Misplaced Outrage

I’m reading a bunch of Lovecraft, and that guy was just neurotically scared of everything. He died in his forties of basically anxiety. He was scared of immigrants, true, and had a hell of a way of naming cats. But he was also scared of people who lived in England, people who lived in New England, people who lived in New York, the south, the west, and the southwest, to say nothing of Asia, South America, Oceana, and over yonder.

He wrote a story about a hyper-intelligent color. The alien was a color. I forget if it killed people.

I have a hard time attributing his efforts to anything more generalized than nutbaggery. Had he killed people or something, that would have been different. But he didn’t. He sat in his little flat and wrote weird stories.

Sidethought LotR

You know something invisible about LotR? You always knew what people were trying to accomplish and why.

Broadly: What was the overarching goal? Throw the ring into Mt Doom.

Specifically: What was Boromir trying to do? Save the Minas Tirith and Gondor.

Niche: What were the three hunters trying to do in Rohan? Save the hobbits, followed by save Rohan, followed by save Gondor.

What was Treebeard trying to do? Nothing when he wasn’t that important a character, and defeat Saruman when he was an important character.

What was Shelob trying to do? Eat people.

And so on and so on. It’s so simple it’s invisible, but you always knew what the characters were trying to do if they mattered.

What was Gimli trying to do? Show up the elf.

And it’s invisible. That’s mastery.

CS Lewis’s Desires

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis gives the oft quoted, manipulated, and paraphrased statement, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” It’s in the context of desires which cannot be satisfied.

I’ve always thought this attitude was flawed, much like Ivan Karamazov’s attitude that just because he wants something, he is entitled to have it. There is no particular reason a desire must have an attainable object. Lewis mentions swimming, food, and sex all as attainable objects of desire, and from them extrapolates all such desires must have objects. But this is flawed logic. First of all, one can desire something that is a negative: misery on others. One can desire things that are clearly impossible: spending 12 hours a day on fun projects, spending 12 hours a day on different projects, and getting enough sleep, food, and personal required time.

If you take the counter premise as valid, there is no afterlife to desire, then the counter argument becomes consistent.

0) There is no god or afterlife.
1) Mankind desires things.
2) Some of those desires are impossible/unachievable.
3) Some of mankind’s desires imply an afterlife or divinity.
4) Those specific desires are impossible/unachievable.

Likewise, one could easily see a fourth case in Lewis’s analysis. His are the fool’s proposition, if I desire a woman and this woman doesn’t satisfy me, I need a new woman; the bitter proposition, yearning for things is foolish; and the Christian proposition, my desires aim at something beyond this world, so I must be intended for things beyond this world. But one could easily say that the desire for more, improvement, greater perfection is a useful, worthwhile desire. It keeps things moving. And by seeking improvement, one improves things for the self, others, and culture.

A couple days ago I quoted the oldest joke in the English language. It’s a dick joke. As of this writing, the oldest known humorous statement is a fart joke. People haven’t really changed in the last few thousand years. Yet society certainly has, and I attribute much of that to institutional growth. Institutional growth certainly isn’t perfect, but it is a net good. Medicine is a good example: far from perfect, but I’d rather not die of dysentery even if they can’t cure rabies. Things have changed, and the abstract desire for change, specifically change for the better, is something that could support that. It would be a desire that is passed along positively, even if it could easily become negative for the bearer.

Takeaway? I don’t know. I like Lewis’s writings a great deal, but I don’t find his apologia convincing.

The Gurgeh Perpetual Motion Machine

In honor of the Culture series, I present the Gurgeh, a true perpetual motion machine.

Originally the Gurgeh was a 1% efficient power supply. It was useful in a peculiar way but not too efficient (that 1%). So after a year of work, I improved the efficiency to 2%.

Which was better, but still not hot.

After another year of labor, I improved the efficiency to 3%, an improvement of another 1%. That’s 1% a year for two years running. Good, but it still needed improvement.

Another year of toil and research passed, and I got it to 4%! That’s 1% a year again.

Perpetual motion! At 1% a year, in 96 years it will be 100% efficient! In 97 years, it will be 101% efficient! Free energy forever! Post scarcity world!

The Gurgeh, our ticket to a real, plausible, totally not space-wizard fantasy, hard scifi, post scarcity world. You can always extrapolate from any dataset forever.


The Advancement of Grammar

We forget at times that the technological revolution is being mirrored and matched in things like grammar.

Two hundred years ago, most dialogue was in huge blocks. Individual speakers were stuffed together, one after another, in single paragraphs. Dickens, admittedly writing for the paycheck, put each speaker in their own paragraph, and now this is so common that doing it any other way strikes us as odd. It’s much, much, much easier to read.

But it’s new!

Lines between paragraphs are new!

Long paragraphs are fine when called for. If Adam enters the scene wearing something peculiar, and we need a two-page paragraph of description, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But if the writer prefers to frontload a little scene setting so that later the scene can go unbothered, that frontload can usually be broken up into a bunch of little chunks. Give me a paragraph on the room layout, a paragraph on the furniture, one on where the people are sitting, and one on the view out the window. If the author thinks they need all that, go right ahead. But the breaking-up of huge text-walls into smaller features is an improvement.

I’ve been reading Mallory, and the story is better than I recall. The general flow of the writing consists of text boulders filled with heterogeneous dialogue intrusions. You would never confuse it with a modern retelling. Manutius’s invention of the comma has been mirrored by improvements in things like indentations and spacing, and these are real, significant improvements.

Drizzt Do’Urden

I read the first of the Drizzt books.

They are Twilight.

Both directly tap into the zeitgeist of their respective audiences. Both are linguistically atrocious. Both promise an appealing world of escape and immersion. Both are shockingly popular.

Things in Twilight are easier to spell. There’s about the same amount of sex.

I really have no idea what trash the kids are reading these days. But my generation made some crap.

Editting/Cutting for Length

Some cuts from LotR obviously had to be made for the movies. Tom Bombadil is the one people mention, and it’s obviously. He and Goldberry just wouldn’t translate, and the mystery of them would be lost. Those two characters wouldn’t work in film.

But another area that should be cut is the ride from Minas Tirith to the Morannon. That just wouldn’t work in a movie as long as it is in a book, because movies need a bit more focus. That long sequence of exploration and travel is world building. It’s development. It’s character. It’s way too long, and should be cut down to two or three short cuts, like in the movies. If you want more of that, the books are the place for it.

P Jackson did that right.


I reread Fellowship trying to regain the joy of it and maybe hatch some story ideas.

The former happened. It’s better than I remember.

The latter sort of happened. I did forment some story ideas, but they’re gaming ideas. I got plots for DnD games, not fics.

I’m going to go get a cookie.