Sierra Plus One, Foxtrot Plus Two

More fantasy and SF thoughts.
  • People keep whining about the idea of "evil races" in things like D&D. But, aside from the fact psychopathy has a congenital component and probably also an environmental one—if you are raised by orcs you'll act like an orc even if it's not innate—there have been cultures that act, at least toward others, like orcs, and others whose internal dealings were, at times, pretty orc-like. Besides, bonobos and chimpanzees are pretty "evil"; if something, like Tree of Life, gave them intelligence without changing their behavior, you'd have orcs, straight up—even without Protectors being psychopaths.

    Even if we taboo orcs, the fact remains that the difference between drow and other elves, minus its physical manifestation, happens all the time in history. New nations routinely form from the adoption of a new ideology or way of life. The only difference between Serb, Croat, and Bosnian, or Pakistani and Indian, is religion. The Apache are Navajos who wear their hair down, use more than six types of animal "medicine", and don't bother about the four sacred mountains; the Comanche are Shoshone who got Spanish horses left behind after the Pueblo Revolt and became horse-nomads.

    Still trying to figure out how "Germans became evil when they adopted the ideology of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei" is an unremarkable statement but "the Illythiiri became evil when they adopted the worship of Araushnee, now called Lolth" is somehow a hate-crime.
  • That O'Neill Cylinder-based space colony is a bit big. Apparently, though, his Island Two—a modified Bernal Sphere 1800 meters in diameter—might also be large enough for weather. A hemisphere of the same volume is only 2,857.32 meters in diameter. That's a base area of 6,412,210 square meters, slightly larger than the city of Falls Church, Virginia, which has about 14,000 people.
  • Going back to the 64- and 32-millimeter zled laser lenses; they don't lose that much range relative to the 86- and 43-millimeter ones, and they're a lot easier to design around (like, instead of the long laser being 4 millimeters shy of four inches—as big as a Soviet anti-aircraft gun—it's one millimeter shy of three).

    Zledo are a bit bigger than humans, of course, so they can carry a bigger weapon than us—even so, though, a 64-millimeter laser is the equivalent of one of those 50-millimeter mortars from World War II. But you could totally stick some manner of grip or stock on one of those, and carry it as a main infantry weapon, without getting a second look.

    Making the anti-materiel laser be the one with the 86-millimeter lens; sniper weapons often look pretty awkward.
  • Apparently while helping with the movie (franchise) of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, among the many ways Rowling revealed herself to be unteachable rabble, is she had the skinwalkers be Native American wizards, persecuted by medicine-men because medicine-men are fakes. And what does the Social Justice internet say is the problem with this? Oh, it's cultural appropriation. Really? That's your problem with this "Philip Pullman on steroids" crap? That's like criticizing Nazi Germany for its tax policies!

    And as my sister points out, it's a wasted opportunity. They could've had skinwalkers be (what they are) dark wizards for whom the creation of a horcrux is Tuesday—and that be why American wizards had nothing to do with Voldemort or Grindelwald. Hard to worry about anyone else's Dark Lords when you have to deal with dark wizards who've been doing it since at least the 1100s, possible even the 900s. (The cannibalism at Chaco may well indicate such things—skinwalkers aren't originally Navajo, they're the Hopi popwaktu, and in Hopi culture, as in the rest of the language-group, it's cannibalism that makes the witch.)

    Ah, but that would involve knowing about things, doing research. They're against that, in Britain. Start researching things and before you know it, you might get silly notions like that Papists are people, and maybe shouldn't be robbed and murdered at every opportunity. And then they have to bring in backwoods German squires to replace entire dynasties dating back over half a millennium, and murder hundreds of thousands of people for objecting to it. Best to avoid the possibility altogether.
  • Speaking of people doing bad sequels to their own work, I'm glad that I'm not the only one who noticed how much cheaper lightning- and metal-bending got, in Korra compared to Avatar. Now, admittedly, all bending got a lot cheaper (primary school child masters elements it normally takes Avatars years to master), but lightning bending is supposed to be like, say, Bankai, in Bleach, while metal bending was straight-up Visored-ness. I can see Toph maybe having students who can do it, but a whole police force? Also Toph "Chaotic Neutral" Beifong, as a cop? Right.
  • It may have occurred to you, regarding that thing in the last post, that just because objects are invisible in near-IR on the day side of a planet, doesn't mean they're completely hidden. But using any other kind of IR you'd still be competing with a star, and as for radar (a radio telescope would still be "radar" if you're "detecting and ranging" with it, though it'd be a much more impressive kind than we currently use), spaceships can use the exact same kinds of radar countermeasures airplanes use—which would doubtless be pretty impressive for a spacefaring civilization. Plus a spacefaring civilization, since its engines are likely to involve manipulating a lot of plasma, can do plasma stealth.

    Remember, while you're trying to figure out what to do about the enemy, your enemy is not quietly waiting. If you use an active radio telescope (much more effective than the passive kind), then you might as well broadcast a locator-beacon to your enemy's weapons. The passive kind, which mainly finds objects by their occultation of background objects, takes time to analyze. And the only missiles a spaceship carries are probably going to be nukes (since conventional explosives, if they work at all, are drastically nerfed in a vacuum). It only took two nukes to force a surrender, on Earth—how many of your population centers does your opponent have to wipe off the map before you capitulate? I'm guessing not all that many.
  • Read magic is a staple of D&D, the one spell wizards don't have to prepare. But you know the explanation the post-3e books give, that every mage uses the magical notation in a different way? I kind of see what they were getting at, something like the many different ciphers used by alchemists (Tim Marcoh's Philosopher's Stone notes are a cookbook, remember?...whereas Roy Mustang's are disguised as his little black book). But it's inelegant.

    Had a better idea. How about, magical notation is from before writing, possibly before speech as mortals know it? The symbols used for it are not the encoding of sounds or syllables or even words. What magical notation is, is proto-writing. And for that, you need to already know the gist; the symbols act as more of a cheat-sheet. What read magic does, is tell you the gist. There were ritual manuals written along those lines in Mesoamerican cultures that hadn't adopted true writing, like the Nahuatls and Mixtecs. (Those were the main thing the Spanish burned—remember the rituals in question—while doing everything they could to preserve secular history and even religious mythology. Most of our knowledge of pre-Columbian native culture, including religion, comes from writings by Spanish friars.)

    Not only does that make for a cooler worldbuilding element, it keeps things like not needing to use it on stuff you've used it on before, stuff you wrote yourself, or stuff whose author is present with you.
  • The whole "Ages" thing in a lot of fantasy, usually numbered, kinda annoys me. I think it does come from Tolkien (hey, we found one!); I'm not sure where he got it. Hesiod, maybe? Wherever he got it, the four-plus-one Eras of Tamriel, the five(ish) Ages of Krynn (which aren't usually numbered...at least as a D&D setting), etc., are clearly inspired by him, or (barely possibly) by something like Hesiod.

    It's odd to me, because in lots of cultures (pretty much all the Romance-speaking ones, for instance, and a lot of the Slavic, Baltic, and Celtic ones), the word that is the equivalent of "age"...means "century". In French, Latin, Irish, Polish, Russian, and Lithuanian, among many others, we're in the twenty-first "age". No cataclysm, no massive shift in the relations of gods (or Valar) and men—just the rolling over of the calendar.

    Now, you can do it that way. Not only Hesiod but the Nahuatls and Hopi have that kind of thing (though the Hopi and Nahuatls actually have different worlds—but a couple of Hesiod's are pretty similar to some of the Nahuatl "suns"). But you don't have to do it; assuming that the "just the calendar rolling over" kind is the "cosmic transition" kind, is how you get the Mayan calendar 2012 nonsense. If you do decide to go that route, know why.