2017/12/17

De romanicorum theoriarum XI

Speculative fiction thoughts, a lot of them involving my game.
  • Turns out I can actually pretty much avoid the need for any cases at all, in my gnomish language, by using the benefactive and instrumental for two different forms of genitive. I just use prepositions instead of an oblique case.

    I'd initially just had person (first, second, third animate, third inanimate) indicated by which of four vowels each suffix used, and used four other, related vowels for the plural; then I'd mark the inflections (subject, object, benefactive, instrumental) with consonants.

    But since I'd built the word-roots around vowel-harmony, that was inelegant. So instead I based the inflections on the vowels (one set each for each of my two vowel-harmony classes), and the person indicated with consonants, with different consonants for singular and plural.
  • Much is made, by people who get their news from the popular media, of that incident with the Facebook bots having to be shut down after they were set to interact with each other. Histrionics from all sides about "AIs creating their own language" and other malarkey. All that really happened was the programmers forgot to set a constraint on the outputs generated when the two bots started using each other's outputs as inputs, so that all their outputs would remain human-readable. Absent such a constraint, the programs did something we've observed for years and can easily predict and correct—they came up with their own shorthand, along the lines of saying "this" five times to mean "five of this".

    A minor hiccup. So far from them having to shut down the project in terror at what they'd wrought, as the media presented it, the programmers just had to switch them back to talking normal, since the goal was developing automated systems that people can use. Interpreting this as the incipient creation of strong AI and the harbinger of the robot uprising is like if you took your dog to a kennel, it picked up a bad habit from another dog, and you shot your dog in fear of its soon gaining the ability to take on human shape. (As that Snopes article notes, Elon Musk probably bears some of the blame. Musk who is not, you'll note, a computer scientist, neurologist, or philosopher, but a materials-scientist who also has a bachelor's in economics.)
  • Decided that my cultures will have specific types of names. Elves are named aspects of the World Tree, or of foxes or crows (their two moieties—though they have bilateral kinship unlike most moieties). Dark elves are likewise named after aspects of assassin vines, and bats and seals (they were a different society on their homeworld and so have different moieties); goblins use a psychoactive conifer shrub (something like Ephedra, AKA "Mormon tea"), shrikes, and cats. Dwarves are all named jobs, in the form "imperfect verb, noun", ("makes shields"="armorer"). That also goes for dark dwarves and ogres/orcs, of course with more sinister jobs; dark dwarves' jobs are mostly "magic mad science" related, while those of ogres are more related to their savage lifestyle. Gnomes (including spriggans) are named qualities like "cheerful" or "inventive", with the spriggan names being less cheery than the normal gnome ones. (Think I might use the same kinds of names for kobolds; it's pretty common to be influenced by your enemies.)

    I had had my humans (and halflings) named "something to do with daytime or summer" plus "part of one of the totem animals", while the Ancients were named combinations of "something to do with the sea and wind" plus "part of a fiend". (In ancient times I think they were both named "any natural condition favorable to any purpose" plus "aspect of man".) But that was too similar to my elves' naming-scheme, and the results often didn't sound good in my languages. So instead I now have the adults named after dates (children I think just have single-word nicknames); I don't think they use their birthdate, since that can be used to witch you, but maybe the date of their adulthood ceremony (which I guess they do on an individual basis rather than communally, or else everyone the same age would have the same name). Then they take a middle name, based on the date they acceded to power or were initiated into a totem-society, and their last name is either their own or their parents' wedding-date, depending if they're married or not. (Hey, you never forget your anniversary if you're using it as a surname.)
  • If you'll recall, my humans divide the year into tenths ("year-tithes"). Had had them named after the totem animals, but decided the calendar actually predated the adoption of that religion, and was inherited from the Ancients. Now "year-tithes" are named for the ten mysteries oracles had, as originally presented in the Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide, since oracles were the first priests humans had (and are the only non-witch priests the Ancients still have). As I said, if half the tithes have thirty-six days and half have thirty-seven, you get 365 days. (I'm ignoring leap years.) Conveniently, given that people take their names from dates—so that people don't have to have "thirty-five" in their names—there are thirty-seven cleric domains, if you count the four that were added to the original thirty-three, so they can be called e.g. "War-Wind" instead of "31-Wind". There are also thirty-seven witch-patrons (or rather themes for them), excluding some of the ones from more obscure expansions; those are used by the Ancients instead of the cleric domains, and by witches of other societies as pseudonyms (using the date of their initiation as witches). Presumably people once had more unwieldy names?

    The elves' and dwarves' native calendars are just the days of the month—originally the number of cycles the planet made in their sky in the course of their homeworlds' (the moons) day. Elves name the days of their month after the twenty-seven schools and sub-schools of arcane magic, and dwarves use the sixteen different kinds of thing you can make an alchemy bomb do. Those two are used something like the days of the week on our calendar, so a given date would be something like "Abjuration-Frost, 31st of Wind", or whatever. Also gave my gnomes a calendar of twenty divisions—think maybe they'll use vigesimal numbers—named for the twenty sorcerer bloodlines in the Core Rulebook and Advanced Player's Guide; think their calendar is used by the elves and dwarves, too, for measuring the planet's years. (Presumably elves and dwarves used to have their own way of measuring the year, since you can see the year changing from the moon—though the math is a lot more complicated since your point of view does an epicycle every couple dozen days—but the gnomish one is almost certainly simpler and more convenient for living on the planet.)
  • I would still like to know why the people who write Halo, who can clearly do all kinds of top-notch research and worldbuilding based on it, can't get it through their heads how fusion works. I've mentioned how you can't make a fusion reactor go critical.

    But in the fifth one, you actually hear them talking about cooling the reactor. Uh...there is no cooling system in a fusion reactor, not directly; there's shielding and there might be something to dump the waste-heat but the whole thing works by getting everything very, very hot. Also the core temperature that's mentioned—1373 Kelvin—isn't hot enough to do any kind of fusion (it's a bit over a hundred Kelvin shy of the melting point of most steel). The bare minimum for fusion is 13 million Kelvin.

    Also, maybe the UNSC doesn't have better reactor-safety protocol than the Covenant; maybe the Covenant just use something more dangerous as a power-source. Fission, for instance, would be much more dangerous than fusion...in any setting where fusion didn't behave exactly like fission, anyway. It's possible that whatever powers Covenant technology involves a much more volatile reaction than fusion; we're talking about people who use rockets that expel a propellant with negative mass, after all.
  • A lot of fiction, e.g. Burroughs's Mars, presents ancestor-worship as the only good religion, and worship of other things as bad. But one of the most evil ideologies ever, Neo-Confucianism—probably the world's first totalitarian movement—involves ancestor-worship, and props up other cults only insofar as it can use them for social control. It brutally persecutes any religion it can't make into a state ministry, and corrupts those that are amenable to being used that way (had "State Shinto" had any right to the name, it would've feared the wrath of the Eight Hundred Myriad Gods). Stoicism acted similarly with the Roman household cult, which wasn't distinguished from ancestor-worship the way the (e.g.) Korean one is.

    So in my setting, I decided, the humans' ancestor-cults led indirectly to the Ancients' corruption, by encouraging a type of extended family "amoral familism" as typified by the Arab saying "me against my brother; me and my brother against my cousin; me, my brother, and my cousin against the world". The Ancients had no reason not to enslave all the rest of mankind, and the other humans had no reason to work together, until the common bond of the totem-cult came along. Plus the ancestors would not be all that strong, not compared to the fiend-lords, which would lead the Ancients down the path of witchery ("if I cannot persuade heaven, I shall appeal to hell") as well as giving an incentive for the others to accept the totems' law.
  • Realized I can actually have a worldbuilding reason (besides "they thought it was as cool as I do") for the revived samurai of my future Japan, to talk like period-drama characters. The speech-mannerism actually originates from the people running the red-light districts of, IIRC, Edo, but as that was the center of the samurai subculture it makes sense they'd pick it up. There's more to it than just using humble and honorific verbs in the plain rather than the polite register—humble and honorific terms are typically used for talking to and about customers, who obviously get polite usage too—but that's the most noticeable feature of it.

    The reason the revived samurai—my "SF trope made realistic" version of cyberpunk's "street samurai"—talk that way, is that they began as infosec contractors, who later also became freelance personal security. Now, contractors, in Japan, talk about their customers using honorific terms, and their own company with humble ones. But those verbs tend to be longer—"de gozaimasu"/"de irasshaimasu" rather than "desu" or "da", for example. You waste several extra morae (the equivalent of one short-vowel, single consonant syllable—long vowels and geminated consonants count extra) just to say the same thing. You can cut down by two or three by switching them to the plain forms. And it makes you sound (kind of) like a samurai.

    Given that, in Japan as here, IT people tend to also be other kinds of nerd—there is a reason Akihabara was originally mostly amateur-radio shops—it stands to reason that they would probably like sounding like fictional characters. From "humble and honorific verbs, but in the plain form rather than polite" to "talk like a samurai" is only a matter of switching some personal references and using some peculiar idioms (like katajikenai—something like "embarrassed"—for "thank you").
  • Will people kindly quit trying to make Lucifer a sympathetic character? Not because of any moral issues but because no angel is something we can really feel empathy for. They make Azathoth and Yog-Sothoth look like comforting anthropomorphisms; at least those two kind of interact with time as we know it.

    Angels don't. An angel is like a color or a number—they're basically self-aware concepts. And while they have self-awareness, that self-awareness is fundamentally unlike ours. For example, they don't learn; they just know everything they can know, by the simple fact of being themselves (the good ones are also granted knowledge by the grace of God). Learning is a change, you have to exist in time to do it.

    Where traditional Islamic and Jewish thought says they have no free will, Christian theology instead says they only exercise it once—they don't exist within time, so they don't choose what they're going to do, only what they're going to be, and all their action from that point onward (as we have to conceive of it, being native to space-time) is simply in other beings partaking of their essence.
  • Decided, since my campaign doesn't use the Pathfinder cosmology (e.g. I use only the wings-and-horns fiends, plus succubi), that my version of the nightshades (undead fiends) will not actually be undead fiends, but rather fiends of undeath. I.e. they are the immortal servants of the power of (un)death, something like a Gravemind, or Nekron in Green Lantern—a resentful power of lifelessness and the cold dark void that enviously desires the destruction and enslavement of all living beings.

    Not sure what my setting's celestials are, other than that I use the "angels" (or aasimar as we knew that group of sixers in my day, berk) as the main ones, the equivalent of the nightshades for the fiends. Think I'll have agathions, with more variable alignments, as the servants of the totem gods and azatas as the servants of the elvish deities; the inevitables (with an alignment shift) become the servants of the dwarf gods and I guess the aeons (also alignment-shifted) servants of the gnomish ones?

    I know in my setting elementals are the more neutral outsiders, rather than things like psychopomps and aeons; there's also room for things like kami and house spirits.

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