De Romanicorum Theoriarum VIII

Speculative fiction thoughts.
  • It occurs to me, there is one kind of spiritual insight you could get from space-travel. And it would let Hollywood make the "no don't go it's too dangerous don't look there are things man was not meant to know" kind of quasi-horror space-movies it's been making this last decade, e.g. Europa Report. Namely, Shugendo. Shugendo is a weird Buddhist sect in Japan that believes enlightenment can be achieved by exposure to physical hardship and emotional crises, especially near-death experiences. In being literally on the brink of death, they believe, one sees that death and life alike arise from Emptiness.

    Of course, not a lot of yamabushi buying movie-tickets—and the ones who do, you gotta factor in the money turning back into leaves later. Maybe can use Existentialism, though—Heidegger's, at least, was not unlike Shugendo (minus the Nazism, anyway). Which reminds me, of course, of Nietzsche, whose thought presaged much of Existentialism, especially Heidegger's, and whose "when you look long into the void, the void looks back into you" is something space-writers have gotten more work out of than its actual meaning really permits. They should really be facing a suit in labor-court for non-payment of overtime and asking work other than the contractually specified jobs.
  • That in turn reminds me of the Reavers, in Firefly, of whom it was said they "got out to the edge of the galaxy, to that place of nothin', and that's what they became". Which is Joss "Letztemenschlein" Whedon being very petulant about other people noticing the ethical implications of atheism (as is his get-Tinkerbell-to-come-back-to-life "not necessarily in God, but you have to believe in something" drivel). The moralizing tone of all of Whedon's works is just his "veritably awe-inspiring demonstrations" of his "moral fanaticism", come to think of it—"the penance they pay" among Anglos, for "every little liberation from theology".

    Also? However assiduously its vacant-eyed cultists may scrub all references to it from the article on TVTropes, that line proves that Whedon is the poster-boy for "SciFiWritersHaveNoSenseOfScale". Edge of the galaxy, Whedon? Really? Nobody in your setting can go there; how could they? Certainly not and get back in time to be Reavering in your main setting. Then again, despite the series' much ballyhooed lack of FTL, they still have FTL communications—conversations, at distances nobody pretends are even as close as the Moon is, that happen in real time; watch Serenity. They don't even happen in real-time on the Moon, there's 1.3 seconds of delay between calls (which, as anyone trying to Skype on iffy internet can tell you, is just long enough to be infuriating).
  • Decided to use elk, Large-sized, rather than Medium-sized deer, for my elves' mounts. Still use the war-beast template, for the bulls. Got their stats by taking the Huge-sized Dire Elk from Masters of the Wild (and Monster Manual II) and applying the Large-to-Huge monster advancement rules in reverse. Gave the non-dire version 3 hit dice, 4 if it's a war-beast; the Dire Elk had 12 and the dire versions (when markedly larger, unlike e.g. Dire Lions) often have 3 to 4 times the HD of the normal ones. It occurs to me that the Large-to-Huge advancement rules, applied in reverse, could also let you make a sheep much more simply—just apply the Medium-to-Large rules in reverse, to the "bison". (You could also apply them to the rhino-stats to make smaller rhinos, or tapirs.)

    Wasn't sure what I'd do for the hobgoblins. A Large-size worg has 7 hit dice, and a dire wolf has 6; that seemed like a lot of animal for a race that ordinarily has 1-3 hit dice (my campaign's "bugbears" are just the biggest and most dominant hobgoblin males, basically silverbacks). But then I thought, the typical human warrior with one d8 hit die and a 4-HD warhorse is in much the same boat—and regular goblins ride worgs with the same HD as horses, though being Magical Beast types they're d10s instead of the d8s Animal types use. (In my day, all monsters had d8 hit dice, and they were glad to have 'em.) Increasing the worg to 7 hit dice also only increases its CR by 1. So I think how it'll work is, the ordinary hobgoblins just don't ride at all. Maybe the ordinary hobgoblin is more likely to use chariots pulled by pairs of regular worgs, and either shoot from the back (two-man driver and archer teams), or else their warriors are dropped off to fight on foot, like the Celts (see below). (If dog-sleds are any indication, worgs can pull chariots for periods and over ranges that would flat-out kill horses.)

    The big hobgoblins (i.e. bugbears), then, are the only ones who ride (7HD) worgs, one at a time; presumably when a very powerful chief can get together a bunch of dominant hobgoblins at once, they act as heavy cavalry, but are light cavalry horse-archers the rest of the time.
  • I cannot be the only one who sees parallels between "dark fantasy" and Regietheater, can I?
  • Another reason Interstellar is silly: you don't have to schlepp multiple lightyears to let humanity flee your snowball's-chance-in-hell apocalypse scenario (and seriously, "plant-life dying off because of organisms that can metabolize nitrogen" is about one step removed from "the heart is made up of a single cell for all practical purposes"). O'Neill Cylinders at the Moon's Lagrange points. Or at least Stanford Toruses (the latter hold fewer people, but do have the advantage of better theme music).

    Traveling through wormholes to find new places to live, when we know that space-colonization is essentially possible using 1970s technology, is, to use a Japanese expression, "applying eyedrops from the second floor".

    Nope, sorry. You're gonna have to give us a better reason for interstellar travel being necessary. If you're not going to at least acknowledge that there's something to the idea of humanity simply spreading out to live in other places, as good in itself and worthwhile without Earth being unlivable for no good reason...then I hate to tell ya, you're gonna have to give us aliens, and not from another dimension. If schlepping to another star is necessary, then what's at that other star damn well better be important—and I mean in itself, not because of some mumbo jumbo that Zeon Zum Deikun would call far-fetched.
  • I think (you know of my obsession with fictional material culture, or "production design" as it's known in visual media) that my setting's equivalent of a USB plug gets around the "have to turn it over" inconvenience (you would not believe how many people seem to consider that a near-fatal flaw in the USB design) by being something like an audio jack. Just like how stereo jacks have more contacts than mono ones, I imagine a "bus" jack might have twenty contacts, like Thunderbolt connectors, or only eight, like Lightning.

    Or possibly like the original intent for Thunderbolt, it might combine fiber-optic data-transmission with (probably metal) electrical conduction so devices can be powered; then again it's the 24th century and people don't seem likely to plug most things in to power them anymore, so it might be purely optical (and probably less fragile than our fiber-optics). Maybe it'll look something like TOSLINK connectors, which are mostly used for audio (specifically that clear one, because it's awesome-looking), and have no visible contacts.

    Not sure if zledo and khângây are also gonna go the optical-fiber route (the khângây might, since they prefer analog media and you can probably use optical fiber to transmit laser-scans of analog optical media with relatively little distortion). Whatever they use to transmit data, I think the zledo might favor some sort of short round plugs—like UHF connectors, in keeping with their stuff looking more primitive than it is—probably with something like a bayonet connector, since those are designed to keep things from coming loose when you don't want them to, and their society is much more military-minded (although it's also a concern just 'cause they're so big—in a society where the average woman weighs 97 kilos/214 pounds, and the average man is 50 kilos/110 pounds heavier, just tripping over a cable can easily yank almost any plug out, if it's not secured).
  • It turns out that Tolkien's use of elves to make political points, and indeed also the moronic SJW Post-colonial Studies narrative in Dragon Age, are part of a long tradition in Romantic fiction. Indeed, one that predates Romanticism, because the Faerie Queene predates Romanticism by 200 years. (Arguably also Jonathan Swift, predating Romanticism by about 80 years—what are Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians if not dwarfs and giants used to make satirical points?) Here I would also point you to the treatment of Tengu in Japanese literature, from the Konjaku Monogatari to the manga "Japan Tengu Party Illustrated".
  • Along with the ordinary hobgoblin-on-the-street (that would be a short installment of Watters World) using chariots pulled by (regular) worgs, I think my elves also use light mobile infantry on chariots pulled by (smaller than elk) deer. The Celts used chariots not only as a platform from which to attack, via bow or javelin, but also as a means of dropping off infantry. That actually seems to have been the main way the Gauls used it—it sounds stupid (mounted infantry is an often-disparaged concept, even though it makes up the vast majority of modern forces...or what did you think "mechanized" meant?), but that's because we tend to think of infantry as being able to run at the enemy.

    But it really can't. Those movies where guys run across fields, swords in hand? Brought to you by the people who gave you the handheld Gatling gun. In real life, infantry generally didn't move faster than a brisk walk (though the fact his marches were up-tempo compared to his opponents was a key to a couple of Napoleon's early successes). If your heavy infantry ran at the enemy lines, it would be too exhausted to swing its weapons by the time it got there.

    That was part of why cavalry remained important long after the development of pikes and guns—it could go places in a timely manner. Nobody ever took out artillery with infantry that didn't sneak up, only cavalry had any hope of getting close enough to do anything without being blasted to ribbons (it doesn't always work even for cavalry, although in cases like e.g. the Light Brigade the enemy had located their batteries so they could defend each other). And go look up how dependent every military in World War II, even the American one, was on horses (and mules, for which apparently our forces in Afghanistan were clamoring).