Commentary 3

More random thoughts.
  • Turns out I might've been wrong; Arngeir may have simply glitched down to the bottom of the mountain, rather than refusing to see you altogether. Seriously, Bethesda, this is what QA is for.

    I haven't, however, confirmed whether he's there or not. Stay tuned.

  • Saw the new Conan recently. Not a bad movie, but not Conan. Conan doesn't care about slavery, though he treats his slaves (he'll occasionally buy one on a whim) the way he treats everyone else. Which is to say, curtly, coldly, but not badly. Also, he might threaten to pull a guy's arms off to get him to talk, and might start to do it to give him incentive, but he wouldn't use a torture device. Neither would he do the "I'm gonna have your captives cut this key out of you" thing; it's too complicated, not his style.

    More importantly, that movie, even more than the Schwarzenegger ones, is too much sword, not enough sorcery. Conan can't swing a cat without hitting a Great Old One, Howard was in the Lovecraft circle. And Conan never has a truly personal reason to fight anyone; basically he just walks the earth. Like Caine in Kung Fu. Walks from place to place, meets people, gets in adventures. Only, it's Conan, so more like if Caine was Brock Samson.

    Also, I was doubtful about them casting Jason Momoa from Atlantis, and I was right. He's too funny, with a twinkle in his eye and a permanent half-smile. Conan's not funny. He's melancholy, moody, introspective—remember, his name's Irish and his country's name is the Latin word for Wales. When he laughs, it's a dry, bitter, complaining laugh, like a Napoleonic corporal of guns after a day's march.

  • A bunch of people you can find on the internet claim that the sun isn't yellow, but white. They also claim you wouldn't be able to tell the sun's color was different, if it was an F or K star instead of a G. Only, while atmosphere is almost certainly a bigger factor than the star's emission itself, the sun is, strictly speaking, green. It emits in the c. 530 nm wavelength—the color of a neon-green laser pointer.

    Also, as the ane-ue went into here, a little over a year ago, just because the light looks "white" to your eye doesn't mean it is. LED bulbs are blue, fluorescents are a sickly yellow-green (probably roughly the color of sunlight, unfiltered by an atmosphere). Your puny primate brain can tell roughly 2 million colors apart, so yes, you would notice subtle differences in the lighting on an alien world. Also, if a species sees ultraviolet, like most birds and reptiles (and caribou, alone of all mammals), they can tell 20 million colors, so yeah, they'd know the difference.

  • Redoing my setting's languages yet again, this time with conlangs. Made one for the elves (just for names) that incorporates the types of sounds we've come to expect from elvish languages; the human one, meanwhile (also just for names) is based on the phonics of Latin, without the endings.

    I also decided not to go, as I had been planning to, with copper-stone weapons (i.e., blades made of copper, arrowheads and most hammers from stone). The bending rules for copper just added another layer of complexity. And I still haven't entirely decided what elves use instead of mithril—or in this setting, orichalcum. Didja know many bulletproof glasses contain (synthetic) sapphire? Think my elves'll make equipment out of crystals, sorta like the glass armor in Skyrim. Of which I built a full suit not long ago (I've been following the Light Armor skill-tree—by wearing all light armor, and improving it at worktables, my armor is 252, and it doesn't count against my encumbrance).

    Speaking of sapphire and Skyrim, what's with the corundum? Corundum is just aluminum oxide; in its crystalline form we call it sapphires (except when it's red, and we call it rubies). Then again, there are steels with aluminum in them, but it's really odd that those are the ones they use in Tamriel.

  • My setting is experiencing an ice age, and several of the demihuman subraces (which are not the hill/mountain/deep dwarves or high/wood/gray elves we've grown used to) are characterized by the fact they chose to adapt to the advancing glaciers, rather than abandoning their homes for warmer climes or lower elevations. I also have evil-aligned societies of elves and dwarves, much like drow and duergar, but they don't look as different from the other races (they just have different eye and hair color, but that's also how the other subraces differ from each other).

    I treat goblins and hobgoblins as subraces of each other, and also orcs and ogres. I think 4E actually made a (flailing, halfwitted) gesture in that direction, with the fact orcs' default language is Giant, just like ogres' is. I'm still torn as to whether to have halflings, and treat them as a subrace of humans (something like pygmies—though Hobbits are actually just a very small type of Man, in LotR). It'd be artistically appropriate, since in my setting the elves and dwarves consider humans to be halfway between themselves and the monstrous humanoids...all of whom have one large and one smaller subrace.

    Hey, you're basically a hairless plains yeti, 's all I'm sayin'.

  • Speaking of ape-men, lots of people are wasting their time by rebutting the "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus" video. Only, why? You don't fact-check a Chick tract. The appropriate response to that dimwitted little troll is to point, snicker, say "Isn't that cute? It can mimic human speech!" and then get on with your day.

  • Remember how I pointed out that the cowboys in Back to the Future 3 laughing at the idea of walking for pleasure is somewhat ridiculous, given the lyrics of Streets of Laredo? Another example would be, I was assigned a book in a 100-level college English class, where a minor plot-point was that one of the characters (in the 1870s) theorized that ravens could be taught to talk. Only, what? Poe wrote The Raven in 1845, and the narrator in that takes it for granted that ravens can talk—the raven isn't spooky because it can talk, it's spooky because it keeps saying "Nevermore" to a recently bereaved man. Talking ravens were a standard stock-in-trade of the traveling curiosity show, gypsies, peddlers, etc., from at least the 1600s on; I'm not certain but I think there might be reference to ravens' mimicry in medieval and even older sources.

  • Lackluster anime season so far, though I haven't been able to see much of Inu X Boku SS (I've read the manga, though, so I know it ain't bad). The only real standout thus far has been Rinne no Lagrange, which is, however, just a solid iteration of a worn formula.

    Brave 10 is crap, High School DxD is too damn much fanservice (and remember, I'm a huge fan of DearS and Sora no Otoshimono, so when I say it's too much, it's too damn much), and Aquarion Evol is lackluster. Mirai Nikki...I haven't watched, but while it certainly can't be any worse than the manga, the manga sucked (hence my not watching it). Moretsu Uchuu Kaizoku could've been okay, if they hadn't had "letters of marque": you lose me when your protagonist is a war-criminal, especially when the war-crime is only because you don't have the stones to have her become an actual outlaw.

  • The subject of inheritance taxes was brought up by my younger sister (not Pennyfarthing), and an interesting point was made. Much of the argument in favor of inheritance taxes hinges on atomized individualism. Your ancestors' money was theirs, the argument goes, but if you want it, the state gets a cut—and you're damn lucky the property doesn't just revert to the public coffers.

    Do you know what Nemesis is? This is the thing I've been saying, about how individualism actually advances the cause of statism—again, if you eliminate all "collectives" beside the state, the individual is left naked before its power, and the individual does not have stealth bombers or armies of attorneys. Also, logically, if you can never be held accountable for the actions of your ancestors, then you don't have the right to inherit from them (or take pride in them), either. Sorry.

    Admittedly, the smarter libertarians understand that first part, and thus urge an increase in private "intermediating institutions", as against the power of the state. No, they still don't understand that individualism logically precludes inheritance, but also, and worse, "smart libertarians" are pretty thin on the ground. Like other over-simplifications that are founded on a deceptively "obvious" theory (e.g. Marxism), libertarianism primarily appeals to pseudo-intellectuals.


My Soul Shouts

Girl Who Leapt Through Space quote, post about Skyrim. Wondered where I was this last week? That'd be where. My brother and I rented it (and bought it yesterday); during the week we had the renter, I already defeated the rebellion.

All told, damn fine game. Coulda done without the glitches, but considering the amount of rendering, AI, and keeping-track-of-what-you've-changed it has to keep up with, it coulda been worse. Hell, every previous game in the series was worse.

Since I like the thing, and this is, I guess, a review, let's go negative first. Be warned, spoilers follow.

The Thalmor, and to a lesser extent High Elves in general, are the "snooty elves" thing that I hate so much, though a well-done take on it. The Wood Elves being cannibals is a bit much, as is the Dwarves' having poisoned and blinded the Snow Elves so they could enslave them. That the Dwarves were evil, human-sized cousins of the Dark Elves (before the Dark Elves were turned gray by the curse of Azura), rather than, y' know, dwarves, is sorta irritating, as is what became of the Snow Elves. Though, considering the major thing Snow Elves did in history is a massacre called the Night of Tears, they probably weren't very nice either.

There are too damn many missions involving Daedra (demons). Especially since one of them (Waking Nightmare) is really glitchy: when that priest glitched out of existence, I thought it meant I was trapped in, well, a waking nightmare, and that when I went back outside the temple, I was going to gradually realize I was still trapped inside, dreaming—and then do something, doubtless something inconvenient, to get out again. But no, turns out the stupid computer just decided to forget where it was supposed to put him. Similarly, Sheogorath is a son of a bitch, I don't care how funny he is.

That you can contract vampirism is horrifying. I only consider that a non-game-breaker because you can cure the first stage of it with a Cure Disease potion or by touching any of the shrines of the Eight Gods (or nine, if you count Talos—which I think I sorta do, even though my character's a High Elf; certainly he holds Talos in reverence, as his predecessor in Dragonborn-ness).

The secret nature of the Companions (the specifics of which I won't go into) is probably a lot more secret to people who don't know what "Vilkas" and "Kodlak" mean when you combine them.

Arngeir getting all butt-hurt when he finds out you've been dealing with the Blades and want to know how to kill Alduin, and then not showing you where to find any more shouts, is ridiculous. Especially 'cause he only told me one. Thanks for nothing, monk, I hope the jarls loot High Hrothgar. Historically Germanic noblemen have been into that.

For the pluses? Everything else. I love that you can not only do alchemy, enchanting, and smithing, but you can tan leather and cook stew. My character's basically a fighter-mage, since I'm a combat-oriented guy by nature but I like elves, and the elves in this have +50% starting magic; my bound sword's been upgraded so it banishes summoned demons, turns the undead, and traps the soul of anyone it kills (don't look at me like that, that's how the enchantment works in Elder Scrolls—besides, they go wherever it is they're gonna when you use up the enchantment).

The dragon who helps you—I won't go into it much beyond that—is, basically, Leopard, if the Dragon Cult were Nervalists. And how you meet him is probably the coolest thing in a very cool game.

Speaking of things I loved, the Imperials are, almost unquestionably, the good guys. The Stormcloaks are racist, ignorant jackasses, exactly like the Thalmor except without the excuse of being millennia-old arch-mages whose genealogy demonstrably is also their pantheon. What's real fun to point out is that they are, to the Empire, as the Forsworn are to them.

I like that every elf race was born of an ideological dispute—the High Elves are the originals, and then the Dark Elves were born of the worshippers of the other half of the pantheon. The Deep Elves (dwarves) were born of a sect of Dark Elves who considered the gods irrelevant, and chose instead to worship, well, math (and, also, to seek to reclaim their divine heritage—elves, remember—by using the Heart of Lorkhan to become gods).

Finally, the depth. From the mythology—my character carries around a Children's Anuad just so I can read this world's creation myth—to the history, all of it intertwined with shoutouts to the previous games. This world, more than any other fantasy world I've seen in game or film or in most books, feels old, and lived in.

Incidentally, I play games like this for real. A dragon attacked Riverwood, at one point, and killed the smith, Hodvar's uncle. And I didn't feel frustration with the game: I felt guilt, that I had failed as the Dragonborn, and let one of the people I'm supposed to protect die (I felt a little better when I remembered there was no reason the dope didn't go hide inside). When the Forsworn shout that the Reach is their land, I find myself (remember, my character's an elf) saying, "No it's not, it's our land, you apes!" (All of the continent of Tamriel was originally elf territory, conquered by humans over centuries.) I don't know, maybe it's just that I know how to play.


Commentary 2

Random thoughts. This is #350, by the bye.
  • So in Watchmen, Ozymandias tricks Dr. Manhattan into leaving by convincing him that being around a radioactive exhibitionist is giving people cancer. Only, I know Alan Moore's an anarchist who thinks he's a warlock and probably considers science "patriarchal" or some shit, but Dr. Manhattan glows a rather familiar shade of blue. And sorry, but if you're anywhere near something that glows that color in the air (rather than in water), well, in the immortal words of Winchell Chung, "The good news is you can probably live long enough to write your last will and testament. If you write very quickly."

    Also, RE: Moore's scientific illiteracy, Dr. Manhattan is supposedly nigh-omniscient due to his insight into the behavior of particles. Only, Moore, seriously? Dude, it's not 1925, we've got quantum physics now, and Heisenberg Indeterminacy rules that out. The only demon science ever disproved was Laplace's. It's just as well, too; aside from determinism being undignified, that bunny is an asshole.

  • I mentioned here, a couple years ago, how I don't like pacifist characters with guns or swords, because, realistically, those things kill people—it's what they're designed for, and if you carry them, you need to be prepared to end lives.

    Well, did you know you can't actually knock people out, whether by impact or drugs, without major risks, too? Yeah. The first-aid rules say if you're knocked out longer than 5 minutes by a head injury, you need to call an ambulance, because you have suffered some kind of brain trauma—a concussion is your best-case scenario.

    As for drugs, fuggeddaboudit. There's a reason cops don't use tranquilizer guns, and also one why anesthesiology is a highly dedicated medical specialty. Humans are delicate against drugs, and if you get the dose wrong, people die or have brain damage. I don't have a statistic for what percentage of "surgical complications" involves some hiccup in the anesthesia, but it ain't a small one, I'll tell you that for free.

    Of course, in an SF setting, you're more free—I realized that electro-stun rounds would only be as effective as Tasers (so, not very—even the strongest stun guns don't knock people out, they just immobilize them all-too-briefly). Thus, now, my characters use nanomachines, contained in darts, to knock people out. You can even program those to tell what species' blood they're in, and adjust their operation accordingly.

  • Remember how I said I was doing my D&D setting all Conan, Hyborian Age-y? Well, for research purposes, I got every Conan book (by Howard) that my library had, and the Kull book they had, and two Clark Ashton Smith books that had exactly three measly Zothique Cycle stories. Incidentally, Smith totally looked like John Waters, the gay horror director who's always interviewed on IFC. Though I suppose, if you're a whisper-thin cadavaerous gent with a pencil-mustache, it's pretty much "horror fiction" or "embalming", as career options.

    And then I went to the Interwebs, and researched legends of lost civilizations, because seriously, there sorta seems to be Atlantis, and...nothing. Lemuria is a 19th century zoological theory based on an obsolete theory of continents, Shamballa is a Buddhist Pure Land that can be walked to, Hyperborea is basically an Ancient Greek version of Shamballa, and Mu comes from a 1920s esotericist misreading Maya syllabary as if it was letters (I'd dearly love to know the real reading of those characters, though).

    However, given Atlantis' role is similarly minor (it's a very minor reference in Plato), I figured the Meso-American idea of Tollan was roughly appropriate. So (given Mu's supposed to be the ancestors of the Maya), basically I went with Mu and Atlantis. Except my Atlantis is copper-age Indo-Europeans, and my Mu is basically Olmecs. Except I decided to use Proto-Mayan as their language, because again, Olmecs spoke a Mixe-Zoquean language (possible Proto-Mixe-Zoquean), and good luck finding dictionaries for that.

  • Speaking of, Conan and Kull stories are solid, clean, adventure stories of the Zane Grey school. Yes there're some questionable race-theories in Conan, but A) that was called "science" at the time, and B) he's much less of a racist than Lovecraft and probably even Leiber. The Man Eaters of Zamboula has black guys who eat people, sure, but you'll notice that it's just the people of one nation; Conan specifically notices a different black guy who isn't from that nation, and is just some dude. And hey guess what, the reason "nation" is a thing is that groups of people do behave in objectively similar ways, due to having a common upbringing and temperament.

    It is just a little jarring that the cannibal tribe hails from "Darfar", though, I'm pretty sure nobody in the Sudan ever practiced cannibalism. Also, you know, the people of Darfur are currently the victims of others' predatory appetites.

  • On the other hand, Howard's Kull stories are the only place where I have encountered the anthropology concept of "prehuman flux" in all of fiction. The Atlanteans' attitude toward tigers (which may be saber-tooths, I think Howard left it deliberately vague) is exactly the one you'd really encounter in a hunter-gatherer society.

  • So my mother thought it was weird that I know, without checking, that the Roswell incident was July 2, 1947. But hey, I'd still have to look up the time of the crash, and, well, come on. It's a major pop culture incident.

    Incidentally, I was reading a thing about UFO incidents by a guy from the USAF, who basically said, oh, hell yeah there's cover-ups, but most of them involve planes and maneuvers you have no clearance for. The military understandably doesn't like people poking their noses into that, and if you get visited by Men in Black, well, they're probably AFOSI (or NCIS or Army CID, depending on whose plane you might've seen), or maybe plainclothes MPs. They probably don't flash badges because technically speaking it's not a crime to be a nosy jackass, and nosy jackasses always assume the involvement of officials means they're on the right track.

  • Apparently people don't like all the bilingual conversations in Star Wars? Only, the two places you see it done is with Wookiees and with people who speak Huttese; everyone else needs 3PO to translate. And nobody but Han and Lando actually understands Chewie—who, again, anatomically cannot speak Basic, however fluently he understands it—while Huttese is pretty much Spanish for the Star Wars galaxy, everyone took it in high school. It's just that people who are, or work for, the Hutts don't feel the need to deign to speak Basic (actually it's debatable if Rodians can, since they have those floppy mouth-parts).

    Incidentally, remember that idiot who runs the site about how the Empire could totally beat the Federation, ubiquitous teleportation and realtime FTL notwithstanding? Yeah, well he also got all up in arms over his (deliberate) misunderstanding of one of the allegations that the Neimoidians are a caricature of Asians. See, the dude's Chinese-Canadian, and apparently the Neimoidians were described by someone as having "slitted" eyes. Our jackass interlocutor chose to be offended by that, deliberately misinterpreting it to mean that Asians are inhuman and have slit pupils, like cats, lizards, and foxes.

    Seriously, dickweed, untune your G-string. "Slitted" eyes refers to what is known, in East Asia, as single eyelids, and over here, as "slanted eyes". And I will bet his life he actually knew that, but chose to deny the knowledge—sanity, after all, supplies so few opportunities to work oneself into a lather.

  • Which reminds me, I'll have to tread careful-like, but I can probably describe the people in my fantasy story according to certain East Asian conventions (remember how I was having trouble making that come out in the text?). E.g., there's a girl who's both from a poor background and sensitive about her looks, who I might describe as thinking she has small or narrow eyes. That's associated with lower-class people in Asia, and "looks high-class" is pretty much identical with "attractive" over there. Hence why ganguro gals are a counterculture, dark skin has historically meant "clodhopper" in Asia (actually, worldwide, many of the secondary things like pale skin and long hair that most cultures find attractive in women are associated with wealth).

  • According to militaryfactory.com, the people of France/Gaul have had 168 wars in their history. They won 109, lost 49, and had 10 draws.

    As a Cracked article put it, "We might want to knock off the 'coward' talk now, lest we find the impeccably-styled death squads smoking their thin cigarettes on our doorstep."

    Ça c'est la vérité vrai, fils de putain.


In Defense of Rockets and Quests

You see it everywhere.

Whenever you look for articles on writing SF and fantasy, you always get an article on their subgenres. And those always start with "When you say 'science fiction', everyone thinks of rocket ships and aliens" or "When you say 'fantasy', everyone thinks of epic sword and sorcery". And then they say, "But the genre is so much more." And then they list the subgenres like Alternate History, Dystopia, Cyberpunk (for SF) and Magic Realism, Dark Fantasy à la Martin, Moorcock, or Mieville, and Comic Fantasy à la Prat-Shit Pratchett.

Well, to me, I must confess, that's a bit like saying, "When you say 'society' everyone thinks of office workers and skilled laborers, families, couples and single people. But society is so much more. It's also drug-dealers and assassins, pedophiles, rapists, bigamists, and assorted pimps and human traffickers!"

Because seriously, there are two kinds of not-shit SF: space opera and hard SF. There are two kinds of not-shit fantasy: high and low.

Here's a hint. Dystopias, Alernate History, and to a slightly lesser extent Cyberpunk, are all praised by the mainstream literary press. Pratchett got knighted, and Martin's crap has been made into a miniseries on Showtime (the fact the network itself is fee-based means each individual show is partly exempt from market forces—thus anyone who subscribes to follow one show is subsidizing the Sturgeon's Law of the rest of it). If you'd suggested, even at the height of LotR's popularity in the 70s, knighting Tolkien, there would've been another English Civil War; huge swaths of Airstrip One's litterati expressed their dismay when LotR was voted for various "best book" lists at the end of the last century.

What's my point?

Those people avowedly don't like science fiction and fantasy. They like alternate histories because even they learned about Byzantium and the Civil War in school; not so much, fusion rockets and orbit mechanics. They like comic fantasy because it lets them jeer at real fantasy that takes itself seriously. They like Magic Realism because, for all the trappings, it's still about their oh-so-precious present, and the petty infidelities of the bourgeoisie. They like Cyberpunk because even they have computers (not so much rocket ships), and Transhumanism because it appeals to the Gnostic sensibilities of all art elites. They like Dystopias because even they know a little social "science" (also because dystopias generally make whoever the critics disagree with the cause of dystopia—when they don't, the work's reception is nearly always significantly cooler). They like Dark Fantasy (in the Martin-Mieville sense) because it feeds into their chronological snobbery, never mind that the World Wars and modern Africa make even the Hundred Years War look like a quilting bee.

More, they like those subgenres because each and every one of them has no sense of wonder or adventure. It also goes for Mundane and Naturalistic SF: how dare you think, for one moment, that there's anything interesting beyond the sky. They're like the bear in Toy Story 3—they want us all trapped here with them. They're like the villagers in Gurren Lagann—don't worry about the sky, stay down here in the caves forever. They're like the Green Witch in The Silver Chair, insisting that the better, brighter world Puddleglum and the children remember is only a silly dream.

It is not a dream. It has never been a dream. Troy once stood, and the black ships bore the Achaeans to destroy it, and Priam, and the sons of Priam, and the people of the good ashen spear. We have found a tomb of an Arturus Rex, and there really was a knight named Roland who died in Charlemagne's service at Roncesvalles, against an alliance of pagan Basques and Muslim Moors. Given that that—and Audie Murphy and Napoleon Bonaparte and Hijikata Toshizô—are our past, why shouldn't our future be the same? Given that our real world has held such men—and women like Jeanne D'Arche, Maria Theresa, and the Teresas of Avila, Lisieux, and Calcutta—why should our fantasy not contain things even grander?

I understand, of course, why literary critics are convinced that only small, petty, contemptible people ought to be the focus of fiction—they believe that to be the human condition. Only, generalization from the self is a logical fallacy.

They insist that this soul-rotting uninspiring garbage is "realistic" (which in itself isn't a term of praise anyway) because they are fundamentally pessimists. People not failing in the last clutch, families that aren't warrens of incest and abuse, religions that aren't corrupt: those things break their suspension of disbelief because they think evil, failure, ugliness is the world's true nature.

Or to put it another way:
"There again," said Syme irritably, "what is there poetical about being in revolt? You might as well say that it is poetical to be sea-sick. Being sick is a revolt. Both being sick and being rebellious may be the wholesome thing on certain desperate occasions; but I'm hanged if I can see why they are poetical. Revolt in the abstract is—revolting. It's mere vomiting."


"It is things going right," he cried, "that is poetical! Our digestions, for instance, going sacredly and silently right, that is the foundation of all poetry. Yes, the most poetical thing, more poetical than the flowers, more poetical than the stars—the most poetical thing in the world is not being sick."
—G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday
Why are a bunch of spiritual bulimics running our art world, anyway?


De Romanicorum Theoriarum

"On Speculative Fiction"—the Latin root of "speculative" actually means "to watch", with implications of "to spy on". "Speculators" were the Internal Affairs division of the Praetorian Guard.

Basically it's my "On Science Fiction" deal, but I might talk about fantasy too.

  • If you read the essay by the Antichrist Ron D. Moore, called "Battlestar Galactica: Naturalistic Science Fiction or Taking the Opera out of Space Opera", you will quickly notice two things. Firstly, that his vision of "naturalistic" science fiction is actively opposed to the creation of joy in the audience. And second, that he attacks a strawman version of science fiction.

    Plainly, a few years of being criticized by dumb Trekkies who couldn't stand having DS9 turned into a show for grownups has broken his mind. And that, coupled with his obvious ignorance of science fiction other than Star Trek, led him to essentially identify any of the things that would make you want to set a show in space with a few of the unique excesses of the Star Trek franchise.

    Babylon 5 never pretended it wasn't science fiction, and it also never made any of Star Trek's mistakes. Neither did any Gundam show ever (G Gundam came close, though). Perhaps a novel idea: people who plainly have never even heard of any SF other than Star Trek shouldn't be involved in developing SF shows.
  • Whedonites, guess what? You get to shut your noise-holes about Fox canceling Firefly, because they canceled Sarah Connor Chronicles—whose toilets Firefly isn't fit to tongue-wash—just as a favor to Whedon. And then you know what? He made a show with every single one of his stupid tics, and none of the funny dialogue we tolerate him for. And Fox lost money to keep it going longer than one season, just as a favor to you, you braindead monkeys!

    Someone needs to send a cyborg back in time to kill Whedon before he can sign that Dollhouse deal, so we can see more Sarah Connor.
  • In my fantasy book, I'd replaced a lot of animals with their New World equivalents, e.g. jaguars instead of lions in the heraldry, but I was thinking I had to fudge, since I needed cavalry. I had hoped to rationalize it by the fact horses actually evolved over here before moving back into Central Asia over the land-bridge.

    But then I remembered: you can ride caribou. People apparently do it in Mongolia all the time. And also, if the caribou fulfilled the role in a society that the horse did here, you'd probably have bred different sizes of the things, and everything.

    I had considered making the people Asian-looking, but the flaw with that is, well, Asians have one eye color and two hair-colors. So I think they might have Asian features, but European coloring. Unfortunately it's really hard to describe that without being able to say "they looked Asian except for their coloring", so it might not actually make it into the text.
  • My response to the book After the Siege, by Cory Doctorow, which essentially asserts moral equivalency between protecting intellectual property rights and bombing starving people, is that he's a racist. Obviously playing the race card is descending to his level (or would I have to ice-pick myself in the temples to do that?), but seriously, how do you think the Tlingit Indians, or any other Pacific Northwest potlatch cultures, feel about it?

    Also, fun fact: intellectual property may well predate tangible. Consider the number of societies throughout the world that, no matter what their material arrangements, made you join initiation societies before they'd teach you various skills or stories. Consider how pissed the Eleusinian Mysteries got at Plato, for incorporating their teachings into one of his dialogues. I guess it's nice to know that Doctorow considers the Australian aboriginal religion and Hopi kiva societies to be one step removed from Nazism.
  • The name-dropping of actual brands, to lend verisimilitude, is called "K-Mart realism". I actually like to incorporate it into my SF, for instance using the ISO numbers for various things (Unicode, for instance, is called ISO 10646). I wondered about brand names, but I think I'm going ahead with 'em—while none of our corporations date back to the 1680s, a few do date to the early 18th century, and practically no business not requiring international trade was a corporation at that point.

    Remember how I said my Jeeps were Chrysler Vlakvarks? I also have a luxury car, known as the Tata Ocelotl. Most of the guns have names consisting of "BG", then an R or a P depending on if they're a rifle or a shotgun, followed by a year—roughly the naming system that gives us "AK-74". The BG stands, of course, for Běifang Gongyè. Somewhere I have a list of a bunch of other brands, too.
  • I just realized I can sum up the anime Lost Universe in three words—"The Slayers: Andromeda."

    'S better 'n it sounds, though.
  • I take back everything mean I ever said about the Chinese government. Why? They banned fictional depictions of time travel. Apparently they claim it treats history frivolously, though I question whether they don't actually mean "Marxism is a species of Hegelian historicism, therefore it dislikes the notion of being able to screw with the inevitable victory of the proletariat."

    But so what? I'm totally willing to overlook Tibet and the One Child Policy, due to their principled Anti-Time Travel stand.

    Okay not really, but still, man, I totally agree with them, banning that garbage. As long as Bill & Ted and Back to the Future get grandfathered in, I think we should get that made the UN's first actually binding resolution. A UN Peacekeeper shoving an M16 in their stupid faces might force people who write scifi TV shows to actually come up with stories that aren't an insult to the intelligence.
  • Terra Nova is dumb (speaking of intellect-affronting time-travel stories), but passably entertaining. It has the dude who played Quaritch in Avatar, as one of the protagonists, and the people making it actually grasp that, when you live in a lone outpost that's under attack by dinosaurs and anarchists, you're either under martial law, or you're under six feet of dirt. Also they realize that mandatory limits on number of children are totalitarianism (though the unauthorized kid still got born, which—as anyone who knows China will tell you—basically doesn't happen).

    It is, however, pretty stupid. Leaving to one side that it's impossible for mankind to have polluted the planet that much by 2149, you wouldn't be any better off in the Cretaceous. In the Mesozoic, remember, the planet had half as much oxygen—that's the reason birds' lungs are so much more efficient than ours, and also why mammals were restricted to small sizes until the Cretaceous extinction event. Also, dinosaurs, like elephants, may be huge and terrifying, but guns still kill them pretty efficiently. They're not monsters, and it's long past time writers stopped treating them like they were. Freaking graboids from Tremors get treated more realistically.

    But on the other hand, Libertarians and liberals both hate the show, for acknowledging that sometimes you have to do without certain "civil rights"—which are actually the privileges of a citizen living in a peaceful community. For that alone, I think I can overlook the time travel.
  • Apparently a lot of people didn't turn on Battlestar Galactica until they realized—as I saw coming a mile off—that it was going to end with a hackneyed "Adam and Eve" plot. And it seems the one thing many of them objected to about the series in general, was all the "religious" stuff.

    It's funny to me, because I actually like well-handled religious stuff in science fiction—maybe it's just the novelty that appeals to me (because SF writers, by and large, understand religion even less well than they understand human sexuality, and read some later Heinlein if you wanna see how little they understand that). The fact they actually can hack it is a big selling-point of many of the better done SF anime, like Gurren Lagann (which is chock-full of religious ideas, pace John "Took a Miracle to Know There's a God" Wright's assumption that religion=Christianity).

    But that, I think, is the problem with the religious stuff in BSG. Japanese works can cope with religious elements because everyone in Japan is the same religion—Confucian ancestor worship + Shinto purity code + Buddhist soteriology. BSG, on the other hand, pretends that it comes from a pluralistic society, despite America being just as religiously uniform as Japan (roughly 3% of both countries isn't, at least culturally, of their majority religion, and Americans are much more devout). So BSG poodles around between the Cylons' monotheism and the colonials' retarded version of polytheism, trying to pretend that both are true, because Hollywood is too chicken-shit to come down on one side or the other. Or neither—"they're both wrong" could've been handled satisfactorily, even to religious believers, if the writers had just had the guts to say so.
  • In the "purgery" file, I think, go the people who say, and I quote, "Firefly is totally original". Uh, the US and China as the only superpowers, again, goes back at least to Heinlein; swearing in the other superpower's language is just a knockoff of Nadsat (all those weird words are actually Russian (e.g. "horrorshow"=khorosho), mangled significantly less than Firefly's actors mangled Mandarin).

    As for the plot and setting: the Earth being uninhabitable a ridiculously short amount of time from when the story was written is, again, at least as old as Heinlein. Only it was, just barely, tenable, when the reason was "nuclear war"; environmental crises, to the extent they aren't simply hoaxes to justify totalitarianism, take a lot longer. Contemptibly quick terraforming is pretty much as old as sending probes to Venus (not that we thought we could terraform Venus, just that that got people thinking about the Greenhouse Effect and the idea of artificially inducing climatic changes for human benefit).

    And the Alliance and its shenanigans are, of course, the standard boilerplate post-Watchmen comic book plot, or the tinfoil-hat conspiracy-mongering that also brought us the X-Files. So they go back at least to the Kennedy assassination (which, fun fact, was by the enemy in the Cold War—Oswald was a Communist).
  • And finally, God forgive me, a word in defense of Avatar. A bunch of people on this screenwriting forum thread, about how Cameron is a hack (which he is), were saying the mecha in Avatar are ripped off from the one in the Matrix.

    Only, it was pretty obvious to me that the mecha in the Matrix are ripped off from the one in Aliens. So, no. He's not ripping off a ripoff of himself, guys.

    Everything else they said stands, though—not least because mecha should have armored cockpits. And hey, pro tip, armor 'em in red and they go three times faster.



Well Happy New Year. Last year, th' ol' blog ended up with 185 posts: the product of two Higgs primes.

Light 'n' fluffy nitpicks, mainly 'bout fiction and pop culture. Yes I'm anal.
  • Apparently it's supposed to be some kind of thing, what kind I'm not sure, that Dr. Who features the line "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow"? Some seem to think it's a flub, others that it's an in-joke for people who actually took 10th grade Chemistry. But there's a problem: neutrons have polarity, that's why there's antineutrons. They differ from standard neutrons in baryon number. However, if one's opponent is using something involving neutron flow (which is probably meant for "neutron flux" or "fluence", and which is almost always a bad thing unless you want something to undergo fission), if you suddenly replace his neutrons with antineutrons, oh yes will things ever go pear-shaped for him. Antimatter-matter reactions are bad, no matter what particle you're getting 'em from—something designed to contain a fission reaction is rather poorly-equipped to cope with them, for instance.

    Speaking of Dr. Who, I discovered an excellent impolite name for British people: "teabag". It is variegated in its multiplicity, isn't it? As with all ethnic epithets, use with caution—not on otherwise decent people who just happen to hail from Airstrip One, for instance, save jocularly.

  • Cracked.com (!) actually pointed out that the "jus prima noctem" (or whatever the Latin is supposed to be, Braveheart gets it wrong)/"droite de seigneur", i.e. the right of feudal lords to deflower virgins among their tenants, never existed. They point out that all the historical records that mention it, attribute it to countries other than the historians'—while neither it, nor anything remotely like it, can be found in any law code, ever. I.e., it was propaganda.

    Now, while those who repeated that myth (Mr. Gibson!) reflect on their shame, in being Dan Browned by freaking Cracked, there's a passing allusion to the idea in Pernoud, that's interesting. She mentions that some other historian had shown it originated as wordplay. She didn't unpack the remark, but, uh, "jus" in French is "juice", while in Latin it's "right", and some medieval law codes did prefer to have proof that a marriage had been consummated. So...is it a multilingual blue pun, i.e. "Juice of the first night"? Read Chaucer: those medievals loved them the puns and dirty jokes.

  • I don't care if they are bigger than Egypt's, Mexico's pyramids aren't pyramids. They're ziggurats. If you make a bunch of steps up to a temple complex, we have a word for that, and it's ziggurat, not pyramid. Sorry. The Mexican pyramids aren't tombs, unless you count the bones of the sacrifices in their foundations (lots of ancient societies did that; some say that, and not the fact he'd cursed the city walls for a stupid joke, is why Remus was killed).

    Speaking of, the Spanish did, in fact, greatly overestimate the number of sacrifices the Aztecs performed—they would've needed multiple main altars, with the efficiency of a mechanized slaughterhouse, to do the numbers in the accounts. But it's not that the Spanish were badmouthing the Aztecs: they just repeated what the Aztecs had told them. See, they thought slaughtering tens of thousands of "washed slaves" made them look badass—it seriously didn't register with them that the Spanish might just think they were crazy people (which, since they thought "genocide by altar" made them look cool, they kinda were).

    It's sorta like Saddam Hussein, or any idiot who gets shot while committing armed robbery with a candy bar: if you try to get your way with people by telling them how horrible and dangerous you are, it's your own damn fault if they believe you. And if they turn out to be quite capable of taking out who you said you were, let alone your actual wuss-ass self, well, you picked that fight, cupcake.

  • I really hate to defend Star Wars, but yes, the hyperdrives in that perform the jump to light-speed. Not beyond it.

    Only, in hyperspace. Which—depending on which version you like—is either a dimension where light has a different speed (relativity assumes the "speed of light in a vacuum" is invariant for 3+1 spacetime, it says nothing about higher dimensions, because it doesn't include them), or one where distances are radically closer together (in any version of more-than-4-dimensions-physics, most of the higher dimensions are actually really small—as is time, in 3+1; we experience it as infinitesimal moments laid out in a line because of how it's shaped). So going multiple light-years near instantly is perfectly justified.

    Damn it, remember what Tycho said: Star Wars is about space-wizards who live in the past-future. If your biggest problem with those ships is their FTL drives, I have to take your hard-SF credentials away.

  • Screw you, sitcoms. Turns out, researchers have confirmed what Chesterton said in What's Wrong with the World: men are actually better at cooperating than women, at least as long as the groups aren't co-ed. Why?

    Because other men are guys who help you kill a mammoth. While other women are competitors for the silverback's time, whose brats will take resources that could go to your brats.

    That feeling in your gut that sitcom families, with their all-knowing, serene mothers and dumbass, hypercompetitive fathers, were full of crap? Science has vindicated it.

  • This one time, I had to explain to a person that we call whalesong "whalesong", uh, because it sounds like singing. I know, counterintuitive. Also, however, because it'd be creepy if we called it "whale howling"—think they'd sell many New Age recordings of that?

    But that got me to thinking: that is totally what we'd call it, if Jacques Cousteau had been Iacob Costescu. "And now," he'd narrate (please read in a Romanian accent), "we bid goodbye to the dark undersea forests, and their unseen denizens, hearing only the pounding of our hearts, and the forlorn howling of the whales."

  • I concede that I don't like Jar-Jar, though if he were just slightly competent I totally would. I do, however, like the rest of the Gungans. See, I'm a C. J. Cherryh fan: I like characters who talk in creoles (mahendo-sat trade language number one fine, got?). I'm sorry, but the problem is not that Gungans don't talk Basic right, it's that any other aliens do.

    Although come to think of it, Star Wars is pretty good about that—other than Admiral Ackbar and the Neimoideans, can you think of any aliens who talk normal English? Yoda's weird verbal tics are apparently supposed to represent him having learned Basic 800 years ago, while Chewie can't form the sounds of any language but Wookiee; Greedo's race are mercenaries who work for the Hutts and, thus, speak Huttese.

    But no, Universal Translators make way more sense, right?

  • You know in Back to the Future III how all the cowboys make fun of Doc for saying that in the future, people will walk for fun? As if nobody did that in 1885?

    Someone better tell the actual 19th century cowboy who wrote "Streets of Laredo", considering the first line of that song.

  • I do not like the Bourne movies. The main reason has to do with shaky-cams and people using throws that emphatically require the assistance of the throw-ee, but I am also less than pleased by their treatment of the book. The book is politically centrist, while the movie appears to have been changed to coincide with the Marxism-as-understood-by-a-halfwit-undergrad of Mr. Damon.

    Also, though, seriously, the fights suck ass. And the same problem as in most "evil spy conspiracy" movies, that the hero is only alive because his opponents forget to be evil at crucial times. See also 8 Days of the Condor and Firefly.

  • I have actually heard humans (ostensibly) claim that Westerners were stupid for pronouncing Chingis Khaan (yes I can romanize Mongolian Cyrillic) as Genghis Khan, but it's important to remember that, in the Middle Ages, the default spelling for foreign words was the Latin one, pronounced ecclesiastically. "Jengis", where the G is hard, is pretty close to the proper Mongolian pronunciation, and it's how "Genghis" is pronounced in ecclesiastic Latin.

    As in so many things, I suspect the mispronunciation as "ghenghis" originates in the Renaissance or Enlightenment, when people began going back to the pronunciation of Classical Latin, where all Gs are hard. That or it was the Reformation, since English is all willy-nilly about whether Gs are pronounced hard or soft (did you know the UK still spells jail as "gaol"?), and their severed ties with the continent would drastically lessen their chances of hearing it pronounced properly.

  • Ducky in NCIS mentioned that photography didn't really catch on until the US Civil War, and then, it was because the soldiers needed pinup photos. Am I the only one who thinks the Rule of the Early Adopter is the most embarrassing thing about this species? And we get into some pretty stupid, well, monkey business, so that's saying something.

    Another episode of NCIS had them saying a suspect couldn't have eaten cheese blintzes because he's lactose intolerant, but technically, lactose intolerant people can eat lots of cheeses—aging cheese breaks down the lactose. On the other hand, when you say "cheese blintz" I think of a sweet dish, with cream cheese, and that's not aged, so huh. But just in general, seriously, you people need to be cautious, vis-a-vis cheese and lactose intolerance: it's too often lazy writing.

    Also, if anyone drank as many energy drinks as Abby does, they would be perfectly spherical and weigh 800 pounds. Unless maybe the acute diarrhea (which is a side-effect of a caffeine overdose, along with how your eyes start tracking separately (as I'm here to tell you)) is a justification, i.e. she's de facto bulimic? Or maybe it's sugar-free, in which case she should still have a caffeine overdose, and would, well, look like a bulimic, from the diarrhea. And she probably wouldn't be able to walk, from the skeletal muscle loss (she drinks a lot of energy drinks, and the symptoms of a massive caffeine overdose are even worse than acute diarrhea).

PS. Speaking of aliens and human languages, my felinoids render the letters "F" and "V" as IPA "φ" and "β" (because their jaws and lips aren't mobile enough), and, since their languages don't have indefinite articles, usually forget to say "a(n)". They have trouble with our "R" sound, too, usually rendering it as "L" or "Ghl" at the beginning of words, and as one of their trilled (or "purred") vowels followed by "gh" in the middle or end of them. They also tend to turn "yu" into "yi" and "yo" into "ye", because they don't generally palatalize consonants before "O" and "U". Thus, your species (whose name they learned from English speakers) is called "hyimãn"—it needs to have one of its vowels be purred, to mark it as a noun (kinda like how the Jesuits appended "-us" to the end of Kǒng Fuzǐ, so they could talk about Confucius in Latin).

Yes, I actually thought all this out. I do at least spell their dialogue normally.