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."