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just saying

One of the most influential books in the history of biology was Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Note that it's not Origin of the [Human] Species; it's The Origin of Species [in General]. In fact, Darwin scarcely mentions human beings in this book. The last chapter has a single throwaway line, "Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history," but Darwin didn't actually discuss the subject until a subsequent book, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex.

Now, I've seen a lot of people refer to Origin of the Species, whether because they see "Darwin" and instantly think "oh, yeah, he said human beings are descended from apes [or monkeys]," or because they don't recognize "species" as a plural, or simply because they've so often heard other people make that mistake that it's gotten impressed on their memories. But it's more disturbing to encounter the error in a scholarly book. I would think that a scholar, especially one studying the history of thought, would have actually read Darwin (The Origin of Species is an elegantly written book that can be read with pleasure); or, if not, that they would have heard of it in their history courses and remembered the actual title, or at least have taken a minute to look it up. But more than once, I've encountered the incorrect form in books I was editing.

Bless me, what are they teaching in the schools these days?

writing projects

Earlier this evening, I finalized my current project for Steve Jackson Games and sent it in. This is a genre book (or more precisely, a subgenre book), a type of project I haven't worked on in a while. Now it's in the editors' hands, and if they approve it, the production staff's.

I'm also closing in on the end of a proposal for a new project, one that will involve a lot of research. I look forward to testing out the resources of the UC Riverside library system on it! Of course it has to get approved first. . . .

how he thought of it?

Recently I decided to reread my copy of Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman, which has been on my shelves since around 1970. This time, I was struck by a short passage in the description of the lead female character:

Turn up her nose, give a cast to her eye, replace her black and violet confection by the apron and feathers of a flower girl, strike all the aitches out of her speech, and Ann would still make men dream.

This led me to check dates, and find that Man and Superman was written 1903 and first performed 1905, and Pygmalion, whose lead female character is a flower girl deprived of aitches, was written 1912 and first performed 1913. That looks strikingly as if a throwaway line—not even an actual character description, but a false-to-fact conditional proposed in passing during a description!—might have stuck in GBS's mind. I wonder if he spent the next few years going around London and thinking, "That flower girl would be an interesting character. . . ."

It's not often we see something that looks so much like a glimpse into "where do you get your ideas?"

change of perspective

The season for choosing nominees for the Libertarian Futurist Society's Hall of Fame has come around again, and C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength has been proposed as a possible nominee. So I reread it, and found some things in it, this time, that I didn't remember from earlier readings.

It's easy to think of Lewis, for a variety of reasons, as what the movie industry would call a "G" or "PG" writer. He's a famous Christian apologist; he's very well known as the author of a series of children's books; he didn't marry until very late in life (he was 54 when he met Joy Davidman and didn't become attracted to her for several more years); and in general his sense of literary decorum was that of a time before James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence.

On this reading, though, I encountered a scene where a funeral is interrupted by the voices of two workmen outside the chapel, one of whom uses the words "your bucking great foot." And in the course of the novel the modifier "bucking" turned up several more times. This time, it sank in the Lewis wasn't asking the reader to believe that his workmen actually used "bucking" as a swearword; he was doing the same thing that Norman Mailer did in The Naked and the Dead with the verb "fug," alluding to the still nearly unprintable "fuck," and expecting that at least his adult male readers would fill it in.

At a deeper level, this time I thought about the fact the book begins and ends with a married couple, Mark and Jane Studdock, who at the start are somewhat estranged, and at the end are reconciled. Lewis makes it clear that part of the problem between them is sexual: That Mark's approach to sex is a perfunctory one, concerned only with his own gratification, and that once he has that he rolls over and goes right to sleep. He also tells us that they use contraception, and that this is a moral failing—when Merlin comes on stage, he takes one look at Jane and says (fortunately in Latin) that her head should be struck off for it. (This attitude was quite common in the first half of the twentieth century; both the Anglican T.S. Eliot and the very irreligious James Joyce portray contraception as evil.) The "romance" and "political allegory" plot that we mostly think of is the novel's secondary plot, and Mark's involvement with the NICE and Jane's with their adversaries, and even the calling down to earth of the planetary powers—in all of which they're more witnesses than agents—seemingly is there to enable them to be reunited at the end. The two things fit together oddly, but in terms of literary structure, the people who are most changed by the story are the young married couple, which makes them the protagonists.

So this is what we now call an "adult" novel, and a largely realistic one. And the reason I didn't see it as such before is that I hadn't internalized the skill of reading things that weren't said explicitly; but also, secondarily, that I was distracted by the adventures and the allegory, and thought that the Studdocks were no more than the framing narrative. This time I read it from a different angle, just different enough to spot some things I had missed.

weather

C and I went out together this morning, she headed for school, I running errands. It was cooler than it has been, with a high of 85°F. More interestingly, though, there was a fairly strong breeze, which provided added cooling and had the branches of trees visibly swaying. This actually felt like fall, in a more marked way than I remember from San Diego, where the most readily apparent fall weather was the hot, oppressive Santa Anas. It's curious that we came to an inland desert (or near-desert) and got to experience actual autumnal weather.

"dark Professor X"

I've been working on situations for my new group of players to encounter in 1905 England. Since they're playing mages from the Traditions, I thought one of those encounters ought to be with scientists from the Technocracy, the major opposing faction. Now, my take on the Technocracy is that they're partly doing real technology, but partly doing the kind of science that's envisioned in the proto-science fiction of their day. So I wanted something that involved classic science fictional ideas.

In addition, one of the PCs is Romani, and has an Ally who's an older Romani woman with hedge magic abilities (healing, cursing, and granting luck)—the sort of person who would be asked for help.

So here's what I came up with: A primary figure who's a Progenitor (the branch of the Technocracy that does bioscience). Like many such, he's an MD, but he's also taking an interest in early genetic research and the application of statistics to it. And he subscribes to the Technocratic idea of "reality deviants," but his particular interests incline him to try to trace the inheritance of reality deviance, the way others are tracing intellectual deficit or criminality—which has led him to identify the Romani as a population with lots of reality deviance.

So this guy has used his statistical methods to predict that certain Romani children are like to develop strange traits. And on one hand this is a problem to be dealt with; but on the other he needs to test his theories. So I decided that he'd arranged with his Ally (a woman from the psychologically oriented New World Order) to have various Romani declared unfit parents and their children taken into state custody and turned over to his care because of special medical needs. And now he's trying to trigger their Awakening, as that will prove that he's chosen the right kids as in danger of magical powers; but he's also trying to canalize the awakening to fixed sets of powers, because full on mages are just too wild and uncontrollable. And he also hopes to turn his charges into empowered soldiers fighting on behalf of the Technocracy with their special powers, and thus get some good out of them and make himself an asset to the Technocracy. And then finally he plans to perform a little surgery on them when they've reached puberty, so that they don't pass on their deviant genes, in good eugenic fashion.

And when I described this agenda to C, she looked at me and said, "Dark Professor X!"

And, okay, yes, Charles Xavier is an influence on this; she's perfectly right. I wonder if my players will spot it? They probably won't spot the references to Jack Williamson's Darker than You Think, or Ian Tregillis's Bitter Seeds, or Julian Jaynes's comments about the nabi-im who nabi in "Bicameral Mind." They may catch the allusions to the eugenics movement and to the forcible separation of children from American and Australian tribal peoples from their families. Come to think of it, I haven't actually looked up Romani history in the UK; taking a quick look at Wikipedia, I see that Norway adopted such a policy of forced adoption in the late 19th century, but there's no mention of the UK doing so.

cast list, completed

My sixth player has come by and spent an hour or two drawing up his Mage character:

Pu (it probably should be P'u, as pinyin hasn't been created yet, or even Poo) is a Chinese Taoist, mainly oriented to meditative Taoism, but with a little martial arts skill from body meditation techniques (roughly what we call "T'ai Chi" in the United States). He envisions his avatar as a bear, and he came to England accompanied by an Asiatic black bear that he cares for. He's modest and has a strong desire to fit into whatever community he joins. Oh, and I was forgetting to mention, his most important Sphere is Forces, which is what you use to generate sound, heat, light, electricity, and magnetism, among other things. . . .

So at this point we have a cabal made up of men from all over the world, from diverse ethnicities and cultures: Afro-Caribbean, Chinese, American Indian, and Romani (originally South Asian). Looking after them all is an Englishwoman, and hanging around is an American southerner now living on the streets of London. That's going to be an interesting mix!

Pu turns out to be modeled, on one hand, on Hagrid (though he doesn't look much like him, being small and Chinese), and inspired, on the other, by the player's reading The Tao of Pooh. So that's where the bear came from. Though fortuitously, at least in older forms of Chinese, apparently Pu means "an uncarved block of wood," and the uncarved block is one of the central Taoist images for the ideal human state.

my God, how the money rolls in

Back when C and I were getting ready to move, I heard from one of my longest established copy editing clients that the journal I had worked on for several years was going to have all their copy editing done in India, along with their page layout. That was a shock, and inconveniently timed, but I went on to get in touch with a few dozen university presses, and now have the journal divisions of two of them as clients.

However, just a few days ago, the production manager for the lost journal got in touch with me, out of the blue, to ask if I was available: She had a biology journal that needed copy editing, and wanted to know what kind of background I had. And after some Q&A and contractual negotiations, she sent me a sample article to work on, at a better page rate than most of my other clients offer.

The good news is that I turned it in this morning, and she wrote back quickly to tell me that I had done a flawless job (on the first try!) and to say she'd be sending me another article. So it looks like I've gotten another source of work, and from someone I worked with congenially for most of the years since my corporate job was outsourced in 2002.

This is me looking like the Cheshire cat. I'm especially happy to see that my skills have not started to fade.

cast list

Five of my six prospective players showed up on Sunday (the sixth e-mailed to plead work obligations, and I need to get together with him separately) and created characters who needed only a little polishing. In addition, several of them took Backgrounds that involve supporting casts. So I already have a moderately large cast of characters.

Shaluku is a Diné (Navajo) with a shamanic background, guided by Coyote, and naturally is a Dreamspeaker (the Tradition for animistic belief systems). His main focus is on Mind and Spirit magic.

Moon Butterfly is an old school village witch (not one of those trendy Gardnerian "Wiccans"!) who came to London to get away from small town gossip. She stays in touch with her teacher, who is her great-grandmother, and it's her great-grandmother's voice and visage that embody magic for her. She also has an enemy, a cousin who rebelled against their great-grandmother's very traditional teaching and is now going mad from uncontrolled magic, but who also is jealous and resentful of Moon's being the favored one. Moon is a Verbena (the European pagan Tradition) and is totally focused on Life and Prime (the raw magical power of creation).

Tawni Cane is a Romani (Gypsy) boy of 15, who was brought up in old magical traditions derived from former worship of Kali. When he awakened, he found teaching from the Euthanatos (generally thought of as death mages, though they define their agenda as death and rebirth), and then went out looking for more. He maintains contact with the Rom through an older woman who practices healing and occasional cursing, relying on fixed rituals without being awakened, and he has an enemy, not yet defined. His emphasis is on Entropy (the magic of luck, destiny, and decay).

John Gertrude Goodman is a homeless man living on the streets of London, not affiliated with any Tradition. He takes inspiration from Diogenes and is under a geas never to sleep under a roof. In addition, he has an inner voice like that of Socrates's demon. He's accompanied by a squirrel that he talks with. His emphasis is also on Entropy, at a high level, and if he violates his geas it will turn against him.

Desmond Sleigh is a West Indian descendant of slaves. He grew up with West Indian supernatural beliefs, and is now a Dreamspeaker, who envisions his magic as a gift of a shark spirit. He carries a magically empowered cutlass and is being hunted by its previous owner, and he's also accompanied by two zombies, who act as his servants and bodyguards. His main magical arts are Life and Time.

That's not bad for the first week! I have resources for getting those characters into interesting trouble.

progress

Sometime last year, I turned in a first draft of a new book to Steve Jackson Games. Then it went on hold, as the line editors were working on the Dungeon Fantasy Role-Playing Game boxed set. After that, they got freed up, and I got the review comments back—but then I got buried in work, with two large books to copy edit.

Finally, though, I had time free to finish working on the manuscript. Now the revised version is in, and the playtest (actually a peer review) has started.