Just to Fill Space

So I just thought I'd give myself an even 108 for the year. So, um...Random Thoughts!
  • Dr. Rurru, an obscure little manga I don't think is available over here, is oddly similar to World God Only Knows. Except Rurru's spazziness makes Elsie look like the chick from Medaka Box.

    One gag I wish had been carried over from the oneshot pilot is the part where Rurru doesn't want to activate the escape pod, because its two switches (to keep it from being activated accidentally?) sorta look like nipples, and she's embarrassed to touch them. It's more or less everything you've got to know about her character right there.

  • So remember the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man"? Aside from the fact the alien is Eegah (Shtimlo!), the story's basic premise is sound, but the execution is flawed.

    First, "their alphabet has capital and small letters", though obviously quite possible (lots of people develop a cursive form, and it's far from rare to have some mix of cursive and non-cursive—e.g., hiragana come from cursive kanji), is a lame reason to have trouble translating it. How about, "it's a system of logograms with some 4000 basic characters?"

    Second, I don't really think many other languages have "serve" as an idiom actually meaning "present as a meal."

  • Much better is the thing from the backstory of Halo, about the Covenant mistranslating "reclaimer" as "reclamation". Apparently Forerunner is like Semitic languages, and uses its active participle as an agentive form.

    Speaking of, the Arabic word for "poet", sha'ir (itself an active participle), was also the name for the pre-Islamic tribal medicine men—that's why the Arabian Nights-themed D&D setting uses it as the name for those mages who contract with genies. What's weird about it, though is, hataałi, the Navajo word for medicine man, means "singer". Or, I think, "he sings"—the Navajo agentive is usually a terpsimbrotos.

  • Speaking of terpsimbrotoi (assuming that's the plural), isn't the French word for "dishwasher" one? "Lave-vaisselle" means "washes dishes", so...huh, apparently French sometimes uses a terpsimbrotos-agentive too. You know, when it doesn't use "-eur".

  • Ah, crap, now that I've re-written my story to have fusion rockets, I gotta rewrite something. I was gonna have a "colony drop" variant (I don't regard it as SF without a Colony Drop, I'm a Gundam fan), except fusing all a ship's antimatter at once...but apparently fusion engines are too damned stable, and simply stop fusing when they're damaged.

    Huh, maybe just do it old school? Anything going at 3000 m/s packs its own weight in blam, and the cruising speed of military ships (which have the really big, scary fusion rockets) is .1 c, which is 10,000 times that...something going at that speed, that weighs nearly 8,000 tons, has a kinetic energy of approximately 820,000 megatons, or 1608 times all the nuclear testing of the 20th Century. Yeah, that oughta do it. Bwahahah.


Roketto de kidou shuuseishite kudasaru?

Which is, of course, "kindly perform orbital corrections with a rocket." Because ALI PROJECT are awesome, that's why (though, I ask you, why couldn't they have worked their trademark coquettish gothery into a spacey song?). That's a line from the opening to Sora wo Kakeru Shojo; technically it's "nee, anata no roketto", which makes it "say, with your rocket, can you correct (my) orbit?"

Anyway, this here's a collection of my recent thoughts upon rocketry and aviation and, y' know, SPACE.
  • Went to the Pima Air and Space Museum. Saw some historically significant, but boring, WWII planes. And, more importantly, a UH-1 Huey and a AH-1 Cobra and the A-10 Thunderbolt ("God's own anti-son of a bitch machine"), and a couple of those giant cargo planes that can carry an M1 Abrams tank. And, well, let's just say that place is sodding Disneyland for rocket nerds, because not only have they got a Blackbird (yeah, Sierra Romeo Seven One, sonny boy, there ain't another), they've also got, get this get this get this, a Vomit Comet. I trust you don't need that explained? Yeah, and the Super Guppy, which is used for flying Saturn V rockets around. And looking like a cartoon whale.

  • But alas, the space display there is somewhat...depressing. Why? Well, couple reasons. First is the display of shelved ideas for Shuttle replacements, Single-stage to Orbit reusable launch vehicles, and, well, of all the words of tongue or pen, the second worst are "it might have been."

  • Still worse are those we often see, "it is, but it hadn't ought to be." As, for instance, nary a word in the displays there about nuclear rockets. And let's face it, ain't no other game in town, kids. You wanna get out of this hole we're in, you gonna need somethin' a little richer 'n combustion. NTR's the bare minimum; me, I'm thinking fusion. H->He, if you can get it; 3He-2H or even mere 3H-2H, if you can't.

  • 'Nother thing that hadn't ought to be: so there's apparently this treaty that says space resources can't be claimed in situ, but can be owned once they're mined or refined or whatever. Which, um, hey, that's real cute and all, but why are you deliberately shooting asteroid mining in the foot? Where I come from we got a name for what that treaty legalizes, and that name is claim jumping. Gawd.

  • And yet those selfsame schmucks turn around (after cheerfully strangling space industry in its cradle from some weird hatred of private property) and go on and on and on about "privatizing space". Did it occur to anyone else that the kind of things you need to get anywhere in space are precisely the kinds of things no sane person wants in private hands? I'm sorry, I think most of the agitation about corporations being too powerful is poppycock, and Marxist poppycock at that, but I, for one, do not want Boeing to have the bomb. Kzinti lesson? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Speaker-to-Animals?

    The other problem I have with it—"space tourism"—is, it's the Scrooge McDuck approach to cultural conflict. Because obviously the best way to preserve and husband any resource is to turn it into a tourist trap!

  • Got GURPS Basic and GURPS Space. Um...wow. This system took me a day to learn. Damn, that's impressive, that's the Mac of RPGs (except universally compatible—zing!). But (and I know this is weird), something in the Space book was the final straw, and so I took the pion/beam-core antimatter rockets out of my book, and replaced them with an unspecified type of H->He fusion ship. I'd recently changed a few descriptions so now all the ships have the "tower" floorplan (because a spaceship ain't a plane or a boat), though I still have artificial gravity because 1 g of acceleration is too damn slow. I even changed the felinoids' ships to have that floorplan, and they have a reactionless engine...though, then again, they always visualized spaceships as fortifications, not boats.

    Whoo. Yeah, actually it didn't take that much rewriting to change the ships from pion to helium fusion rockets. Actually, though, they only use the H->He rockets on starships, to get to the edge of systems so they can use the FTL as quickly as possible; in-system ships use conventional 3He-2H or 3H-2H fusion, and go a lot slower. And for landing? Yep, they use either little shuttle-type ships, or have detachable habitat sections. Because no sane person lands a fusion rocket (I've always wondered why Niven has people do that).

  • Then again, Heinlein and Niven and all the other people who just transplant "rugged frontier individualism" wholesale into space, yo, got a point, gents. Two, actually. A) It never really happened in the first place, sorry, I live there. And B) how the hell do fiercely-independent Belters, or whatever horse-hockey colonists Heinlein has, manage to hang on to their rugged individualism when they all have to pool the very air they breathe, like some pinko's daydream? You can't live off the land in space, guys, I'm pretty sure you yourselves are constantly telling us that.

  • Finally, apparently, Whedon, during Firefly's over-prolonged existence, would apparently start off fan Q&As by saying, "If you ask me science questions I'll cry."

    That pretty much says it all, really.


On the Passing Scene

It occurs to me as I write this that the guy who does the "random thoughts" articles is Thomas Sowell. So hey, 'nother idea for a title for one. How helpful.
  • A review of Avatar mentions that one problem with the movie is the graphics. Not that they're bad; precisely that they're good. And so you stop noticing they're graphics...and start noticing the story. Oops.

  • So, the Incredibles. You know that thing about "Dash, everyone's special?" and he says, "Which means no-one is."?


    I actually have a story I'm writing, a comic book world but from the point of view of the "supervillains", where the "superheroes" are all self-righteous tools. And one of the "villains" is basically Syndrome crossed with Doctor Doom and Lex Luthor—a perfectly normal human, except for her technological genius (she uses Iron Man-esque powered armor). And she says: what we call "civilization" is nothing more or less than rendering greatness a non-factor. You needed more ability to use a spear than to use a bow, and more to use a bow than to use a gun. You used to need the ability to memorize, but then writing came along—you used to need to practice to read poetry or prose attractively, now we just record a person doing it.

    Yeah, I really hate these paeans to unique genius and special-snowflakeness. You know what we do with special snowflakes where I come from?

    We put salt on 'em so they melt.

  • Another of the Take Thats in my SF books is that there's a wackjob neo-Hermetic who wants to upload his mind to a computer. And whenever anyone hears about this, they say, "Didn't they erase a lot of people's brains trying that, a while back?" Yeah, and then he gets really mad, and says yes, thank you, he actually took the time to find out what a mind is and how it works. Not like those other transhumanists, who were idiots. He does admit to the continuity, though.

    Because let's face it, Transhumanists are basically a bunch of pre-millennial dispensationalists, like the Left Behind crowd, except they're socialist weenies and raving sex-perverts. Or possibly they're like the turn of the century Russian Cosmists, except with computers instead of rockets, and, you know, being fat lazy pervert Western socialists, instead of a bunch of Russian monks.

    Here's a hint: if you hold as an article of faith that science will discover the Second Law is wrong, you better never say another word about Christian fundamentalists. They, at least, know the supernatural when they're talking about it.

  • I seem to be the only person who's noticed, but all those atheists who write books with evil churches in them? Yeah, they're actually vicious attacks on Islam. Why? Because not one of them, I'm not exaggerating one iota, has even the slightest hint of the concept of salvation as understood by Christians; none that I can think of even gets how the whole Jesus thing works. Indeed, there's only one atheist I can think of who actually seems to know what Christianity is, and he's too polite to write a book like that (though apparently Gabe once threw him out for something similar).

    On a related note, RE: Tycho's atheism, I actually think saying the entire Lord's Prayer, then saying "Psych" (which Tycho advised against doing around Gabe), would be kinda funny. Though I'd probably have to punch you if you did it in front of me.

  • So where do people get this idea that biotech being a big deal is a new thing in SF? A Gift from Earth was published in 1968—man had not yet walked on the moon—and the Mt. Lookitthat colony has the mutant earthworms for mining, the mutant rats for housecleaning, the mutant grass for carpet, the mutant coral for building...the list goes on. To say nothing of the tailor-made viruses that form a part of the eponymous ramrobot cargo.

  • Speaking of colonies, whenever I read American conservatives, I'm appalled at their quaint acceptation of the hagiographies the English liberals made up about history.

    But then it occurred to me: America is a Soviet space colony. What I mean is, imagine if the Soviets had managed to start up a colony before the Wall fell. Even if it had repudiated Communism (as the US Constitution actually repudiates whole swaths of Whiggism), it would likely still retain traditions like that the Tsar was a devil or Stalin saved the world from Hitler.

    But I (as a person of French and Irish descent), am like a Ukrainian inhabitant of such a colony. And sorry, but I'm not going to let you kacapi forget about the Holodomor.

  • Speaking of the Holodomor (the Ukrainian famine), does anyone else think it's weird that we eat potatoes on St. Patrick's Day? I mean, the English made us eat potatoes because the wheat they forced us to grow was too good for us—and they forced us to abandon the Faith delivered to the Saints for the Hobby for the Younger Sons of Squires before they'd feed us, when the Blight caused the Famine. So isn't eating potatoes on St. Patrick's Day kinda like eating boot leather on St. Volodymyr's day?


The Word for World Is "Order"

...Because my ancestors had the arch, thank you. For the non-linguistically inclined, "mundus" and its derivatives mean "order"—though the word for "earth" in Latin (terra) means "thing that's not sea", rather than "dirt" like in the languages of Anglos and Germans. Yes it's a reference to a LeGuin story I haven't actually read, but that James Cameron plainly did (zing).

I was reading an interesting thing by John C. Wright about nonhuman characters in human fiction, and he said that aliens are either props or characters, and character-aliens are either art aliens, i.e. homunculi of various aspects of mankind, or else are science aliens—though of course most science aliens showcase aspects of humanity, and there're few art-aliens without a few nods to science.

It's a good point, but I'm afraid I must part company with him on the details of his analysis. Because, see, most of the attempts to make really alien characters, simply won't work. The Outsiders in Niven, for instance? Why would something that can photosynthesize be intelligent? You don't need brains to soak up sunlight, photons aren't noted for their cunning. Similarly the Pierson's Puppeteers: what's a herd-grazer need with intelligence? Grass, again, isn't smart, since it hunts photons; and the fact they live in herds explicitly means they're using mass of numbers, rather than intelligence, as a counter to predators. Finally, the Kzinti make little sense—in one of Niven's stories, a Puppeteer says the Kzinti have no use for abstract knowledge, and it's sort of implied that "monkey curiosity" is something Kzinti lack. But, um, Larry...did no editor take you aside, at this point, and remind you that the curiosity of cats is literally proverbial? Actually a society similar to that of territorial, mostly solitary predators like cats (or fossa) would probably look a lot like the kif from C. J. Cherryh: radical individuals, each waxing or waning in power relative to his fellows, combining only for gain, and with an elaborate system for establishing dominance. Niven writes space stuff, and arguably future histories, better than Cherryh, but her alien societies are better.

Actually it's doubtful whether anything not an apex predator would be smart, since anything not an apex predator would be too busy not getting eaten to develop civilization. Can there be an ecosystem dominated by its herbivores? I doubt it very much. Now of course "predators" includes omnivores like humans and bears as well as generalists like dogs and hypercarnivores like hyenas and cats, and you can find both solitary and gregarious predators in every group, so there's a lot to be done.

Now there's an interesting question as to whether non-gregarious animals would ever become sapient. On the one hand the group—I said before that humans are basically pack hunters—is an obvious advantage, plus a spur for development of language, but cats are solitary and have an incredibly elaborate system of social signaling, almost entirely devoted to "diplomacy" during inter-territorial encounters. It's not impossible for a species that lives like cats (and I don't mean lions) to develop language as a way to be very specific in their "please don't kill me for being near your territory" negotiations. Incidentally my felinoids are actually gregarious, not solitary—a bit more like hyenas than cats, except not matriarchal.

Brief digression, that's something I don't quite like about Cherryh's hani: they're too specifically lions, rather than more normal felids (probably to let her invert male-chauve tropes as she loves to do). See, normal felids are polygamists, like lions (most wild feline females only mate with one male), but instead of the females doing all the hunting for the group, they all hunt, since they don't see each other except to mate. Instead of each hani male becoming caretaker of his wives' land (which is sorta how the Navajo and Apache used to do it), his wives should be like independent landholders who all owe fealty (is that what they're calling it now?) to their husband, and his conjugal visits are also something like state visits. One of these days I'll have aliens like that.

Anyway, there aren't likely to be aliens with more than two sexes; the logistics would be a nightmare. Think how hard you, or any organism, finds getting a mate—now imagine you, and whatever mate you find, also have to find a third mate who's not only acceptable to both of you but who'll accept you, too. See the problem?

Aliens will likely have most of the same emotions as humans. Why? Emotions are cognitive time-savers, a sort of macros for your brain: half the program is pre-loaded the moment a situation starts, and you just have to execute the last few steps. So aliens will probably have fear, desire, lust, hunger, anger, and aesthetic appreciation (though aspects of that will probably be quite different). Actually hate, love, and probably approval and disapproval are intellectual or volitional, not emotions, but they, too, are probably universal (since angels and even God have them). That would incidentally be one difference between aliens-wholly-based-on-cats and Cherryh's kif: they'd have parental affection, which the kif don't seem to. Or the mothers would, anyway (if tigers are any indication, though, cat-chivalry would involve being kind to children a man encounters—and killing children to make their mothers receptive would be morally repugnant to an intelligent being, not that it stops humans).

As for culture, well, actually, there's not nearly as much variation in human cultures as people like to tell you. Anyone who tells you a concept can't be translated, for instance, is almost certainly lying to you, though it might take more than one word. Since we all have to cope with physical reality, and anything analogous to a rational animal would too (and it'd have to be an apex predator with at least some form of social interaction), its society would almost certainly function like a human one, though possibly in some particular combination we haven't often tried. They might have a form of recreation, economics, or social order that we don't, but probably not one we intrinsically can't.

Finally, it's probably unlikely there would be more than one intelligent species on a planet, although it occurs to me just now that my hypothetical based-directly-on-cats race, as distinct from the felinoids I'm actually writing books about, would be ideal for such a world. Basically they'd be the overlords, one (or one and her children) in a large territory, and then some other species, probably more generalist and gregarious, would be their underlings. Basically an aristocracy of cat-people with a populace of dogs or perhaps monkeys. That'd be pretty cool, huh?

Just One Thing

Damn them. Damn them to hell. If you make a movie and then call it Tree of Life, I expect damn Pak Protectors, not lame Magic Realism a la Benjamin Button (which also had Brad Pitt) with possible Freudian implications. I mean come on, that trailer started with that shot of space, like a nebula? Just to get my hopes up that I'd see Phssthpok's ramjet going through the gas, I swear. Bastards.

Yeah, it may've been silly to hope something like that, but it's not like they couldn't do it. Actually, though, I think we should get 'em to make a movie of "At the Core", though you'd have to change the title. Let's tell 'em it's about Global Warming (even though Global Cooling was the issue at the time, I forget which Known Space story mentions artificially restarting the Gulf Stream to counteract it).


Brief Note

So apparently Benedict XVI said that the Church's prohibition on torture cannot be contravened under any circumstances. So, forget everything I said about the deliberate infliction of pain possibly being justified. However, waterboarding involves the infliction of no pain, merely fear, distress, and discomfort, so I still say it's allowed (only being "torture" by analogy, like the Noriega Treatment). It's still only allowed, I should add, in cases of immediate necessity, for gaining intelligence.

Further Scientific Romancing

God, we should call SF Scientific Romance, shouldn't we? It's more specific than Science Fiction, and it also doesn't require you to lie by calling the books novels, because they aren't, not if they're remotely "hard" (or even, as mine are, "chewy"). Anyway, another series of random reflections upon my field of literary endeavor.
  • So in Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo, Itsuki mentions, when she first sights the Leopard colony, that it (or rather he) looks like an O'Neill Island III. And you know what? He does. It's not just some technobabble, it's actually the name for a cylindrical colony that has redirecting-mirrors for its solar cells. Leopard doesn't spin for gravity, but, considering he can go through hyperspace, he can probably generate true artificial gravity.

  • So apparently, when he canceled the Constellation program (which was to replace the Space Shuttle), Obama let them continue developing the Orion drive ship as, quote, "an escape module for the ISS." Um, what? Is this the Orion ship I'm thinking of, the one that uses nuclear bombs under a pusher plate?

    On the other hand, I suppose combining "escape module" and "self-destruct device" could be seen as a handy cost-saving measure.

    Oh well. Well-played, NASA; using "External Pulsed Plasma Propulsion" as a spineless euphemism for "Nuclear Pulsed Propulsion" seems to have paid off, since they're letting you keep researching it.

    Now come up with similar Newspeak for the Nuclear Thermal Rocket and we're in business.

  • Boy Protector's ending is depressing, huh? I just re-read it, and, um, wow. But I noticed something about it, and indeed many of the races in Niven, and the portrayal of human militaries as well: why does everyone go into these situations alone?

    See, I've decided to write a scene with someone (a battle cyborg? maybe an android?) with physical characteristics similar to a Pak Protector...who, nevertheless, is defeated by a bunch of soldiers (probably of the felinoid race). I'm thinking of using this line:
    He could probably reach one of them, and with his strength he could pull and twist his target's body enough to kill him, in a matter of moments. But by then the others would all have shot him, probably several bursts each; and their bullets were designed for piercing their armor. Against that, his armor might as well not exist.
    Also, why does everyone think planets are defenseless against nukes or even asteroids? You stick lots of satellites in geosynchronous orbit, far enough out that they can shoot something directly over the poles. You power 'em with big reactors (fission, fusion, antimatter, doesn't matter), and you put big, light-speed weapons on them, like lasers in at least the MW range. The satellites will know the approaching threat is there at least seconds before it arrives, and will have shot it down in the same, or actually a slightly shorter (since it got closer in the interim), amount of time. You put multiple guns per sat, so there'll always be some ready while the others recharge. Really, is that so hard? Sure, spendy, but peace of mind is worth it, right?

  • Of course, it's ludicrous to suggest you'd really do any major orbital bombardment, in a normal war. After all, what you're fighting over would be habitable planets as such, and there's no point breaking the thing you're fighting over. Maybe the occasional tactical nuke, and fusion and neutron bombs don't have issues like fallout, but there'd be none of this "create a Cretaceous extinction-level impact", except from utter nutjobs. 'Cause, you know, it might take too long to work to be militarily useful, and it'd definitely take too long to clear up to be a viable option in a territorial war.

    I think that's actually how the Man-Kzin Wars played out, so props to Niven for noticing.

  • Did you know the New York Times said Robert Goddard didn't even know the basics of physics, because, apparently, rockets can't work in a vacuum?

    That's even funnier than Jayson Blair.


A Correction Plantation!

You try coming up with a title that expresses that it's the 101st post, and also a Reality Check. Just to make one person happy, let me add this (ahem): we'll all be Labradors!

  • So the gent what runs Rocket Punk Manifesto was blatantly off-topic, and saying he wished the recession would force Americans to learn austerity. Dude, get with the 1970s. Austerity sometimes makes sense when you have commodity money, say gold. When you use fiat money, like we do, you're basically using consumer confidence as a monetary standard. Therefore, the less consumption and investment, the less your money's worth.

    Apparently people make fun of Sarah Palin for wanting a return to the gold standard (which I hear she favors, though I've never heard it from her). It seems they don't know that doing that would let us pursue alternatives to consumerism. It would, of course, also slow growth, but nobody ever said economics was simple.

  • Still oh-so-fascinating how many commentators don't know that capitalism means "system with an investor class". Though middle- and lower-class tax cuts are good for the economy, by driving up consumption, the ugly reality is that the biggest payoff comes from cutting taxes for the upper, investor-class. Because (and I know this is counter-intuitive) they then have more money to invest, in addition to engaging in purchasing just like the lower income brackets.

  • Did anyone hear about Ted Turner saying the rest of the world should adopt China's one-child policy? Which, he claims is accomplished "without draconian measures". I'm curious to know what he considers draconian, if not the measures by which the one-child laws are enforced. Does he mean they're not using metallic dragons corrupted by priests of Takhisis? Because that's the only possibility I can think of.

    The irony of all this is that CNN, which Turner owns, has reported on China's methods of enforcing that law. So apparently Turner doesn't watch his own network.

  • So back when John Paul II died, and they were discussing the next Pope, Chris Matthews said "They're not going to elect the Grand Inquisitor."

    The irony of that is, until the 1890s, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was known as the Roman Inquisition. So...actually, they did elect the Grand Inquisitor.

    Not really a reality check but on a related note, until the late 1990s half the detectives in France's national police had "inquisitor" (inquêteur) as their job title. Now they're all called the other thing, inspector (inspecteur). Wouldn't you be mad if they changed your title? "Inquisitor" is the coolest job title ever!

  • So routinely you'll find Orthodox writers saying Catholics don't value mystical, noetic experience of God, but, um, have you guys maybe heard of the Cistercians? You better tell 'em they don't value noesis, 'cause they sure think they do.

    Huh, speaking of noesis (adj. form noetic), the opposite, discursive thought, is dianoia. Of which the adjective, I think, is "dianetic". Yeah, Hubbard didn't make that word up.

  • So I'm not sure, but when people say "cerebral" science fiction, they seem to mean "soft". Firefly gets called "cerebral", Babylon 5 not so much—yet you can get doctoral dissertations out of Bab5, and not just in fake majors. Solaris, 12 Monkeys, Bladerunner—all of 'em could be based on Phil Dick books, and that last one is.

    Now I'll be the first to say science's whole point is to render intelligence moot (that's the whole point of all systems of thought), but a complex, hard sf story requires more brain-work, if it's also going to be entertaining, than a dystopia or a time-travel story. Besides, the two most intelligent time travel stories never get called cerebral—mostly because they star Michael J. Fox and the duo of Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, respectively.

  • A word I learned from John C. Wright is "amphictyony", an alliance of tribes who share common ritual centers. I bring it up because for some reason I referred to Christendom as a state, and that's silly; it's plainly an amphictyony.

    And that's also what the felinoids' "empire" is in my SF books, specifically a militocratic amphictyony with popular sovereignty and a strong executive.


Marshalling of Words

Alas, I do put on airs; this isn't half as cool as the part in Belloc's "Path to Rome" where he marshals his words (the Gallicisms are, apparently, very dangerous cavalrymen, and the anachronisms are, of course, commanded by old Anachronos himself). But I thought I'd do one on a lighter note, about writing and characterization and such-like. By the way, this is my 100th post this year.
  • To kick things off, here's Holly Lisle to tell us how to write joyless PoMo anti-fiction that wins Pulitzers. It is a healing balm.

  • So I remain convinced that my definition of the difference between SF and fantasy is correct—essentially that the difference is actually along a continuum, depending chiefly on whether the chief device of romancing is technological/scientific or marvelous/miraculous. But it occurs to me that I might want to have a working definition of SF as such. How about, "That field of romance where the chief wonder comes either from the data revealed or speculated upon by science, or from mankind's adaptations to same, social and/or technological." Yes, I think that's a good working definition. I would indeed argue that fantasy has the precise same definition, except with "folklore" substituted for science.

  • So where does everyone else stand on sex in stories? I'm a firm believer in the "fall into each other's arms and fade to black" method; past a certain point, sorry, but you're basically writing porn. Then again, most of the sexual relationships in my stories are based on (sometimes misguided) love, even the extramarital ones. Apparently that's rare; far too many of the stories I've read have this weird "everyone has a pathology and the relationship is therapy" approach to relationships.

    And hey, you know how it's supposed to be terrible when the smokin' hot villain lady falls for the everyman hero? Anyone else want to write something where someone says something about it, and she says, "What, so just because I'm a supervillain I have to be shallow?"

  • So I re-calculated my ships' masses, all based on the mass of this thing called a Reaction Engines Skylon, that's a jet-bordering-on-a-rocket that might soon be used for LEO insertion. So I figured hey, use multiples of its mass and dimensions (keeping in mind the Square-Cube Law) and you know your thing'll work as a spaceship, right? Yeah.

    It still shocks and saddens me how many spaceships are based on sea-ships, because apparently nobody knows those things are made of friggin' concrete.

    And then, the fact that I started using designs based on the Frisbee rocket has made me redesign my aliens' ships; I sorta can't take ships anymore unless they look real realistic. Which reminds me, I need to rewrite a couple scenes so the aliens land the right way (yes, they do land, they have better tech than the humans).

  • So that "I Write Like" thing said that, among other people, my sister writes like David Foster Wallace. That's not actually too bad; I don't know about his fiction but he can't have been all bad, since he said this:
    I want to convince you that irony, poker-faced silence, and fear of ridicule are distinctive of those features of contemporary U.S. culture (of which cutting-edge fiction is a part) that enjoy any significant relation to the television whose weird pretty hand has my generation by the throat. I'm going to argue that irony and ridicule are entertaining and effective, and that at the same time they are agents of a great despair and stasis in U.S. culture, and that for aspiring fictionists they pose terrifically vexing problems.
    True dat; maybe someone should tell Whedon.

  • So when you become a writer, some of the very odd things in other writers begin to make sense. For instance, in Niven, the ramscoop robo-probes being misprogrammed so the find habitable points, not habitable planets, resulting in worlds like Jinx and Mt. Lookitthat and We Made It? Plainly that process goes like this:

    1. Oh, and I'll have like a heavy planet, and one that's like Venus except you can live on top of one really high mountain, and one with really fast winds in two seasons!

    2. Wait, why would anybody be stupid enough to live on worlds like that?

    3. Oh, oh, oh, I know! It's an accident! They never would've gone except there was a mixup, maybe like a badly programmed robot probe or something, and hell, it's not like you can just turn around and go back, with spaceships.

    I submit that is the most likely explanation. Many of the most imaginative things in fiction start out as ways around objections to things you want to do; I know half my best work is.

  • Does anyone else notice that the deaths in Serenity (I shall not name names), and Whedon's interpretation of same (he apparently did it to show his audience they care about his characters), are essentially emotional abuse? "You're forgetting you love me, I'll leave until you realize it?" Yeah, I think Browncoats may have a touch of battered-women's syndrome here.

    Pointlessly, randomly killing off beloved characters may be "edgy" and "realistic", but it's also bad narrative. Plus, women having markedly less upper-body strength than men is also realistic. Thoughts, Whedon?

    Oh and by the way, smacking into another ship at reentry velocities will vaporize both ships, not just puncture the cockpit. The cockpit it shouldn't even have ("windows" on spaceships—yeah, we wanna be damn sure the Red Baron's not sneaking up on us, right?).

  • Larry Niven's Laws for Writers have some very good advice, like "it is a sin to waste the reader's time" and "everybody talks first draft." Also this:
    If you've nothing to say, say it any way you like. Stylistic innovations, contorted story lines or none, exotic or genderless pronouns, internal inconsistencies, the recipe for preparing your lover as a cannibal banquet: feel free. If what you have to say is important and/or difficult to follow, use the simplest language possible. If the reader doesn't get it then, let it not be your fault.
    Words to live by.


Ordering Our Lives Together

I was going to call this "The Art of the Possible" because it's about politics, but politics isn't the art of the possible, science fiction is. So I'm fallen back on an older definition, that politics answers the question "How ought we to order our lives together?"
  • So apparently the latest round of wiki-based intelligence leaks has revealed that, well...Saddam Hussein did, in fact, have lots of uranium "yellowcake", and other WMDs. I sincerely doubt vindicating the Bush Administration's position on Iraqi WMDs was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's intent, but there you are.

    What fascinates me is people who can't be made to understand the concept, "even if there weren't WMDs, it is a good thing to get rid of someone who uses the systematic gang-rape and meat-grindering of the relatives of dissidents as a political tool." Go ahead and say the war was imprudent, if you think so (though we had less than half the casualties in five years that France had in one day at the Battle of Agincourt, so this ain't exactly a taxing war), but saying it was immoral is, as far as I can see, endorsing Saddam's practices. If not, how not?

    Finally, as a person of Irish and Acadian descent, I know a little something about having your resources taken by people with names like Bush and Cheney. It's something Anglos have historically proved quite good at. The fact we don't have Iraq's oil (and, by the bye, we don't) means they weren't after it.

  • Pat Buchanan and his ilk point to the violence against Chaldean Christians, in the absence of Saddam's more egalitarian terror state, as justification for opposing the war, but, I have a question. If the fact people abuse their freedom means they should not be liberated, mustn't we also scrub the operations inaugurated by the Declaration of Independence and the 13th Amendment?

  • One more point against a number of "Catholic" opponents of the Iraq War, and the larger War on Terror: waterboarding. So essentially what people like Mark Shea, who gets his news from Harper's (and therefore from the far-left MacArthur Foundation), say is, "War is not intrinsically immoral but torture is."

    Two things, jackass. First, the use of spanking in child-rearing is far more "torture" than waterboarding, since the former involves the deliberate infliction of pain and the latter doesn't (fear is not pain). Since the Catholic Church is not opposed to spanking, we may conclude that the deliberate infliction of pain is not intrinsically immoral. Similarly, the Church's lack of opposition to the deterrent use of any threat of force, lethal as well as nonlethal, forces us to conclude that inflicting fear, as well, is not intrinsically immoral.

    Second, your position is, given the ways one often dies in modern warfare, that it is immoral to subject someone to a little fear and discomfort (again, not even pain), but it is completely morally neutral to turn him into a gigantic plume of blood and tattered entrails on a crumbling wall with jagged shards of bone buried in it. Even though, given the evils terrorists perpetrate, his death is unusually likely to send him to hell.

    I don't know what cosmos you learned moral theology in, but in mine, that seems questionable.

  • So they're making a movie of Atlas Shrugged. Why? Shit, how should I know? But I'm sure the question on everyone's mind is, "Are they actually going to have John Galt Speak at the end for, what, an hour? Two?"

    I doubt it; yet not only is that speech the point of the book, it's probably the best part of the book (yeah, not a fan). The plot and characters are as worthless as Rand herself (who is, in my opinion, a one-woman tragedy of Stalinism and Nazism, namely that so many worth a damn people didn't escape them, and she did); only that one speech has any merit at all. Rand was a complete drool-soaked wrestling-helmeted incompetent at most aspects of writing, but she was good at rhetoric.

  • Speaking of strange movie news, Mark Johnson, producer of the Narnia films, claims he's not sure if they're Christian. So, Mark, are you also in doubt as to whether Rand might've been a socialist? Does Childhood's End leave you thinking maybe, just maybe, Clarke might've been a Southern Baptist? Just how much do you need to be beaten over the head with a message before you'll even acknowledge its presence?

    That is, indeed, my one complaint about Narnia. The characters and writing, and basic plots, are excellent; Lewis had a largely unrecognized talent for writing characters, especially children, and also a disarming style that also served him in his apologetics. But the Narnia books, far more than the Space trilogy, beat you bloody with their Christian allegory.

    Actually my problem with That Hideous Strength, the book in the Space trilogy everyone likes to pick on, is probably unusual. My problem with it is: there's no Church. There's Ransom and his tiny group of friends, and a bunch of spirits. There's no community, formal or informal, of believers. And Christianity is nonexistent without the Church, far more nonexistent than any religion except Buddhism without the Sangha (that's why most western Buddhists feel inauthentic).

  • More from Hollywood: Salma Hayek was apparently playing the Halle Berry "nobody casts minorities in good parts" card. Only, wait, what minority? Turns out she's Mexican, it's just hard to tell 'cause she's as güera as my (Czech-Irish) mom and has a German name.

    Hint, Salma: if you both look German and have a German name, you are not being discriminated against. Go look up the phrase "visible minority."

  • How come nobody's pointed out, to Libertarians who support gay marriage, that it's the thing they hate most, resource redistribution? And not a necessary resource like money, that people will die without; but a complete frill, social approval.

    Remember, the Libertarians are the ones who pride themselves on their "rationality" (i.e. shallow selfishness) and love books like Freakonomics, one of whose theses was that the recent drop in crime rates was due to a high Black abortion rate. When these people wax sentimental about "the right to love", either they're nuts or they're putting on a con-job.



How much do I rock? So much so that that title, aside from sounding like "sayonara", actually means "if it's psi." Yes, yes, I am that cool. No applause, just send money.

Before I kick this off I have to say I was a little hard on Arthur C. Clarke, though I generally favor mouth-shooting anyone who combines arrogance and ignorance like that (and I still love that post's title: zing, bitch). His jackass nominally atheist (but actually just quasi-Gnostic) bloviating is only a deal-breaker in Childhood's End. Otherwise it's a foible of a good writer, a thing like the rishathra, dolphins, or unworkable Kzin society, in Niven, or Cherryh's obsession with gender-reversing male-chauvinist tropes (she's an equality feminist, I think, one who never got the memo that some genders are more equal than others). You can tolerate it, though there's a few cases where it drowns out the plot. It's not like Asimov's systematic cultivation of blind, stinking pig-ignorance, or Brin's shrill doctrinaire-liberal harangues, or Iain M. Banks' puerile gutter-wallowing. Clarke's flaw is an annoying distraction from his writing; Asimov's, Brin's, and Banks' flaws are their writing.

Anyway, John C. Wright said, in his brilliant discussion of how much Childhood's End sucks, that in SF, you stick to a naturalistic worldview; any supernatural stuff has to be called psionics or something. My problem with that is, psychic phenomena have been demonstrated far more conclusively than Keynesianism or the Laffer curve; so, too, the pagan gods (if you disagree, try explaining it to the three men who are dead because they filmed the Navajo dance invoking Yé'ii Bichaii, the Maternal Grandfather of the Gods, all the way through). But the explanations "parapsychologists" always give are bunk. At best, you have to call that stuff "psi", which is a sciencey-sounding way of saying "hell if I know" (no really, the term comes from early ESP experiments, where the letter stood for "unknown factor").

Personally, in my own writing, the distinction between SF and fantasy is more subtle. My fantasy and dark fantasy have huge, improbable works of magic, fireballs and shape-shifting and vampires and Thor. But the science and tech are all real for the era they're set in. My SF book has fusion and antimatter rockets, space-folds, and inertia-control by stress-energy tensor metric patching, but the psychic powers are limited to the kinds of things Wolf Messing or Nina Kulagina could pull off. Basically, SF is where I'm being speculative with tech, while fantasy is where I'm being speculative with wonder-working.

The best example is onmyodo. Being the Nihonphile I am, I have onmyoji in both my SF and my dark fantasy. But in my SF book, it's subtle, and in doubt whether he's really doing anything at all—the main thing he does is use it to get around Lucas-Penrose. In my dark fantasy, the generating cycle of the five elements is used to blast zombies with fireballs by pointing twigs at them. See the difference?

Now, personally, I think anyone who calls that stuff "supernatural" or "miraculous" is quaint. There is, in real life, a distinction between the paranormal/marvelous, on one hand, and the supernatural/miraculous, on the other. And magic, ESP, telekinesis, ghosts, gods, and the rest of it, go firmly in the paranormal and the marvelous. So, actually, I guess I stand with Wright: I just have a vastly broader conception of "natural" than him. The only things I consider supernatural/miraculous are the things that involve contradictions of sacrificial economy ("equivalent exchange").

The resurrection of the dead is a miracle (it breaks a rule of magic; onmyodo's Taizanfukunsai or "Invocation of the Minister of Mt. Tai" is actually a technique for exchanging one person's bad omens for another person's good ones, and in any event would've required a human sacrifice for every person brought back to life). Indeed, resurrection breaks a metaphysical rule: ordinarily, form and matter, essence and accidents—what you skin-clad savages call soul and body—can't be reunited once separated. Creation ex nihilo is a miracle, as is a change in form/essence/soul without changing matter/accidents/body. Do you detect a pattern? Yeah, basically only God with a big G, the Subsistent Act of Being, can get you miracles. All of them involve existence, in some way, because no mere form can affect that (one might call it, in relation to the Four Causes, the Zeroth Cause). That's why they're violations of sacrificial economy.

Where exactly devils and angels go on this continuum is anyone's guess, I'm afraid. But I err on the side of caution; there aren't any in my SF book. There's two, possibly three miraculous apparitions, far back in history, but it's necessary to the plot. Meanwhile in my fantasy book the religion (the direct worship of existence) has clerics who can raise the dead and heal huge wounds (the gods, who are called elves and trolls when they're at home, can only speed up the body's own healing process, and regenerate their own wounds); my dark fantasy has three devils, one of whom is variously called Satan, Lucifer, or Shemyazah, an exorcism (of a possessed vampire no less!), a stigmata, and an intervention by the Guadalupana.

Holy shit. Did I just actually come up with a working definition of the difference between SF and fantasy, that can actually address mixed cases? I think I did. How do I patent this? Hell, while I'm at it, watch this: "pornography is those works whose sole or chief artistic merit is the excitation of the prurient interest." Ta-dah: gets around the question of whether it's "art" or not, and also represents more of a standard than "I know it when I see it."

I'd just like to say I rock and roll, all of the time.


Adolescence's Beginning

Why yes, that is a slap at Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End; dumbass sets out to try and write an atheist answer to Lewis' space trilogy and it just ends up being about emanationist pantheism, with shades of Fyodorov's Cosmism and De Chardin's Process Theology. I'm curious to know if anyone who calls himself an atheist really knows what the word means.

And to think, that "I write like" thing has the gall to give me this:
I write like
Arthur Clarke

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Them's fightin' words, ya hairdressin' lil Java program. I write like Tony Hillerman.

Clarke may have invented the thing I get my teevee shows from, but that doesn't change the fact he was a philosophical illiterate and a shallow-skulled, self-righteous twit with a Pollyanna view of human destiny that bordered on the Hegelian.

Or take his "Apes or Angels" thing. In brief, Clarke theorized that what we call "human" represents a brief period between being an animal and some woowoo "ascension" crap, so we're very unlikely to encounter other species at a stage of development comparable to our own, but either in the stage before it or the stage after it.

Only guess what? Clarke was an insect. Provably, viz Heinlein. What I mean is, Clarke may have known a thing or two about space (oh hell, the man was a demigod, credit where it's due), but his understanding of evolution, especially human evolution, is the same pop-sci BS any man on the English street circa 1960 could give you. For God's sake, even TV Tropes knows there's no such thing as EvolutionaryLevels, but apparently nobody told Clarke.

Now, in terms of technological capabilities he's probably right, though I'll point out (gleefully, indeed I am dancing on his grave in spirit) that only one civilization on the Earth had Christianity, and Christendom is the only civilization to make several of the scientific advances necessary to the kind of technological progress Clarke talks about.

This post isn't all going to be a rant about Clarke, though (I know, I'm surprised too). See, this fact—that only Christendom could've created a space-capable civilization—has interesting implications for science fiction. It's certainly one answer to the Fermi paradox: the aliens haven't ever contacted us because they're quite literally benighted heathens. But what do you do if you still want to have spacefaring aliens, since we know nobody develops science without Christianity? And this isn't a thing where Buddhism is a substitute; Buddhists did develop egalitarianism and feminism, but they didn't develop science.

Although I just said Christendom mostly developed science because they couldn't do magic, there's actually another factor. Christians developed science because they're not allowed to hate the material world, and there are thousands of dead Cathars who might like a word with anyone who says otherwise. And that's why the Buddhists didn't develop science; what do they care about the tire-pressure on the Wheel of Suffering? That's also, to an extent, why not as much came of Buddhist egalitarianism and feminism—precisely because Buddhism is less worldly than Christianity, "Buddhist" countries usually based their laws on systems like Confucianism, unfortunately for the common people.

Anyway, you'd need, specifically, an Incarnational religion to develop science. I'm not sure which aspects are necessary, but certainly mere pantheism can't pull it off, or the Stoics would've. Islam, you say? Well, the only real thing they did with all that astronomical knowledge was figure out when Ramadan started; besides, after Averroes got the wrong answer to the question of reason's place in religion, the Islamic world basically decided everything is completely arbitrary, the will of God alone. That's not conducive to scientific advancement. They were okay at medicine but the West surpassed them by the 1400s, and in terms of what we think of as practical technology—manufacturing and agriculture—they were centuries behind the West, again because they had slaves.

Interesting, though, huh? Just like how you'll have to figure out your aliens' biology and economics, you've got to work out their theology. You can't avoid the question, because it determines whether they'll even show up.

Interestingly, theology is considered the queen of the sciences.


Sed Est Verus?

Reality Check (and a Latin title!). Mostly concerning history.
  • It will shock many of you to learn, not only did Pius XII save more Jews than anyone else, by a wide margin (that whole "Nazi collaboration" thing was, provably, made up in the 70s by the Stasi, to undermine the Vatican), but another ally of European Jewry was...Francisco Franco. Yeah, I know, weird, but he apparently helped a lot of Jews escape places occupied by Nazis or the other Fascists.

    Of course, what people don't know about Spanish Fascists would fill a pretty thick book. They sure weren't nice guys, but let's just say the fictional cruelty of the fascist in "Pan's Labyrinth" still isn't as bad as the stuff the Communists actually did, in the Spanish Civil War.

  • So a lot of ink gets spilled on the topic of why science arose in the West, and not elsewhere. Certainly it has something to do with Christianity, but a lot of writers ascribe it to the Christian view that nature is orderly and intelligible—yet Asia also generally believes that, but they didn't come up with science.

    Myself, I have a different theory. The reason Christians came up with science, and Asia didn't, is simple: we're not allowed to do magic. China and India both had much better astronomy than the West, but the primary thing they did with it was ever more detailed horoscopes. Similarly their biological and anatomical studies were inseparable from their folk-magic and alchemy. And the main use of astronomy in Mesoamerican cultures was horoscopes; all three of those cultures' much-lauded accurate calendars were at least half of divinatory origin.

    I'd say a related element, the much quicker technological development of the West compared to its contemporaries, is that, unlike both polytheist Asia and the Islamic world, the West didn't have slaves anymore: so they needed good machines. That's certainly why the Classical world had such great military tech but such bad plows: soldiers were freemen, but farmhands were slaves.

    Huh. It just occurs to me that the same is true of the Renaissance: technological development slowed to a crawl in that era, except in military equipment. What's really fun to point out, though, is that there's exactly one Renaissance scientist of any greatness (Copernicus), and he was mostly building on Oresme and Buridan. The two initiators of the Age of "Reason", meanwhile (Descartes and Galileo), were pretty much just picking up where Oresme and Buridan left off (Oresme actually invented "Cartesian" notation, did you know?).

  • So Cameron, not only is your plot economically impossible, but apparently its exogeology is wrong too. Seems the Alpha Centauri system's not that likely to have gas giants (Pandora is a moon), but is quite likely to have earth-sized rocky planets. Oops.

    Maybe someone should have pointed out that living on the "forest moon" of a gas giant is just one more parallel the Na'vi have to Ewoks, and they're pretty heavily-laden with those as it is.

    And I think the Unobtainium nonsense stems from Cameron being a flatlander. See, Unobtainium is just an unintelligent analogy to oil. Only, oil doesn't have to fight every law of physics and chemistry just to exist; in fact it happens because something else (a living thing) lost that fight. But a hot superconductor is not the kind of thing that is particularly likely to happen on its own at all, let alone on any planet a human can walk around on, breath-mask or no.

  • So there's this strange idea among many on America's right that Mexico (and much of the rest of Latin America) are having their recent political instability because of European-style statism. But actually, no, a lot of Latin Americans, and indeed Latin cultures generally, have a "screw the government" mentality that'd make Ron Paul's head spin. Its most extreme form is the Mafia's omerta code; Belloc was once in a French town that made about 2/3 its living by smuggling.

    Personally I think it's just what happens when you try to make Liberalism (classically defined, I mean) intellectually consistent.

  • Another example of how people know nothing of the history of Liberalism is, ask the nearest American conservative, "Who was more pro-family, Locke or Rousseau?" And of course they'll say Locke. Only, no, actually, Locke placed everything under the social contract, including familial relations, while Rousseau said that the family exists in the state of nature and its relations precede the contract.

    The other thing that's interesting is that "volonté générale", as used by Rousseau, doesn't mean anything remotely like "general will". It's much closer to "consent of the governed", except that Rousseau denies that the people are the governed—his thought, remember, defines them as the sovereign, and acts like it. It's arguably also something akin to "common good," as used by Aquinas (not by the quasi-Liberation Theology activists who've usurped the phrase).

  • Late Addendum: Reality check for myself! So I was thinking, and it turns out there is a way that the Serenity can use its artificial gravity to make its rocket more efficient, without something nonsensical like negating rest mass. If your gravity device works like a Kzin gravity planer/polarizer, you can put a gravity well just in front of your ship, and that makes acceleration easier, because it's quite literally downhill. Of course, at that point, you don't need a rocket anymore, and that's not how the artificial gravity in Firefly seems to work—if it was, the deckplan would be different.

    Come to think of it, the Serenity's exhaust seems to drift remarkably slowly. Its delta-v must be ridiculously low.



I think Miscellany (if you pronounce it to rhyme with Melanie) would be a really cute name for a girl. Anyway this is random thoughts.
  • So my travails with delta-v—curse your cosmist eyes, Tsiolkovsky!—have made me realize another flaw in Avatar. I know, I thought I'd run that well dry too. But that whole thing about how Sully can't fix his legs on his salary "in this economy"? Yeah, um, what economy is it that can afford to build rockets fueled by antimatter? 'Cause that's what the ship in Avatar uses for fuel, and antimatter is the single most expensive substance known to man. Even if it's fusion catalyzed by antimatter, well, their gas money could probably be used to stage a reenactment of the first moon landing. Except with high-grade heroin standing in for the moon dust.

    Of course, that also raises the question of how bad the economy can possibly be if they can fund these missions to Toliman (what, didn't know Alpha Cen had a proper name?). Also, considering they've got some Unobtainium, and it's naturally occurring, they should be able to synthesize it. Actually, that's understating it; they are able to synthesize it. By definition, anything naturally occurring (on a planet anyway) should be fairly easy to synthesize since, you know, it happens on its own. And even if it's not that easy, there is absolutely no way in hell that it's more expensive to synthesize than it is to schlepp—by slowboat, mind—four and a half light-years to mine the stuff.

    I'm sorry Mr. Cameron but your plot is an economic impossibility.

  • One of two things in my SF writing of which I'm very proud (the other being my cooling radiators) is my explanation for space war. See, synthesizing resources is either easy, or profitable for whoever does it, but terraforming is as-good-as-impossible, so planets that are easily-habitable (at least with domes) are at a premium. So the only thing you're fighting over is territory. Or rather, you come into conflict over territory, but you don't start fighting until one side or the other in the conflict does something rude. Like, you know, carrying off the wife of a chieftain whose tribe is contesting with yours over trade routes...and prompting him to launch the thousand black ships, and bring about the fall of Holy Ilium, and Priam, and the people of Priam of the good ashen spear.

  • So remember the name Robert Frisbee. Why? Oh, well, this.

    Yeah, an antimatter rocket design that's not AIMStar or ICAN-II (which aren't really antimatter rockets, they're antimatter-catalyzed nuclear rockets). And now, suddenly, I can get images into this blog; for some reason I'd had trouble doing that. Anyway, it's not exactly like what the ones in my story are gonna look like (mine have for-realsies artificial gravity, and aren't 700 kilometers long), but it's an awesome first step.

    In his honor, I may have to have "frisbee" be 24th century slang for an antimatter ship.

  • And yeah, people in my books do indeed use antimatter rockets...but nobody in my book says the economy is so bad that biotech (the fastest-growing field of tech after computers, by the bye) is too expensive for soldiers.

    And hey, come to think of it, so in Avatar's future there are no charities like Wounded Warriors? Maybe years of over-regulation and anti-entrepreneurial economic policies killed the biotech industry, and years of state-funded medicine killed the charitable impulse. Nah, I kid—Cameron favors those policies, remember?

  • So remember how I said I wanted to do SF Saiyuki and SF Peter Pan? Another thing, it occurs to me, is it'd be really fun to do an SF version of the Shinsengumi. I mean, for crying out loud, "Hijikata" means "Earthman", and he, Saitô, Nagakura, Harada, and probably more of them have numbers in their names. Don't "Primus Wisterfield" and "Triannum Earthman" sound like the kind of names a very far-future society might have? And you could give them cool gear based on their techniques—Okita's signature three-piece stab becoming a three-barreled gun, or something, and Saitô having a gun-arm on his left, that he suddenly switches to to catch opponents by surprise (contrary to Rurouni Kenshin, Saitô's signature left-handed thrust works best as a surprise maneuver).

    And hell, the Black Ships=first contact; the plot just writes itself. If you're going to use history as the basis for SF, at least use something less asinine than Gibbon.


Brief Note

So I have an addendum and a correction to the previous post.

The addendum is a line from "In the Bottom of a Hole" that ought to be tattooed inside every federal official's eyes, as in stamped on their retinas so it's overlaid on everything they see, forever:
There's everything in space. [...] Metal. Vacuum for the vacuum industries. A place to build cheap without all kinds of bracing girders. Free fall for people with weak hearts. Room to test things that might blow up. A place to learn physics where you can watch it happen.
And the correction is, I overstated our ability to do interstellar flight; turns out our currently available nuclear rockets would have to be more than 99% propellant tank to get up to .1c. I calculated the delta-v myself. But you might be able to refuel them in-flight using electrostatic (not electromagnetic) ramscoops. And one day we'll be able to make fusion rockets, and full-fledged RAIR (ram-augmented interstellar rockets) will be within our grasp.



So I, being in Tucson for the Feast of Gorging on Birds, discovered not one, not two, but three Niven books in their Bookmans'-es-es. If you don't have Bookmans' in your (shamefully benighted) area, it's a used bookstore that's organized the same as new bookstores (it also sells used games that actually work, unlike Game Stop). See, I'd (to buy...something) sold my Known Space books a while back; I'd been having trouble with my own writing, the style of authors I was reading sneaking into my prose, but I'm over it now and wanted to give LN another chance. It reminded me of just how great some of that Old Skool stuff can be, and also of several thoughts of my own.

Praise the Lord and pass the bulleted lists.
  • So Niven's actually got a lot more good characters than just the ones in World of Ptavvs; Beowulf Schaeffer, Eric Donovan (the brain in a jar), and a couple of the others are pretty good. And some of them were after Ringworld; I think it might just be that and its sequels that aren't too good.

    But I stand by my criticism of the Kzinti: no hunter would despise prey like that. I mean, getting kicked by a Puppeteer is like getting gored by a rhino; its diet doesn't change the fact it can kill you. Zulus practically are Kzin, down to it being considered inappropriate for men to show fear, but they'll be the first to tell you, stay the hell away from the big gray herbivores in Africa.

  • Neutron Star, At the Core, Becalmed in Hell, and Eye of an Octopus are, pretty much, science fiction par excellence. And it's a damned, criminal, hopefully executable offense that A Gift from Earth isn't on the high school reading lists. Hell, if I had my druthers I'd stick World of Ptavvs and Protector in too.

  • Niven, unless I grossly misread the man, is a Goldwater conservative, so I can't endorse many of his views. But his "Cloak of Anarchy" should be required reading for all high school students or college freshmen, since so many of the twits think they like the idea of anarchy.

    Similarly, how about we start calling people who don't understand how dangerous this universe is, "flatlanders"? Bey Schaeffer says it, how people from Earth don't understand the real meaning of the word "danger", because of how comfortable they happen to find their pet gravity well. I could give you a list as long as my arm of people in today's world who show that mindset.

    Speaking of which, I've thought of it in connection to the Joker, and Chesterton's thing about how comedy is the only poetry of compromise, but has anyone else noticed that our culture's obsession with comedy might be designed to deaden the defensive reactions? That's why Puppeteers don't like comedy, remember: humor is an interrupted defense mechanism, and no sapient species interrupts its defense mechanisms.

  • Off of Niven for a moment, has anyone noticed how easy it'd be to turn Halo into fantasy? A knight with haunted armor having to team up with an exiled monster commander to defeat an undead plague: didn't World of Warcraft have something like that?

    And I still say the Forerunners' "Mantle" is simply the Protector instinct applied to more than one species. So maybe not off Niven, actually.

  • So Niven apparently realized that Ringworld is an SF version of the Wizard of Oz (I myself have toyed with such a thing, along with an SF Journey to the West and an SF Peter Pan). But John C. Wright actually gave Speaker-to-Animals a song:

    I would like to stab and slaughter
    Mankind and his daughter
    Without scruple or reserve --

    [do DOOT dolootle to-doo!]

    But Kzin has lost four stellar wars
    I'd claim it was a long lost cause

    I'm given to understand it has a pleasing metrical structure, though it doesn't rhyme, in the Hero's Tongue. If you don't mind setting a catfight to 40s-era showtune music.

  • Seriously, what is with Niven and single-sex species? The Kzinti, the Grogs, the Puppeteers...okay, actually, the Puppeteers have two sexes, their third "sex" is just their preferred host for their parasitoid larvae (though I never heard of herbivores practicing parasitism).

    All the really advanced species on earth have fairly even development and intelligence between the sexes; anglerfish aren't high on anyone's list of nonhuman intelligences, now are they? Then again we now know dolphins aren't really all that bright (they're probably not as smart as ravens), so maybe that lopsided gender thing was some theory at the time that's been shelved since.

  • Not in connection to Niven, for real this time (except tangentially), apparently the Kzinti are like birds, in having ZW chromosomes (males have two full sex chromosomes, females have a full and a partial, the reverse of XY animals like mammals). And, me being me, I did some looking, and decided: the felinoids in my book are now Z0 (the male has two sex chromosomes, the female only one). Like a small minority of butterflies, and absolutely nothing else. Of course, it's not actually DNA, but it is genetic material and it undergoes mitosis and meiosis, so, yeah, "chromosomes".

    I wonder how come nobody uses the sex-selection system crocodiles do (the temperature of the nest determines the sex of the young). Couldn't be because the writers didn't research any alternatives to the mammalian system, of course. Perish the thought.

  • Another decision I made just a few weeks ago, one that's now blinding in its obviousness: give the aliens an odd number of teeth in their lower jaw. That is, they've got six teeth between their top canines (like a cat, find one and count 'em, I'll wait), and five between their bottom ones.

  • So I actually got the d20 Future book, and, um...did anyone else notice huge chunks of it are just lifted wholesale from the Alternity books? And whatever isn't just feels sorta slapped together; I mean, when your space travel rules say ion engines and fusion torches give the same acceleration, you've officially failed space travel forever.

    Let's review, using a maxed-out fusion Orion rocket as the type of the fusion torch found in writers like Niven, and a standard ion engine (figures from Project Rho). "Launch" refers to whether its Thrust-to-weight ratio is greater than 1 (meaning you can use it for orbital launch). "Mg" means megagrams, AKA metric tons.

    SystemThrust Power(GW)Exhaust velocity(m/s)Thrust(N)Engine mass(Mg)Launch?
    ORION MAX39,0009,800,0008,000,0008yes

    I'm just a layman, but I'm pretty sure an engine that gives you a meganewton of thrust for every ton of its own mass, is just a smidgen more powerful than one that gives you 25 newtons. But what's a forty thousandfold difference in power between friends?

    Oh and incidentally, I will personally run down and devour the next person who says it'd take centuries to get to another star with realistic technology. If you're at Alpha Centauri, you've done interstellar flight (admittedly mostly just as a gesture). And we've got the technology now—we've actually lab-tested a few nuclear rockets—to get there in a few decades. Nuclear rockets can get you up to 10% c in a respectably short amount of time, and at that speed Alpha Centauri is only 45 years away.



Yeah, this isn't actually about technobabble, which is something I generally find mildly abhorrent (unless it's actually good technobabble). It's just a few thoughts I had, concerning tech and science...and it's sorta random, so, yeah, technobabble. Technoramble? Hm.
  • So I don't like teleportation; I just think it'd be too much trouble to pull off. Anyone else remember that one Niven story where the guy accidentally teleports to a booth that's not on the network, and he wonders why it's so hot inside it? And it turns out it's an old booth, missing some parts; and, since it was on a different latitude, the difference of angular momentum meant there was a bunch of residual energy that had to be bled off as heat? Yeah, Niven's got his moments, he sure does.

    Maybe the difference of angular momentum is why Nightcrawler always has the fireball, but I doubt it. In general though, I tend to just think teleporters really ought to have their legs broked the second they materialize—since, unless you're teleporting to the same latitude, the difference of angular momentum is like jumping from a moving train. I only like magic teleportation.

  • So my brother gets Game Informer, and they had a review of the Iron Man 2 game that said War Machine "has more weapons than an aircraft carrier". Nice turn of phrase, but no, an aircraft carrier has, just to go by the Nimitz class, 3 or 4 gatling-type guns (each of which, in the Phalanx CIWS, is bigger than the one War Machine has). Plus it's got 16-24 Sea Sparrow missiles, each of which is bigger than War Machine. To say nothing of the 85-90 aircraft the Nimitz class has, each of which can equip dozens of missiles warheaded with anything up to a nuke.

    So yeah, any given aircraft carrier is probably capable of stripping a continent of life...which is a somewhat sobering thought.

  • Speaking of Iron Man 2, I had thought that the way Tony creates the new core for his arc reactor involved a particle accelerator...which would make what he does with it suicide (to put it mildly). But then I realized no, it's a laser; he's just forming a new element via laser inertia-confinement fusion. Eight feet from his face. Because that could never be dangerous.

    Yeah. Comic book movies, why must you screw everything up?

  • I quite like Needless for reasons having nothing to do with tech or science; mostly it has to do with the hilarity (though the fact Adam never misses a chance to recombine his powers in more effective ways makes me happy). But did you notice Eve can only take the shape of things/people who are close to her own mass? Yeah. Hey, Odo, this chick from what's basically a filthy version of S-CRY-ed has more SF bona fides than you do.

    On the other hand the Simeon Shojo Squad, who appear to think you can just tie someone up when they can take the shape of anything with similar mass, should be fired. Out of a cannon. Oh wait, they were. While naked (because it's Needless).

  • So I was trying to come up with different types of liquor for my aliens; someone's mention of Milk Mead brought me to kumis, which is milk (traditionally from a mare) that has its sugars fermented. So that was cool (now my aliens consider wine to be a type of beer, since, to them, it's all fermented seeds).

    But alas! I thought, milk from their "mammals" is solid at room temperature! But then, no, it's okay; their kumis is fermented from the stuff (whey, I guess) that squeezes out of their milk when you press it.

    Late addendum: Further research indicates fermented whey is blaand, not kumis, a drink with nearly the same alcohol content as wine found in Scotland, Scandinavia, and Russia. 'Tis a guid auld nappy, ye ken?

    I think it is ethanol (maybe methanol?), but I don't think their metabolism uses glucose, since their genetic material is held together by sulfones instead of sugars and uses different nucleobases, so AMP-ADP-ATP isn't the sequence they use. I don't have the background to get into the specifics of all that, though, so I don't.

  • So, as you may have noticed just now, the fact they haven't got DNA means the aliens aren't animals at all, except in the Aristotelian sense (where all self-mobile lifeforms are animals).

    This, of course, also means that no pathogens will be able to pass between species, though it's possible something like anthrax (toxic because of the metabolic byproducts of the bacteria) might still be dangerous.

  • It's not precisely tech, but it's always funny to read a review of an SF story with psionics in it, written by hard-SF zealots. It's the exact same tone as this Mormon dude I read once who said (not without cause) that Firefly had too much sex: it's a religious veto.

    Personally the way I handle telepathy is, since it's a mental power, it's not directly subject to the laws of physics. Or do your thoughts have mass?


Pinch Yourself

Reality Check time!
  • Plainly the correct translation of "Kaibutsu Oujo" is not merely "monster princess" ('Princess Resurrection' was just the first chapter), but "Monster Infanta". "Oujo" means "king's daughter"—in Asia the king's children didn't usually have the title of a lower class of noble.

    It's not a reality check per se (though such works often get erroneously lumped into tsundere) but I think Deus X Machina (robot preacherman for the win!) has given us a really good term for the genre, utterly unremarkable youths being dominated by the lovely high-class ladies. Namely, Maiden Tyrant. It's a good name for a genre, huh?

  • Speaking of the title of the king's children, why is it that, after all Frank Herbert's work on his setting, he doesn't know the emperor's daughter who marries Paul should be a Grand Duchess, not a Princess?

    Interesting though, that, that the child of a monarch is two ranks lower—dukes are one above (sovereign) princes, who are two below kings. I have no idea why, but it does let you avoid the awkward situation of having an emperor's son being a king in his own right.

  • So I'm still flabbergasted by this myth of the "terrible" French Revolution, that mars such otherwise intelligent thinkers as John C. Wright. The fact is that the French Revolution killed a lot fewer people—possibly 50% fewer—than contemporary English liberalism, which, again, also instituted the first systematic terror-rape in Western history, a mere 5 years after Robespierre's Terror. And unlike Revolutionary France, England wasn't in imminent danger of being invaded by every other power on the continent, and so had much less excuse.

    I think a part of it is, Continental Romanticism was a conscious reaction against the (excessive) rationalism of the Revolution; there was no such literary reaction against English Liberalism, except in Ireland, and those writers were themselves Liberals, and so restricted their criticism to nationalist rather than ideological grounds.

    It's especially egregious in Wright's case, though, since he likes the Stoics; "Stoicism" is an excellent shorthand for the entire Revolution, especially Robespierre. Oh, except Robespierre murdered a lot fewer people than Stoics like Marcus Aurelius.

  • What's really fascinating is when right-wingers sloppily identify Marxism with the French Revolution, when it was a product of the First Republic's mortal enemy, Prussia.

    Actually, the only commonality Marx has with the Revolution is that he, like Rousseau, studied England and believed the lies the English Liberals told about their state. It was just that there had begun to be a (simplistic, wrongheaded) backlash against capitalism by Marx's time, while in Rousseau's time they were still telling their lies about popular sovereignty and elections (while the wholesale theft of the English people's land continued unabated).

    It would not be wrongheaded to say that all the evil ideologies of the modern era are basically Whiggism, conducted by people a lot more intellectually consistent than the English. The other name, after all, for Marxism's Hegelian triumphalism is Whig History.

  • It is incidentally not true that Christendom is the only state that has ever enacted laws reflecting a belief in human equality. It's nearly true, but there's one exception: the Goryeo Kingdom (Korea between 918 and 1392) made some moves in that direction, recognizing the rights of women and abolishing slavery, due to the state being serious about its establishment of Buddhism. It didn't go anywhere near as far as Christendom did, but it deserves credit.

    Of course, just like the strengthening of Roman law (as against Common Law) in the late Middle Ages, followed by the pagan darkness of the Renaissance, the Joseon Kingdom imposed Neo-Confucianism, brought back slavery, and relegated women to nonentity status. Also, like the Reformation, it persecuted Buddhism and shamanism...mostly so the kingdom (and its ruling class of scholars and landowners) would have access to monastery/shrine coffers.

    Things are rough all over, huh?

  • The other example of how ideas can be much more dangerous outside their home is, the atrocities of the Imperial Japanese Army. See, when Japan was modernizing in the Meiji era, the most-copied Wesern power, militarily, was Prussia. And Prussian military theorists were agreed that one ought to terrorize the enemy's populace, to hurt his morale. It's just, as in all other things, when the Japanese decide they're going to terrorize your populace, they'd be ashamed to leave your populace half-terrorized. The Japanese work ethic makes Calvinism look like Epicurus, after all.

    You'll notice, the Japanese didn't do anything like that when they invaded the Joseon Kingdom under Hideyoshi; they behaved like any other contemporary Asian army (which, admittedly, wasn't great). Indeed, the Koreans' Chinese allies (being paid by the body count) killed more Koreans than Hideyoshi's men did.

  • I'm always curious, why do people call Hasidic Jews "ultra-orthodox"? Doesn't anyone know they were considered flat-out heretics right up until the Shoah? Properly "ultra-orthodox" ought to be restricted to non-Hasidic Haredi, and even then, Modern Orthodox are just as strict, so the label is misleading.

    Of course technically Jews who are strict about their Torah observance ought to be called "Orthopractic", not "Orthodox"; Judaism is not a creed, it is a practice. Now part of the practice is belief in God (and the practice makes no sense without such a belief), but any non-atheist beliefs that keep the 613 laws can be considered Jewish. It's conceivable for a perfectly Torah-compliant Jew to be pantheist (indeed both major schools of Jewish theology are, Maimonides identifying Ha-Shem with the formal part of the cosmos and Kabbalah being a type of Hermeticism) or even monist (which is what Hasidim are).

  • Another point is, many Jews say their religion is 6000 years old, because their religious calendar's year is 5 thousand something. Only, no, the best date we have for Moses is c. 1300 BC, so their religion is 3300 years old (or 800 years older than Buddhism, nothing to sneeze at—only Hinduism of organized religions is older, and only by a century).

    The date on the Jewish calendar is the count since the creation of the world as recounted in Genesis—yet, because they're a practice not a creed, nearly all Jews feel perfectly content to interpret the date symbolically, rather than being tied to Young Earth Creationism like the followers of Bishop Ussher (who got, I believe, a slightly different date).

  • One more point about Jews: it makes me nuts when Jewish writers say "Jews don't believe in sin, we say 'to miss the mark.'" Huh. Well by that logic Catholics don't believe in sin, either, we say "to stumble" (literal meaning of the Latin word peccare), and Anglicans and Lutherans don't believe in sin, they say "to separate" (literal meaning of English "sin" and German sünde). Oh and by the way, the Greek Orthodox also say "to miss the mark," since that's the literal meaning of "ἁμαρτία". Other Orthodox say "burn with guilt", since "to burn" is the etymology of Old Church Slavonic "грѣхъ".

    Or perhaps we can all rationally discuss the fact that, no, we're all talking about sin. Indeed, even in terms of etymology they're probably wrong; the cognate term in all the other Semitic languages (possibly not Arabic?) means "to fail in a duty by not being on the same wavelength as the one who gave it to you" which, in terms of morality, is about as elegant a summing up of "sin" as anything I ever heard.



So I was reading one of John C. Wright's articles about how the sexual revolution hasn't exactly been good for women (stop the presses), and the comments were, as they always are, full of libertarians spouting nonsense and feminists asserting that being objectified is fine, if it advances the program of Marx. But, since one of the things Wright, and another author he was quoting, were saying, was that conservatives ought to be careful not to let the politicization of rape by feminists make them react into skepticism of rape accusations, the comments also contained another beast. Specifically, masculinists. These ones were concerned to deny the very existence of date-rape, and say that women should be shamed just as much as men should for sexual misbehavior (when, if anything, they're still shamed more, sorry). Masculinists are the same guys who object when men are still expected to be breadwinners and think it's just awful women don't have to register for the draft.

I got something to say to them. Man the fuck up. That's the first time I've used the F-word on this blog, and I don't intend to make a habit of it, but seriously: men cannot get pregnant, we're less susceptible to STDs, and we don't have a period. Also, sorry, but women have gotten the shortest possible short end of the stick for a vast amount of time—with the exception of the 3 or 4 High Medieval centuries and the partial exception of the 19th and part of the 20th Centuries, women's status hasn't been so much "low" as "N/A".

Seriously. You know why chivalry makes men the protectors of women, makes them open doors for women, makes them salute women whenever they see them and forbids them to attack women? Because for the first couple thousand years of Western Civilization, women were nonentities. I said it before but I'll say it again: Roman girls had no first names, just the feminine of their clan name, because they exposed all daughters after the first. Greeks were, if anything, worse: the reason they valued homosexual relationships was misogyny, pure and simple. Why, their thinking went, would I want to fall in love with a mere woman? Woman were for making babies, only. You find the same thing in Asian history—it's no coincidence that wakashudo and Neo-Confucian thought went hand-in-hand—and it's hard to see a difference between today's Indian and Chinese gendercide-abortions and Romans exposing their infant daughters. It's a similar story among many Native Americans, even the matrilineal and matrilocal ones.

So yeah, sorry, but the shrillest, most harpy-like feminists are right. Men suck, and the way they treat women sucks, and there's a debt there that needs to be paid. Where the feminists are wrong is how to fix men and their treatment of women, and pay the debt. Nobody can deny, without deliberate obtuseness, that proletarian capitalism is abusive; but Marxism is no remedy. Similarly the answer to men and their past and present (and potential future) misbehavior is not to feminize men or masculinize women, nor to erode gender distinctions. It is to recognize and value women's role in society—make "womanly" as firmly a term of praise as "manly" is—and also to recognize, value, and harness men's role.

And that's why chivalry is the answer. Fundamentally any attempt to reconcile the sexes has to take account of the fact men are, by nature, aggressive. Hate to break it to you but Homo is a genus in the Hominidae or Great Apes, and, attempts to draw parallels to bonobos notwithstanding, we appear to be the most aggressive of the lot. I'm reminded of an experiment that showed that dogs have a more similar learning pattern to humans than chimps do. Because humans may be omnivores, but their ecological niche is still "apex predator"—combine "gregarious apex predator" with "silverback" and, well, I'm pretty sure most people's mental image has a gravity hammer.

Chivalry is the only code I know of (well, hwarangdo, but chivalry is a bit better at it) that takes masculine aggression into account without making any concessions to what might be called, well, "patriarchy". It came into being in a warlike time, but also a time when queens, duchesses, and abbesses wielded just as much power as kings, dukes, and bishops; apparently women bought more books than men, at least in France. The High Middle Ages is probably the closest this horrible ape-tribe of ours has ever come to a matriarchy. I've read things about women in medieval poets that make Joss Whedon sound like Dave Sim. I'll put it another way: the medievals were extremely fond, as indeed all Catholics are fond, of the story of the wedding at Cana. But oddly enough we often pass over it being the first miracle of Christ's public ministry, in favor of a little something else. Namely, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God, takes orders from a woman. More than that, he amends the Plan at her say-so. Regina Caeli, Cihuapiltzin Coatlaxopeuh: you've come a long way, baby.

Also, though, chivalry offends masculinists and knee-jerk individualists whose view of gender is just bad Plato (or reheated Gnosticism), so that's a bonus right there.


It Occurs to Me

Random thoughts, again.
  • So I'm guessing I'm not the only one who wishes that people could write articles about crime policy without having to tell you a horror story.

  • Though he's doing the lord's work here in pointing out how much V for Vendetta sucks, John C. Wright does suffer the inherent biases of being an orc...um, Anglo (sorry, I get them confused). See, he said the French Revolution stood for the Terror, and that Parliament was "one of the most noble symbols of human freedom mankind has ever produced". Hahah.

    Well, actually, the French Revolution stood for Freedom, Brotherhood, and an Equal Law, and like all real Republics, it fulfilled its destiny by becoming an Empire (the American Founders, of course, realized this, that's why they delineated the Emperor's role in Article 2 of the Constitution). Parliament, on the other hand, is purely a symbol of oligarchy—the Hanoverian Succession was the Lords announcing that never again would the king prevent them from doing exactly what they liked. And what they liked was, of course, to loot monasteries and rape Irishwomen. Oh, and murder twice as many people as the Terror in the same amount of time, just for being members of Wright's own religion.

  • I forgot to mention this in my post about economics, but high taxes for the rich aren't socialism; they just make capitalism less efficient. Look at it this way: suppose your state's army restricts officer commissions to aristocrats. Now, if you want to reform this system, do you start promoting exceptional enlisted men and NCOs? Or do you simply make it harder for your nob-officers to get their supplies? Because that's what putting a bigger tax burden on the investor class of capitalism is.

    Amusingly, the longer Republican-style "capitalism" is in play, the bigger the investor class becomes—until soon enough, you're not really talking about capitalism, but about what Bush called an "ownership society" and the Chesterbelloc called "distributism". I'm sure that's quite galling to knee-jerk elephantophobes like Mark Shea, but it's how the stats play out.

  • I like Thomas Sowell, the conservative columnist; maybe it's just because he's quite old, but he manages to avoid the common condition of black conservatives, that of being a knee-jerk antitribu. What I mean is, a lot of them basically seem to think "so many black people are supportive of this welfare-state nonsense, I'll go to the other extreme and say it's good when the poor die in the gutter." He's a lot more thoughtful than that, though I disagree with him on a few things.

    But Mr. Sowell (he's over 70, he gets a Mr out of the deal) had an excellent line: "I believe in libertarian principles but not in libertarian fetishes." And that is why he's smarter than 98.3% of all right-wing thinkers, kids: because all too often, their views are just that, fetishes.

  • It is amusing to note that John 1:1 may be rendered, given all the things "logos" means, as "In the beginning was Reason, and Reason was with God, and Reason was God." It wouldn't be far off to say that was the official Dominican interpretation (since the Angelic Doctor identified the Second Hypostasis with the Divine Intellect). Rather a slap in the face to anti-rationalist Christians (mainly inspired by Luther), and also to those who charge Christianity with anti-rationalism.

    It may be that, as Aquinas said, his words were mere straw—but abandoning them forces us to make the bricks of the City of God without straw.

    I just thought of that, it's cool, huh?

  • Remember, aeons ago, how I said the existentialists were stupid in calling themselves atheists, since the thing they devoted their lives to essentially calls itself "I AM"?

    Well it's kinda awesome, but that's sorta the ending of the FullMetal Alchemist manga, and the second anime.



I have no idea if that's the French word for "randomicity" but it gets the point across, don't you think?
  • I think I might actually be enjoying "StarDriver Kagayaki no Takuto" more than the World God Only Knows anime, this season; the manga of the latter is better, and the former is just so weird. I daresay it was about time for an 18th-century dandy-themed mecha, and the Fish Girl's song is awesome. My only complaint is actually a joke, so that's pretty cool—plainly the bad guys should be winning, since their goofy outfits indicate they're much more committed.

  • Similarly, "Shinryaku! Ika Musume" is fricking hilarious, like Keroro Gunso with moe...and yet oddly enough I think it has no connection whatsoever to Plana-chan. It sorta freaks me out that those two concepts arose independently (de geso).

  • I am however very pissed off that Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo seems not to be coming out in the US. I want to be able to show my friends and family the utter egomaniacal hilarity that is Leopard! Plus, and this is really funny, even in this show where the laws of physics are more like guidelines, the orbit elevator's still at the equator (that's why the launch facility's in a jungle).

    Anyway though, did anyone notice that Leopard is basically King Julien, the lemur from Madagascar? Except with an antimatter cannon.

  • So another of the Take That's in my SF book is "ship that sucks", in the slang of the Chinese space stations one of the characters grew up on, is yíngkē—Mandarin for "firefly". The slang for "overrated self-important ass", similarly, is faht joehng.

    But I'm not content merely to snag loogies at Whedon; the latter term arose because, in my fictional future history, the colonization occurred during an era when the Neo-Confucian and Communist authorities were trying to discredit Buddhism. The phrase "image of a Buddha" is still used as an insult, though, despite there having been a Buddhist revival.

    It's called cultural setting, kids.

  • And yes, I'm aware Whedon's name is actually short for "Joseph". You know, like Stalin.

  • So apparently nothing nominated for the Hugo Award this time around involves space in any way. Rage, rage, rage. But then, of course it doesn't. When two of the three most prominent shows set in space completely ignore space in favor of their ill-thought out simplistic dystopias, why would lit-SF bother with space at all, when the simplistic dystopia is so much less labor-intensive? Why do you think we call it soft SF?

    I don't think I'm off-base in blaming Battlestar Galactica and Firefly for the woes of space SF, but I do think some of the blame must also be borne by certain policy shifts regarding NASA. The only time NASA should be involved in PR is when it's trying to drum up support for its own missions; it has no obligations to any other aspect of the politics of this dirt-water gravity well. Is it 60s-era idealism to hope that we might leave space exploration apolitical? Apparently it is.

  • On a lighter note, you know what's fun? Show someone the opening, probably on YouTube, of Soukou no Strain. Then have them try to guess what classic story it's based on. Give them a hint after a few minutes: two of the female leads are named Sara and Lottie.

    Yeah, "A Little Princess" with mecha. Ooooooookay then.

  • My sister once wrote a mecha/SF version of Peter Pan that rather rocked, and frankly, I'm forced to conclude, everything's better with mecha. Romeo and Juliet would be better with them, admit it—remember in the DiCaprio one how "longsword" became the name of a gun? Imagine if the next scene is them launching his Longsword mecha. Yeah, damn right. I honestly don't know if there are any exceptions to this rule.

    One that I thought of doing is a mecha Punic War, where each Carthaginian mecha has a child in its core, providing power—letting Hannibal angst about it, since we know he actually did have a third brother, whose name is rather notably not recorded—while the Roman mecha are powered by a thing called the Scaevola Drive. The way that works is, the pilot sticks his right hand into a flame while saying, "This is so you will see how negligible is the flesh to one who has great glory in view."

    Don't tell me that wouldn't rock out loud.