Sell it, boy!

Before I get things rolling I thought I'd take an opportunity to point out that Cameron's Avatar—in which a man takes on the persona of a nigh-perfect nonhuman and eventually becomes much happier as such—is titled wrong. Plainly Cameron meant to name that film Fursona.


SF writer Michael McCollum had an essay, Sci-Fi And Society, in which he points out that a major purpose of science fiction is to get the populace used to changing technologies. We watch Star Trek, with the little communicators and the whoosh-y doors and the talking computers that periodically attempt to destroy everything, and then when cell phones and automatic doors and touch-tone customer service come along, it's not so jarring.

But, as of late, they ain't been doing their job. There is a feeling abroad in the land that technology needs to stop—"This far and no further," as Picard said in one of his "doesn't hold up to a second's scrutiny" speeches. For instance, people feel (especially in the U.S.) that irradiating milk would make it dangerous, and so you can rarely get the stuff here. Or people feel (in Europe) that genetic modification of foods, no matter how well-understood the process used, will simultaneously doom ecosystems and mutate you, the consumer, because genetic engineering apparently leaves spiritual stains, like other forms of black magic. Therefore they won't buy bananas genetically modified to improve hardiness, and the blessed yellow herbs are apparently in immanent danger of extinction, much more than polar bears. I don't know about you, but I don't find a polar bear an enhancement at the breakfast table.

Sure, a part of it is technophobia—what you'd probably call Luddism, with your usual concern for the accuracy of historically-derived labels. And there's the environmentalism aspect, with its "the internal combustion engine is a worse invention than Zyklon-B" rhetoric. But some of the blame really must be laid at the feet of SF writers.

There are three complaints. First (thought I was gonna use HTML's "Ordered List" function, didn't you?) is the fact Star Trek set the precedent of meaningless technobabble. The first series was the only SF under the counter for a while, and it really did get people acclimated to computerized everything, among other innovations. But thanks to them not caring about the words people said, if you put something like pneumatic muscle fibers in a story, people would assume it was meaningless technobabble, not something being researched now for prosthetics among other things (tip: use hydraulic instead, in your stories, that way androids have an excuse to bleed). Perhaps I am a dreamer, but I prefer my high-tech SF to be product placement, of a sort, for emerging technologies.

The second complaint is writers using things that, all in all, would be for the good, but emphasizing the remotest possibility of a downside for the sake of getting a story out of it. Nanomachines are a good example. Think of all the applications for nanomachines, of various types, self-replicating or otherwise—we won't need bees anymore, we can pollinate and make honey with robots (I'm poorly disposed to the Hymenoptera, you would be too if your state had been invaded by both Africanized bees and fire ants). We could do things in medicine nobody who wasn't a centaur ever did before. But no. Drexler had to open his silly mouth, and warn about self-replicating nanomachines reducing everything in their path to "gray goo". Everyone—especially the SF writers—heard that, of course; nobody heard 18 years later when he basically said, "Look. I just said, you know, 'don't do this, because that might happen.' I didn't say it would happen, and certainly nobody'd be dumb enough to do it now! Can we please actually do some nanotech research, maybe develop, you know, a nanomachine? Maybe? Please?"

Yes, I'm sure he'd agree that that was his precise gist.

Why, precisely, do we have to have all these "accidental doomsday" scenarios, gentlemen? Why, the gentlemen respond, because if we didn't make the stories about haywire tech—Man Vs. His Own Screwing Around With Nature—we'd have to come up with politics and future history to justify believable human (or similar) conflict, and most SF writers suck at that. Fair enough, but only Niven ever really managed to sell me on the alternative—his aliens suck, but he can make "flying too near a neutron star" a gripping premise. Did I just say most SF isn't very good? Yes, I did; unfortunately the space and aliens and tech and crap are its selling point, so it still sells despite everything else being C+ at best. It's like Baywatch: since people aren't there for the stories, why should they even bother with them?

Third, is that writers create worlds where tech is used...and they're dehumanized nightmares, where nobody has a decent normal feeling—imagine if all the bad Freud in post-war fiction were replaced by bad Skinner, or even Kinsey. Any tech in a world like that will naturally seem as evil as what the Green Party Anti-Spirals make it out to be. And it's not just dystopias—if an SF writer is messed up enough, stuff they mean for a utopia can actually give the Imperium of Man a run for the money in Grim Darkness.

Apropos of nothing, is there a way to point the Dark Eldar at Iain M. Banks' Culture? I was gonna say Necrons, but decided to go for the poetic irony.


We Trained Him Wrong, As A Joke

I find myself musing more, and more deeply, upon the martial arts.

For those who care, if I mention a Chinese art, I use the actual Hanyu Pinyin or Yale Cantonese romanization. If you think it should be Jeet Kune Do rather than Jiht Kyùhn Douh, well, you're wrong; don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya. Bruce Lee was coming up with something his provincial English-speaking audience could approximate, not something intended to accurately represent the language, and 截拳道 is jiht kyùhn douh. Conversely if you think I should use Jyutping rather than Yale: intentionally using J for Y means they think writing should be an active barrier to understanding, it's like rendering the Ts in Navajo with a C (leading to idiots pronouncing the Navajo word for "wolf" as maicoh rather than maiitsoh). Yes, Pinyin is weird, but most people know "quan" is pronounced "ch'uan", and where I come from Wade-Giles' beloved "hard breathings" are glottal stops, thank you.

  • Why do people insist that taekkyeon and jujutsu/aikijutsu are from China? There's really very little evidence that either of them is—the descriptions of the fighting in the Silla kingdom, for instance, are quite similar to taekkyeon, and were apparently just the way Koreans fought. Jujutsu, similarly, is clearly related to sumo, and sumo is so devoid of continental influences it's almost creepy, a window into a world of antediluvian age. Of course, jujutsu's philosophy is definitely Chinese—it's basically Onmyôdô, which is a type of Taoism (though onmyôdô's "Fine, then, push things even further in the direction they're imbalanced and it'll force them to find a new balance" isn't terribly orthodox).

    On the other hand, why do people deny that taekwondo (even I'm not anal enough to bother writing "taegwondo") and karate (which would be karati in Okinawan, a language you didn't even know existed) are actually forms of South Chinese martial arts—taekwondo is karate, except with the kicks and jumps from taekkyeon and the Hwarang honor code. Karate, in turn, is basically Fujian kenpô.

  • On the subject of people getting the origins of martial arts wrong, why the hell do people keep saying capoeira is African? I mean, I know why Angoleiros say it—their style's founder was a black nationalist who split off from Mestre Bimba's school because Bimba was teaching white people—but why do people who aren't raving racist loonies say it? All the martial arts of West Africa are either wrestling or boxing, or stick fighting. Yeah, maculele is African, but the fact it mentions Luanda should've been a clue to that.

    On the other hand, Palmares, the quilombo where Mestre Zumbi lived when he made capoeira (according to folklore), is fairly close to...French Guyana. Know what French sailors were using to fight in the 17th century? Jeu marseillais, the predecessor of savate. It has the following similarities to capoeira:
    1. It's done barefoot, and kicks hit with instep or sole.
    2. It is conceptualized as a game.
    3. Because it was done on the decks of ships, it involves a number of moves being done mains au sol—with the hands on the ground.
    4. It conceptualizes round-kick and front kick, if they swing from the knee, as the same move, fouetté. Capoeira also considers kicks to be the same—martelo, in the above instance—based on the type of motion they use, rather than their direction (French martial arts and capoeira also consider side-kicks the same as thrusting front kicks, chassé and chapa, respectively).
    Which is more likely: that Zumbi adapted the motions of animals and African dances into a fighting style that happens to work like the one done by the nearby French sailors, or he was taught to fight by French sailors, and added the animal moves and African dances as window-dressing?

  • Why do people also feel the need to lie about the class of their martial arts? Aside from denying the street-fighting origins of modern savate and capoeira (cordãos were originally gang colors), why do people have to pretend ninjutsu and karate were done by some inherently virtuous, oppressed peasant underclass? It's true that Kôga ninja's main village was a peasant cooperative, but it owed fealty to the Rokkaku clan, who were normal daimyô—and the Kôga leaders had a normal bushi-master relationship with them. It's even more blatant with Iga ninja—you think the Yagyû clan were pretending to be samurai in Tokugawa's service? Their second head (Munenori) was married to an Iga ninja's daughter—that's why he had a reputation as a guy you did not want to cross, not if you had any secrets anyway—and samurai didn't marry peasants.

    And as for karate: it was illegal to do karate (or Nafati, as it was called at the time) unless you were a peechin. Peechin is written with kanji that basically mean "honorable peer"—as in "peers of the realm".

  • Just...Chinese martial arts. On the one hand, are the people who think they're just the most unstoppable thing ever. It's bizarrely common in Japan, despite the fact there is no Chinese martial art more deadly than jujutsu, and most of them aren't even close. There are probably five actually dangerous martial arts in China—wihng cheùn, and the ones they picked for Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is just one reason to like that show (the main one being, "Wait, Westerners are allowed to make cartoons this good that don't involve Batman, talking bears, or Launchpad McQuack? When did that happen?").

    On the other hand are the people who think that Chinese martial arts, especially tàijíquán, are just exercises or meditation. You even get it with Hùhng kyùhn (aka Hùhng gà, the Fist of the Household of Hùhng), and that was typecast as earthbending for a reason: think karate as done by crazy Jacobites, one of whom was (no, really) Wòhng Feihùhng, as in Drunken Master Wòhng Feihùhng. Hey, hippies: the Taoist monks of the Wǔdāng mountains were able to compete directly with the (Buddhist) Shàolín monks from Mt. Sōng, in combat, and the Shàolín earned their reputation. Bāguàzhǎng, meanwhile, was used by the Boxer Rebellion, and they were so scary the Western powers pretty much destroyed the Qing dynasty getting rid of them. It is not, to quote a particular film, a @#$%ing tickling contest; these lads are out to hurt each other.

  • Finally: the whole ninja vs. pirate thing really happened, and involved one of the big name ninja of all history. See, the Fuma ninja became pirates at the end of the Warring States era and supposedly, they killed Hattori Hanzô, jônin of the Iga ninja who served Tokugawa Ieyasu. Weird, huh?


The Rockwell Scale Of SF Hardness

So. TV Tropes has the Mohs Scale Of Sci Fi Hardness. But a lot of it is taste. It's partly based around the less imaginative SF fans simply saying x is a soft feature—regardless of how much work has been put into making x believable, works that have it will automatically, without another thought, be considered softer than those that don't. FTL is a popular value for x, as are starfighters, whether they think they're airplanes or not. I thought I'd make my own scale, one that corrects for taste—rather than saying FTL makes a series soft, FTL that's explained and consistent will be harder than one that "just works", and one that's based on a real theory will be harder than both.

The problem with the Mohs scale is it caters to illiterate taboos, to trends, and to taste. For instance, Firefly is higher on the Mohs scale than Larry Niven's Known Space stories. Niven's artificial gravity is mere Unobtainium—magnetic monopoles, the basis of the Kzin gravity planer, really would screw with gravity, if they existed. Firefly's is not only never explained, it can negate rest mass.

The Mohs scale also rewards deliberate vagueness in a work, the avoidance of attempts to explain—mainly because of the abuse of technobabble by Star Trek. But this leads to SF being graded like the SAT: wrong answers lose points, but not answering doesn't. I prefer to grade SF like homework, with an attempt at an answer being more useful than a blank question. When a work doesn't try to explain how something works, when it seems like it shouldn't—for instance, people making out in close proximity to a spaceship engine, but not being fried by the radiation—it gives me the suspicion the writers didn't know about it.

Anyway, because it attempts to correct for taste and trends, my alternative scale is called the Rockwell Scale Of Sci Fi Hardness—after the Rockwell Scale of Material Hardness, which attempts to correct for mechanical imperfections like backlash, just as mine corrects for trends and taste. The Rockwell Scale is also more intended for industrial use than the "pure science" of the Mohs Scale—and science fiction is a form of entertainment, not a peer-reviewed academic discourse.

Hardness levels from softer to harder, with a hypothetical example:
  1. Blatant Fantasy. Not only is current science violated without a word of acknowledgment, fairly old ideas are ignored. A work where people just walk around on the open decks of wooden spaceships, all of which have the same gravity as earth.
  2. Complete Fantasy. Current science is ignored without a word of acknowledgment. A work where ships can just keep speeding up, ad infinitum; there is no light-speed limit.
  3. Voting "Present". The work deliberately avoids going into its technology, avoiding any explanation, plausible or not. A work where the FTL is just called "FTL".
  4. Handwave. Things happen that shouldn't work in current understandings of science, but are acknowledged as they are passed. The matter-energy converter, that works on the basis of individual particles, has a component that counteracts quantum indeterminacy.
  5. Aperture Science. The things that don't mesh with current science are done consistently and systematically; though the mechanism may not be explained, its effects are logical. A field that cuts everything inside it off from entropy, and can therefore also turn a wire it's projected around into an infinitely sharp blade.
  6. Squatter's Rights. The things that don't work under modern science are explained as being made possible by a current gray area in modern science. A system is explained as being based on the theory that finally united quantum mechanics and relativity.
  7. Unobtainium. Nothing is used that couldn't be adequately explained by current theories—it just uses materials that may not actually exist. Artificial gravity generated by the peculiar trait of exotic matter (if there is such a thing): negative mass.
  8. Mundane. Nothing is used that isn't known to exist, or at least to be producible with better tech and resources. An orbit elevator that uses carbon nanotubes to make an extremely strong cable.


Big Damn Writers 2

Last one was about how to avoid the flagrant, boneheaded mistakes in Firefly's cultural setting. Now I shall enumerate its sins against science, and how to avoid them.

Just in general, the series' deliberate vagueness about the tech hurts it, rather than helping as it was supposed to. I'm sorry, but if you don't tell me why something that would be lethal in the real world, isn't, I'm going to have to assume you just didn't know about it.

Oh, and all you little Whedon worshipers: if you come and tell me "it's used consistently in story," I'm afraid all I'll do is laugh at you. Maybe you didn't get the memo, but part of the definition of SF is, save where explicitly contradicted, and that only as strictly necessary, physics as we understand it is canon. You don't like it, go back to watching Buffy the Live-Action Magical Girl.


First, the issue of the engines. So Whedonites tell me—thinking this is a defense, the little darlings!—that the engines are deadly, and used as weapons as per the Kzinti Lesson. Only, that only makes it worse, since people just sit and eat and sleep right next to the engines, and Kaylee and her boyfriend were making out directly underneath it, in the flashback to how they met her. Do they have forcefields? We've established that the engines are not something like a VASIMR rocket, somehow souped up with nonsense (hey, the writers think artificial gravity can negate rest mass, it could've been their defense here)—the engines are a bona fide Kzinti Lesson rocket. They apparently don't understand that such a rocket is also, ipso facto, a deadly radiation source. Or maybe they do understand, to an extent (Reavers/no radiation shielding), but they seem to think radiation is an issue of "it's poisonous if it gets in the atmosphere", rather than "it will cook you like a pickle in the microwave."

And how about the terraforming? Leaving to one side that Earth can't become unlivable in 1000 years, let alone the couple centuries the series seems to posit, Firefly does not involve FTL. So. If they're orbiting Alpha Centauri (and they're almost certainly not), it'd take them a half-century to get there from earth, even at a very respectable .1c. Apparently terraforming finished in 2435, despite the fact it could realistically take millennia; either their tech rivals that of Kiddy Grade, or every planet in that system was suspiciously earthlike to start with.

And then there's how the Alliance tested the drug Pax on Miranda colony, and it turned 99% of the population catatonic, and the other 1% insanely aggressive, making them the Reavers. I'm no expert, but I'm guessing lab tests would've caught that (assuming they used more than 100 subjects). But no, apparently the Alliance's process for new drugs is
  1. Drawing board.
  2. Full-scale field test.
The Reavers, of course, would not be able to crew ships; they'd kill each other first.

How is it, incidentally, that the Alliance cannot "stop the signal?" Last I checked there was a thing called jamming, not bad at stopping signals. Worse, Whedonites have attempted to justify the laughably conspicuous assassins the Alliance uses, by saying "it has total media control." Really? Because if it did—and it actually is possible, if it controls all the satellites and servers—it could stop the signal, too. Of course, if it controlled all the satellites and servers, it would also control all the things that make their little "tramp freighter" premise possible ("tramp spaceship", of course, actually being about as realistic as "tramp nuclear submarine").

And here's how we avoid these risible pratfalls.

Go ahead, have people making out right on the engine. Just mention Bose-Einstein condensates (they have very weird properties where photons are concerned) and plasma screens. Actually, don't have people anywhere near your ship's engines, but if it comes up, that's how to handle it—technobabble isn't the enemy, random technobabble, a la Trek, is.

Rather than the terraforming, how about setting the whole thing in the Solar System, on space stations? Colonies in Lagrange points, a civil war with Earth...somehow I seem to recall someone has used that idea successfully. If you are gonna do the terraforming...well, actually you shouldn't do terraforming, you should do paraterraforming, i.e. habitat domes. But if for some reason (on a bet or something) you need terraforming, you're going to have to reconcile yourself to a setting with much higher tech, one where "man against the elements" stories simply won't happen.

About Pax: one, use another name, any other name. Two, all they had to say was "the atmosphere of the planet produced a side-effect that didn't show up in the preliminaries". Again, lampshade hanging.

The Reavers: hey genius, use aliens. Seriously. Or reconcile yourself to coming up with a reason for people who actually could crew a spaceship to also be wantonly destructive.

Finally, either the Alliance is actually a Banana Republic, and would need to cover its tracks better than the Operative and Hands of Blue are up to doing, or it can "stop the signal"—and would also never let Kaylee anywhere near an engine room. And if it's the latter—aside from the fact that the whole "tramp freighter" thing just isn't going to work—you need to have characters being very savvy hackers, concealing "the signal" inside other communications, possibly using some old Independent code or something. That'd be much cooler anyway, wouldn't it?

Big Damn Writers 1

I know I harp endlessly on this, but I feel that I represent a minority whose voice is not being heard. I tried—politely!—pointing out a few of these issues, on TVTropes, only to have my edits undone (as Unthink, one presumes—we can't afford dissension, what with the war with Eastasia).

Anyway. Ahem:

Joss Whedon cannot write science fiction.

Now, Firefly is not a bad show; it's infinitely more watchable than the new BSG, and a couple of the characters are likeable. But it is utter crap considered as SF.

I don't even really mind that it's so bad (though people not realizing how bad it is, kinda pisses me off), but I think it can actually be used as an example of what not to do. Even I felt a little weird harping on this at full length again, but it occurred to me I can use it as a teachable moment. So, such as it is, here it is.

Let us consider the cultural setting. I have touched on the fact Zoe and Wash apparently think of spaceships as a natural part of science-fiction, despite them being so common Mal can afford one; I have mentioned that whole "Buddhist monastery in a brothel", thing. But also...what the hell is with the Alliance? Yeah, I already mentioned the Hands Of Blue guys (and how nobody would use agents who are that noticeable), but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Would you really give your telepaths super-soldier training? Wouldn't you want your super-soldiers unable to read your mind if you're thinking, y'know, "I'm sending these guys to their deaths"? And that scientist, bringing a senator with access to state secrets in to tour the facility full of potentially hostile telepaths? Yeah, nobody saw how that could be a bad idea. Aside from the fact he probably wouldn't do it in the first place even if he could, how come he could? How the hell did he have the clearance to invite the guy, and how come nobody stopped the senator from doing that intensely stupid thing?

And then there is the Operative. This guy: your assassin? I could see him as some kind of mad genius hired by the Alliance, but he's a suit, basically a Man In Black. Nobody who works for an outfit like that would ever be that colorful. I mean seriously, Whedon, the man's ideal is a world without sin and conflict, not Outer Heaven! I know you're a comic book writer, but step back and consider like a grown man: do real government agents act anything like that? Also, even putting aside how colorful he is, no pro assassin is going to kill people the way the Operative does. He might fight them to a standstill and then deliver a parting shot (or even parting speech), but he won't paralyze them with nonsense-jutsu, speechify, and then hold his sword up (at a very awkward angle by the way) and sorta hope they fall just right. It's just not efficient.

So there's the cultural setting problems. How to fix them?

The thing with Wash and Zoe is easily fixed—just ask "What do the characters know?" rather than "What does the audience know?" I know, pretty basic, but apparently Whedon needs it explained. As for the Buddhism thing, well, aside from "don't be a subconscious racist with bizarre views on sex and gender", the answer is just, "do your research."

As for the telepath super-soldiers: it helps, when designing a secret evil project (lord knows my story's got a couple of them), to consider what it's for. Aristotelian, ain't it? If you want them for their psionics, you need to figure out how they train their powers, and how their mundane masters control them. Helps to have something that'll protect against telepathy, too.

As for the guy giving the Senator a tour: there're probably better ways for that plot development to happen, period (River accidentally remote-views a top-secret briefing, or something), but if you still choose to have it go that way, you've got to mention that it wouldn't ordinarily be permitted—maybe the Senator in question is just that high up. Despite Whedon being the one who popularized the expression "lampshade hanging", he doesn't seem to understand how to use it, other than for irritatingly self-conscious PoMo jokes.

Finally, the Operative and the Hands Of Blue: at least pretend you understand how assassination works, and what a government agency is. What are their objectives, and how will they achieve them? If your answer is, "Liquefy people's brains" or "paralyze people, give them a set speech, and then kill them with the deadly technique inherited from my master, Rube Goldberg", you need to stick to writing Magical Girl stories.

Next, I address the science.


It Shall Not Be Forgiven You

All that comes into being will someday pass away.
All that is subject to change, is subject to impermanence, and that which is subject to impermanence is subject to suffering.
—Shakyamuni Buddha
You may kill us if you like, grandchildren, but understand that without us, and the need to replace old things, there will be no need to create new things, and no progress.
—The Things-Wearing-Out People, Where the Two Went to Their Father
The entropy of an isolated system which is not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time.
—The Second Law of Thermodynamics
So. Post-Scarcity Economies. Cradle to cradle rather than cradle to grave. People motivated not by economic necessity but by self-improvement.

Horse flop.

I was reminded of this subgenre of SF, Transhuman SF, where mankind has attained some form of economy where scarcity, in the economic sense ("not enough pies to go around") has been overcome, usually by some combination of socialism and holy magic science (which is also wholly magic science). But—because such a world would be utterly dull, and not worth telling stories about, the characters still, inexplicably, want to work and do things. Usually they've made whatever they do their hobby, and are quite enthusiastic about it.

That is, it's an entire society of meddlesome rich people—indeed, worse, it's an entire society of independently-wealthy hobbyists. And yet, contrary to what someone who's read...y'know...a paragraph of history (or seen how hobbyist subcultures act) might expect, they're not mind-bogglingly decadent dystopias.

One recalls Chesterton's quote about utopias: "They first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by motor-car or balloon." Johnson's quote about the only good things being written for gain comes to mind, as well.

There are limits to geek wish-fulfillment fantasies, and this subgenre has passed that limit.

You cannot have a story about utterly worthless people, and you ask too much of your reader if you try to make the story be about the hobbies of such people. So sometimes, they do something worse, crossing the line between "crappy writing" and "morally reprehensible"—in an effort to make the reader care, the protagonist's hobby will be something more important. For instance, some people's "hobby" is making contact with other cultures, and offering them membership in the (utterly worthless) utopia...and destroying recalcitrant civilizations from the inside. Yes, that's right, our heroes are genocidal cultural imperialists...as a hobby. And people actually consider Starship Troopers unsettling? It's Little Women compared to this.

Of course, while the artistic, moral, and sociological objections to this kind of nonsense are more important, there's also the scientific one. You simply cannot have a Post-Scarcity economy; the moment you eliminate the scarcity of one resource, you will discover scarcity of others, usually whichever ones you used to get more of the old ones. We've eliminated hunger in the developed world, but we're a little hard-up for the chemicals we use to grow food, and the fuel we use to ship it. Anyone who thinks there's an easy way out of scarcity just announced "I'm a rich idiot who doesn't understand what things cost, because everything I ever had was handed to me on a silver platter."

"Post Scarcity stories" are the answer to the question, "What if the Lensman series had been written by Bertie Wooster?" Except Bertie's a nice rich idiot.

Late addition #1: I forgot to add that the other problem with a post-Scarcity economy would be that, as a form of Super Socialism, it would have a similar weakness to normal socialism, only worse. Namely, the lack of incentives for achievement or progress (the Things-Wearing-Out People pointed that out to the Hero Twins, in the quote above). Now, there would still be ego—always a great motivator, and indeed the thing that kept the medieval Guilds' standards up when they all earned the same. But people in Post-Scarcity stories never have anything to prove; they're like a stereotype of modern schoolkids, dripping with unassailable self-esteem. And unlike real-world socialist systems, they're too well-off—getting special extra goodies, a motivator most socialist systems retain to some degree, is meaningless, since Post-Scarcity people can basically get whatever they want, without having to earn it. Does anyone think there would really be any incentive to any kind of excellence, if mediocrity feels just about as good?

Late addition #2: Should have mentioned that another thing these stories tend to involve, a limitless manufacturing capacity, is not only ruled out by that economic principle I mentioned (that scarcity is, ironically, the only thing not subject to scarcity), it's also physically impossible. You cannot recycle resources infinitely (a common aim of the Transhuman movement in general); the Second Law is an iron one (being a special case of the principle of impermanence that's troubled philosophers for millennia). Certainly we could stand to be a hell of a lot more efficient than we are (which is what "regenerative" manufacturing should mean), but the nonsensical "Cradle to Cradle" appellation is evidence that its proponents actually seek—and think they can find—infinite creative power. But then again Transhumans also want to do away with "involuntary" death—another of the Four Last Ills who made a good case for himself to the Hero Twins.


Nobody Was Alive Then!

...Boy, for someone who hates the English as much as I do I sure have been quoting a lot of British things.

Anyway, there was something a while back on the American Chesterton Society blog that I wanted to comment on, but I saw it too late; also they try to keep things classy, whereas I "play in the street," as capoeiristas put it.

Last week, Dr. Thursday over on the American Chesterton Society blog quoted GKC on something touching on paganism. His post from this week also touches, more tangentially, on paganism; one wonders if it, like the last one, will attract odd little gadflies. See, on that first post, someone (plainly not having really read the quote, and not knowing the context), decided to post this comment:
If Chesterton said that, then he was an ignoramus. I doubt that he had ever knowingly met a contemporary Pagan or spoken with one. Of course, they largely kept quiet in 1931, since Witchcraft was still technically illegal in the U.K. at that time ("The Dark Ages called--they want their laws back.")
They were so well hidden, in fact, that they didn't even exist yet—hiding out from being itself, they had reached the apotheosis of stealth!

See, the branch of Neo-Paganism of which Wicca is a part dates to the later thirties, building on anthropological theories from the 20s, and really took off in the 50s. Truly the mind is toppled by that vista of cyclopean time—how could anyone be expected to get any of the details of that era right?

Leaving to one side that the witch-hunts happened post-Reformation, a good 700 years after the Dark Ages ended, one wonders why Neo-Pagans would be hiding out in the 1930s—considering Aleister sodding Crowley didn't seem to feel the need.

Then again, anyone who actually believes there was a "hidden witch-cult"—which even Wiccans don't teach anymore!—probably also thinks Madagascar is the end of a sunken continent called Lemuria, that there is such a thing as luminiferous ether, and that the moon was spun off from the Pacific Ocean. The 1920s called, they want their science back.


Video Games

So, I borrowed the ane-ue's Playstation 2, so I thought I'd post some thoughts about video games—not exactly gonna put Tycho Brahe out of business, but anyway, such as it is, here it is.
  • Tekken. This is a drastically underrated series and, for my money, it's better than Virtua Fighter. Why? Because, though the moves themselves may be less realistic (Mestre Marcelo gets crap to this day about Eddy Gordo's ginga), it feels more like a real fight, and understanding the conceptual underpinnings of real fighting will make you better at it. Lee, for instance, is damned near unstoppable once you understand he's basically doing savate, meaning his sidesteps and dodging/closing moves should be the foundation of his game. Eddy/Cristie could stand to be better, but in fairness to Namco capoeira's concepts are drastically different from most systems they're probably used to (and malandragem is a hard thing to incorporate as a game mechanic).

  • Started playing Zone of the Enders. Only actually finished the first part, and remain cautiously optimistic; Hideo Kojima's works always leave me afraid he's going to screw something up for the sake of some half-baked ideological "teachable moment". Nevertheless, any game where you can actually do a Gundam-esque "twitterpated hummingbirds" fight, in real time, is a good game, and prevents me having to run off to join the Itano Circus.

  • Replaying Xenosaga a third time, and noticing a lot of stuff I missed before. One thing, for instance, is Shion seems older this time through, and the only thing that's different is I had her walk rather than run when moving around the Woglinde—her run is just a girly run, but her walk looks much more mature (the art style, involving what TV Tropes calls Generic Cuteness, threw me; she looks about 14). There's an almost disturbing attention to the cultural setting details, too—like that the captain of the Elsa (a salvage ship) doesn't like being compared to vultures, jackals or hyenas...not because they're scavengers, but because they're extinct and he doesn't want to be jinxed. They call that writing, Whedon, maybe you should fricking try it some time. It also manages to make life in its hugely technological civilization believable, simply by not being Post-Scarcity (mostly because, y'know, Second Law). That last point might occasion its own post.

  • Visual novels, as a genre. Why can't we get them Stateside? Yeah, I know people think they're all H-games (doesn't help most of the famous ones are, albeit tear-jerking, sweetly sentimental H-games), but there's no reason not to release the cleaned-up second-run versions over here. I only play RPGs for the story (does anyone play them for the combat—can anyone just not get enough of JRPG combat?), and if I only had story to worry about, I'd be a hell of a lot happier.

  • All that I will say about the Assassin's Creed games, made by Ubisoft, is, "Haven't the French already done enough to the Knights Templar?" Pigs.

  • Skygunner is a great game, though good luck finding the thing. The control system is very counterintuitive, at least to me, but the story and, especially, the art, make it worthwhile. Probably the poster child for the concept, "When the Japanese set out to do 'charmingly quirky', they don't kid around."


The Popularity-Conscious Nerds of All School Districts

So. High school. I must confess I was happier in high school than in college, and much more than in middle school. Everyone was just chill, in high school—and this is me, it's not like I was particularly mainstream. Middle school was more of the cliques and BS, but since a middle-school kid is not a human being, but a hideous pupa, we shall be charitable. College was a never-ending nightmare where the other students would shout you down if you challenged a sub-competent professor's BS. And there were all those Two Minutes' Hates...

Anyway, the experience I had in high school was drastically different from the one depicted in movies and TV. I'll go point by point.
  • Jocks/cheerleaders. So in media they're always cruel bullies, and the school administrators never nail them, because apparently being able to win football games trumps the laws against assault. In my school, the football players and cheerleaders were some of the nicest people you could meet.

  • "Popular" people. This whole concept: what the Samuel Langhorn Hell? What, do high school kids have access to Rasmussen polls, or some damn thing?

  • Goths/Punks. For some reason they, especially Goths, are always little vegan/peacenik Susie Soapboxes in fiction, when real Goths' politics are all over the damn map, and Punks are usually Libertarians bordering on Anarchists. May actually not have applied at my school, since nearly all of them were Native American (Navajos and Hopis, respectively). Nobody gave them any crap, either—though some of the Hopis were probably racial separatists (you ever hear native punk?).

  • Band nerds, general nerds, geeks. So they're some kind of oppressed underclass in shows, sometimes with literally reduced human rights. Never happened at my school. The only people who suffered in this stereotypical way—I was one of them for a while—were the asshats who intentionally tried to make reality fit the fictional model. That is, people who set out to make "jocks" and cheerleaders mistreat them, by being a-holes to them, in some twisted form of victim mentality. My sophomore year I realized that if you just shut up and be nice to people, they're nice to you—and the caste system is revealed as an illusion (seriously, it was like a little girl brought me a rice pudding under a mango tree).
There are two reasons for this portrayal. One is, the writers really were picked on in school—this seems to be the case for Butch Hartman and Joss Whedon. Only, as I said, you usually bring that crap on yourself; I know I did. Do you really think Joss Whedon—who apparently grew up in a real World According to Garp—didn't do anything to irritate his schoolmates? If his behavior, mannerisms, and beliefs were anything like they are now, his schoolmates should be sainted that he left their hands alive. And those of you whose experience of high school mirrors this nonsense: I'll bet your life it was mostly your fault, or else your school was "urine-soaked, med-diluting nursing home" level dysfunctional.

The other reason for this horse-hockey, which may seem far-fetched, is that the writers are doing this intentionally. Think carefully about the paradigm being presented in high-school movies: oppressed, inherently more-virtuous nerds, being victimized by evil heartless popular people. They invariably throw off the yoke of jock oppression; sometimes there's even systemic reforms of the school.

If that sounds familiar, it should. You probably thought you hated "teen movies" because they're shallow, vapid, and use one of about four plots with little variation (and that, largely limited to the presence or absence of a monster). You were probably right, but I hope that you also hated them, on some subconscious level, for being creeping incipient Marxism.

Note: What distinguishes an underdog story from this Marxist thing is that an underdog story is about reform of an abuse, the besting of one oppressor/oppressive group by one underdog/underdog group. When it's implied, or outright stated ("high school's like that" type-lines) that such oppression is systemic, that is, when it is presented as "jocks vs. nerds"—class against class—instead of "this jerk gets his comeuppance from his victims", you have created a class-war paradigm.


Potpourri (That's just stuff that falls outta trees!)

Right. Random posts.
  • Infinitives can be split in English (maybe). But the canard is that "presciptivist grammarians tried to make English work like a Romance language", and that's why they thought they can't be. Only, there is no such thing as a split infinitive in a Romance language—literally, the concept doesn't exist. Any preposition in an infinitive is added to the stem, forming a composite stem—convenir out of con and venir; one says rapidamente convenir. But...split infinitives are possible, but forbidden, in German—it's schnell mitzukommen not zu schnell kommen mit. One wonders—did Old English share this trait with German, but then lose it under French influence after the Conquest? It would make sense—the grammars the court of Henry V used when they decided to switch to English, would probably be based on a written form, with many archaic rules, rather than their contemporary vernacular. Acknowledging that, though—that it was the work of native sources, not some evil foreign sympathizers—might disrupt the xenophobic, specifically anti-Romance, narrative the English have peddled since the Hundred Years War.

  • So I'm writing a fantasy story—and yes, it's got elves, trolls, and that sort of thing; I happen to like them. Anyway, for my Elvish language, I decided that the usual method—copying Tolkien by using Welsh phonemes and Finnish word-formation and grammar—just wouldn't do. Instead, I used a modified Muskogean sound-pallet, the word-formation and verb modals from Lakota, and a clause-structure from...one of those Native language groups, I forget which (either Muskogean again, or Algonquian). And as I was trying to write names and sentences in it, and realizing how the verbs worked related to their subjects (the names involve verbs because the adjectives are actually stative verbs), I realized: I'd been doing ergative grammar, and it wasn't really all that hard. Apparently some things really are a lot less confusing in practice than in theory.

  • So my 12-year-old brother and I have been playing with Nerf guns (yes, guns, "blaster" is a spineless euphemism), and I noticed, the things are designed by gun nuts. The rifle (I don't know its name, the modular one), has:
    • detachable barrel
    • detachable stock
    • multiple Picatinny rails for sights and lights
    • 6-7 shot detachable box magazine
    • an emergency ejector gate(!)
    Yes, that's right, if a Nerf dart gets jammed inside the gun, you can actually pull open a little door and clear it manually like a misfired 5.56 NATO round in a fricking M16. I approve, gentlemen, from the bottom of my black heart.

  • So, seriously, what's with the need people feel to badmouth monarchy? Whenever the concept of a king comes up, some little apple-polisher, fresh from getting extra credit in civics class, will pipe up with a catechism-recitation of how much better a government based on merit is. Maybe; there's two objections to the statement, one more fundamental and one less.

    The less fundamental is that a government based on merit will always function as an aristocracy (indeed, it's the literal translation of aristocracy). Aristocracy is actually the most corruptible system because of its tendency to be dominated by a clique, becoming an oligarchy—it's harder for a monarchy to become a tyranny because there's a lack of peer pressure. There's also the issue that position being based on "merit" is not conducive to humility in a governing class, which reinforces that tendency to become a clique.

    The more fundamental issue is, this world contains no such thing as a government based on merit, unless "ability to buy better ads in an election year" and "ability to play the corrupt system for political advancement" are considered merits. Because, however, the theory is that the government is based on merit, the ruling class get the same lack of humility, but without the actual merit that might have partly mitigated it. That is, we've got oligarchies, without them ever having been aristocracies.

    Before you shoot your mouth off about other systems, look at your own—and then only criticize the true totalitarians, who've managed the Herculean achievement of being worse than you.


On the Hardness of SF, pt. II

For pt. I, concerning aliens, FTL, artificial gravity, and reactionless drives.

Anyway, to continue—hardness is not about what you do or don't have in an SF story, my grandchildren, it's about how well you can justify it.

  • Stealth in space. Okay, yeah, actually, this is complete nonsense, an overused, unquestioned idea that's totally outlived its usefulness. Unless, that is, you're using the reactionless drives described at the end of the last post, the one derived from Alcubierre's warp (but without the FTL), and the other using the patching together of stress-energy tensor metrics on opposite sides of a spherical shell made of exotic matter. See, use either of those, and apparently the ship will be encased in an event horizon, with no light escaping. It does give you stealth in space...though, in a world where most ships use warp-drives, the question becomes, "Why aren't all the ships invisible?" That, and any civilization with either kind of reactionless drive would probably be able to detect the distortions they create (as every spacer's dear old grandmother probably used to say, "Don't create any effect you can't detect.") That'd kinda limit its usefulness as a stealth system, unless you've got a civilization with reactionless drives fighting one without them (I do, in my books—and the humans, lacking the drives, still manage to a degree, by developing software that spots the gaps the alien ships make).

  • AI. Amusingly, purely mechanical AIs, that is, computer programs that can near-perfectly simulate a person, get a pass by people who turn up their noses at artificial gravity. This despite the fact they're a hell of a lot less likely, but to understand that, you'd have to understand philosophy, and scientists...are usually the opposite of philosophers, if the fact they mistook Karl Popper for one is any indication.

    See, AI is impossible because of the Lucas-Penrose argument—that even if one could create a machine that could perform all the operations of a human mind, humans could still construct a Gödel proposition for that machine, and there is no logical way any machine can know a Gödel proposition, therefore such a machine would not be able to do all the operations of a human mind. The usual counter-argument is that Gödel propositions only apply to consistent algorithms, and humans are themselves not consistent—but unfortunately, humans are consistent, just glitchy, which is why we can tell when we commit inconsistencies. Truly inconsistent algorithms can prove anything (famously, "Bertrand Russell is the Pope" can be derived from "1=0"); there are in fact things we can't make logic do, and we know it.

  • Mind-uploading. This might be ruled out by Lucas-Penrose, though the mind in question would still be human rather than a machine—if it's not ruled out, using "copied" human minds could give a way around Lucas-Penrose (Red Vs. Blue Reconstruction used this idea). The real objection here is that it tends to imply body-self dualism, and that's just bad metaphysics.

  • Transporters and replicators. So apparently, in Star Trek's future, after they learn the Second Law of Thermodynamics, they add, "In those days, we really thought that was the world's one and only truth." Seriously—would you be surprised if replicators were powered by a number of red stones? These are patently impossible—the energy requirement for the amount they use the transporters and replicators could never be produced by the generators they use. Conceivably you could use a sort of space-warp, basically a booth-initiated spacefold drive, but going through space would probably kill you, the energy would probably be comparable to using a rocket, and that kind of space-time distortion could have terrible interactions with a planet's gravity-well.

  • Force-fields. Plasma windows, various kinds. *Ding* Next please. Okay, I will just say that the more a writer goes and finds out about plasma physics, the better.

  • Psionics, ghosts, religious/mystical trappings of various kinds. Completely neutral, since 9/10 of the objection to these elements is "Science says they're impossible" when it says nothing of the kind and, in fact, can say nothing of the kind. And there's more evidence for ghosts, and such, than there is for huge swaths of "history" (one recalls a Chesterton story where it's pointed out that people will believe any nonsense, as long as it's mundane nonsense). But, see, with that in mind, keep your psionics mental. They should behave like psychological events, not physical abilities—the primary drainage of using them should be emotional, not physical (though there is that whole psychosomatic union thing, pace Plato).

On the Hardness of SF

Those who expect my 42nd post to include a Hitchhiker's Guide reference will be sadly disappointed.
...Wait, dammit, that is one!

Ahem. So. People seem to have this "hierarchy" of SF hardness (the Mohs Scale, a certain wiki calls it), where the mere presence or absence of particular elements determine a series' hardness.

Fetid dingo's kidneys (dammit, that's another one). What determines hardness is not the mere presence or absence of a given element, but how well it's handled. What defines hard SF is that one justify one's creativities with the laws of physics. Merely being more daring in speculation does not render a series soft; ignoring the possibility of speculation is what makes a series soft. A series can have aliens, FTL, and artificial gravity, and be as hard as Lord Indra's vajra; or a series can have none of those things, have the action all take place in one star system, and yet be softer than gentle, retarded candies described in Cajun (LSU has a Cajun French dictionary online, if that confused you).
  • Aliens. The mere presence of aliens doesn't affect the hardness or softness of a series one way or another; how they're presented does. A harder series will have its aliens thought out, with distinctive culture and ecosystem. Example: Larry Niven's Kzinti (aliens) vs the Reavers in Firefly (not aliens, but sort of a plain-label generic equivalent). Niven actually paused to say, "Wait, how would Kzin society function?" Yes, his answer was an illiterate caricature of feudalism, based on very bad anthropology, but the Reavers are rabid people who can somehow cooperate enough to crew spaceships, so I think he wins.

  • Artificial gravity. Again, this doesn't directly affect hardness—the gracefulness of handwaving does (and neglecting to handwave means you've chosen to answer "Pass" to the question, and receive no points). Granting for the moment that exotic matter exists (or can be made, possibly using the Casimir effect), it should be possible to use its weird property (negative mass) to create warps in spacetime. It might be possible, as theorized by Alcubierre and many after him, to use one of these warps to achieve FTL. But that's controversial (see below). What isn't controversial is that you could use one of those warps to induce an actual gravity field. One thing it won't do, though, is negate rest mass—it might be usable as an inertia damper, redirecting the forces of acceleration away from ship and crew and into the surrounding space-time geometry, in a sort of Einsteinian judo, but it won't negate the need for motive force, and certainly (we're looking at you again, Firefly) won't make a reaction engine any more efficient.

  • FTL. In 1994, Miguel Alcubierre had the first idea for FTL that doesn't throw out General Relativity...and there are about 87 variants of it out there. It's a warp-drive, or a very localized space-fold drive, compressing space around a ship for motive force. The main challenge, by Krasnikov (who reduced the requirements of negative energy, which I would've considered the biggest difficulty, to the equivalent of a few milligrams) and Coule, who also picked holes in Krasnikov's proposed solution, is that the exotic matter for the warp would have to already be going at FTL speeds to go at FTL speeds. It might not even matter, if, rather than moving the exotic matter itself, one could use the exotic matter to make a warp, then move the warp itself (the fabric of space-time can move FTL with no trouble, that's how the Big Rip would happen, if it were gonna). Notice how hypothetical all this is, since we have no knowledge of exotic matter, let alone its properties, nor how such a space-time phenomenon would behave—is it useful itself as a means of propulsion, for instance, or can you use it to compress space and then move through it by conventional means? The latter would handily remove the need for the exotic matter to also be tachyons, since the motive force would come from something else, and the warp would just affect the distance moved through (theoretically, at one extreme, making it possible to use a shaken Coke bottle as an FTL thruster). There is ample room to wave your hands in, in other words, and no reason to be satisfied with nonexistent FTL, other than it being a better artistic choice. There's never any reason to be satisfied by vague FTL (BSG, I see you back there, stop trying to hide).

  • Reactionless drives. These are becoming something of a dirty word in SF, because they haven't always been handled very well (see, e.g., Campbell and the thing-that-spins-on-a-scale antigravity-device hoax). Only there might be a couple ways to do it—one's a much more modest, indeed entirely uncontroversial (if you can get the exotic matter), application of an Alcubierre warp. Another is a thing I saw described in a paper by one David Waite, called inertia control by stress-energy tensor metric patching. I don't entirely understand it (I never took high school calculus, never mind the kind that involves Lorentzian manifolds), but it seems, in layman's terms, you can sort of roll an object up in spacetime itself by patching together the space on opposite sides of a spherical shell made of, again, exotic matter. Rolling it up like this apparently allows control of the inertia inside; I'm not clear if it renders what's inside the shell weightless, or if one could create another space-time distortion inside it to have gravity, but a (probably inaccurate, sue me) version of it is the engine the aliens use in my books. It has the added trait (shared with Dr. (?) Waite's version of the Alcubierre warp), of creating an event horizon, in the strict sense that whatever's inside the distortion becomes invisible, the shell becoming a black gap in the starfield behind it (it wouldn't have any other traits of a black hole, though, except that the distortion it makes might cause small amounts of Hawking radiation as it forces virtual particles actual). Much narrative richness to be had, eh?

Land o' Goshen, this is getting long. To be continued!!


Cavemen, Potency, and the Angelic Doctor

So. I recently joined TV Tropes (I won't be criticizing things there, here, anymore, since it'd be dishonorable), but it got me thinking about The Matrix, and that got me thinking about philosophy in general.

Leaving the artistic merits to one side, The Matrix is not Plato's allegory of the cave. Yes, they both share the element of release from captivity, and body-self dualism (which is crap, by the way), but half of the allegory of the cave is about metaphysical hyper-realism, the belief that forms are more real, more actual, than the things they're forms of. Those figures with the shadows projected on the wall, in the eponymous Cave? Yeah, that'd be the hyper-realistic forms; the multiple shadows are the multiple examples of each form, created by participation. If the Matrix were the Cave, it'd have a few separate people, AI or human, who each projected a number of different "selfs" into the Matrix. I'll grant it gets more Cave-like once the multiple Smiths show up in the second one, though.

Plato's concept of participation is one of the greatest achievements of all thought. There is a question in philosophy, "How can we talk about chairs, if there are multiple chairs and they're all different?" Plato's solution was that each chair you meet, partakes of the Form or essence of "chair-ness"; there is more than one of them because none of them participates perfectly, but only limitedly. This was genius—certainly better than materialism, which consists of saying that the shadows on the cave wall are the only thing that's real and the figures are a myth. Troglodytes.

But Plato took it too far, saying that the only real thing was the Form, what's participated in. There is no spoon, not because this is a simulation or something, but because this spoon is only a limited projection of the True Spoon—and there's only one of it.

Aside from the One and the Many, the other great question of Philosophy is Change/Constancy, and the related question of coming-to-be and passing away. Many Greek philosophers, including Parmenides of Elea and his student Zeno, hold that change is an illusion, because there's no reason that anything that exists should ever pass away, or come into being if it didn't exist. Conversely other philosophers—Heraclitus and the advaita school in Hindu thought—hold that, since there's no intrinsic nature to anything, everything is in a constant state of flux (which is the source of suffering for a Buddhist, remember).

Aristotle got around the question by, as he usually did, shooting for the Golden Mean. Obviously change is real—"Where are Parmenides and Zeno now?" as he so succinctly put it (they were dead). But obviously constancy exists, too—"Heraclitus has said that more than once, and yet used the same words each time." The reconciliation is the other great achievement of Greek philosophy: Act and Potency. In between the two irreconcilable states, Being and Non-being, and the shift between the two that was causing the trouble, he posited a third state: Being-in-potency. Anything that is not a contradiction in terms has the potential to exist. But only some things actually exist, when individual things participate in their Form (an idea he borrowed from Plato).

Unlike Plato, Aristotle's forms are not hyper-real; most of them are only real when there are individual samples of them. Hence, Mitigated Realism. For Aristotle, see, the form is one of four Causes, so called because each is the reason for something about any given object of thought.
  1. Formal: What a thing is.
  2. Final: What a thing is for (identical with Formal, if it wasn't made by people).
  3. Material: What a thing is like (its traits, including all its material properties).
  4. Efficient: How it got to be how it is, including how it came into being.
Then, along comes Aquinas. At some point—probably during a break from dictating four different books to four different scribes at once—he realized that the two answers are really one answer. Any form that is not a pure act (any form that isn't a pure spirit, that is) has only potential being—therefore, of necessity, it can never have pure actualization. Rather than being an entirely unique pure act (like an angel), it will only be the essence of many material acts—rocks, trees, dogs, or men. Act, in other words, is limited by Potency.


Ho-hum, another masterpiece


Yesterday, I finished my second dark fantasy book. I think I'll talk about the first, though, since the second is a fairly close sequel.

It's about a werewolf who rescues a girl from vampires, killing them in the process, which gets their boss mad at him. There's also a different girl, whose mother was a vampire's living minion; during an altercation with the mother's master, the same werewolf, as a child, seeing the vampire's-minion person rushing toward a child, assumed she was going for a hostage, and killed her...only to realize the woman was going for the child, to protect her from the werewolf, because it was her daughter. The now-adult daughter is killing werewolves (natch). Only, see, she'd previously met his human form, and fell in love with him; she was a creepy, isolated kid (her mom being a vampire's minion, and all), and he was the first not-a-vampire-or-minion-of-same person she'd ever met. So she wants to kill one form of a person she's in love with in another form. Fun, huh?

That's the premise. There's also a priest from a secret vampire-hunting order, and two hunters from a secular vampire hunting group—the former, who's kinda a smartass bastard, likes to mock the latter, since they use the nonsensical "science" vampire idea, like calling them mutants and thinking UV light that's not from sunlight will hurt them. Also the boogieman shows up, as do the vampires who inspired Carmilla and Dracula. There's a bunch of other vampires, too—Japanese jikininki (yes, they fit my definition of vampire—read on); Romanian strigoi, moroi, pricolici, and nesuferâti (Nosferatu); Aztec ciuateteoh (it's set in Tucson); Caribbean loogaroo. There's also multiple kinds of werewolf—all the types of Slavic vlkodlak (wilkolak, vurdilak); French loup-garou; Mexican lobisones; Scandinavian ulfhedhnar and berserkers (who are werebears); Irish and Italian werefoxes; and a Japanese yôko, who isn't exactly a werefox, 'cause he doesn't consider himself human.

It being me, there's a lot of philosophical expospeak—but done pretty well, I feel, since it's both relevant, and not something anyone around today is actually familiar with ("As you know," he didn't say because nobody does, "act is limited by potency"). There's also spell-casting in Latin, German, and Classical Nahuatl, as well as dialog in Czech, Spanish, Japanese, Romanian, and Austrian German (way over-Austrian, really, but it makes everything Carmilla says amusingly incomprehensible). There's also prayers in Latin (because the priests are hardcore, I swear, not just because it sounds much cooler) and mantras in Sanskrit (one of the vampires is still a Buddhist—go look up "Jizô Bosatsu"). The spells involve alchemy (which works a lot faster when a vampire's powering it, a la FMA except the effects are based on Hermetic symbolism rather than chemistry), onmyôdô, and a fictional form of voodoo.

Vampires are, as I previously said, basically what the Japanese call onryô. That is, they're dead people who've come back through resentments—specifically, in line with a lot of real vampire legends, they're mostly suicides (though one of the Japanese jikininki is one because they wouldn't let him commit harakiri). There's also references to Chesterton's Orthodoxy, since that's one of his main points. Fans of anime will find it grapples with existential themes not generally touched in Western work nowadays (fun fact: existentialism doesn't just mean finding a reason to keep going; it involves the question whether one should). This is where Scholasticism and the priests come in: as Maritain demonstrates pretty well in Existence and the Existent, Aquinas has the most coherent philosophy of existence ever formulated.

Werewolves, meanwhile, are an Indo-European warrior society (like berserkers, or the Fianna), that bound the power of the wolf to themselves using true names and sealed it with the moon. They gained the ability to use super-abilities similar to vampires, to change parts of their body, or to become normal wolves. They can also enter what they call the Ultimate or Wolf-God form, where they become "as much of the concept of a wolf, as can fit in the material world" (if it was the whole thing, there could only be one of it at a time, and it'd have infinite power; that's metaphysics, folks). They're mostly very secretive and a little scary, but they work with the vampire-hunting priests, thanks to a treaty from the 12th century. Those who know their Catholic history: three guesses who negotiated said treaty (bonus points if you say where).

Werewolves are vulnerable to silver (though some of them, called moonstruck, are only vulnerable to silver if it's combined with iron), though vampires can often harm them just by force of will, as can some humans. Vampires are basically invulnerable, though some of them can be burned, and some of them are harmed by sunlight (others lose most of their powers, others don't care). Other than that, it takes blessed or enchanted weapons to hurt them permanently, although again, force of will can do it. Hits that kill them before they can regenerate will also do it (obligatory Blade reference: "Aim for the head or the heart, anything else and it's your ass."), though the stronger the vampire, the more you gotta knock out (one of the main villains develops a speech impediment, briefly, when he gets the whole middle of his brain blown out—then he heals). Most vampire hunters use guns, and I make a point of saying everyone's preferred model (the priest uses a .44 mag S&W 629, the woman from the secular hunters uses a Glock 37 in .45 GAP 'cause she's got small hands, her partner uses an HK USP, the werewolf-hunter chick uses a Colt 1911). Yep, I like big bullets. The werewolf himself uses a sword...because he's albino and doesn't have the depth perception for a gun, at night (and can't afford a laser sight). Yes, that's right, folks, a realistically portrayed albino. It can be done, did you know?

That is Not How Fighting Works

...With a note about cultural setting.

Before I get to heaping contempt on the way thin-wristed little pusses like Joss Whedon portray combat, permit me to offer you a quote:
Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction.
Zoe: We live in a spaceship, dear.
Wash: So?

Now this is an example of why Whedon is the writing equivalent of phimosis, as in a schmuck who just won't leave. Assuming for the moment that the genre of science fiction still exists in the star-spanning 2500s—and hasn't just become a spacefaring culture's "traveler's tales"—spaceships would no more be a part of it than airplanes are a part of ours. Idiot.

Anyway. The way River fights—and it's not all Summer Glau's fault, she's much more believable in Sarah Connor—and the way Buffy fights...they hurt me, they wound me to a fundamental level. I realize Whedon spent most of his high school life in his locker, or fantasizing about Wonder Woman—or both at once—but maybe he should've asked someone who's been in a fight to choreograph his fights. Even a sparring match will do; hell, anything more combative than a slap-fight would be better.

I avoid Buffy if remotely possible, so my knowledge of the fighting in that comes only from brief scenes that I quickly averted my eyes from, ashamed to share a species with their choreographer. But I have seen Serenity several times, and permit me to say, "What the Hell, Michigan? Indeed, what the Putnam Township, Livingston County, Michigan, USA? What the entire universe allegedly run by consistent physical laws?!"

See, River's a teeny-tiny little girl. I get that Whedon, with his delusions of being a feminist, likes showing girls getting the upper hand of guys in a fight. Of course it suffers from the fatal flaw of most power fantasies: in real life, it doesn't happen. Not the way he depicts it, at least. He shows girls beating guys in fights with brute force. Sorry, that doesn't happen, especially not with a lady like Summer Glau, who's smaller than many eighth graders.

Fortunately, and actually quite intriguingly, technique is superior to brute force. A girl River's size could quite realistically hold her own, if she used jujutsu or aikijutsu. She could conceivably even pull it off if she used a hard style, if she hit the right spots. Gautama H. Buddha, Whedon, the girl's a ballerina: did it occur to you to get someone to teach her savate? It's a pressure-point-using martial art, that uses the feet! Nothing says "female empowerment" like using the pointe au foie on someone twice your size, girls—it's a fouetté to the ninth and tenth ribs. The force goes right into the liver. Let's not even discuss the reason fouetté à figure is illegal in sport savate (it involves the ending of Million Dollar Baby).

But no, rather than something that would actually look good—in martial arts, realer is better, always—Whedon's hack of a choreographer has her gently brushing people with her feet, while ridiculous meat-slapper sounds straight out of Cave Dwellers play. Really? And how come nobody told her to move her frigging feet faster? I get it, her conditioning lets her access the unused power in her muscles, like the woman who lifts the minivan (who, by the way, is sort of the "cow skeletonization time" of "adrenaline power-up"). Only guess what? She'd be moving different, wouldn't she? Also she'd hurt herself doing it much (Naruto knows that, Whedon, why don't you?).

But Whedon can't abide seeing women excel on men's terms—or rather, on the terms of the cold, hard world where physics is real, the world men have to cope with. He needs them to have superpowers, emphatically not because they enhance his story, but because he can't abide the fact that, in the real world, men are stronger than women. And that, in the real world, women make up the difference with guns. That's why his male characters are always far more offensively helpless even than girl characters who can be immobilized from the wrist. That's why guns are supposedly "never helpful", against creatures that die when you behead them (Whedon needs to meet a little thing called ".44 magnum hollow point"—I'm not picky about how vigorously he meets it, either). And that's why all his female characters have ridiculous superstrength, that's somehow greater than a man's would be with equivalent powers.

If I didn't know any better, I'd say Whedon was a troll-persona created by male chauvinists, to discredit male feminists. How the hell can you be a strawman of your own position?

Finally, why the hell do people fetishize Summer Glau's feet? She's a pretty woman generally (albeit in a very babyish, Kewpie-doll way that blows Whedon's feminist credentials to hell), but her feet are weird. They're sodding long; she's like a female Sideshow Bob.


You Are Reduced to A Blurb

...although in some of these cases, it's actually a promotion.

Thought I'd sum up writers and series—mostly ones I don't like—in brief statements. Just to belittle them. I'm like that. Gonna be a lot of links here, to keep up the flow.

George R. R. Martin and his Ice and Fire series: High Fantasy by a man who mistook FATAL for a history text.

Joss Whedon: Basically, his opinions are the gender-flipped equivalent of Dave Sim's.

Ursula K. LeGuin: She is the gender-flipped Dave Sim (to be fair, with a lot more talent)—and her "Taoism" is about as authentic as his "Christianity."

Ayn Rand: All the heartless monstrosity of Nietzsche, but none of the redeeming romanticism. To say something nice, she was pretty when she was young.

Terry Goodkind: Is to Rand what HP Lovecraft is to Nietzsche. You'll notice Lovecraft kinda invented half of modern speculative fiction, while Goodkind...is Goodkind.

Christopher Paolini: Ever hear that saying, "Maybe God put you on this Earth to be made an example of"? Paolini is this for fantasy writers and, especially, conlangers.

Frank Miller: Do I even need to say it?

Alan Moore: Damn, I thought the Tsar's men managed to kill this guy.

Joe Quesada: Though, like Miller, he really goes without saying, thought I'd point out that 'Quesada' is Spanish for 'cheesed.' Or could be, anyway.

Terry Pratchett: Is just not funny, and his crap about monarchy is just ridiculous. Considering they've got the purest oligarchy in human history, British people do not get to make fun of kings.

Gundam, and indeed any Japanese work about pacifism: At best, this is the alcoholic who wants everyone else not to drink. At worst, it's rapists favoring gun control. German and British anti-militarism, too, come to think of it.

Robert Heinlein: It amuses me that people think Starship Troopers is a creepy example of his work, with its militarism and all—there's no presented-as-completely-okay incest in that one, folks.

Hideaki Anno: "The fact grownups read manga shows our country is completely infantilized. Wait, what? I make my living selling stuff to those people? Um, manga's great!"

Harry Turtledove: So, he's qualified to write alternate history SF, right? He's got a PhD, right? Well, except he thinks the Orthodox would ever make Muhammad a saint. Never mind they get their name from the fact they deny the very Christological theory Muhammad (and Arius) espoused.


Anime and Manga Sampler

How about a brief run-through of anime and manga that caught my fancy?
  • Special A. Yes, it's shôjô, but it's excellent shôjô—and it reveals an interesting fact. Kei's total inability to be defeated (the man can even dodge slapstick) is only made tolerable, by the fact he's a complete bastard about it ("Oh, bad luck, 'Number Two.'"). If he was nice, he'd be even more insufferable than Superman.
  • Kimi ni Todoke. Okay, more shôjô—sue me. The manga was the most touching thing ever (though I live in perpetual fear of it going off the rails), and the casting for Sawako's voice actress in the anime is perfect. The stuff she says, when she's actually just nervous, but it comes off incredibly spooky? Sodding art.
  • Soul Eater. Death the Kidd rocks. Okay, his anime voice is weird, but his dad's voice is even weirder. Maka is amazing—her voice is perfect, she actually sounds 15—and how about the "temptation" scenes, in Soul's head? "Find a rule that you can break." Uh, how did the flat-out Corpse Poison Way get into a manga?
  • King of Bandit Jing: In Seventh Heaven. I spoke too soon, when I said Kamen no Maid Guy was the weirdest Japanese thing. Just in Jing Seventh Heaven's first episode: that guy getting bit in half by the unicorn-rat, and he's made of plaster—not as a plot point, just because—and all the confetti comes out. Or the dodo-pulled train, when the dodo (which can talk, and has an inexplicable horse-tail) is spurred on by the disembodied heads of Cerberus, conducted by some guy (as in, with a baton). Or the warden being a vampire—again, not as a plot point, just because. Or that little chain-smoking cherub with a machine gun. Or the creepy robots speaking faux-existential-yet-romantic Goth poetry—in English!—in Stephen Hawking voices. The limited animation really heightens the resemblance to a fever dream.
  • Dogs (Stray Dogs Howling in the Dark/Hardcore Twins/Bullets and Carnage). It's kinda Trigun-with-good-art meets Heat Guy J—and you can tell the chracters are European!
  • Tegami Bachi. Mostly just because Niche is adorable (I like feral children), although the look of the whole thing rocks out loud.
  • Hayate the Combat Butler, and Sayonara Zetsubô Sensei. South Park, Family Guy: this is how you do "transgressive" comedy, monkeys. The words "Dude, that's not right" will cross your mind about three times a chapter/episode.
  • Nurarihyon no Mago. What's better than a yôkai story? A yôkai yakuza story, that's what. This better get picked up stateside—and ideally get its own anime—or I'll sodding rampage.
  • Flags. The art combines the later CLAMP (think Tsubasa or the art in Code GEASS) with Bleach, and the story seems pretty cool so far. It takes a lot to make me like a tournament manga.
  • Rozen Maiden. Suigintô and Hinaichigo. The episode of the anime, "Stairs"—someone has been left home with siblings, man.
  • Gungrave. See the last episode of the anime, and make it the foundation of your life.


What Is A Man?

...A miserable little pile of secrets.

But enough Castlevania references; have at you!

So I recently was thinking about the issue of killing nonhuman entities in fiction. A lot of shows have it apparently being okay to kill sapient nonhumans, but not humans—even if the characters are police or military. One wonders, do people who write shows understand that cops and soldiers don't kill aliens, when they fight? They kill humans. And they learn to cope.

For instance, many seem to think it's terrible, in BSG, that people say "The Cylons aren't people, just machines." Does anybody ever think to say, "Uh, sure, they're people; they're sapient AIs. They're people who want to kill us, therefore we have the right to stop them. Cyloni delendi sunt, lupa."

The same idea comes up a lot in vampire stories; the vampire hunters being good would actually be edgy, these days—since the vampires turned into the post-Drizzt Do'urden drow:
Nale: Now the whole species consists of nothing but Chaotic Good rebels, yearning to throw off the reputation of their evil kin.
Haley: Evil kin? Didn't you just say they were all Chaotic Good?
Nale: Details.
Never mind vampires are really just very unhappy ghosts, so even when they're trying to help, they'll actually be hurting people—as they say in Korea (well, shamans say it, anyway), "The hand of the dead is a thorny hand."

Why does this crap happen?

Because people heard that people dehumanize their enemies—because apparently it's only possible to hate a nonhuman. Never mind one can actually only hate a person; seriously, when's the last time you hated an animal?

Now, I will concede that it's easier to make people mistreat others if you can make them think of those others as something other than human. But that's only because many people are too soft to cope with having to kill men—they'd have to be more grownup to want to kill their enemies man-to-man.

Incidentally, there's only two viable tests for personhood, and one's a little unworkable. The unworkable one is Rousseau's: people are defined by their free will. Unfortunately, the only way you know you have free will is your subjective experience of choosing. You can't actually tell if other people have it. Weird, huh?

The other standard, used by everyone who isn't Rousseau, is reason: anything you observe reasoning (also making abstractions) is a person, by definition. This is a test, though, not an actual definition, since angels are people but they don't need to reason (or learn, that's how much smarter than you an angel is).

Late addition (2009/10/6):It occurred to me, that a distinction must be made. What, that is, about individuals of a generally rational species (humans) who can't reason, like babies, or the brain-damaged...or Joss Whedon? They've still got the same rights (inconveniently, in that last case). See, your rights are yours by nature—you can forfeit some of them by your acts, but never by your condition. And your nature is defined by your species.

What about if you want something other than human nature as the basis of "rights"? Like this half-bright I talked to on a forum years ago, who said he had his rights as a member of the community, not as a human being—he actually denied human rights, as such.

Well, what, exactly, is to keep whatever other thing you decide to base the rights on, from withdrawing them? What's to keep the community from deciding you're not a member, and killing you?

Unless, of course, membership in the community is the right of all people...as people...or in other words, a human right.


More Uncorrelated (Though Not Uncaused) Remarks

More tidbits, my grandchildren.
  • So there's a book called 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters. I haven't read it, and won't; I know it by references. Basically it appears to be "Try and match your characters to these archetypes from Greek myth (also Osiris and Isis, the only Egyptian gods the author can name)." Unfortunately, I can't fit any characters I like, especially none of my own, into the categories, because they're based on a series of cliches derived exclusively from books catering to a very narrow, modern demographic. These characters can only be written by, or appeal to, people who have mistaken Tamora Pierce for a thinking adult.

    Face facts: the only set of archetypes fiction needs is Jung. He's served JMS well enough, hasn't he?

  • Know what's funny? I live fairly close to the ancestral homelands of three matrilocal, matrilineal Indian tribes, and know a thing or two about them. Guess what? In these tribes—where women own the property and descent is traced through the mother—the sex roles are...exactly the same. Men hunt and fight, and women cook and clean. Oh, well, Hopi men weave, but that's the only difference. Also, men still pay bride price, despite the fact they're moving into their wives' houses—basically they get together enough money for bride-price, to show they can be trusted to take care of her land.

    One difference is, actually, that in Hopi, Navajo, and Apache culture, religion is almost exclusively a male concern. Whereas patrilocal, patriarchal cultures like the Indo-Europeans, and the Eurasian "shaman complex" (Koreans, Mongols, Finns) all had more wise women than you could shake a stick at (if that's your idea of a good time).

  • So someone was talking about a tengu character, in some series (books, I think). They said (I paraphrase), "tengu don't suffer from the 'Elf Superiority Complex' because they arise from human souls, but Western spirits would think they were tainted, because in Western culture the spirits always come from outside humanity—Easterners believe anyone can be reborn as anything (including inanimate objects)."

    You. Don't. Talk. No. More.

    Ever. Pretty please?

    See, actually, you'd only get reborn as a tengu—a yôkai and therefore, in Buddhism, a yaksha—if you committed one of the sins that gets you reborn as a preta (of which yakshas and rakshasas are varieties, in Buddhism). Reincarnation is not random—except in Dungeons and Dragons; it's determined by one's actions. Have you even frigging heard of Karma?

  • So, question no. 47 of the Fantasy Novelist's Exam:
    Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don't?
    90% of all fantasy writers fail this one, folks.

  • I am not certain, but I think Kamen no Maid Guy may well take the prize—for now at least—in the category "Weirdest thing ever to come out of Japan." I know, I'm scared too—that's like "Worst political ideas in German history" or "Least honest Englishman."


Rant sampler

And now it's time for me to post another random assortment of rants. Ahem:
  • As I said before, the Middle Ages originated the idea of consensual sex—the consent of both parties is what makes marriage a valid sacrament. Fun fact, by the way: sex is the sacrament of matrimony, in Catholic teaching; a wedding is just the ceremony approving a couple enacting that sacrament.

    I've recently come across several instances on TV Tropes, where some mouth-breather holds up the ending of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady (that what a woman wants is her own way), as an example of how sexist the Middle Ages were.

    That legend comes, I believe, from the Troubadours or something similar; I know it dates to the era of the sacramental controversies I describe above. Now, I trust it's hardly shocking that the story works out as a sort of metaphor for courtship—and a proper man leaves the whole thing up to the woman to decide. That is, it's an allegory about consensual sex being the only legitimate kind. Put more generally, it's simply, "Women want what they want, gentlemen, not what you want. Try asking."

    If it had come from now, That Retard Troper would be saying it was an Anvilicious anti-sexism story. But, because he assumes he's got the single most complex era in human history all figured out, he completely ignores the obvious point of the story.

    Seriously, who's reading him that wiki?

  • So, Code GEASS: LeLouch of the Rebellion. First off, the word is actually geis, pronounced "gesh", and it means a taboo; it's only in Dungeons & Dragons that it's a command that has to be followed. Still, the mispronunciation lends to the show being called "Code Gay-ass", which it is.

    Personally I prefer to render the title "Code GEACPS", because of the ending: a coalition of the countries of East Asia, led by Japan, against Western Imperialism, led from America. There was a thing like that, folks, it was called the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperitiy Sphere. It has half a Holocaust worth of murders to its name, and is right behind Mao, Stalin, and Hitler in the "largest scale a-holery in history" contest—and Hitler barely edged it out for a spot in the Top 3.

  • So, all the hooey about race, in fantasy books and science fiction especially. Apparently people in Western culture shouldn't default to assuming that a character whose race isn't specified, is white—even though everyone in Asia and probably Africa does, with their races.

    I hate to point this out, but this attitude isn't just ridiculously PC, it's actually racist. Essentially it's saying that white people are too good to be themselves; apparently the lesser races can have identities, but the master race has to transcend them all.

    Or to put it another way, you only presume you have to represent all races if you think you have the authority to speak for all of them.


Trumpy, you can do magic things!

So all this talk of magic and whatnot got me to thinkin' about fantasy in general, and I realized I am of two minds about it.

On the one hand, I like fantasy; I dig the whole magic and dragons and elves aspect, the idea of setting stories in other worlds (or rather, whole cosmoses {cosmoi?}). My folks read me The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings before I could read; I read them myself before third grade. Fantasy is in my blood, man; it marches through my veins...like giant radioactive rubber pants! The pants command me! Do not ignore my veins!

Ahem. But on the other hand, I can't think of much fantasy that I like. It's doubly infuriating, because not only is it not done well, it's got so much potential—potential that's always wasted, thrown away so people like Ursula K. LeGuin or Terry Goodkind can preach to us about feminism/"Taoism" or S&M/Objectivism. The earlier Fritz Leiber is pretty good (basically books two and three of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, and parts of four), and Conan ain't bad, if you can get past the 30s-race-theory aspect (the movie's better). And then there's Tolkien, and various anime like Slayers, Zero's Familiar, and Lewie the Mage-Warrior (not "Rune Soldier"; look at the Japanese title). Other than that, it's a buffet of losers—especially Goodkind (see my remarks about Ayn Rand, and add in that his appearances should probably involve Megan's Law) and LeGuin (aside from her brand of feminism being just as asshat as the Marxism it's an unintelligent knockoff of, no Taoist thinks seeking immortality, as such, is a bad thing...since it's kinda the point).

I don't really know if there's any fundamental rules, but here's a few things I for one could stand to see done different.
  1. Learn about the sodding Middle Ages, if you're gonna use a generic "medieval" setting. This involves three main sub-points, actually:
    1. Medieval property laws were complicated. There were guilds for crafts, peasant proprietorship and multiple forms of serfdom in agriculture, and nobles holding land in feudal gift with various kinds of tenants working it, and using it to pay their armies. There were also merchant guilds, which were a cross between insurance companies and "better business"/chamber-of-commerce type institutions, with licensing from guild-members akin to franchising. Women could have full membership in guilds, and unlike men could vote by proxy, which brings me to my next point.
    2. Women's status was a hell of a lot higher than they taught you in school—much higher than in Rome or Greece, and also higher than in the Renaissance or so-called "Enlightenment". Indeed, it wasn't till the end of the 19th Century that they even started making back what they'd lost. Just for example, the very concept of consensual sex is medieval, originating in the Church working out how sacramental marriage works.
    3. The main—almost the only—inferiority of the Middle Ages to any other era, was feudalism. Now what people don't understand about feudalism is, it wasn't hierarchical. On his own land, a Baron was the equal of a Duke, and often of a King. The only distinction was the size of land, and therefore of army, a lord had. This got really troublesome, since they had to negotiate before every battle, since nobody took orders from anyone else and had to be persuaded (your feudal obligation was to show up when your liege asked, and that was about it). Imagine an army where 2nd Lieutenants have to be bribed by Generals before they carry out any military tasks, and perhaps you'll see the difficulty.
  2. Don't just rewrite Tolkien, or, more to the point, Gygax/Weiss-Hickman/Greenwood. Go and make a modified version of the elves from folklore, rather than the Quendi (or whatever Greyhawk's elves call themselves); go look up real legends rather than knocking off the Silmarillion (or Dragonlance). How about you learn about onmyôdô or obeah, instead of using Vancian Magic or that tired quasi-hermetic elementalism?
    Late addendum (09/9/27): Not that I don't like elementalism (I just recommended onmyôdô, didn't I?); it's just, it's always the same Aristotelian four, fire/water and earth/air, with the pairs in opposition—Pythagoras/India's Ether if you're lucky, and then as an afterthought. Not even Avatar escapes this, and it's set in a Chinese world! There's other ways to do elements.
  3. A world where all the "good" races are actually just oppressing the "evil" ones? Not sodding original. Cliche, in fact, beyond the level of all other cliches because it's also trying to be edgy. Nothing is lamer than this Marxist class-war paradigm, kiddies, so just stop doing it; goblins and trolls are evil, in legends, how about you cope like a grownup? In Hindu myth the trolls (rakshasa) are like the Mazoku from Slayers: they actively seek, as an ideology, to destroy the world. They share an origin with the Jotuns from Norse myth, by the bye—is Surtr just misunderstood and oppressed?
  4. Gender-restricted magic is fine—Korean shamans and Navajo medicine-men are both gender-restricted—but try and avoid the feminist/misogynist trappings that so often go with them. In fact, just steer clear of writing about gender-matters altogether; and actually just deny all your impulses to write about social issues "relevant" to now. You're not in eighth grade, and you're probably not well-versed in all the anthropological facets of, say, slavery, or polygamy. Without understanding the subtleties, and a hell of a lot of talent, it'll just sound like an after-school special. What if you try and be subversive, and point out that lots of societies' slaves weren't Uncle-Tom's-Cabin miserable? More power to you, but tread carefully, or you'll come off sounding like a heartless reactionary—like Terry "butcher the pacifists" Goodkind. Also, his gender-stuff leaves the vague impression he's very active in communities that have to specifically emphasize that what they're doing is consensual.


エリート Eriito

So my musings about Naruto and even Negima being better than Harry Potter, got me thinking: things are apparently just expected to skew smarter in Japan. Now, not always—One Piece, for instance, and anything involving even a cursory discussion of Western history, would tend to indicate there's a lowest common (moron) denominator in Japan, too—but huge swaths of work there are just smart enough that I just barely have to pay attention not to miss something. And that's impressive, because there's not really anything on American TV that I can't watch, and fully comprehend, while reading a book. I can't read while watching the dumber Japanese stuff, either (I prefer subs to dubs, sue me), but if my Japanese was better I could.

But these are some shows I can't do it with.
  • Shakugan no Shana. Seriously, find me an American show where the premise is, "Beings from another dimension invade this one by stealing innocent people's reference to 'to be'." And if there was such a thing, it'd last six episodes and then get canned, for being talky and boring—rather than being Kugimiya Rie tsundere romantic comedy. Shana is the answer to the question, "What if Jacques Maritain had created Moonlighting?"
  • Baccano. The being who grants the Elixir of Life, introduces himself with, "I know thy desires and I'm with thee everywhere." That is, the show contains a fictional depiction of Poemandres, Mind of All Mastery, and a quote from the first book of the Corpus Hermeticum. Now admittedly the Mind of All Mastery wouldn't be capable of curiosity (since, as the self-awareness of Being Itself in an emanationist pantheist cosmos, he'd know everything), but we'll give them a pass for that.
  • Naruto. Among others. And all the existentialism—with the uniquely Japanese answer, that, pace Sartres, heaven is other people. That is, what confirms and gives meaning to one's existence, is one's friends, family, and community.
  • Naruto again, for Kishimoto's understanding that all human conflict is essentially ideological—the first thing he asks when he creates a villain is, "How does his worldview conflict with the heroes'?"
  • Black Blood Brothers. Aside from making me want to play Vampire: the Masquerade (tell me Kane Warlock's not a Tremere, I dare you), it's got Jiro's fascinating statement to the Kowloon Children: "You're not evil, you're just doing what you need to to survive. But since you're a threat to what I care about, I'm going to destroy you." Nothing American could ever have a hero say that (not and be right, anyway); Americans can't abide being told that the fact you love something, might mean you have to fight, and harm, its enemies, whether or not they're actually "evil."
  • Xenosaga (this one deserves multiple bullet-points, actually). The mix of Jewish, Christian, ancient, and modern (Jungian) Hermeticism, for one (though admittedly Hermeticism is the dumb version of Gnosticism, and Gnosticism is the dumb version of Indo-European esotericism). Also the references to Shingon Buddhism (the smartest Indo-European esotericism, as filtered through the Japanese). Also the tech—using the Collective Unconscious as a warp drive? Now that's just a cool idea (hokum, but top-shelf hokum). And hell, find me an American SF show or game that knows enough to make the FTL comms be based on the EPR paradox. Now admittedly it wouldn't work, but you've got to be pretty good to even make that mistake.

Late addendum:It occurred to me, as I reread this (2009/9/23) that I come off rather harsh on One Piece, and its fans (since I sorta called its target audience morons). Now, I like One Piece, in small doses, and Oda Eiichirô is a pretty talented guy who tells silly stories that still have a lot of heart. That said, you can't deny that One Piece works best when you turn off part of your brain and go with the insanity—Luffy can give Kamina a run for his money in the "Kick reason to the curb" department.