police procedural if e'er such there were, is science fiction, mostly so they can talk about the same pop-culture pablum as the rest of Gawker.
  • Speaking of manga, spaceships, and bioroids, there's a manga—I think it's a tie-in to a game—called Himawari, with a girl found in a crashed UFO. I think, from the little of it that's been scanlated, that she's a navigation bioroid of some kind, because despite being sorta brain-damaged in a Chii-from-Chobits kind of way, she can plot rocket flights with her eyes closed.

    But I thought something interesting was, she can't drink from a cup without a straw—because if you were engineered and conditioned for zero-g, you'd never experience cups that can be "tipped" in a meaningful fashion.
  • To end on a lighthearted yet meanspirited note, Oblivion, by all indications, looks to be, basically, Darker and Edgier WALL-E.


Welcome to the Desert of the Real

Quote from The Matrix, but the reference is to World God Only Knows, because the post is about anime and manga (i.e., the 2d world, rather than the 3d one, which is known to Keima as "the real").

Oh, by the way, I'm getting rid of anonymous comments, period. I've had a halfwit troll come in and, on posts about string theory, tell me to stop being a dumbass. Why should I have to screen that kind of idiocy?
  • You might think that "Legend of the Legendary Heroes" gets its stupid title from translation, much like how "hitori de sabishii" is too often rendered as "I'm lonely if I'm alone" (try "I'm lonely by myself", it sounds better). But, no, in Japanese it's "Densetsu no Yûsha no Densetsu". I'm guessing the author just has no naming sense, given he's also got characters named Ferris Eris and Iiris Eris.

    It's not bad, though light novels are remarkably formulaic—far more formulaic than manga, even harem manga, where you've got things as different as Chobits and Sora no Otoshimono. Light novels, on the other hand, always have their everyman-with-one-ability protagonist/POV character, their quirky, hostile female lead, and the shoehorning in of a Japanese school context. Think Hidan no Aria, Legendary Heroes (military academies of quasi-Renaissance states shouldn't work like post-war Japanese high schools), Chrome Shelled Regios...make a drinking game of it, going down Baka-Tsuki's project list and taking a shot for every series that fits that formula, and I bet you'll be in the hospital before you reach the end.

    The exception is Slayers, where the psycho chick is the POV character and the male lead is about 30 IQ points below "everyman" status. Also BakaTest and ToraDora don't count, because their school setting and quirky female lead, respectively, are integral to their plots (also they're awesome).
  • In the exciting field of "explaining fictional works as being combinations of other fictional works", I think I'm not wrong in saying that BakaTest is the Hunger Games meets Revenge of the Nerds, with just a dash of Pokemon. Except that BakaTest's humor is more twisted than any American movie, ever...and if Sakamoto Yuuji took part in the Hunger Games, he'd have the Panem government overthrown, the Hunger Games abolished, and himself made dictator-for-life, within two days.

    Also, Yuuji might be evil (okay, no, he's definitely evil), but he's not so stupid as to force the Capital's children to do Hunger Games, like Katniss did. Yuuji's got the brains to know that victory is pointless if you can't hold what you take. That's why he let the first class he defeated keep their facilities—because then they owed him, which he could use. Should anyone be concerned that Katniss Everdeen—a character in a serious story—is actually more pettily, self-destructively vindictive than a guy in a farce, where over-the-top petty, self-destructive vindictiveness is a major source of the comedy?
  • Tooryanse; Oni-san, kochira; Kagome, kagome...is there a single Japanese folk-song or children's song that isn't spooky as hell, and most appropriately sung by the ghosts of children in a haunted-ass abandoned hospital? Do you know how many damn horror anime (and other kinds of horror media) not only feature those songs, but are based on them?

    I mean, sure, any vaguely chant-like song sung by children is going to be pretty spooky, but the lyrics of Tooryanse, Oni-san, and Kagome are spooky in content, no matter who sings them. (Oni-san, however, since it's part of the Japanese version of tag, also makes a good thing for people to sing in fight scenes, when they're the "can't catch me" type of quick/stealthy fighter, especially child-ninjas).
  • Turns out I spoke too soon, in criticizing the German in BakaTest novels. While the first one shows the marks of having used machine translation, the later ones only make the mistakes all but the most fluent speakers of Western European languages make, in Japan. Namely, numbers and articles.

    The thing Minami says when she gets flustered, repeating something she heard Miharu say, should be translated 'Werden Sie schweigsam, Schweinen', not 'Werden Sie schweigsam, ein Schwein' (although I'm pretty sure you'd actually say 'Haltet die Münder, Schweinen'—Shut up, pigs (ish), rather than Be silent, pigs, and not in the formal—but at least it's not grammatically incorrect).

    Also, although "What a shit man you are" is bad English, it's the kind of bad English you might see a German high-schooler use, because German uses scheiss as an adjective, basically equivalent to "effing" in English ("das Scheisswetter"="the effing weather"). Does it use it as an adverb, I wonder?
  • I have in the past compared anime pacifism to the recovering alcoholic who freaks out when other people drink. But the odd thing is, anime frequently avoids that stupidity...as long as the war in question is conducted with swords (and they aren't repeating unlettered Western canards they don't know enough Western history to question, though that's mercifully restricted largely to light novels, with their pseudo-intellectual fanbase, thanks to Japanese society at large having experience of really brutal feudal warlords nevertheless being human beings).

    But that is just silly. Nothing makes wars conducted with swords and bows intrinsically more moral than wars conducted with machineguns and tanks—maybe a Westerner could make a (perfunctory at best) case for that position, but gentlemen, you had just as much collateral damage to civilians when you were using swords, Hideyoshi's Korean campaign killed as many civilians as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined, and in only 2/3 the time. And it's very rare for modern people to cheerfully announce "All the world by force of arms" as their motto, a guy from your country actually did that. Neither do modern politicians often claim to be incarnate war-gods, but, again, a guy in Japan did that, too.

    This is, incidentally, something people actually are allowed to complain about in Tolkien, the Luddism. There is nothing intrinsically better about hacking people apart with swords, or subduing them by starvation in sieges, than about shooting them to bits with machineguns or subduing them by starvation in air-blockades. If it's right to use force, it's right to use whatever form force takes in your material culture (with appropriate care to safeguard civilians, something by the way that only High Medieval and post-World War II Westerners actually bother with).
  • Before one gets offended by the, well, retarded anti-Christian stuff in some anime, please remember that Japan is the only non-Muslim country where Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion sells well. It's not for the same reasons as in the Middle East; Confucian cultures, with their lionization of the scholar, have, as their unfortunate flatulent exhaust, a certain quasi-Gnostic incentive to regard oneself as being "in the know", that manifests itself in conspiracy-mongering. It's the same as how 9/11 Truthing has a certain following among hackers, over here.

    Japan also has the unfortunate aftereffects of having been Neo-Confucian, albeit not as extremely as Korea or China; Neo-Confucianism is a radically secularist ideology that is implacably hostile to organized religion (Korea's Neo-Confucian regime, the Joseon Kingdom, persecuted Buddhists as viciously as Lenin did Christians). At the same time, however, Asia has the same "Noble Savage" ideas as the West (it probably did before Westernization, too, though its current form is definitely Occidental)—and Neo-Confucianism isn't threatened by "nature worship" religions, their reverence for blood and tribe is very useful to Neo-Confucian aims. Especially not Japanese Neo-Confucianism; Neo-Confucians prop up the state cults for their social utility (they're basically atheist), and in Japan, the state cult is a nature-worship religion.
  • I remembered why I stopped reading Nurarihyon no Mago—not only do they make Abe no Seimei the bad guy, they don't bother to get anything about him right (or they deliberately distort for no discernible reason). The Seal of Seimei is a five-pointed star, not seven, and his descendants are surnamed Tsuchimikado, not Gokadoin. Also? Kindly don't conflate Kuzunoha with Tamamo no Mae.

    Then again, the Kyoto Arc of NuraMago is basically the Soul Society Arc of Bleach: the point at which what had been a decent series, with interesting characters, gets screwed up by the pointless ballooning of its scope. Not everything needs to be epic. Bleach should've stayed about hunting ghosts in one town, and NuraMago should've stayed about the politics of the Fairy Mafia.

    Finally, and much more minor of a quibble, a Hyakki Yakô may be a cool name for a gang, but it ought to be a thing like the festivals where the yakuza run booths (gamblers, carnies, and vigilantes are the three traditional yakuza roles), because it's an event ("100 ogres going out by night"), not an organization.



Reality check. Title's Japanese. Means "damn fool". It's a catchphrase whose legend begins in the twelfth century.

Also, this is post 444.
  • Actually, of course, the Mabinogion probably dates to the mid-11th century, and whatever source it and the Matter of Britain probably have in common is even older. 'Course, Excalibur's originaly "Caledfwlch", pronounced "Kaledvulkh" (sure is weird how you completely change the feel of a word by changing its spelling).

    Incidentally, if you're looking for heaven, I should not advise California.
  • I found out, the reason Latin Americans get so butt-hurt when we call ourselves Americans? Yeah, turns out, the way it's taught in the Hispanosphere, Greece, and much of Eastern Europe, North and South America are one continent (geologically they're three, Central America isn't part of either plate), just called "America". And yet they also think Europe exists (it doesn't—Eurasia is one continent, though Arabia and India are each their own plates).

    We're sorry we can't tailor our endonym to your bad education system, gentlemen. A citizen of the United States actually said that to you, with cause. You should be embarrassed.
  • If you read a lot of things translated from languages that use different writing, you will sooner or later come across people who essentially insist "don't Romanize, ever; only hangeul (or kana or whatever—some will even brazen it out about hanzi!) can adequately convey this language's sacred phonemes, and they must be preserved unsullied by your profane Roman script".

    Only, codswallop. Newsflash, no two languages using this alphabet use it the same way; the only language it's actually phonemic for (nearly as phonemic as hangeul, by the bye) is Classical Latin. Did you think Spanish or French pronounced P, T, or R the way English does? That's cute. The fact of the matter is, if Indic languages can only be written in Indic scripts, you better tell the Irish, whose language has most of the same sounds as Hindi. Ditto Japanese and Korean...most of whose sounds are found in Polish.

    Now, admittedly, some alphabets are more ideally suited to some uses than others; Irish is spelled diabolically in Roman, much as Sanskrit has to be, although part of the issue in Irish has to do with representing the unmodified form of the words (Hamish, the Highland Scots version of "James", is just the vocative of Gaelic "Seamus"—in some cases S becomes H, so the H sound is written Sh; Séamus becomes Shéamuis to show what it is in unmodified form). Those sounds Polish represents with biliterals and Czech, Slovak, and Croatian with diacritics, Cyrillic adequately renders with single letters (except Polish's nasals, though Cyrillic used to have those, too).
  • While I actually think the case for reclassifying Pluto has been made, I also think a lot of the IAU voted for the change because Pluto was discovered by Americans (in my hometown, actually), and the IAU is dominated by Europeans.

    Basically, people from a dwarf continent that isn't a real continent were lashing out. Oh, except Pluto isn't just one end of a real planet, and it's managed to hold onto its satellites.
  • In the field of Mesoamerican anthropology, you perpetually get horse-hockey about how "teótl" doesn't mean "god", in Nahuatl. People try to insist it means "lord". Only, "pilli" and "tecuhtli" both mean "lord" in the social sense, while the "-tzin" honorific means it in the etiquette sense. Teótl means "supernatural being, with command over the forces of nature and human destiny, to whom sacrifices are given". I'm sorry, what exactly did you think the word "god" meant?

    More generally in anthropology, writers on various cultures presume mightily on their knowledge of Western thought, when they try to contrast—like how the guy who wrote "Holy Wind in Navajo Philosophy" said Father Berard Haile (who did most of the early 20th-century Navajo ethnography) brought a "dualistic" bias, because he was a Catholic priest. Now, while the major modern proponent of dualism happened to be Catholic (his name was René Descartes), dualism is actually a minority position in orthodox Catholic philosophy; mitigated realism is the dominant school.

    Probably the kicker was someone describing the Yoruba concept of ori, which is basically one's true nature and proper destiny, sometimes conceived as an external divine being, and fully realized by self-knowledge and proper conduct, as being "extremely foreign to Western philosophy". Aside from the Roman concept of genius being almost identical, did that writer ever stop to consider a certain oracle, famously associated with the founder of Western philosophy? One of its two mottoes is "gnothi seauton"—know thyself.
  • Ever see people, criticizing the Big Bang, who basically make the ad hominem argument that LeMaître, being Catholic, had a bias in favor of a Creation? Has anyone ever pointed out that—given its similarities to Spinoza's view of time—Relativity is similarly invalidated, by its originator's religious beliefs? Einstein was a Spinozan pantheist, AKA a static monist. And LeMaître never arbitrarily included a constant in an equation to pre-bias conditions in favor of a (Spinozan) static universe; Einstein did, supposedly in his old age he considered it his greatest mistake (it later turned out there should be a constant there, but it doesn't restore stasis).

    Incidentally, the view of time involved in some of the things Relativity says is inaccurate. Merely because an observer sees an event as occurring before its cause (as with a traversable wormhole) doesn't mean the event actually occurred that way; modern physics' decision to define time solely in terms of observations is what analytic philosophy calls a "map/territory error". Your observations of causality are not causality; don't make me get out the Magritte paintings.
  • Speaking of strange ideas in the philosophy of science, what's with the people who denigrate the necessity of string theory (or the other theories for reconciling quantum mechanics and relativity)? I'm sorry, you don't think it's a problem, that doing anything in one half of physics means you have to pretend the other half doesn't exist? If only one of your eyes worked at a time, you wouldn't visit a neurologist?

    Every single achievement in science has come about because someone said, "Huh. These two things I know contradict each other. I, uh, probably better try to figure out why that is, or else just accept that 1=0 and Bertrand Russel is the Pope." Coming up with theoretical explanations is pretty much what science, as we mean the thing, is—Chalcolithic Sumerians who thought each star was a god could do mere observation well enough to invent our system for polar geometry.
  • In the comments on one of those articles about how our economies remove pretty much all the benefit of having children (because "you need a workforce to pay for your Medicare" doesn't ring the right Pavlovian bells), someone said that hunter-gatherers used infanticide as a major form of population control. Only, how many does he know? I went to high school with people who were hunter-gatherers until they stole enough livestock from the Spanish to become herdsmen, buddy, they don't even have the concept of "population control". People who live on a subsistence basis don't need to take any steps to make sure the population gets reduced in bad times, that's kinda what "subsistence" means.

    Meanwhile, the "hunter-gatherers" who built the Parthenon and the Coliseum exposed their children that had birth defects (which in their view included "being female"). Indeed, the only great civilizations that have not practiced infanticide under one circumstance or another are Christianity and Islam, both of them because it's forbidden in a culture they both inherit from.
  • There's a book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies, in which it is alleged that natural resources determine history. Only, what? Then why was nobody in the New World using metal for anything but ornaments? The New World has crazy resources, much better than the Old World (though that's less a factor in why America ran the world in the 20th century than the fact the World Wars didn't happen here).

    Actually, if anything, lack of resources creates civilization. The Olmecs and Egyptians might've had it cushy, but Mesopotamia is a mudhole without even lumber, and the Anasazi homeland is a desert—that's why they invented bricks and irrigation. The Iron Age only started because tin is so scarce in the Old World, otherwise nobody would bother to use a metal as hard to work as iron is. The Neolithic Revolution, which started this thing called "civilization", is theorized to have been necessitated by the recent Ice Age having killed off lots of species and rendering hunter-gathering unsupportable.


Sur l'arte d'écrivaillon II

Writing. Mostly complaining about what other people say on the topic.
  • Here's a hint, Penelope Trunk. When you feel like writing about writing, don't say, "No one could write in the Middle Ages, when the good writers wrote in Latin and everyone else spoke colloquial languages like French and English, which priests told them were too lame for real writing." You just outed yourself as a historical ignoramus, an anti-Catholic bigot, and, most relevantly, illiterate short-bus luggage.

    Because hey, braintrust? Whole genre of writing, invented in the Middle Ages, named after the fact it was written in "colloquial" languages (by which I assume you meant vernacular, which is not the same thing, as you'd know if you'd learned the word from actual literacy, rather than a thesaurus—Beowulf was in the vernacular, West Saxon specifically, but kennings and alliterative caesura-couplets are not colloquial speech). Namely, "works written in the contemporary language of the people [of the Roman Empire]"—Romance. Not to even mention the poetic vernacular literature. Heard of Beowulf? Chanson de Roland? Yeah, last I checked, "Hwæt! we Gar-Dena in gear-dagum" and "Carles li reis, nostre emperere magnes" were not Latin. And that first one was written down by a priest.

    There's a general principle here: if you're going to argue from history, make sure you know the damn history. Admittedly, you'd have to screw up pretty bad to equal this level of zipper-rusting bladder-incontinence, which has certainly invalidated Trunk's whole argument (not that it wasn't laughable on its merits, anyway), if not her claim to legal majority.
  • Well, I feel cleansed; onto calmer discussions. I am somewhat hesitant to publish (aside from the fact that everything I've ever written is wrong wrong wrong and needs to be rewritten now my crazy perfectionism), because my fiction is only mildly less fond of controversy than this blog—and reread that last bullet point, to establish a baseline. I hate preaching, but the fact remains huge swaths of everything I write is dialogues or thought-experiments on political and ethical ideas that interest me.

    The problem is, people in this society (I blame the Cold War) think, if you say X, or don't say Y, that they also know what you will say on Z, W, U, and V. For instance, the whole "Tolkien is racist, because Orcs" thing—plainly, you have no, well, Inkling (rimshot!) of where that man was coming from. The Orcs are no different from the Combine guys in Half-Life; they're actually canonically elf-derived bioroids engineered for sociopathy. Orcs are not meant to resemble any human people, apart from a few cosmetic similarities to bashibozuks (who were so bad, Vlad the Impaler really was the good guy by comparison); orcs are, just like the guys in Half-Life, a commentary on eugenicist utilitarianism.
  • This. Just read it. It's pretty much the last word on the subject, though, again, I don't intend to let that stop me.
  • I was reading a bunch of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique stories, which are somehow online, and all linked from the Wikipedia page. His prose is more manageable than Lovecraft's—he deploys words like "inenarrable" for definite tactical advantage, not just for the hell of it. My favorites are The Charnel God and The Black Abbot of Puthuum; tell me that second one wouldn't make a helluva D&D adventure.

    But I realized, the cosmic nihilism that is the basis of Lovecraftian horror (my two favorites, there, are "weird fantasy", which isn't quite the same thing) is a very interesting literary theme—it's one of my favorites. Just like how gangster movies tend to gloss over a lot of things, though, that sort of fiction requires a peculiar sort of suspension of disbelief. And, much as I like that kind of thing, I can't do it myself; I need more verisimilitude in my own work, or it just nags at me (remember how it bugs me to have carriages in a quasi-12th century setting?). The cosmos is not as the Lovecraft Circle portrayed it—and to one who knows real philosophy, even the Great Old Ones are so much comforting anthropomorphism.

    Speaking of Zothique, which is in the "Dying Earth" genre named after a Jack Vance series, only the first volume of which is any good (don't you hate when you buy an omnibus edition and discover that?), Adventure Time is pretty much officially in the same genre.
  • So I'm reading the light novels of BakaTest. They're pretty good, though the light novel format—present-tense narrative, most of the action having to be conveyed through dialogue—is kinda annoying. But the German occasionally used by Minami (she's the girl who's in the F-class because her grades in everything but math suck, since, having been raised in Germany, she reads Japanese at an elementary school level) is just...awful. I think they fixed it for the anime—at least she doesn't use nouns as verbs in that, that I recall.

    The moral of the story is, "Don't use machine translation." If you want dialogue in a foreign language, you freaking do the translating by hand. Trust me, it's not that hard—you only need a dictionary and a grammar overview. I've managed to write original dialogue in all sorts of languages, including Chinese and Nahuatl (I'm not terribly confident all my Nahuatl is correct, but the language only has a million native speakers, most of whom are unlikely to read self-published American urban fantasy).
  • Far too many writers' rules for writing are so...there isn't a word for it in American English so I'm going to steal from the British (turnabout is fair play) and say twee. Why is this? For example, here's a huge list of various authors' rules. It is an all-singing all-dancing cavalcade of "Wait a minute, you wrote this? Why would anyone listen to you about writing?"

    On the other hand, Umberto Eco's rules are awesome...because each one breaks itself. It is irrelevant whether they are actually good rules or not (I'd say about 60/40, but again—irrelevant!).
  • Speaking of the whole "you are giving advice on writing when you are not good at it" issue (and if you write mainstream lit-fic, you have deliberately cultivated a bad style), why do the schools teach such bad writing? Aeons ago, I think around 2003, I took a journalism course—and the damn thing did stuff to my writing I practically have PTSD from. Everything of my own that I wrote during that time had to be rewritten in actual English. But for some reason, much of our education is designed to produce that same journalese sub-prose.

    There are two issues. One is that English classes, like journalism classes, are geared toward "effective" business writing, which is also the kind of writing you get in (too much) academic writing and in journalism. While the "five paragraph essay" may be a useful organizational tool, considered purely as prose it's garbage. You'll often get trolls, probably shirking their 10th-grade English homework, who try to imply that various online columnists are illiterate because they didn't have "a thesis statement", or other such rubrics designed for children.

    The other issue is, to the extent that English is not merely geared to business/academic/journalistic writing, it is generally artsy. I.e. when not servile, it is the most decadent possible phase of the liberal. Far too many English teachers think writing should be either a legal brief (and not a very readable one) or freaking Updike-lite ultraviolet prose. Look at the kinds of "poetry" they have you read. I read Swinburne online while ditching class, he certainly never appears in the curriculum. Shelley? Byron? Who the hell were they?
  • Incidentally, I don't believe, as many who criticize the non-stories in lit-fic seem to, that fiction should be all action all the time. Sometimes, you show the characters' normal lives—the characters are supposed to be real people, and real people, even if fighting is their job, work to live, they don't live to work.

    I think anime is a useful model here. Even in the most action-packed stories, simply eating together actually makes up a surprising portion of the scenes. People who wield power on par with a Green Lantern spend about half their time on-screen bathing, eating, or sleeping; only that first one can be chalked up to fanservice.

    Also, these simple day-to-day activities have two other advantages. One, you can use them for characterization very easily, since "What's he like at the table" is something everyone notices about everyone else. Think of Van in GunXSword, always ordering all the condiments (I think it's because, like Ray, he can barely taste anything after Elena died). The other advantage is, by showing them eating, like you or I eat, as dogs and cats eat, you dispense with the need to tack on soap-operatic character flaws in order to make them relatable. Or as Chesterton said in What's Wrong with the World,
    All true friendliness begins with fire and food and drink and the recognition of rain or frost. Those who will not begin at the bodily end of things are already prigs and may soon be Christian Scientists. Each human soul has in a sense to enact for itself the gigantic humility of the Incarnation. Every man must descend into the flesh to meet mankind.
  • Speaking of, why does making people have a bunch of Jerry Springer flaws make them "relatable"? Aren't you assuming things about your audience that they'd punch you for saying out loud?

    Obviously, the way to avoid the Ayn Rand type of hero, whose actions always follow automatically from their knowledge of the right thing to do (which is totally how Aristotle thought ethics work...), without having to have a moral Idiot Plot (if you think being unclear as to right and wrong is a typical human characteristic, I for one decline to leave you unattended near my valuables), is to write about temptation. Your hero never has to break rules and angst about it—angsty tormented heroes are generally at least as bad as unerring Übermensches—but he should want to. Break rules, I mean; unless you're writing a satire on the Emo subculture nobody should ever aspire to angst.


The Supermassive Black Hole Around Which Moving Was Done

On further reflection, occasioned by a comment, I have realized what the directions are, in this galaxy (or any other spinning one). I have never been gladder that I live in a town that's 1/8 Navajo. Because the solution is so simple...provided you come of a culture, as they do, where "zenith" and "nadir" are listed among the cardinal directions.

Here's how it works. The objective traits of a galaxy are "spinward, leeward, rimward, coreward", because the direction it's spinning toward, the direction it's spinning away from, and closer to/further from its core, are real things. So:
  1. Assume the core is the Earth. Put your feet toward it.
  2. Face spinward.
  3. Galactic north is on your left.
The puzzlement arose because I was treating the core as a thing like north (remember I said "with the core on your left"), when the core defines up and down. Once you have East/West and Zenith/Nadir, North/South follows automatically. There's no need to try and arbitrarily decide whether you want to define "north" as having the galaxy rotate clockwise or counterclockwise; it's decided based on East and Zenith, which are both objective.

There's really no excuse for not having realized it sooner, I'd actually considered changing references to "orbital distance" in my aliens' dialogue to "altitude" (moving nearer or closer to the central body, namely a star), but I, being a Westerner, am only used to there being four cardinal directions.

Sometimes, Native Americans really do have insights Westerners lack, it ain't all hippie stereotype—in this case, because Navajo orienteering is based on "what is the sun doing" rather than "what does the map say".


Uncorrelated, Not Uncaused VIII

Random thoughts.
  • All those science fiction writers, especially in the 80s, who liked to call a certain island chain off the coast of Asia "Nippon", and its people and language "Nipponese"—do you, uh, realize that you still call that big country next to it "China"? Come come, let's be consistent. ZhongguoNote. and...what, Zhongguonian?...if you please, not "China" and "Chinese"—and if you're assuming the current prestige dialect will be the same in the future, it's Putonghua (Putonghuan?), not "Mandarin".

    Also? That peninsula bordering China at the Yalu River, and separated from Japan by a narrow sea? Anything you assume would be its name in the future is going to ipso facto involve future-history decision making. Calling it Choson or Joseon means one thing, Hanguk another. In my books, well, I call the place Korea, because I also call them "Japan" and "China", those names are both a thousand years old by the time of my setting, and whatever is supposed to be proved by using "Nippon", I have no interest in proving.

    But in the context of mentioning Korea's native name I call it Goryeo, because at reunification they didn't want to go with either one's name—also because there was a Buddhist revival with accompanying (partial) repudiation of Neo-Confucianism, and Goryeo was a Buddhist kingdom. (In case you wondered, it's the kingdom Marco Polo visited; Corea pronounced the Italian way is very close to 고려.)
  • Apparently, the chainsaw is a lousy weapon for combat. I read a news story about a guy who, jumped by a puma, tried to fend it off with a chainsaw...and gave it a little gash ("I might as well have hit it with a hockey stick"). See, trees don't move; living creatures do. And any animal that isn't H. sapiens is going to have way tougher skin than you. (You ever notice cats'll sometimes sit so close to a heater that you can smell burning hair? Yeah, heat becomes painful to them after their fur starts combusting.)

    A bigger issue is that there are bones and connective tissues in animals that aren't in trees, and they can actually separate the links of a chainsaw chain (just like hitting a rock can, sawing felled trees). A broken chain on an activated saw becomes a serrated whip that'll pop out and wrap around anything nearby, including your neck—there's a reason lumberjacks have an on-the-job mortality rate comparable to taxi drivers and prostitutes.

    That business with chains is also why electric turkey carvers are two blades moving against each other, rather than a chain. That's probably a more likely method for a space military's powered bayonets than chainsaws; the mechanism's also got fewer moving parts.
  • Relatedly, people appear to have some strange bias against swords in science fiction, but actually, why don't more SF militaries use them? I mean, half the time, they're fighting some sort of space-bug that can survive dozens of rounds of rifle fire, but dies when it's cut in half—why not give those poor SOBs something that'll cut the bugs in half?

    It's useless to say "they have guns", because we have guns, and we also issue combat knives, and train with 'em. Those are adequate to the creature we're generally fighting. But the zledo, in my books, use swords—because they are the size of jaguars (i.e. small tigers), and if you tell any sane person "Here, kill this jaguar/small tiger with a trench-knife", he'll swear at you.

    The Peacekeepers they're fighting do still only have combat knives, but that is a deliberate worldbuilding choice: the kind of bureaucrat who runs the UN is also the kind of person who thinks combat-knives will never come up. You know, just like how there hasn't been a recorded use of bayonets on a battlefield in fourteen whole months. See also all that dogfighting the Air Force is gonna stop doing annnnnnnnny day now.
  • What's with people addressing, or more often, attempting to debunk, cultural phenomena like Wendigo Sickness or Ghost Sickness epidemiologically? The cultures those things are from are cultures where "medicine" is a spiritual thing; "Ghost Sickness" is a curse, incurred by being in the presence of the lingering evil of the dead, but described by a medical metaphor. Ditto Wendigo Sickness: that's a medical metaphor for the cannibal's loss of his humanity. Speaking of illness, did you know not recognizing metaphor is a symptom of schizophrenia?

    Next I suppose you'll bring in meteorologists to talk about how whirlwinds' spin direction is not correlated with their moral character—since you like to take figurative language used by Native Americans completely literally.
  • Did you see the trailer for Oblivion? The SF movie, not the game before Skyrim. Well I did, and I feel I can take a firm stance of "Cautious Optimism!" I like that they've managed to do future military hardware that isn't just knocked off from Halo. Also, Tom Cruise may be weird, but the fact is he's the second-most consistently good American actor currently working, after only Robert Downey, Jr.

    I have no inside information, just my geek's intuition, but I'm calling this ahead of time: the big secret everything is working toward is the aliens never existed. Let's all see if I'm right in April.
  • Reading a few volumes of Sunabouzu (Desert Punk) has reminded me of something: why do Japanese people refuse to know about deserts? Sure, that one got that they get cold at night...but the thing is still the lifeless sand-waste version of a desert, a thing that does not exist. Even the Sahara has scrub vegetation, and the Gobi and the Sonoran (which my mother grew up in) are pretty much brush-covered prairies and hills.

    Worse, though, is this stupid, obviously political idea rampant in Japan that deserts are an unnatural thing, caused by environmental destruction. While environmental destruction can make deserts, natural phenomena, mainly rain-shadows, are generally responsible. And the people who live in the desert just north of me are currently raising hell about artificially increasing the moisture levels on one of their mountains.

    Incidentally, people who made Tekken? I'm talking about Indians—do yourselves a favor and stuff Michelle and Julia Chang in a big bag, and drown them in the river.
  • I wonder where the crazy ideas about "sinister" meaning "spooky" coming from a prejudice against left-handed people came from? "Sinister" means "bad" because auguries were done facing east, and a flock of birds heading to one's left is traveling north. North is an unlucky direction in every geomantic system I'm acquainted with (yes, I know more than one—doesn't everyone?), and that includes augury.

    Speaking of, if you're writing a fantasy story with summoning, you might wanna give your summoning-circles a "safe" direction. Navajo sandpaintings—which, in their real form, are meters-wide ritual arrays painted on the ground—are bounded on three sides by a stretched figure of a god, to prevent intrusions by unwanted spirits, but the east side isn't bounded, because nothing evil can enter by the east.
  • I have elsewhere made mention of the irrelevant piece of tokenism called the "Bechdel Test", which is passed when it can be said of a work that, quote, "It includes at least two women, who have at least one conversation, about something other than a man or men." It is, in other words, an irrelevant litmus test fetish, a box that can be conveniently checked, to spare us the heavy work of thinking and forming judgments based on thought.

    This particular standard, though, is unusually bad, because, aside from the fact most real conversations don't actually pass it, most lipstick-lesbian exploitation movies, pretty-girl anime, and jiggle-fest Aaron Spelling shows do. If your test says those things are less sexist than a work about women who are rationally concerned with their peers, at least half of whom will be male, your test is stupid and worthless, and so is anyone who took it seriously.

    Now get back in the lab and make me a higher-yield collectivized farm, woman.
  • The Bechdel Test also ignores (as bourgeois pseudoscience) all those studies showing that women and men talk about different subjects—and hey, guess what, women talk about people (again, half of whom are male) more than men do. The question of whether that's "culturally determined" (i.e., arises from class-interest) or not is irrelevant to movies—because movies are about people as they actually exist, except when the point of the movie is asking "what if they were different?", so they'd be subject to any such "cultural determinant" forces that their real counterparts are.
  • It occurs to me, the cardinal directions in the language of a primarily space-dwelling culture should be "spinward" for east and "leeward" for west (like how people often define the directions in the galaxy). Then north and south become, I don't know, "spinleft" and "spinright"? They're on your right and left, respectively, if you face east, which is the direction a planet spins toward (seriously, define "east" some other way—you have to arbitrarily pick a pole to be north).

    I wonder, what do you call the directions in a galaxy? Spinward and leeward, of course, and I suppose "rimward" and "coreward", but what about the third axis? And don't say there's no up or down in a galaxy; much as how one can define north as "your left when you're facing east", "up" and "down" can be defined relative to the other two axes I just mentioned—and they are objective things, like a sunrise.


I Refute It Thus

Reality check. Samuel Johnson reference, by the bye. Also, this post's number (440(!)), said in Japanese, is the name of a famous Chinese-American cellist.
  • Has, uh anyone noticed what a load of anthropological Lysenkoism academic feminism is? Specifically, they simply take it as an article of faith that all societies, the world over, have totally different "gender" roles. Only, can you name a culture where "men kill, women cook" is not the system? Because I can't.

    Or take "patriarchy". Oh, yes, despite at least two decades of the word being the butt of jokes, I have with these the eyes of flesh seen people use it unironically. As in, this week. This despite "patriarchy", at least as they use the term, being about as good a description of real phenomena as "the international Jewish conspiracy".
  • Which reminds me, know the idea that men and women not fight each other? While it does have elements of chivalry in it, it probably predates, oh, Indo-European guest-obligations, as an ethical idea.

    You know that thing I'm always on about, about how our family structure derives from nuclear-family packs (because it does)? Yeah, well, one thing you get from most packs is that female intruders are fought off by the pack's females, and male ones by its males.
  • The number of issues in sociology that instantly resolve themselves when you realize that the base unit of humanity is neither society nor the individual, but the nuclear family conceived of as a pack, is mind-boggling. E.g. that the "social contract" is neither more nor less than a peace-treaty between packs, so they don't kill each other over territory.

    Or how about that the "extended" family, when not involving polygamy anyway, is basically an unusually complex version of the grown litters of the alpha pair helping them to raise later litters? It's just that human packs are the only ones in the animal kingdom where those grown litters may be made up of individuals who are themselves the alphas of other packs.
  • I was amused by there being a series of articles on io9—official tagline, "We hate science and science fiction, but we sure do love speculative fiction that advances our vision of the class-war"—attacking ideas in evolutionary psychology that happen to shore up "traditional" perspectives on sex-roles. (Yes, yes, "gender"—only, again, you only think "gender", a linguistic term, has to do with male and female because you are a Eurocentrist; in Asia the only gendered category is numbers, and occasionally also the existential expletive, which inflects by animacy.)

    One thing I thought was amusing was the idea so many of the commenters voiced (along with the rote-chanting of their quaint school-feminist formulae), that women's roles were due to women being seen as inferior. I don't wanna use the phrase "internalized oppression", but mammajammas' oppression be internalized. Anyone with half a brain in their head would notice that women's traditional roles are despised because women are; women are not despised because of their traditional role.

    Or am I wrong? Tell me how there's something intrinsically contemptible about preparing food, maintaining the livability of dwellings, or both creating and maintaining garments—except that those are the roles of a class the "dumb ape" part of our instincts treats like property. This aspect of so-called feminism is basically like an agrarian movement using "peasant" as an insult. (Oh, I know, some agrarian movements do use "peasant" as an insult. Have I told you lately how much your civilization deserves a Colony Drop, not to say orbital vitrification?)
  • I think I've encountered this phenomenon five or six times in the last month, mostly debating religion and politics online (yeah, I really need to stop doing that), but why do people complain when you use a technical term, if it's relevant to the discussion and used correctly? Don't they realize that complaining that someone used a big word just makes them look illiterate?

    Even better (or more annoying, depending on your mood when you encounter it) is when they complain that you used a big word, pompously tell you that you don't know what it means...then proceed to demonstrate that they not only don't understand the word in question, but didn't understand anything else you wrote, either.

    I'm pretty sure announcing that big words scare you and you can't be bothered to read for comprehension is not, generally, held to constitute one's "A-game".
  • On a significantly lighter note, not that that's hard, it is long past time everyone acknowledged that sports enthusiasts and car enthusiasts are, in actual fact, sports geeks and car geeks. Admittedly, this is just as much because the word "geek" has come to primarily encompass the "enthusiast" aspect of its referents (as "nerd" encompasses their academic achievements and "dork" their social ineptitude) as anything else, but if you have ever talked to a car enthusiast for any length of time you know why I say they are geeks.

    Incidentally, "geek", "nerd", and "dork" are not interchangeable: get out of the habit inculcated in you by those devil's catechisms called thesauruses, of treating synonyms as interchangeable. I am a geek, but I am not a nerd (I was a C student, because geeky things are so much more interesting than doing schoolwork), and I only dabble in dorkiness. My sisters, both of whom got full-ride scholarships in college, are geeks and nerds, but even less dorky than I am. And so on.
  • Which reminds me, anyone you care to call a "geek god" is likely to be a figure in whose name geekery divides into competing mujihadeen factions. George Lucas, for instance, or Gene Roddenberry, are not exactly uncontroversial; Joss Whedon is more of a geek bhagwan than a god—except, if anything, even more of a pseudo-intellectual pop-guru charlatan.

    Still worse is "geek goddess"; at least a trace of tokenism is virtually never absent when someone is identified by that phrase, and while it may be impolite to, as one writer did, call such a figure "a glorified booth babe" there is often a grain of truth to the epithet ("geek idol", with "idol" being given its Japanese sense, would be more accurate). Honestly the only woman I can think of who is fully equivalent to a so-called "geek god" is Lauren Faust, and if you think all geeks are bronies you plainly weren't paying attention to that last paragraph.

    Finally, not to proselytize or anything, but have you considered letting J. Michael Straczynski into your life?


Ideas on Bayonets

A revolution is an idea that has found its bayonets.
—Napoleon Bonaparte
Thoughts on weapons, wielding, and, uh...I can't think of another word that starts with a W.
  • The "strong" position on the right to bear arms, that private citizens have the right to any weapon the government uses, "in order to resist government tyranny", is laughably false (as false as the "strong" position on gun-control, i.e. that banning firearms will magically make violence go away). In actual fact, there is no right to armed resistance against one's own government, until the point is reached that that "right" becomes a duty. Or in other words, the only government you have a right to resist by force is one you have a duty to overthrow by force. It is no use citing the constitution, since it is self-contradictory to appeal to the authority of an institution in support of a right to subvert that institution.

    The real—and incontrovertible—rationale of the right to bear arms has nothing to do with resisting the state at all. Rather, it has to do with a different understanding of what the state's role is. "When seconds count, the police are only minutes away"; also the courts have ruled that the police have no legal obligation to defend any one person. They couldn't rationally have ruled any other way, or else any person who was the victim of a crime automatically has a (legally actionable) grievance against the police. This necessarily means, however, that primary responsibility for the individual's defense rests with that individual (and his fellows).

    The primary role of the police, and the state edifice of justice generally, is not protective but vindictive—they mainly protect the civic peace by punishing those who violate it after the fact, not by direct combat with violators. Because, while the individual has an unquestionable, inalienable right to defense, "civilization" means, and has meant since it was handed down from heaven at Eridu, that the right of vengeance is delegated to the community at large. This is for two reasons. One, it frees up people's time from having to carry out vendettas, and being on the watch against others' vendettas; and two, it ensures (since there is some sort of adjudication-process built in) that whether there's actually a grievance to be avenged is somewhat more objectively determined than the feelings of the ostensible wronged party.
  • You know how weapons used to wear out in Elder Scrolls games, something Skyrim finally got rid of? Diablo had it too, and apparently D3 still does. I wonder, is that RuneQuest's fault? RuneQuest was always the hipster RPG, the one for people who liked to attack D&D—generally straw versions of it, e.g. those people I complained about who said it was unrealistic that D&D's economy would be based on gold (which is why D&D's economy was based on silver, at least through 3.5E—adventurers are like drug dealers, throwing around Benjamins when everyone else is using ten-spots).

    I sorta understand the rationale for this in a tabletop RPG, though I think I prefer D&D3E's way of handling it (item durability is only an issue in unusual circumstances); but in a videogame, it's an unfortunate injection of realism that'll just make the unrealism stand out more. I mean, if I have to make sure not to break my sword by beating on rock monsters with it, shouldn't eating and sleeping be less matters of temporary bonuses, and more matters of not dying? And why do RPGs do it, when even the simmiest of FPSs don't bother with things like having to refill your magazines (tactical reloads don't result in only having one partially-full magazine, in real life), or the fact that guns jam?
  • One thing that always bugs me about FPSs: why do the guns all use different ammo? Militaries standardize—there are whole books worth of standardization agreements—so that most weapons's ammo can be interchanged, with a minimum of work. Video games, on the other hand (and with the honorable exceptions of Dark Forces and at least the first Red Faction, where several guns had ammo in common), have every damn gun need its own ammo, even in the case of weapons like the needler and the needle rifle, in Reach, which were expressly made as variants of the same design. Why can't I shove one set of pink needles into the other gun, gentlemen?

    Come to think of it, I don't play WWII games. Can you, e.g., refill your M1911A1 with a dropped Tommy gun's ammo? In those games' more-recent-setting offshoots, can you refill your MP5 from your dead CO's spare sidearm ammo, or your M16 from an M249 SAW's belt? I'm given to understand SAWs don't like feeding from M16/M4 magazines (your guess is as good as mine why not—presumably they feed differently from the belts it's designed for), but the individual rounds are identical.

    As a general rule, in most modern militaries, the rifles and machineguns use one or at most two types of round (except for special purpose things like anti-materiel rifles), and then handguns, used by most officers as sidearms, use a third, the same type as submachine guns (which are mainly used by special forces). There have been exceptions, though—famously, the Winchester repeater rifle came chambered in most of the same rounds as the Colt Peacemaker and S&W Model 3, so you could load your rifle and your revolver from the same box, or use found (or "found") ammunition no matter what gun you carried. And the Warsaw Pact, for some reason, only really seemed to standardize on rifle rounds (the ones used by the AK47 and the AK74); their pistols and SMGs were all over the place, including in Western calibers. E.g., of the seven versions of the Czech Szkorpion SMG, only two were chambered in a Warsaw Pact round.
  • So, trying to find out why the SAW doesn't like assault rifle magazines (turns out the spring in the magazines isn't designed to feed the whole mag at once), I come across an article saying that higher-capacity magazines for the M16/M4 might mean the SAW will be phased out. Only, A) presumably we're here talking about 50-60 round casket magazines, while a standard SAW belt holds 200 rounds, and B), that funny-looking handle on the front of the SAW doesn't just look cool, it's to make swapping the barrel out easier.

    See, many machineguns are carried with spare barrels, designed to be quickly swapped out, because prolonged firing on full-auto makes the barrels overheat. Not only does the heat sometimes warp the barrel, it can even conduct back into the chamber, and not only fire the chambered round without you touching the trigger, but even cause "cooking off", where the rounds in the magazine go off before being chambered, from the heat igniting their propellant. And while a belt-fed gun doesn't have to worry (as much) about cooking off, an assault rifle using a high-capacity mag sure as hell would.

    The modified HK416 the USMC is thinking of replacing the SAW with, the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, is A) still a light machinegun, not an assault rifle, and B) not capable of anything like the same sustained fire as the SAW, because it doesn't have swappable barrels. The Army, whose tactical approach requires sustained machinegun fire more than the USMC's does, is looking into either just getting new M249s to replace their old ones, or some newer, but still typical, machinegun (like the LSAT LMG), not even a modified assault rifle.
  • I am torn, I really am, on whether I should rewrite the guns in my SF book. See, on the one hand, the zledo's current guns, based on the same inertia-control system as their ships, are awesome sauce, and I've done all kinds of calculations for them. On the other hand, I don't know if being able to miniaturize that technology to that degree is very realistic—nor if you'd want a gun whose mechanism needs recourse to relativity equations to describe it.

    I mean, my humans' guns are basically about as high-tech as a car cigarette lighter. Well, in terms of the actual firing mechanism, anyway; their feed-mechanism is basically like our guns, and they don't need ejectors except to clear dud rounds. Caseless, electronically-fired guns do require coolant systems, which are, as they say, "another thing to go wrong", but all told I'm guessing the simplicity of not having empty brass to worry about evens things out. Besides, caseless ammo is half as heavy.

    I don't know what I'd give the zledo instead, though—EM needle-guns, maybe, or flechette-guns—and your house is full of things whose mechanism needs recourse to Maxwell equations to decribe it (they're called electronics). Also? It's a hassle to rewrite entire scenes when you've already finished two 200K-word books and are half done with two more. So I ain't gonna.
  • It is universally agreed among the gun cognoscenti that the whole idea of "smart" guns, i.e. biometrically (or, more usually, RFID) locked ones like in the Metal Gear games (where's it's just a game mechanic to limit when you can pick up which guns), is crazy. Again, "another thing to go wrong"—know how many people have been screwed by those RFID chips in their car keys (my parents' truck being exhibit A)?

    Also, it occurs to me, if you have those things, what's to stop, say, robbers, from jamming the RFID chips in the house of a potential victim? The possibility of getting shot is a major deterrent to home-invasions and "hot" burglaries (those committed while residents are present); let's not screw with a good thing, mmmkay? Admittedly the possibility of jamming the RFID in bank robbers' guns would probably make gun-control enthusiasts salivate, but criminals are, by definition, the kind of people who are willing to illegally remove RFID devices.
  • So, you know what you never see in discussions of the sword, in things about knights or samurai? The fact the things are sidearms. Yep. Knights and samurai are a warrior class, not because they were markedly better fighters than anyone else, but because they could afford the upkeep on horses. Knights were heavy cavalry, and samurai, though they were armored like heavy infantry and fought as such on foot, were light cavalry. A knight's main weapon was the lance; a samurai's was the bow. Ever notice the odd way you move a bow, when you draw it, in Japanese archery—you bring it up above your head, then lower it as you draw back? Yeah, that move is designed to bring it clear of your horse's neck.

    And while, of course, if a knight or samurai for some reason lost his lance or bow and had to draw his backup weapon, he wouldn't shy away from hitting guys with his sword from horseback (and the katana is a variant of the same Central Asian cavalry sword that gives you the saber and the scimitar), swordsmanship was mainly restricted to foot encounters. Up till the Mongol invasion that the Holy Wind prevented, actually, the Japanese fought their battles in two stages—several horse-archer sweeps to soften each other up, then the samurai officers on both sides would fight a series of highly formal single combats.


Commentary 9

Random thoughts. Much of it involves history and politics.
  • Friedrich von Hayek might know a thing or two about economics, but as a historian he was laughably bad. His comparison of Western European social-security economies to serfdom takes its basis from Russian serfdom, and assumes that Western serfdom arose the same way. Now, aside from that making as much sense as assuming that understanding Hawaiian ahupua'a land-gift is sufficient to an understanding of European feudalism, Russian serfs weren't actually serfs.

    Manorialism is a system unique to Western Europe, essentially Roman villa-slavery modified heavily by Celtic culture and the Latin Church. No such thing happened in Russia, which was Slavic-Scandinavian and had a Greek Church. No, the correct translation of what those people were, is thralls—they were Scandinavian slaves, with the protections enjoyed by Byzantine slaves (which are also those of ancient Jewish or colonial Spanish slaves). Serfs proper, on the other hand, were literal second-class citizens, only nominally unfree in the vast majority of social contexts.

    (PS. A certain shallow unserious dilettante, debating me, once said that serfs only had the right to use the property they owned, and so they didn't fully own it—but apparently he was unaware that by the same token, those serfs' lords didn't own any property, either. Feudal tenure is not full ownership in the Civil Law sense of the term; the lord, exactly like the serf, cannot, for instance, alienate his holdings.)
  • Speaking of inappropriately generalizing from foreign lands, the strange idea (endemic to too much of the American Right) that England has much to say to us (anything more than, say, Japan or France does) is, I think, based solely on a common language. (There is also the matter of us both using common law, although we've both been bastardizing it with swaths of civil law, in different directions.)

    Assuming something that happens in Britain will occur in America is basically like Mexico worrying about Basque separatists. It really is long past time both sides of the Atlantic learned a lesson Hilaire Belloc recommended in 1925: Britain and America are foreign countries to each other.
  • Science fiction is a fascinating genre. Aside from all the good reasons, is that in few other places do you have completely opposite brands of idiocy in close juxtaposition. I can't think of any other field where the commentary is equally divided between "I will wear a hazmat suit 24-7 lest I contract something deadly!" and "Let's all roll in medical waste!"

    Take, for instance, that right next to the people who say we're going to stop having manned military missions—you know, like we stopped dogfighting—you get the people who for some reason seem to think air support will cease to exist. E.g., Firefly; the battle Mal named his ship after doesn't seem to be primarily an affair of Independent anti-air destroying the Alliance's planes and drop-ships and (perhaps) ODST pods, but that's the main way you'd keep them out of that valley.

    Admittedly, that's not really a thing of real science fiction writers, so much as of science fiction TV. But since most people never, ever read science fiction anymore, at what point do we have to admit that TV is the real science-fiction now? The debate appears to be approaching the No True Scotsman fallacy.
  • Further point against Firefly, and as I mentioned one post back, the people who wrote it seem to think that a spaceship will pretty much work like a van (and its fans think that's a good thing). I'm serious: tell me one way that the Serenity is not basically the Mystery Machine. (You all thought naming those guys "the Scoobies" was a joke, in Buffy—no, that was Whedon acknowledging his chief inspiration.)

    Again: if the only heavy machinery you know anything about is a car, you are not qualified to talk about spaceships. I'm not saying you need personal experience, because I haven't got any (hell, I can't even drive). I am saying you need to look up how people behave in contexts remotely comparable to what you're trying to portray, and for space travel, that means astronauts, cosmonauts, space-agency mission control, and submarine crews. It doesn't mean a bunch of hippies wandering around with a van.

    Which brings me to the realization that Firefly is not space opera, not really. Nope, it's a post-apocalyptic road-trip show. A bunch of people going around with a van, while being pursued by man-eating mutants and a tinpot banana-republic dictatorship: that's not SF, it's not space opera, it's freaking Barb Wire meets Judge Dredd.
  • What's interesting to me is that so many people talk as if, e.g., one is an "alpha male" by leadership within society at large, or some sub-society like business. Similarly they talk as if "herd mentality" and "pack mentality" could be used interchangeably.

    But any married man with children is an alpha male; and arguably the only thing in human behavior we can call "pack mentality" is "I'm allowed to talk about my family that way, but you aren't". Plainly people need to take an Ethology 101 course—society is not "the pack", it is a peace treaty between packs, mostly so they don't kill each other over territory.

    Interestingly, that's basically the thesis of Rousseau—that the family pre-exists the social contract, its obligations a fundamental part of human nature. Why do people always misrepresent his fundamentally sound reasoning, on this as on so many topics?
  • Also, given that the alternative (in our great-ape repertoire) to the nuclear-family pack, "silverback-and-harem", has a lot of non-dominant males that pursue a strategy called "roam and rape", it's no coincidence that most cultures where polygamy is very common, e.g. China or Arabia, are also cultures where women are traditionally escorted everywhere they go.
  • Here's something creepy. Know what idea is becoming more and more accepted by the American right? Have some hints. Ayn Rand's "looters vs. producers". Ann Coulter's "Demonic", which borrows its thesis from "The 18 Brumaire of Louis Napoleon". The whole idea that taxation is an intrinsic evil, purely exploitative of the populace.

    That's right. Marxism. All those things? Oppression narratives. Hell, Rand's thing is actually about laborers being exploited by a non-laboring class—it doesn't even take the class-war to some field other than economics, the way Beauvoir or the Black Radicals did. Remember when I said Rand was a sleeper agent? Yeah, I'm starting to think I shouldn't have been kidding.

    The relevant Nietzsche quote is "He who fights monsters should beware lest he become a monster himself. And when you look long into the void, know that the void looks back into you."
  • The interesting thing about "Ancient Aliens" is not the asinine idea that ancient peoples couldn't tie their shoes without alien help. The interesting thing is that they are so damned bad at it. I mean, adamant, the stuff Zeus's thunderbolts are made of? It's associated with diamonds. So how have these Von Däniken fanboys failed to realize they could draw an association with carbon nanotubes?

    Then again, I really wanna get in a fight with the "Sumerian mythology records mankind having been engineered as mine-slaves by aliens" school, because, seriously? You do not mine gold on a planet, if you can go into space: it is simply vastly easier to mine stuff like that on asteroids. As I mentioned regarding osmium and iridium, dense metals sink to the center of the body they're in, so they're a lot easier to get from a couple-kilometers-diameter asteroid than from a freaking planet.
  • To reboot Star Trek, they shouldn't have rewritten timelines (best take on it, here). They should've started a new one.

    Pro tip: instead of the dates being given as Stardates, call the calendar something else. Then, we can use the calendar-system as an easy shorthand for which continuity we're talking about. Admittedly, that is having the second-best scifi-TV franchise ape the first-best. No, wait, third-best—second best is Stargate.