De Romanicorum Physicalium 9

SF thoughts.
  • It occurs to me that, if zledo have reflexes on par with a cat—which seems to be three times faster than a human (no word on if their visual cortices are red)—part of what it would mean is that prestidigitation is something quite different for them. Sleight of hand, for them, would never have been a matter of "magic"; they can see the motions involved. Which is not to say they would not find such quick, dexterous work impressive. But they'd probably just consider it a subset of gymnastics.

    Another thing it means is that, while Bill Jordan (fastest draw in the West, or anywhere else, without a custom rig) could see a signal, draw a gun, and hit the target in .27 seconds, a zled can apparently do it in .09 seconds. At least if their hands are as fast as their eyes (the figure above is for "latency" of eye-tracking, which is a different thing from actually moving the hands); saying that they're actually twice as fast as humans, and thus can speed-draw and fire in .135 seconds after seeing the signal, is probably a safer bet.
  • We've apparently already solved the Organ-bank Problem. How? 3D printing. Now, sure, we're not actually at the point of substituting 3D-printed organs for donor-organs, and we probably won't be for decades—but then, neither are we at the point of drastically extending the human life-span with donor organs, and voting death-by-organ-harvest as the penalty for jaywalking, either. So we're actually solving the organ-bank problem before it exists.

    Of course, the trouble here is, like with many of the brilliant advances in real-world technology (*cough*cell phones*cough*), these same things that make life easier remove quite a lot of the opportunity for drama. Of course they do; "drama" is functionally equivalent to "bad things happening to made-up people", and tech that keeps bad things from happening to real people works for the made-up kind too. I now have to rewrite one scene and one line of dialogue, thanks to the fact that, more than likely, there will be no organleggers in the 24th century.

    Perhaps I can make it work with ovaries, though? Black-market ovaries would probably still be worth money, after all (making your own ova, without the organ designed for it, still looks pretty iffy), and any opportunity to treat the surrogacy industry as the human-trafficking follicle-stripping nightmare factory that it is, is all to the good.
  • Another advantage of fueling mecha with methanol, that I didn't get to, is that it doesn't explode (which is helpful, in a military fuel), and also does not produce smoke (which is helpful to firefighting crews—who, remember, can put a methanol fire out with water).

    They probably won't use methanol for robot mules, instead going with the same kind of lithium-air battery as the smaller robots (which means their robot mules breathe!). Methanol is too inefficient for applications smaller than a car. Don't know what their robot mule would look like, either; ours is a prototype, after all.
  • Was thinking about the "binary gender" kerfuffle in SF-fandom, and from there about xenobiology. "Intersex" (I hate that name: "both" isn't the same as "between", and we also happen to have the perfectly good words "androgyne" and "freemartin" for people with such a condition) is very rare. Bizarrely enough one of the major forms, Klinefelter syndrome (XXY-ness), sometimes shows no symptoms—not even sterility, people have fathered or borne children while having XXY chromosomes (which I think clinches what sex they "really" were). The sterile "intersex", as seen in "freemartin" livestock, is apparently the result of chimerism.

    Interestingly, no equivalent of Klinefelter syndrome exists in birds. Or none's been observed, anyway. We think a ZZW embryo (birds, remember) miscarries, which in birds' case presumably means the egg never hatches. It occurs to me that using an X0 or Z0 chromosomal system means you never get a Klinefelter-type situation, either, since two Xs is female and two Zs is male, and completely missing the sex-chromosome is a different thing entirely (not sure what, if anything, that looks like, in mammals). There's also presumably no Klinefelter equivalent for crocodiles, since they have no sex chromosomes, and sex based on the temperature of their nests. How about monotremes? They have ten sex-chromosomes, wonder what happens when one duplicates.
  • Technically sci-fi related 'cause of the social sciences, and worldbuilding: a whole lot of things are, to use an unfortunate phrasing, "culturally relative". What I mean is, for example, Toyotomi Hideyoshi did, indeed, abolish slavery (apart from convict-labor), well before anyone in the West did (the second time—the West had resurrected slavery in the 1400s after abolishing it in the 700s).

    But, though Hideyoshi could claim Japan was not a slave-state, while Spain and especially its colonies were...the fact remains that farmers in Japan, though ostensibly free, didn't have rights that slaves in Spanish colonies did. It wasn't legal for anyone to just up and kill a Spanish-colonial slave (though it was relatively easy to cover up, on a big estate with little direct oversight); the entire military class of Japan was allowed to murder farmers on very little pretext, no coverup required.
  • In one way, Karakuri Odette is the most realistic depiction of robots ever. Why? Because she's constantly running out of battery. It gets worse when she's stressed, which makes perfect sense, since uncertainty would increase the load on her system. Just like how cellphones drain faster when they have to hunt around for a signal, robots could easily drain faster when their situational-analysis and reaction programs—which is what "emotions" are—are unable to judge clearly. For a robot (and arguably for us too), "anxiety" can be thought of as the situational-analysis program hunting for solutions that may not exist, like a cellphone searching for signal till it goes dead.

    However, all the scenes with her ugly backpack battery are silly—plainly, you just disguise the spare battery as an oxygen tank. Give her an output plug inside her nose, and let her wear a breathing tube over her nose, then the obvious cover-story is that she's got a respiratory ailment, and has to go get supplemental oxygen once in a while. I don't know if anyone does actually get supplemental oxygen on an intermittent basis, but it's certainly a better cover-story than "this is a weird metal backpack". (Also? Put wheels on the damn thing and let her roll it around, rather than draining extra power by carrying it!)

    Another aspect of realism is the Professor's delay in waterproofing her, and the length of time it takes him to manage it. Realistically, waterproofing many electronics (especially computers) could involve problems with cooling, since a fully sealed device can't be air-cooled. It never does say that that's why Odette's waterproofing takes so long, but it would realistically be a factor.
  • Been re-reading Fahrenheit 451; it's kinda a slog with Bradbury's pyrotechnic prose, but what do you want from a quasi-Beatnik? The thing I realized most of all was, "Equilibrium is plainly the knockoff produced by people who couldn't get the rights to make a movie of this." Think about it—the "Grammaton Clerics" are off-brand Firemen, through and through; the girl he meets on that one job is his Clarice.

    The difference, of course, is that Fahrenheit 451 is a thoughtful piece of soft SF, whereas the screenplay for Equilibrium was demonstrably produced by literally shoving the hands inside of country hams and pounding on a keyboard. (Not a movie you would describe as "subtle", is what I'm getting at.) I think the ham-pounding technique was also used on the writers' heads on occasion—or you come up with an explanation for "Gun Kata"!
  • I think, given the 40-58 kilogram (if not even higher) loads per soldier that we're seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan, that my Peacekeepers wear Soft Exosuits to help with the forces necessary. They'd probably go on over the regular pants, so..."exo-suit chaps"? "Exo-chaps"? "Soft lifting-exoskeleton chaps"? I kinda like that last one. That, of course, is the regular Peacekeepers; the VAJRA troopers (like in those short-stories on my DeviantArt) use something much more extensive, in hard suits. They can move almost as fast as normal while wearing many kilos of armor and carrying heavy weapons. If you noticed, they have coil-Vulcans as their squad automatics, meaning they not only can carry around that gun, and its ammo and power-supply, but can stand up to its recoil.

    Not sure if the typical zled soldier will have anything to help him carry his gear (in full armor, of course, the suit makes it so he might as well be naked and empty-handed for all the load he feels). Zledo often carry less; among many other things, their tech is more miniaturizable. Also their biology means they need less water, relative to their mass, than humans. (Cats, for example, are much better at managing their moisture than humans. And zledo have skins more like those of birds or lizards, which hold moisture in much better than mammal skin.) Also, a major thing in our militaries carrying so much stuff is taking "better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it" to an extreme, which people without our liability-culture and belief that everything can be made "safe" probably wouldn't be quite so interested in.


Playing With Fantasy I

Fantasy thoughts (the first one titled this was almost a random-thoughts post, though not quite). Most of them are about RPG-fantasy. Numbered the title "I" because this is the first fantasy-thoughts one of this name, but probably won't be the only one.
  • It is quite a slog to find things in fantasy that aren't knockoffs/"uncredited homages" (to coin a euphemism). Obviously the whole of fantasy games, for example, is a series of footnotes to Tolkien, Leiber, Howard, and Moorcock. But there's also more recent "borrowings". Like, you know how elven equipment in the Elder Scrolls games has a bird-motif going on? Yeah, well, probably makes more sense when you know that the elves in Warhammer Fantasy worship a phoenix-god. Not a dragon, like the elves in Elder Scrolls. Likewise Talos is Sigmar, full-stop—except Sigmar's a boss and Tiber Septim was an a-hole.

    Frostmourne in Warcraft is probably Widowmaker, the sword of Khaela Mensha Khaine the Bloody-Handed God, in Warhammer; it whispers its temptations to all the descendents of Aenarion the same way Frostmourne whispers its to prospective hosts for the Lich-King, in both cases trying to corrupt their impulse to protect their people. Of course, Khaine is, in fact, the god of war, with dual aspects as protector and destroyer—the high elves worship him just like the dark elves do, but only before battle (his worship is illegal in peacetime)—so that makes a lot more sense.

    Or the Dwemer? Yeah, they're the dwarves from RuneQuest, the Mostali, except the Dwemer aren't cannibals and the Mostali aren't atheists (and never tried to make their own god). And the Bosmer, I'm convinced, are Dark Sun halflings; look at them in Oblivion and tell me they're not halflings. Cannibal, jungle-dwelling halflings.
  • In my own D&D setting, I realized, an easy way to set stuff apart from "cliche" (or more accurately, to spruce up formula and make it fresh and interesting again), is to ignore two big stereotypes. One, my dwarves don't use axes. Nope, hammers and picks. And two, my elves are not primarily archers, only using bows as much as humans do. Along with spears (which I recommend for druids, since it's got the highest damage-rating of any weapon they're allowed), their main weapons are battle-axes, hand-axes, throwing axes, and halberds.

    Elvish light cavalry (which rides deer) is basically jinetes with throwing-axes instead of javelins, like mounted Franks. I have a sourcebook with stats for reindeer, and the "warbeast" template from Monster Manual II; this, with a few modifications, gives you a good deer for the elves to ride (my elves normally don't get above 133 pounds, while a medium load for a quadruped with Strength 16 is 230). The dwarves, meanwhile, ride rams, for which I use a slight modification of boar stats (no Ferocity, slower speed, but move at the same slow rate no matter how much they carry—same as dwarves themselves).

    I also have both goblins and hobgoblins riding worgs (which probably looks ridiculous in the latter case, but a Medium quadruped with Strength 17 is only carrying a Medium load up through 260 pounds!). Meanwhile, the orcs (who are giants now, not humanoids, despite being Medium-sized—they're a branch of ogres, remember) are riding "warbeast" boars; their ogre cousins ride "bison", which are called buffalo in the places where they're actually found. I readily admit that the idea of orcs on big boars is partly inspired by the Moblins in Twilight Princess; rob from the rich, I always say.
  • Another idea, which is also used by Warcraft, is my dwarves use guns (which are martial weapons for them, not exotic). I don't find mention of them in the SRD, but it's not like WotC can copyright flintlocks. The range-increments listed for them in the DMG are way too long; they give a maximum effective range for muskets of 1500 feet (given ten range-increments for projectile weapons), and for pistols, of 500 feet. Try, respectively, 300 feet (range increment 30 feet—no better than a javelin) and 150 feet (15 foot increment)—muzzle-loaders are crap. Except they do at least as much damage as heavy crossbows and only take a standard action to reload, instead of a full-round one.

    Meanwhile, there's no range-increment listed for the hand-axe, which would come as a surprise to every bored woodsman in history—most of whom probably didn't have the requisite attack bonuses to overcome the penalty for throwing a weapon that hasn't got a listed range-increment. It should have a 10-foot increment, like throwing an ordinary spear. Also, the throwing-axe's increment is too short; the longest ever tomahawk throw (at least as recorded by the International Knife-throwers' Hall of Fame), which we can treat as maximum range, was 137 feet. Rounding that to the nearest 5-foot "square", then dividing by five (because you get five range-increments with thrown weapons), gives a range-increment of 27 feet, which we'll round to 25. That's comparable to the javelins ordinary jinetes would be throwing.
  • The problem, I think, with assuming that fantasy has to be about lamenting what's been lost by modern progress, and acknowledging the good in the Ancien Regime, is that actually, nothing that's remotely preferable about "modern progress" isn't medieval—including the very phrase "modern progress", something of a buzzword among the people who built Chartres cathedral, apparently.

    While Tolkien himself is exempt from the charge, the fact is that most of the Romantics, who originated that understanding, were themselves Liberals; they applied Noble Savage stereotypes to past eras much as their contemporaries applied them to Indians. But it mostly made them feel better about themselves while guillotining aristos and mass-relocating Indians, rather than actually curtailing the guillotining and mass-relocating. Besides, again, "noble savage" is a characterization that absolutely does not apply to the Middle Ages, which, again, had every good thing about modernity except some tech (all of which was made possible by disregarding Renaissance fetishisms in the sciences).

    There is no actual rule that says fantasy has to be in the tradition of Romanticism, or at least not orthodox Romanticism. There is much to be said for the Chesterton school, where the person most concerned with progress discovers he's "much the most medieval person present". There's also much to be said for the Pernoud view that everything bad about either modernity or the Ancien Regime is directly traceable to Classicism, which was, after all, fetishizing the views and habits of a bunch of misogynist bulimic slave-owning pederasts in togas and sandals.
  • I had said that "Talos" was an a-hole, but really, no, only Tiber Septim was. Talos is not Tiber Septim—he's Tiber Septim, Ysmir Wulfharth the Ash-King, and Zurin Arctus, Tiber Septim's battle-mage. The three of them together are an "enantiomorph", which I think is meant to mean "mirror form", because each is a Shezarrine—an avatar of Lorkhan the Doom-drum. Together, the three of them combined to return Lorkhan to the Aedra. "Talos" does not exist. He's just Lorkhan. I had suspected as much, but it's nice to get canonical confirmation. (Also, it's interesting to me that Shor welcomes Dragonborn, who are ordinarily not Shezarrines, when they're not Tiber Septim or Wulfharth—they're avatars of Akatosh/Auri-El, Shor's mortal enemy. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the theory that, just as Akatosh/Auri-El is an emanation from Anu, Lorkhan/Shor/Shezarr is an emanation from Akatosh/Auri-El, and their "enmity" is really some ritual reality rather than a relationship mortals would understand.)

    Oh, and the Thalmor excluding Talos from the pantheon? Yeah, they're not doing it because they're racists. They're doing it because men are Lorkhanic beings, and removing Talos again will remove Lorkhan's influence from Mundus. That, in turn, will supposedly allow the Thalmor to follow Auri-El into Aetherius (to the stars/spirit-world, which are the same thing in the Elder Scroll setting), undoing the Convention trapping the Ehlnofey in Mundus. Provided, of course, that they destroy all the Towers or deactivate their foundation-stones—and the Amulet of Kings and Heart of Lorkhan are gone, as was the foundation of Crystal-Like Law when the Daedra destroyed it. Falinesti was probably deactivated when its trees stopped walking. The only ones left are the Throat of the World and the Adamantine Tower, and the latter is really close to Thalmor-occupied territory.
  • There's a scene in one of the Dragon Age games where a character gets mad at the player for asking what other races are like, because they're made up of individuals and can't be generalized about. In, again, a Dragon Age game—AKA "post-colonial oppression-narrative identity politics, the RPG", by and for Social Justice Warriors who do nothing but generalize about "People of Color" (because all people with brown skin have identical experiences and interests). Ritualistic obeisance in the direction of individualism doesn't change the fact the entire rest of the enterprise is collectivist race-Marxism.

    It's like Calvinists talking about the mercy of God, when the whole rest of their theology makes God a monster who damns people at random for no reason—they still have to pretend he's merciful, because they're a heresy of Christianity, and Christianity is all about the mercy of God (never mind that that "mercy", to actually be a thing, sorta requires a very different theology, soteriology, and moral anthropology from that in Calvinism). In the same way, the post-colonial race-Marxists at BioWare are adherents of a heresy from within Liberalism, so they have to kowtow in the direction of the little fetishes of Liberalism even though the whole rest of their worldview is as illiberal as any despotism you care to name.
  • One setting detail I'm using in my campaign is that, instead of coins, the people use trade-beads. Humans use leaded glass beads and cranberry-glass, AKA ruby glass, which correspond in value to copper and silver pieces, respectively. Strings of beads weigh less, though (the numbers say over 620 to the pound; I round it off to 600/lb, which is 1/12 the weight of coins). Dwarves make beads from the same volcanic glass they make all their equipment out of, and their beads are worth as much as platinum pieces.

    Elf beads, worth as much as gold, are made from what looks like white leaded glass (I imagine a careless merchant might mistake it for the copper-piece equivalent—which, it occurs to me, would probably happen to platinum coins in a standard setting, being mistaken for silver). But the elf-beads glow faintly greenish in sunlight. It's called "vaseline glass", on Earth, because a long time ago Vaseline was green; we also call it "uranium glass", since that's what's in it. If people in my campaign world had blacklights they'd be able to make the elf beads glow. (No, it's not radioactive. The only risk with uranium glass—as also with uranium-glazed Fiestaware—is heavy-metal poisoning if it leaches into a beverage stored in a vessel made from it. It's only about as dangerous as leaded glass.)

    The reason I assign the basic leaded-glass trade-bead the value of copper is that wampum was roughly comparable to Dutch copper coins; one white bead was worth a duit (pronounced "dute"). My calculations make my beads significantly heavier than wampum, though (heavy-metal colloid glass is a lot denser than shell). The cranberry-glass beads, meanwhile, are the equivalent of silver, and the medium normal people do business in, because I dislike D&D thinking (as the SRD apparently does) that "the most common coin is the gold piece". In much of medieval Europe, the only coins were silver pennies and some copper subdivisions like farthings (1/4 penny), with everything bigger than the penny being a "unit of account" that didn't really exist.
  • I would dearly love to write Cosmic Horror fantasy in the Lovecraft Circle vein, but the trouble is, I don't believe in it. From the nihilist cosmology down to the merest details, I simply can't make myself feel it, so I can't write it. Fundamentally Lovecraft's hangups about tentacles and fungus are as silly and provincial, his own private neuroses, as his hangups about interracial dating. I just can't feel it; to me, a snake is about as hideous (Howard's favorite adjective for them) as a pigeon—which is just the other branch of the diapsids from snakes, the same one as crocodiles. Ironically, I think a part of it is that a great deal is known in science that either wasn't known in Lovecraft's day or that Lovecraft didn't bother to learn. E.g., relativity—from which Lovecraft tried to derive all manner of horrors—actually says that the cosmos is "isometric", which basically means it looks the same in every direction. That's kinda the opposite of what Lovecraft tries to get from it.

    Fundamentally, that the world is not expressly designed just to cater to my needs and desires seems, to me, no more equivalent to its being a horrendous monstrosity birthed by a malevolent blind idiot, than the fact other people do not exist just to validate and applaud me means they are bigots who hate me. The former seems little different from the latter, and both are at best adolescent posturing, if not full-blown psychotic paranoia. (Also narcissistic; I have said before that Lovecraft actually caters to the anthropocentric prejudices of his audience.) I do have creepy stuff in my fantasy, but it's the creepiness of "Fuan no Tane" or, really, any Native American mythology you care to become acquainted with (why is Death "a thin bluish creature" in Navajo myth?); it's not nihilism that originates the fear, but the creepiness of having walked by an open window on a dark night, and not daring to look out. I don't need to believe any Nietzschean-Dionysian nihilist cosmology to be discomfited by people looking in my window at night.

    This, it occurs to me, is the opposite of the Lovecraft method, and is the Chesterton method, as described in Heretics. "For a man walking down a lane at night can see the conspicuous fact that as long as nature keeps to her own course, she has no power with us at all. As long as a tree is a tree, it is a top-heavy monster with a hundred arms, a thousand tongues, and only one leg. But so long as a tree is a tree, it does not frighten us at all. It begins to be something alien, to be something strange, only when it looks like ourselves. When a tree really looks like a man our knees knock under us."
  • I also had some trouble getting that elvish script I came up with into font form. So, since I'm trying to not modify D&D except when I have to, in my campaign setting, my elves use the 3rd Edition version of Espruar, my dwarves use the 4th Edition dwarf writing, my gnomes use the Twilight Princess version of Hylian. No, they don't actually give their letters the same values as in English; X is used for "lh" in Elvish and "sh" in Dwarfish, for example.

    For human writing, I at first considered using the thing they use for Common in Eberron, but, like everything else in Eberron, it's ugly and not at all jibing with anything like my humans, let alone theirs. I kept trying to find something that looked like "normal human writing", from the point of view of someone who reads a Sinaitic-derived alphabet. I found one—ironically made by people for whom it probably gives an "exotic", "fantasy" feeling, because it's from a Final Fantasy game.

    Give me two cases that aren't just resizings, of course, and I'm going to declare the uppercase one to be the older, monumental one and the lowercase to be the younger cursive one.