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criticism of criticism

I've been reading Empires of the Imagination by Alec Worley, a history of fantasy genres in film from Mélies to Jackson. In the chapter on what he calls "Heroic Fantasy" (meaning Conan, Xena, and their like), he mentions Doc Savage, whom he describes as an embodiment of the eugenic ideas of the time.

Clark Savage Jr. was raised by his physician/scientist father under a scientifically designed regiment of physical and mental exercises that brought him to the full realization of his human potentials, which in fact he continued through his adult life, or at least as much of it as got into the novels. But this is not eugenics, but euthenics: the improvement of the adult organism (human or otherwise) by improving its environment rather than its heredity. There is no mention of any selective breeding in Savage's ancestry. He may have started out with superior natural talents, but they were not the product of any sort of generations-long breeding program. They certainly had nothing to do with the coercive measures against the "unfit" that were starting to be advocated at the time.

There are certain small errors in critical writing that make it impossible for me to trust anything else the critic says, because they suggest reliance on religious or political assumptions rather than actually looking into the facts. This is one. Oh, I suppose Worley got things like dates and titles right, but now his interpretations are in doubt for me.


Earlier today I went back over my current writing project, tightened up the wording a bit, changed the color on some passages to make them stand out—and sent the whole thing in for review, four days early. Now it's all in the hands of dr_kromm. . . .


Lately I was involved in a discussion that started when someone remarked that on Supergirl, Kara Danvers was shown wearing pierced earrings. This led to a lot of suggestions about how the show's writers would eventually explain it—her parents had anticipated that Earth people would have pierced ears and taken care of it before she left Krypton, or she had bounced her heat vision off a metal mirror and burned tiny holes through her own ears—of the sort that used to win "No-Prizes" for Marvel fans. I thought that all seemed unlikely and suggested that the show's creators simply hadn't thought about the issue.

But it occurred to me to wonder about a different issue: Kara mostly likely had not been sexually active before she left Krypton at around 13. Are Kryptonian women anatomically similar to human women? That might be really inconvenient for any male sexual partner she chose on Earth. I thought of this, though, as a bit of a reductio ad absurdum—there was no way, I figured, that the writers and producers were going to go there.

Last night's episode, "Live Wire," started out with the villain-to-be, Leslie Willis, on her radio program, giving a "things I am not grateful for" rant that focused on Supergirl, during which she said, I mean, a skirt and tights? Puh-lease. Seems like overkill, especially since no one is trying to get in there. And who would that be? You know, who's hombre enough to puncture the Chastity Belt of Steel? So I guess I sit corrected: That's about as "there" as I can imagine.

But I still don't think we're going to see a flashback to Kara doing laser surgery on her own earlobes.


I just finished writing the final section of my forthcoming book.

However, rather than turn it in two weeks early, I'm going to spend some time polishing it. Most basically, it's currently at 46 pages of text; my approved outline calls for 45. Beyond that, I'd like to fit in a couple of illustrative character writeups—so I need to create a little more space! So I'll be going back through, looking for redundancies and short bits that could be omitted, and trying to cut back the number of examples where it can be done without damaging the exposition.

And, of course, I'll try to reduce the number of inconsistencies.

This isn't going to be as rules heavy as my last couple of books; it's more on a conceptual level. But there are still some short rules bits that I think add value, and don't want to cut . . . and besides, my impression is that GURPS players often view these the way movie fans view Easter eggs! So my goal will be to tauten the style without reducing the substance.

further progress

At this point, I'm closing in on having a complete draft of my next book; I have a few sections each to write in Chapters 2 and 3. That looks like it may take me a page over my specified length. I'm hoping to go back through and shorten the text—I'd really like to do two or three character writeups as illustrative material, and that will take up an extra page or so. But since my deadline is December 1, I have time enough for some close editing.

I've got one section where I'm writing a bit of new rules content, and I need to do some real world research as a basis for it. That's probably the biggest hindrance to finishing up the current draft.


. . . a man who never sleeps could rake in double wages,
Once for herding cattle, once for pasturing fleecy sheep,
The nightfall and the sunrise march so close together.

So where is this? From the description, it sounds like a northern latitude, perhaps 60° North (southern Scandinavia) or more, to have so long a day. But it's actually from the Odyssey: Book 10, where Odysseus tells the story of his encounter with the cannibalistic Lestrygonians. Even in midsummer, do Mediterranean days last that long?

I read Felice Vinci's The Baltic Origins of Homer's Epic Tales about six months ago, and found the argument that the Homeric epics were set in the Baltic and North Seas and the North Atlantic, which were the original homeland of the Greeks before climate change drove them south, interesting but not as rigorously supported as I would want. But I have to say that particular passage sounds very much as if Homer might have been familiar with the kind of long summer days you get at high latitudes.

when metaphors die

George Orwell wrote about the process by which figures of speech, through repeated use, cease to convey the original vivid images and become habitual ways of saying the thing they stand for. This is actually a normal part of the way languages develop; if you look at etymologies you'll find multiple layers of dead metaphors recycled into new metaphors that die in turn.

It struck me that there's a linguistic marker for this, at least in English. English has a lot of homophones: Words that are pronounced the same, but spelled differently, and that mean different things. When a metaphor dies, people stop thinking about the meaning of the separate words that make it up. If they don't actually remember the spelling, they may guess at which homophone to use, either randomly or going for the more commonly used word—and get it wrong some of the time.

So expressions like "tow the line" (for toe the line) and "reign in" (for rein in) indicate that a lot of people have learned these as habitual phrases without thinking about what they originally meant.

In both these cases, we see a verb that's more often used as a noun being replaced with a word that's more familiar as a verb. The expression rein in also comes from an activity that far fewer people engage in now than when it originated, making it less familiar in general. Both of these probably help fade the original image.

historical fiction

I've been reluctant to get involved with Kickstarter, partly for financial reasons—so many potentially interesting projects, so little budget. But as the old joke goes, "I can resist anything except temptation."

A recent post from amedia mentioned a webcomic, SPQR Blues, whose creator, meritahut, has proposed a collection of the first four chapters, for which she's raising funds via Kickstarter, to celebrate its tenth anniversary. This sounded possibly interesting–and chorale was really interested, and encouraged me to look at it.

SPQR Blues is a mostly realistic story set in the early Roman Empire, shortly after the death of Nero and before the destruction of Pompeii. There are occasional appearances by goddesses, but whether they're literally present, or hallucinated, or storytelling devices in the epic tradition, is left unresolved. This is partly a "slice of life" comic about a returned veteran, his strained relationship with a local mercantile family, and various characters' romantic relationships; it also has a noir storyline, not so much mystery as a mix of crime and police procedural (the "blues" refers to the men who patrol the streets of Herculaneum). Both genres appeal to me; I've run roleplaying campaigns in almost exactly that mode. I had some difficulties with the storytelling—the cast of characters is huge, and some of them look alike—but I found it worth persisting.

A big selling point for me was that I could see that it was thoroughly researched, and showed a lot of familiarity with classical culture—and with the mix of cultures that inhabited the Roman Empire. Very early on, for example, we saw a woman making legal arrangements, and then having to bring in her tutor, the man who had the legal authority to approve or disapprove them—because Roman women didn't have full legal standing. There's a wonderful scene where a young woman is about to get married, and an older woman of her family is giving her and her friends a lecture on her wifely duties—and then is called away, and a slave woman in attendance offers to tell them all the real secrets of marriage! There's no attempt to make this conform to modern American tabus; for example, it's clear that marrying one's cousin is thought desirable, whereas most Americans find the mere thought creepy. One of the recurring characters is a physician whose medical knowledge seems to fit with what I've read about Roman medicine and surgery.

One neat little detail was an image that was identified as a small figure of Lakshmi, the Indian goddess of luck and prosperity. I looked that one up and found that that's an actual archaeological find that's now in a museum: There was enough trade between Rome and India that a family in Pompeii had a sculpture of a Hindu goddess! And apparently Roman artifacts have been found in South India. That's something I had never learned about anywhere else.

I find it appealing that narrative points are often established indirectly; I'm thinking, in particular, of a sequence where the slave Menander visits a house of some friends while he and his owner are in Pompeii.

So, anyway, I found this particular bit of storytelling quite worthwhile; I started out to sample a little to see if it justified spending money, and now I've read the whole run, over several days. It appeals to me in somewhat the same way as A Bride's Story, which is set in nineteenth century Central Asia. If you like historical fiction and dense character interactions, you might want to give this a look. And I'd encourage anyone who might like to support it to do so now; the Kickstarter has about a week to go.

Addendum: And the good news is that it's just gone over, so the bound volume will be coming out early next year.

progress report

I was hoping to end this month with a report of finishing one more chapter in the new book, but it's not going to happen. I've written just under 80% of the estimated wordcount. I have only three sections to go, so it's possible that it will come out a page shorter than I estimated, which will let me either expand the content or give more pages to another chapter.

Going by total wordcount, I'm two-thirds of the way through. I've done several of the hard, rules-focused sections, but I have a few more to go.

Addendum: And now (two days later) I've written everything but one section, which I think will have to wait till I've completed chapter 3, as it will refer back to a section in chapter 3.

notes on Supergirl

I've liked Supergirl as a character for a long time. Actually, I bought the issue of Action Comics that introduced her, back in 1959; I came to feel a particular liking for her during Paul Levitz's tenure on the Legion of Super Heroes, and in the Deadman crossover that followed her annihilation in Crisis on Infinite Earths. I wasn't sure what kind of job the current television show would do with her, but I had to give it a look.

The rest is spoilers.Collapse )