Archive for September, 2011

Three suggestions

September 28, 2011

I hit publish; WordPress congratulates me on a new post, and says: “Need an idea for your next post?”, and gives three suggestions.

One is, “You get to make a guest appearance on any TV show of your choice. What’ll it be?”

My first thought was of me on the 700 Club, leering at the camera and drawling: “There is no God! How you feel abou thaaaaaat?

Not post material.

Another suggestion was “What do you think is the most destructive force to mankind?”

Short answer: Mankind itself.

Another short answer: Reality itself.

A slightly longer version of the first: Mankind itself — do you really think this bunch of monkeys should be trusted with nuclear weapons? The only reason plastic utensils are not a leading cause of death is guns and knives take their toll more quickly.

A slightly longer version of the second: Reality itself — heck, nature has no interest in keeping mankind alive. A meteor could streak in, and that’s all folks; the poles could reverse, the Yellowstone caldera burst, some killer virus get loose, some weapon could ignite the atmosphere — the universe is a dangerous and amoral place and people are, well, see the previous point.

The third suggestion — “Describe what your family dinners are like.” — isn’t very interesting. Being single, the short answer is “macaroni” — the long one defines this to be, my parents and my brothers being together, whenever we happen to be, and contains the following:

1) lotsa chatter: my dad and mom are like a comedy pair: he’s the outrageous one with an incredible poker face, and she’s the straight one,

2) questions, as the hometown newspaper carries a daily 10 questions about the news column. That is enthusiastically competed in, more for the question-by-question a-ha! moments than for the overall scores. Mom asks the questions, and invents hints if necessary; as the questions are about anything that has been in the paper, her hints can be wildly inaccurate and misleading; at their most unfortunate, on the level of hinting “that place in Asia” for Bolivia. Most times there is bitter complaining about the author of the column, though, because he or she at times (a) chooses stupid minutiae (i.e. sport, or the name of the mayor of Two Roads, Shitkicker Province), (b) repeats the same question, (c) repeats the same question (of which municipality in the Shitkicker Province is Hoary McCoot the mayor of?), or (d) gets something monstrously and peculiarly wrong. Dad usually wins, because of (a) age, (b) being a high-school teacher accustomed to quizzes, and (c) having most often read the paper while we children played with our computers.

3) and food. (Then again, most dinners do contain food. One might even say that a dinner without food is like a bow without a string: a mere stick of wood with notches at the ends.)

(Er, yes.)

So as you can see, totally unhelpful suggestions that in no way make a post in any way, shape or… gol darn it.

Obnoxious crypto-dickery

September 28, 2011

There are five gods in the Land of the Blessed. Four of them walk among their people, walk in majesty, might and radiant flesh.

The first god is the Storm-God. He is a king of his people, and the Temple That Moves is his habitation. He is the Judge of His People, the Brother To Warriors, the Husband To Wives, the Father To All, the Passion and the Fury. He lives as his people live; he shares their joys and desires, woes and frustrations; he is the first of them, and they all are the Blood of God.

The second god is the Alien God, that came from beyond earth and sky, beyond mountains’ fire and the fire of the sky; the wise god that came from beyond the moons and stars, for the gods below the moons and stars are gods of the mountains and the sky, and are not wise. The Alien God is the wise god of a higher world, an unseen world, a world not of flesh and clay, but of spirit and understanding. The Alien God is not a god of kingdoms, of palaces and armies; his followers are a poor and gaunt lot, for their eyes are on a greater prize. They feel no fear, no pain, for those are of flesh; their only desire is the wisdom of true kings.

The third god is the Killing God. He is the oldest God; and he is a He; his issue are the High Priests. He names the other gods impostors and betrayers; mere spirits of his service that have rebelled and falsely claimed a part of his dominion. Some day, a wrath-day, a blood-day that will soon come, his faithful will march out and slaughter the champions of those false gods, and bring the truth to those deluded by them; that day the false gods will kneel, and every head shall bow; and then the one true god, the Noble God, will reign in justice and righteousness, forever.

The fourth god is called Eternity; and she is a She, and She’s the One. Her truth is eternal and unchanging, and writ in Her Book of Truth. Her work is endless, for her faithful followers are ever beset by traitors, infiltrators and heretics. There are those that for their own venal gain pervert Her eternal and unchanging teachings; there are those sent by the wicked Other Gods to distort Her eternal and unchanging Truth; and there are people of pride and sinful desire that claim untruths and horrors to be spoken by Her, instead of her eternal and unchanging Truth. The work of her loyal prophets is endless, and hard; but she tires not of expounding to her unworthy servants her eternal and unchanging Truth, for such is the legitimate love of god.

The fifth god is the Enigma-God. Some say he is defined by what he is not: he is not like the other gods. Some say she is a ghost in the Land, and stands behind every mortal, and close to all other gods, though they see her not. Most say it is not as humans are; for even the other gods are as humans, but the Enigma-God is free of all bounds of humanity, location and time. Words cannot bind or describe the Enigma-God, for the Enigma-God is above words, beyond words, and the origin of words. The Enigma-God is not good, nor evil; not wise, nor foolish: for how could the words of unwise human beings binds the true divine?

There are five gods in the Land of the Blessed; five gods, and constant war.

Oft the first god, the Storm-God, leads his people from the desert: and they kill all at their path, and make the bloodied homes of others their own, until their god grows restless of such contamination, and leads them away.

The second god, the ascetic Alien God, is not warlike, but his followers are an infectious throng. Where his word comes, where his steps go, there families are torn apart, and fathers turned against sons, daughters against mothers; for his call to wisdom is to each alone, and those who hear the call cannot abide with those who do not. Markets grow silent where his word comes, and night-meetings loud with the drone of prayers; children grow wild uncared, and the elderly waste away left alone: for their lot is not much compared to the wish to escape the sad Land of corporeal misery, and the faithful know better than to weep for those who are fated to be nothing more than flesh and clay. Theirs is the Small Death, and rebirth, until they too are born with a True Soul, and face the dreadful horns of either the Great Death or the High Ascension. Such is the stark world of the second god. Famine, and disease, and poverty, and the wrath of the jealous other gods, come soon where the second god visits, and the land is left barren and desolate, its inhabitants dead of the Small Death, or of the Great one, or Ascended away.

The third god, the Killing God, is a mighty king and his fortress is strong: as a king he rules, and as a king he makes war. His armies wear iron and bronze, and a stronger armor in the certainty of their faith: and though they may face defeat, their cause knows it not. And those that fall in his wars fall gladly; for to die for their king and god is the sweetest cup, and the highest honor.

The fourth god, the Eternal God, is a ruler as well; but she is not a king, but a magistrate, a judge, an examiner of souls and words. Her holdings are vast, and her warfare is mostly within: for there ever is some heretic with an ancient forgery, certain that such a text is truer than that the words checked to her own lips, and warm with her breath.

The fifth god is seldom seen, if such a crude sense can catch such a god; but there are ever those that come more alive than others, and know things which cannot be known; and their fury and zeal causes much damage and harm. So, at least, it is according to the other gods; for much of that harm is loss to their own numbers, and division within their sects. Much division is attributed to the Enigma-God that is not that god’s work; and doubtless much of the Enigma-God’s work goes unnoticed.

Indeed, there is a depraved and dangerous sect that holds there is no fifth god; and for this reason, being similarly unconvinced of the worth of the other four, their are universally disliked and despised, for it is the highest of divine truths that without gods all would be ruination and madness. So says the Storm-God, the Alien God, the Killing God, the Eternity God, and the Enigma-God; so say they all. What such different and quarrelsome beings all agree on, must be the most obvious and basic of truths.

For indeed, is it not said in the words of the Storm-God: I am the Lord of the Tribe, and into fire walks he, who seeks a different lord; but into twofold and threefold fire goes he, who would be his own lord.

And does not the Alien God say, the man is of flesh, and the woman of clay: flesh and clay together cannot combine to spirit and wisdom. Spirit comes from spirit, and wisdom from wisdom: without god, there is no spirit and no wisdom.

The Killing God, the mighty king, has spoken: Am I not the maker of all, the first of all that was, is, or ever shall be? Am I not the only god, the god whose children are all false gods and mankind alike? Sooner will rivers flow upwards, and mountains fall into the sky, than there be a righteous man who does not honor and worship me.

The god that is called Eternity, she says: Consider, o mortals, the divine wisdom that is in the blooming of flowers and in the clash of war-blades: all has a beginning, and an end. And is not the eternal and unchanging wisdom of that eternal and unchanging saying, that birth is divine, and death also: how then there could be anything that is not of the gods, and in their demesne, magisterium and domain?

The Enigma-God, even, has said — or in the Enigma-God’s name it has been said, by many mouths — that though the divine is complex, it is also simple (for words cannot imprison a true god); and it is a poor and illegitimate religion that assigns shackles and mantles of words to that which is beyond words. And likewise, it is a poor and blind view of the world that insists on words, and will not have that which words cannot capture: for such a world will contain all words, and nothing else: and by rejecting divinity, it will contain nothing at all.

* * *

And in other news, this is what I do when a flu hits me: sleep 12 hours, watch c. 6 hours of Jim Butcher interviews, down liters of tea, hot cocoa, honey and flu medicine, and crank out a crypto-anti-religious rant like this.

It would be really nice (and extremely inflammatory) to write about that “depraved and dangerous sect” that says there is no fifth god, and the other four are rotten scoundrels; but that would likely degenerate into an author tract pretty quickly.

Here’s what I was thinking: the Storm-God = the god of Genesis; the Alien God = the Gnostic god; the Killing God = the good old medieval god; the Eternity God and the Enigma-God = the most irritating aspects of Karen Armstrong and the other New Theists.

Now I’m going to read some Death Masks, and then sleep.

Back with a story

September 26, 2011

I’m back from over on Scientopia, where there now are deposited something like ten posts of mine; and I have a story.

No, not a story about guestblogging; but a story that just burst out of my forehead today. It’s kind of science fiction set twenty minutes to the future and a few hundred miles to the east of me. It could be called, “In New Russia, the missile launch you!”.

* * *

“What do you mean, ‘close’?” Yuri Petrovich spat.

“Close”, Nikolai Andropovich said, “as in opening, but in the other direction.”

“We can’t close!” Yuri shouted, waving the order paper. “How can you close a missile silo! How can you close all the missile silos? This is madness! Does the President have a German cabbage for brains!”

Nikolai sighed, took a drink, and looked out at the jaggedy concrete spread of the Putinsk Missile Field. Beneath the pitted, rain-stained, graffiti-spoiled domes and chutes, nuclear missiles still stood. Some of them more leaned, or slouched; but most of them still stood: proud, troublesome and obsolete.

“Look Yuri”, Nikolai said, “there is no more money.”

“How can you have no money for nuclear missiles? In modern Russia, people like the missiles—”

“Hush. In any Russia you have money for that which gives the deciders and wise leaders a happy face. Was much rockets into space for our grandfathers; was much missiles pointed at the capitalist-imperialist devil for our fathers; will not be missiles for us.”

“But”, Yuri sputtered, “you can’t just say nuclear weapons no good, and throw them away! That’s not how it works!”

“That is how it works. Why you think they threw the moon rockets away? Very good, much victory of technology, but no victory of will and propaganda. Is same with these missiles: very good for making the American into slag, not so good for victory of will and propaganda no more. That the job of the patriotic people’s video server now, a billion views, only the subversive antisocial people do not watch.”

“But— but, you ignorant Siberian twit, you can’t compare nuclear weapons to a Russian Youtube!”

“Is not that; is not the name and is not good to use that name! And weapons to make people into slag is worse than ways to make people like you. Make people be like you; then make people to like you. Then you need no-one to be made into slag because everyone loves you, and no-one ever loves people who makes others into radioactive slag.”

Yuri balled up the order, threw it — it was flimsy paper, and did not fly well — and threw himself down to the closest chair. The chair creaked; Yuri groaned. “So, whatever! We have the nuclear parts taken away, what we do with the missiles? What do we do with the jobs, Nikita? I am too old to learn a new trade.”

“You is thirty-seven.”

“Which is too old, do you think I could find a seat in re-education anywhere? I’d be begging for bread and giving the Belorussian love under the Prospekti bridge in under a year! Unless I got mad, desperate and took a warhead and sold it and was rewarded with prison enough for a lifetime of forced Belorussian love in the arse end of Siberia!”

“Siberia is not that bad.”

“Look in a mirror, see what it has vomited here to torment me.”

“Now, Yuri, is calm. I have a plan that make us both… well, not ones living under the Prospekti bridge.”

“Tell me.” Yuri leaned forward, sincerely interested. He did not like the Siberian, come from some backwater he could see Alaska from, but the Siberian was a procurer and had an eye and an ear and a couple of limbs for business.

“We is left with missiles, after they take the exploding part away, right?”

Yuri nodded.

“Then we take the government Transition Plan, and we become individual entre… ent-re-pre-neurs with right of first offer, and we buy the whole thing, whole field and missiles and all, for dirty cheap.”

Yuri laughed. “And what, we set up a museum here? Stalin himself, why not find red star uniforms too!”

“No. We no go into museum business. We go into business of having a place of launching missiles, having cheap missiles already, and experience-having staff people.”

“Who?”

Nikolai gestured at Yuri, then at himself. Yuri’s eyes bulged.

Nikolai smiled. “If we is owning the field, who say we not experienced? After every thing, we working here for many years! Army trained specialists! I know many contacts in India, in Tajik Republic, in Greater Mongolian Hural Kingdom, all private contacts, that pay good money for a satellite launch pad!”

“Wh-what?” Yuri stammered.

“Is the same principle, speaking like a general. Is the same machine, missile, as is a rocket into space. Just shoot up, not across. They bring a mathematics guy who make do with the computer, put in super Chinese fuel, they get discount, and get their own satellite up in the sky. We tell them what is where, and grow fat and old before the missiles is gone, and by then they have a habit to come here because we is space ent-re-pre-neurs of good repute!”

Yuri nodded furiously. That might just be stupid enough to work.

Nikolai nodded, also; the Russian might just be stupid enough to work while he, the smart Siberian, was in the executive position chair thing.

* * *

Notes —

“Belorussian love” : Not an actual expression, as far as I know. The exact definition is left for the reader’s imagination.

Nikolai/Nikita : Well, Nikita is not a proper diminutive of Nikolai or anything, but do you think Yuri cares?

The speech : Nikolai speaks clumsy English because, being from some un-Russian end of Siberia, he speaks lazy Russian. Partly possibly just to annoy Yuri. Also, both are drunk; this is not because they are Russians, but because honestly, sitting unsupervised and forgotten on a field of decrepit nuclear missiles is both boring and stressful.

“Greater Mongolian Hural Kingdom” : “Hural” is the Mongolian word for a parliament or assembly; a “hural kingdom” is a delightful signifier of something having gone very badly wrong with the democracy in there; possibly a Genghis Khan Mark II.

“super Chinese fuel” : i.e. phlebotinium, just in case my “missiles as rockets” brainwave has a fatal practical flaw in it.

“Putinsk” : Not an actual place; then again, who knows what a village or two will be called tomorrow? Might just as well be named for the repeating even-numbered president of the Russian Federation.

Still at Scientopia

September 19, 2011

Am finding it difficult to finish posts for two places; visit the Scientopia Guest Blogge to see what I’m writing there. One week of two is done already.

Hey, it’s this or posting pictures of my genitalia here. While I’m sure there are people with a burning interest in the privates of mathematicians, I’m pretty sure my audience doesn’t have those people.

If I’m wrong, don’t correct me. Okay?

Here’s one snippet that didn’t go up there because… well, you’ll see.

* * *

I am tempted to take some obscure and abstruse mathematics paper, one with not only with no applications, but with no examples either; and to spend 1000 agonizing words explicating that all, its whole integrated derivative myopic glory — but alas, I am lazy, and so my malice is foiled.

Still, looking at researchblogging.org, most of the mathematics-tagged posts are about articles that apply mathematics: to history, to ecology, to biology. That’s something which is easier to explain, and more importantly also sensible to explain. A math article such as those I write and read doesn’t really have any real-world impact; to see why it is all kinds of interesting and neat you’d have to be introduced into the sphere of mathematical interest and neatness first.

Should I then take some mathematics paper with outright applications, or one that brushes computing, or renoodles basic geometry, or the like? Well, probably should, and so stop this vacuous, meandering, verbose dithering about the whole matter; but I am a mathematician first, a nice person person second.

Actually, let me abort this post here, and switch to a much funnier subject.

Tolkien meets Lovecraft

September 16, 2011

To quote Wired (2006) reviewing Charles Stross’s Jennifer Morgue, the James Bond meets Cthulhu novel,

Which raises the question: exactly what genre of fiction wouldn’t benefit from the addition of the Cthulhu Mythos? Cthulhu westerns! Cthulhu biographies! And I’d particularly like to see a reinterpretation of Tolkein [Grrrr. -MoE] incorporating Cthulhu’s influence on Middle Earth.

That is a great idea. Tolkien’s world has a God (Eru Iluvatar), a bunch of incarnate angels (the Valar), and a fallen-angel Satan (Melkor Morgoth). Take those away, and add into the howling godless void uncaring, immensely powerful, horribly different alien creatures.

And think what elves’ close relationship with those “gods” might mean…

* * *

Frodo woke up staring at the ceiling. It was of green wood, green like deep water or a pinewood twilight. The ceiling tiles were wood, patterned and fitted like the scales of some great green dragon. The ceiling beams were a lighter green, irregularly patterned and rayed, as if the spidery-slim fingers of some —

Frodo shivered and clutched at his suddenly burning shoulder. He did not think of the knife, or the chase, or the lack of face on the black-cowled thing; instead, he recalled a visible hand, and shivered.

“My dear boy”, a familiar voice gasped; Frodo turned his head and saw a withered old Hobbit by his bedside, waiting like a tame praying mantis. A familiar withered old Hobbit, though it sickened him to see his corpulent old surrogate father grown so thin, so like a bent skeleton wrapped in too much skin.

The old Hobbit’s eyes twinkled with feverish intensity, with care, love, and something much like fear. “My dear boy. Your body is made whole, but the mind’s hurt lingers. Do not fret; this is a place where the terrors of the outside hold no power.”

Behind Bilbo loomed a second figure, as if a shadow of him: taller, robed in midnight blue, gaunt, with the robe’s folds in distressing layers round his neck. This figure was a stranger — no Hobbit — not human, even — a pale-faced being whose alien features hinted at ancestries far beyond the short memories of Halflings and Men; a proud king with serpentine black locks curling round his white, cruel features: a pyramid of a nose, a gash of a mouth, together with the puffed blood-red lips as if the infected wound of an Orc-blade; and eyes.

Sweet oblivion, those eyes! Vast — luminous — featureless pools of black with no iris or any other feature — cold — ancient and ageless — emotionless — save, beholding these two broken, humble creatures, an unspeakable amusement! As if they had seen such meetings so often as to call them nothing but an echo, a cipher with no meaning, and less value.

“Welcome to the house of Elrond”, that place’s master intoned, and Frodo escaped back into unconscious oblivion and memory’s nightmare.

* * *

“There are dark things in the wells which are the foundation of the world”, the wizard whispered. “Can you unsee that which you might see? If you cannot, be not so eager to see. Your life is the only part given for you to play; and you, my ignorant Hobbit, may have a role to play before the end, as other than a screaming witless husk.”

“Oh”, Pippin breathed, and shrank back from the well and the wizard both, the well-testing rock falling from his fingers.

Round them the halls of the squat-men spread, quiet and dead; built for nameless centuries, built and made kingly; and in one dark night, left empty. Mor-Ia was their name; the Dark Emptiness; not for their uninhabitation, but because of that Unspeakable without description or name that had emptied them.

* * *

“The Witch of the Golden Wood!” the Steward’s son spat. “I trust these elves not.” He threw an angry glance at Strider’s direction. “And you, elf-friend, less. Why would you consort with those who have seen the Elder Days, the days when bright stars burned new in the skies, and darkness welled down from them? Why should I trust you, a friend of the race that is not of this dusty earth, but a crafting of some Dark God? Those that go to them do not return, and those are the fortunate ones; for those that return, come back wrong.”

Strider did not answer; and Frodo understood why.

Brave the ranger was, and strong, and noble; but he could not escape the facts of his heritage; the taint of his lineage; the mixing of dull human blood, and the night-wine that flowed in inhuman veins. For though he did not seem so, though there was no fey madness nor lust for the timeless life of a tomb in him — no, not yet — yet Aragorn’s, Arathorn’s son’s one greatly distant ancestor had been, in the dim mists of Beleriand, and maybe still in the unfamiliarly geometried hidden city of Eressea was… an immortal elf!

I am over on Scientopia, temporarily

September 12, 2011

For the next two weeks, Sept. 12th to 25th, the science blogging community Scientopia’s Guest Blog is given over to a gibbering Finnish mathematical lunatic.

Since I am not just a gibbering Finnish mathematical lunatic, but the very lunatic in question, I’m excited. Head there; the first post (“The Secrets of the Advisors“) is up already.

I’ll try to extrude content over there and over here too; failing that, I’ll post something there, and pictures of my genitalia here. (The reverse does not seem appropriate.)

My penguin plan

September 12, 2011

It would be fine to be a penguin farmer.

It would be a grand life! Let me tell you.

First, it would need to be done in Finland, where I am. The Antarctica has the right concentration of people for my tastes, but there aren’t enough libraries and I fear even the Book Depository might not be able to arrange free and speedy deliveries. (“And finally, these fifty separate packages from over the past five months, all books, for ya, ya big lunk hunkering over that candy wrapper.”)

But penguins. First, they are aesthetically and practically pleasing animals. Unlike most other birds, they will not fly away; all you need is a fence and an absence of lakefront. They have an elegant, dignified two-tone coloring scheme, and they do projectile shitting. (I am not sure if this is an aesthetic or a practical benefit; it may be both, given my aesthetics.)

But, you ask, you horrid man (me, not you), what do you mean by penguin farming? Surely not meat — so do you mean you’d raise penguins to milk them?

Well, no, that would be almost as silly as farming penguins in Finland.

No, I would be in it for the entertainment; and I do not mean a petting zoo, or adult entertainment. (Well, that’s the fallback position, though. “Butler Birds In The Heat”; a very niche category.)

I would operate a penguin restaurant.

Wait, you cry again; you said this would not be for the meat. But I meant it, the first time I said it; the penguins would not be the meals, but the butlers. Imagine it! What child could allow its parents go past a place where penguins serve you food!

Largely food that is not fish; otherwise the meals might arrive in bit too vegetarian a state to the tables.

But otherwise — this beady-eyed small guy, bearing a platter with pate de foie gras or a Big Mac on it — what, you want penguin waitresses and good food? — waddling from the kitchen, reaching a bit to place the food up on your table, bowing a bit, emitting a raucous squawk of “Bon appetit!”, and leaving. Why, people would eat gravel if they could be served like that! I know I would; but then again, I am a victim of years of self-inflicted student cooking.

Cooking. Wait, could you teach penguins to cook? I foresee several problems.

One, the heat. Not the sexual frenzy, but the hot temperature; penguins might not like that. Even if they did, penguins are adapted to colder climes, which I think means a thick coat. Not the sort with buttons, but the hair fur thing. Which would be too hot for the kitchen, and being cooks the penguins could not get out if the getting got too hot for them. This might be solved with shaving, or plucking; whatever the penguin surface texture actually is. (I like penguins, but I’m a bit vague on some of the details. Do they squawk? Is there an English verb specific for the sounds penguins make, or an onomatopoetic transliteration for their cry? Please, let it not be “hacking” and “fhleegm!”)

The second problem of penguins as cooks. The wings; or flippers; or whatever those adorable thingies are. Are they any good with a cleaver? Or a roller, or a frying pan? I have no idea if penguin cooking prosthetics are easy to find; maybe not. Maybe I should find remote-controllable cooking robots, and teach penguins to remote control them? But do I want to face cybernetic penguins, asking if they can get a wage too? (That does not seem a situation where “no” is an acceptable answer. Plus do you think the courts would side with a me, or with cute and deadly cyborg penguins?)

The third problem of penguin cooking. “You made it too fishy again! It’s not good this fishy! Stupid fish-obsessed bird cook!”

Maybe I could train a penguin, splendid in its black-and-white naturals (no cleaner’s fees!), to operate as the cashier instead. Squawk, credit card into this hole, squawk, PIN code, squawk, thank you very much, and a peck for the child; thank you for visiting!

Greeters, place showers, maybe even stage entertainers — dancing girls (though who but a biologist could tell? And they, being nasty Darwinists, would find same-sex bird ogling just delish! To say nothing of what the woman Darwinists would!) but no stand-up comedians, I’m afraid. First problem: penguins don’t speak. Even if I could find an electric penguin-to-English translator, the material would be all like, “So some fish swim vertically, like this, and some horizontally, like this. What’s up with that? I mean, I just caught a boat, all the way from the Antarctic… no idea how it had strayed this far but boy was it a tired, easy catch! Easy catch!”

The penguins might not be the best bet for security. It would be dreadful, a pack of them against some unruly ruffians, come not to eat but to beat up a few foreign monochrome birdies. (“‘ey boid, we don’t want youse kinds roun’ heah, ya fancy dressin’ women-charmin’ avian!”) I’d have no other way out that ugly situation but to spray the ruffians with fish extract (it comes in bottles just like Mace) — after which the feeding frenzy would begin, and I’d have to bury the ruffian remainders behind the coldhouse.

As you can see, I have everything well thought out; I just need a venture capitalist (or a communist; I don’t discriminate) to give me a few wheelbarrows of cash.

Scientists find god

September 10, 2011

(Reuters, London/New York/Mexico City) — A paper to be published in Nature this week will detail the discovery of a god in Mexico, academic sources say.

The discovery was of an incarnate deity identified as Xipe Totec, the Aztec god of agriculture, vegetation and the direction of east. He was found by the a team led by Moore Starkweather, an ethnobiologist of Harvard University, and Claudia Umbridge, professor of Mesoamerican archaeology at the University of Cambridge.

Starkweather, when contacted for comment, described the discovery as “an utter shocker in the groin”; his expedition had merely meant to investigate the local cult sites for burial pits of the famous Aztec human sacrifices. When they unearthed Xipe Totec in an underground pyramid know as Loltec Tlatlauhca, the Grave of the Red Smoking Mirror, they initially thought him a local trickster, playing dead for laughs.

“When he then rose and took off the skin he was wearing, and exhibited extraordinary resistance to handgun bullets, we thought, this guy really is something else. Not even Penn and Teller can catch that many! To our surprise he was perfectly fluent in English, though he wasn’t entirely up to date with American history.” According to Starkweather, Xipe Totec had promised to return from his Big Sleep, but had overslept. In the meanwhile his worshippers had perished, and “the local Catholic priest had no knowledge of Xipe Totec’s promise to return, so we kind of adopted him, seeing as he needed our help more than we his dominion. He’s a decent enough fellow, very old-fashioned and polite. As a funny anecdote, we had to tell him the cartoon Batman is not a god of ours; he was absolutely crushed but expressed interest in coming to America and meeting the voice actors anyway.”

Professor Thomas Griphook of Harvard described Starkweather’s find as “possibly the biggest shake-up in Mesoamerican history since the 1957 discovery of the Tlatcuachtl inscription”, adding it could also have repercussions beyond the field of ethnobiology. “Archaeology, for example, is sure to be impacted by this powerful new source of information.”

Xipe Totec is presently housed at the US consulate in Mexico City as a guest of the consul, and could not be reached for comment. The local newspaper Pollo a la Mexicana reports the consulate as being surrounded by black-burning flames and a cloud of several million red doves; local authorities could not provide a mundane explanation for this, what Starkweather calls “the honor guard of Xipe Totec”, one of many examples detailed in the Nature paper.

Starkweather wishes to stress he is not and has never been a Totecist, and neither has any of his expedition crew; to the best of his knowledge Xipe Totec is not engaged in missionary work at this present time; and is not interested in a revival of his former religious community. While ecumenical work will certainly rise to the forefront in the future, Starkweather adds this is “not the time to bloviate on whose god is real, and whose perhaps problematic”.

Mr. Williams Rowntree of the Southern Luthero-Baptist Seminary, when contacted for comment, commented that “this must be a confusion of some sort”. According to him, “godhood is a very delicate concept, and unlikely to be manifested in a manner as crass as what has been reported. But I remain open to arguments to the contrary.”

Mr. Raphael Velaquez of the Institute for Mesoamerican Antiquity expressed concern at the news. “Xipec Totec translates as ‘our lord the flayed one’, and while as a representative of the Institute I am a tremendously excited, given our current exhibit is ‘the Gods of the Aztecs’, personally I am a bit worried that there might be human rights issues in the play, regarding the widespread practice of flaying that accompanied the worship of Xipe Totec.” When asked if he accused Mr. Starkweather’s team of any impropriety, Mr. Velaquez declined to comment.

According to a Mexican government source that wished to remain nameless, Xipe Totec will be granted honorary Mexican citizenship upon request; this would be the first step of a unique and no doubt difficult process of naturalization.

Ideas are cheap

September 8, 2011

So have some, and run with them if you want to.

* * *

Hm, here’s a starting idea for a story.

One graduate student is female-dogging at another how his advisor is aloof and scary, and meeting her is an Encounters of the Third Kind event he always needs the whole remainder of the day to recover from.

The other graduate student asks, why did you choose that kinda spooky advisor, then?

The first tries to answer, but much to his consternation finds he cannot recall that, not at all: he remembers being in the late stages of the M.Sc., and looking for an advisor… and remembers the current endless grind, but has no memory of how one turned into the other.

Unfortunately I have no idea where that would go. I don’t know if it is a psychological thriller, a horror story, or a detective tale. Or science fiction, or portal fantasy, or what. “I took you to my training for I saw in you the savior of the magical land of P’nath-p’naak!”

* * *

A story with bear cavalry in it.

Because, come on, bear cavalry.

* * *

Policemen have a secret religion, like Roman soldiers had Mithras. And that religion demands some crimes are not crimes, and not to be solved.

So a fireman, in the aftermath of a lamentable accident, discovers it was not an accidental death at all; and the police is not refusing to co-operate out of corruption, laziness or covering their asses… but because the matter is one of religion and of a deeply held personal moral code somewhat contrary to the Law. And by the time our fireman sees the religious nature of the death, it’s too late to back out. But don’t worry, don’t go on the run; the Fire Department stands behind you… and they have axes and hoses and jaunty helmets.

Also, insane courage.

Unfortunately I don’t know enough about either policemen or firemen.

* * *

Urban fantasy. Vampires and werewolves exist. An atheist Muggle is drawn into this world, and begins a quest to find out if there is a true religion, too; after all, if vampires, then Jesus.

Turns out vampires do not like this line of inquiry. After much drama, it is revealed Jesus was a vampire. Well, is a vampire. And our atheist has a stake in his fate.

* * *

A Sherlock Holmes character investigates the mystery of why he gets involved in so many bloody mysteries. (Not a story where the main character ends up tapping on the Fourth Wall.)

Maybe the Watson character is a master criminal hypnotist, and frames the “guilty” parties and scatters clues for the considerably less smart than he thinks Holmes to find…

* * *

A million-word novel about the End of the World. (Well, it’s a bit vague, but I think it’s a good idea.)

* * *

Suppose ghosts exist, but are a mystery to science; not for the lack of trying, but because they just are unpredictable and complicated. So complicated that it’s not even certain if they are conscious creatures, traces of memory and emotion, or even humans “in afterlife”: science is trying, but even after evolution and relativity, the Nature of Ghosts is unsolved.

Explore that scenario, which obviously is different from this reality we live in. How did the actual existence of ghosts change human history? (Not much; writers are lazy.) Did the Romans say Jesus was just a ghost? Did the Angels of Mons really, actually appear? Are there places too haunted to bear visiting? Are there vast theological rows over which visions are “from God” (whatever that might be), and which “just ghosts”? (Are there atheists saying that, obviously, all actual visions are ghosts; as an illusion of design doesn’t imply God, so doesn’t an illusion of afterlife.)

How poltergeisty can these ghosts be? Are there lanes with signs that say, “If you are approached by a woman wearing a surgical mask, walk briskly away.”

There are ghostbusters, of course; and if the problem is so puzzling to Science, all are probably frauds whether or not they are aware of it. If so, if there are these apparitions that are not understood (but are universally admitted to exist), and that can harm people, and can’t really be influenced in return… well, that’s a scared world. (“This way to the Ectobunker, Mr. President; we have a report of Grover Cleveland in the Oval Office.”)

That’s a world where people don’t want to go and investigate noises in the night: a claw in the dark, or a face that unmakes sanity, might be found.

The obvious plot would be “So what are these ghosts then?”; that seems difficult and likely to make the whole thing fall flat.

Much better to… what? Tell of a government agent that is called to investigate reports of “human influence on ghosts”; something potentially world-changing, because it has never worked before, outside of legend and tall tale. And eventually not called, but drawn, to look at a government project with that same aim… and a high possibility of a howling vortex of shades driving all of New York screaming mad.

* * *

(Warning: Just a beginning of a story.)

The last page of the sheaf was not mine.

The first twenty of the twenty-one pages, yes: DiBenedetto and Trudinger’s venerable, hoary even, “Harnack inequalities for quasi-minima of variational integrals”; that was what I had printed, and had thought I had fetched from the printer down the hall.

The last page wasn’t that: no mathematical article; no grant application; no teaching matter; no printout I could argue to myself could be printed with good intentions and in accordance with the university’s proper official printer use etiquette.

No, it was a schedule, dated for today; the first line was “c. 9:00 Dean arrives at work; goes to his room (M211, 2nd floor)”.

The third-to-last line was “c. 10:55 Dean leaves for the faculty meeting in room M311, 3rd floor.”

The second-to-last line was “c. 10:57 Dean is pushed down the stairs.”

The last line… well, I was rather stuck at the second-to-last line for a while. If this was the dean’s schedule for today, he had a really funny way of planning his days.

Then the last line registered.

“I am avenged! HA HA HA!!!”

A thought, from the roiling mess of my mind: This is not my paper.

This is. Not. My paper.

If this was a joke, it was not funny. No, rather it wasn’t a joke, even; it had failed so badly it altogether escaped the intended category.

In a daze I got up, went back to the printer, left the paper in the tray, got back to work, and…

And observed a thought, dreadfully clear, rising from the boiling mess of my mind: What if someone saw me return the paper, and took it, and now thinks I’m a lunatic that was actually serious and is going to push the dean down the stairs at 10:57…

A few seconds later I was back at the printer. The paper was gone. There was no-one in sight, and I did not want to holler.

In my frantic gazing up and down the corridor, my eyes encountered a clock. The clock read four minutes to eleven, or something like.

One minute (circa) before the dean is pushed down the stairs, between the second and third floors.

Considering the locations of the rooms mentioned, around the corner, some hundred meters away.

Visitors from the future

September 4, 2011

This is a common subject of science fiction: a fraction of our modern world falls into the past and is stranded there; divergences ensue. Harry Turtledove dropped South African racists into the American Civil War (Guns of the South); Reddit dropped a battalion of US Marines into the Roman Empire; John Birmingham dropped a twenty-minutes-to-the-future multinational navy into the Pacific WWII (Axis of Time); and of course Eric Flint et al dropped a doughty West Virginia village into Germany, 1632 AD (the 1632 series).

This is a nice scenario with endless room for showing one’s inner history buff and speculation junkie; but what of the reverse?

* * *

Air shimmers over the Potomac river, 2011, and a sonic boom sweeps over Washington, D.C., as something vast and shiny rolls out of thin air, and drops into the river.

As the president is herded into an underground bunker, as fighter jets take flight and blue lights converge on the object steaming in the river… a hatch in it pops open, and a human being looks out, all three eyes wide, silvery skin dull with shock; and whispers, the whisper carrying to all three thousand inhabitants of that housing marble: “Cut the speculation, people; it’s not the where that is wrong, but when… because this looks like Second Medieval-period America to me.”

The police are the first to arrive. Most shy away from the silvery sphere, and the flood it is causing by blocking half the river, hissing and steaming. Most policemen and -women run to evacuate the locals, though from the danger of the flood or of the object, they don’t know, and don’t particularly want to guess.

One policeman, not having watched enough science fiction movies, raises a gun at the silver-skinned red-edged stranger, who is now out, wading towards the shore, out of the mists round the sphere.

“Stop!” the policeman yells, the yell coinciding with his first shot.

The stranger flinches as the bullet hits; flinches, and then straightens, incredulity showing on her (?) face. It’s a human face, though it has one additional eye in the forehead; a human face, though it is silvery, smoothly nude and without any hair. Then again, that slim, tall person is smoothly nude all over the unclothed body; where hair would be expected, dark red tentacles of varying size sprout: scalp, armpits, crotch and eyebrows.

All this shows; what doesn’t, is the wound. Instead, a flattened metal slug shows against that silvery person’s hip, before sliding off and falling into the river.

The stranger looks at the policeman; but if the look is meant to communicate something over the rushing water, the hissing steam, the blare and blink of sirens and all manner of screams… it does not communicate that.

This does not surprise the policeman; it seems to surprise the person in silver.

The policeman squeezes off a few more shots; as his hands shake, these go wide, and go angrily hissing into the steaming river.

“What the holy is concerning to you?” the stranger yells, her (?) voice hoarse and heavily accented. The red tentacles that are her hair are now standing straight in a crimson sunburst round her face. She waves a silvery arm, and a similarly silvery disc flies off her hand, screaming like a fire alarm, arcing like an arrow, a sparrow — and hitting the ground in a blinding flash of light.

The policeman drops his weapon, and fall to his knees, screaming, clawing at his burning eyes; the same procedure, sans gun, is repeated by a dozen or so curious bystanders.

By the time the tanks arrive, the people of the silver sphere are ready, and angry: the ways of these violent metal-pellet-gun-carrying, processed-oil-burning, electricity-using primitives are not to be tolerated. It’s the time to bring some superior 29th-century civilization to these 21st-century savages!

* * *

— where I need to break off, to consider things.

If you send modern people into the past, you root for the modern people, because they’re familiar to you. They’re the generic well-adjusted good people. (Well, not in the Guns of the South…) The past is a misogynist, superstitious, poverty- and disease-ridden hellhole not as quaint as its reputation; whatever our modern people do, will be an improvement. (It’s not that they will surely succeed; but the reader will tend to root for their success, rather than that of Holy King Rotfang Bitchkiller the Second.)

If future people come into today, how do you root for them, the strangers? When you give them morals and values, they will be either ridiculously vague or, even more ridiculously, the same as we have right now — or they will be in some specific direction away from our current overall consensus; and that can’t be a direction that will sit well with all readers.

What do the people of the 29th century think of abortion? What about drugs? Euthanasia? God? Nationalism; sexuality; childcare; and so on and on. If you don’t stay vague, or vaguely where the debate is right now (“In the starry future, there are Creationists and moderate Christians and some shrill atheists…”), a large portion of the prospective audience will go, “Aaah! This gross moron shows his political, ideological colors! I might have guessed!”

And if you don’t give the future people any specific morals and values, how are they to do anything, except stereotypically evil-alien-conqueror stuff? The stranded-in-the-past plot is about the conflict between two ways of looking at the world, not just about two different levels of technology.

In the Axis of Time, you have multicultural, gender-equal people of today-plus-twenty-years, versus the racist misogynists of the Forties.

In the Guns of the South, you have a twenty-years-to-the-future minority of uncouth, frustrated racists, versus the gentrified fulfilled racists of the American South.

In the 1632 series you have Americans that have certain basic assumptions of human rights, fairness and sod-the-nobility; versus the post-Medievals whose givens include the pissing pyramid of authority, no rights at all, and a world that not only isn’t fair, but isn’t supposed to be, and can’t be made to be fair.

In each, the surface plot is about the guns of the future going “bam!” and the people of the past going “splat!”; but the plot beneath is about worldviews. How will Robert E. Lee handle knowledge of future history, and the future faces of racism? How will 17th-century Europe deal with the concept of democracy? And if the future navy dropped to the middle of WWII includes German, Japanese and American elements, how will each past party deal with each of the future ones, and vice versa? Each plot would go “splat!”, if it was just about killing the pasties until the futuries win.

I, as a totally impartial observer, naturally think the future would be in the direction I’m leaning towards, i.e. leftie liberal-permissiveness with a eunuch nanny state one world government, lots of skepticism, atheism, science worship, space travel and screaming uninhibited shameless hedonism, a largish dose of cyberpunk and a mindset that will consider George Carlin “tame”.

Oh, and body modification for aesthetic and practical purposes, removing the idea of hereditary features and skin color, and blurring the idea of gender: a skin that is as a bulletproof vest, just for safety; and tentacles instead of hair because who doesn’t like tentacles? On your scalp, they’re extra hands, a fan, or a shapeshifting sunroof hat; in the groin, they are extra entertainment for you, and those close to you.

* * *

Also, “bring civilization to these savages”? There are people who blanch at the idea; but (say) bringing democracy and equal rights for women and sexual and racial minorities is an idea that I think would not be very distasteful cultural imperialism to most readers.

What the future people would bring, would by definition be something that the powers of our day consider unthinkable, heinous, weird and/or evil; otherwise, it would be the law already. (“Equal rights for women? Don’t you know women are weak, unintellectual, easily tempted sin-vessels? Who would have the babies if women had vocations?”)

Think of arguing about the position of women with someone whose all experience, and all “data”, support the conclusion that women are weak, servile baby-making machines, and can be nothing else. Your contrary idea would seem outlandish to them; your data to the contrary would seem like a fairy story or a fabrication.

Then imagine our 29th-century people expressing horror at our opinions on… what? Take any social opinion which seems obvious to you; that’s the one. Maybe schools are really a bad idea. Maybe two parents raising a child is a suboptimal solution, a relic of our animal ancestry. Maybe romantic and sexual love should have nothing to do with each other, and there should be separate “marriages” for both. Maybe soldiers should be reviled and feared, and barely tolerated as a necessary underclass. Maybe people shouldn’t have a right to have children, or to raise children, just because they want to.

Whatever the idea, don’t think 2011 is the ultimate pinnacle of moral evolution, and the future is just us with the wrinkles ironed out. That’s what the Victorians and the Medievals thought, and they were wrong.

* * *

That problem aside, the best, most self-indulgent part of that fantasy would be… future history.

Future history, told from the viewpoint of eight centuries after us. With encyclopedias showing the deaths of every important person alive in 2011, except for the possible effects of the coming of these Arriveds. To think of it! To play with the fates of every person and enterprise of today! What will come of Apple and Microsoft, or Google? How will Iraq go, or Libya? Who will be the pre-eminent artistic talent of our times, from the perspective of centuries? How did history judge Bush Junior, or Barack Obama? You must tell, for the people of today will ask!

Settle grudges — entertain speculations — shock your readers!

(Of course the time travelers will have encyclopedias with them. What do you take them for, a culture of paper-based encumbrance people? Their bodies are computerized to contain all data ever produced in each of them!)

Future history, with data showing all earthquakes, and meteor flybys; all accidents and terrorist attacks waiting to happen (until that data’s arrival changes things), every decaying support beam, every catastrophic collapse or tidal wave…

Future history, with files containing all “historical” novels, movies and the like. Including all the books Stephen King ever wrote, including those he hasn’t written by 2011, and thanks to the disruption of the Arrived, may never will. All of Hollywood’s summer hits from 2011 on, until Hollywood’s demise. Every single blockbuster, bestseller and more; every book J. K. Rowling wrote, all the works of Charles Stross, all the works of your favorite living authors, actors and directors… which wouldn’t be at all good for the mental or fiscal health of these artists. (On the other hand, yay! All the volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire, and the Concordances! And the Prequels, and the stories of King Tyrion’s reign!)

Future history, with book-analogues full of eight centuries of future science, making every single scientist, theorist, engineer and mathematician alive today obsolete… some by their own future works. (Hello graduate student! This is the discovery for which you would have won the Nobel Prize! Shame, ain’t it!)

All that, without even considering the obvious: future technology, and its applications to warfare…

It would be a scary story.

(Disclaimer: Not an original idea; John Birmingham explored the impact of c. 2020 archives on a c. 1942 society, but (as I recall) was more concerned with the copyright and monetization angle of it — with a very young Elvis Aaron Presley being met by a very slick lawyer type, gabbling something about music. Me, I’m thinking of an author leafing through a book with a familiar name on the cover, muttering: “Who… who wrote this? How can this be my work, if I never wrote it? Will I? Why bother… how could I? If this is my… my magnum opus, the one I will be remembered for… what chance do I have of writing anything better?”)