De Advenae Vitae II

SF exo-bio-dealy. Chemistry, language, all such things.
  • I was curious to see where exactly horseshoe crabs are classified (executive summary: we should've called 'em "turtle spiders"), and I discovered something interesting. They don't have white blood cells. Because I don't think they have any blood cells, the copper stuff in their blood (hemocyanin) is dissolved in their blood plasma rather than coating cells like our hemoglobin does. Instead, they use what're called "amoebocytes", which, despite the name, are not symbiotic protozoa (that'd be cool, though). No, they're called that because they move like amoebas. They do the jobs a white blood cell does in a vertebrate's immune system, probably somewhat differently.

    But it got me to thinking, and, though it has not yet come up, I think my felinoids are going to use something similar. I imagine their doctors measure things like infections or auto-immune disorders by measuring the "amoebocyte count", rather than white blood cell count.

  • They also, I think I've mentioned before, have biogenic silica for bones, in structures analogous to the mineral part of your bones (sponges are an animal that makes similar structures out of silica). Of course that means that they don't need calcium in their diet, they need silica; I imagine the felinoids, and other carnivores, have the ability to metabolize it directly, just like how most of the calcium in a cat's diet comes from its prey's bones. They also probably have silicic acid in their milk.

    I wonder, given that their bones are made of orange silica, is their milk orange? I'm pretty sure silicic acid is clear, and what makes milk white is, I believe, the colloid of fat droplets, so I guess it'd still be white. Also, they don't have our association of white with death (though it is, of course, significant in lots of other ways)—orange is the color they associate with death. They also use "bones" in idioms where we'd say "heart", as in "he didn't put any bone in it" rather than "his heart wasn't in it".

  • Remember how I said red=danger has nothing to do with blood, and everything to do with how you're a monkey and red attracts your attention, because of berries? Yeah, well, the felinoids use neon green as an attention color, just because it's the color their eyes see best in (ours too, actually, we just have that "red=food" instinct).

    Their displays code enemies as orange, but allies as fuchsia...which is the color of their blood. See, their soldiers wear fuchsia uniforms, and have since ancient times, to symbolize that the uniform, not the wearer, takes on the "stain" of the blood they have to spill. And yes, their modern military has the ability to change their cloaks and uniforms to camouflage (before, the cloak, coat, and pants were just reversible).

    The pattern on the uniforms, and also on their armor (ambush predators prefer to be able to camouflage everything), is based on their markings, which are a bit like those of an ocelot, but the same on the chest and stomach as on the back (they're bipeds, remember). It's perfectly adequate as a silhouette breaker (the main purpose of camouflage is to make it harder to pick out outlines in bad lighting or at a distance, it's not like some super invisibility thing), and it also gives the psychological advantage of looking a bit like heroic nudity. Remember those ancient Greco-Roman breastplates sculpted like bare chests? Yeah, like that.

  • You know that eye contact thing? How people are always told that Asians and Native Americans will avoid eye contact? Yeah, actually, it's only with older or otherwise higher-status people. Among their peers, avoiding eye contact means exactly what it does in the West: you're up to something. Also, incidentally, I think the "don't avoid eye-contact" thing might be either Celtic or Roman, because many Slavic cultures prefer to avoid it, just like Asians and Native Americans. But in Celtic and Roman societies (Germans too?), all freemen were (at least theoretically) equal. I bet their slaves still avoided eye contact, though.

    I bring it up because how dominance works is something people forget in writing aliens. Since aliens are likely to be gregarious, the question is, do they have dominance hierarchies? Great apes have extremely rigid dominance, probably because a young male can usurp his father, since he can mate with the females other than his mother (don't make eye contact with an ape, or it might attack you, since it assumes you're asserting dominance). Humans' instinct for avoiding eye contact, as above, derives from that, but modified for the fact we're rational (and, possibly, for the fact we seem to have spent some of our evolutionary history as canid-type alpha-pair pack hunters).

    I think lions have similar dominance behavior to great apes, since the dominant male is still at risk of being driven out by one of his sons—a good reason for avoiding polygamy, that, the fact a son can get his Oedipus on ("kill your father, get his chicks") without committing incest. But lions are ambush predators and so eye contact can prevent being attacked ("I can see you, you can see me, we better get along"). The exception being if it's actively stalking you, since eye contact there means "oh shit I'm made I better attack now".

    Canid pack hunters, since their groups are based around permanent, monogamous, nuclear families, have a more relaxed dominance structure—the extremely aggressive dominance behavior observed with wolves is because most of the wolves being studied were in captivity, and had to patch together packs with unrelated animals. In the wild, wolf and jackal pups just begin to play rougher as they grow up, and establish dominance that way, because all their pack mates, other than their parents, are their siblings. The reason they attack you if you make eye-contact with them is that still means dominance, and you're not a member of their family.

  • Anyway, my felinoids are more like jackals (pack-dwelling ambush predators), while the gift-economy dromaeosaurs are more straight-up wolves. Humans, though gregarious apex predators who seem to be shifting toward monogamous alpha-pairs, spent most of their evolutionary history as silverback-and-harem polygamists. Thus their dominance behavior (arising as it does from anti-patricidal defensiveness) is more extreme than that of the more purely pack-based aliens, whose dominant males never had to drive their sons away as rivals, since the only adult females in the social group were the sons' blood-kin. I think the evangelical Heideggerian aliens are more like cape hunting dogs, i.e. they have submission hierarchies rather than dominance and the two sexes track their status separately.

    Incidentally it occurred to me there might be some basis for intelligent herbivorous herd animals: elephants. Actually I think the Grunts in Halo are basically tiny elephants. But I'm not certain even that'd work, because, while elephants are as smart as apes (no, seriously), there might be something specific about the way pack-hunters learn that's necessary to the brain of a sapient creature. Hyenas, for example, score much higher on cooperative tests than apes; it may be that cooperation on tasks, which is unquestionably a major portion of human intelligence, isn't a part of the repertoire of foragers. Has anyone tested elephants on cooperative task-completion?

  • It seems to me that you have to call the expressions of an alien smiling, frowning, scowling, and so on, even if they don't look anything like when a human does it. Take the felinoids: smiling is ears up, whiskers forward, and especially big smiles also have the eyes partially close. Frowning is the ears turned back, while scowling is the ears flattened against the head. The equivalent of cocking an eyebrow is cocking an ear. Laughter sounds like coughing while purring (roughly the "prusten" sound tigers make), and yes, all sapient species have a sense of humor, learning to like cognitive dissonance (which is the basis of humor) is a major factor in the ability to innovate, sorry Whedon.

    I don't have the dromaeosaurs' expressions worked out as extensively, but their smile is raising the feathers under their eyes (which can't close; when they sleep, they dilate their pupils all the way, like snakes). Incidentally I made an error recently, when I said their "voicing" involved two different air-channels through their sinuses. I was going off an old version of my notes. Actually their "voice" involves air sacs like those of a bullfrog, except internal, that are only inflated on certain sounds. Also their nasals are all unvoiced.

  • Again, it cannot be stressed enough, every sapient has a sense of humor. Learning to defuse the fear-response that's triggered by cognitive dissonance—which is what they're pretty sure humor is, from a neurological standpoint—is vital if you're going to innovate or experiment in any way. See, most animals don't like new things, ask anyone what dogs and cats do when you move. New things, after all, can be dangerous, and evolution has rewarded organisms for erring on the side of caution.

    Seriously, though, why are all aliens so humorless? The only exceptions I can name are C. J. Cherryh's hani, who are still more smart-alecky than funny ha-ha, and that one Elite in Halo 2 who makes a joke about Zealots' habit of kicking down doors and demanding duels ("So much for a stealthy advance.") Oh, and Londo Mollari.

    Piece of advice, study ancient and foreign comedy, and then come up with something aliens consider funny. They tried to come up with gags for aliens other than Londo, who again was just a smartass, in Babylon 5, but with highly limited success. But we can do better. Hie thee hence and watch you some un-dubbed Keroro Gunsou or Cromartie High.


Nulla Poene Sine Lege

"No punishment without law."

The argument against the death penalty that "we can render offenders incapable of harm" is laughable on the face of it—again, two words, "Aryan Brotherhood". Just in general, several of our worst criminal groups only exist in prisons, and our prisons are far more dangerous than the outside society.

But is this not unjust? A prisoner's relinquishing of his right to defend himself—to bear arms—must be, in justice, contingent on his jailers' defending him. But plainly, since so many prisoners are murdered and otherwise harmed every year, they do not defend him. Certainly not competently.

Given that we do, in fact, hold that crimes like robbery do not warrant death, and criticize regimes like Iran that use rape as a punishment, we cannot, in conscience, maintain that allowing murder and rape to occur in our prisons has any relation to justice.

Plainly, if you are an opponent of the death penalty, you must—or be a liar—support whatever measures are necessary so that our prisons actually can prevent offenders from doing further harm. If you are not an opponent of the death penalty but support it because you believe it is just, then you must support whatever measures are necessary so that those of our prisoners who are not considered worthy of death, do not die. And, again, since no reasonable person thinks anyone deserves to be raped, prison-rape can only be an injustice.

Of course, it seems to me likely, the deterrent effect—in plain English the terror—of prison would be diminished if the prisons began, in some way, to actually be just, rather than literal dens of thieves, run by their inmates. And rendering the prisons actually secure would involve a great deal of harshness, as well. I predict that the same people who claim "modern correctional methods" have rendered the death penalty obsolete, would be just as ardently opposed to any "modern correctional method" that actually did attempt to prevent offenders from doing further harm.

So of course, the idea of an actually just justice system would meet with no support, either from right or left: because not a single person actually wants to look hard at his principles, and see what would be entailed in realizing them.

Have to Check That

Reality check, bitches.
  • So the head writer of the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime, and the guy who hijacked the plot for his own unlettered screeds about the Iraq War, was Aikawa Shô—who is also widely considered the reason that the infamous Angel Cop was an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. I guess he's updated with the times, since now he's a 9/11 Troofer and he restricts his tirades to anti-Zionism. Totally different. As everyone knows, it's completely possible to believe that every action a nation takes is evil and motivated purely by malice, without being bigoted against the people who make up that nation.

    No, wait, no it isn't.

  • In the interests of an equal distribution of criticism, Jews have a ridiculous view of history. Not only, for instance, do they insist that the Rhineland massacres during the First Crusade were a major feature of the enterprise (they were a side-effect, much like that idiot here in Arizona who killed a Sikh over 9/11; they involved no actual Crusaders; and in fact it was actual Crusaders who put down the mobs responsible), but I have seen Jewish writers describe the slaughter as "unimaginable".

    I think you mean "unremarkable", son, the massacres only happened in a few places, notably Worms and Triers—most of the region's Jews were saved by the monasteries and bishops. Indeed the Christian peasantry of the Rhineland, some of the few non-serf farmers in early High Medieval Europe, probably suffered worse, since the massacres were largely born of the resentments of the unattached rabble following Peter the Hermit. It is doubtful if more than a few thousand Jews died.

    And since we're on the subject of riot and massacre, shall we discuss the death toll when Jewish rioters wiped out the Greek colonies of Cyprus and Cyrenaica, during the Kitos War?

  • Shifting the focus of my ire, why don't Catholics know their own religion's teachings? You'll frequently get—completely faithful, mind—Catholics claiming that some state or party's support, or use, of the death penalty is "contrary to Church teachings".

    I'm sorry, little boy, do you even know what the First Vatican Council was about? It defined what is, and isn't, a Church teaching, and how you know. Some Church leaders oppose the death penalty, based on the assertion (never backed up with evidence) that "as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm...the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.'"

    Leaving to one side that I'm sure that's some comfort to a guy who gets shanked by the Aryan Brotherhood—while in those prisons that have allegedly rendered them "incapable of doing harm"—that is a matter of facts, statistics, the sciences of criminology and corrections. Not, in other words, faith and morals—therefore, the Catholic Church not only has, but can have, absolutely no definitive teaching on the application of the death penalty.

    Here's a hint, genius, go look up "prudential judgment". Also, tear up your voter card.

  • Much is being made of some results from CERN that look like they might indicate that some neutrinos are tachyons, but we'd actually had some results in that direction in the early 2000s, I remember reading about it while doing preliminary research for my book.

    Of course, though it's got huge theoretical implications, this actually has absolutely no technological application. Why? Because neutrinos are virtually incapable of interacting with other matter. Besides which, even if they do turn out to have imaginary rest-mass, there's no indication, whatsoever, of why they do, or how we'd go 'bout giving such a rest-mass to something else. Hey, photons have zero rest-mass: how much closer are we to going at light-speed?

  • Dude, what's with people who think Tolkien's elves are all sunshine and daisies (leaving to one side that they're nocturnal)? Has anyone even read the Silmarillion? The Noldor are a bunch of madmen, especially Feänor and his sons; practically the only ones who weren't homicidal maniacs are Turgon, Gil-Galad, and Galadriel. And Turgon was some kind of Sonnô Jôi isolationist whose nephew betrayed Gondolin to Melkor just so he could get with his first cousin.

    Seriously, if the thing didn't have the name "Tolkien" on the cover, all the idiot reviewers would be praising it for turning Tolkien's noble elves on their heads. It's always funny to me how "democrats" are far more likely to exaggerate the moral implications of "nobility" than Tory Radicals like Tolkien.


Of Course You Know, This Means...


Had some thoughts upon war, mainly fictional treatment of same.
  • Seriously irked by this idea, abroad in the land, that there's some problem with fighting enemy forces who are innocent. Uh, yeah, they actually all are, always, unless you specifically see them commit a war-crime. Again, it's a war, not an execution, and the whole concept of "war" in modern law hinges on the idea that the individual, lawful combatant, following duly constituted authority, is blameless so long as he obeys the laws of war.

    Frankly, I think that even extends to fighting child-soldiers, if there's no other way to stop them. Sure, it's hard on your men to have to do it, but (in principle) it isn't wrong to use as much force as necessary to subdue them. Definitely the major proportion of guilt rests with those who create child-soldiers, rather than with the guys whose alternatives are "shoot them" or "be killed by them". There's no virtue in dying in battle if it means failing in your duties as a soldier. Besides, any "less-than-lethal" methods that can reliably incapacitate targets have a very real risk of killing children or the elderly—and many child-soldiers are hopped up on various drugs that often render less-than-lethal methods ineffective, anyway.
  • Just in general, in all discussions of the use of force, it must be remembered that what justifies force is actually "double effect". You're never fighting to kill the enemy, whether as a soldier or as an individual acting in self-defense. You're always, rather, fighting to remove the threat that he poses.

    It's just, the only reliable way to render a person no-longer-a-threat, is to incapacitate them, and anything that will reliably incapacitate a human in a safely-short amount of time, stands a good chance of being fatal. But, remember: if the other guy poses enough of an immediate threat that you have to use force to subdue him, and he dies because of it, that's not your problem.
  • A part of my felinoids' code of chivalry is not killing women, for two reasons. First, they restrict women from combat roles except in directly defensive fighting (their military has a lot of women in it, but they're in non-combat support roles)—and intentionally killing noncombatants is "murder", not war. Second, their chivalry is more overtly feminist than ours, and it's seen as redress for the centuries when their women's status was like that in our ancient history—before their new religion came along, they had the same honor-killing, bride-selling, marriage-by-capture, etc. as the pre-Christian Greeks or Romans.

    I don't remember if I'd mentioned it before, but the Peacekeepers pretty much station women anywhere they do men. The felinoids—who kill, I think, about half a million Peacekeepers in a few years' worth of war—would just as soon the humans not make them kill women. But they're not idiots; just like the rule "don't shoot the farmers" is amended by the additional fact "the farmers have machineguns and they're aiming at you", so too is the rule "don't shoot girls" amended by "the girls are trying to kill you".
  • An interesting thing, and one I have not seen in much science fiction (because most SF authors seem to be too lazy to address the issue), is that the humans and felinoids had to create synthetic nutrients, amenable to each other's metabolism, if they took prisoners of war. Because some of us know that aliens and humans are unlikely to be able to eat each other's food.

    My felinoids still bring real food—"grasshoppers", mostly—on their ships, rather than synthetic nutrients or in-vitro meat. They have no moral qualms about meat-eating; do you think obligate carnivores would ever develop vegetarianism? Besides, even though their actual social organization is closer to jackals than cats, you can't put hundreds of large predators in fairly cramped quarters for months without tempers flaring. Decent food is one less source of stress.
  • I like coming up with alien ROE. I think I've touched on this before, but my felinoids are pretty nice—they offer surrender before battles, for instance, whenever they don't need to retain the element of surprise, and they'll usually tend enemy wounded (though they take them prisoner). Except, if a unit deliberately provokes them by committing atrocities, they become markedly less nice. They stop offering surrender, they continue attacking retreating enemies until contact is completely broken, and they leave enemy wounded where they fall.

    Even then, though, if someone throws down his weapons and surrenders, they'll take him prisoner rather than bayonet him, and they won't do anything to those wounded they're leaving. There are, after all, a number of levels in between "war of gentlemen" and "no quarter".
  • Speaking of SF foodening, I think my Peacekeepers' MREs are basically Cup Noodle, with, one hopes, somewhat better nutrition. I have something not unlike the thing in Bebop, with the heating element in the bottom; I just like the idea.

    Come to think of it the actual military rations probably aren't quite like Cup Noodle, since that's rather bulky, but you know the sort of stuff I mean. The aforementioned Bebop-esque thing is something a civilian eats, while traveling in space.
  • I think I've mentioned this before, too, but it bears repeating ad infinitum: nobody really fights over territory. Peoples come into conflict over territory, but almost all wars are actually triggered by something else, that causes the conflict to get dangerous.

    I myself have said, remember, that the only thing for humans and aliens to fight over is habitable planets, since no spacefaring civilization would be that hard up for any natural resource.1 That's the easy part. The hard part is, "What does one side or the other do, to make tensions flare up?"

    And seriously, I cannot stress this enough, no misunderstandings. I honestly cannot think of a single misunderstanding that ever caused a war. Which is not to say the tensions cannot flare because of some cultural difference, but it can't merely be something completely innocent, like "we greet the enemy by powering up our guns", like started the Minbari War in Babylon 5. Wars are not that stupid—in the Minbari example, no culture greets potentially hostile strangers by baring a weapon, except that the writers needed the war to be started over a misunderstanding. I.e., PlotInducedStupidity.

    What does cause wars, is things that one side thinks is more serious than the other does. For instance, in mine, the felinoids didn't like the humans dissolving freely-entered contracts purely for regulatory purposes—as many modern nations have occasionally done, since Benito Mussolini invented their economic system. In the felinoids' history, only slaves could have their contracts dissolved by fiat like that. Everyone knows what empires do, when you treat their citizens like slaves.
  • You know the problem with all those "we re-set the Napoleonic Wars in space" series? Aside from the "Space Is an Ocean" assumption implicit in the idea, and how they're always from the English (or equivalent) point of view, and therefore have a villain protagonist.

    The Napoleonic Wars are a lousy basis for that kind of thing, because the naval component was small and only marginally relevant. The English didn't win those wars, Russia did. And not "the Russians", I mean Russia, the country—Mother Russia, sending her snows to defeat the invader, just as she would later do to Hitler (not that Hitler is morally or intellectually worthy of being compared to Napoleon).

    Here's an idea: come up with your own damn basis for a war. I guarantee it, if your setup is remotely realistic, all the politics will mirror some real-life war. As for the mechanical aspect, well, the whole point of SF is that you figure out how things like "war" will work if they occur between, e.g., two civilizations with fusion rockets.


You Can Tell a Lot from a Name

You know, things' names are often unindicative. So I thought I'd suggest a few little changes, that would make the names much more informative.
  • Ron Paul supporters need to change their bumper stickers from "Ron Paul for America" to "RonPaulXAmerica". Like a yaoi pairing. Remember, the one after the X is the uke.

  • The works of Sam Peckinpah, and his imitators, should have a line added to their credits. Namely, "Creative Consultant: John Norman".

  • Hidan no Aria, AKA ToraDora II: They Fight Crime.

  • What would happen if punk—which is largely of an anarcho-socialist bent, politically—got its way: BOHICA (consider the etymology of "punk"). Some animals, after all, are more equal than others.

  • What we call "secularism" is, by and large, actually an agnostic jihad. It persecutes for the creed "There is no God that is knowable, and he cannot have a prophet."

  • Not really a new name, but has anyone noticed the average person on the Internet is basically GIR? Complete with the love of bacon.

  • I've already mentioned it, but plainly George R. R. Martin's foray into custom toilet paper should be called A Song of Rape and Torture.

  • Similarly, and I'm not really sure how to work it into a name, but Ken Follett's "Pillars of the Earth" shit-o-rama is actually a screed against the Renaissance or Protestantism; everything, from the status of women to the economic arrangements of the nobles and their tenants, is portrayed in its post-Reformation, rather than its medieval, form.

  • Finally, so you know how Belloc's full name is Joseph Pierre Hilaire René Belloc? Yeah, well, check this picture out, from when he was old:Yeah, apparently "Mithrandir" was also among his names.


Man's Gotta Eat

Just found Eat Man, even though it's pretty old. And odd. And, how have I managed to miss this thing?

I love the art-style. It vaguely reminds me of the crummy movie "The Wizards", and it's a style you'll see in other manga and anime from that era; the fact few modern manga still use that style is probably one of the great tragedies of the history of art.

I wonder if it set the genre of Rain and Trigun, though. 'Cause it's got the long-coated dude with the tea-shades and the mysterious past, with a one-syllable name—and the transformation of Bolt's arm quite resembles both the Angel Arms and when Rain starts to lose his human shape.

Incidentally, this is probably the least fantastical of the members of that genre: because Bolt is, almost canonically, a nanomachine swarm. Basically he's a man-shaped Gray Goo, and he can also reconstruct anything he eats. If you notice, he very rarely uses vehicles—is it perhaps because he's too dense?

The Greatest Blessing or the Greatest Curse of Modern Times

...sometimes one forgets which. James Barrie, as in Peter Pan, on the printing press. I believe Belloc said, possibly in reply, that no, the pulping machine was the greatest blessing, and it kept the printing press from being the greatest curse.

Anyway, I saw a thing about self-publishing, and the author mentioned how, yes, it can be a hassle, but then she thought of Gutenberg, and of Luther and his opponents trading polemics. Good thing to keep in mind, but I must call a technical foul.

Because Gutenberg didn't invent the printing press, he invented a method of printing capital letters in a different color. That, of course, is from Pierce Butler's "Origin of Printing in Europe", published by the U of Chicago press in 1940—but of course nobody's ever heard it. I mean, imagine the anarchy if the popular folklore were challenged by some uppity scholar!

In actual fact, all of Western Europe fully utilized the printing press from the early 1400s on—when Gutenberg was a child. And before that, despite books having to be copied by hand, copied they were: hundreds upon hundreds of prayerbooks and missals, for instance, poured from every scriptorium in Europe. And remember, most of them were bought by women, who (for the first time in the history of the human race) were taught to read just as often as men.

As for the old canard about the Bibles being chained to the pulpits to keep the common people from reading them, snerk. The Bibles were chained to the pulpits because they were massive, incredibly expensive pieces of equipment representing years of painstaking work, and the simplest way to keep them safe (and unstolen) was to make sure they were always in one place. You'll find supercomputers are pretty closely watched, too, genius.


The Tao of Languages

Actually much less broad-sweeping than the title suggests; the title's actually a parody of "The Languages of Pao" by Jack Vance. You know, the one where the dude tries to create three castes by use of carefully tailored conlangs. Did anybody bother, when the Sapir-Whorf silliness still ruled the roost, to point out one key fact:
Apache has no word for war.
Nope, they just call it "killing foreigners".

Anyway. So I have a D&D setting that's largely traditional, since it's too complicated to convert D&D for a different setting. The setting I use instead does have a thematic twist that I won't divulge here (let's just say their mage-guilds=our corporate capitalism, and they have a cult dedicated to destroying "mage tyrant aggression"). I base the human languages, principally encountered only in names, on Proto Indo-European, because I can—also because it lets you have familiar-sounding names without having to use real world names. It's pretty easy, PIE being, bar none, the most thoroughly reconstructed of all proto-languages. And I do little things like usually rendering the PIE feminine *-i ending with a -y, so it feels less Hittite ("Dhali") and more European-diminutive ("Dolly").

Ah. But. What to do with the elves? For the elves' language in this setting, I used the roots of proto-Uralic (Finnish, Hungarian, Lapp, Estonian, and the Samoyed-type Siberian languages). And the grammar of Tibetan. Because really, if you're not going to have an elvish language be ergative-absolutive—like Basque—why bother? And, since the names of the elvish pantheon from D&D don't follow those phonetic rules, nor have meanings in proto-Uralic, I simply come up with new versions of them. Most of them have a title—Corellon Larethian is "Creator of Life", Sehanine "Moonbow", Rillifane Rallathil is "Leaflord", Lolth is "Queen of the Demon Web Pits". Yeah, I only bothered to convert the main two, plus the special patrons of grey and wood elves. Anyway:
Corellon Larethian: Sê’is Êleleshe
Sehanine Moonbow: Kungêiongsø
Lolth: Koliaketzevonkeasuru (Drow simply call her Ketzevonkeasuru)
Rillifane Rallathil: Lêstêasuru
So yes, Asuru is just "ruler in general", and I spelled some of the Uralic roots more congenially—I decided to avoid the ambiguity of J and Y by writing an initial IPA j sound with I, like in "iongsø", for instance.

I figure Tolkien set the precedent, making Sindarin and Quenya sound like Finnish. In my own fantasy book, elves can't actually talk, though they can make humans understand them and it seems like talking. But this only took me like two days, and it's a very serviceable RPG conlang.

Who Remembers the Roots of Things

I been having many a thought upon hist'ry.
  • It is interesting, as I said in a comment over at Bad Catholic, that the Germanic auxiliaries who assumed command of the western Roman provinces, all adopted the Celticized Latin of their subjects. With, however, one exception: Britain. There, though the populace was still largely Romano-Briton (a populace cannot be displaced by invaders unless the invaders have drastic technological superiority, and even then disease usually has to get involved), the Angles and Saxons continued to speak German, and they forced their subjects to do the same. Any who wouldn't, were driven into the barren hills of the southwest.

    Remember that next time some Protestant or Romantic Nationalist tries to talk bullshit about Latin's status in Medieval European culture. The only place where the language of the nobility was imposed on the people was England occupied Northeast Wales.

  • The apparent gap in IQ between the various demographic categories, simplistically termed "races", is a source of endless controversy—because it appears that white people have the highest average. I don't know why that's a problem, since the "intelligence" IQ measures is a very narrow band even of the purely intellectual powers (it doesn't, for instance, measure the ability to synthesize all one's information together). But if it bothers you, I might have an explanation for why whites might be highest (if in fact they are, but the evidence for it hasn't been refuted yet, and not for want of trying).

    The explanation? Druids.

    Consider. For Indo-European speaking peoples, membership of the priestly caste was determined by the ability to memorize prayers, and then recite them perfectly from memory (yeah, for "druids" you may, if you choose, also read "brahmins"). There were actually taboos on writing things down, mainly because writing things down weakens your memory.

    The priestly caste was just as wealthy as the warrior caste—who were the kings—so their kids had a good chance of surviving to adulthood...and they didn't fight in wars, and were often spared when their people were defeated. So each successive generation of Indo-European speakers got more and more priestly. And also remember, the priesthood was not hereditary, or at least not purely, up through Vedic times (!)—which means that for, at least, more than 3000 years, the people with the best memory had the most influence on the gene pool.

  • There's this manga called, simply, "Sengoku", about how the samurai were primarily horse archers. Apparently in Japan most people think that samurai would ride up to each other and fight on horseback, with their swords. Seems that's the image of samurai warfare people had in the Edo period.

    Only, seriously? How can anyone not know that samurai were light cavalry? They made successive archery sweeps, to thin their enemies' footmen (supposedly 80% of Warring States Era casualties were from arrows). Then, and only then, would the samurai fight each other, and that on foot—they were, again, light cavalry but heavy infantry. And they still, remember, conceived of fights (among samurai) as a duel—all their warfare was handled as a series of single combats, right up to the Mongol invasion.

    Also, no horseman fights with a sword if he can help it. Heavy cavalry's spathae, and the arming swords descended from them, were sidearms, as were the light-cavalry scimitars that katana ultimately derive from. The main weapon of heavy cavalry was the lance, and of light, the bow.

  • On a related note RE: Latin in Medieval Europe, Latin was just the archaic form of the language everyone in France, Italy, and Spain spoke, just like liturgical Greek was to Byzantine Greek.

    All those languages remained in their ancient form while the language around them changed because, durhey, they were written down, and the liturgy was said the same way every time. You can observe the precise same thing in the Book of Common Prayer, used till just recently by Anglicans: it already sounds quite old-fashioned, and it was only 300 or so years old.

    Considering everyone else prays in dead languages—Buddhists and Hindus in Sanskrit (sometimes Pali), Jews in Biblical Hebrew, China's various religions in Classical Chinese, Shinto in Classical Japanese, and Muslims in Quranic Arabic—it's the people who want their liturgies in living languages who are odd. Sorry.

  • Not strictly RE: history but, have you ever seen "American Dad"? In which Seth MacFarlane reveals he has absolutely no right to criticize Palin's geopolitical knowledge—and by Palin, I mean Trig.

    CIA agents are not, they are indeed the opposite of, flag-waving uber-patriots. In many ways they are like the Jesuits: everyone thinks they're the hyper-loyal elite ninja death squad, but most of them are actually of, at best, questionable loyalty and highly debatable competence. If they are a Praetorian guard, it's Caligula's. And that's not a new thing, either—their men attached to the embassy in Cuba in the 1950s, for instance, openly supported Castro's coup. The only anti-Castro guy in the entire American mission was the ambassador himself.

  • Apparently huge swaths of the government of San Francisco was in the pocket of Jim Jones, as in Jonestown, and in a manner that would be considered unseemly if it were any mainstream religion (I don't even know if the "black church" loophole exists, in San Francisco—are there even enough black people in that city for them to have a church?). Harvey Milk was apparently one of the more vocal in his endorsements of Jim Jones and the People's Temple. I don't even mind whitewashing Milk's record, since he got murdered and all, but I draw the line at holding him up as a hero.

    Seriously, RE: Jonestown, I know they had a gold mine and you use cyanide to refine the ore, but shouldn't "wacky cult leader ordering large amounts of cyanide" have raised a red flag somewhere? Maybe it's hindsight—I imagine wacky cults didn't have the association with poisonings that they do now.


Beware the Man of One Concept

Just thought I'd point out that Inception would've been the anime adaptation of a light novel if it'd been made in Japan. And not a good light novel like Shana or ToraDora, but a second-stringer like Gosick or Dragon Crisis.

But despite how Inception has been praised to high heaven by the type of critic who usually (and rightly) decries "high concept", i.e. trailer-friendly, movies, frankly it is one itself. "Caper movie takes place in dreams." What more needs be said? I know, I know, ontological mysteries make you feel smart, 'cause you can debate and defend your preferred interpretation until the cows come home. But it's still really not that deep a movie. Not that it's a bad movie, but it's ridiculous that Inception's fans act like it had Jacques Maritain as a technical consultant.

Basically, any movie you can sum up in one sentence, is a "high concept" movie. Again, not that that's bad—the Iliad and the Odyssey are both basically high-concept, i.e. "The Greeks besiege and eventually destroy Troy over a kidnapped queen" and "After Troy, a Greek king wanders, accursed, trying to make his way back to Ithaca". But there are other ideas out there, and you can't really sum them up in one sentence like that, not unless the sentence is gonna be a run-on. I mean, how do you sum up Sahara (the World War II movie), or even Star Wars and Indiana Jones?

Which reminds me, it was Spielberg's genius that managed to make a World War II movie into a "high concept" thing: Saving Private Ryan. And, whatever else you might like about it, he had to do it by running roughshod over the point of that war. Forget getting the Nazis out of Europe and the Japanese out of Asia; those are altruistic reasons, practically collectivist! No, we need individual reasons to fight—Hollywood leftists aren't as different from soulless Paulbots as they'd like to think. Forget all that noble hooey about making the world safe for democracy; keeping one irrelevant stooge alive "was the one decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole godawful, shitty mess".

Yeah screw you, Yankee, that godawful shitty mess was entirely the work of your boy Wilson, and various bribed-ass English Parliamentarians, deliberately sabotaging any chance for justice at the Treaty of Versailles. So it's just common courtesy for you to have to do the legwork to fix it. While we're on the subject, who was it opened Japan up to the outside world, again?

(As an aside, I find that whole "this time it's personal" thing, in movies, to be hilarious. E.g., Taken: you can't make prisoners worried they might drown, even if it'll save thousands of lives, but you can actually torture them to find one girl. Good. So force is never justified in service to society as a whole, or to a principle: but nothing is off-limits in service to a private grudge. And yet these same people largely favor restricting gun-ownership to the police.)

It's actually sorta funny, though, the things you can't sum up in a sentence. How do you sum up Halo in a sentence? Pretty unwieldy sentence, that. Ditto Ringworld, or any real science fiction—of which Halo is just about the only visual-media sample. And I'd love to see the polysynthetic grammar and wanton abuse of semicolons you'd have to resort to, to sum up Lord of the Rings in a sentence.

And notice, you can get some blockbusters out of them—I already mentioned Star Wars, Indiana Jones, plus LotR. Halo would be a great blockbuster, if you did it right, as would Ringworld, but let's not think about the possible causes of the similarity. Conan, as it appears in the books, would be a good blockbuster, and it would also be too hard to sum up in one sentence (the movie—and the only Conan is Schwarzenegger, sorry—simplified it by giving him a vendetta against the cult of Set).

I'm not even sure what exactly I'm saying here. I just got annoyed, while trying to find discussions of the intellectual bankruptcy of Hollywood, with all the people contrasting Inception favorably with comic book movies. Again, "dream or real?" isn't that deep a question—the answer is "you have to assume real, in the absence of contrary evidence". Compare that to Iron Man, or even Spider-Man: much deeper business. Leaving to one side that you can't sum up any comic book, other than very generally, in a sentence. (Sum up Green Lantern in a sentence. I'll wait.)

Back? Yeah, anyway, I was just concerned to point out that if a movie is simple, as Inception is actually (fundamentally) simple, that's certainly not bad: your story should never be more complex than it has to be. But just because it flatters you by indulging a pseudo-philosophical question that nobody over the age of 17 has any trouble with, doesn't mean it's not high concept.

Also, since the major source of these musings was this article, question: how would you sum up Top Gun in a single phrase, as I did with Inception, up there? Without being deliberately reductive (as Top Gun admittedly deserves, not being remotely as good a movie), I mean. The fact of the matter is that what's really going on is that Top Gun is stupid but character-driven, whereas Inception is markedly less stupid but situation-driven. I.e. and e.g., sum up the Bolshevik revolution. Not too hard, right? Okay, now sum up Lenin, or Stalin, or Trotsky, or Tsar Nicholas II. Much harder, huh?

Inception got made because, for all its (alleged) cerebrality, it's high-concept: the kind of thing even a marketer can understand (explain Ringworld to one, really, I wanna watch). Top Gun, on the other hand, is actually much more complex (yes, it's shit, but it's complicated shit). It wasn't made because it's high concept, because it isn't. It was made because it's full of cool stuff that appeals to that adolescent male demographic the film industry discovered as a source of revenue right around then.

PS. I realize, I might not be the guy to ask about movies. See, I tend to prefer TV series, as a format, to movies, for a reason I can sum up in (ironically) one sentence. Here goes:
I prefer SF and fantasy, and you can't establish setting deeply enough in a mere two hours.
Okay, so yes, it has two clauses.


Other Stuff That I Survey

...So I guess the previous one wasn't "all". Oh well. Random thoughts.
  • You know Toujou, in Beelzebub? Yeah, his first name is Hidetora, i.e. one kanji different from Toujou Hideki. It's like if they went to school with Rudolf Hitler.

    Also, that doctor who looks like a grim-faced Wobbuffet in a fedora? Yeah, his name is Furcas. Furcas is actually one of the demons listed in the Lesser Key of Solomon. Why are mangaka always such nerds?

  • I had thought that this post's number was prime. But no, as it turns out, 297 is 33×11.

    Yes, I know I just said mangaka were nerds. I am aware of the irony, thank you.

  • The "mass effect" in, uh, Mass Effect. It's the thing that gives them their artificial gravity, runs their guns, and lets them do FTL.

    Only, gentlemen, did you know you didn't have to invent a nonsensoleum-handwavium alloy to get all those effects? Repeat after me: "Casimir-induced exotic matter". Exotic matter has (or, uh, is theoretically predicted to have) negative mass, and it's fundamental to every version of Alcubierre warp as well as to David Waite's inertia-control by stress energy tensor metric-patching.

    But then again, what do you want from pretty-lights space opera that thinks sex and violence makes them mature?

  • Speaking of space opera, you people who like Dr. Who need to get the hell off the internet. I refer to how I can't go a whole page on any of the Cheezburger sites without some reference to that crap.

    Again, Dr. Who makes Star Trek look like hard science fiction. It's basically Lost in Space but with a body count and slightly fewer obnoxious bratlings at any one time.

    Oh and by the way, remember that line somewhere about how most species pray to lesser beings than the Time Lords? Snerk. Uh, no, dude, the Time Lords went extinct because of bad luck. Not even Fate, not the Norns or the Moirae, who weave even the golden threads of the gods into their tapestry, but luck. Also, dude, Time Lords can die. Gods don't do that, except under extremely unusual circumstances (Ragnarok, Loki's curse on Balder, hind's blood, picking a fight with Shiva), and even then, they can be reborn...more than twelve times. I mean, dude, Vishnu has at least sixteen, some sources say thirty-nine, and probably actually innumerable, avatars.

  • It suddenly occurs to me, are Time Lords just qhal with delusions of grandeur? That'd explain a lot, though it puts the Doctor's rebirths in a gruesome light.

  • I noticed that the people who subtitle Beelzebub don't know their bad haircuts. Himekawa does not have a ducktail/duck's ass, he has a pompadour. A terrifying pompadour.

    Also, the Japanese invented something dorkier than a pompadour (terrifying thought!). It's called a punch perm. Basically you perm your hair so it's real kinky, and then you put it in a pompadour. I guess their thinking is "People will know I'm a badass because dude, I look like this and I'm still alive."

  • Should you decide to watch the Beelzebub anime (nowhere near as good as the manga), I'll do you a favor and warn you off the fillers. Episodes 4, 6, 10 through 14 (!), 17, 27, and 28 are all filler.

    Remember when you used to be able to get a fair way into an anime before they'd hand you fillers? Nope, Beelzebub is marbled all through with filler-episode gristle.

  • Kamisama Dolls continues to rock, but that flashback raised an unfortunate question. Namely, "Since Aki had his kakashi taken away for using it to kill small animals, why would you be fool enough to kidnap his girlfriend? There's no good can come of antagonizing a homicidal maniac."

    Then again, I think it's remotely justifiable on the basis of the seki's arrogance, and that specific one being a spoiled waka. Not terribly justified, but they had already established the dude as being a complete moron. So I think I'll allow it.

  • Is it really that hard to write fight scenes? I mean, I suppose most writers don't really know that much about fighting (and when they do they often fall for the bullshit that's endemic to martial arts), but I think I can pass along a few tricks that'll help.
    1. Unarmed fights very frequently come down to grappling/throws, rather than blows; don't believe me, watch an MMA fight sometime. Indeed, most of the world's military fighting methods are almost entirely throws, and that includes jujutsu and most pre-modern European fighting, not just stuff like Krav Maga—throws were much more important in the heyday of full armor than now.

      Anyway, the key to understanding a fight is to understand the leverage, balance, and weight of the principals, and how they'll have to move to affect it. Their hips and footwork are more important than their hands. That even goes for fighting with strikes, since how someone shifts his weight will tell you how he's going to move.
    2. In fiction, fight-scene dialogue is at least as important as the fight itself. I have a scene in one of my SF books where an assassin 'droid takes down the creepy Foucaultian official. As he's bludgeoning him, he says, "Your" (wham) "kink" (wham) "is" (wham) "not" (wham) "okay!" (wham).
    3. Finally, the two most important things for swordfights is to plot out the spacing and to keep track of how the moves flow into each other. How do the fighters approach each other? Especially with single-edged swords (or more, with spears), getting inside the swing of your opponent's weapon is an excellent way to bring threat to bear on him. Turning the line of attack is always useful, as is one combatant shifting out of synch with the other, so that they are (for instance) standing side-by-side with their swords locked together (at that point, they should start elbowing or punching each other—if there are weapons involved at all, nothing, except betrayal of trust, is forbidden).

      When they pull their swords back from each other, they should very seldom just shift their weapons' position. Every change of stance, footing, or spacing in unarmed fighting should incorporate an attack, and the same is true of swordfighting. Consider the shape of the blades, the way they flow against each other, and how the fighters will maneuver them in and out of each other's influence.
    You're on your own in the matter of gunfights, though I will say study up on it. Also, I really need to use the line "Happy Explosion Day, gorgeous!" in something.


All I Survey

I'm not sure if this is a disjointed thoughts-on-writing post or a random-thoughts-in-general post. Let's see, won't we?
  • I realized the problem with fantasy and SF fans, that leads them to value "subversions" so highly, and makes them insist that lords and others "in power" never be portrayed in a positive light. It's not really politics. It's their pathetic adolescence, coloring everything about their later lives. All the praise they heap on fantasy of that sort, called "daring" despite it towing the strict politically-correct line in denouncing concepts like nobility and kingship, actually just boils down to "it sticks it to the jocks". Because after all, a knight is an athletic person, and a king is often popular.

    We get it, you got beat up in high school. Move on, man.

  • It occurred to me that my felinoids' kinship is both like and unlike Eskimo. Why? Because their kinship terms don't mark sex—mother and father are both "parent", brother and sister are both "sibling", and so on.

    On the other hand, in speech, they almost always specify sex ("male sibling", "female parent", etc.,). So basically they have a sexless form of Eskimo that functions as Eskimo most of the time. And yes, I just leave those words as "brother" or "mother" in scenes from their POV, just like nobody translates "joô" as "female king", even though that's what it means.

    Still have no idea how they address their parents casually, but then again Japanese had no "babytalk" word for mother until they borrowed "mama" from the Portuguese.

  • Further translation convention: I render their noble titles with an "-ess" (or whatever), if the title happens to be held by a woman, and render their word for "lord" as "lady" if its referent is female. I gloss over the fact that their word for "citizen", which is used as polite address for everyone other than nobles, marks marital status (but it doesn't mark sex)—they actually have two words for citizen, analogous to "Miss" and "Mrs" except unisex.

    It's not really a translation convention, but their soldiers address superior officers as "lord", and (but I don't know if it's ever come up) higher-ranked enlisted men and NCOs as "citizen". Meanwhile everyone, but everyone, addresses those below them as their rank title. The one exception is duke; everyone, even unto the equivalent of privates, addresses dukes as "duke".

  • Does anyone else think that Morgaine, in the Qhalur Gate stories by C. J. Cherryh, is a sort of anti-Elric? She's got the same fay (and fey) beauty, the same sort of civilization-leveling goals, and a similarly monstrous sword, but she's got the sense to feel bad about it.

    Then again, because Cherryh is a grownup, Vanye's culture is actually complex, the kind of thing Moorcock could never write about.

  • So what does it say about me that, when I read the manga Beelzebub (not bad at all), my first thought was, "Wait, that's not the right sigil for Beelzebub." And I went and hunted for it.

    We may conclude that, given the Hebrew use of the term, Beelzebub is the same as the Bael/Baal listed in the Lesser Key of Solomon. Which means that the Beelzebub sigil looks like this:It's a stylized bug, plainly.

    Yes I'm a nerd (also, I'm pretty sure I just established this as a Random Thoughts post).

  • Speaking of the Key of Solomon and Hermetic ritual magic, am I the only one who's found you have to look elsewhere if you want realistic spells? Go read that book: there's no bones about the fact it contains instructions—however spurious—for trafficking with the fallen angel. I don't know, I'm pretty sure if the wizards in a fantasy book were to put spells in such conspicuously Christian (albeit diabolist) terms, it would somewhat impair the fun. That's why most writers, me included, tend to fall back on folk-magic and pagan ritual for a model, though I don't go full-on "Witch Cult of Europe" like Lovecraft did.

    The one exception is alchemy, and perhaps Rosicrucian-Freemasonry. Those are Hermetics whose stuff you can use without people being reminded of Deuteronomy 18:10—alchemy and Rosicrucianism tend to be more "natural forces" than "I accost you, foul and unclean spirit".

  • Where do people get the bizarre idea that H. G. Wells was an anti-Imperialist? He was one of the first (modern) proponents of a World-State. All the Fabian Socialists were almost rabid Imperialists, especially Shaw; some of the things Wells and the others wrote during the Boer War might have come from Bernhardi, even Goebbels, let alone Kipling. Wells was also the jackrag who coined the phrase "war to end wars" of the Great War (Belloc mocked that concept endlessly, since he was actually acquainted with human nature, as well as being a professional historian).

    Just because the guy was a pinko, don't assume he was a hippie.

  • I really do think that people who say our society has no values are naive. I was just re-reading Superversive, and Tom Simon's claim that there's nothing left to subvert. Poppycock. You can subvert their self-righteousness, their ever-so-knowing self-congratulation on their own ostensible enlightenment, and you can rub their hypocrite faces in all the blood their precious, precious ideologies have on their hands.

    No society ever existed without values, and most take their values completely for granted. Ours certainly isn't intelligent enough to know that it's doing it, indeed it rocks itself to sleep at night with its childlike faith in its own skepticism.

    I realize, just now, why I hate sneering satire of the type so prized by Moorcock and Mieville: their smugly unreflective Anglo left-liberalism is more risible than anything they are concerned to mock.


I Needed to Keep the Wall Wet!

Three in a day (mostly to keep the front of the blog from saying that a Highly Acclaimed Writer (Peace be upon Her) is illiterate, even though she cannot read, at least for comprehension).

So I was thinking about the "A Song of Rape and Torture" school of fantasy, and the correct treatment of such matters in fiction. And you know, I think I have it.

You can show gore, but not degradation, in the context of combat. You can, in other words, show people being hacked apart, even gutted, but you don't dwell on, say, the specific anatomical features of disembowelment, or the fact corpses lose continence.

Any torture happens off-screen: it may be necessary to the plot (and it's somewhat more permissable for characterization than rape is, see below), but you're not to use it to titillate.

You can discuss rape as strictly necessary to the plot, and it must occur "off-screen", too. And you can't use it merely to add drama to a character's backstory, nor to show "how bad things were for women back then" (especially since "back then" never means "World War II", which had the most rapes committed, even relative to population, of any war in Western history—mostly because of the Soviet army, who were basically the largest force of bashibozuks ever assembled). "Back then" also covers "fantasy analogue cultures".

And not quite as strict a canon but a valuable piece of advice, consider how people plan to get away with shit—I don't care how evil they are, they still have to be able to do their banking. Apparently in one of the later Song of Rape and Torture books, the only halfway-decent person in the setting is murdered at his own wedding, by his inlaws. And the culprits not only don't appear to know why that might be a bad idea (absolutely nobody will ever ally with them again), it isn't a bad idea. Does Martin even understand the definition of "political marriage"? It seems not.

As was said in a discussion of the issue over on Tom Simon's Livejournal, while everything in those books has historical precedent, no society ever did, or could, have all that nonsense at once.

Then again you people think Aliens is a science-fiction movie.

Ursula K. LeGuin Cannot Read

Apparently she says this about Leiber, in Elfland to Poughkeepsie:
Fritz Leiber and Roger Zelazny have both written in the comic-heroic vein, but their technique is different: they alternate the two styles. When humor is intended the characters talk colloquial American English, or even slang, and at earnest moments they revert to old formal usages. Readers indifferent to language do not mind this, but for others the strain is too great. I am one of these latter. I am jerked back and forth between Elfland and Poughkeepsie; the characters lose coherence in my mind, and I lose confidence in them.
You illiterate cow.

Leiber did not ever have Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser speak colloquial American English. I'm sure it looks that way to you, but again—illiterate cow. He had them speak colloquial period English, rather than heightened. Yes, it does look a lot like American English—but then, so do the asides in Shakespeare.

Quick, cow, what did Leiber do for a living before he wrote full-time? Oh that's right.

He was a Shakespearean actor.

Indeed, the type of dialect deployed in Lankhmar stories got progressively more be-codpieced and leather-jerkined as Leiber's career progressed; the fourth and fifth books are pretty damned hard going, and the sixth and seventh are virtually unreadable.

Then again I don't know why I'm surprised; LeGuin's "Taoism" comes pretty much exclusively from the "plain sense of" the Dao De Jing, not from the centuries-long tradition of actual Taoists. A literate person might have known that Sola Scriptura is not generally considered a Chinese idea.

The River's Called the Hudson

Then I shall be 'the Hudson' too.

Because if you can't quote Gargoyles about names, when can you? (Let us gloss over 10th century Scottish Gargoyles speaking anything other than Gaelic or Anglo-Saxon.)

Was reading this, by Tom Simon (again). It's called "Gwladys and the Ghraem'lan", and it's about silly fantasy names (although, seriously, would you prefer "Jim. Jim...Darkmagic! Of the New Hampshire Darkmagics"?).

But I felt I had to protest: there is another reason to use apostrophes, not merely the one M. Simon mentions vis-à-vis the abbreviation for "Mc" (and by extension "cat" in that Cordwainer Smith story). Namely, some languages use that symbol for a consonant. Indeed, I say you're only allowed to use apostrophes as consonants, and indeed you must come by all your diacritics honestly—the lady in that Cordwainer Smith story should've been named "C. Mell", just like an Asimov robot with an "R." in front of its name.

For instance, in my third SF book, one of the supporting cast is named Ta'neeszahnii Táchii'nii K'elwod. But he's not an alien; he's a US Marine gunnery sergeant from Window Rock, Arizona. He just happens to be Navajo, and in the 24th century they don't bother with Anglo names anymore—his name is K'elwod (which means "he resumed, and kept, running", because Navajo's aspect-system is diabolical) of the Tangle clan, born for the Red-Running-into-the-Water clan.

I'm a firm believer in adequate Romanizations. My Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dialogue and names are written in pinyin/Yale, slightly modified Hepburn, and Revised Romanization, respectively, and I don't forgo the diacritic marks because bitches are afraid of them. The guy Drunken Master is based on was Wòhng Fèihùhng, thank you, not Wong Fei-hung, and that thing old people and hippies do in parks is called tàijíquán, not taijiquan and certainly not tai chi chuan.

My felinoids' language is romanized with tildes (~) over A and O, to represent the "purred" vowels (unrounded and rounded, respectively). Similarly my dromaeosaurs' language uses several diacritics to mark tone (because the alternative is writing numbers after syllables, and that looks asinine). The evangelical Heideggerians have only one diacritic in their romanization, the umlaut (technically the diaeresis), marking a peculiar sort of "voicing" (except they don't have voice-boxes, they resonate their whole respiratory system, like humpback whales).

Also, don't ever use Y for a vowel (or W, but nobody seems to know that's a vowel in Welsh, too). I don't care how Celtic a flavor you're going for, Y randomly used in place of I just looks like a stripper name. You're only allowed to use Y as anything other than IPA j, if you need an orthography for the close-front rounded vowel (the Ü in German) and your language needs Ü for something else (a tone, for instance, or if its vowel-system allows a U with diaeresis accent). My dromaeosaurs' language does use W for a vowel, but that's because their language uses a sort of hollow hissing noise for a semi-vowel—they also have two click-consonants that don't have an IPA letter (I collect them), and technically their "voices" are two different air-channels through their sinuses, so what the hell do you want from me?

Just incidentally, my robots consider putting "R." in front of their names a racial slur.

PS. Elric of Melniboné, unless his planet inexplicably has a France, should be Elric of Melnibone—since it doesn't have an England either, that last E can't be silent (or rather serve to lengthen the preceding vowel by making the final consonant orthographically medial). Unless maybe it has a Rome, and uses the accute accent as a substitute for the "apex" (the long vowel marker)—since it's only in Latin and Latinate languages that a long E is a different sound from a short one (IPA e: vs. IPA ɛ). Maybe we should pass a law that all fantasy should be written by linguists.

Then again you'd think a man who goes through life saddled with the name "Moorcock" would be more alert to how his character's name lends itself to the corruption "Eldick of Melniboner".


Moorcock, Again

I tried to read Michael Moorcock's (risibly off-the-mark) critique of Starship Troopers, "Starship Stormtroopers", but I couldn't get very far at all. Why? This, in the opening paragraph:
There are still a few things which bring a naive sense of shocked astonishment to me whenever I experience them—a church service in which the rituals of Dark Age superstition are performed without any apparent sense of incongruity in the participants—a fat Soviet bureaucrat pontificating about bourgeois decadence—a radical singing the praises of Ayn Rand or Robert Heinlein.
He then goes on to invoke Godwin's Law against himself: "If I were sitting in a tube train and all the people opposite me were reading Mein Kampf with obvious enjoyment and approval it probably wouldn’t disturb me much more than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkein or Richard Adams."

That's not half as astonishing as a puritanical anarchist who looks like a scrawny joyless Santa Claus pontificating about right-wing paternalism—or the man who inflicted Elric of Melniboné on the reading public describing Tolkien's "tone" as "one of relentless nursery room sobriety." As Tom Simon points out, that doesn't sound like any nursery room I was ever in, but also, dude, there's nothing funny in Elric, at least not intentionally. And there is a great deal of irony and indeed comedy in Lord of the Rings; all the parts set in the Shire are told in the precise tone of P. G. Wodehouse, while even after the story settles down there are funny things like Legolas and Gimli's Orc-killing contest and a few of the things Treebeard says.

Moorcock's criticisms of Tolkien and Heinlein come off as utterly, utterly pathetic, like Keith Olbermann talking about Bill O'Reilly, because he simply flat-out lies. Heinlein's values have nothing in common with fascism that Moorcock's own values don't—indeed Moorcock is by far the more fascistical of the two. Tolkien's fiction has far fewer illusions about the world than Moorcock's—but then, there have actually been functioning, just monarchies, and a functioning, just anarchy is a contradiction in terms.

I honestly doubt that even Moorcock could be such an ideologue as to make so many completely spurious attacks—even if he may be said to be, literally, Michael Moore but more of a dick. I think it's actually that those two men completely show up his intellectual posturings. Tolkien, after all, was a philologist, an expert in Old English and its literature, and reveals other writers' dim graspings after period language as the Yog Sothothery they are. Heinlein's books, at least his juveniles, are replete with the type of cold hard facts that men of Moorcock's blood, type, and creed run scared from: there is a reason the British New Wave wrote completely unscientific dystopias.

Obviously, Moorcock needs something to defend himself, because his whole worldview is founded on reflexive snobbishness ("aristocrats were always anarchists, as you can see from the barons' wars"). So it absolutely demolishes his whole self-concept that two men who are manifestly smarter than him—and in provable ways, not murky bullshit like lit-crit—should use their superiority against his religious faith (his "politics" may be more accurately termed Ethical-Cultural Puritanism). It's exactly like Keith Olbermann always name-dropping his degree from Cornell—but remember, Olbermann's "Cornell" degree is actually from an affiliated state college, Cornell doesn't offer a communications degree.

PS. The "Dark Age superstition" allusion is cute; apparently Moorcock does not know that the Christian liturgy dates to the height of the Roman Empire (it's all various forms of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, who died in 407). The theology of the sacraments was all worked out even earlier than that, well before Constantine moved the capital. Then again, Puritans are generally remarkable for their porcine ignorance of the Church Fathers.


A Windy Weight of Words

Language. Writing.
  • Doesn't the fact that, of the 402 million native English speakers, well over 3/4 are American, mean that American English should be the definitive variety of English? It's also changed less (all those big ol' words, like "elevator" instead of "lift"? yeah, it's a Renaissance thing, see also "multitudinous seas incarnadine" rather than "stain all the waves red").

    I mean, sure, most non-native speakers of English—in India, for instance—learn British English, but should we reward them for being consummate imperialists? Also, American English sounds like a language for grown men. E.g. "popsicle" vs. "ice-lolly", "truck" vs. "lorry", "hood" vs. "bonnet", "diaper" vs. "nappy". When terrifying scar-networked chavs use a vocabulary optimized for a nine-year-old girl, something is very wrong somewhere.

  • This. Just this. It's an essay by one Tom Simon called "Superversive: The failure of subversion in imaginative literature", and it is really all there is to say on the matter, not that I plan to let that stop me.

    Then again, though, I am not quite as adamant against subversion: it currently being the former subversives that hold the field ('twas ever thus, since at least the Reformation). I hold that we may subvert the subversives, counter-revolt, counter-reform—and their edifice must first be undermined if we are to rebuild atop it.

  • That same author has a discussion of how modern audiences don't like genealogies, and how the Silmarillion and its sequels go ahead anyway:
    The mediaeval audience of the Beowulf-scop, or even of the Gawain-poet, liked to know in advance who all the dramatis personae were, and how everyone was related to everyone else, and expected these things to be important to the plot. Modern readers, brought up as atoms in a society that hardly knows what a family is, have no patience for it. Regrettable as this may be, it is pointless to burden them at the outset with knowledge that they do not want.
    I don't actually do anything like Tolkien in my SF books—though I do explain why one felinoid character's clan is a member of the Imperial phratry—but I don't find it too troublesome, that my aliens use different family structures from modern Westerners. I mean, hell: Imperial Phratry? Also "affine cousin" (because "cousin-in-law" sounds goofy).

    I don't know, maybe it's because I went to high school with people whose introductions go "I am X of the Y clan, born for the Z clan"—i.e., my mother is Y clan and my father is Z clan (more formally, they also mention their grandfathers' clans). I just don't find complicated extended families, and huge importance attached to genealogy, to be odd.

  • Then again I appear to be the only SF writer who's looked into alternative lineage systems (did you know ours is called Eskimo kinship?)...though I did decide to go with an extended version of Eskimo. Because Sudanese (marks for side of the family and sex, plus, often, relative age) is too complex, and the cross-cousin system used in Iroquois kinship and the "completely different system depending on the side of the family you're on" thing in Crow and Omaha are bizarre.

    Huh, I think my dromaeosaurs, or at least the one of their cultures that shows up a lot, are gonna use Hawaiian: all aunts and uncles are mothers and fathers, and all cousins are brothers or sisters. Because the economics of Polynesian societies involve the same gift element...not at all because Hawaiian is the simplest.

  • I find it fascinating (I may have mentioned long ago, but I don't care to check) that the etymology of the word "elf" pretty much tells you what they're supposed to be like. The major sources of elf/fairie lore are Germanic, French, and Celtic; where the races are known as alfr, fatae or fée, and aos sidhe, respectively. That is, as "the Pale Ones", "the tutelary spirits who govern fate", and "the People of the Mounds". If the first and last one don't make your blood run cold, there's something wrong with you. These guys are not safe, and there's a reason the adjective derived from them, "eldritch", means "stepfatherin' spooky".

    But that middle one is interesting, because it give the other half of the equation, the half missed by writers like Terry Pratchett, who make the elves out simply evil. The elves are tutelaries, they guard and shepherd human fate: hence the danger of dealing with them. The actual English word for fate (fate and destiny are both Latin) was "doom", which I think says just about all we need to hear, about the normal human attitude toward the concept. Those who run fate are also those who administer the wheel of Fortune—did you know the yakuza began as gamblers?

  • I find that Tolkien knew he was departing hugely from the elves of legends; there is apparently a letter where he tells someone the various occurrences of the terms "elf" and "dwarf" in the Old English corpus, and then he adds, "The gap between that and, say, Elrond or Galadriel is not bridged by learning." So good on him.

    Now if only everyone else would not simply rip off his halfway-between-man-and-angel elves, except reading in their own (much less intelligent than Tolkien's) version of "angel", we'd be in business. I speak without boasting when I say I've seen to it pretty well in my own house; my elves, remember, are the nobility of two empires, with human tributaries, and take votive offerings from their dependents as human lords would take rents. The etiquette by which their dependents deal with them is a religious purity code.

  • It's interesting, Tom Simon (I am reading his archive of essays, that's why I keep bringing him up) says that, in essence, the fantasy he writes is science fiction where the sciences are theology and ethics. I find it interesting because I, myself, write fantasy that may be called science fiction where the sciences are alchemy, goety (limited to sub-angelic spirits, such as fairies), and necromancy.

    Well, and admittedly natural theoology (philosophical speculation about God), ethics, history, anthropology, and economics. You might find it odd that the purity code that governs human relations with elves is a part of their manorial relationship with their villages' tutelary/landlord, but I, for one, grow very tired of noblemen in fantasy stories not understanding their mutual dependency on their serfs.

    I'm also the type who can give you a very quick answer to "what if wizards could make gold?". Answer: the use of cold iron or silver coins, both of which metals are traditionally unworkable by magic. Conveniently, most medieval economies were silver-based anyway.

  • You know the shopworn little saw that the villain in a story will "stop at nothing" to do or prevent X, where X is generally whatever the heroes are attempting to prevent or do?

    Well, balderdash. In the immortal words of the great Maximilien Robespierre, when one of his generals was offering the excuse 'I did all I could': "Did you die?" Now since Robespierre himself eventually went to the guillotine, we may conclude that he would stop at nothing for Freedom, Brotherhood, and an Equal Law, but then again, he wasn't a villain (maybe an anti-villain). But most of our heroes nowadays are not cut from that kind of robin's-egg-blue cloth.

    Since the villain doesn't want to be the one who winds up dead for his ideals, he's going to have to be subtle and sneaky, with labyrinthine layers of intrigue and, if things go pear-shaped for him, more bolt holes than you can shake a stick at. And he's going to leave the atrocities to the second-stringers—fanatics, dupes, and conscripts commit atrocities, and so do heroes when their will breaks, but evil masterminds are too smart to bother with the high-risk, low-return strategy of massacres.


De Civitate II

  • You know when people say we should privatize everything? Yeah, you actually get Libertarians extending it to military, police, and firefighting. Now there are two answers to that; the first is simply to remind them that those powers being in private hands is the determining characteristic of a Dark Age, in history, and a Failed State, in the modern world. See also 6th-century Europe, 15th-century Romania, and modern Congo, Somalia, Sudan, and parts of Uganda.

    And the other is, "We are a nation of laws, and not of men." America only exists as a state, and an ideology; the only alternative definitions of this country are racist, or at least nativist. Now a part of that ideology is the state knowing its place, but then again, the patriotic sentiments, throughout most of human history, were often expressed in love for a monarch or chieftain—but that virtually never meant his powers were not sharply limited.

  • Similarly, space travel. The people who say we should privatize space very frequently do not understand what space travel entails; and of those who do, many are actively opposed to humans extending their sphere of influence beyond the Flatlander Hole (if I might use Belter slang for Earth's gravity well).

    Actually, though personally I wouldn't be averse to the Air Force taking a more active role (lots of civilian technologies began in the military, and the Soviet space program was always a branch of the Armiya), I don't think space development, expansion, and please God colonization, would be either private- or public-sector. Nope, it'd be both, intertwined in a manner we've been taught to consider indecent. After all, the only known way to make a large scale colonial venture pay is for it to be on a mercantilist basis. Indeed, I suspect all those environmental and overpopulation scares, as cited by gents like Heppenhoffer and O'Neill, are, at least partly, failed attempts at an alternative.

    So Whedon may not actually have been wrong about China being dominant in his future; they're the only unabashed mercantilists left (lots of other countries, admittedly, are simply a bit more demure about it). Fortunately he gets no credit for that, since everyone and his aunt's poodle has been predicting China would be a major power in space since, oh, Heinlein.

  • It's not directly political, but you know that whole "like a boss" meme (and yes, 'meme', in the interwebs sense, not the Dickie-Dawkins-doesn't-know-shit-about-epistemology sense)? You know, how something that's sweet, or badass, or perhaps capable of rendering an argument invalid, is "like a boss"?

    Someone really needs to make one of those things with Nazi Schutzstaffel guys in their snazzy uniforms. Not remotely to approve of Nazism (other than its fashion sense), but because the SS's uniforms were produced by the Hugo Boss clothing company.

    Yes I am a Decadent, asserting the unmorality of art, when it comes to puns. I make no apologies.

  • On a more serious note, you know the shitsquirt Norway shooter, Anders Breivik? Well has anyone pointed out that his claim to be a "modern Knight Templar" takes a severe hit when you remember that it was the Templars who first definitively ruled that infidel non-combatants came under the Peace of God? Most Christians had already held that opinion, of course, but the Rule of the Templars was the first to prescribe it as a formal ROE. Even non-Templar Crusaders only ever attacked civilians when their discipline went to hell; they were the first army in history that even tried to integrate humanitarianism into their tactics.

    Also, dude, what self-respecting—let alone ultra-nationalist—Norwegian invokes the Templars? The closest thing Norwegians ever saw to the Templars were the Teutonic Knights, the splinter order that had pretty much just become the Holy Roman Emperor's leg-breakers by a few decades after their founding. Norwegians, among others, were targeted by the Northern "Crusade" (no more a real Crusade than the Spanish "Inquisition" was a real Inquisition), and the Teutonic Knights were the elite of the Imperial army.

  • Does anyone else think that when you specifically say you're using "fascism" in the restricted (correct) sense, to refer exclusively to the policies and ideas of Mussolini and the Italian fascisti, the other person is out of bounds for acting like you used it in the general (retarded) sense, i.e. "ill-considered synonym for totalitarian"? And by "out of bounds" I mean "actively militating against the concept of universal human worth".

    No? Maybe it's just me.

  • Similarly, when people discuss economics, you will very frequently get the idea that opponents of the welfare state want the poor to die in the gutter, or that advocates of tax-cuts don't even understand that the state needs revenue to function. Plainly, they do not even know that economic conservatives believe their policies are better for the poor, and have a theory called the Laffer curve that says lower taxes actually result in increased revenues (the theory is the increase in investing will result in more wealth to tax, even at a lower rate). Now I am not saying that either of those positions is not open to debate—I am a bit skeptical of the Laffer curve myself, although as a guy who's studied judo it seems a lot less like "voodoo economics" to me—but they do not even debate them. Their whole object, to quote Chesterton, is to charge out of earshot.

    Admittedly, the right bears some of the blame, since they tolerate Rand (who says, in essence, that the poor deserve to die in the gutter), and sundry Libertarians who actually do say that lower taxes would starve the government ("and a good thing too", the idiots add). Just because you have a big tent doesn't mean you need to keep the circus freaks around, guys.

  • Finally, does anyone at MSNBC understand that their new slogan—"Lean Forward"—can be arrived at by looking up "progressive slant" in the thesaurus? Are they maybe actually going for that?