2018/09/21

Sierra Foxtrot 13

SF thoughts. Grandfathering in Destiny even though I consider it to be much closer to fantasy, because I want to write a fantasy post later, and not double up.

I admit to being a bit nonplussed by Forsaken at first. Part of it was it brought back the obnoxious gear-grind of the original Destiny, after the heaping portions offered by the previous versions of Destiny 2; but I had some legit plot issues, too. Then I made it to the Dreaming City, AKA "Space Gondolin, complete with dragon lairing in its ruins", and all was forgiven (a boss fight whose theme incorporated "Bow to No One" from The Taken King—basically the Queen's theme—didn't hurt either). Or nearly all; read on.

Okay the bow was pretty sweet too, that took the edge off before the final payoff. (Kinda bummed how Taken spooge got splashed everywhere when someone completed the main raid, though.)
  • The expanded lore that came with Forsaken is mostly dreck. To try and avoid spoilers, I'll just say that "less is more" is a principle they should've stuck to. Giving us more backstory on the Awoken, at least that backstory, turns what were cool spooky space-elves into run-of-the-mill pseudo-transhuman space-colonists; it reads like the prequels Ann McCaffrey wrote to her Dragonrider books, about when Pern was first colonized. The attempt to humanize Mara by showing us her relationships actually just makes her seem less sympathetic; someone as inscrutable as she used to be can be given the benefit of the doubt, but now that we know she cares about these people the same way we would, she seems very callous. Also the questionable parallel drawn between her family and the Osmium Dynasty seems like a slapdash afterthought. The epilogue (or rather the real ending), in the Dreaming City, fixes this somewhat, but the epilogue should not be more engaging than the actual main story.

    There really is no reason to give us any backstory on Mara's relationships at all. We need them for Oryx, Savath√Ľn, and Xivu Arath because their spiritual corruption is the point, just as we need them for Malfurion and Illidan Stormrage because their increasingly vicious sibling-rivalry is the point there. But we no more need a backstory for Mara than we need to see Galadriel's childhood in Valinor or Hondo Ohnaka's backstory as a young Weequay coming up on the mean streets of who-gives-a-damn (and Mara is basically what you'd get if Galadriel and Hondo did the Fusion Dance). Those few minutes in her throne-room when you're asking for directions to the Black Garden really tell you absolutely everything you need to know about her, and her brother too, as characters.
  • Also? Mara the Deva-King of Paranirmita-Vasavartin is actually more like the person who first compares Mara the (future) Queen of the Reef to him, than he is like the Queen herself. Queen Mara (minor spoiler) draws her people back into a mortal world because they can't avoid struggle (which makes her standoffishness about helping Earth seem out-of-character, now…); Mararaja controls sentient beings by offering to take their struggles away, in an immortal world. Like Oryx does when he Takes them. (Not coincidentally, the historical figure who deliberately chose to compare himself to Mararaja had, as his motto, "All the world by force of arms." Which is the Sword Logic.)

    …And now I wish they'd dubbed Oryx with Wakamoto Norio, in Japanese.
  • I don't think it's a spoiler to say Uldren dies at the end; anyway the poor son-bitch has been hard done by. The story, at least until the Dreaming City epilogue, is trying to treat him as much less sympathetic than he actually is. It's almost as bad as how Transformers Prime writers treated Starscream and Breakdown—narrator again writing checks about audience sympathy or antipathy that the narrative never deposited the funds to cash.

    About the only way I can see them salvaging this would be for him to be raised up as a Guardian—given some of the shit they get up to with the Light (see e.g. the Warlords, without even getting into Dredgen Yor), it stands to reason some of the "devotion, sacrifice, death" that produced them in the first place was less than squeaky clean. (May I suggest he call himself "Crow", presumably due to the accoutrements he finds with his remains? If the fluff-text for the Prodigal Mask means what I think it does, I may be some kind of precognitive—I swear on my honor that I came up with this idea before I ever saw a Prodigal armor-piece.)

    Lastly, mah boy Variks: what the hell? Y'all who've read the new lore know what I'm referring to. He best not become a villain, Bungie, at this point you've killed off or face-heel turned almost every character I give two shits about except Zavala and Failsafe. (I only give a shit about Sloane, Ikora, Asher, Tess, etc.—you could double the shits I gave about Anastasia Bray by having someone point out the short form of her name is "Tasha", though.)
  • Onto other matters: seriously where do people get the idea humans are warriors? Many, indeed possibly most human civilizations go in for militarism, as an ideology, precisely because most of us aren't warriors, and we therefore regard those who are as special. And people who aren't civilized, tend to blur the line separating military enmity from personal malice, or battle from massacre. That would, again, be because warfare is felt as something unnatural, an exception to the usual rules.

    Much like how humans do in fact know when they're beaten, and we're speaking a language that proves it, the idea humans would be particularly remarkable as warriors is so much species-Jingoism. Anything that gets to the stars had to become the dominant species of its biosphere to do it, and who's to say ours is even the hardest biosphere out there? This biosphere was a lot scarier just 10,000 years ago, to say nothing of 65 million years ago.
  • I know I've mentioned this before but ideas like "space down" are dumb. "Down" is toward the main gravity-well you're in, period. In orbit of a planet or other body massive enough to orbit stably, it's toward the center of the body's mass; in interplanetary space it's toward the system primary; in interstellar space it's toward the galactic core. (Okay you probably need an arbitrary definition for intergalactic space, unless you can use the center a given galaxy-cluster orbits around, but we're not getting there any time remotely conceivable.)

    Similarly "galactic north" doesn't mean "toward the core"; that's "galactic down" (or "nadir"). Galactic north is the direction on your left when you point your feet at the core and face "spinward" ("galactic east"). "Leeward" is galactic west, "rimward" is galactic up or galactic zenith, and galactic south is the direction on your right when you face spinward with your feet pointed at the core. There's a reason (beside sun-worship or the reverence for Jerusalem) that premodern maps usually put east, not north, at the top.
  • The guy behind Wolfram Alpha, Stephen Wolfram, wrote a book called A New Kind of Science, wherein he makes an interesting claim:
    …Even with a single very simple initial condition the actual evolution of a system will generate blocks that correspond to essentially all possible initial conditions. And this means that whatever behavior would be seen with a given overall initial condition, that same behavior will also be seen at appropriate places in the single pattern generated from a specific initial condition.
    Now, while technically this might be true in theory (at least in a Newtonian/relativistic universe, not so much in a quantum one), empirically, in practice, it's not, because you'd basically need the capability to predict or track all the behavior of the system (and indeed of its initial conditions).

    But what's interesting is, his "new kind of science" is actually a very old kind of magic: because that concept underpins divination. The same fates or inevitable causes govern the stars (tea leaves, bird-flights, etc.) as govern your fortunes, so if you look at one it can give you information about the other.

    "Magic and technology alike arise from emptiness."—Abe no Seimei's correction to Clarke's Third Law.
  • This article has an interesting discussion of the questionable subtext of a lot of our TV and movie portrayals of robots; ignore the politics—and the fact it's "gynoid" not "gyroid"—and its point, that much of our robot-fiction is curiously dependent on conniving-woman tropes that would raise protest in any other context, is still interesting. (One does have to be charitable in Dick's case; he was a paranoid psychotic—admittedly one who very unwisely fooled around with psychedelics—who was treated very badly by several of the women in his life. I doubt Westworld is written by schizophrenics.)

    Of course, aside from how this demonstrates yet again that Hollywood is the people they accuse everyone else of being, the question is, what to do about it? I personally wouldn't mind more robot portrayals where they are just speculation about "what if we could create artificial intelligence"; but robots have been stand-ins for various politics-relevant groups since R.U.R. itself (incidentally, is anyone else weirded out that the guy who came up with the programming language Python is named Guido van Rossum?). That's true at the best of times, let alone a time like now when everything's hyper politicized.

    I would think the best solution is for people to treat their robots as characters (i.e. made-up real people) rather than symbols—which is where Phil Dick goes wrong both in his specific portrayals of women, and as an artist generally. And be alert to how people will perceive symbolism even if they don't intend it, which is presumably where Westworld went wrong.
  • This article in Time claims that the "galactic empire" makes no sense, because empires suppress innovation as a threat to their power. Fair enough; certainly one can point to China, even if it's the opposite of true of Western Empires (here excluding Byzantium, although they were quite enthusiastic for machinery that Italian engineers invented). Certainly being headed by kings and emperors didn't stop medieval Europe from being hugely innovative in technology and inventing little trifles like "the scientific method". Of course, that's partly because they had the opposite of the absolutist system the word "empire" normally conjures up.

    But then the article (and the book it's talking about, if it's not misrepresented egregiously) goes on to claim that all such premodern social organization is one where all resources flow only one way and the elite takes everything from everyone else. Because serious economists can actually say "all systems other than our own are pure zero-sum affairs" and nobody point at them and laugh—our society has actually reached this point. I looked; Acemoglu and Robinson do not appear to be Marxists, which would at least explain their puerile characterization of any economic system as purely zero-sum (which isn't even entirely true of slavery), even if it would be very far from excusing it.

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