Robot Roll Call!

So I realized something about myself the other day. I was reading a fairly by-the-numbers shojo manga, Karakuri Odette, and yet I couldn't tear myself away. Why?

Because Odette is a robot. And I have a fairly low tolerance for shojo manga—even with good ones like Shiawase Kissa Sanchôme, Special A, or Kimi ni Todoke, I can only read about ten chapters at a time before I have to go read some harem or action shonen manga to cleanse my palate. It's not about any perceived unmanliness of it—I read the entire manga run of Mahoraba in one day, and that's 62 chapters of incredibly sentimental romantic comedy. It's just that the art style in shojo manga is painfully bad.

And yet with Odette I don't mind, even though its art's probably worse than Portrait of the Masochist and Narcissist (which is one of my favorites, despite it being hard to look at). Why could I read 19 chapters of Odette at a sitting? One sentence: "I have to bite hard candy, because it doesn't melt in my mouth."

Yeah, what I realized was, I'm a complete sapsucker for anything involving robots interacting with normal society. Well, with one exception: the movie AI Artificial Intelligence. First off, that subtitle is condescending—there was not a single person in 2001 who needed to be told what AI means. But second off, it may be the most incredibly cliche-riddled robot story ever, and every one of those cliches is handled incredibly inexpertly. I don't want to say it's the Eragon of robot stories, but, well...

It is.

Anyway, you and I both know you're just waiting for me to get around to listing series. So here we go.
  • ChobitS. I loves me some Chobits, even though I still ain't sure what the ending's supposed to be saying (I thought I had it figured out, but now I'm not so sure). Pretty sure that was the last Clamp manga with a real ending, too.

  • Kyôran Kazoku Nikki. Okay, yeah, Hyôka is technically a cyborg, but he's got programming; the other half is basically a bioroid anyway, having been cloned from Enka. And if the episode with the girl he likes doesn't make you cry, there's something frigging wrong with you.

    Him and Alphonse Elric are, I think, a good argument for a law that all huge non-living, armored entities should have the voices of little boys.

  • I like Chachamaru in Mahô Sensei Negima, though I kinda want her to go Rampant on that little Mary Sue that owns her. The part where she asks to have proper skin put on her arms and legs, because she's embarrassed by her ball-joints, was cute, though I'm skeptical whether you'd really use ball joints on a robot, since they take up room you'd need for the actuators.

    Sorry, I told you, I can't turn it off.

  • Narue no Sekai. The ships' AIs? They're awesome...though why you'd name Bathyscaphe Bathyscaphe is beyond me—why anyone would, I mean, let alone why an alien would.

    Also, the story the title comes from, "The World of Null-A"? Yeah, you fail logic forever—specifically by caricaturing binary logic as a false dichotomy.

  • Excel Saga. Yeah, this should tell you just how obsessive I am, I actually find the Ropponmatsus intriguing from an SF standpoint.

  • Sora wo Kakeru Shôjo. Of course Imo and that curiously hardboiled little cop robot, but also Leopard and the other ship-AIs—they're all amazing. I love how one of them shouts "Hyperspace Jump!" before going to hyperspace, like it's a special move or something. And hey, if you had an antimatter cannon built into you, wouldn't you laugh maniacally before firing it?

Huh, weird. I tried to think of some Western work on the same theme, so this wouldn't be all anime, but I couldn't think of any I particularly like. Actually the only Western thing I could think of with robots trying to interact with normal society was frigging Data on Star Trek, and those scenes always hurt me, on a fundamental level.

Two other, tangentially-related points:
  1. So J. Michael Straczynski apparently hates cute kids and robots in science fiction, and has horrible things happen to them in stuff he writes. It's puerile, of course—like a 12-year-old—but you do have to concede cuteness hasn't always been handled terribly well in American TV.

    On the other hand, though, personally I prefer Bungie's method: having the cute robot (he's a little flying ball with a gigantic blue eye and a cheerful voice) be a genocidal maniac. 343-Guilty Spark's a hell of a lot better subversion than JMS's little tantrums; even his cheerfulness sorta sounds like he's hiding a shiv behind his back.

  2. Is there some dictionary where "Israeli" means "android"? Because the Israeli chick in NCIS totally plays about 2/3 of the "robot cop" schtick dead straight.


Some Stuff I Noticed

Random thoughts.
  • Anyone notice a strong similarity between the manga Kurohime and Bayonetta? Yeah, except for the "turns into a little kid" part, Bayonetta's just Kurohime with glasses for added moe. Which is not to say I don't like Bayonetta (I hate the type of game it is, but genuinely feminine badass women are thin on the ground, and I'll even acknowledge one who's in a game I'd rather not play).

  • So the film critic Christian Toto had a column last year about how a crack about Palin in a movie, though largely unobjectionable (and actually, fairly funny in context), was distracting. And one of the commenters said
    And who else should the best pick for laughs than Sarah Palin! She’s, after all, the woman who flitted from college to college (4!) to earn a single BA degree, but wants to be seen as Mrs. Know All…
    I don't personally think Palin is a genius myself (though certainly no less intelligent than anyone else in politics), but hey, if you're gonna belittle other people's intelligence, make a note: it's Mrs. Know-IT-All, thinktank.

  • Toto himself shall not escape my ire, however (and thus do I demonstrate that this post isn't on the theme of "women with glasses and guns"). In his recent "Summer Movie Report Card", he gave Iron Man 2 the same grade he gave the most recent Twilight movie, a B-. And he gave Get Him To The Greek a straight B.

    Mr. Toto, please tear up your voting card.

  • So as I mentioned before, I've been watching the remastered DBZ on Nicktoon, and...I realized, Vegeta is tsundere. Not really the male variant of it, even; taking into account the conventions of fighting anime, there's no legitimate reason he doesn't yell "Urusai, urusai, urusai!" every other episode. Hell, he's even short and has a high forehead—if he had twin-tails or wavy hair, he'd fit the profile perfectly. In Super Saiyan form he's even blond.

    Creepy, isn't it?

  • Ookami to Shichinin no Nakamatachi—The Wolf and Her 7 Friends—may well be the best thing out this season, anime-wise; it's slightly better than the anime of Nurarihyon no Mago. The "weird school club with a twist" format is pretty much de rigueur for light novels, but the twist in this one is fun, and the series has a gently wicked sense of humor I like. Plus, I'm sorry, I think narrators riffing on their own show is nearly always funny.

  • In case you wonder, yes, I do watch anime online, but I also buy the stuff that's out Stateside. I figure it's no worse than TiVo/DVR/whatever-ing it, and besides, a lot of the stuff I like ain't ever gonna get a release here.

    Which reminds me, I hate American anime fans. Their weird tastes keep good stuff from being sold to me. Consider their worship of the false idol Haruhi Suzumiya, to the neglect of the true deity, Kyôka-sama.

  • So someone, either Australian or from the British Isles somewhere, once referred to the Japanese as "Japs" on a forum I used to go to, and then was shocked when people got mad at him. Someone else said, "It's no different from calling us Scottish people 'Scots'."

    Good God. Actually, no, see, Scot is your tribe's name, or rather the name of the tribe whose land your ancestors stole ('Scotii' was Latin for the Irish, of whom the Highlanders were a colony; the tribal name of Lowlanders, I regret to inform them, is Angle or Saxon). The Japanese's tribal name is 'Yamato'.

  • So I may be the only one who thinks the Brutes' menace in Halo 2 is undercut by the fact their species' chieftain, Tartarus, is voiced by Captain Gantu from Lilo and Stitch.

  • Kevin Michael Richardson (Gantu, Tartarus, the only non-Mark Hamill Joker who's as good as Mark Hamill's Joker) is also Maurice in Penguins of Madagascar (not sure about the movies, but they're not as good anyway).

    I have a theory about the genesis of those penguins: I posit that they started out as seals. And, therefore, Special Ops—as in SEALs. But then someone realized penguins are infinitely superior to seals—nobody would've sat through more than three episodes of Evangelion if Misato's pet was a seal—and the rest, as they say, was history.

    No I have no evidence, but how much you wanna bet?


Far Worse Things Awaiting Man Than Death

So a bunch of people have been talking about vampires, 'cause of Twilight. But not a single person seems to know much about the concept. I'm sure by now you see where this is going.
  • So some commenter on "What Would Toto Watch" repeated that old canard that vampires were all just a metaphor for sex, because apparently people in the past—farmers, even—couldn't talk to their children about sex.

    Now I'll give you that the vampire may sometimes, like the werewolf, be a metaphor for seduction ("don't trust strange men" has nothing to do with being ignorant of sex, just with being naive), but actually, there wasn't a strong sexual metaphor to vampires till the mid-19th century Romantic novels.

    Did you even know vampires come from legends, not novels?

  • So a bunch of the commenters everywhere assert the old point, that Dracula wasn't actually harmed by sunlight, he just lost his powers. Well, that's as may be. But actually many Balkan vampires, including Romanian ones, have a trait they probably get from Greek goblins, of turning to stone in sunlight.

    Now Transylvanian vampires would probably be more Slavic/German than Balkan (Hungary is similar to Poland, Austria, and Bohemia in this regard), and just lose their powers in daylight, but I dare you to name a vampire type that's specifically Transylvanian, not from Walachia or Moldavia (of the three principalities united by Mihai Viteazul, of whom you never heard).

  • Remember that thing in the X-Files about vampires not having fangs? Dude, what? We've got the court records of the 17th century Imperial investigations, that specifically looked for fangs.

    Also, the only vampire known for eating its burial shroud is the Prussian nachtzehrer. Maybe the other Baltic peoples' vampires do that too, I don't know. What is "vampire" in Lithuanian, anyway? "Upiras?" "Slap a Latin ending on a Polish word" is a good guess, with Lithuanian.

  • So there's this strange idea that vampires never were sexy, and that Edward et al are the end result of the same evolutionary process "that reduced the mighty wolf to a wiener dog" (that's not mine, it's this guy's, isn't it a great line though?). I'm not denying that Edward is a de-evolution into Alan Alda town (that analogy ain't mine either), but vampires were actually always sexy. There are whole classes of vampires—moroi and dhampyr, just to name two—that are born to a living mother and a vampire father; those in Gypsy legend frequently become vampire hunters (no word on whether they do capoeira or have talking hands).

    Carmilla, anyone? Yeah. Sure, Dracula was ugly, and Orlok was worse, but what about Varney? Varney used all those "sympathetic vampire" things, though he was still an evil a-hole.

    But I kid. Nobody with a less-than-fanatical interest in the topic ever even heard of Varney. Polidori's "The Vampyre"? Nope, and Ruthven was the first aristocratic vampire in Romanticism. Frankly, Ruthven to Dracula is real progress, and Lestat is a throwback, albeit a little less evil.

  • Still, though, I will give them that these moody, overly emotional vampires are nonsense—as Tycho Brahe put it, they "have to talk about how tortured their shit is before you touch up their coiffure with a shotgun, or some other type of gun." But what do you expect, with this "vampirism is contagious" nonsense? The second you do that, they automatically become helpless victims of a disease.

    See, and I've mentioned this before, in folklore vampires are people who die cursing the world, and they become the curse they lay on the living—they're more akin to the onryô from Japanese folklore. Think The Grudge. Oh, sure, a hate-filled spirit of calamity might be able to make a case for its hate—depends why they cursed the world—but see, at the point where they're lashing out at the living and drinking their blood, even after whoever might've wronged them is long gone, we're sorta outta sympathy.

    Then again, look at race and class politics in this country—"lashing out at the living...even after whoever might've wronged them is long gone" is a pretty good summary. Maybe folklorically accurate vampires (yes it's a word) would strike a little close to home, for too many people.

The Picture Show

So in recent weeks I went to not one but two movies, which I almost never do; there just aren't that many that are worth it. But I saw Knight and Day with my little sister (21), and Despicable Me with my little brother (13).

I liked Despicable Me less, so I'll do it first. Notice: "I liked it less", not "I disliked it more". That right there is an achievement, kids.

My only complaint about the picture is, it's made by Universal, so not only is there a bunch of NBC product-placement, but it plays a bit too much to the port-side bleachers, if you take my meaning. And even without the political aspect, the "Ugly American Tourist" and "Evil Matronly Church-lady Type" are sheer laziness, I'm sorry, and are essentially the same thing as "Greedy Jewish Moneylender" and "Obsequious Dialect-Speaking Black Dude".

Still, though, as Leftist Sucker Punches go, it's a love-tap, and barely mars an otherwise enjoyable picture. I think I enjoyed it a bit more than several Pixar films, though it's undisputably made to a lower standard. Actually my biggest complaint, and I know I'm the only one who cares, is, "Don't they know how long it takes to get to the moon?"

Yeah. I'm sorry. I know I'm sick.

As for Knight and Day...wow. Just wow. That car chase? Yeah, I've only seen one that beat it, and that was in Advent Children. I'll say that again: this film's car chase is bested only by one in an entirely CGI movie based on a video game, made for Japanese audiences. You have come in second to the gods, gentlemen.

Indeed, this movie has, essentially, nothing I didn't like. Yeah, I know, it's me, I'm scared too. But basically, I watch movies as a writer; I can't turn it off, and so anytime something's happening, I basically will start thinking, "Here's what would be really cool if it happened next." And in Knight and Day, almost unique among films, every time I think, "This would be cool," the picture goes and does it. They even had this: the perpetual energy source in question still overheats.

Lisa, in this house we respect the laws of thermodynamics!

I'm sorry, but I'm impressed by an actual realistic version of that "perpetual energy source" that ruins so many spy movies. It's a pet peeve of mine, this idea that there can be such a thing. I mean, my sister's got Tesla tattooed on her arm, ask her about the tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists who think he had a way to get free energy, if not for The Man, man. Yeah.

You know a picture's good when the only flaw it has is, "If she shoots those pistols right by his head, wouldn't his ears be bleeding?"—that is, when the only problem is the same unrealistic gunplay every other movie has (also, you can't use two SMGs on two different targets; you really can't use an SMG one-handed at all).

Which raises the question, what the Hell, Michigan, were the critics smoking? Apparently they all decided Knight and Day was mediocre. Um, how? Because it didn't accurately portray espionage? Yeah, I too am thrilled by portrayals of in depth financial analysis and phone-tap transcripts—all the fun of reading your wireless bill, plus the raw excitement of a trip to the CPA! Quite honestly, name me one flat note in the whole performance—you can't, can you?


The Right Rite of Writing Wrights


Anyway. I was recently looking around for writing exercises other than Mary Sue Litmus Tests—like most people I love frivolous quizzes, and if I can also indulge in reflections on my own writing, so much the better. But it brought me into far too close of contact with the little taboos and fetishes people have to spare themselves the effort of writing well.
  • The taboo on adverbs is simplistic, though not without a grain of truth. A better way to express the principle would be, "Never describe an action as 'general verb + adverb' if you can use a more specific word that incorporates the adverb." That is, nobody should "go quickly"—they should "rush". But there's an exception to that rule, and that is that you should usually just say "said". Even then, though, more specific synonyms can be used sparingly—whisper, shout, etc. for volume; snap, growl, purr etc. for tone. Although as Belloc said, nobody should "laugh" things, because you'd sound like a horse; people do it all the time in books but if you did it in real life they'd lock you away.

    I say "said with a laugh" and never look back.

  • Passive constructions. Again, tabooed. Only, what if the agent is less important than the action? The quintessential example of the former is, "My father was murdered by a six-fingered man." Wesley and Inigo have just established about six-fingered men; the question now is why; and to say "A six-fingered man murdered my father" lacks a certain gravity.

    Avoiding passive constructions is important in business and journalistic writing because passive constructions tend to conceal agents, and therefore allow a mindset where the actions of said agent are just things that happened, not things the person did. But the principle is moot for fiction, though it should only be common in dialogue.

  • People apparently hate descriptions of food, furniture, or scenery; they just want, they claim, enough information to suffice. But know what I say? Think of an anime. Think of Chesterton. Think of Belloc's travel writing (okay, more likely, go read Belloc's travel writing, and then think of it). Notice: many of the best things are descriptions or portrayals of weather, terrain, neighborhoods, food. And the Chesterbelloc manage it without recourse to that godawful verbosity movie writers always use to try and show that a writer character is a good writer. Honestly, red-shift your prose, gentlemen, I got skin cancer from it.

    Anime depicts rain so you can smell it; Chesterton can describe a sunset so you can see it; Belloc can describe a wine so you can taste it (sometimes he just has to tell you its nickname, like that the army-issue chianti they had when he did his compulsory service, as a French citizen, was nicknamed "Iron Filings").

  • "Write what you know." One problem there is, of course, apparently "write what you flatter yourself you know, but actually don't" is a much more popular strategy. And the other is, as TVTropes puts it, MostWritersAreWriters. So a lot of their stories are about writers. And writers...are people who spend a lot of time alone in front of keyboards coming up with nasty things to happen to imaginary people. Why would you tell a story about one of those? You've got an uphill battle getting a sane person to care if a writer lives or dies, sorry.

    I'm looking at you on this one, Steven King.

  • This:
    Is there a gun in your story? Do you feel a need to mention the exact make and model of the gun? The gun may be too important to your story.
    Uh-huh. Riiiiiight. Or maybe you're just, you know, literate, and don't express moderate surprise on being told that there are different sizes of bullets. Where do they keep this list of what things we can go into detail about, and which we can't? Does it offend this jackass to be told the exact breed of a dog or horse? Does he think you're playing 'Enry sodding 'Iggins if you pin down a character's accent more specifically than "British"?

    Besides, the differences between makes and models of guns can be directly plot-relevant.

    For instance, in my werewolf book, the vampire hunting priest realizes that the girl he's talking to is the werewolf hunter who's been hunting his friends, because she's wearing tight jeans, and has a Makarov tucked into them ("tight jeans are a no-no when you're packing heat," as he tells her later). See, he's seen the police reports, and knows the werewolves were killed with silver Makarov bullets. And he recognizes the Makarov 'cause it's bigger than the similarly shaped Walther PP, which would be a much more common gun in a NATO country than a Makarov.

    How exactly the hell does that plot development happen without going into details?

  • This whole idea that writers need to use their themes to ask questions, and make their readers question themselves. Admitting your ignorance is the beginning of wisdom, but it's not the totality of it. Mere questioning might look impressive to the kind of walking gut that doesn't know questions exist, but I know the only purpose of questioning is answering. Nobody likes a tease.

    Proper writing is not about questioning, or making the reader question. Its primary purpose is, of course, telling a beautiful story; if it's not beautiful in at least one sense, then it's bad. Hate to break it to you but "not beautiful" in an aesthetic endeavor is identical with not good. But "themes", grappling with the eternal verities, can serve the aesthetic—both being the Good, the True can serve the Beautiful. But themes aren't about questions. They're essentially the writer saying, "Hey, you know what, I'll show you my answers. I'll have interesting people act them out for you, in a microcosm of the world the answers I've found have revealed to me."


Here's Your Damn Jetpack

Were I a nicer person—like, say, her—this post would be called "The Coming Thing". But I'm not nice, as we all know. Anyway, remember that book "Where's My Jetpack?", about how hey, we're living in the 21st Century, but we don't have all the neat tech the SF writers said we would?

  • This. Just this. Yeah, it's got a lot of limitations; still a jetpack though.

  • Powered armor is apparently right around the corner. Everyone and his duck is making powered lifting exoskeletons and all kinds of funky armor materials. The Japanese, of course, are leaders in exoskeleton research (is there a red one that's three times faster?) with Honda and a company called Cyberdyne—yes named after the one in Terminator—coming out with incredible things. MIT, Lockheed, and Raytheon are getting into it, too.

    For the armor, well, materials science is almost as crazy as processor science—iron colloids, synthetic fibers more fire-resistant than Kevlar and less brittle than carbonate fiber, nanoscale bits of silica suspended in polyethylene glycol that harden into a ceramic shield when struck.

    Now just get me an energy shield that'll fully recharge 6.25 seconds after last taking damage, and we're in business. I'll pass on the liquid crystal longjohns with an AI living in them, though, thanks.

  • The USS Gerald Ford, currently under construction, will have, instead of steam catapults, the EMALS—Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System. If you can think of something cooler than launching fighters from a rail gun, I'd love to know what it is.

  • So remember the spacesuits in Bebop, how they're basically a wetsuit with a motorcycle helmet? Yeah, it's called a mechanical counterpressure or space activity suit—you pressurize it with elastic instead of filling it with gas, and unlike a gas-filled suit pin-prick type punctures won't hurt it. MIT and NASA are currently working on one called the BioSuit.

  • So it's theorized when we finally do replace the M-16, it'll be with a modular rifle firing caseless rounds in 6.8X43 mm. Caseless has a lot of headaches inherent in it—there were reasons we went with casings in the first place, there were actually a few early caseless designs that lost out to brass in the late 19th century. But we're finally ironing the kinks out, and we might see a change as radical as the shift from cap-and-ball to cartridge ammo in the next 20 years.

So, yeah, anyway, as always, the hardworking gentlemen (and increasingly ladies) with sliderules (or equivalent) are deep in the salt mines developing your jetpack, son, maybe you just never noticed, or maybe it turned out not to be worth it after they created it. Of course, all these encouraging developments won't amount to anything, if various forces of idiocy screw something up.


Even the Buddha, After Three Times

Okay, so the title is Buddhism-themed in honor of this being my 108th post. It refers to a Japanese saying, "Hit him three times and even the Buddha will get mad." And, apparently, seal you under a mountain for 500 years, if Journey to the West is to be believed. Anyway, remember how I said I like to fill my writing with Take Thats? Want a list of some of the minor ones? Sure you do, they're fun.
  • So there's this press release from the gun control group, the Violence Policy Center, back in 93. Its headline is, "New Technology—Caseless 'PHANTOM' Ammo—Could Devastate Police Investigations". It's alarmism and none too accurate, since caseless ammo had already been stalled by then (H&K's G11, the leader in the technology, hit a little snag with funding when German reunification happened). Also a semi-auto (only) weapon like the "AK-47 type" gun used in the crime mentioned is, by definition, not an assault rifle—it's basically just a slightly more prestigious SKS. But, me being me, guess what the brand name of the caseless ammo in my SF book is? Oh yes, it's Phantom.

  • So "The Handmaid's Tale" is a reprehensible little book, blind stinking pig-ignorant bigotry masquerading as a dystopia—and the sow who wrote it won't even admit it's science fiction. I'll concede it's really bad science fiction, inasmuch as she plainly doesn't know anything about the American form of "Bible Christianity" (just try to get Evangelical women to go along with the system from Gilead—I'll have a surgical team on standby to reattach your arms).

    In the future-history of my SF book, about 150 years before the main action, there was a Holocaust-type campaign against Christians—or rather another one (45.5 million Christians, 2/3 of them Catholic, were murdered for their religion in the 20th century—65% of the 70 million Christian martyrs in all of history). The one in my book, though, wasn't by Communists or extremist Muslims, but by western "democracies". Anyway, I named the Prime Minister who presided over Canada's portion of it "Atwood"—because Handmaid's Tale is a call to religious genocide (or at the very least the complete disenfranchisement of an entire religion), if it has any possible meaning at all.

  • So a minor character in my second SF book is a neo-Hermetic computer scientist who wants to upload his mind; he did some unsavory things with corpses as a part of his research. He's German (well, Austrian), and he robs graves—so I named him Hagens, after the creepy guy who does those "Bodies: the Exhibition" corpse-shows. Incidentally, did you know that dude's dad was a cook for the SS? Brrr.

  • Finally, in my second werewolf book, one of the vampire hunting priests tells a story about the head of their order. There was a vampire who liked to let his victims hurt him a bunch, before regenerating and tormenting them to death—but it backfires when he fights the priest, because they can suppress regeneration (look, if you can invoke existence itself, i.e. God, there's no supernatural power that can stand up to you). So the head of the vampire hunting priests beats this vampire to death with his bare hands...and takes his big red hat.

    Yes it's Alucard, I don't like him (or Hellsing period, actually). To put it delicately, he's a worse character than Edward sodding Cullen.
Hmm, I realize I have a lot more Shout Outs than Take Thats—I must be nicer than I thought. But hell, I'll list some of them too, 'kay? For some reason nearly all of them involve AI in some way.
  • There's a minor character, a military AI, that flips out thanks to the Zeroth Law and causes some problems, at the beginning of my second SF book. Her name? Tooty.

    Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who'd combine references to the Will Smith "I, Robot" (which is better than Asimov, by virtue of knowing what the Zeroth Law would cause) and the Fairly Oddparents.

  • I haven't mentioned it in the main story, but the ship, and built-in AI, that made first contact with the felinoids was named Hewer, after Alfred the Great's sword. See, Ogier the Dane had this sword named Cortana, and Roland had one named Durendal...

    Hey, why's there no AI named Joyeuse? That was Charlemagne's sword. Get on that, Bungie!

  • A private contractor who makes AIs has a private movie theater in his big-ol house...and its door has a silhouette of the space station he lives on, on its lock. He's also sleepy-eyed and from Minnesota.

    One of the androids he's built has yellow eyes with rhombus-shaped pupils.

  • There's an AI that operates two bodies at once, sorta like the "paratwa" from the so-so book "Liege-Killer" by Christopher Hinz, except not gross; her two bodies, at one point, have t-shirts that say "Raison d'Être" and "人形姫"—the two end-credits songs from Chobits.

  • That grave-robbing Hermetic computer scientist, similarly, has a t-shirt in one scene that says "Unauslössliche Sünde", the German translation of the title of one of the endings from the first FullMetal Alchemist anime, "Kesenai Tsumi".

  • It's not actually a shout out, but the slang term for electromagnetic firearms—rail guns, mass drivers, coil guns, Gauss guns, etc.—is John Henry. You know, 'rail driving.'

  • I haven't mentioned it yet, but in my SF books the polite name for using your antimatter-rocket's exhaust as a weapon is the Seelschrei Cannon. "Seelschrei" is, of course, 'Soul Shout' in German. Yeah, I know, I'm the only person who watched "Sora wo Kakeru Shôjô" (Girl Who Leapt Through Space), but Leopard is awesome—his Rampancy is just being a creepy hikikomori.

  • Speaking of German and crazy AIs, there's an AI in the second book who's defeated, presumed dead, but then comes back. And, I haven't written the scene yet, but at some point she's going to say (she belonged to a German guy), "Leb' ich immer noch." (careful, that's a Youtube video, might be loud).


Do You Reject the Glamor of Evil?

For those who don't know, that's one of the questions asked as a baptismal vow. It's badass, huh?

So it occurred to me as I'm watching the DBZ reruns on Nicktoon network, DBZ is one of the few anime that do what the West all-too-frequently does. That is, it essentially implies that evil is cool. If you don't think Vegeta is cooler than Goku, you're doing a fine job of passing for a sighted person. Yeah he turns good, but just barely; him and Piccolo probably top everyone's list of favorite characters, and they're both pretty darn mean gents.

In general anime's better about it—you don't have to force yourself to root for the good guys in Naruto, for instance, because their powers are actually at least as cool as the bad guys'. Okay yes Gaara, but he was an anti-villain from the get-go. And he's still cooler as a good guy, sorry.

But seriously, think of an anime, or a manga. Van of the Dawn in GunXSword is more of an antihero—he's a nice guy, but "Well, screw you, then" is basically his motto. But the El Dora 5 and Priscilla are straight-up heroes, and if those geezers' speeches don't bring a tear to your eye while they make you laugh, there is something profoundly messed up with you. Or Trigun—Vash is the only pacifist hero I can stand because damn it, the boy tries just that hard; and Wolfwood is awesome, though again, antihero (he's better in the manga, for some reason the hastened endings of anime adaptations almost always suck).

Shonen series generally pull it off; very few of the villains in Black Cat are half as cool as Sven or Eve (Train's kinda annoying, I'm sorry, but he's also less squeaky-clean than the ex-cop or the little girl). The anime of that actually breaks the rule; it's better than the manga, in that it has an art style more like that guy's later work (which has entirely negligible stories but better art) and a plot that's not just a Cowboy Bebop knockoff.

Elemental Gelade, Baccano, Slayers, Zero's Familiar—the good guys are at least as cool as the villains. But that's not the case in Western work. I mean, look at Harry Potter—the Death Eaters have cool robes, they talk to snakes, and their symbol was copied off a Metallica cover. Meanwhile Dumbledore is an Elminster knockoff who cultivates a pointlessly "cute" persona. The bad guys get all the cool members of the Mage Gestapo, and all the robust, manly racist rhetoric; the good guys get Arthur Weasley, with his all-consuming dorkiness and his condescending interest in the Muggles' quaint native handicrafts. It's no less bigoted, it's just less picturesque.

Consider TV—name one Western TV good-guy, other than Michael Weston and Sam Axe, who's even half as cool as their villains. Okay, the Doctor (as in "Who"), but that doesn't count because 0/2=0. I'll grant you that Teal'c and O'Neil, and Ronon and McKay, respectively, carry the whole rest of their casts, but the Goa'uld and the Wraith are still cooler. The same goes for Marvel comics; other than Tony Stark (who they decided to paint as a villain in Civil War) and Wolvie (who they decided to milk until he needs udder cream), no Marvel hero is as cool as their villains.

There are exceptions—DC is one bright spot. Batman is just as cool as the Joker and the Green Lanterns are actually powered by awesome, not willpower; even Superman has his moments. Halo is another, though the humans are riding John-117 and Sgt. Maj. Johnson as hard as they can—and even there, they had to make the coolest bad guys switch sides.

I don't understand why this is. Is it some simplistic conception of humility? But it didn't really show up in Western literature till pretty late, just as pride began being fashionable again—a medieval king dressed in cloth of gold was more humble than a Puritan dressed in black and white, 'cause the king was worried about going to hell and the Puritan was sure he was going to heaven. Maybe it's some kind of ideological obeisance that came in with liberalism, a sansculottisme that eschews finery? Never mind that "simplicity" is often a sign of a much more dangerous kind of pride, like I said. Chesterton, per usual, said it best:
Humility will always, by preference, go clad in scarlet and gold; pride is that which refuses to let gold and scarlet impress it or please it too much.
Gee, maybe so many people do terrible things in a thrill-killer sort of way because you won't let them be badass. "Journey to the West" was the most brilliant evangelical pamphlet ever written, because even the Heaven-Equaling Great Sage is trapped within the veil of delusion. And hey kids, even devoting yourself to the Dharma won't preclude being so badass you completely dominate half a continent's concept of heroism for 500 years.

I do think republicanism (small R) is a factor here, and so is Puritanism. More, though, I'd say it might be some sort of Cargo Cult approach to ethics. I've met people who think being Vegan will make them have self-discipline; we've all heard of how great leaders—George Washington, St. Louis—eschewed the pomps of their office (the latter's wife threatened to leave him if he didn't wear his robes when he heard petitions). So of course, the hack thinks, if my hero deliberately wallows in indignity, it means he's great.

I submit that that is a likely thought-process.


The Condition of Being an O-10

OK, hint, an O-10 is a general.

So a fascinating thing is when people talk in generalities, and yet they plainly do not know the relevant statistics their generality is an approximation of. The obvious one is the thing I've been harping on, the priest scandal; Catholics have a lower rate of clergy abuse than most other religions, and they're basically the only ones who've revised any rules RE: reporting.

Another example would be some Brit on a forum I used to go to, who said, in essence, that British cops aren't "armed to the teeth" like American ones and yet the crime rate "certainly isn't any higher". So I, being acquainted with the concept of research, checked the crime stats: Britain's rate for every violent crime except murder is 5 to 8 times the US's. And the UK's crime stats don't count any crime whose victim is under 16. So it's probably actually higher.

I can see why they don't look up the stats, I don't like being proven wrong either.

Here's some others.
  • So people who support abortion object to it being compared to the Holocaust. Um, actually, fun fact: the Holocaust killed (just under) 6 million Jews in 4 years (the 4 million other people, half of them Poles, may be ignored in this debate, just like they always are). 6 million divided by 4 is 1.5 million a year—guess how many abortions we perform every year in America? Still though, the Argumentum ad Hitlerum is lame.

  • So you think the Crusades were terrible, right? So who's reading you this blog? They killed 1.5 million people in 300 years. And don't let's forget, they were a war between a society with no slaves, and one with them. Oh, except that unlike in the American "Civil War" (it was actually a failed secession attempt, but who's counting?) the free society weren't the aggressors, the slave society was. The Turks were invaders, the Crusaders were there at the request of the Byzantines (whose military effectiveness was severely damaged by their epic screwup at Manzikert).

    And the American Civil War killed 600,000 people in 4 years—150,000 a year, or 30 times as many as the Crusades. The civilian casualties were comparable between the two wars—and that, not terribly high (the current death-toll estimate for the sack of Jerusalem is 3000 civilians, which is the same as the sack of Atlanta)—the atrocities in the Civil War were during Reconstruction, not the war proper. But also consider how poor medieval discipline was; the Crusaders have nothing to be ashamed of.

  • Not only were the English in 1798 the first to systematically use rape as a weapon of terror, when they were putting down the Irish Uprising, they also killed 50,000 people. In one year. What's funny is, in 700 years, all three Inquisitions killed only 40,000. So let's review: English Protestants, 50,000 in a year (not counting the first use of terror-rape in Western history). The Inquisitions, 40,000 in 700 years (and much more restricted use of torture than contemporary secular courts).

  • Not a statistic but an error of context, some well-meaning person was trying to say economics is more likely to cause wars than religion is. It's true, actually—only 7% of wars have been religious—but he was trying to say "need of resources" was responsible for the Crusades. Except the Seljuks came to prominence precisely because they were the richest of all the leading Turkish clans, and Europe was in the middle of an agricultural revolution that tripled their production.

    Economic factors, scarcity among them, cause wars. They don't cause all wars, and they didn't cause the Crusades.

  • Notice that stat for the Irish Uprising? Yeah, here's another fun fact: the Great Terror or Reign of Terror, about a year long starting in 1793, probably killed about half as many people. The highest estimate is 40,000, still 10,000 short of England's score in Ireland. And, even with all the misogyny and cruelty of the Jacobins, Charlotte Corday died a virgin after assassinating Marat. That could not have happened to an Irishwoman who assassinated a comparable English figure.

  • Finally, you know the Leyenda Negra, about how bad the Spanish were in the New World? Here's a hint. Look at the population of New Spain. Now look at the population of New England. Who had the more genocidal policies regarding Indians? Hint: it's not the ones whose modern population is not white.


Bold New Look, Same Great Taste

Yeah, so...decided to change the look. I dunno, I like "glowing green Courier on black background," it feels X-Filesy or something. Which is weird, 'cause I don't really even like that show—though it had a killer aesthetic, and that's what I'd be knocking off here, so maybe that's it.

Also re-did the blog intro and my "about me" (I'd actually changed that earlier, I doubt anyone noticed).

Well, anyway. Cool, huh? Now go read this. No applause, just send money.