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one more thing

I just picked up Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen for a further glance, and happened to look at the list of books inside the front cover—where I saw a listing for "the Sharing Knife tetrology."


The correct form is "tetralogy," and it can be looked up in any dictionary. Has Baen Books fired all their proofreaders? Or are they hiring people for that job who can't spell words with classical roots?

the circle closes?

Lois McMaster Bujold started what became the Vorkosigan series with Shards of Honor, where Cordelia Naismith met Aral Vorkosigan and eventually left her homeworld, Beta Colony, to join him on his, Barrayar. Most of the intervening novels have focused on their son, Miles. This one comes back to Cordelia, on Sergyar, the planet where she and Aral met, and where she's Vicereine—and Aral's widow, having survived him.

Bujold's novels often concern the personal lives of her characters; it's one of her strong points. But generally the personal stories get interwoven with war stories, or espionage stories, or murder mysteries, or some other action/adventure storyline. Reading this one made me think of Mozart's "A Musical Joke," an entire composition that sounds as if it were about to introduce the main melody any second now—until it ends. I kept noting story elements that looked as if they could give rise to that sort of plot . . . only to have them be resolved in a fairly low-key way while the personal stories went on.

"Stories" because there's a second, somewhat parallel story here: the choices confronting Admiral Oliver Jole (pronounced to rhyme with "prole," which he is), one of the younger men whose career Aral helped to advance. In fact, their relationship was more personal than that. This novel was curiously like reading original character fanfic focused on relationships.

Which isn't to say it was bad! But I'll need to read it again without the background anticipation that something worldshaking is about to happen. The volcano doesn't erupt; the Cetagandan public relations exhibit doesn't conceal a sinister plot; Miles shows up midway through and doesn't uncover any crimes or conspiracies. What's actually going on is the steady work of building a colony on an incompletely known planet—from biological research to large construction projects to making legal decisions about criminal cases. And all of it's actually interesting and makes me want to know more, particularly about the teenage daughter of the commander of Sergyar's ground forces and about the biosciences department at Kareensburg University. (In fact Kareensburg University could be an entertaining setting for any number of stories; one of the best fanfics I've seen lately was set in its literature department.)

Now there is a disturbing relevation midway through about what Duv Galeni has been learning from reading the archived documents that turned up at the climax of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. I'm not sure where things are going with that. I suppose it could be pointing toward a more conventional Barrayaran story; but it could be either a mystery never to be resolved, or a pointer toward the eventual annihilation of Barrayar. Really it reminds me of nothing so much as the disturbing campfire conversation near the end of Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky, which is not at all the sort of thing one expects in a 1950s juvenile.

I'm not sure yet if I think this novel works on its own terms. But I have to respect Bujold for doing something that so departs from the expectations she's established.

recently read

S.M. Stirling's "Emberverse" novels, about what happens when nearly all high-energy technology stops working everywhere on Earth, have been hugely successful; he's finished the second volume of the fourth subseries. Last year, it turned into a shared universe: He brought out a collection of stories set there, written by multiple authors, called The Change.

As with all such collections, it's mixed. There aren't any really terrible stories, but there are a couple that left me unsatisfied. But at the other end there are some really good ones.

A.M. Dellamonica's "Rate of Exchange" carries on Stirling's theme of ethnogenesis, making up a new post-Change culture with eccentric origins—their cultural identity is as an Indian tribe, but their ancestry is mixed, and they include, for example, a subgroup called the "Twelvesteppers," whose traditional greeting is "My name is —, and I am an alcoholic." They get visited by a party on a diplomatic mission, seeking the extradition of a man suspected of treason, to be tried before the High King. It's led by a young baron from the Portland Protective Association, but one member of the party is a woman from the Morrowlanders, a culture founding on scouting, and much of the story focuses on her debating whether diplomacy has any place in a scout's life. She's very well portrayed and her viewpoint makes the story.

John Barnes's "The Soul Remembers Uncouth Noises" looks at a different cultural group, a very small community founded by two teenagers with different mental peculiarities. It alternates between a present crisis and flashbacks to how they got started, and it explores a ruthlessly logical answer to hostage situations.

Emily Mah's "A Missed Connection" takes place at the founding of Deseret by survivors of Utah, and takes the viewpoint of a young man who's all too unwilling to believe that the Change is worldwide or permanents—not entirely illogically, given that he can't get any news from more than a few miles away. Instead he's preoccupied with the young woman he met on his missionary work in South America, whom he was hoping to see again, and with breaking things off with the young woman he was courting in Utah.

There are several other stories in the volume that I liked, including one by Stirling, but those three were my favorites.

my brain does something weird

Yesterday morning, I had a dream in a long familiar genre: I had traveled somewhere on a bus and was having trouble getting back. This time I was on what I thought of as UC Riverside (which chorale and I visited in January), and initially I was trying to find a place to get something to eat, and not succeeding. Then I began thinking that it was getting to be late, and I needed to return home—but I couldn't identify where a bus stop was, or access a Website with the information, or even get my phone to work.

Then, in my dream, I realized that this was one of my classic frustration dreams, and to get home I needed to wake up. That's a classic lucid dream moment, and I've had them a few times before. But this time the thought wasn't followed by my waking up. That really heightened the frustration, and I somehow grabbed a second story window, pushed at it, and broke the whole frame so the window crashed to the ground—kind of a lowgrade version of hulking out. But I still didn't wake up. And I looked around and saw people staring at me, and thought that they were probably thinking I'd had a psychotic episode, and I started to go down to the ground level (at this point I was standing on some sort of stairwell or balcony), wondering what I could possibly say to explain my actions, or to avoid getting locked up. Was I going to tell them that I'd had a sudden irrational conviction that I was in a dream, like Alice's "You're nothing but a pack of cards!" moment?

. . . And that's when I woke up.

I've never before had that kind of delay between the moment of lucidity and the reawakening. The in-dream rationalization that the lucidity was some sort of temporary insanity—and the dream was actually waking reality!—seems like a curiously logical way to interpret the sequence of events, but I've never heard of such a thing. And it was really strange that my dream logic turned "I know the things around me are only things in a dream" into a form of superpowers—and such a directly physical one, not telekinesis or magical gestures or subtle reshaping of reality.

ice is civilization

A week ago, we noticed that the breakfast sausage we had put into the freezer wasn't frozen solid. Our first guess was that the freezer door hadn't been closed tightly. But after we made sure it was tight, the freezer contents still weren't getting cold enough. I turned the refrigerator setting way up, and when things still weren't frozen the next morning, I e-mailed our property manager to ask to have it repaired or replaced. Then on Saturday, while I was away running a game, chorale called to let me know that the refrigerator had completely stopped working, and water was leaking out of the freezer.

Monday afternoon, the property manager's handyman came by, removed the old refrigerator, and put in a newer one. I put a bowl of water into the freezer compartment as a test; it was frozen solid two hours later.

So it looks like the adventure is over, and I've begun restocking our groceries.

another discovery

chorale and I spent Sunday afternoon with two friends taking in the "Art of Music" exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art. There were a lot of interesting things there, including instruments from several different cultures; but I was particularly struck by The Lute Player, a painting by Orazio Gentileschi. Of course I'd heard of Artemisia Gentileschi (who turned out to be his daughter), but Orazio was new to me.

What first caught my attention was the curious posture of the young woman in the painting, with her neck bent forward in a way that made me think of Rodin's Fallen Caryatid and her left arm blocking her view of the sheet music. That quite perplexed me until chorale said, "She's tuning her lute!" Then the two thing fell into place. Having seen that, I've gone from interest to really liking it—both for the ingenuity of the posing, and even more because the facial expression conveys a strong sense of focused attention to a task, with no hint of trying to catch the viewer's gaze. Gentileschi's handling of the fabric of the lutanist's dress is amazing, too.

Reflecting on the whole exhibit, I see two things about my personal tastes:

° I do enjoy some nonobjective art, but most of the works that are my particular favorites (which I think The Lute Player may become one of) are pictorial; I prefer the "window into an alternative space" convention for paintings.

° I have a strong preference for works that look, well, finished. The exhibit included Matisse's Jazz, which started out as a bunch of paper cutouts, and I could not bring myself even to look at them for more than a glance. They looked too crude and simple. It was like my feeling about "conceptual art," which is that you aren't an artist if you're relying on a text statement about your intentions.

grammatical notes: Urbes Septemplex

This is a bit from Tapestry, my current fantasy campaign. Urbes Septemplex is a group of related languages spoken by nixies, a race of river dwellers and traders.

The functions of nouns in sentences are indicated by case markers, which take the form of (usually monosyllabic) postpositions. This applies as much to the primary noun functions of Agent and Patient as to secondary or locational functions. Case markers are grammatically invariant. Word order is nearly free, but insofar as there is a preferred order, it's VOS (Verb-Patient-Agent): bakes the-bread [Patiency marker] the-innkeeper [Agency marker], "the innkeeper bakes the bread." This can be varied for emphasis: bakes the-innkeeper [Agency marker] the-bread [Patiency marker], "by the innkeeper the bread is baked."

However, the subject of an intransitive verb is not classified as either Agent or Patient, but left unmarked; that is, the language has neutral alignment, neither ergative nor accusative. Most verbs have two forms, akin to "active" and "middle": a transitive form that (usually) requires an agent and patient, and an intransitive form that takes neither. Thus, bakes-[Middle-ending] the bread, "the bread bakes" or "the bread is baked."

A further verb form is the equal/reciprocal form, which takes two unmarked nouns, neither of which can be identified as Agent or Patient: bargain-[ER-ending] innkeeper traveler, "the innkeeper and the traveler haggle." Such forms are widely used in most Urbes Septemplex languages.

No form exactly corresponds to the passive. Middle verbs sometimes convey a similar meaning, but with no sense of agent omission, as the middle verb does not imply agency but rather change of state via internal developments. A more emphatic form can be given with the active verb, an omitted agent, and a particle that indicates omission of information: bakes the-bread [Patiency marker][Full stop], "the bread is baked" or "someone unspecified bakes the bread."

a small discovery

One of the peculiarities of pre-20th-century fiction is the authors' common resort to descriptive passages—giving all the details of scenery, or furnishings, or clothing, for example. It's as if all those writers were frustrated painters who would have liked to be able to paint landscapes or still lifes. The present-day reader is likely to take these as "nothing's happening," and skip past them, or read them with a mental note of "well, this is part of how things are done in classic fiction."

Last year I reread Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (as I wrote about here not long ago), and that started me rereading all of her novels. It turned out we didn't have a copy of Persuasion—though I think I've read it at least once before—so I tracked down a copy at a bookstore where we have credit. And in Chapter 11 I ran into a passage that does almost exactly what I'm talking about. But when I read it closely I decided that in fact it was quite exciting on a couple of counts.

. . . the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger's eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighborhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation;—the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme, and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: those places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood.

Now, to start with, though Austen has the reputation of a late daughter of the 18th-century Enlightenment, that passage is like nothing so much, both in its overall feeling for nature and even in its specific imagery, as the Romantics of her own time and the following decades. The sensibility is like nothing so much as that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge or Caspar David Friedrich. Of course Austen wrote Sense and Sensibility, but it's really striking to see her giving such unironic expression to "sensibility."

But after rereading the passage, I realized that something else interesting was going on. This is a novel about a woman who, at nineteen, turned down a proposal from a man she loved because his prospects were uncertain, and who now, at twenty-seven, has just met him again. She's generally thought to have lost her youthful charm and to be unlikely ever to marry; her family are pushing her into the "helpful maiden aunt" roll. She's clearly an introvert and not at her best in society. And all of that has exact analogies in Austen's paragraph of scenery, from the "charms . . . to make him wish to know [her] better" to the "first partial falling of the cliff." So Austen is being not only romantic but damned clever at the same time, hinting at what the story to come will be about.

I don't know if other authors of the period were as clever as Austen about this; I'm sure they often were less concise—one reason Austen is still read, I think, is that she has a very compact narrative style, where every word is purposeful (including the scenic descriptions!). But I'll have to give more conscious attention to the descriptive passages in other older fiction, and see if I have any similar happy surprises.

the anatomy of the anatomy

At a local science fiction convention last year, I picked up The Martian Named Smith, a critical study of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. One of its key points was that Stranger was a satire rather than a novel, comparable to Gargantua et Pantagruel, Candide, Gulliver's Travels, or Jurgen. The author suggested that "anatomy" could be an alternate term for this fictional form, and pointed to Northrop Frye's The Anatomy of Criticism for explanation, which sent me back to my copy of Frye.

I have to say I could wish for Frye to be more explicit on the subject; his examples are useful, but I'd like to see a statement that "x and y are characteristic features of the anatomy."

Frye ultimately works his way around to a fourfold typology of prose works: the novel, the romance, the confession, and the anatomy or Menippean satire. He applies this to all prose works, but that seems too broad; it appears that what he's focusing on is works of narrative prose, from which the essay might be excluded (unless, of course, it has aspects of storytelling). In his typology, the novel and romance are works of primarily emotional interest; the other two of primarily intellectual interest. The novel and anatomy are extroverted works; the romance and confession are introverted, because the romance is, in his view, "subjective."

And it seems to me that that's where Frye goes astray.

The confession and the anatomy are both about what the author thinks, let's grant. What distinguishes them? In the confession, the author's focus is turned on himself as the thinker; in the anatomy, it's turned on the ideas, which are projected outward in the form of an invented world. But this is precisely what happens in the romance! In both the novel and the romance, the focus is on human relationships and the sensory texture of life. But it's the novel where the story examines the details of the character's relationships and self-awareness; in the romance everything is projected outward, into overt actions, and the characters tend to be idealized or stereotypical. The romance is the twin of the anatomy and the confession of the novel.

So let us say, for example, that you want to write about Aristotle's conception of the great-souled man. In a novel you would show relationships among people with different degrees of great-souledness, and show how their self-concepts develop; you might even keep the great-souled man off stage and show how he affects others. In a romance you would have a great-souled hero in a conflict that involves and grows out of other people's smallness of soul. In a confession you would reflect on your own or another person's experience of greatness of soul. In an anatomy you would envision a fictional project to educate people for greatness of soul, either as a utopia if it succeeded or as a satire if it went wrong. That in fact is akin to what Heinlein was doing in Stranger.

Of course, I naturally thought of "how would you do these in an rpg?" But I'm not sure it's workable to have an rpg with an intellectual focus. At the very least, it would be quite different from the traditional rpg, which is a species of romance.

the master of those who know

One of my Christmas gifts (actually received six days earlier, at a friend's Cthulhumas party) was a translation of the Organon, Aristotle's collected works on logic and methodology. I was surprised and amused to read in the preface that Roger Bishop Jones had used LaTeX to do the page layout!

At this point I've read the first work, the Categories, and been struck by a couple of passages:

Chapter 11 says the contrary of an evil is sometimes a good, sometimes an evil. For defect, which is an evil, has excess for its contrary, this also being an evil, and the mean, which is a good, is equally the contrary of the one and of the other. It is only in a few cases, however, that we see instances of this: in most, the contrary of an evil is a good.

Now, when I first heard about Aristotle, one of the things I heard was that his ethics was about the Golden Mean, the midpoint between two extremes that were both evil. And surely there are things where Aristotle says this: courage is the midpoint between rashness and timidity, for example, or liberality (in the sense of "generosity") between stinginess and being a spendthrift. But there are cases where this doesn't apply—for example, justice is not the midpoint between insufficient justice and excessive justice—and my understanding was that Aristotle didn't try to shoehorn them into a scheme of midpoints-between-extremes. I was struck, though, to see that his most fundamental work on logic (on which his whole philosophy was built) not only spelled this out, but said in so many words that midpoint-between-extremes was unusual.

Chapter 12 talks about priority, and says there are four senses of being prior: a thing can be prior to another because it occurs earlier in time, or because its existence is presupposed by the other (for example, you can't talk about "two" if you don't already grasp "one"), or because you choose to present it first in a speech, or because it's better and more honorable (though Aristotle calls this sense the most far-fetched).

Now, John 1:1 starts out En arche hen ho logos, which is normally translated as "In the beginning was the Word." But arche has more than one meaning in ancient Greek, and in fact it seems as if what John is talking about is precisely what Aristotle calls "priority." That is, he's saying that the Word existed earlier than anything else; he's saying that the existence of the Word is logically presupposed by the existence of everything else; he's saying that the Word is better and more honorable than anything else—and all those meanings seem to fit. But I also like to imagine him as a preacher or lecturer saying, "Now, to start with, we're going to talk about the Word." And that meaning makes sense too!

Greek is a cool language.

Reading Aristotle is a challenge, not least because the traditional translations for his terms are often opaque; for example, he talks about ousia, which gets translated as "substance," which sounds as if he were talking about a material, like water or air or iron or neutronium—but if you read him carefully it seems that a "substance" in his usage is an individual thing: Socrates is a substance, my copy of the Organon is a substance, the cat sitting on my lap is a substance. But I expect to learn some interesting things by working through him—and some that are different from common impressions of what he thought.