De scripturae romanicos physicales III

SF writing thoughts.
  • I'd intended to have the dying words of a character involved in cybernetics be "Madeleines in tea would be disgusting", which is a Proust reference indirectly but directly is a Serial Experiments Lain reference (and Lain in its turn contains the only Proust reference in an animated TV show). Then, however, I find out that many if not most madeleines are lemon-flavored, not the disgusting almond-flavored first-aid emetics I've always thought of, and that wouldn't be nearly as revolting in tea.

    On the other hand apparently Proust made the whole thing up; madeleines don't do what he describes, no matter how dry or stale they are, and when you do get crumbs they have no flavor. Apparently the original line was dry toast, which for some stupid reason he changed to madeleines even though madeleines don't work for the scene. Why not toast? Isn't the imagery better when the thing you're using in it is something that can do what you describe it as doing?

    Like, what, did he think people would judge him for dipping his toast in the tea? Was he trying to ride some then-current "madeleines in tea" wave? Did he always panic and order a Manhattan or something? Maybe I'll have the guy say "Nobody eats madeleines in tea, I don't know why Proust didn't just say 'toast'—that was what he actually dipped in the tea anyway."
  • Zled society, at least in its dominant civilization, is quinquefunctional, where Indo-European society is trifunctional (and, arguably, East Asian society is quadrifunctional, with "those who rule and study" a distinct class from both "those who fight" and "those who pray", though scholars/administrators may also take a military or religious role). The five basic classes in zled society are priest and warrior/noble, of course—and then farmer, craftsman, and merchant, each in its own class rather than lumped together into "those who work". "Farmer", of course, includes miners, fishermen, and professional hunters—anyone whose wealth is in land rather than capital or expertise. The merchants are a go-between class, selling the produce of the farmers and craftsmen.

    I'm not sure how merchants who deal directly in agricultural products dress, but those who deal with craft-sodalities dress in plaids or stripes of the sodality's colors. (Zled craft-sodalities, as I think I've said before, are "lumpers" where our guilds were "splitters"; furriers, tanners, weavers, and fullers would all be the same sodality for them, they were four different guilds for us.) Merchants have sodalities like those of craftsmen, but they don't offer much training (beyond things like bookkeeping, presumably); they mostly function as an insurance co-op. Likewise the farmers have sodalities too, which are basically their "village" associations (which are a lot more vaguely geographical than our villages, especially with their modern tech).
  • Zbin-Ãld, the zled official language, has a feature I don't know any human language does. Its adjectives are only attributive, not predicative. In other words, you have to say "it's a strange thing" rather than "it's strange".

    It's quicker than it sounds, though, because another thing they do is apply adjectives to pronouns—"it's a strange it", which isn't grammatical in English (actually they're pro-drop, so they really say "being a strange it").

    They also, rather than calling each other "dear", etc., say things like "dear you". That's kinda like something you do get in, e.g., Japanese, e.g. "ore-sama" and "anata-sama" ("lord me"—exactly as arrogant as it sounds—and "lord you"—sometimes used with customers—respectively). But Japanese hasn't actually got pronouns, grammatically, and those are honorifics, not adjectives.
  • If you're going to use a technology or the issues surrounding it, for your story, make sure you actually understand it. E.g., opposition to genetic engineering of humans is nothing like depicted in the season (series?) finale of Minority Report. First off, "germ-line" gene-modification doesn't mean "in utero", it means "in the gonads" (hence "germ line", the "germ cells" are the precursors of the gametes)—it refers to making your gene-modifications inheritable.

    One generation-worth of genetic modification is potentially risky enough; making the modification inheritable could mean if you screw it up badly enough, you'll never be able to fix it. Now, once you do have the modification tested for safety, you could conceivably make it heritable—as I have said before, genotypes aren't Pokémon, we're not trying to "catch them all"—but our understanding of genetics is in its infancy, as shown, for example, by this Google Ngrams chart of the word "epigenetics". Note the meteoric rise after 2000.
  • I know I've talked about the Jingo/Gnostic/post-colonial narrative, on display from Attack on Titan to Elder Scrolls to (some of) Halo. Apparently, though, I'm actually much too generous, because here, Fabio Paolo Barbieri makes a convincing case that this narrative, as typified by X-Men, is actually Nazi.

    Now, of course, he could just be mistaking the standard paranoid oppression-narrative for its Nazi form. He (unwisely in my view) objects to characterizing Nazism as Marxist, though one wonders if he objects to calling Ceausescu's ideology Marxist, or what differences between Hitler and Ceausescu he can point to that justify excluding one and not the other. (Other than the foreign-policy differences that are probably attributable to Ceausescu having seen what happened to Hitler, I mean.) Barbieri also made some very wide-of-the-mark attacks on Goldberg's Liberal Fascism—despite himself having said, I believe, that Fascism was an outgrowth of the Progressive movement, and ignoring Goldberg's evidence of direct influence of Mussolini on FDR's policies (and admiration by Mussolini for FDR's policies).

    Nevertheless the narrative in question, wherever you stick it in your ideological taxonomy (it occurs to me that maybe I'm just a "lumper" while Barbieri is a "splitter"), is a pernicious, morally reprehensible brand of paranoia typical of totalitarian ideologies. On that, at least, all perceptive observers probably ought to agree.
  • A device I find very funny is the idea that while aliens might surrender to superior force, humans never do. You get it a lot in science fiction, where the alien conquerors had never met a species as stubborn as humans.

    Which I guess is why the language most of those stories are in is 60% words from Latin and French, right? (Adopted entirely voluntarily by the English, one assumes?) And I guess it's spoken where it is because the Britons were through using the island? And half the remaining words in English are from languages spoken in the British Empire, most of which was acquired without the total genocide of the territory in question (even in Ireland they only killed about an eighth the population).

    The fact is that the only reason humans are not extinct is we have methods of deciding who wins a conflict, other than "who's not all dead". And it's especially ironic to write such a conceit, in a culture where the standard response to being looked at by a stranger, is to assume the primate submissive posture. Russians and many East Asians think you look deranged if you smile at strangers—note that customers are not strangers, for East Asian purposes, but are for Russian ones.
  • There's this new (2014) literary movement/SF subgenre, spawned from Tumblr, called "solarpunk". It's about making "sustainable" future utopias (hence its naming itself after the maximally 30% efficient power-source that usually involves things like arsenic to manufacture its equipment). The word "post-scarcity" gets bandied about a lot, despite claiming that its speculations are "achievable with current technology" (an end to scarcity isn't achievable with current physics—or any other coherent model of the universe we actually inhabit).

    Basically, it's the kind of "hippie commune" science fiction you also get in Iain M. Banks, only with the tree-huggers more prominent than the free-love orgies. Also, it seems, generally lighter on the transhumanism (and probably on the incipient genocidal fascism, although it's only been a little over a year, give 'em time). I'm trying very, very hard to see how this is "punk"; if the "joiner" thing that cyberpunk mutated into was called "cyberprep" (not that cyberpunk's by-the-book Hollywood leftism was really punk), wouldn't this subgenre be more accurately termed "solarwaldorf"?
  • Someone on one of the anti-SJW Tumblrs had a good point about the do-it-yourself pronouns: languages have "open" lexical categories, like nouns and maybe even verbs (almost everyone can just start saying "airplane", say, or "veto", if they hadn't previously had those objects or activities), and "closed" lexical categories (like prepositions, articles, and pronouns). Since pronouns are nearly always a "closed" category, you can't actually make up new ones.

    Even in languages like Japanese, whose "pronouns" are actually nouns (other than various "this/that/yonder" constructions), you really can't make up your own, unilaterally. While it is true that a character can, say, use something like "Mokona" as Mokona's personal reference, that is because "Mokona" is also Mokona's name, and one of the accepted members of the closed "pronoun" category is "own name" (all Japanese "first person" references can be equally well translated as the third person, e.g. both "boku" and "sessha" basically mean "your servant", with "sessha" adding a "humble" or "clumsy").

    You most certainly can't have a character in a Japanese work use, say, "piggû-û-ui" as their first-person reference, and then reveal their name is "Buranjinguzunojôtei". You're only going to annoy your readers. And that's Japanese, which has a dozen quasi-pronoun personal references per grammatical person, and where a character using weird pronouns dragged from the tomb is an accepted literary device. How much less can you get away with it in an Indo-European language that actually has personal pronouns as a separate (and very small) lexical category?

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