Archive for April, 2012

Pie and ash

April 28, 2012

And now, out of the blue, memories! Because I’m entertaining my parents for a couple of days, out in the countryside; and these are two events I wouldn’t have ever known about if they hadn’t told me.

Parents always tell.

Long, long time ago I was a wee toddler playing at the log-squared pile of sand in front of the family house. Meanwhile, inside, mom was baking — brought a freshly-baked pie out to the steps to cool. I waddled there, unwatched, a fistful of sand in hand — the pie went uneaten, and I haven’t become a world-famous cook.

One other time, inside, I was playing in the kitchen-common room. One quarter of which is a massive, red-painted, sheet metal-covered wood-burning oven. Which has a little cover in the very lower parts for the extraction of ash. Like, at toddler height. Then me, waddling closer, no doubt thinking this had to be a secret candy depository for kids — and I am happy to say I have no memory of the taste. Blblbl; maybe that was an unconscious karmic payback for the pie incident.

(And oh, “out in the countryside”? Thanks to dad being a god of computers, and the whole high school-lower high school-complex’s unofficial technology expert in addition to math-phys teaching, there seems to be a new laptop or tablet here every time I come to visit. A 2nd-gen iPad this time; I approve of everything in it except the Appleness, which out of mostly blind ideological hatred I despise. And the Internet connection here, eh, it makes the screen glow and your hair blow back like the curls of a Swedish Eurovision performer.)

Short bits

April 25, 2012

So how exactly do you make a phone number into a pay-to-call number? Because I’d like mine to be one; it would be useful extra income.

“Hullo, Dad. No, you’re not interrupting anything. Let me tell in great length what I’ve been up to lately…”

*

A game: “X implants”.

What word is the most ominous X you can think of? What about the most hilarious X?

I propose “chastity” and “sloth” (as in, the animal).

*

Wait: a secluded, scenic lair, skulking henchmen, a factory, a black-and-white morality, a world-embracing plan for the Big Day… clearly Santa is a supervillain.

“Oh”, you say, my dear naive reader, “but he’s a jolly chap! He just gives presents to children!”

That is the exact core of his cynical evil.

Has anyone ever asked what Santa means by “naughty” or “nice”? Haven’t you noticed even the most rotten little bastards get heapfuls of presents, if their parents just are rich? Indeed, the amount of loose money the parents have correlates very, very strongly with the amount and quality of presents their children receive; and a lot of that money seems to go missing just before Christmas.

There can be only one conclusion.

Santa is running a protection racket.

Don’t want your children to be unpopular when Christmas Day rolls in? Don’t want them to be thought naughty, do you? Then, dear parent, why don’t you slip Santa a bit of cash and he will “cook the books”…

*

Related to the previous: clearly we need a Commission for Moral Clarity to replace that old villain in red; some international body that will define (or region-code) “naughty” and “nice” so that children know what to do to get as many presents as possible.

This is not cynical, mind you; as per Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, children are at stage two, orientation by self-interest: when given a morality, they ask “what’s in it for me?” Christmas presents have been the obvious solution ever since psychologists took over the world in 1931. (Does this news surprise you? Do you feel uncomfortable? Incredulous? Does it seem there’s something in your mind telling this is not something you want to accept? My point exactly; psychologists are wily.)

As for the Commission, I volunteer; I have strong opinions on a variety of moral issues. “Pelting elderly people with apples. Naughty in the case of multiple apples; for single projectiles, the Supervisor rolls 1d6 and a 1 naughtifies. For gang-pelting, see 404 (b) sec 4 para 4–11.”

*

To further harp on the same thing, tell me this o Santa fanboys: who gave him the right to judge your children?

And for those who see no problem in a stranger giving gifts to whoever he chooses: remember that the old-timey Santa also brought bundles of twigs, sacks of coal, the like: that is to say, he was not merely a giver of gifts, but of shame too. Think how the children, the parents, must have felt: little better than if some unaccountable, all-seeing agency had scrawled “SINNERS!” on their door.

The system today is hardly any better: more gifts or less gifts, worse or better gifts still establishes a hierarchy of the naughty and the nice: or rather, of the have-toys and the have-not-toys; the anti-yules and the santaphiles; the poor, dirty, nasty rebels; and the affluent, richly rewarded conformists. Santa’s hand is much longer and stronger than you might suppose; and who defines the morals of a child, rules the adult.

Parent! Before you let Santa give toys to your children, ask yourself what you are getting into. Are your children merely pawns in some social experiment? Is Santa your friend… or your enemy?

*

Some T-shirts you want to wear to an airport, but shouldn’t:

  • my colon contains terrorists (they’re just behind the next bend)
  • I’m nut suspicious!!!
  • Look, I’ve trained my muscles — you try to put something in my ass, I’m keeping it there

*

Q: What’s the connection between mayday (the help signal) and May Day (May 1st)?

A: Well, on May Day there’s drinking and carousing; your common average working people are allowed to get utterly smashed. This used to happen on ships too; and what’s more, as sailors are an unprejudiced, cosmopolitan lot, drunken homosexual orgies were not all that uncommon. (Remember: what happens at sea, likely involves seamen.) Then, as navigation had been neglected during this activity, there would be a distress call—

“Halp, Queenstown! This is Vitfläck out of Gothenburg, and we’re sinking!”

“Huh? Eh? Why? How bad is it?”

“May Day! It’s a total May Day situation! Be quick, somebody’s stolen all the lifeboat bungs and there’s a baboon tied to the rigging!”

“Really, Vitfläck?”

“Really! All the officers are smashed, half the crew is nuts with Viagra and vodka, and there’s a dog with a shotgun at the doorway!

“Sigh. Okay, everyone within range, Vitfläck has a mayday, a total mayday, an utter mayday at co-ordinates—“

Tinker, tailor, yawn, eh

April 24, 2012

Went and saw “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, a 2011 film based on a book of the same name (but with commas!) by John le Carre.

What I know of le Carre is this:

  1. writes books about a British spy called Smiler, Smiley or something such,
  2. as he is very much at the opposite end of spy fiction from James Bond, Smiler doesn’t smile all that much; and
  3. the books are apparently both popular and well-regarded.

Now, the film.

It starts from this: there’s this British thing called Circus. Or possibly the Circus; I’m not very attentive about the “the”. It’s one of their spy outfits, or some superagency, or some special agency; the film doesn’t bother telling us. It is apparently led by a man called Control (the Control?), unless he’s a very bossy secretary sitting at the end of the only meeting room the Circus has. (A one-ring circus?) He has this wacky idea there’s a mole at that very table, which apparently is a very important table, not that you would know from the surroundings; Smiler’s (uh, Smiley, that’s what he was) world is a 70s office hell and everything looks like the most depressing parts of your parents’ photo album. (Well, my parents’ album anyway; apparently all architects had a happy 60s and then burned out and started leaking concrete and drabness everywhere and this is the 70s.)

Now, Control is forced out of the agency for Reason X; possibly it was this mole fixation, or something else; the one catastrophe we’re shown occurs after C. is already shakily saying he’s being forced out. Maybe office politics; probably something that was explained in the book. The film spends its time rather on old people looking dour. Along with Control, out goes his man Smiley. Who apparently is not a field agent at this point in his life, because he’s sitting at the big table too.

Now, Control then dies. Whether this was just what old men do, or foul play, remained unclear to me. Also, some time passed; how much, remained unclear to me. (There’s a pattern here. I hope it’s not that I’m a moron.) Then the higher minister-level powers take Smiley off his retirement and put him into investigating Control’s old hunch. There are four suspects: the titular, pseudonymical Tinker, Tailor, Soldier and Spy of the abbreviated children’s rhyme. The Spy is Smiley himself; I kept hoping he would be the mole, because that would have been a mind screw of a plot and no mistake.

The other three were… uh… Mr. Unpleasant Short Guy, Mr. Estherhazy, and Mr. Fairly Handsome. I don’t know their positions in this vague Circus, because the film never told me. I don’t know what kind of characters they were, because the film told me so very little about them. Mr. Short Guy is apparently the new boss man (ringleader?); Mr. Easterwavy is apparently a foreigner originally or something and owed Control his life; Mr. Handsome had no attributes except an affair.

Apparently I was supposed to care about which of these characters was the mole. I didn’t; it didn’t seem to make any difference. Find the mole, okay; but which one is the mole, who cares.

(Er, looking at Wikipedia it seems there were five suspects and not four: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Poorman and Beggarman; and Smiley was the Beggarman, not a Spy. Seems I relied on the title a bit too much. But who the devil was the fifth character? I have no idea, and no interest. Nice work, movie, as if a name and a face are all you need for characterization. Grrr.)

The film was two hours of drab grimdark; apparently it wanted to show the cynical, brutal, paranoid side of spy business. Fine enough, and apparently the books do that very well; but the film just ended up being brooding old men brooding, muttering about torture and sluggishly looking for answers to uninteresting questions.

Ad calling and church spam

April 20, 2012

Here’s a great business idea: Free browser-based Internet calling to actual telephone numbers!

Free is offset by that fact that, two minutes into the call, a harsh, metallic, Russian voice intrudes into the call and starts robotically extolling the virtues of black-market sexual enhancers.

“Press two to learn more! Press two for very hard potency!”

“Like I was saying, Lorraine—”

“Do you suffer from sexual inadequacy?”

“—went to France and—”

“Do your penises feel small?”

“Look, I’ll call you back.”

*

Here’s another: Church spam. The problem with spam is, even if people get to see it, they’re not inclined to take it seriously. Thus, for better uptake, you need to find a less hardened audience.

“What is the purpose of your visit into the Republic of Offensive African Stereotype, Mr. Johnson?”

“That’d be Rev. Johnson. I come to preach the good news to those who have not heard it before!”

“Oh. Christian-type good news?”

“Indeedy! The Church of Jesus the Man O Man of Nazareth. May your loins never grow old!”

“I’m sure they won’t, Mr. Johnson.”

“No, sorry, that’s a part of the official name. Do I need to open this crate of prayer creams?”

“Beads?”

“Creams. Very affordable; very efficient. Works like a miracle; three for the price of one!”

“And the next crate?”

“Wheatgrass juice. Highly sacramental.”

“Mental alright. The next is host, right, Reverend?”

“Kind of. Sailor scout cookies.”

“What, like the cartoon?”

“No, like the quality product, available through us only, by exclusive monolatrous arrangement with the Christian Sailors and Girl Scouts Federation of America International Consecrated. Blessed by three Popes!”

“Look, do you really think you… oh, you have a pyramid behind that cross.”

“For Christ the Marketer, who had thirteen first-level recruits!”

“Look, this all looks like shady business.”

“Ought to! With these prices I’m practically crucifying myself! Look, you seem a bright chap; come in at the entry level now, and you’ll be a bishop in no time, with an option for cardinality if your recrui… er, conversions keep up! Convert two of your friends, they convert two each, a couple of levels and you’re set for life, and the life after!”

Islands and continents

April 18, 2012

So when I was quite young, I was quite unclear on many things, as quite young people are; and one thing that troubled me was: “What’s the difference between an island and a continent?”

Fueled by extrapolation from bad data I came to the conclusion that the difference was this: “Continents are earth all the way down, while islands, obviously being situated in very deep water, do not reach down to the bottom of the sea, but are floating thingies instead. Because elsewise they would be some sort of huge underwater mountains, which is just stupid.

(“It’s a waste of earth-rock-stuff! And inelegant! They would erode away in an instant! And why would people call them ‘islands’ if they’re nothing but stupid miniature continents? Clearly this is a foolish and untenable position.”)

Like I said, bad data: or more accurately, one point of data, an episode of Alfred J. Kwak I think; but it was a very convincingly animated diving scene, with absolutely no flashing banner of “THIS IS NOT HOW ISLANDS REALLY WORK”, or even “NOT A REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE”.

Since then, I’ve learned the difference between islands and continents is actually that, uh, continents are bigger.

A plan for a YA series (because I have too much time)

April 18, 2012

Book 1. Our magical hero teens come together to fight the evil New York-obliterating plot of Dark Lord Doomblast. The plot is vanquished.

Book 2. Our magical heroes are reunited, a year later. Various growing-up stuff ensues; also a second plot by Dark Lord Doomblast, which is similarly aborted.

Book 3. Our heroes, half a year after the previous book, decide they will be active, not reactive. They find Doomblast’s lair, and kick him in the head until he is dead. Then they take the lair and the remaining minions as their own. Except for the horrible torturer types. (“Mom, I’m moving out! It’s a nice underground cave on Long Is— I mean, it’s a nice place in the suburbs!”)

Book 4. Our heroes, half a year later, have tired of the lair and the lack of a dark lord. Seeing a popular Eastern European revolution in the news, on the cave’s Dark-Lord-A-Vision, they jet there and help to topple the tyrant. (Well, they do their best. Not knowing the language is a bit of a problem.) They open up prisons, confound secret policemen, turn tanks into pudding, and leave, pleased by a job well done. Elections in six months. (Let’s call the place Rutenia.)

Book 5. Half a year later, our heroes are troubled to hear the Evil Ethnic Banhammer Party is predicted to win the first free-ish elections in Rutenia since 1935. They fly in, try to find out why the people don’t vote right, and end up fixing the vote, sparking a civil war, and unwittingly revealing themselves to the world. Book ends with a cliffhanger involving Wolf Blitzer.

Book 6. While the Rutenian Civil War spirals out of control, our heroes (“the nameless mystery teens!”) are hounded by reporters; and as they leg it to their Brooklyn lair, they discover it has been raided by the FBI, and all the ex-minions are in prison. And then a tear gas cylinder flies in through the window. The rest of the book is Fraction A of the heroes as FBI prisoners, trying to tell they’re not the teenage masterminds of a drug or vice operation, honestly; and Fraction B who are vacillating between rescue and surrender. It does not help that the FBI finds the heroes’ parents and places them under constant surveillance. In the end, Fraction B-1 goes to talk to the President, while Fraction B-2 agrees to wait for a week and then attempt rescue. The book ends with B-2 rescuing the A people… and coming to the realization that the B-1 people, the ones that went to see the President, have dropped off the face of the Earth.

Book 7. Where the metaphorical shit gets real, as an intrepid reporter realizes that these English-speaking Rutenian-rebellion inciting vote-fixing weird young people are Americans — and she tracks down their parents. (“Toppling foreign governments? No, my daughter lives in Brooklyn!”)

At which point the CIA gets mightily interested, especially since (after some wranging) they hear from the FBI about the “escaped drug dealers”, and from the Secret Service / Homeland Security about “President-menacing druggie terrorists in custody”. The CIA doesn’t have any magical enforcers of its own; but who needs magic when you have machine guns, satellites, Internet surveillance and the stern patriotic spirit of a fraction of the populace?

Shortly after, our remaining heroes are in Rutenia; turns out being hunted by the CIA is no fun. Then again, it is no fun to be in the middle of a civil war, with US and Russian agents involved. And oh, this civil war is one of those where the people split down a religious divide: both the Cruciform Christians and the Intersection Christians were oppressed by the former evil atheist tyrant, and now being liberated both want to pre-emptively oppress the dirty heretic other. Because, you know, the tyrant had the sense to use the military from one side of the country to oppress the other. With this much rancor, our heroes spend their time trying to prevent random executions. (Also, language problems continue.)

As the Intersection side seems to be backed by people in sunshades, speaking American English and carrying big crates of guns, our heroes retreat out of necessity to the Cruciform side. And when it feels like things cannot get any worse, well, the newest US agents on the other side turn out to be familiar ones: the ones that went to see that old wonderful President of the US. Huge cliffhanger.

Book 8. A tense confrontation in Rutenia. (“Hang on, why are you in that black spy-assassin getup? And where did you vanish after seeing the Prez? And, er, could you put that gun down?” versus “What are you doing on the Russia-backed side of horrible oppressive war criminal terrorists? Don’t you know we-us is backing this side of noble if occasionally forced into hard decisions freedom fighters? Also we were held until we saw the error of independent semi-terrorist action; you should be held too.”)

And because intelligent conversation is really difficult when people are pointing guns and jabbering in English, Russian and Rutenian, things become messy and violent. And in the usual fashion of series like this, our heroes, on both sides, get more and more powerful. Then a suitably tragic and dramatic event convinces them of the facts that (a) they need to trust each other, and (b) they can’t trust anyone else.

In other words, they find themselves a hell of a lot more powerful, but in opposition to America, Russia, and pretty much the whole world, come to think of it. Plus it begins to seem neither side of the civil war likes them that much.

Book 9. Meanwhile, back in America. Our heroes’ parents are worried. Most parents would be, knowing their children are suspected of terrorism, drug trade, revolution, presidential assassination, war crimes, and the like, and also are under twenty years of age. While something is very obviously going on in Rutenia, our heroic parents probe official and unofficial channels, trying to find their children. The official channels are very unresponsive. The media is… well, since the parents are not dumb folks, they know that’s a dangerous road to take.

Which is the point where a sulfurous gentleman of slightly diabolical aspect appears, offering them help for free.

As said, the parents are not dumb folks, so they tell the sulfurous gentleman to go lose himself.

By the time he comes back, each of the parent households has at least one CIAFBINSAWTFBBQ agent as a permanent houseguest, and unmanned drones hover over the neighborhood. Something has gone really wrong in Rutenia, and the government really wants to talk to our heroes.

So, in a burst of sulfur, the parents disappear; the government’s distress level jumps up a few notches.

The parent’s distress level does likewise: because they find themselves not united with their children, but in Hell.

Literally.

The sulfurous gentleman gives them a lecture about the events of the series so far, and then drops a bomb: the origin of the heroes’ magical powers is the War Between Heaven and Hell. Except in reality there is no God, and according to Mr. Sulfur this Hell side is the good guys. And he wants the parents to convince their teenaged children to fight for him, which shows he clearly has never had any children himself. (“You want me to tell my girl to join the Legions of Hell? Isn’t that Alice Cooper’s job?”)

Then there’s an incursion from the other party, showing the glowing Lovecraftian terror of angels, and the tentacled counterstrike of Hell; and the parents start to feel this whole war business is not NC-17; it’s NC-and-no-humans.

Then a portal opens to Rutenia, and the parents see — continued in the tenth novel.

Book 10. Our heroes find their business going steeply downhill, because the Russia-backed Cruciform locals have found extra backing for their attempts to take over the whole country. That extra backing is three-meter-tall pale-skinned humanoids with dove wings, burning eyes and bloody huge swords. As one can imagine, the Cruciform ethnoreligious segment sees this as an endorsement of their cause by God; this is moral-riffic!

Meanwhile, the US-backed side has no angels, but instead repeated armed incursions from the neighboring, and equally Intersectionist-Christian republic of Transpanphlagonia.

Actually, the only party that’s behind our heroes are the remaining followers of Mr. Bigtyrant, given as either side would like to kill them all and they have families too. Given how these things go, our heroes hold the capital — 30% cruciform, 40% intersectionist, 30% friendly — and see clouds of smoke at every horizon. Even worse, night by night arsons, assaults and murders grow more frequent.

Which is the point when a portal to a red burning sulfur-belching hell opens in the central square and their parents march out, flanked by a honor guard of horned devils.

Some gibbering occurs. (“I had a dream like this once. Am I still wearing my pants? And is Mr. Hockings the algebra teacher in that crowd too? Because that’s all that is missing.”)

Now, since our heroes have had a few lessons in cynicism in the course of the series, they’re not immediately leaping to the side of Lucifer. After all, they’re against the US and Russia both already; being against both Heaven and Hell is possible too. Because they want to be peacemakers. They want to make things better. They want to be heroes, and this is a lot harder than defeating Dark Lord Doomblast was.

At which point the question rises: if their powers are in some way derived from the War of H&H, what about Doomblast’s magical mystical fell potencies? And what does “derived from” really mean?

So they take the sulfurous gentleman hostage, and ask him a few pointed questions. Mr. Gentleman says “pop!” and vanishes in a puff of, well, sulfur.

Now, US- and neighbor-backed civil warriors on one side; angel- and Russian-backed civil warriors on the other side. Our heroes, and their parents, in the middle.

Our heroes manage to capture a few leaders from both sides — talking sense at them is unsuccessful — but then a captive angel drops a moderate bomb.

There is a God.

Or actually there was a God.

You see, He, the leader of the angelic side, was exiled a few decades ago — something about insufficient strictness in warfare against the hellish foe — and banished to this barbarian planet Earth. Where, it is believed, He became mortal and started building a new power base, so a few naive idealistic humans, chosen in random, were given powers sufficient to take this renegade God down.

Yeah, Dark Lord Doomblast? He was God-in-exile. And now he’s dead.

Wait — it gets worse. Though to hear that worse thing a few of our heroes need to infiltrate “Heaven” and browbeat a few angels taking care of the meters and levers underneath the Winged Citadel. They can’t do a thing about the heroes’ powers; but they can point wildly at readings that are very bad, and explain that God’s (or whatever you want to call Him) existence was the cornerstone of Heaven’s existence, and now the whole place is collapsing. There are one hundred billion three-meter-tall angels, and they all need to evacuate within the year or face annihilation. The alternatives are Hell, pop. one hundred billion, and Earth, pop. seven billion. The latter has been chosen; what remains is sealing the doorways between Hell and Earth so the old enemy cannot interfere.

Boom. Nice job breaking it, heroes.

Book 11. Our heroes discover the Russian leadership, the Kremlin, the whole shebang, has been taken over by the angels — they’re not just pretty, but can offer infinitely prolonged, invigorated life and great riches to their servants, too. (Prolonged life, the same one-directional way the magical powers were pushed into our heroes.)

And when our heroes turn back to Uncle Sam… well, the very persuasive sulfurous gentleman has taken that side over.

Then, just to put a cherry on this sundae of horror, the question arises: one of the technical angels, one that thought it better to throw her lot with the heroes, either because of an obscure death wish or some soon-terminal friction within the heavenly bureaucracy, admits that angels sort of want to clean up Earth a bit before they come in en masse and start terraforming Earth to their image.

Here “clean up” is an euphemism for “thermonuclear armageddon”.

What the hellish side wants, is apparently to deny the angels the possession of Earth. Since it’s kind of difficult to oppose this scheme with more mad nuclear weapons, it seems reasonable they are planning to destroy Earth altogether. That way the angels have no place to go, and will perish.

So —

The US government, ruled by devils, wants to destroy the whole planet.

The Russian government, ruled by angels, wants to cleanse the planet with nuclear fire.

Our heroes, in sort-of control of the capital of Rutenia, with a vicious civil war outside, would like to sort of keep on living, along with all of mankind if at all possible.

Oh, and the sentence a few lines up about our heroes growing in power? That’s to be expected, because their powers come from the very fabric of Heaven itself, whatever that might be: as Heaven collapses, the powers flood them, and this will be very bad for their general wellbeing in very close future. (On the other hand, a few of the angel-rewarded Russians have noticed their new powers are much greater than the angels expected.)

Meanwhile, the Chinese are sure something really weird is going on, but they don’t know what.

Angels attack our heroes, reducing Rutenia City to rubble — well, some of the reducing is done by our heroes as their powers get out of control for a bit.

Our heroes escape; and this is the moment our dear friend the sulfurous gentleman reappears. If he is to be believed, why yes, he is planning to destroy the planet, oh so sorry; but that is just because he could not get our heroes on his side. Because the heroes are powered by the collapsing fabric of Heaven, they could be used to hasten that collapse, and destroy Heaven before it could blurt its citizens to destroy and displace those of Earth. The power released through our heroes could be funneled into Hell, which he promises would be vaguely “pushed away” by the increase, so it would be cut off from Earth forever.

At which point a hero makes the pertinent observation that, hang on a minute, wouldn’t that mean like literally killing one hundred billion angels?

Eh, the gentleman says, that would be the case. But this alternative does not include the genocide of humanity.

There is a bit of a row; the gentleman leaves and says he will be back in a week’s time; any more than that, and the world-destroying war is sure to overtake them.

Book 12, the final volume. Our heroes formulate a clever plan: they will indeed let the fabric of Heaven be funneled through themselves and into the fabric of Hell; but they will make sure there are portals open from Heaven to Earth close to the doorways from Earth to Hell. They’ll let all the angels escape to Hell, and then hopefully push Hell away from bothering humankind.

To do this, though, it would be good to known where the Earth-Hell doorways — more permanent than portals — are.

The first guess is, Washington D.C.? While intuitive, that is wrong.

The second guess is New Jersey; the hero who suggests this is whacked with a rubber mallet.

The third guess… well, there was a reason Dark Lord God-Doomblast’s lair had TVs tuned to view the local news of Rutenia.

Rutenia. There the sulfurous gentleman will strut out of a Hell’s doorway, and stop, shockedly seeing the portals of Heaven opening above. There a desperate battle for survival will be fought, and billions of angels will rush out of a dying place, with void taking the hindmost: but will they go through a doorway, or take Earth? There the force of that great death will be pushed through fragile human forms: a force that could destroy Earth as much as push away Hell.

(An obvious point in the finale will be that none of the three sides is all evil, or all good; because in urban fantasy a happy genocide is not an acceptable solution.)

*

Characters? Whaddaya mean characters? Isn’t a plot enough?

Okay, I’ll give you a few young heroes. Say six teenagers, of which one will die in one of the first three books, and one more for each three that follow. That leaves two of them alive at the series’ end; but along the way a few more are introduced; say eight main characters total.

The original six are from the same neighborhood in the vicinity of New York City.

  • Three female, two male, one transgender.
  • Three straight, two gay, one bi.
  • Two Caucasian, two Asian, one Hispanic, one mix-and-match. (God, I’m so not suited to planning things like this; good I’m not actually going to write this.)
  • One feelgood Christian, one lackadaisical Muslim, two apatheists, one hardcore skeptic-atheist, one philosophically inclined kind and generous Satanist.
  • Three generic wizard-witch power sets, one wereghost, one tank, one flying telepathic telekinetic tank.
  • One claustrophobe, one claustrophile, one with a debilitating fear of staplers; two with trust issues, and one with a history of violence.

You picks one from each category, you builds your heroes from that.

The added two (to replace those that die) are the technical, geekish angel of Heaven’s deepest, most lever- and meter- and dial-filled bowels; and a Rutenian with a lot of prejudice to work off.

* * *

I don’t have the slightest intention of ever writing this thing — but if someone did, and could find a publisher, and a big-ish fandom, it would be very interesting to follow their reactions as the plot went on.

Then again, I am a cackling nihilist, and I think I and a brother of mine once came to the conclusion that the last Harry Potter book should have been J. K. Rowling killing everybody.

Then there should have been a prequel, the time of Harry’s parents at Hogwarts… which would have ended with everybody dead. No Harry, and no plot complications: an alternate universe, you know. She who has the creative control and oodles of cash already, she makes the plot.

Then again, almost as fun as that would be to imagine Rowling’s agent calling back at her —

“Hey, Jo. I read your… the last book draft, I read it.”

“Excellent! So, how did you like it?”

“It… was unexpectedly harsh.”

“How about the bit with Ron and the fork? Or the expectora polonium spell? Or the Osterhagen Lava-Cleaning Jinx? I’m really proud of that one.”

“Look, Jo, I think the publisher might not be happy with this kind of an end for the series.”

“Screw the publisher! I have money!”

“Jo—”

“The publisher ought to be happy I spun off the animagus sex scenes.”

“The what now?”

“The first of those is almost a novel already; call Harlequin and ask if they are interested, okay? If not, I might really need to move to the adult market.”

The medieval world, killed by the magical revolution

April 12, 2012

Consider how technological innovation and scientific discoveries destroyed the Middle Ages: the knight was made obsolete, and so was richness being a buttload of land and serfs. Merchants rose up; then the serfs did, too. Industries moved and grew; new habits spread, and new forms of government, too.

Suppose now a fantasy world that has a magical revolution instead of a scientific/industrial/anti-knight pikemen revolution.

What would that do to the society?

What controversial discoveries, comparable to evolution, would there be in the theory of magic and the structure of reality it revealed? Would there be magicians unwelcome not because they were icky asocial necromancers, but just the proponents of a terrible new truth?

(“It is my understanding”, the magistrate growled, “that magicians of the Kolmogorov school are all necromancers anyway. Why, if we have souls no different from the demons that animate those filthy Orcs, why should we abstain from grave-robbing and worse?”)

(“My aunt’s not an Orc!”)

Would there be magical industries (well, depends on what that magic is like); what kind of upheavals does industrial (or just new) magic cause?

Do you need a lot of people to move silver idols around? Who pays them? Are there incentives other than the threat of a fireball? How do they relate to farmers? What are their habits, beliefs, civil rights? Will they be Pharaonic slaves, or a well-fed, safely pentacled middle class? Or, due to unavoidable seepage, regularly tentacled?

Or does a working mage need a pool of one hundred children singing creepy hymns — who better get a replacement plan in place before they hit puberty. There’s a fascinating economical system to work out, if the workers are too old at fourteen, and the workmaster isn’t a genocidal maniac.

Will there be increasing pressure to legalize patrilinear skull retention for medicinal purposes?

Are mounted knights made obsolete by single novices that can fast-cast Unhinge Equine at the foe?

(“Poor General Larkingjay. He led his squadron at the enemy, and those dastardly, unchivalrous mages… you… you have not seen the face of terror until you’ve seen cavalrymen devoured by their own horses!”)

It would seem to be a stock answer that mages do not meddle in commercial affairs; they are lofty and devoted to their studies and the like; but that’s not likely. There’s always one that finds the alchemical way is not the easiest path to quick money; and that one then starts teleporting trade caravans for big bucks. Or selling unbreakable swords. Or audiences with the dead.

(There’s an idea: mages discover the life after death, and start bringing people back; priests are not happy. Or then the priests are happy; depends on what the afterlife is like. Maybe a devoutly religious mage will persuade the benevolent god Archclaw to come and visit the local temple in person. “This Miracle Salve Personally Blessed by Archclaw!”)

Even if magical aptitude is a rare inborn gift and not a learned skill, an enterprising soul could still seek apprentices and ask them, “Blindness, incontinence and raving lunacy from being cooped up with moldy books and sulfur fumes, looking for the Knowledge Supreme… or the glamorous life of a superstar magical mercantile problem-solving prodigy? Hint: the latter may involve being a bodyguard to the Princess Bodacious. Also no dirty robes or incontinence.”

What happens to a medieval world when travel becomes easy (teleportation, portals, flying horses?), lying becomes difficult (the duke judges thru truth magic!), resurrection becomes a matter of money (“But ‘necromancer’ is such an ugly word…”), or energy becomes cheap? (“This stove channels the vapors of the Abyssal Gap. Do not open. Really. Do. Not. Open.“)

Suppose there are witches that can really make you infertile / can do distance-cast birth protection. Suppose this is not a superstitious rumor, but an actual, mundane fact. Does this lead to the magistrate hiring mages to see whodunnit, or if anything was really dun? Or do the people so afflicted just seek out a different mage and curse, figuratively speaking? And which will be a more popular prank among power-mad mage-apprentices, crowd infertility or crowd superfertility?

How do the authorities handle magical crime? Can it be detected? What or rather who do you use to stop a rapist that is invisible, works memory charms, and has magical unicorn-horn Viagra? How inevitable is a coup by the police / city guard with sufficient powers to find, stop and deal with criminals like this? (For reference: On one end, the enslaved and dehumanized damane magicians of the Wheel of Time; on the other end, the vigorously franchise-enforcing bondsmage guild of Karthain in Scott Lynch’s the Lies of Locke Lamora.)

What happens when the wealthiest woman in town wears a pointy hat, and decides to push the society in a new direction? Does she even need to decide? A lot depends on whether magic is something you need to study for (i.e. you need money), or if it is something you just have (i.e. literal empowerment of the disenfranchised!). Also, whether the magical gift is rare (every could-be-apprentice will find a master, no matter their origins) or common (no free training for nobody, unless you’re a super genius). Or suppose just redheads can learn magic; hair dyes and squibs, anyone? Or maybe just women can, and anyone might, at any moment, so treat ladies right. The possibilities for pissing into all kinds of serious business are endless!

(Or to be more proactive, “Bam! I have just cast reverse gender on you. You may start to feel some sympathy for the plight of womankind any day now.”)

(“Bam! The entire kingdom is women now. The spell duration is two weeks; I expect them to be very educational, a sequence of horrible disasters, or both.”)

(“Bam! The entire kingdom is outward clones of me now. And I look good!”)

(Or, finally: “I do not wish to be a breeder. Bam! This one baby is now three. Feed ’em, husband; I’m back to the lab.” — “But honey, what do I feed—” — “Bam!”)

Vocation seeping into the hobby

April 12, 2012

…was great for Tolkien; he did languages for his academic living, and as a result could do Elf languages not only enthusiastically, but expertly.

Me? I’m a mathematician.

That cannot carry over very well.

* * *

The Adventure of Ruprecht Generick
in the Magical Land of Ba Nach

(a derivative tale)

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Falling into fantasy: Life is complex when the real and the imaginary meet
  2. More dimensions than these three: an N-chanted tunnel in the sky!
  3. The Set of All Sets, or is this Egyptian a god of an alien realm?
  4. To the limit of the sum of your fears: the dread Integral Riders arrive!
  5. Oh no! There’s a conjecture about a savior, but where’s the proof?
  6. A lacunary series of meetings in the shadow of the discontinuity called Death
  7. One, two, too many Integral Riders: the Great Battle for Ba Nach, commences!
  8. Cold equations and the calculus of defeat: You win if and only if you run away!
  9. I have found a fixed point in my life! The heroic transformation of Möbius!
  10. An exponent of peace, a minimizer of strife: the solution comes from the left-hand side
  11. Farewells, squares and ghost references

* * *

Oy, it would be the sad tale of Polly Nomial (which would be a nice spoken-word piece in an interdisciplinary gathering, and then the mathematicians would be forever alone) crossed with Terry Brooks.

Also, the titles might show how much anime I’ve been watching lately.

But seriously, I think that as a result of my academic education, I would probably get lost in a sea of details if I tried to write heroic fantasy. (Wait, that’s not “if I tried”, but “when I will try”. One day!) And then there would be a footnote, saying: “For more detail on the Elvish system of integration that Magister Luchaliber alluded to, see Appendix Theta.”

Which, you know, starts from the halfway point of the book, just after Appendix Rho, “The High Elven Concept of Infinity: The Legend of Rumikol”, and Appendix Sigma, “The Intuitive Analogues of the Standard (\epsilon,\delta)-Proof in Wood Elf Spoken-Word Pseudo-Real Analysis: The High Cost of Low Rigor”.

With the first line being “Portions of this appendix were published as ‘A novel but non-pedagogical approach to visualizing limits’, by M. Ascaras and E. Riz, in Comm. Soc. Chic. Ken., 148 (2012), 34–40.”

Which, you know, would be fun to write; but books are often written to be read, too.

(But hey, “mathematically rigorous worldbuilding” sounds nice, doesn’t it? I wonder if there are books that investigate the history of mathematical ideas and conceptions among non-scholars. Presumably it can’t have been one sheep two sheep many sheep all the time; nowadays even non-mathies have intuitions about zero, infinity, and the like.)

On being a shite manager

April 6, 2012

So the employees of PeopleChosen Inc. looked up and cried, “Why have we not heard of the management in a long time? We grow apprehensive, as the silence of the managers is rarely a good thing!”

Then the spirit of management went into Moses, and he spake Ten Commands of Workplace Conduct to the workforce; and the workforce said: “What? No stealing? Not even Post-It notes or a few biros?”

So Moses became the line manager, and Joshua after him; and Joshua was known for his aggressive takeovers of other companies, and of then ruthlessly downsizing those assets, all of them. And under Joshua the company became a brand.

But the employees grumbled, and adopted alien practices, and dallied with headhunters; and the successors of Joshua were wroth. And some of the people took their coffee break to cry up for succor; and the management sent four and twenty bears that tore into them.

And the successors of Joshua said: “Do not meddle in the affairs of the management, for they are subtle and quick to anger; and slow to anger, too. Actually they are capable of anger on a wide variety of timeframes.”

But in time there came a man who had the spirit of the management in him; and he spoke in parables and platitudes, and was forceful and coolly anti-authoritarian; and the people said of him, “he is like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs combined, come before they did.”

The line managers terminated this man’s contract with extreme prejudice; and he started a company of his own.

In his own company he was difficult to reach, and the company was stricken with division and dissent: for some said the man had been a manager in a man’s guise, and some that he had been manager on the left side and a man otherwise; and still others said the man and the management were inseparable and made one in him. And, miracle of miracles, this strife did not cause the downfall of the new company, but much expansion because each party was eager to get to customers before the other did.

In time the founder’s actions were written into a biography in four parts, plus appendices on the early days of the company and motivational essays by one of the early directors; and though the book was something of a PR device, it was a very nice book, except for the last part which people generally thought was for a corporate vision a bit too heavy on the blood and gore.

But once again the employees cried up, saying: “The working conditions are a bit shite down here. Some limits on the plague, hail and bandits please?”

But the answer that came from the directors — for the manager in the sky was silent — was merely this: “You shall have a fuller life once you retire; as for the present time, preparations for a process of quality assessment are under consideration; and the floggings will continue until employee morale improves.”

And some of the employees cried up: “What about workplace romances?”

And one director said: “All work is a romance!”

And a second director said: “Romance is evil, for your devotions should be directed at the management that loves you. And it does; have a poster that says so.”

And a third director said: “Love is not for the directors! And honestly, if it is not for the directors it’s not for you either!”

And a fourth director said: “Workplace romances are a sweet, good thing, but not within the same department; for that is an abomination unto the management.”

And a fifth director said: “Disregard that, I approve romances within departments.”

And there was much confusion, and many employees said they rather obeyed the voice of the management that was within their own breasts; and the directors generally were of two minds or more about this.

Then a great war came to happen in the United Annex, for the employees in the North Building were for the rights of the IT staff; and the employees in the South Building were for putting the IT staff in cages and beating them with sticks. Mostly because cages, unlike IT staff, can take a beating.

And the employees of the South Building pointed at the memoirs of the founder, and said: “See! It says there you shouldn’t beat the IT staff too much, but it doesn’t say you shouldn’t beat them at all! Also states’ rights!”

And the employees of the North Building pointed at the same book, and said: “Extrusions of bovines! It says also, every employee is your fellow employee so treat them right forever.”

And then there was a great argument on whether a specific rule overruled a general rule or vice versa; and as the management above was silent, it came to sniping and catcalls and a leadership conference at Gettysburg; and the interpretation of the North Building was victorious.

Then the question of intradepartmental romances and marriages came up: and as the management above was silent, there was much division, and many employees lived out their careers fearing the discovery of their romances, and a premature retirement thereby. And the directors said, “the management has spoken already, we have the book, and it would be silly to demand the management to speak again.”

And the employees nodded and said: “Yes, it would be silly to accuse the management of poor communication skills. Why, these small problems of IT staff, of intradepartmental romances, of the wages of skirt-wearing employees, of contraception during work hours, of director misconduct, genocide and the like, are clearly something for which the management cannot be blamed for we are sinful employees and solely to blame. No efficient, quality-conscious management would ever deign to micromanage matters so small as these. Go on, blame us some more!”

And the directors said, “Wait a minute, that was not sarcasm, was it?”

And so the shite parable was ended.