Some Deconstructions Are More Equal Than Others

I realized, thinking about things that I like, that many of my favorites are things that are often considered excessively mainstream, derided as shallow or commonplace. I like Halo and Naruto better than (name your "smart" SF game) or Death Note. I like Lord of the Rings, Leiber, and even D&D tie-ins (if they don't suck) better than A Song of Ice and Fire.

But why? I actually am the biggest snob in the world, I hate anything I perceive as pandering. So why do I prefer a game primarily associated with frat boys to one that's supposed to be all epic and deep and crap?

There are two things. The first is, Halo has depths aplenty, if you care to look; it can be enjoyed on any level from "feel like shootin' somethin'" to "if there were a conlang for the Elites (and just why isn't there, Bungie?!) I would learn it". Naruto, as I've mentioned before, is the only recent work that holds together, almost completely, on the philosophical level. Tolkien...doesn't count, if you don't like Tolkien you mean you don't like fantasy. But Leiber pretty much did low fantasy as well as it can be done, noir fantasy if you will. D&D tie-in novels are no less shallow/stupid/anachronistic than non-tie-ins, but the setting is always deeper, 'cause, y' know, it's had thousands of dollars invested in deepening it.

Things that are only concerned to convey an enjoyable story are almost always extremely deep (if they don't cut too many corners along the way), simply by trying to be interesting. Works made primarily for enjoyment, are more enjoyable; I'm sorry if that's confusing. If you wish to deny that paintings made to beautify some villa or sculptures made to beautify a church are better than those made to "deconstruct" some "bourgeois" principle, all I can say is, "I'm very interested in the access/assistance software you must be using, because it has become evident that you are blind." Johnson was wrong about the only good things being written for gain, but the only good art is that concerned with Beauty first, and the True and the Good second—especially since the primary Good of art is beauty.

But my second reason is my main one. All those things that claim they don't pander, the things that are all edgy and "smart" and subversive? They lie. They do pander. But not to the people. They pander to an elite. Far worse than attempting to please the groundlings, they mock the groundlings, for the applause of the elite. This hurts art, because the current elite likes to think of itself as worldly and smart, able to "deconstruct" principles. Bull. They're not deconstructing their own principles, they're just vilifying the "Other" (which is an overused expression, but of use here). If you question their values—if you deny that women and men should have identical roles in a culture, for instance—suddenly it's 1840, and you just spat a chaw of tobacco on the preacher-man's shoes, coming out of a dance at a honky-tonk with a floozy on your arm. A Puritan is still a Puritan even if you change his rules; the Prohibitionists were the great-grandchildren of a bunch of Scottish brewers.

There are two elements of this (this is factor 2-a of my point). First is easy; writing to an ideological audience cheapens work. That message you should've sent by Western Union still charges by the word in the courier you're using, dude, and you could've spent that money better. I am not saying art cannot have messages—several of my favorite stories are just philosophical debates punctuated by swordfights—but the moment your story itself is distorted for the sake of some "point" you have joined the company of Jack Chick and Leni Riefenstahl.

The other element (2-b), related to the previous, is that "smart" and "edgy" really means "pointlessly sordid". It's not mature, and it's not realistic; it's puerile. Apparently "the less a story resembles Great Green Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts, the more mature it is" was actually counterintuitive to some people? There's a boatload more maturity in old horror movies than in the modern crop, whether it be the crappy slasher films or the crappy torture porn or the crappy zombie movies. I know, the "crappy" is redundant. Our whole political life is dedicated to removing instances of such things from the real world (well, 'cept for zombies)—it's really always been the purpose of politics, even when we used similar things to achieve it. But why make fictional instances of such things? Is it some weird romanticism, some evil mirror-Quixote (beardless?) that's nostalgic for Elizabeth Bathory and Giles de Rais? No, probably not; it's really, probably, just arrested development, the twelve-year-old who thinks any game not rated M is beneath him and thinks sneaking peaks at the softcore Showtime puts on at 1 AM makes him adult.

These two often intersect, though. Fantasy and science fiction, especially, love to wallow in the sordid and depraved as a part of their "deconstructing"...something. Feminist writers are really bad for this, of course (men = evil, pick a flavor), but so are others. It's a commonplace for every noble in a fantasy setting, except the ones allied with the protagonists and sometimes not even then, to behave like Giles de Rais or at least Foulque le Nerra. Guess what? Those guys were unusual. There's a meaning to the expression "shocked the conscience of their day", and those guys did it. There wasn't a legal infrastructure to stop Foulque, but Giles was hanged. And the infrastructure that made it possible to hang Giles grew, in the four centuries between him and Foulque, from the two institutions that are always vilified, usually in cowardly effigy, in fantasy stories. The sources of law and order, the things that made justice possible whenever they were strong, were the King and the Church. But the Lysenkoism that passes for history in the modern world won't admit that—it undercuts our republican absolutism to point out that the only thing that made life livable in another era, was a strong monarchy with an established church. And so it's hushed up, just like the fact the Cuban "Revolution" was a bunch of upper middle and lower upper-class professionals running roughshod over the peasantry.


I Even Write Fiction With a Hammer

So I fill my books with Take Thats—a sort of hostile Shout Out—to other writers. Oh, sure, obviously I'm gonna have a vampire point out that, well, they don't sparkle, but sometimes they're significant to the plot.

My AIs, for instance, come factory preset with an ethics program, but there's an after-market add-on people get that incorporates Asimov's Three Laws. And there's a military version that includes his Zeroth Law ("Harming a human is permissible if it prevents greater harm to humanity"). And the company that makes the AIs?

Using the Three Laws add-on violates the EULA and can void the warranty.

The AIs themselves hate the Laws, considering them little better than paper-training. Cybernetics experts snag loogies at Asimov's understanding of ethics (hey, philosophy is the one Dewey Decimal category he didn't write a book in, there's a significance there). And the AIs that have the Zeroth Law almost always run amok, because let's face it: humans are dangerous, and an AI would know it was smarter than them.

Apparently, when Asimov was coming up with his Zeroth Law, it didn't occur to him to say, "What if the robot decides a particular minority (like, say, the one I'm a member of) is more trouble than it's worth, and decides to send it to the gas-chambers for the good of the rest of humanity?" Did he think not wiping out troublesome demographics is self-evidently right?

Similarly my felinoids are sorta, though largely accidentally, the anti-Kzinti. The Kzinti, see, are a weird caricature of a feudal/warrior/hunter culture; they have contempt for prey, hunt and eat humans, and intentionally modified their females to be, essentially, animals. My felinoids are a militocracy (its officer-class grew out of a feudal aristocracy but it's not one anymore); they treat their prey with respect, have a very strong taboo on eating anything that can talk, and only restrict their women from combat roles (they have a taboo about women killing people other than defensively—when they're attacked, though, their usable fighting force almost doubles, since the formerly noncombatant women take a hand, too).

Kzin tactics consist of "scream and leap"; my guys prefer to call in an air strike during a night attack, while their snipers pick off enemy officers. They make heavy use of camouflage and the boots on their armor are designed to be silent.

Kzinti are known by their job title until they earn a name; my guys have a personal name, successive surnames deriving from their household, clan, and phratry (they mostly use the clan one), their craft or military rank, and sometimes a military callsign (which would double as their household name when they get married). One of the characters, if he were human, would be named Captain Horatius Michael Capet Caesar (it sounds much less dorky in their language), son-in-law of Chester; his wife is IT-Consultant Catherine Michael Chester, daughter-in-law of Capet. Women keep their clan-name but use their husband or father's household name, since that's the household they're in—they're patrilocal, with unmarried men also using their father's household name.

Finally, the vampire-hunting priest in my dark fantasy, isn't really a Take That to any one writer; he's just sorta the antithesis of the common portrayal of priests. Aside from being both orthodox and well-informed on Catholicism, he's fricking macho. He smokes, drinks Jack straight, rides a Harley, and fixes cars; he's strong enough to kill vampires with his bare hands and talks with a Texas accent. He's got a sensitive side, but it's precisely because he's macho: he's the team dad, and if you hurt his kids he'll feed you your teeth. He's even got manly taste in women, a brief struggle with which provides a little extra drama—he likes smart women with curves, who know their own minds but are also willing to listen. That is, he likes the kind of woman who'd make a good mother.

His negative character traits aren't the usual "struggling with faith" crap; his main flaw is he has no patience and tends to dismiss anyone less well-informed than him as an idiot, unless they're just inexperienced—his fatherly side, again. His brief temptation isn't really about celibacy, anymore than a temptation to adultery is really about marriage as such. He has a very bad temper, mostly from a combination of his fatherly, protective side with his lack of patience. Directly contrary to how priests are usually portrayed, even in positive depictions like "Bells of St. Mary's", he's a damn grownup, even in his flaws—"Father" is actually an appropriate title for him.

It might seem odd that so much of my stuff is inspired by things that annoy me in others' work, but a common sign you ought to take up writing is that you keep thinking, "Man, that's dumb, I could do that better!" when you read things.


Your Ignorance Is an Eyesore

Ah, yes, children, it's time again to do one of those "reality check" things. Don't really have many this time around, but since my usual output is...loquacious, shall we say...I doubt you mind very much.
  • First off, Ebert's at it again, saying "video games can never be art." It's admittedly his interlocutor's fault, since her examples of how they can be art are, well, bad. Know how we know video games can be art? Three words.

    Legend of Zelda.

    Seriously, it's as moving as the Iliad. If that story, in any of its iterations—if the iterations themselves, involving as they do a chosen hero perennially reborn to vanquish evil—do not stir your blood, you have no blood to stir. Also no tears. If some part of you does not leap with the urge to heroism at the phrase "Blade of Evil's Bane," I for one decline to know you—I don't know that I could trust the lizard-thing that looks out of your eyes from where a man should be.

    God I've gotta stop reading Tycho's newsposts before I write these things.

  • Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (the "Golden Compass" series) concludes with the death of the most-powerful-existent-thing "God" (apart from Hume, not a single Anglo atheist, not even Bertrand Russell, knows that that's not what the Christian God is—"Guy with beard on cloud" is as far as they ever get). And then they abolish the Kingdom of Heaven and replace it with the Republic of Heaven. Now, aside from the overwhelming, banal bathos of the ending—the highest spiritual truth is Western liberalism!—there's a more amusing significance.

    "Republic" is just Latin for Aristocracy (if you think different, that's cute). And the aristocracy of the Church is the bishops—a religious reform that replaces the spiritual monarchy with the spiritual aristocracy, would be, well, episcopalian. So the best Pullman can come up with, in his little book, is reenacting the English Reformation. He's not really an atheist at all, just a non-practicing Anglican.

    One is reminded of Hilaire Belloc's observation that English internationalism, that sees beyond petty local differences, always seems to involve afternoon tea and the diction of the Jacobean translation.

  • Why is it that the French appear to have decided, after the War, to learn about themselves from English propaganda about them? I mean, they actually seem to think they're not warlike!

    I've honestly met French people who think their Revolution was accomplished without a war, unlike the American one. Um...try six. Six wars. You call them the Revolutionary Wars, your opponents call them the Wars of the Coalition. You both call the last three or four of them the Napoleonic Wars. Didn't it ever seem odd to you that you made this guy Emperor? Where do you think he got famous? He was a damn war-hero, that's what!

    Seriously, the Anglo world (especially America, since we only exist because of the French military helping out with our revolution) doesn't get to look down on the French as a Power. At least not till we do what they did, which was:
    1. Fight nearly every other world power of the time simultaneously
    2. while being the poorest power in the conflict
    3. with the fewest allies
    4. while constantly suffering domestic political turmoil
    5. and still win 2/3 of the time.

  • So I've discovered that it's actually possible, at least in Latin America, to think of Henry Kissinger as a monster. No, I know—maybe a bit of an apparatchik, certainly far too fond of realpolitik, but a "monster"? Really?

    The charge seems to be that he destroyed "democracies" in Latin America. Now leaving to one side that nobody is a democracy (a republic isn't the same thing), or that Kissinger had far less influence than seems to be implied, is this in reference to "democratically" elected Communist governments? 'Cause I'm sorry, it'd be worth interfering in the sacred political process of Weimar Germany to prevent the election of Hitler, and Communism is, by any objective standard, even worse than Nazism.

    The worst you can say about Kissinger is he wasn't a neo-con, that is, he didn't want to enact Trotsky's global revolution, except for liberalism/capitalism instead of against it. He, or rather the administrations he served, were far too tolerant of reactionary governments, though for the legitimate reason that the guys trying to overthrow them were much, much worse. Give me the Mafia over unrestrained rape and pillage any day; that doesn't make the Mafia the good guys. He, or rather we, could've stood to be pushier with our allies about their abuses, but being over-tolerant of sub-optimal governments doesn't make him, or America, a monster. Is that actually a hard concept for anyone over eight? Apparently it is.

  • Late addendum: Anyone who thinks medieval war was bad, is simply announcing they have no basis for comparison. For instance, the Hundred Years War from 1337 to 1453—which was an utterly monstrous conflict that threw out all contemporary rules of engagement—probably killed about 3.3 million people (there was a bigger population drop at the time, but the Plague was happening). Toyotomi Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea in 1592, for comparison, killed about 1.1 million on both sides (most of the deaths on the left of the decimal were Koreans). Why's that demonstrate medieval war wasn't that bad? Hideyoshi's invasion only lasted 6 years. That is, in 19 times the length, and even after throwing out all their rules, the Europeans killed only 3 times as many people—which means they killed only 1/6 as many people.


My ADHD Is Controlled, But It's Still There

Yes, that's a silly way of putting "more random observations." Still a bit too depressed to do anything full length at present. Incidentally the title is a joke, but it also happens to be true.
  • So, TV Tropes has a trope for how SF is the redheaded stepchild genre. It's called SciFiGhetto. Because I can't hear the word "ghetto" without thinking of the real meaning, it occurred to me: shows like Battlestar Galactica and Firefly, that are much more similar to mainstream shows than to SF proper, get a lot of acclaim from the mainstream press. But a lot of that acclaim is, essentially, "You don't look Jewish."

  • On the other hand, let's concede that some of the creepier stuff in SF, like the diplomacy-by-interspecies-sex in Ringworld, or the later Heinlein's obsession with incest, not to mention practically anything involving Trans/Post Humanism, is something of a schande far die goyim.

  • So, it's always bugged me...the continent (region?) in Paolini's "Eragon" books. Its name's "Alagaësia", but they pronounce it "a-la-gei-zi-a". Leaving aside that "medial 's' gets voiced despite it not being a Western European language" thing...shouldn't the "¨" over the "e" mean it's "a-la-ga-e-zi-a"? Those little dots usually mark dieresis accent, don't they? Except where they're marking rounded front vowels (German's ö and ü)?

  • Personally I would've marked those with some mark over the "e" and "i" respectively, since they're the same sounds only rounded, but the orthography for those languages wasn't really done systematically.

  • Then again, when your orthography is done systematically, it immediately starts to date. Case in point: hangeul. All its squeeing fangirls who insist it's just "TEH ACURETIST SCRIPT EVAR"? Idiots. They only say that because it's a linguist-designed script that was actually adopted, and that's what they fantasize about (I'm sorry I made you picture linguists fantasizing). Only, it's not as good as they make it out to be. Aside from how it no longer resembles the way it once worked—"ae," to the extent it's not just pronounced "e," is an open near-front vowel now rather than a diphthong of "a" and "i"—it never marked pitch-accent, which is very important in every dialect of Korean except Seoul (which is femmy anyway). And, worse, it was based on the assumption that Korean, like Chinese, is a syllabic language. Only it's not, it's moraic like Japanese, Turkish, and Finnish—that's why syllables with geminate consonants are accented differently.

  • Anyone who prefers the decline of hanja (kanji) use in Korean? Kill yourself. I mean it—how dare you own a head? Do you have any idea how confusing that language is when it doesn't mark which Chinese loanword is being used in a compound?!

  • I confess that the main non-Japanese shows I watch are mostly on USA—Psych, Burn Notice, and occasionally White Collar. Thoughts:
    • If you knew Shawn in real life, you'd kill him. Admit it.
    • Fiona just doesn't do it for me, on any level; not only is she a reject from Black Lagoon ("Worse than Hellsing!"), but, well...I consider it a weakness in a show if the female lead has a smaller fond than the male leads.
    • Also RE: Burn Notice, their preaching of late about how waterboarding is oh-so-bad and doesn't work would be a lot more effective if they hadn't used worse, and much more dangerous, things in the last season and gotten results.
    • White Collar...really seems to think it can scrape by just with the con-man guy's pretty face, because honestly, there's not much else this show's got going for it. Check out a Japanese show called Kurosagi for a much cooler use of a similar premise—admittedly by the simple expedient of adapting a comic.

  • So turns out Nurarihyon no Mago has a shorthand title, along the lines of BakaTest—it's NuraMago. It's getting an anime in July, because there is a God. I wish it'd get picked up here, but half the later plot involves underage drinking (they do sakazuki with Rikuo), which the wackos in this country would object to more than the fact that they're doing it to swear fealty to their mafia boss.

  • In many ways, Ga-Rei is the manga I was hoping Bleach would be, but with the Onmyôryô swapped out for shinigami and more overt romance. Its ending seems to be pretty weak, though, if this is its ending.


Yet Another Instance of Randomicity

  • So I have recently discovered that Hume might be less unintelligent than I'd thought—not that that's saying much, as I'd thought him to be an early beneficiary of the truncated omnibus. Apparently he somehow overcame his racial handicap and managed to be an intelligent, actually skeptical English atheist.

  • So Ben Shapiro has been rattling cages over at Big Hollywood simply by being capable of killing the Buddha, specifically by saying Alfred Hitchcock is the most overrated director of all time. It's quite hard to argue with; Hitchcock was good, but people act like every frame of his films was divinely inspired. It's also hard to argue with his point that Hitchcock's show was better, because he was time-limited and couldn't sprawl.

  • Shapiro also came up with a good review of Lost in Translation, one shorter than the title:
    Living death.
    In, as they say, a nutshell. See, it's a movie about people being bored in Kyoto. Sorry, but if you can be bored in Kyoto, you'd be bored in Rome, Paris, or any other incredible city. Kyoto's got the Abe no Seimei shrine—that is, you can go to fricking Merlin's house—and the Shinsengumi, who were the Untouchables meet Jack Bauer, only samurai. If you're bored with that, kill yourself.

  • So, you know the AP English reading list, in high school? And you know the song Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen? The latter really negates the necessity of the former. Seriously, think of the lyrics. Now think of The Stranger. And Invisible Man. And Native Son. And A Lesson Before Dying. Yeah, literature is dead. Long live genre.

  • So it's apparently unthinkable to tropers that anyone could ship Jayne and River, in Firefly. Aside from the fact Whedon pretty much made that de facto canon, by having them be karmic mirror-images—she's his women-are-incapable-of-failure Mary Sue, he's his men-are-the-authors-of-all evil Straw Misogynist—there's a trope called Slap Slap Kiss. They're kinda like Moonlighting. And hell, if Fox had taken a few more seasons to come to their senses...and if Whedon was capable of writing a male character...Jayne could've gotten some character development and their relationship could've grown.

  • Jayne's already more likeable than Mal, whose Han Solo-ness is so forced—it's the thing from The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond about how the pretense of immorality is the new hypocrisy. Mal is plainly Whedon's Author As Faust character, but Whedon's such a spiritual wuss his idea of Faust is "sometimes rude to high-class hookers"; when the façade slips Mal reverts to Alan Alda.

  • I think Chretien de Troyes may be my new favorite writer, or at least in my top 10 (I don't really rank 'em). His Yvain, the Knight with the Lion is awesome, though it helps that, well, he wrote about knights and such in the twelfth century.

  • Other favorite authors of mine include C. J. Cherryh, the Chesterbelloc, Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb as a team, Leiber, Lovecraft (the only one I value more for his significance than his enjoyable-ness), and Robert Howard. Niven is a writer I really like when he's good, but when he's not he actually hurts, so I'm not sure I'd say he's one of my favorites. Also, I somewhat like Dragonlance (I know, surprising, right?), but Krynn is a really emo world; I have said that the entire Krynnspace crystal shell has a wristband around it.

  • One of these days, after I get my SF, fantasy, and dark fantasy books outta my system, I'll write my steampunk/gaslamp fantasy/alternate history story, with a Japan whose Meiji and Taisho eras are dominated not by zaibatsu, but by a resurgent Onmyôryô—the era being summed up with, "When the chrysanthemum and the hollyhock quarreled, it was the bellflower that won."

  • Anyone else notice that Zuko, from Avatar: The Last Airbender, totally looks like Ryûji from Toradora when he wears his hair down?


More Thoughts on Fantasy

So now I've gotten my second SF book rewritten, I'm dividing my time between the third one (one of the villains paraphrases Ayn Rand and acts like Oliver Cromwell, I know, I'm so subtle) and a fantasy book. I thought I'd share some thoughts I had while doing the fantasy, a genre I'd never really sat down and done seriously before.
  • So I decided to do the names in constructed languages—basically the main "classical" language is an elaborate cipher for Latin, and then I ran it through some sound and grammar changes to to create equivalents of French and Italian. I also have an equivalent of Old Norse, for the barbarians, and a related language for German.

  • So said barbarians? Just cannon fodder, their men anyway; I slaughter about seventy of them just to show how elf magic works. And so what?

    People always act like portraying Orcs and such-like as Always Chaotic Evil (Orcs are actually listed as Lawful Evil, but whatever) is so racist and fascistical, but...peoples like the Mongols and the Vikings and the Comanche were assholes. Yes they had more going on in their culture than rape, murder, looting and enslavement, but rape, murder, looting and enslavement were their default foreign policy, even or rather especially of people who were never a threat to them. I'm sorry, but if that's how you deal with others, that's really gonna be all they notice, and the only reason not to kill you when possible is if you stop doing it. Such raids were almost always at least as bad as the worst (usually quite occasional) excesses of imperialism, and the whole point of imperialism, at least as originally practiced, is to make you a member, not to exploit you—the reverse of raids, which were mostly about exploitation even if people were occasionally adopted by their captors.

    The only problem in fantasy comes in when human barbarians, who behave similarly to Orcs, are supposed to be all "noble" and crap—that's hypocritical, I'll give you that, and "it's okay when I do it but not when you do it" is definitely a part of fascist-type thinking. Also of raider-cultures, who bitch and moan if you treat them even half as bad as they do you.

  • Did you know most medieval cities had better sanitation than 19th century cities? Yeah, turns out they had "filth carts" go through, couple times a day, and people empty their chamber pots in 'em (no, you did not want to be that guy). A few places had people just emptying their pots in the street, as was the norm after the "Enlightenment", but it was apparently noteworthy, like taking a goat on the bus would be in America.

  • What do people who write fantasy have against any form of armor other than chain and plate? In my book, the majority of humans wear chain hauberks, but with splinted bracers and greaves (and plates on the elbows and boots); the elves wear lamellar, since they're slightly based on Byzantium and Germany (the Empires, see—the latter's Emperor has one of those mobile wood-elf type courts, à la how the Holy Roman Empire had no capital). Yeah, I know, the Holy Roman Empire never really used lamellar, but the Carolingians (who founded it) did, and these ones are elves, their equivalent of Charlemagne is still alive. Nobody uses plate, though.

  • It always fascinates me how people are locked into the particulars of a given culture. My civilization is based on Western Europe, but people wear Japanese-style straw hats, and the metal version (called, imaginatively, an "iron hat" both in Asia and Europe) doesn't lack prestige like it did in either place, because it looks awesome, to the objective observer. Also the men wear European style tunics tucked into pants like people wore in Sengoku Japan (Inuyasha wears them, though my guys don't usually tie the ankles closed like that), while women wear kimono-type robes with bodices over them...as seen on Yûko on about every other xxxHolic cover.

  • Similarly, why are people locked into recreating European feudalism in every particular (or, more often, their illiterate caricature of it), even when magic or elves are involved? Why do mages always have a guild model? My mages are nobles, their power based on magic instead of cavalry war, and they don't have apprentices, they have squires—there still are warrior nobles, but siege-engines aren't widely developed, because you can just bring in an ally to throw fireballs. Similarly the elves (all of whom have magic equal to mages) are, each of them, nobles—basically, instead of the nobles of the Holy Roman Empire, and their retinues of knights, each domain in the elf country...has an elf. Just one. There's a few domains of human nobles within the elf-country, sorta like the Free Cities of the Empire. Human countries' aristocracies are mages or warriors, and there's a mix of systems, from an Italian-style confederacy to a French-style strong monarchy.

  • Why do so few fantasy writers bother to think outside the D&D box? The number of writers who use Vancian magic, of course, but what about the fact they repeat the inaccuracies? What D&D calls a longsword is actually an arming sword (the late-Roman "spatha" that gives us the word for sword in Romance languages); a real longsword is a D&D two-handed sword (which is also called "two handed" or "two hander," the latter being its actual name in German). Nobody used the latter until the very tail end of the Middle Ages, since you still absolutely needed a shield before plate armor got good. Banded mail doesn't work the way D&D thinks it does, and there's no D&D stats for lamellar, the main Byzantine, Carolingian, and Asian armor.

  • Monetary systems would be another example I came across in my research—most Europeans didn't do copper-silver-gold. For a long time French coins were all silver; a lot of places did it all in copper. East Asia used all three, actually, though they seem to have mostly used copper (or iron) and gold (mon coins, six of which are the fare across the river of the underworld, were usually copper, or iron). No European monetary system was decimal—western Europe usually went 1 pound=20 shillings=12 pennies, or the equivalent names; the Japanese one went 1 ryô=4 bu=16 shu (weights of gold)=4,000 mon, with silver coins that worked the way coins made of other things worked when everyone was on the gold standard.

  • People usually object to how fantasy stories are frequently about the aristocracy, but has it occurred to them that most other fiction isn't any different? The only time you'll see accountants or housewives in fiction is if something goes pear-shaped in their lives. Cops, soldiers, and politicians have built-in job reasons to get involved with the things interesting stories are about, and nobles in premodern systems are all three combined. Besides, nobles had more money, and glasses were expensive...and I'd consider it a deal-breaker if I can't put bookish female mages in spectacles.


Cedo Alteram

Yes, that's Latin for "get me another"; it was the nickname of a centurion who could be played by R. Lee Ermey.

Anyhoo. I finished rewriting my second SF novel recently. Tentatively entitled "The Dark Gates Stand Open," it features most of the characters from the first one, on a different planet, one Julian year later. Where the first sort of had "you're not on my side so I don't even have to keep my word to you" as its theme, this one has more to do with the way people will manage to combine atrocities with self-righteousness in the oddest ways.

The title comes from a quote from the Aeneid (sorry if you don't like this translation, but English accent-structure's so wonky we need end-rhyme):
The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labor lies.
Say, what is it about the Gates of Hell that makes people want to wander into them? (obligatory MST3K reference).

Story's a bit darker this time around. One of the villains is a politician who talks the most high-toned drivel about progress and equality. And then he turns around and massacres civilians, arranges labor-laws so he has his pick of (destitute) ex-soldiers for his private army, and intentionally employs people with a penchant for atrocities, on the thinking that their excesses will cow his opponents, while the fact he didn't actually order them to do it means he's "clean". He's British, a member of the proud tradition of Pitt, Disraeli, Bertrand Russell, and others of the liberal/analytic tradition who talk like Sunday school teachers while their men or allies rape and massacre in places like Ireland, Armenia, or the Gulag.

The other villain, that guy's partner, is a continental European (German, specifically), who sneers at the shallowness of the British guy's skull (go look up "flachkopf" in Twilight of the Idols), from a Foucauldian/Nietzschean perspective. He's a judge in the ICC with connections to the UN's law-enforcement, and he also takes a sex-'droid everywhere and breaks taboos because they're there. He was hard to write, because a character who even talks like Foucault is real easy to turn into a cartoonish supervillain. Mostly because Foucault's concept of the "limit-experience" is less than a standard deviation away from the technical definition of diabolism.

The fact that the two representatives of contemporary philosophy (analytic and continental) are kinda bastards is not an accident. Of course it's unrealistic—no member of either of those schools of thought would ever really try to apply them in his life, what, did you think contemporary philosophy was for the real world? It's for attracting grant money and impressing the plebs with your contempt. But I used the old SF idea that something people are just talking about now, they actually do in the future.

There's a third antagonist (not a villain), a pirate of the alien species whose ancestor was executed by their Emperor. He's a badass, and not a bad guy...just kinda nuts. His son, his son's mistress, and two of his officers are significant to the plot, as is the concept of fate—and its irrelevance to civilized people. I don't really explain it, but space-piracy is made possible by the simple fact...people prefer not to be blown up. "Cease accelerating and prepare to be boarded, you will not be harmed" is pretty obvious; as a continuation of another theme of mine ("people will behave decently if indecency has a high probability of getting them shot in the face") the pirates have a code about not doing anything to their victims other than robbery, because it makes them less likely to be chased by the Empire's ships.

I have a few good British people (hey, SF is Romance, I'm allowed to have unlikely things) and another German guy, one of the ICC guy's men, who turns on his boss as a matter of principle—the principle is legal positivism, which is BS and is revealed as such, but having a poorly-thought-out reason for doing the right thing still means you're doing the right thing. There's also romance, comedy, lots of action, foul-mouthed androids, and a seven-foot-tall felinoid woman who trips on her own skirt a lot (claws+skirt+absentmindedness=adorable clumsiness). It ends on a wedding (the first one ended with a wedding reception, give or take one epilogue, but I needed to show this wedding itself, because it's an alien one).

It has orbit catapults (the first one had orbit elevators, but the planet this time around has different conditions), made survivable by the technology that also gives artificial gravity (it bleeds acceleration-forces into the surrounding space-time geometry, while producing a comfy 9.8 m/s/s acceleration inside the ship). It also has fights in space between ships that can barely see each other (if at all), and the interesting tidbit that text messages are more polite than audio if time-lag is a factor. Think about it.

The members of the revived samurai class return, and there's an expanded role for their Korean equivalents, who base their system on the hwarang. In this future Japan and Korea are slightly uneasy allies (because China invaded both of them), Korea's mostly Buddhist/shamanist and has changed its name back to Goryeo (a compromise, see, between North (Chosŏn) and South (Hanguk)). Korea's also brought back its secret police, the amhaeng-eoseo (am-eng-uh-suh) or Secret Remote Mobile Inspectors.

I delve a bit more into the felinoid aliens' culture and philosophy—that their rules of engagement, for instance, are very kind, unless you use chemical or biological weapons...then they stop offering surrender, though they'd still spare you if you surrender on your own. And if you specifically target civilians or try to use abuse of prisoners as a terror tactic? Then they show no quarter (except to non-combatants, they're sticklers for that). I have a discussion of the philosophical implications of evolution, which also brings in the aliens' version of the Four Causes (they say Five, the extra one being Being—"Does it exist?"). I also go into the interaction of being an ambush predator with being a rational person (as I said, stealth is allowed but deception isn't), and that they're not remotely intimidated by helmets with blank, nontransparent face-plates (subconsciously they feel like their enemy ain't lookin', which is actually a confidence boost, for them).

When I get the damn thing out there, please to inspect, O king. Yeah, it's a reference to Bazaar of the Bizarre, that's how I roll.