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Magic, ecospeak and genre distinctions

image (Picture proves cats like me back).


Something I noticed recently while wearing my (completely invisible but highly attractive) writing teacher chapeau is that the welter of SF subgenres and categories of fiction generally are terra incognita to a fair number of newer writers.


I’m okay with this. We begin as readers and viewers, after all. Many people coming into my UCLA courses are curious about speculative fiction. They aren't necessarily book-collecting, con-going, award-nominating fans. They've watched a fair chunk of genre TV and film offerings; they're up on the MCU, they can tell a spaceship from a unicorn and they even usually know which is the fantasy construct. They might have read a certain amount of fiction within their one or two favorite genres, or at least have read Harry Potter and his ilk to their kids.

Maybe this isn't especially nuanced, but it is a decent starting point. It’s only when we begin to write--and to consider selling what we write--that mincing the distinctions between, say, near-future SF and cyberpunk can become important. That's when you've moved beyond searching the bookstore for something you'll enjoy reading for pleasure. Finer categorization becomes useful when you’re aiming at a particular market, writing a review... or when you’re sitting in a workshop trying to articulate why the space unicorns just aren’t meshing well with the alternate history manor house homicide, with cyborgs, in a given piece.


So, a flashback: when my 2009 book, Indigo Springs, was in the pipe for publication, I took what was really my first run at writing publicity stuff, generating press releases and bits and pieces of blog stuff and other material whose primary thesis was: Hey, my book is so cool, buy my book, buy it buy it, OMG, candy giveaway, wheee!! Only, you know, subtle.


One of the things I never quite managed was to come up with was a pithy label that captured its particular mash-up of urban fantasy and environmental science. This is a book whose main character finds a wellspring of magic that has become condensed--more powerful--and intensely toxic because of human impacts on the magical ecosystem. She then unleashes it into modern-day Oregon, creating a massive uninhabitable monster-infested forest that is both immensely contaminated and, as a result, weirdly enchanted.


I played with words Eco-pocalypse a lot, but say it aloud and you'll hear how appalling and clunky that is. Apoca-green-alyse. Apocaenvirochockalocka.... argh! Why couldn't I just write a sexy vampire novel like that nice boy down the street?


Anyway. The book came out and one of the first reviews had this word, ecofantasy.


Oh! That's a thing? Thank goodness, I thought, and it’s catchy, too.


Except: If it is a thing, who else is doing it?


So I went looking. I didn't find a ton of stuff. Ecofantasy may be a thing, but it's not necessarily a huge one. My brain, which always serves up junk as its first ten answers, kept coming up with my favorite works of ecological science fiction, like Derryl Murphy’s “The History of Photography” or Bruce Sterling's Heavy Weather and realizing, “NO! Not Fantasy! Too sciencey!”


In time, though, I did find other works, like Walter Jon WIlliams's Metropolitan, where magic is a metered public utility. There's Harry Turtledove's Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand, and Nalo Hopkinson's Midnight Robber.


Even Patricia Briggs commits ecofantasy in one of her subplots--she’s got a storyline in one of her Mercy Thompson novels where werewolves get kidnapped for use as lab animals by a Big Pharma company.


Looking at these and thinking it over, I came up with a few concrete ideas to spell out what ecofantasy is:


  • Ecofantasy must contain some element of the magical; otherwise it's science fiction.

  • It nevertheless displays an awareness of the environment, of ecosystems science and biology.

  • Ecofantasies take place on worlds where the magical element is part of a larger system, whether it's a semi-sentient Gaian world-entity or a post-apocalyptic realm where dragons are used to incinerate garbage.

  • This one might be shaky but... the genre inhabits a middle ground between fantasy and science fiction in terms of prose style, combining the poetic sensibility often associated with the former with the harder-edged scientific language of the latter. It is neither A Midsummer Night's Dream nor Snow Crash, but something in between.

  • Ecofantasy often references or directly addresses current "green" societal concerns about global climate change, ocean rise, pollution, overpopulation, mass extinctions, the evolution of disease-resistant microorganisms and the coming peak oil crisis.

  • Ecofantasy recognizes the complexity of biological systems, and often echoes this in its magical aspects. Rarely do we see characters with the simple ability to wave a magic wand and thereby clean up an oil spill. In ecofantasy, the wizard who creates an oil-spill devouring monster will then have to find somewhere to keep that monster after the clean-up... not to mention figuring out how to get it to said quarantine, alive or dead.

  • Do you have favorite books or stories that fit into this frame? I am always looking for more examples.

    353 Comments

    1:

    How about Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death - a more political ecological fantasy.

    2:

    One novel that comes to mind is Ian R. MacLeod's The Light Ages. It may not be ecofantasty but it's definitely ecofantasy-adjacent. Magic is depicted as a natural resource (sort of). That said, there's not much hard-edged scientific language, and the story is much more mystical than scientific.

    3:

    How secondary can the world be?

    Here-and-now-with-magic, or cultural-continuity-with-magic, seems distinct from it's-all-invented-with-magic.

    I would think McKinley's Sunshine qualifies; the immediate story isn't about the ecological consequences of vampires, but the entirety of the setting is.

    4:

    Right now all I can think of is on the SF side of the fence; for example, Ian MacDonald's "Chaga" (and sequel), David Gerrold's "Cthorr" series, and so on.

    ... Except for one notable self-published exception -- Graydon Saunder's Commonweal books, starting with "The March North" and followed with "A Succession of Bad Days". It's fantasy, set about a third of a million years hence, on a world so thoroughly stomped-over by dark lords and crazed sorcerous cults that the entirety of its ecosystems are formed out of a patchwork crazy-quilt of magical species. Many of them evolving in the aftermath of their creators' disappearance. Many of them malevolent weaponized "weeds" designed to protect their owners territory or prevent their slaves from running way. Even the human inhabitants aren't, quite: they're mostly descendants of races of servitors designed (or bred) by sorcerers, who have long out-lived their creators.

    (The ecosystems are quite alarmingly worked out and make sense, in a horrible twisted kind of way. Oh, and despite all this they're optimistic, egalitarian, hopeful anti-elitist fantasies: the somewhat embattled Commonweal is that corner of this world where people have come together to abolish the cycle of magical tyrants and ban slavery/serfdom. Including at least one former dark lord lady extradimensional spider-goddess ...)

    Actually, you should probably read these books now, although they're hard to get hold of (Graydon self-publishes them as ebooks but eschews Amazon; the best way to find them is via the Google Play store, where they're available as DRM-free epub files).

    5:

    Thank you, Charlie!

    List of places to get The March North.

    List of places to get A Succession of Bad Days.

    (One can only be so Canadian.)

    Short version -- pretty much everybody but Amazon. And people have actually been using Kobo and the Apple Store, somewhat to my surprise.

    6:

    I'd say Dune is classic ecofantasy.

    8:

    I'm think I'm going to adopt ecofantasy as a category for my NaNoWriMo text. It's secondary world fantasy, but when I find myself wondering how to research where the cod spawning grounds were during the Ice Age, it's clear I'm not exactly writing in the tradition of Tolkien.

    Also: another vote for the Commonweal books. I read them earlier in the year and just reread them last month. Great stuff. I'm really looking forward to the next one.

    9:

    Not exactly fiction in the form of a novel, but the old White Wolf RPG Werewolf: the Apocalypse seems to fit the genre of ecofantasy. (Short summary; werewolves fight magical parasites, spiritual and actual pollution etc. to preserve Gaia).

    10:

    If we are branching off into non-written fiction media, there is the anime Earth Maiden Arjuna about a magical girl who has to fight against supernatural pollution monsters threatening ecological disaster. While also enduring lectures about ecological lifestyles. And being mentored by a shaman of the "be a total dick to your student until the become enlightened by it" school.

    11:

    How about Princess Mononoke if we're playing that game? (Yes: even I have seen it.)

    12:

    Also Blue Gender which is basically "War Against The Chtorr: The Anime" with the serial numbers filed off*. Though this is more over on the science fiction side than the fantasy side. (Watch the series, not the cut down movie version).

    * OK, to be fair it isn't an obvious ripoff, but it has a lot of similar stuff.

    13:

    The tabletop RPG setting GURPS Banestorm begins when a group of elves magically conjure orcbanes to fight their war. It turns out that humans make pretty good orcbanes, and elfbanes as well.

    If there's no minimum level of sophistication to qualify as ecofantasy, then there's always Captain Planet.

    14:

    The fantasy RPG world of Glorantha is mainly set many centuries after a catastrophe caused by the "God Learners". They turned religion/magic into pseudo-technologies and overexploited them until there was tremendous backlash that destroyed them and blighted much of the world.

    16:

    A bunch of Fred Saberhagen's work, including the twelve sword books, fall into ecofantasy. Arguably, so does Terry Brook's Shannara, the TV cartoon Adventure Time, and arguably the TV series Grimm and Once Upon a Time.

    This is one reason I wrote Hot Earth Dreams. Seriously. There seems to be this basic creation cycle of
    --oh, I should write a post-apocalyptic book, that'd be cool,
    --What does the post-apocalyptic future look like?..
    --brain freeze (OMG that's so freakin' hard to figure out)...leading to either:
    a) ...so then the magic comes back after civilization collapses and now I can write this fantasy I didn't realize I was setting out to write, or
    b)...well, I can't figure it out, but I want to stick with SF, so I'm going to repurpose a bunch of old settings and write it anyway, waving my hands furiously to keep the readers from looking too closely at the setup.

    Among other things, I'm hoping to help writers get through the brain freeze part of that development cycle. The deep future's actually a really good setting for fantasy as much as for science fiction, once you stop seeing it as a commentary about what we're doing wrong. The thing is, it's hard to see it from that perspective without some help.

    17:

    L.E. Modesitt Jr works ecology into all of his books somewhere.
    In the fantasy ones, the wizards spend part of their time destroying the environment and the remainder of their lives repaying the cost.
    In his SF ... well, both The Forever Hero and The Timegod start with post environmental collapse scenarios and it takes a fair old time to get better from there.

    18:

    Has anyone mentioned The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway yet?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gone-Away_World

    It has great clouds of Stuff that brings into existence any dreams, thoughts, facets of peoples personalities, etc. that are on the mind of anyone that are inside it.

    19:

    To be "eco" doesn't it need an ecosystem? So while direct creation is certainly interesting, I'd expect it all to have to interact for a while absent intelligent direction to become an ecosystem. Even if the intelligent direction wants to create a particular system or self-sustaining system.

    Garden versus ecological succession, sort of thing. Or trophic web versus commodities market.

    20:

    May I suggest Max Gladstone's Craft sequence? Ecology (in the form of water) plays an important role in Two Serpents rise, and in the text game Deathless: City's Thirst. I get the impression the background is a lot like Graydon's Commonweal, but things like eel weed and devil's ass hole (iirc) aren't named issues.

    21:

    Mr. stross I'm sure Alyx is a very nice person and an accomplished writer in her own right.

    But seriously, afer Paris your blog is featuring cat pictures?

    22:

    Paris isn't important.

    (You know how personal isn't the same thing as important? Well, "sad" and "upset" aren't the same thing as important, either.)

    Everyone involved was an EU citizen. Law enforcement problem, internal security problem. No kind of excuse to make wild generalizations.

    Peace is what you do every day. It's how you act and how you treat strangers and how you treat the people you work with and what you do with your friends. There's a message from somebody who was in Bataclan during the attack saying "go sit on a patio with your friends and have a drink and eat peanuts". It's good advice.

    This isn't a material patio, but it's close enough.

    So, got any favourite ecofantasy? I keep trying to decide if bits of McKillip qualify; land-law in Riddle of Stars, the consequences of magical battles in The Book of Atrix Wolfe, or all the other ways the world is reflected through magical perception. I don't think any of it quite does; there isn't a system preceding along absent someone thinking about it, so there's dominion and creation and creative conflict, but no actual ecosystem so not ecofantasy.

    23:

    I almost hate to bring it up in such august company, but Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar world has a reasonably well-worked out magical ecology based on ley lines.

    24:

    @Heteromeles -- tell me (us) more? I've never read those, and now I'm imagining that instead of latitude leading to clinal gradation, distance from the ley line does. ("You never see that much pink the wings more than a league from the ley line; keep looking and don't drop the thaumometer".)

    25:

    Princess Monomoke came to mind immediately, but you can probably put a number of Miyazaki's other works into it e.g. Nausicaa, Castle in the Sky and even My Neighbor Totorro.

    A book that comes to mind is Downbelow Station. There are space ships, but ecology is at the center of the story.

    26:

    Well, they are really cheap to purchase at used book stores or That Other Place.

    It's probably simplest to think of Valdemar's ley lines as an electrical system, with wires of different sizes in different places. She grades her magic users on how big a "voltage" they can handle. Thing is that the things that can tap into them aren't limited to humans. Magic's also a bit like water, and some mages work to basically put magic into pipes (e.g. ley lines) rather than letting it flow shallowly and willy-nilly across the landscape.

    27:

    Surely Tolkien deserves at least a glance here, for Fangorn, Ents and so on.

    28:

    More for the existence of Angmar having changed the climate (and suitable crops) of Eriador.

    29:

    Indeed, good call. An interesting other feature here is the idea of magic gradually leaving the world, and the temptation of trying to prolong its stay to keep the old days around longer (via the One Ring).

    30:

    "Sleeping on your electronics"
    Yeah.

    31:

    Do Niven's "The Magic Goes Away" & "The Magic may Return" count?
    As mentioned elsewhere/when in these discussions, ecology & ecosystems never seem to be far from Niven's thinking.

    32:

    A second Commonweal book!

    Oh frabjous day!


    (Um, and surely a discussion of Eco-fantasy needs to think about Fantasy's melancholic longing for a less-urban mythic past: from Don Quixote on to Tolkein and beyond it's all been about the lost joys of the natural and the evils of technology)

    33:

    C J Cherryh introduced me to the idea that human culture without its familiar animals would be different and arguably stunted. I cannot remember if she said this directly or if it struck me as I was reading about her many space colonies.

    34:

    Railsea, by China Meiville?

    35:

    Yellow card.

    After Paris we especially need cat photos.

    (The events in Paris, while ghastly, don't change anything much aside from the very specific French political discourse around their former colonial possessions in the Levant -- note: French nuclear carrier battle group already en route, we know the way this song plays out -- and possibly negotiations between EU/US/Russia over what to do about Hafez al-Assad. The only really worrying outcome is that the Front National might win the next French election, and we have absolutely no influence over that. So stop worrying and get with the fluffy cat pictures already.)

    36:

    Especially since the declared strategy of IS is to eliminate the "gray zone" were Muslims and non-Muslims still get along. In that way Le Pen and other anti-Islam movements are the 5th column of IS.

    I'm currently reading the "Management of Savagery" and I've never felt so pro-American for decades.

    37:

    Let's try your criteria out on Heinlein's novella "Waldo", detailed summary in Wikipedia:

    Ecofantasy must contain some element of the magical; otherwise it's science fiction. Power receivers for broadcast power are failing unpredictably, causing air crashes and other disasters. One of them is cured by an old hex doctor called Gramps Schneider, after which it works — but its antennae flex and wiggle as though reaching for something. Also, one of the engineers involved with the problem goes mad, announces that "Magic is loose in the world!", and performs a few minor miracles such as levitating a penknife.

    It nevertheless displays an awareness of the environment, of ecosystems science and biology. Heinlein doesn't say much about the complexity and interrelatedness of ecosystems. But worries about pollution — in this case, the subtle and disregarded effects of broadcast power on people's nervous systems — are a key part of the plot. If writing today, it would be mobile-phone masts. BTW, Wikipedia says the original story was published in 1942.

    Ecofantasies take place on worlds where the magical element is part of a larger system, whether it's a semi-sentient Gaian world-entity or a post-apocalyptic realm where dragons are used to incinerate garbage. Yes. The magic is propagated through a parallel continuum. Near the end, the protagonist comes to understand the physics behind this: the continuum, though touching ours at every point, has a different speed of light, curvature of space, and size.

    This one might be shaky, but ... the genre inhabits a middle ground between fantasy and science fiction in terms of prose style, combining the poetic sensibility often associated with the former with the harder-edged scientific language of the latter. It is neither A Midsummer Night's Dream nor Snow Crash, but something in between. Probably fails this one. As I remember, the language is pretty hard-edged. Maybe a bit more poetic in the nostalgic descriptions of Gramps Schneider's Pennsylvania Dutch house.

    Ecofantasy often references or directly addresses current "green" societal concerns about global climate change, ocean rise, pollution, overpopulation, mass extinctions, the evolution of disease-resistant microorganisms and the coming peak oil crisis. See point about pollution above. Pretty good for 1942?

    Ecofantasy recognizes the complexity of biological systems, and often echoes this in its magical aspects. Rarely do we see characters with the simple ability to wave a magic wand and thereby clean up an oil spill. In ecofantasy, the wizard who creates an oil-spill devouring monster will then have to find somewhere to keep that monster after the clean-up... not to mention figuring out how to get it to said quarantine, alive or dead. I think this is implied, in that magic works according to the laws of the other continuum. So applying it becomes just another problem in engineering.

    38:

    C J Cherryh introduced me to the idea that human culture without its familiar animals would be different and arguably stunted.

    C J Cherryh must have nicer cats than ours. It bit me on the wrist last night while I was sleeping.

    39:

    Arguably keeping us on our toes is good for us. A bit of excitement stops us from getting complacent or something :)

    A friend of mine once woke up at 3am to find her cat standing on her chest trying to get his teeth around her throat...

    40:

    You know how it is, you get peckish, the bowl is empty, the human's throat is, like, right there...

    And, speaking of C J Cheryh, if Dune counts, then the Gene Wars series does too, particularly Hammerfall, which has your classic fantasy writing style on top of the (initially) well hidden eco-sci-fi worldbuilding.

    41:

    Thinking about it more, Modesitt's Recluce series is emphatically ecofantasy because of the explicit power balance between Chaos and Order, where increasing one automatically increases the other, generally by creating a focus in a person to compensate.

    There's also a lot of discussion of weather patterns and the impact that a mage can have - in one book a mage diverts down the jet streams to devastate an attacking fleet, and ends up killing tens of thousands down the line by permanently altering the global weather patterns. His desert island becomes a green and pleasant land, but at a cost of destroying the fertile grasslands of the main continent.

    Recluce's power is also specifically ensured by maintaining a corresponding level of chaos in the lands outside, to the detriment of those there.

    Not to mention the impact of technology in a fantasy environment.

    42:

    I got a healthy chunk of an ecofantasy novel written last year (before before deciding it was unlikely to be marketable, getting bored, and abandoning it). I didn't know there was a genre label for that though... Heh, if ecofantasy turns out to be the next big thing I'm going to be so gutted I dropped that.

    Very loosely, the premise behind it was a development of the 'fairies hate iron' fantasy trope, where 'iron' turns out to have been a metaphor for technology and where the consequences for fairies (ahem, 'faeries') are essentially environmental illness. Depleted populations, reproductive issues, cognitive problems, and so on.

    43:

    Nothing new there - the Provisional IRA attempted to gain legitimacy in Northern Ireland through their handling of "antisocial elements".

    They tried to delegitimise the Police, just as the UK Government was trying to legitimise them while counteracting the corrosive effect of the B Specials. One method was by specifically targeting Roman Catholic police officers and UDR members (an acquaintance was a child in the same car when his father and brother were shot and killed, while leaving church).

    Having pushed the line that the Police were the enemy, and not to be trusted, PIRA tried to provide a means to handle criminal behaviour; kneecappings, beatings, and the occasional hint to leave town and never return (delivering a wreath to someone's house as a big hint). Needless to say, ideas that might expand the grey zone (like integrated education of children) weren't actively supported, by either the Nationalist or Unionist groups.

    The fallout from this was recently in the news, as the republican victim of sexual assault had her claims handled "internally" at the time, but without effective process; she recently turned to PSNI to provide the justice that PIRA had not. Former PIRA types were not impressed...

    44:

    Compared to the situation with IS, the Troubles look quite uncomplicated and humane to me.

    45:

    Cats have more to do with international politics than you realize:
    Cats take over G20 stage in Turkey

    46:

    Yes, possibly.
    Assad is a murderer, but so was Stalin.
    Give him an offer of immunity for prosecution, even given what he's done, provided he walks ... (?)
    UN joint mandate in Syria, Da'esh find out what fighting a first-world army does to you?
    ( Boko Haram got that lesson last year ... )

    And, yes, an article from the "Atlantic magazine" that Dirk linked to previously, much earlier this year was very informative - a bit out-of-date by now, but still good.
    Here it is again - recommended.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/

    47:

    Off-topic.

    No more Syria/Paris/Da'esh.

    Back to magical ecosystems!

    48:

    Quite a few familiar and unfamiliar titles/authors ... Pratchett's Discworld also features a magical eco-system, i.e., there are eight colors with the magical color being the eighth color, octarine. I suppose that anything that uses alternate energy could be shoehorned to fit this genre.

    Almost all the SF/F books I recall obey Newton's three laws. To me, this means that these magical systems/ecologies are merely swapping ingredients. Nothing truly novel.

    49:

    Oh, yeah, almost forgot ... Jack Chalker's Well World series ... which mixes technology, magic, evolutionary paths, political systems, etc.

    Wikipedia:

    'The Well World's surface is composed primarily of 1560 large hexagonal regions — called "hexes" — each with an independent and often dramatically different climate and ecosystem,...'

    50:

    from Don Quixote on to Tolkien and beyond it's all been about the lost joys of the natural and the evils of technology

    Well, technology does have evils. Technology's busy reshaping the global ecology, slowly enough that it's hard for people to notice emotionally most of the time. (And it started doing that around about the invention of agriculture.)

    Some of those evils are hard for me to sympathize with; the relative loss of power of large landowners may grieve them but I have trouble seeing it as bad. Loss of community and relative security -- there's enough wrong with your village but people who would look out for you and a claim on the common are a much less doubtful existence than a factory job -- I can sympathize with much more readily. Getting stuck in a big machine that's optimizing profit and indifferent to the personal insecurity of individuals isn't obviously better than waking up a peasant in some Dread Empire somewhere and I think that's why we write about it.

    (I think we mostly write about what makes us uneasy; insecurity management through narrativization, basic human facility for coping with a world that's a lot more complicated than we can deal with rationally.)

    Ecofantasy strikes me as different from the lament for a departed social order (Lord of the Rings) or the complex satire of Don Quixote. I even think it's mostly different from the Cold War formless dread of the certainly awful future.

    Which is odd, really; I'm not sure I've got anything sensible to say about that, other than that I'm glad there's an element of optimism to it.

    51:

    Stephen King's 1985 doorstop "The Tommyknockers" could qualify as an ecofantasy because it was (A.)based on ghosts, (B.)described in detail the side effects of strange forces on neighborhood plants, and (C.) a big fat anti-nuke rant replete with magical solution to energy supply. And if you can do all that, hold your head up, and still be entertaining, why then you'll be a commercial author my son.

    52:

    This is a slight derail, not aimed at recent events.

    One thing that interests me is that literary magic has been conventionalized to mean, effectively, "technology by other means" and we're talking about defining a genre on the idea that this "technology" has real world side consequences that can be negative, like pollution.

    But what about "real" magic? I've been reading history (always a dangerous hobby), and both Imperial Rome and China were effectively magical empires. Each used a different logic to say that the emperor was the bridge between heaven (defined in a non Judeo-Christian way) and his subjects, and only his rituals, and rituals at his command and in his name, kept the empire from falling apart.

    This played out as the Mandate of Heaven in China, and in a large round of rituals and ritual sacrifices that were seen as the exchange between nature and the supernatural: the supernatural provided luck, power, a good harvest, sons to carry on the family line, and so forth, and the people sacrificed material goods back to them in return, with the emperor responsible for the central sacrifices that kept the empire working. When the empire stopped working badly enough, obviously the emperor was screwing up, and when some new ruler got things going again, obviously heaven wanted him in the key position, hence the notion of the mandate of heaven passing between dynasties.

    In Rome, the emperor's Genius was the spirit of the Empire, so the cult of the Emperor--which looked a lot like a tax to cynical modern people--was seen as the sacrifice to supporting the spirit that kept the empire working, just as every person's genius kept him going. Even if the emperor was a creep, it was his Genius that kept things ticking over. So long as Roman citizens sacrificed to the cult of the Emperor ('s Genius), they could worship pretty much whatever else they wanted. Christians got into trouble--often deliberately--by refusing to acknowledge no other god but God. This was basically treasonous, but the zealots who refused to sacrifice to the emperor this made themselves martyrs (later saints) and potent religious symbols for Christianity.

    The thing I'm getting to with the real world analogs of ecofantasy is that, in the real world, the impacts of real magical rituals are in magical pollution (scapegoats, sacrifices, heretic populations, etc.), and even more in the impact of living symbolically. These impacts can be both positive and negative, but they aren't trivial. In China, we think of this as Feng Shui, where buildings and cities were laid out to direct earth energy harmoniously, and temple altars are often placed on the "acupuncture points" in feng shui, areas that are too powerful to support harmonious homes. There's also the whole Chinese medicine thing, where drugs like tiger bone are valued more for their symbolic potency than any pharmaceutical effect. We snicker now, but we did the same thing a few centuries ago, with the doctrine of signatures. In Rome, well, we've got the sacrifices and the gladiatorial games (which started off as a funeral rite) depopulating much of the Mediterranean basin of its large animals. I can go on, with the cost of sacrifices, the costs of conspicuous consumption, the costs of keeping the whole ritual apparatus working when most people don't believe in it, and so forth. The ultimate point is that organizing a society to do even symbolic magic isn't cheap, and it does have impacts.

    It's probably a silly observation in the context of fantasy literature, because the literary conventions must always be obeyed.* Still, we don't so often see the impacts of living in magical societies that are governed by rituals and the impacts therefrom. In fantasy literature (perhaps because of the audience), magic has a more Protestant ethic--it's about magic having a function, generally analogous to some mix of water and electricity (thank you, Israel Regardie), where ritual is the equivalent of instructing a computer, and the problems are solved are generally physical, not symbolic. By treating magic this way, we get away from understanding the real impacts of living a strongly ritualized and magical life, but there we go.

    *Perhaps this is another kind of magic? The magic of which phrases can be written profitably, and which must never be uttered in commerce?

    53:

    Re: 'In Rome, the emperor's Genius was the spirit of the Empire, so the cult of the Emperor--which looked a lot like a tax to cynical modern people--was seen as the sacrifice to supporting the spirit that kept the empire working, just as every person's genius kept him going.'


    Updating to contemporary Western culture, esp. US, substitute 'Emperor' with 'Corporation'. Shamanism, magical thinking, black-box thinking, or what?

    Your book arrived last night ... will begin reading it tonight.

    54:

    Mythago Wood?

    55:

    "Doctrine of Signatures" ??

    Had a basis in fact, as a result of a common "Reasoning" error - from the particular to the general.
    There are a couple of plants that look like what they are supposed to cure & it was therefore thought that this "clue" always applied - a result of a mix of late-classical thinking & christian wishful thinking, actually.
    The plants were & are:
    Rananunculus ficaria = Pilewort
    AND
    Pulmonaria officianlis = Lungwort
    It's possible that "Eyebright" also had some effectiveness.
    As for the rest, de Nada, apart from the Placebo Effect, I'm afraid.

    56:

    Robin Hobb's Soldier son trilogy might fit the bill for an Eco-fantasy.....

    57:

    Gosh, I think China Miéville’s world of New Crobuzon trilogy, Perdido Street Station, SCAR, and IRON COUNCIL would qualify for Ecofantasy and then some. A world full of magic/alchemy/science, alien ecosystems and creatures, strange and fantastic characters, politics, cities, oceans, continents, et al.

    58:

    Yes. And the surrounding religion is called "economics". Its god is called "money", it shares the usual attributes of a religion such as multiple mutually-contradictory sects and dogmas, fanatical belief in blatant horseshit, ability to justify more or less any conclusion someone wants it to, and warfare between different flavours of belief (which, be it noted, came closer to destroying the entire world than any "conventional" religious war ever did), but at present is still so widely believed in that its nature is not widely realised and criticism of it is dangerous.

    59:

    Funny, I too thought of Discworld but octarine never crossed my mind. I was thinking more of animals such as noble dragons which depend on magic for survival, the noted effects of magical pollution (Unseen University's dump, ground zeroes of strikes in the Mage Wars), magical influences on evolution (Counting Pines, God of Evolution, sapient pearwood)... if I made this post an exhaustive list, it'd probably end up of comparable length to a Discworld book in itself.

    60:

    On Discworld you also have narrative as a force of nature, pressuring things to conform to story tropes.

    Getting a job as the Grand Vizer will make you become sly, sinister, and with a little well-trimmed beard you stroke while scheming. Even if none of those things described you before. Because that is how Grand Vizers are supposed to be.

    Granny Weatherwax spent her whole life fighting the narrative pressure to become an evil witch.

    61:

    There are a couple of plants that look like what they are supposed to cure & it was therefore thought that this "clue" always applied - a result of a mix of late-classical thinking & christian wishful thinking, actually.

    A bit later than just late-classical, I'd say: http://totalhealthmethod.com/the-secret-of-the-law-of-signatures/.

    62:

    " Rome and China were effectively magical empires. Each used a different logic to say that the emperor was the bridge between heaven (defined in a non Judeo-Christian way) and his subjects, and only his rituals, and rituals at his command and in his name, kept the empire from falling apart."

    I'm trying to come up with an example of magical thinking the whole country falls for nowadays, and first to come to mind was a cartoon from the '60's comparing Americans to superstitious tribesmen with a flag fetish (picturing grass skirted, crewcut spear carriers singing 'strong men love it cowards fear it' as they medicine dance around Old Glory.) But that's kind of nitpicking at a minor piece of symbolism, common to people in all times, older than Otzi's tattoos and harmless as a membership token, what RD South described last week as a social construct like wearing a tie. Where the real magical thinking comes into play is at the junction of politics and economics, the deliberate distortion of specific technical concepts. like supply and demand, interest rates and inflation to match a political agenda. But that's just one party trying to all sing from the same songbook, as a badge of belonging whether they believe it or not. Krugman has blogged for years about the Confidence Fairy and Invisible Bond Vigilantes, mythical entities to whom the whole economy was nearly sacrificed, to justify opposing the TARP stimulus and Q.E.(tactics since adopted by Europe and China.) Although that's not the entire country thinking magically by any stretch. Maybe a better example would be the fifties zeitgeist of unquestioning
    loyalty, accepting ideological leadership on faith just like a medieval peasant. Similar to investment bubbles, mass delusions are obvious in hindsight but nebulous from the inside looking out. Probably lots more, but I can't see them.

    63:

    I can't remotely see how you get Metropolitan and City on Fire being ecofantasy. Their setting is not the present and has no resonance to present-day environmental concerns; it's a hyperurbanized future Earth that more nearly resembles Trantor than anything else, only with magic. When I think of ecofantasy I envision magic being shown as at the opposite symbolic pole from technology, present in remote wildernesses and absent in cities and laboratories; but plasm is a magical force generated by the sheer physical and human mass of cities. I'd call it "urban fantasy" if that label hadn't come to be used so often for fantasy stories where the magic is covert rather than overt. . . .

    64:

    Cities are ecologies too.

    65:

    Cities are an environment.

    Agriculture is an environment. Absolutely.

    66:

    One distinction show up in fiction that much -- I'm only able to think of Drake's Lord of the Isles series -- is you don't necessarily have to believe anything. You can just do the ritual correctly and stuff happens, irrespective of your personal belief.

    Then we get the idea of defending the borders of human habitation; the role (some of the late) Norse gave to Thor, but it goes right back into the beginning of Indo-European notions of deity.

    Then you get into (as happened to the Romans) a shift where the official imperial cult was a rituals-correctly setup and the insurgent mystical system didn't want different rituals so much as it wanted belief. Lots of political conflict in a disagreement like that.

    This doesn't seem to be the sort of thing that shows up in fantasy much. It might be difficult to convincingly convey sincere belief or avoid a ritual practice absent belief that doesn't seem like deliberate fraud. (Or other people might not think this is interesting whatsoever.)

    67:

    Ari Marmell's book Hot Lead, Cold Iron deals with some similar themes. I don't think it would be classified as ecofantasy (it's a 1930s-style detective story, but the protagonist is a faerie), but it definitely has the whole "technology in general is basically iron", and there are various plot points based around the protagonist trying to avoid modern technology as much as possible. It doesn't really deal with ecological/green concerns enough to be ecofantasy, but it's still interesting.

    68:

    Silly question, but which of those places would let me download a simple, non-DRMed epub file that I could load onto my Kobo (for camping trips) and also iBooks on my iPad (for reading near electricity, when I can recharge at night)?

    Kobo wants to load directly on my Kobo, but it also wants me to buy a new computer to run the computer-side software first. iBooks doesn't like to share its files with others (DRM-by-default, I think). Does Scribd let you download files, or do you have to read them only inside its reader? (Because it's a subscription, I've been assuming that you don't actually get to keep the file.)

    69:

    I don't think Scribd lets you keep anything, no.

    Google Play supports downloading a DRM-free epub file.

    You may want to look at the wee HOWTO I produced about downloading from Google Play.

    It is easy, but it's very much a certain value of easy.

    (Google Play pays promptly, has good analytics, and believes me about turning off DRM. I quite like them as a delivery platform.)

    70:

    Consumerism and the requirement for economic growth are a couple of other things that come to mind as organizing beliefs for modern global civilization. And you're right, from a certain angle, they look a lot like bubbles.

    There's also the idea that you can tell what shapes a society by seeing which outsized buildings dominate a city. These could be the palace (political power), a castle or fort (military power), or a temple (religious power). If you look at the centers of cities around the world, what you see are these rigidly erect towers that are used primarily for business. City leaders who want them built are sometimes said to have edifice complex too, and it's considered a problem of middle-aged male leaders.

    Now, high rises are supposed to be about efficiency, but given where the executive penthouse is, the symbolism is a bit too obvious for most people to notice. They've certainly replaced the old imperial Grand Manner of older cities.

    In any case, if you want to see remnants of the old Chinese imperial ritual system, look at North Korea. Wasn't the dear leader supposed to have ridden a unicorn or something? Of course he practices something that's entirely different called juche, which has (cough, cough) absolutely nothing to do with anything that came before.

    Still, it may be too soon to say that China will have no further emperors. They haven't scientifically excavated Qin Shi Huang's tomb. Until that happens, I'm not sure that the Mandate of Heaven is completely gone.

    71:

    Then you get into (as happened to the Romans) a shift where the official imperial cult was a rituals-correctly setup and the insurgent mystical system didn't want different rituals so much as it wanted belief. Lots of political conflict in a disagreement like that.

    This doesn't seem to be the sort of thing that shows up in fantasy much. It might be difficult to convincingly convey sincere belief or avoid a ritual practice absent belief that doesn't seem like deliberate fraud. (Or other people might not think this is interesting whatsoever.)

    If one looks outside fantasy, there are authors who manage this convincingly. An obvious one, surely, is Graham Greene. The book Graham Greene's Fictions: The Virtues of Extremity by Cates Baldridge quotes from The Power and the Glory

    Faith, one was told, could move mountains, and here was faith — faith in the spittle that healed the blind man and the voice that raised the dead.

    Baldridge contrasts this with:

    Belief, on the other hand, because it entails the workaday rituals and formulas of a religious establishment, ceases in The Power and the Glory to be a supplement to faith and instead becomes its despised, suburban opposite, reeking of altar societies and mechanical confession.

    That seems to sum up your distinction very nicely. I bet one would also find this in C. S. Lewis.

    Moving from one religion to another, I've read books by the children of Muslim immigrants to Britain: children who have come to doubt their faith. One — possibly called something like Help, I am not a Muslim — has a touching night scene where the author waits and waits but the angels promised by her father never come, and never come, and never come. And yet she still has to go to Jumwah every Friday, and all the other rituals.

    Transposed to ancient Rome, or wherever, that would probably be a good POV from which to show the difference between the rituals-correctly-setup system and the insurgent mystical system.

    72:

    THAT is just one of the biggest load of old bollocks that I've seen for a very long time.
    And, like the "original" doctrine, doing it exactly backwards ....

    73:

    "Economics"?
    [ Reflected-sound-of-an-underground-creature" ]
    But SOME parts of economics are really true & do work, especially at small scales.
    It's when you scale it up to nation-states, that things seem to go wrong.
    Too many variables?
    Hidden variables?
    False assumptions (Almost certainly, actually.) masked by the scale-changes?

    Subject for a n other thread?

    74:

    OTOH it does deal effectively with how one species (Hom Sap Sap) altering an environment to their benefit has deleterious effects on that environment for another species (Fairie).

    75:

    Which is bollocks? My post, or the Greene quote, or the Baldridge quote? I was surprised that Baldridge contrasted "faith" with "belief", because I think of them as the same. But forget the names: we've all seen the two behaviours he describes, haven't we? The distinction seems sensible, at least in my experience.

    76:

    I've always seen it put as being an open-minded/close-minded debate.

    Belief is close-minded, an insistence that the way of things is the way you think it should be. It's the heart of many of our magical systems in modern fantasy - "Think of it and it shall be true". It also harks back to Genies and other such beings - literal wish fulfilment.

    Faith is open-minded, an acceptance that your goals will be accomplished, you just don't know specifically how.
    It turns up more in older magical systems - Alchemy and its Doctrine of Signatures, Thaumaturgy and sympathy - "like produces like", Summoning and other ritual forms of magic.
    The idea was you got an end result, but the process isn't easily fungible, and the practitioner needs faith that the end result will eventually succeed.

    77:

    The "modern" crap about "The doctrine of signatures" - sorry about the confusion.....
    NOT your post as such - oops

    78:

    I thought "Faith" was defined as "Belief without evidence"
    So maybe we/you have got it backwards ??

    79:

    Talking of ecosystems, & cats, as we were ...
    Oh dear

    Now, who was in charge, again?

    80:

    The problem here is connotation. Words having multiple meanings is especially problematic in the realm of religion, which is happy to create confusion and misdirection by any means available. A purely secular use of the words would define belief as a mental state of considering something true, and faith as a subset of belief that is based on some form of inexplicable evidence. But religion industriously confounds words, generating the connotation of "faith" as meaning a variety of religion (ie sect) and "belief" as "something we all pretend to believe" (ie doctrine).

    81:

    Note to self: Move Nnedi higher in TBR pile. Thank you!

    82:

    Either can have the ecological sensibility, though I agree that they're different things.

    83:

    Oh, those sound amazing.

    Gerrold's got the next Chtorr book in the can, I believe. The series was a major influence on younger me!

    84:

    I'm never quite able to decide about Dune. The prophecies and Messiahs make it fantastical and magical, but there's so much about it that is classic SF. Then again, he was straight up writing about water and oil scarcity.

    If I were a proper scholar, I'd probably say it was "emergent" ecofantasy or some similar thing.

    85:

    We (my wife Kelly and I) did everything to skew the odds in our favor, including hand-feeding them as baby ferals. If they're trying to kill us, they're exceedingly subtle.

    86:

    I definitely prefer a lot of system in my ecosystem. It's all so much more interesting when species are cross-pollinating, magically or otherwise.

    87:

    Lackey--check! And Modesett and Harkaway. You guys are terrific.

    88:

    Gone-Away World has essentially a Random Monster Encounter with giant mutant bison that are speculated in the text to be what bison would imagine a bison with superpowers to be - the ability to directly create is not limited to humans.

    I'd still not label it eco-fantasy (or eco-sf); there's not a lot of ecological exploration, though this may be related to a relative lack of ecology to explore - the Gone-Away World is one of the most complete apocalypses (that doesn't include planetary explosion) I've ever read.

    89:

    Talking about the power of faith, what about CS Friedman's Coldfire series?

    The Fae of Erna is a natural magical force, empowered in various ways by tectonic activity, sunlight, moonlight and True Night - the absence of light.

    The entire native ecosystem is shaped by interaction with the Fae, which in turn is affected by the human psyche - for good when worked en-mass for the glory of the Church, but also empowering their deepest fears to spawn horrors in the night.

    Not to mention that one of the darkest powers in the world is the key to human salvation.

    90:

    Speaking of ritual vs. belief, one of the features of Rome and China (as I understand it--I'm dealing with secondary and tertiary sources) is that doing the ritual is the important thing, not believing in it. I understand that Confucius advised his students to perform rituals as if they were real, rather than dealing with the question of belief. Similarly, I understand that Roman rituals were supposed to be perfect. Belief in the efficacy of the actions was not required, but performing them at least correctly and ideally perfectly was the goal. Some (like good ol' Bronisław Malinowski) believe that this focus on performance rather than belief was the essence of magic as it was actually practiced in our world. If we did what we were supposed to do, the supernatural was then supposed to do its thing, and life would go on.

    The interesting thing here is that a set of rituals can contain quite a lot of human activity. If you're not sure what to do when you're mourning the death of a loved one, the rituals of mourning the dead give structure to your life in a difficult time. Rituals of war do the same thing, as does ritual obedience to authority figures, holidays, and so on. If you've got good ritual designs and designers, it's not an entirely stupid way to run a society, even though everyone can be quite literally going through the motions, whatever they actually believe.

    Christianity's supposed innovation in the Roman empire was to focus on faith and works, not performance of ritual. It picked up on the problem of the hypocrisy of empty rituals and used its radical divergence from this to gain political power, but it didn't and hasn't particularly solved that problem, nor has Islam.

    Oddly enough, empires formed on single faiths, where either you're a believer or in trouble, haven't lasted nearly as well as ones based on layers of empty ritual. That's why I think of Rome and China as magical empires.

    One of the essential struggles in fantasy is the never-ending attempt to find something to fill the void at the center of a ritual, either faith or talent. For us, the key word is Work. They have to Work. It's a very Protestant Christian worldview, even though most fantasies avoid being explicitly Christian.

    91:

    One of the essential struggles in fantasy is the never-ending attempt to find something to fill the void at the center of a ritual, either faith or talent. For us, the key word is Work. They have to Work. It's a very Protestant Christian worldview, even though most fantasies avoid being explicitly Christian.

    I'm not sure efficacy is a Christian value. Deriving personal worth from work is, at least in present context, but it's not the only such context. (Though it would be nice if we knew more about the other contexts.)

    So I think you could use the Inca as an example of another "work" context. There's the old Babylonian/Assyrian/maybe-maybe Hittite context of fecundity, there's the old germanic context of generosity (and a different concept of time, which people rarely use), there's the whole difficult Classical concept of moira (and in a universe with operant magic you could test for it, maybe), and there's (if you want to do a lot of research and make at least half your readers angry) actual Christian chivalry or the troubadour courtly love traditions. (Angry because it's similar enough to current notions of romantic love that people will expect a happier ending.) And I'm not even trying to say anything about East Asian constructs of virtue.

    92:

    Well, you could say much the same of things which are conventionally categorised as religion. On small scales, no problem; love thy neighbour, do not kill - not arguing with that. I think keithmasterson put it more accurately than I did by including politics in the mix. Then you get Vorbises.

    94:

    "...Deriving personal worth from work is..."

    That's another thing which has got Vorbised. The original "works" thing was about work which helps other people. These days it's purely about going through the motions without regard for the usefulness of the result (or, arguably, negative regard, see inverse correlation between pay and value of job: nobody becomes a nurse for the money) - the purpose has been lost, and now the ritual is worshipped for its own sake; instead of the void at the centre being filled, it becomes a greater void, and the ritual is pursued the more to distract from it.

    95:

    Well, it got Reformationed.

    Any social system has to win fights with the other social systems that want to replace it. I think of this as the Quaker Dilemma -- great neighbours until the steppe nomads show up.

    In a magic-works context, it doesn't matter if you can live in peace and harmony and give everyone a nice life if you can't win fights with the expansionist neighbours. This is pretty much why we got patriarchal forms of social organization; keeping a standing army with late neolithic tech absolutely sucks flint, but it's not as bad as being conquered in that same context.

    96:

    Re: 'Belief in the efficacy of the actions was not required, but performing them at least correctly and ideally perfectly was the goal.'

    Sounds like classical conditioning with a shot of William James (i.e., 'I do not run because I am afraid, I am afraid because I run'.)

    Which makes me suspect that religion began when prefrontal lobe development (conscious cogitation/executive function/narrativium) kicked in coincidentally with all of the clan's three-year olds chanting 'But why is/does ...., Mommy/Daddy?' Exhausted and exasperated parents swapped stories (recipes for peace and quiet) just as they swapped recipes for food preparation and tool making, and there you go ... religion!

    97:

    It's fairly certain there's direct brain support for the experience of religious awe. It's not _real_, even in the limited sense of "what you can see and feel is real", but it's something brains do. (And things not religious in character can and do set it off. It's still a good test for religious sincerity; someone who is grifting isn't giving evidence of the experience of awe.)

    This is not to take away from the observation that there are obvious ways in which the practice of religion looks just like a fandom and to suppose there may be a common brain-wiring element involved.

    In a magic works context, there can be the direct sensory perception of the magical; there could be magical proprioception, too, if you wanted a writing challenge. Or it could be indirect -- the Reek of Wrongness is a cliche indirect awareness, or possibly cliche synesthetic awareness; someone with a mechanical molecule detector wouldn't notice anything, but a person thinks they smell something bad in the presence of evil -- or, if you really don't like your characters, not there at all. (Stephan Zielinski's Bad Magic does this, and it works, and it probably counts as ecofantasy. But not the happy kind.)

    98:

    Re: 'It's fairly certain there's direct brain support for the experience of religious awe. It's not _real_, even in the limited sense of "what you can see and feel is real", but it's something brains do.'

    Agree - now if only we could locate exactly where the religious neural epicenter is. Then, we'd finally get our cats to believe that we're their gods. (Nah, never happen!)

    BTW - temporal lobe seizures have been reported to promote religious experiences - as per VS Ramachandran. (On a nasty note: This may explain why kids repeatedly swatted across the head by strict nuns/priests/parents/authority figures can become ultra religious - conversion by concussion.)

    99:

    Perhaps reality is so strange and inexplicable that disbelief is a product of self delusion, of intentional editing, and various kinds of whacks on the head dislodge the filter. Sort of like Stanislaw Lem's "The Futurological Congress".

    100:

    Never read that one ... will be ordering Stanislaw Lem's "The Futurological Congress" soon ... thanks for the info.

    Sorta disagree with your statement though ...

    Instead:
    Disbelief is Nature's way of pointing out human perceptual/cognitive gaps: reality is comprehensible once you have the complete working tool set.

    101:

    "It's fairly certain there's direct brain support for the experience of religious awe. It's not _real_, even in the limited sense of "what you can see and feel is real", but it's something brains do."

    Unless, of course, it is actually a sensory organ.
    I have seen stars when hit around the head. Does that means stars don't exist?

    102:

    Hi, all--

    It's Wednesday afternoon and I am reading through your comments bit by bit, making a list of the books you're suggesting and seeing what you have to say. I'm still getting a sense of the rhythms here. I don't want to leave long convo-dominating strings of Alyx comments whenever I log on, and I won't pick up anything that seems off topic.

    I am reading, and I'm loving the recommendations, and I will say more. Thank you for diving into this topic so enthusiastically!

    103:

    Jocelyn, I love that you did this! Thank you for analyzing "Waldo" so closely! And I'm sorry about the cat bite.

    104:

    I like it, Outeast! (In Indigo Springs, the fairies are extinct and their realm has essentially been repurposed for toxic waste storage.)

    105:

    You have not seen stars when hit around the head. You've seen little points of light. If you could get them in focus in a telescope or detect variant spectra from them, then they would be stars. It's just that so much vision happens in the brain, wiggling your brain can produce visual side effects. (Also commonly auditory; ringing in one's ears.)

    Similarly, the mechanism for religious awe happens in the brain and can be mapped reasonably precisely and doesn't connect to a sensory organ of any sort. You can decide that brain tissue is different from all other brain tissue in having a sensory function for something unknown to science but then you've got an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence.

    It's a lot easier to recognize that brains evolved, that the human neocortex is quite new in evolutionary terms -- 200,000 years is about eight thousand generations; not such a long time -- and that our brains do some odd things unconnected with the wider material world. (Anxiety, for example.) The thing brains don't do is produce an accurate and complete map of the reality we inhabit.

    106:

    On the other hand, if magic exists, then "a sensory function for something unknown to science" is often exactly right. And an emissive function, too.

    107:

    On the other hand, if magic exists, then "a sensory function for something unknown to science" is often exactly right. And an emissive function, too.

    Certainly, which is one of the reasons we should be confidence operant magic doesn't exist in the here-and-now.

    So far as I know, cooling is seldom discussed with respect to magic, but putting even an extra five watts through your brain -- and five watts, perfectly efficient, is a five kilo mass held one metre in the air or a bright LED reading light, hardly the stuff of Quidditch games or defeated armies -- is going to have notable health implications.

    A magic that risks killing its practitioners with fever or coagulated brain proteins and must, if it is to have an effect at all, do very subtle things because it's subject to inverse square laws for range and a total power limit based on what someone's brain can take in terms of additional metabolic load/cooling could be very interesting, but I suspect it wouldn't be especially fun to write. ("why is the wizard character chugging energy drinks and powdered chocolate and getting in a hot tub full of ice cubes?" seems like a funny once.)

    108:

    So far as I know, cooling is seldom discussed with respect to magic, but putting even an extra five watts through your brain

    Weirdly, you know who pointed this out in fantasy?

    Terry Pratchett. In one of the early Discworld books. (Yeah, he was ahead of the game in so many ways ...)

    109:

    And in science fiction you have K.B. Spangler's "A Girl And Her Fed" webcomic/novel series, where the recipients of brain implants that run off the user's metabolism are quite careful not to advertise how much extra they eat (and the first person to properly switch theirs on nearly turned their skull into a steamer).

    110:

    Also note the series of novels she's now doing (same setting/universe), starting with "Digital Divide".

    111:

    Ian McDonald's Chaga (vt Evolution's Shore) and the follow-up Kirinya are very good, rather strange books.

    I think his River of Gods, might qualify as ecofantasy, too, though I haven't read it (yet).

    112:

    Pratchett was indeed ahead of the game in a lot of ways.

    If we've got a here-and-now ecology that depends on periodic fires (lots of oak woodlands are like that) we could postulate a magical ecosystem that benefits from all sorts of things; not just the thaumaturgical equivalent of a fire, but perhaps you need malign influences of a certain strength before the producers of benevolent influences can germinate. Or there's different morphs of the same creature depending on the emanations dominant in the area. (And the sorcerer-king is getting very, very grumpy about their inability to get swans with silver beaks. Where is the impure influence?)

    113:

    Peter Watts used this in "A Word For Heathens", which is a really chilling story:

    http://www.rifters.com/real/shorts/PeterWatts_Heathens.pdf


    NFB did a documentary a while back that's decent:

    https://www.nfb.ca/film/mystical_brain

    115:

    There is school of philosophy that asserts you can only have Truth with a capital T if you have all of it. Hence the need for Himself to be Omniscient.

    So Terry Pratchett was right when he said the Truth is Out There, but the lies are in your head. The "truths" your brain can hold are barely better than fictions and are mostly judged on their ability to increase your chance to propagate your genome. (There are other ephemeral standards but they tend to follow the same rule or vanish.)

    116:

    Just remember you don't really have a genome. You've got a bunch of copies of genes, and for the overwhelming vast majority of them, millions upon millions of other people have copies, too. It's extremely rare for an individual to have a significant unique gene.

    Copies into the future certainly matters, but it's statistical, rather than personal. (Which is good, because there's a lot of dumb luck involved.)

    117:

    Oh dear ... reminds me of, lo these may years ago ...
    When computer-driven graph plotters were the latest thing ( approx late 70's ?)
    A company brought out a "home version" where you pinned down an A4 or A3 sheet, placed the plotting "mouse" (for want of a better word) on one cornere, enred the appropriate co-ordinates & then let the machine do the rest.
    A PC magazine tested one ... except they didn't finish the test & had to send it back - totally wrecked.
    Yes, the reviewer's at saw this thing, making whirring noises, moving around under its own power, with an appended cable-feed ....
    The cat immediately pounced, rolled himself round it, kicking & biting.
    The plastic casing was severely gnarled, IIRC & it certainly "didn't go any more"

    118:

    And it can be measured & artificially stimulated, too.
    Thus showing that it is a natural, testable phenomenon & nothing at all to do with [ Insert $NAME of BigSkyFairy here ]

    119:

    That "Mystical Brain" film is a much more recent update on what I was referring to in my post @ #118, above.
    Thank you.

    This sort of stuff is what should be force-fed to any "priest" who starts spouting the usual lies about mystical experiences.
    And shown to children, to warn them about said "priests" too .....

    120:

    "And it can be measured & artificially stimulated, too...."

    As can any area of the brain attached to a sensory organ. Just because brain stimulation can create smells does not debunk noses.

    As for how "real" magic would work, think reality distortion due to skewing the stats of wavefunction collapse. That is, making the immensely improbable, probable.

    121:

    It's up to you to "do stuff your way", but I'd suggest picking up strands that interest you, even if they're off-topic (and possibly even 'strange attractors').

    122:

    I think this is an implied result of over-using magic in Ben Aaronovich's "Peter Grant" novels.

    123:

    If wavefunctions don't ever collapse, then probability distortion based "real magic" would require influencing the ratios between different descriptions of alternate universes. If you are using Quantum to justify probability magic you would want some version of Copenhagen interpretation. Then again, you could do another kind of magic with alternate universes, where magic is just opening a portal into an alternate universe. Need a fireball? Open a micro portal into a universe where the surface of a star is at your target location. But if you are explaining your magic scientifically, then is it magic any more in a fantasy genre sense? Isn't it only fantasy if the magic is an inexplicable given?

    124:

    It seems to me that if you are appealing to non existent quantum effects to explain your "magic" then all you are really doing is renaming the magical bit and moving it somewhere else.

    I have in mind a universe where the magic returns and scientists spend ages trying to explain it in terms of quantum effects, wormholes, parallel universes before giving up and admitting that it really is something completely different.

    How would apparently classical magic interact with a quantum universe? Might give a few clues to the QG people :)

    125:

    Yes, he definitely has an explicit "This is your brain on magic" moment in several books. Overuse in that universe is a BAD thing, no matter what happened at Ettersberg.

    126:

    Minor meta-commentary after 1/4 catching up on this thread, back(ish) from busywork, busylife hiatus: by golly this is a welcome and agreeable thread. Two of the commentators I have found most interesting here are presently leaping off the screen as sort of quine-like reading recommendations. And while almost the whole rest of the internet is serving extra-large bags of vine-ripened arse, it's so refreshing to find oneself among people who see murder as... crime. What a radical view!

    That was all. Apologies for the meta and the diversion.

    127:

    So that's one kind of magic, where it's limited by costs to the magic user. The alternative, more suitable for eco-fantasy, would be where the magic has more global consequences, basically falling into the categories of resource depletion (The Magic Goes Away) and pollution (The Alchemist). The user gets an advantage, but the commons pays the price. Another way of categorizing eco-fantasies, I suppose, would be where magic is used to counter normal technologically produced ecological depredations, or where technology is used to counter magically produced ecological depredations. Meaning a 3 d octant graph could be produced. Or really 8 categories. Magical pollution fixed by technology, magical depletion fixed by technology, magical pollution fixed by magic, magical depletion fixed by magic, technological pollution fixed technology (not fantasy), technological depletion fixed by technology (not fantasy), technological pollution fixed by magic, and technological depletion fixed by magic.

    Then there's the idea of magic having NO cost, just being restricted by keeping the tricks secret so members of the guild can have an advantage over the rest of the populace. The guild would have to be really vicious in it's enforcement of secrecy. That isn't eco fantasy either, though I suppose it could be another duality to the graph if magic were both secret AND costly to user and or commons either through pollution or depletion.

    Real ecology is kind of complex, though, not as simple as pollution and depletion.

    128:

    If you have workable magic with no cost then there is a massive evolutionary pressure to make everyone a magic user. Then you have to explain why we aren't all powerful mages.

    Magic with some personal cost allows for tradeoffs and a range of abilities like any other trait.

    Magic with pollution or finite resources would result is evolution followed by depletion/overpollution somewhere in deep history and maybe an ecosystem that recycles the leftovers into something usable.

    To be come a wizard just swallow this infusion of magic excreting gut bacteria.

    129:

    Hmm, the resource depletion sounds like Magic as Mana, which as you say originated from The Magic Goes Away stories.
    It's pretty common in most computer games as a resource generated by either natural sources (nodes, ley lines etc) or artificially via worship (temples, cathedrals, oracles etc).
    It also allows the concept of scarcity and provides an element of tradeoffs as to what you can accomplish.

    Thinking back, Lackey's Valdemar as mentioned above has quite a developed ecology based around magic as a natural phenomenon generated by living things and flowing like water, because there are numerous creatures that feed directly on the magic so are only found in certain areas. She also has the Tayledras spending their lives cleaning up the magical corruption caused by the last great magical conflict.

    Hmm. Ecofantasy then relies on there being an underlying environmental source of magic that can be depleted, though not necessarily destroyed, as opposed to Vancean memorisation of single use spells, or where the source is based on the health of the practitioner and regenerates over time.
    It is then enhanced by applying a functional natural world over the top - if the source of magic is environmental, then the animal kingdom would evolve to take advantage of it, both to hunt and to hide.
    There are definitely few novels out there with magic beasts across the spectrum, as opposed to the Dragons as apex predator and everything else Generic Medieval, or just wholesale plundering of the D&D Monster Handbook.

    130:

    Here is how you can work magic to any degree using the Many Worlds Interpretation. Subjective only, but all the people you see around you will recognize your wizardry:

    http://wavechronicle.com/wave/?p=486

    131:

    There's also the infinite hotel version (Hilbert's paradox) of the multiverse which suggests that in an infinite universe you can just grab your energy from (and dump your garbage in) the universe next door.

    I can visualize this system only if the guests arrive linearly, don't hang around and don't have babies. Maybe there's a mathematician reading this who can explain how Hilbert's hotel version of transuniversal (quantum tunneling?) magic might work where people actually stay, i.e., eat food, use the bathroom facilities, reproduce, and not just pass through.

    132:

    IF I understand what I think you're saying, you are talking cobblers, but that's a big "if".

    I'm saying that post-Persinger, "mystical" experiences & "feeling god" are reproducible, controllable phenomena, though we do not yet understand the internal brain-workings that mediate those experiences.
    BUT, & the really important point is that there is no "Mystical" bit - it's a real, physical phenomenon, same as "smell" which is a decoding, by our sense-organs & brain of physical molecular shapes & reactions.
    NO "god" need apply - ever.

    As for the second half of your comment, on "magic" - surely "magic" is defined as a form of "the supernatural" i.e. something for which we have NO physical/chemical/elctromagnetic explanation whatsoever.
    All very well in a novel, but not in what we laughably call "real life"

    133:

    Sorry, but I thought Feynamn had rubbished that approach?
    The wavefunction does not "collapse" & the "Copehangen interpretation" is plain wrong .....

    134:

    The probability of any particular instance being one of the lucky ones is poor.

    Evolution has given me a certain amount of enthusiasm for occupying the largest segment of multiverse I can, so I think I will pass.

    135:

    There are definitely few novels out there with magic beasts across the spectrum ....
    There was a wonderful Zelazny short based aroud that idea.
    Was it: "Unicorn Variation" ??

    136:

    Yeah - posted on 1st April, too!

    137:

    Re: ' ... "magic" ... something for which we have NO physical/chemical/elctromagnetic explanation whatsoever
    ...'

    Candidate for early 21st century fantasy ... dark energy and dark matter. They're there, no one knows exactly what they are (yet) apart from some interaction with gravity which happens to be the weakest of the four forces on our 'plane of existence'.

    138:

    Dark energy/matter are poor examples for magic since they don't support the narrative function of magic: enable things to happen which ordinarily are not possible and give magic practitioners power over others.

    Since all dark energy/matter does at the moment is to distort the movement of some far away stars, it doesn't fit.

    Now if you find a way to move energy along one of those curled-up dimensions of the universe, that could be interesting...

    139:

    Re: '...enable things to happen which ordinarily are not possible and give magic practitioners power over others'

    Yes, hence the need for a mediating someone/something ... the magician and/or 'magic wand'.

    140:

    I'm a fan of "the magic user gets the power, the commons pay the price" models. In my current series, they're essentially committing sacrifices by using materials made from living things to write one-off spells whose effects only persist as long as the original inscription remains intact. The microclimate someone has access to and the living things in it determine what kind of spells they can write.

    141:

    Wormholes and pentagrams ...

    Nature ... re: article on Mark Van Raamsdonk's work

    'The quantum source of space-time: Many physicists believe that entanglement is the essence of quantum weirdness — and some now suspect that it may also be the essence of space-time geometry.'

    Excerpt:

    'Van Raamsdonk, drawing on work by like-minded physicists going back more than a decade, argued for the ultimate irony — that, despite Einstein’s objections, entanglement might be the basis of geometry, and thus of Einstein’s geometric theory of gravity. “Space-time,” he says, “is just a geometrical picture of how stuff in the quantum system is entangled.”'

    142:

    I've played with that, simply because dark matter and energy are just the latest "here be dragons" flag on the blank areas of the map of reality. There's no other reason to put dragons and magic in them.

    Personally, I suspect that the late PTerry will be proved right at some point. His take, IIRC, was that the 95% of the universe that we can't perceive was the documentation and paperwork on the 5% of the universe that we could perceive. Obviously it's not physical paper, but rather some form of history acting on the universe of the present moment. Dark energy could be no more than the accumulation of passing seconds having a physical effect.*

    *That's all bollocks? Really?

    143:

    One thing we've got to watch out for with magical pollution is that, in the real world, ritual pollution and ritual uncleanliness tend to fall disproportionately on women, minorities, poor, slaves, and so on, with real negative social and even environmental consequences.

    While it's kind of fun to try to repurpose this terminology to talk about something more modern and environmentalist like resource depletion, as some have noted, it's all too easy to use these ideas as cover for a rather bigoted take on the world. It's not just pollution, it's where does the pollution go, who gets polluted, and who gets stuck with the consequences.

    144:

    Sigh, still no terror thread from OGH.

    Time for some more cat pictures.

    145:

    And just to keep the magic flowing, did you know that the brain is suffused with magnetite crystals? Whatever could evolution have done with those?

    147:

    After the singularity the baseline humans will be fighting off the uploads and AIs using magnetic brain magic!

    148:

    Is it?
    Or brains that is?
    As opposed to the brains of many birds, which I do know have magnetite in them.

    P.S. I had a look at "the wave", generally, follwing your link. I was unimpressed, partly because of two niggles: 1 - there does not appear to be a "comments" box on the supposed articles.
    2: There was an article claiming poltergeists were real ...
    Do come on, I mean "hauntings" in Greyfriars Kirk-yard ...( Here: http://wavechronicle.com/wave/?p=8167 )
    I hope Charlie reads it, because, as an Edinburgh local, I think he could rubbish this sort of thing much better than I.

    149:

    And, when your linked article contains statements like this:
    It’s called magnetite and it’s the most magnetic substance known to man.
    You know its bollocks, simply because it ain't true

    150:

    On cats chasing graph-plotters — maybe that's where the idea for JML's Cat's Meow cat toy came from! I recommend it.

    151:

    I like that. It feels a bit more tangible than a tablet and a copy of "Games for Cats".

    152:

    Revisionist socil cat-among-the-pigeons time: postulate a magic system that is powered by information replication. The more information you replicate the more mana you generate. So, ahem, folks with cancer get a last-minute power-up (peaking right before they keel over). And pregnancy? That's some serious mojo right there. Older people (shorter telomeres) generate progressively less mana, so talent weakens with age. So you get a human society where the most powerful magic users are young, female, and peak during pregnancy ...

    (This is just by way of up-ending the elderly patriarch with a pointy-hat and a wand model of magicians.)

    153:

    Doesn't that make a server farm the ultimate weapon?

    154:

    Death by DDOS.

    155:

    You could do that with retro-causality. Mana accumulates where there are nodes of importance to the future (probability is sensitive to total generated complexity?). Thus of course pregnant women and young people, having high potential, are highly magical. But the old patriarchs would never let them know it. They would find a way to harness them for their power. "Hey, future! Levitate me or the kid gets it"

    156:

    And that could become eco fantasy if your villains held the environment hostage and "had to" do it some damage to hold good on a threat, to show they mean business.

    157:

    When the magic goes away your empire is doomed.

    When some tribe of nomads on the border starts performing street magic it's time to get the hell out of dodge before your civilisation is overrun.

    158:

    For this universe would the ultimate catastrophe be something like the thing in Greg Bear's Blood Music? The super-evolved white blood cells intelligence has to leave this plane of reality because having too much thinking is going to break the universe.

    Or the "Limit of Questions" bit in the anime "Eureka Seven" where the Scub Coral have to leave reality for a similar reason.

    159:

    If magical power isn't exclusive to humans, or if humans can tap other organisms' information magic, this explains the traditional cauldrons too! Just imagine the practitioner brewing up a big pot full of sterile nutrient broth, in anticipation of adding yeast later to tap the explosive burst of growth and genome-copying.

    For that matter, lots of everyday activities become sources of magic: the rising of bread, brewing of alcoholic beverages, agriculture, beekeeping, forests, eruptions of mushrooms, sprouting of seeds, decomposition of dead animals and plants... Reproduction, growth, and post-death decomposition (via growth of smaller organisms) would all be infused with magical potential. Organisms' r/K selection strategies might be systematically influenced by the greater magical output of r-selection.

    160:

    A next level of abstract where it's about ideation rather than simply replication. Magic user gains power from numbers of others thinkings. Not about persuasion but more about alignment of disposition. Evil wizards depend on keeping population xenophobic. Arguments about innate resource and who has the "home team" natural advantage.

    161:

    r strategies might have better output, but k strategies likely have better utilization. (You need matching variety for control, which means complexity, and cognitive complexity goes with k strategies. Of course, if you don't need cognitive complexity, just any structured complexity, there can be trees with very ornate hardwood and vast magical power.)

    162:

    So rocker chicks rule? That sounds very late 20th Century. Actually bacteria rule more.

    Personally, I think that PTerry, with his witches and most especially Tiffany Aching, was massively more subversive about power roles than that.

    Of course the other problem is that magic tends to be subversive, so if you're going to subvert magic, that means that you're, um, countersubversive? Or just really fringe?

    163:

    In this scenario is magic a natural phenomenon like fire, human magicians like human fire-tenders, who can shape and plan use of a natural phenomenon that was around ages before us? That's how I would think about it. I don't think that the thing-that-replicates-information must have cognitive complexity itself, because that wouldn't be consistent with "cancer powers up your magic." But, since it's magic, there might be magical rules of identity that don't make sense to a physicalist like me. There could be rules that say a fetus boosts its host's power until 7 months after conception, then it gets its own magical identity. Or identity separates 77 months after conception -- anything is possible with magic!

    164:

    Actually, if you wanted to get really and truly, viciously meta, then I'd suggest that, quite simply, that magic depends on narrativium, which is the magical element from which narratives are made.

    Now, if we treat narrativium like a very toxic natural substance (which it so often is), then the mining, processing, disposal, and reprocessing of narrativium is a real nuisance-y headache at all stages of its industrial ecosystem. If you know anything about real industries (mining, manufacturing, waste disposal, recycling), you can imagine all the greed, corruption, stupid politics, and so forth that accompanies each step of the whole narrative manufacturing and disposal cycle.

    Now, if only a writer with a sarcastic sense of humor would tackle it...

    165:

    see inverse correlation between pay and value of job: nobody becomes a nurse for the money

    My GF is a nurse, and she very much disagrees with you. Personally she did not go into nursing for the money, but most nurses she ever met did. The way she put it: "Nursing is inherently blue-collar job; girls who grew up in suburbs are not going to wipe sick people's asses. And it is by far the best paying job most blue-collar girls -- and increasingly boys, -- can ever hope for. Which is why competition and drop out rate in nursing schools are so vicious."

    But that's in US. Perhaps it is different in UK.

    166:

    Re: Charlie's scenario ...

    Anything that kick starts stem cells would work. Trick is directing the flow to the appropriate target organ/site/tissue. Snafus would provide comedic moments.

    Running pregnant rats show increased neurogenesis ... assuming this finding can be extrapolated to humans, then the most powerful witch is the super athletic, Amazon type. (Yea ... Wonder Woman!)

    There's also probably some way to chemically mimic pregnancy ... regular OCs come pretty close ... so that such women can stay pseudopregnant for extended periods. (Oops ... Mary Tudor!)

    167:

    Peter Watts used this in "A Word For Heathens", which is a really chilling story

    Does Peter Watts write any other kind? :)

    168:

    What about combining this setting with the idea from David Brin's Piecework:

    There is already talk of using goats and cattle to produce industrial products instead of milk, and possibly bringing to term organic machines, programmed in eggs to develop in the womb. Might poor women earn a living by renting out their wombs for industrial "piecework" production of high-end organic machinery?
    169:

    "But they were patient, repeating the essentials in words simple enough for young minds, until we'd all grasped the essential point: we were but soft machines, and God was a malfunction. And then they put the prayer caps on our heads and opened us to the Spirit and we knew, beyond any doubting, that God was real. The experience transcended debate, transcended logic. There was no room for argument. We knew. Everything else was just words."

    Exactly. Two systems evolved from the same experience but based on different axioms. Those who have never had that experience can never understand the depth of it.

    "The experience transcended debate, transcended logic. There was no room for argument. We knew. Everything else was just words." Amen.

    170:

    Considering that pregnancy increases nutritional needs, starving populations might consider this if the volunteer rent-a-womb option meant adequate nutrition (not starving).

    To build on this ... would being pregnant with a non-human stimulate lactation? If yes, then one more product provided that the nutritional cost for supporting a lactating female isn't too high.

    171:

    Cancer isn't not you just because those cells have gone capitalist to the eventual detriment of the whole. (Nor are you necessarily, even in a magic-works universe, necessarily anything other than made out of meat.)

    What I was trying to get at, though, was using magic. To follow up on the fire analogy, if you want to use a lot of fire you've got to do things like make firebrick and provide forced draft. (I'm not having much luck coming up with the complexity-of-life-magic equivalent of a gas turbine. I'm fairly sure I wouldn't like it if I could.)

    That's where the increasing complexity comes from; sure, skill is good, you pay attention to which way the breeze is blowing and feed sticks broken to an efficient size. You still aren't going to get the same amount of fire as someone with enough fire brick for a blast furnace.

    172:

    One thing we've got to watch out for with magical pollution is that, in the real world, ritual pollution and ritual uncleanliness tend to fall disproportionately on women, minorities, poor, slaves, and so on, with real negative social and even environmental consequences.

    Just as in the real world pollution tends to fall disproportionately on women*, minorities, poor, etc?


    *Cooking fires, for example.

    173:

    Ritual pollution is, sadly, also real world.

    174:

    So basically Lilith Weatherwax on an industrial scale?

    175:

    There you go
    For comparison aveerge UK pay is £26 500, but that is not the mode, it's the mean - which means that nurses don't do quite so badly, here ....( as in the USA )

    176:

    Nursing is typically seen as a middle-class profession in the UK (although I would, on close personal experience and observation, say that it trends towards the boundary between working-class and middle-class -- the kind of middle-class-social-climber-keeping-up-with-the-Jones types wouldn't be nurses for any amount of money). But I would certainly add that of the many many nurses I know personally, none of them are in it for the money (next to the front-line emergency services, it is probably the most physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting job you can imagine, and you can't do a job like that for money alone).

    177:

    Regarding athleticism and pregnancy...

    Apparently, the East Germans (ever ruthless in their pursuit of Olympic Gold) discovered the physically-beneficial aspects of pregnancy, and so timed the pregnancies of some female athletes. Followed by terminations.

    My wife competed at international level while three months pregnant - fortunately three-position target rifle is a largely static sport. I know someone who won gold at a Commonwealth Games at a similar stage of pregnancy.

    Fun was trying to integrate childcare of a three-month-old baby with training and competition - including breastfeeding during the breaks within a 2.5 hour event...

    178:

    And now in an attempt to bring one of the derails kinda back on topic ...

    Aha! ... that's what's been missing in fantasy - the 'nurses' and other enablers of magic. It's always about the lead 'wizard/witch' and the 'apprentice' and occasionally alchemists and herbalists. Never about all the other folk without whom the project couldn't work.

    In the 'real' world, most of the attention is usually on the brand manufacturer even though the manufacturer probably does little more than stick a label on the product, like in automotive, clothing, food. When you look more closely, the parts manufacturers are as large and (often) more profitable. A more 'realistic' fantasy/SF realm would show something similar.

    Apart from Pratchett and Rowling, are there any other fantasy authors who created extensive and integrated magical ecologies/economies?

    179:

    Whoa! .. Never heard that before!

    '... East Germans ... discovered the physically-beneficial aspects of pregnancy, and so timed the pregnancies of some female athletes.'

    Okay, so to - ahem - capitalize (Americanize) on this fact, instead of sending pregnant women home because of their 'delicate condition', that's when employers should pile the work on?

    Re the above scenario ... this wouldn't work for first trimester when many women need a huge amount of sleep, plus throw up almost constantly, etc. Similar problems with third trimester. In contrast, have heard only good things about the second trimester.

    180:

    Magic ecologies are rare. But magic integrated economies are more common, especially these days.

    Brent Weeks has quite an extensive setup in the background in his Lightbringer sequence, with specialist crafters for each light colour, and each colour or combination doing different things. Also leftover remnants of drafted colour are valuable commodities in their own right.

    Daniel Abraham has magic and production explicitly linked with the Andat, and Jim Butcher has it in the Codex Alera, where pokemon equivalents are the backbone of the economy.

    Steven Erikson has magic integrated into society, but it doesn't really drive economies other than for communication and occasionally transportation of premium goods - the Trygalle Trade Guild for example.

    Modesitt uses it in all his series, either Order smiths in the Recluce ones, or the Imagers as explicit agents for manufacturing rare commodities or engineering components.

    Those are off the top of my head, but there should be dozens more depending on how loosely you define economy.

    181:

    Thanks for this info!

    Read Modessit ... he usually focuses on the one alienated magic user occasionally working with a chorus/back-up of lesser magicians. Not an integrated economy/society of magicians. Also recall McCaffrey had a few novels with ESP/teleports in central roles. Again, outliers/exceptionals and not the mainstream.

    182:

    Yeah, the Recluce ones vary a lot depending on the setting - The Order War is probably the peak of Recluce using order engineers extensively. Most of the Chaos related books, particularly Cerryl's involve magicians working as cleaners, patrollers, and environmental specialists. Again though, it is magic within a closed society, not necessarily across the setting, probably to ensure that magic is still rare for reasons of Plot.

    Imager is much more specific about a background economy, at least in the first trilogy - the later books are what lead to that situation.


    I think Daniel Abraham will be exactly what you are looking for - the Long Price Quartet is the only fantasy work I know of that is explicitly based around magic and economic manipulation, especially in the long term.

    183:

    Yep. In the real world, being female, poor, a minority, etc is not a good thing in many ways. Worse pay, lower life expectancy, more pollution, worse health care…

    (Yes, not for everyone in those categories. But it's the way to bet.)

    Have there been any fantasy writers who address this issue in their fiction? Pratchett, certainly, but who else?

    184:

    To that I would ask you to elaborate on what you want to know.

    Most serious subject matter fantasy writers would address at least one of those categories, writers like Ursula Le Guin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jacqueline Carey, G.R.R. Martin, Daniel Abraham for sure. Some address it directly in the story, others structure their worlds in such a way that it never shows up as an issue. It's fantasy after all, so our underlying assumptions need not apply.

    For extra credit, read the outraged responses to threads discussing the idea of women in the medieval military and how it should be impossible because they don't have the body structure yada yada. In a fantasy environment with Magic and Dragons. yeesh.

    More lightweight works tend to involve an assumption of a particular setting, usually Generic pseudomedieval Europe, so have all the associations that would expect. But usually lightweight fare is doing comedy, noir or mystery in a fantasy setting, so isn't interested in addressing inequality.

    Urban Fantasy often addresses sexual or racial equality through a lens of interspecies tolerance set in our modern world. Being as Werewolves have a "time of the moonth" it also seems to be where discussion of menstruation and more explicit physical issues is more acceptable. Whether that is a deliberate choice, or one unintentionally enforced by editors is hard to say.

    I've just now finished reading the Thraxas books again, and for lightweight mysteries, they've actually got quite an undercurrent going on of female empowerment, drug addiction, class warfare and so on. No wonder they got dropped by the mainstream publishers. Still good fun too.

    185:

    Reverting back to the original question, I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Marie Brennan's Memoirs of Lady Trent series. Basically a pastiche of the genre of travel/natural history books by adventurous Victorian/Edwardian lady explorers, but set in an alternative history where (many species of) dragons are part of the normal fauna. Our heroine has been fascinated by dragons since childhood and uses her connections as minor aristocracy to organise expeditions to study them (they are extremely difficult to maintain in captivity). The books are pitched as an autobiography she is writing in her old age (now a world authority on dragon biology), recounting how she achieved this. Quite well done.

    186:

    Are there any fantasy novels/universes where magic is equally distributed throughout the population? That is, where magic is less developed or weaker only among infants or the very old or infirm/ill? Or, does near-equal distribution of magic nullify the idea of 'magic'? (Rowlings excepted.) The closest to near-equal distribution of magic among a race of magic users that I can think of is the Elves: two-tiered (nobles and monarch, no 'workers').

    Apart from wands, beans, and golden-egg-laying-geese, can't think of any magic plants, animals (ecologies).

    Magical artifact vs. magical creature ... where to slot the magic mirror in the Sleeping Beauty story.


    187:

    ...the Long Price Quartet is the only fantasy work I know of that is explicitly based around magic and economic manipulation, especially in the long term.

    :) What, Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle" wasn't magic enough? An effectively-immortal Root that survives until Cryptonomicon...

    188:

    What exactly do you mean by "Rowlings excepted"? Apart from Muggles (and most wizards live literally apart from Muggles), magic is distributed fairly evenly. Some individuals are significantly better at it than others, but no more so than the typical distribution of any human talent. Also -- again like with all human talents, -- any wizard can get better at magic if he/she works at it hard enough.

    The only books I can think of where magic is innate (that is, cannot be improved with practice) and everyone has it, is Pier Anthony's "Xanth" series. Every human in Xanth has some, usually very narrow, magical talent. Some are considered "magicians", but it seems that their talents just happen to be more useful, rather than greater in scope. Someone who can turn humans into animals has much more power than someone who can turn plants into other plants.

    189:

    Initially in Piers Anthony's Xanth everybody has magic, though "equal" is hard to say since powers are so diverse.

    190:

    I file Neal under SF, not fantasy. Each to their own though :)

    191:

    Hmm, I can't really think of any - usually having or not having magic in a world is what drives the plot.

    How about Lyndon Hardy's Master of the Five Magics world. There are five different types of magic, and the populace tends to use at least one each. Some are intrinsic, some are learned, some are experiential.

    Weis and Hickman had the Darksword trilogy, where almost everyone had magic of some kind. That rare exception was fairly crucial...

    Other than that, there must be something in Moorcock's oeuvre, maybe the Jerry Cornelius End of Time sequence? I vaguely remember magic and technology are effectively the same there.


    Oh wait, David Brin, the Practice Effect - a world where things get better the more they are used. Not really magic as we know it though.

    192:

    "Someone who can turn humans into animals has much more power than someone who can turn plants into other plants."

    I don't know the series myself, but that suggests to me that it focuses on matters like combat and rivalries of one kind or another, and leaves much unexplored.

    Here on Earth we have large areas in which only crappy plants can grow. Humans can live in these areas by using herbivorous animals to turn those plants into food. This is inefficient, but on the other hand anyone can do it. The society and customs of such areas would surely be significantly different if instead the food was supplied by mages turning crappy plants into edible ones directly; efficiency goes up at least ten times, potentially enabling a much greater population density, but only a select few can do it, and being humans they are not as easy to manage as ruminants.

    Though in combat too such a talent would be of great value: far less worry about running ahead of your supply lines, and the other side carrying out a scorched-earth retreat would simply mean you got your food ready-cooked.

    193:

    Recall that historically, farmers beat pastoralists and hunter-gatherers with numbers. The farmers weren't as large, as fit, or as healthy, but there were so many of them.

    Effective agricultural mages turns the initial farming expansion into even more of a cultural hammer; there is some mix of even more farmers or fitter farmers, and there's fewer places the farmers can't go due to agricultural unsuitability.

    Eventually you get the clash of empires, which was historically substantially a population contest already but now it's a population contest with agricultural magic. If it's efficient agricultural magic, you get a contest of transportation technologies rather than the ability to grow food. That's bound to do something.

    194:

    Though in combat too such a talent would be of great value: far less worry about running ahead of your supply lines, and the other side carrying out a scorched-earth retreat would simply mean you got your food ready-cooked.
    Totally off-topic, but that got me wondering ...
    Couple that with one of the unspoken reasons "Operation Michael" ( The Imperial German assault March-April 1918 ) failed ... was that, as soon as the Germans passed the Allies' front lines, they found huge food depots & stores - & they were almost starving. Discipline & the assault slowed by a very significant amount.

    Now then ... If DPRK is actually mad enough to attack S Korea, a "token resistance" should be made, followed by a hasty retreat of about 15-20 miles, allowing the invading N Koreans to find all the (Carefully prepared) food warehouses & supplies, complete with propaganda messages about this being a "Gift to the starving peoples of N Korea" (Or something like that ... )
    See also J Brunner; "Who steals my Purse"

    195:

    You've really really overthought Xanth.
    Primarily the series is about bad puns, and dealing with teenage issues. Its target market is 10-15yr olds, and is the prime example of a series becoming homeopathically good after several books, no matter where in the series you start. The first is original and clever, but they rapidly go downhill until nothing is left of what you enjoyed.

    In the books, everyone has a unique talent, from enabling plants to grow, to animating the dead, to painting spots on a wall. The talents don't repeat, though some may have similar ones. Magician class talents are the really powerful ones, but not always how you'd think - one has the ability to know the answer to any question, another to make anything go wrong. Another has the power to nullify magic, and one has the insidious talent of "not being harmed by magic", which includes knowledge of what his talent is, so he just seems really lucky.

    But seemingly specific talents can be more impressive if the author thinks of a way how - the one who can make coloured spots on a wall can make them really small, and so project a tv image of anything, and then another who makes pictures into doorways can then use that so they can travel anywhere etc.

    196:

    For extra credit, read the outraged responses to threads discussing the idea of women in the medieval military and how it should be impossible because they don't have the body structure yada yada. In a fantasy environment with Magic and Dragons. yeesh.

    In a fantasy environment with Magic and Dragons, it still should be unlikely for women to be in the "medieval military", as long as we remain inside a generic pseudo-medieval setting. Unless the said women is either a Magic user or a Dragon rider, in which case she is not really a typical soldier, but some kind of military specialist.

    It is far easier add an exceptional woman warrior to an existing social structure (like Brienne in SOIAF) than to construct a society with gender equality in the pseudo-medieval army. Such a society would be so different from the real world (either biologically or culturally) that it can no longer be called pseudo-medieval anything. By that point, we are constructing an alien race.

    197:

    A well fed, well trained upper class medieval woman could probably wipe out the average stunted and half starved male peasant in short order. The only exception might be competing against men with longbows.

    198:

    Thank you for proving a point.

    Roman history showed that a well fed well disciplined force using formation tactics will defeat an undisciplined opponent the vast majority of times.
    Remember that the Romans were physically smaller, and their weapons were in general shorter than their opponents.

    Once you invent a crossbow, you no longer need years of physical training, and with a crank you don't need tremendous body strength to span it. At that stage, the only thing stopping you using women is cultural, and prolonged war conditions remove those restrictions fast - look at the amount of women who fought in the Russian army in WW2, because they needed the bodies.

    199:

    Can't think of any wizardly germ-like warfare apart from ear worms ... monks, monasteries, chants, etc.

    Vaguely recall a story/film about some future scientists playing back the ambient sounds/conversations trapped into the clay pottery dug up from an earlier age. Updating this ... a modern day archaeologist at a dig with mystic pottery shards scattered around, bends over, butt-dials, and uploads/unleashes an ancient spell.

    Of course there's also Twitter.

    200:

    Re: Ilya187 ... Sorry, didn't express myself clearly ... basically what you said.

    Inborn, innate etc. doesn't mean 'fixed' ... practice could modify, amplify or reduce the practitioner's magical ability.

    Medieval women ... convents were convenient places to put inconvenient, high-born, well-educated women. Women in the serf/peasant class could probably use scythes, hoes, etc. plus they handled the cooking, gardening, laundry (soaps and dyes) and healing. So knowledge of all sorts of 'weapons'. Medieval trade goods included cloth, dyes, herbs therefore possibility of female trade/craft and merchant class.

    201:

    According to Wikipedia, Russian women fought in WW1 ... since the Russian system was pretty feudal at the time, probably comparable to Western European Middle Ages.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women's_Battalion

    Excerpt:

    'The 1st Russian Women's Battalion of Death, commanded by Bochkareva, was still at the front after the revolution, but disbanded shortly after as a result of increasing hostility from male troops who resented female volunteers for preventing them from retreating many times over.'

    202:

    There's the legend of Tancred also called "Clorinde et Tancredi" which is the subject of a famous song-set from the late mediaeval period, & lots more from later on.
    Try here

    As for female warriors in classical, dark ages & mediaeval periods, I quickly came across two LONG lists, which do not overlap anything like 100%
    List ONE - folklore
    and ...

    So, not improbable - no more unusual than in the US civil war or since, in fact - maybe commoner, because of no compulsory "physicals" then ... (?)
    List TWO - probably more factual of women in warfare during those periods.

    203:

    Nah, it was just that the German Army was utterly rubbish at logistics in both World Wars.

    That "great success in the initial assaults, slows down once you outrun your ability to push the gun lines and artillery ammunition forward, and bring casualties backwards" thing was one of the unsung successes of "The Last Hundred Days"; the Allies were advancing across northern France, breaking the Hindenburg line, and utterly defeating the German Army in the field at the same rate it did 35 years later...

    204:

    Yeah, it's all theoretical.

    Theoretically, of course you could have a society with gender equality, or a matriarchal society. No laws of physics prevent it, I suppose. Nonetheless, women warriors were an exception throughout the entire history of the human race, and remain so today.

    No matter the underlying reasons, you can't have a fictional pseudo-medieval setting, just latch gender equality on it and expect the thing to make any sense or remain plausible. The amount of work you'd have to do to make it plausible is very significant, and the result will no longer be pseudo-medieval.

    205:

    A well fed, well trained upper class medieval woman could probably wipe out the average stunted and half starved male peasant in short order. The only exception might be competing against men with longbows.

    For that, you'd first need to have an upper class of combat trained medieval woman. It has no precedent in history.

    How did it come to be?
    What is the status of men in this upper class?
    How does it compete against a society with an upper class of combat trained medieval man?
    Et cetera...

    206:

    Vanzetti --

    You seem to be unaware of a bunch of stuff.

    St. Joan did actually you know fight; there's an American museum that's got one of her outer helmets ("heaume") with a crossbow quarrel hole in it. (Inner helmet held, or history would be different.)

    We've got the byzantine historian Johannes Skylitzes noting that the byzantines were shocked that there were armed women among the dead of the Kievan Rus after said Rus lost a battle. That's in 971, so perhaps you don't consider that medieval?

    Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd died in battle in 1136 against the Normans.

    King Tamar of Georgia successfully conquered chunks of Georgia's neighbours despite being female.

    Joanna of Flanders, well-attested in contemporary sources as being in armor and leading a group of knights in battle.

    I could go on, there's a bunch of lists out there.

    The idea that being male necessitates you fight better is silly. The idea that women have ever not fought is pretty darn silly, too. It wasn't especially common but it wasn't especially common for men to fight, either; despite the impression of popular histories, almost everyone was employed in agriculture.

    207:

    Vaguely recall a story/film about some future scientists playing back the ambient sounds/conversations trapped into the clay pottery dug up from an earlier age.

    The ones I recall are Gregory Benford's "Time Shards", and a spoof article by New Scientist's "Daedalus", and a real researcher called Richard G. Woodbridge III. It turns out that Rudy Rucker also wrote a short story, and there's an X-Files episode: lots of further info at on these and a Belgian hoax at http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002875.html.

    208:

    People seem to have been unclear as to which part of the medieval period, nearly a thousand years long, they mean.

    As for late medieval European female combatants, there is a distinct lack of evidence of them fighting. Now in earlier periods there seems some pretty good evidence for women fighting, e.g. viking era, such as swords in graves and some literary evidence.

    That some medieval women learnt basic fighting seems likely, given the way people work. There's also some evidence that they could fight in judicial duels and received training to do so. There's also a difference between being a leader in armour and actually doing the fighting, which is generally ignored.

    209:

    Agnes Hotot Dudley disguised herself as her ailing father and won a mounted duel in armor. It's not all that likely she just winged it.

    The distinction between being a leader in armor and actually fighting, well, no one brings this up about the Black Prince for a very good reason. It shouldn't be brought up about Agnes or Gwenllian or Joanna of Flanders, either, for much the same reason. (Never mind Sikelgaita of Salerno.)

    Eleanor of Aquitaine, yes, certainly you can make that argument. But also about Henry the Idiot. It's not an especially gendered argument.

    Me, I put the existence of Italian orders of chivalry for women and the existence of all those fairly obvious Sicilian Norman lady's longswords ahead of the reluctance of chroniclers.

    210:

    Nah, it was just that the German Army was utterly rubbish at logistics in both World Wars.
    Which presumably explains how they got to within 25 miles of the centre of Paris in August 1914?
    Oops.

    211:

    You are referred back to my post @ 202 ....

    212:

    The mere fact that wikipedia has a list of women in combat just serves to prove my point. You don't need a list of men in combat, because it is (was?) the default.

    Also, most of it is either legendary figures or leaders.

    213:

    PS. I'm not saying there were no women in combat. Neither am I saying that there is something bad about women in combat. (Well, of course there is, just like about men in combat. Combat is bad, in general).

    What I am saying is that women in medieval combat were not the rule, they were the rare exception.

    214:

    I'm wondering whether it's the "let's ignore them and they'll go away" strategy and/or "frequency of mention equals official (not actual) incidence of participation".

    Using this logic we get: The only men who fought bravely at such-and-such a battle were 'Al' and 'Bob' because they're the only ones who got a statue. And generals were always braver than the regular men because look at all the statues of generals. But the kings/emperors were even more brave and extra special super-duper warriors because their statues outnumber all of the generals' statues and regular soldiers' statues combined!

    Similarly: all wars were fought only in designated, cordoned off battlefields, and towns/villages were never overrun by armies.

    Someone somewhere probably has conducted an analysis of war time deaths ... wonder what the trend is.

    War myths time?

    215:

    I don't get it.

    Are you trying to argue that there actually WAS gender equality in the past, but for some reason it was not depicted anywhere? Are you telling me that medieval armies composed primary of males is a MYTH?

    O_o

    You are not Fomenko, by any chance?

    216:

    I think you're all in violent agreement.

    There's no doubt that women have always fought, sometimes to great effect—my favourite example, not mentioned yet, is AEthelflaed the Lady of the Mercians (daughter of Alfred the Great), who certainly led armies and was probably more effective in combating the Danes than her brother Edward the Elder (Mercia was more on the front line than Wessex). In addition, she was accepted as leader of Mercia after her husband's death, which in the Saxon semi-elective monarchy means not only was she an effective leader, she'd convinced a bunch of highly non-feminist Saxon lords that she was the best option.

    There's surely also no doubt that women were always uncommon in armies, although less so than we think, in part because many of the ones we know about successfully masqueraded as men until found out, often as a consequence of being injured. Presumably for each woman who was unmasked, there were several who weren't—but the very fact that they found it necessary to use a male persona tells you that women in armies were the exception rather than the rule.

    However, this does not apply to defensive warfare. Mediaeval women commanded garrisons rather frequently (because husband had effectively been conscripted into the offensive branch). I wouldn't be surprised if many of the people making up the defensive forces were also women.

    This is a pretty sensible split. Women are, on average, less physically strong than men (yes, I know that Jessica Ennis-Hill would be a damn sight more useful on a mediaeval battleground than 90% of modern men, but the fact that the distributions overlap doesn't mean that the means aren't significantly different), but this is less of a disadvantage when defending a fortified position. Women of fighting age are also women of childbearing age, and in the mediaeval period would likely all have dependent infants: a problem in a travelling army, not an issue in a defended castle/town.

    @SFReader: an analysis of wartime deaths, in any period before early modern, would be tricky because of biased sampling. If you find the mass graves from battlefields, they'll be overwhelmingly male; the dead from sacked towns are harder to find, because any graves are more likely to be inaccessible under modern settlement (and, if found, harder to associate definitively with a particular conflict); the dead from burned villages and plundered farmsteads were lucky if they got any burial at all. So, even if someone's done it, the results wouldn't be statistically trustworthy.

    217:

    What Susan said in 216. Boils down to: It's very difficult to determine because of crappy record keeping.

    Had to Google Fomenko ... weird dude ...


    Wikipedia excerpt:

    'Fomenko is the author of the theory of topological invariants of integrable Hamiltonian system. He is the author of 180 scientific publications, 26 monographs and textbooks on mathematics, a specialist in geometry and topology, variational calculus, symplectic topology, Hamiltonian geometry and mechanics, and computer geometry. Fomenko is also the author of a number of books on the development of new empirico-statistical methods and their application to the analysis of historical chronicles as well as the chronology of antiquity and the Middle Ages.'

    However, before you go all gaga about this guy ...

    'He asserts from this that all of ancient history (including the history of Greece, Rome, and Egypt) is just a reflection of events that occurred in the Middle Ages and that all of Chinese and Arab history are fabrications of 17th and 18th century Jesuits.

    He also claims that Jesus lived in the 12th century A.D. and was crucified on Joshua's Hill; that the Trojan War and the Crusades were the same historical event; and that Genghis Khan and the Mongols were actually Russians. As well as disputing written chronologies, Fomenko also disputes more objective dating techniques such as dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating (see here for an examination of the latter criticism). His books include Empirico-statistical Analysis of Narrative Material and Its Applications and History: Fiction or Science?.'

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatoly_Fomenko

    218:

    >>> This is a pretty sensible split. Women are, on average, less physically strong than men

    Even if women were as strong as men, it would still be a disadvantage to let your child-bearing gender fight. Who is going to replenish your cannon fodder after the war?

    219:

    Who is going to replenish your cannon fodder after the war?

    The winners.

    If it's an existential battle, you want every body you can find on the front lines, and the rampaging orcs™ are not going to care who goes in the supper pot.

    If you're in a fantasy world, you can have magic birth control, which means pregnancy is no longer a barrier to fighting or more importantly learning to fight.

    Sure, assuming they have the same genetic disposition, most women will be smaller than their fellow menfolk. But size and strength is far more a factor of nutrition during childhood than anything else. Average height has increased by nearly 5" since 1800, almost entirely as a result of better medical care and plentiful food. Most cultural restrictions on women doing dangerous things relate to infant mortality.

    If you were to have an egalatarian society where male and female children trained together and were well fed, you would have a base population that was larger and stronger than your neighbours. Add in a magic equivalent of the pill and magic healers, and there is nothing stopping you from having female soldiers. They may not be common in the heavy infantry equivalents, but I'd expect skirmishers and marines to be fairly even, and scouts almost entirely female.

    Most of what you complain about is a failure of imagination, either on the part of the reader or the writer. Breaking plausibility simply means the writer hasn't built their background well enough.

    220:

    Even if women were as strong as men, it would still be a disadvantage to let your child-bearing gender fight. Who is going to replenish your cannon fodder after the war?

    Consider Bertie Wooster's unmarried childless aunts. (Fiction, but fiction in a time when that was a real thing for a real reason.)

    Human reproduction goes by couples or larger social units; it's not all on the individual women, because that doesn't work. Leave a big slice of the male population in early graves and the rate of reproduction falls, you don't preserve your national reproductive potential by differentially preserving women's lives. And medieval periods often had up to a third of the female population reproductively surplus anyway. (One of the main social functions of convents.)

    For most men throughout most of post-agricultural history, taking up arms was a death sentence. It meant they were in rebellion against their overlord. They didn't fight and they didn't particularly know how. Stories tend to ignore this. History tends to ignore this.

    People also tend to ignore that massive filter problem with what little history we do have from the medieval period; monks have agendas. Monks lie to support the agenda. (Donation of Constantine, anyone?) So let's consider one John Dancaster, who committed the egregious social faux pas of fighting while lower class.

    Having been kicked out of the Black Prince's army for being drunk and disorderly (I cannot begin to imagine what you have to do to cause that to happen), said robust fellow seduced one of the maids at a strategic castle, measured the height of the walls while creeping out, went back to the army they'd been ejected from, convinced fifty or so archer buddies to (effectively) desert, made a bunch of (carefully long enough) scaling ladders, returned in the night, and took the castle bloodlessly by surprise. The next French knight riding up gets their shield feathered, and there's the ritual dance of heralds; "whose castle is this?" "John Dancaster's!" is not the expected answer and there's much rushing about. (But not rushing the walls; the 50 archers may be drunk, but no one wants to bet they're all drunk, or that drunk.) Turns out he'll sell the castle, preferentially to the Black Prince "to make his peace" (with his proper and rightful overlord), but otherwise to the highest bidder.

    The Black Prince, "who had long desired that castle", pays. The French are livid; this is breaking all the rules. But you can't come out and accuse royalty of conspiring with some landless felon. (Only, of course, many/most of the archers were outlaws and felons and it's arguable that the main social purpose of the archer armies in France was to provide a place to send troublemakers. And the Black Prince, however great his faults as an administrator, really had promised those base-born archers before a battle that he and his gentlemen would stick and endure the same fate together with the archers, and been believed. (Poitiers.) (The French raised excellent archers during the 100 Years War, decided they were too much of a threat to the social order, and killed them; that same "most men did not fight because knowledge of arms was rebellion" thing.))

    We know about this because it was written up in sources that happen to have survived; almost everything written about it was how it was a shocking, shocking breach of manners. (We can infer, only infer, from English records that Goodwife Dancaster might well have got a delivery of upwards of 20 pounds in cash; John could not, of course, be paid the same amount for the castle as a knight could have been, and seems to have sent most of it home. It would still have been the talk of the village.) It's pretty clearly not the only time some peasant got clever and successful; there are some now long-established english noble houses with peasant archers for founders. But it's not talked about and the English were weird for allowing it.

    We can suppose from this that known cases of women fighting just wouldn't make it into the chronicle. That's not the sort of thing you want to attach importance to, so no matter how many rumours there are about Sir John, who is a bit on the slender side and has retained a somewhat boyish voice, the chronicle isn't going to mention. Not unless there is just no avoiding it, and then there's going to be (like Agnes Hotot Dudley) as much minimization as the chronicler feels they can get away with. Which is why the list is mostly really famous people; those are the places where the chronicler had to gnaw on their quill and admit it had happened.

    Also, this bugs me -- women are as strong as men. They're not strong in the same way, the expected upper body strength is lower, but leg and core strength tends to be higher for a given body weight and fitness level. (In a population doing heavy agricultural work, fitness level is likely high.) And stamina tends to be better. So women make worse archers (an activity that depends on upper body strength) but can absolutely clock you with anything where a rotating weight shift is important. (That's pretty much any melee weapon that doesn't involve straight-line stabbing.)

    And there's substantial evidence that the size dimorphism in humans is a)post-agricultural (that is, a product of artificial selection), b)significantly developmental; girls are discouraged from eating, boys are encouraged, and the same with exercise, before we get to c)still strongly socially enforced; the lad in the couple must must must be taller. It strongly reproductively disadvantages a tall lass when that rule's in place. What happens when those rules get lifted we are just starting to find out.

    Only, well, it may well be that noble populations with low admixture rates and no social mechanism to trust the peasants (Sicilian Normans, Lombards, etc.) may already have found out; they were perpetually short of reliable people and the women fought as a normative event in those contexts. (As they might well; an Italian female-only order of chivalry can be taken as a hint, and a Pope thoroughly suppressing it a couple centuries later can be taken as more of one.)

    221:

    Elizabeth Moon, who served in the US military, writes about female soldiers/servicewomen. Settings include futurist SF and stereotypical European medieval.

    Wikipedia excerpt:

    'One of the most significant themes of The Deed of Paksenarrion is the balance of gender and the role of women. Women are portrayed as powerful leaders and strong fighters. They are accepted and praised as much as men. The book's protagonist is female, as is the Marshall-General of the fellowship of Gird, the book's primary religious sect.'

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Deed_of_Paksenarrion


    222:

    Interesting... I found this: http://www.forgottenbooks.com/readbook_text/Chronicon_Galfridi_le_Baker_de_Swynebroke_1000767240/331

    Seems to be saying that the main reason the French were pissed off was that there was a truce on at the time and all of a sudden along comes this random independent actor and takes the castle in breach of it.

    Nobody mentioned the Dahomey Amazons yet?

    223:

    Well, yes, but by their own rules you can't expect a baseborn man to know there was a truce! He's not at fault! He's even showing proper preference for his natural lord! It's indescribably horrible, it's like someone actually getting really must-let-into-the-club rich day-trading.

    And no matter how much you suspect the Black Prince of having put him up to it (indirectly, somehow) you can't possibly say so. Your own relatives would stop talking to you if you made an accusation like that in public.

    It's a big problem with setting up the social system so your class gets all the benefit; nobody else has any interest in perpetuating it. Some of them will be smart and ruthless.

    224:

    Regarding how 'women can never fight! No, really! Kameron Hurley's Hugo Award winning essay We have Always Fought is a really good corrective. It seems that people throughout history (including the History of Right Now) have edited women out of the historical narrative.

    In another example of this, I watched the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion in the theatre. When the movie got to the line:

    Captain Harvile: I won't allow it to be any more man's nature than women's to be inconstant or to forget those they love or have loved. I believe the reverse. I believe... Let me just observe that all histories are against you, all stories, prose, and verse. I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which did not have something to say on women's fickleness.

    Anne Elliot: But they were all written by men.

    the audience burst into applause. Jane Austen was a smart cookie.

    225:

    I think you will find that Aethelfled is in my list ...
    ( And, yes, I did know about her, before this specific conversation took place...)

    226:

    >>> Nobody mentioned the Dahomey Amazons yet?

    Dahomey Amazons are awesome.

    227:

    Now then ... If DPRK is actually mad enough to attack S Korea, a "token resistance" should be made, followed by a hasty retreat of about 15-20 miles, allowing the invading N Koreans to find all the (Carefully prepared) food warehouses & supplies

    Greg, have you looked at a map?

    The centre of Seoul is just 35 miles from the border with North Korea. Let the DPRK get just 10-15 miles across the frontier and they're within direct artillery range of the enemy capital (and IIRC home to about 25% of the South Korean population).

    Also add the DPRK's ruthless approach to folks who disobey orders and, well, I doubt it'd work. ("Stop to eat now and you will be shot, or carry on for another day and you can dine well for the rest of your life, comrade.")

    228:

    No matter the underlying reasons, you can't have a fictional pseudo-medieval setting, just latch gender equality on it and expect the thing to make any sense or remain plausible. The amount of work you'd have to do to make it plausible is very significant, and the result will no longer be pseudo-medieval.

    I think you might be able to get close, but you'd need to tweak a whole bunch of variables very carefully. You'd need to start with voluntary control over fertility/gestation and a drastic reduction in childbed mortality. If you can get that, then you'll in turn need a fix for agricultural productivity. You can then have a low-energy/low-tech society that nevertheless can manage to hold its population below the Malthusian ceiling. Rather than your average woman needing to have 4-6 births just to maintain static population, you can cut that to a post-demographic transition level, and then invest resources in training/optimizing those infants you bring into the world for useful trades, transitioning to a K-selection strategy ...

    Hmm. I don't think that society's going to stay mediaeval for long, unless we ruthlessly deny them access to any energy source beyond wind, water, and maybe wood-burning: they've got enough well-nourished brains to take up successful innovations rapidly compared to a peasant/r-selection society.

    229:

    ... so you have a hell of setting - imagine it's the generation or so after all the magic contraceptioves etc are invented and the world is about to change rapidly, what kind of adventures you could set there.

    In a classical good vs evil High SF, when medivial gets to define what's good, guess the gender makeup of the "orc" army ...

    231:

    >>>Hmm. I don't think that society's going to stay mediaeval for long,

    Exactly. You just described the real-world transition from medieval to modern society. Through progress of technology, of course, as per Niven's Law number 9:

    Ethics change with technology.

    But classical fantasy is pseudo-medieval. You have to have your archers, armored knights, taverns, lack of plumbing and the Black Death.

    Not gender-equalize this. :-)

    232:

    In a classical good vs evil High SF, when medivial gets to define what's good, guess the gender makeup of the "orc" army ...

    The main characteristic of orcs is their superior numbers and tolerance of casualties. That's incompatible with contraception.

    233:

    Graydon wrote:Also, this bugs me -- women are as strong as men. They're not strong in the same way, the expected upper body strength is lower, but leg and core strength tends to be higher for a given body weight and fitness level. (In a population doing heavy agricultural work, fitness level is likely high.) And stamina tends to be better. So women make worse archers (an activity that depends on upper body strength) but can absolutely clock you with anything where a rotating weight shift is important.

    Oh come off it. Look at the very detailed performance comparisons also known as the Olympics. Men lift heavier weights with the same body mass. They run the same distance faster, from sprints to marathons. (I believe women might finally catch up around the 50km mark.) They jump higher, throw further. And for rotating weight shifts, men playing baseball and cricket hit further than women, so women's games bring in the boundaries to equalise the number of fours/home runs.

    Studies of sporting injuries, not just at elite level, show women tear their ACLs far more frequently than men, because they don't have as much muscle to support the joint. I believe that's true for other field sports injuries too.

    Also consider the huge amounts of money at stake in professional sports, and the rise of Moneyball-style analysis in the past two decades. Football teams (all codes) across the Western world send scouts all over the planet looking for talented players to give them the edge and don't care what skin color they are. You think that every single one of these teams has signed up to some secret pact that they'll ignore all these equally fit and strong women in their own neighbourhood?

    234:

    I think you might be able to get close, but you'd need to tweak a whole bunch of variables very carefully.

    Well, firstly, you don't need gender equality to have women fighting. That's rather drastically palming a card. (Since historically women did fight.)

    Secondly, you can almost completely replace "gender" with "class" in a pseudo-medieval fantasy setting and not change much. Sir Jane and Sir John can be as equal as you like, and Goodwife Jane and Goodman John will still need to tug their forelocks, even though they can both own land in their own right and be otherwise equal.

    Thirdly, actual feudalism -- public oaths before witnesses to create political relationships, class based on taxes so class promotion is automatic, nominal voluntary association of equals -- was a very class-mobile culture. (and gone by 1350. You can argue gone earlier.) You can move the emphasis off military prowess and toward economic success with that as long as you apply it to the nobility, or, rather, don't allow your setting to develop an escape hatch for the nobility. (Noble families tended to last 3 generations in the actual feudal period. The Percys managed 6, which was really notable.)

    The precursor cultures had much stronger women's rights and upper class women lost their rights first because land-tenure was dependent on marriage and constructing continuous domains was a big deal. (No sane king gave out contiguous land; a manor here, a manor there. The nobility promptly did their best to marry it back together.) Christian marriage tradition does require the bride's consent. Make that operant in your pseudo-medieval fantasy, and better make it continuously operant, so that your mother the Dowager Countess can make you stop being the Earl by retroactively revoking their necessary ongoing consent even after dad's dead, and you've got something where women's rights to property would have to be respected; God is insisting.

    Or, since heritable land tenure was invented because you couldn't give a temporary gift to an eternal god (and the nobility promptly started creating monastic foundations of dubious piety because permanent control of land is worth risking afterlife explanations for) and we're doing pseudo-medieval fantasy, well, yes, the King can give land to god and it is forever after god's and for the use of the servants of god, but if you try it for impious purpose god objects. You can tell from the plagues of wasps and the visitation of the burning whirlwinds. So we've got kings and earls and all but we don't have actual heritable land tenure. We do have serious horse-trading in Parliament about whose kid gets what demesne; the example of AEthelflaed may mean it's not all "boy". But no need to take women's rights away to control land tenure through marriages and god clearly doesn't approve of strict primogeniture. The slightly increased economic bias starts attaching greater value to results, so women with their own business being successful is seen as a good thing.

    It'd still have plague and be mucky and mostly nasty, brutish, and short, but not in quite the same way.

    235:

    Long-range mechanized weapons means muscle strength is less important. (Wikipedia says that the crossbow was in use around 500 BCE in China and in Europe.) And, I'm guessing that combatants would tend to prefer strategy/tactics best suited to their own strengths and weaknesses. So, the gender mix of any particular fighting force while a factor was probably less relevant than horses, terrain, training, war machines, and supply lines - even in the Middle Ages.

    There's probably also an element of faddishness in warfare and weapons. So even though a particular weapon was/is still quite adequate to the job, the cool armies/generals would probably want the newest toys. (In the present, think F35 - the jet du jour, panned by pilots but likely to be purchased anyways.)

    236:

    The Olympics tells you that dread Achilles is very likely to be a guy[1]. It doesn't tell you that men are stronger than women.

    (You can never get enough of Achilles to do anything important; Achilles is a statistical outlier and ought not to have been counted.)

    Women, statistically, don't have the same peak output but sustain output longer. (Day Three of max-effort agricultural activity will point this out clearly.) It's a rule of thumb that your fiftieth continuous punch in practice is going to land about as hard as your second punch in a real fight, if you're a guy. Big surge in the blood chemistry that pushes you closer to anaerobic muscle metabolism. Statistically, women have much less of that. So it's quite possible to lose the fight because your metabolism crashed first.

    You may object to calling that "stronger", or rather, using that to support the view that "men aren't stronger"; I can see the semantic objection if "stronger" is intended to mean solely "one time peak output".

    [1] Results from not starving girl children -- and that's just what "yoghurt is more ladylike than steak" and "boys get automatically larger portions" is -- show up around generations four or five. (We've got a pretty good set of data on this from the near and actual famines at the end of Hitler's War.) So the professional sports response is "why do you think the progression being seen in women's hockey and women's soccer is going to stop today?" We're only on maybe generation one, after all.

    A fantasy setting where the Example of AEthelflaed leads to a fashion for marrying strapping big girls, not starving them, and a class-for-gender expectations swap and you'd get something where it'd be pretty medieval seeming only you wouldn't have people assuming they could win a fight just because Sir Jane isn't named John. Give it a thousand years and it might undo much of the post-agriculture patriarchally induced dimorphism.

    237:

    Of all people, Weis and Hickman did that in the Darksword books. Whether they really planned it is a different question.
    So everyone had magic and was tested at birth - their talents dictated what they then did with their lives.

    But they had Field Magi who were super efficient farmers and who could preserve food, Healing druids who were skilled medics, and catalyst priests, who made everyone else better at magic and could refill their magic stores.

    So it was a stable society which had become completely stuck in its ways because the rich people were distracted by frivolity, the poor people were too tired and starved much like our own feudal peasants to actually think for themselves, and those who had some idea of what was going on (outside the Illuminati priests) were swiftly crushed or exiled to the wilds, which were full of monsters too tough to fight without the priests on your side

    Sadly being terrible writers their solution was to destroy everything in an invasion of the magically dead from our world, but hey, the initial worldbuilding was interesting at least.

    238:

    A history book I was reading last month (possibly Bachelor Girls) talked of the start of the US Civil Rights movement, and how a lot of the push came from women, who were then pushed aside and dropped from the histories when it began to work.

    What particularly struck me was that the male ministers initially didn't want to end segregation on the buses — they advocated for more space and clearer signs. It was the women who insisted on pushing for abolishment of separate seating. And most histories I've read don't talk about how women like Rosa Parks were pushed off the platforms and away from the microphones.

    So yes, I could see how even well-regarded histories will be incomplete in fairly significant ways…

    239:

    Years ago, when I briefly coached cricket, we had a girl who wanted to play. Turned out there was nothing in the league rules that said cricket had to be a boys game — even though that's what it was then. So we let her play. (Our rule for team selection was simple: attend all practices, you get to play.)

    At the first tournament she was heckled by the opposing teams. (Apparently Indian & Pakistani cricketers are far less polite than my 1950s English cricketing stories showed players being.) I was ready to intervene but she asked me not to. She had a much better idea. Turns out getting your ass kicked by a girl (who's a better player than you are) is a good lesson on manners. :-)

    Which is a long-winded way of saying that girls are discouraged from being athletic, which means they'll end up weaker on average. Ignoring the outliers (and that's how I'd classify professional athletes) and assuming an equal level of activity I suspect you'd find the median male-female difference to be less than the modern one.

    240:

    Also consider the huge amounts of money at stake in professional sports,

    The problem with that line of argument is that professional sports are only looking for a few tens of genetic freaks and outliers for specific tasks - those are more likely to be men.

    By contrast, armies are looking for tens, or hundreds of thousands of infantry soldiers. They can't all be freaks and outliers. A more realistic comparison for sport would be "ask the 5th XV of a local rugby club who are struggling to turn out a team; whether they could benefit from including a member of the 1st XV of the local womens' rugby club".

    I passed out from Sandhurst at 5'11" weighing 150lbs - I passed my infantry platoon commanders' course at 155lbs ("needs to develop the ability to carry load"), and my close reconaissance commanders' course (described as "physically robust") at 160lbs. I would at best have been described as a racing snake (i.e. scrawny), and if you asked whether I could drag a 230lb outlier to safety I'd say "very slowly". But I coped.

    Consider the "Bantam Battalions" of the WW1 British Infantry; front-line infantry soldiers at 4'10" to 5'3".

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bantam_%28military%29

    A healthy, fit, and properly conditioned modern female soldier of 5'8" is probably better equipped to carry 40kg loads around Afghanistan than the 5'4" male from an 1915 or 1940 industrial heartland. Even at 5' tall, the woment are still carrying the load, and doing the job.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kate_Nesbitt

    241:

    That happened right down the line - Rosa Parks' refusal was staged because she was more acceptable to the public than, e.g., a pregnant fifteen-year-old. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claudette_Colvin

    When a movement starts setting traction, the "respectable" ones end up in front - so Bayard Rustin gets pushed aside, the women go the back....

    242:

    It's really worth looking at China and Japan during all this, because they went further in the high labor/low energy economy than Europe ever did. Given that Medieval Europe didn't even use a mold-board plow, they're not the ideal or even the only example for civilization without fossil fuels.

    King's Farmers of Forth Centuries is actually a really good place to start on this. King was an agricultural economist from Wisconsin (the soil science building at UW-Madison is King Hall) who toured China, Japan, and Korea in the early part of the 20th Century. He was sent to see how they managed to get by without the massive famines that everybody in the west feared were about to hit (this was before artificially fixed nitrogen was invented). He saw the region before it was modernized or torn apart by the end of the Ching dynasty and the modernization of Japan. A lot of what he saw was human-born labor, and oddly enough, his book's considered one of the foundations of organic agriculture, although that wasn't his intent when he wrote it.

    Similar books probably could (and possibly have) been written about India and parts of South America, but I'm unaware of them.

    243:

    SFReader wrote:Long-range mechanized weapons means muscle strength is less important. (Wikipedia says that the crossbow was in use around 500 BCE in China and in Europe.)
    Certainly true, and that's why there are more women fighting today than before. There are plenty of female fighter pilots because that doesn't require carrying heavy loads or resisting an opponents physical force. Better resistance to G-force is why Robert Heinlein had all-female naval pilots in Starship Troopers.

    Historically, armies have never been able to succeed on crossbow fire alone. Chinese armies needed cavalry and infantry with close quarters weapons as well. Even missile-heavy armies like medieval English and Mongols had to be willing and able to fight hand to hand.

    244:

    I don't say that men are stronger than women. That's meaningless, it would imply that every man was stronger than any women.

    I do say that on average, men are stronger than women. In a pre-industrial society, that makes them better sources of energy, or motors if you like. A lot of what looks like discrimination is just making the most economic use of resources.

    European farming in medieval times was male dominated because the soils were tougher than those in, say, rice farming. A horse or ox can usually pull a plough, but if it hits a root or something, a man probably can generate enough extra force to push through. A woman probably can't, and will have to stop and ask for help.

    In modern society, women drive bulldozers and forklifts just fine. In a magical society, they'd presumably be equally good at directing spirits or djinns.

    Same for a lot of the other heavy digging, lifting, and carrying tasks in a medieval style economy, even one with windmills and watermills. The slightly higher average strength/weight, and much higher occasional peak output, means it is more productive to use men for those jobs.

    I'm with Susan at 216. It's silly to say that women never fought.

    But warfare is literally a life or death matter. That no pre-industrial society anywhere, anywhen, recruited large numbers of women for front line combat suggests that it wasn't just discrimination.

    245:

    Hugh, sorry, you missed a couple of turns there. One huge problem was that Medieval Europe was technologically backwards compared with China and Japan. they didn't have the mold-board plow, so they had to use much more (animal) muscle to till the soil. It had nothing to do with European soils being harder than Asian soils. That story of tough soils comes from the 19th Century sod-busters in the American Midwest, who had to cut through prairie sod, which required a whole other set of steel plows (and often an ax) to cut.

    And yes, women worked or helped out pretty much everywhere.

    As for warfare, there's a lot of mythology on all sides, which is why I'm staying away from it. The few times I've seen stats, most people in agricultural populations aren't interested in fighting. Gender is irrelevant. Of that minority, I have no clue how many were men or women, especially in different roles. Since war gets so masculinized, presumably it tends to be a masculine pursuit, but whichever.

    246:

    I would at best have been described as a racing snake (i.e. scrawny)

    I am reminded of an analysis of the infantry actions in the Falklands. Soldiers could be grouped into three physical types; running snakes, weightlifters, and plugs.

    In the Falklands, the snakes froze, the weightlifters starved, and the plugs just kept plugging along. Totally not the image of a soldier but better able to do the job.

    There were recommendations that you put the weightlifters into logistics roles; less likely to starve, and they're just what you want when you have trucks that need loading or unloading in a great hurry. Don't believe those recommendations went anywhere.

    (If we're going to note historical examples of big strong men's success in battle, there's always Audie Murphy and Simo Häyhä to consider.)

    247:

    Heteromeles, I've seen the male European farmer explanation in a few places, most recently "The Axe and the Oath" by Robert Fossier, written in 2007. It's a generalist book rather than specialist, but the author is willing to disagree with earlier historians on other matters. I don't think it would invalidate the general point that men are better sources of energy in a pre-industrial society, hence economic specialisation rather than discrimination is the reason for many cases of gender specialisation.

    I'd be interested in reading further on how agriculture has developed throughout history and might do so in the future. Can you recommend any particular works? (Not too dry please, this is my hobby rather than occupation!) And to keep our original poster happy, I'd prefer something that includes technological developments so I can try to imagine how magic would fit in.

    248:

    Maybe, maybe not ...
    One could always go the actual John Brunner route, I suppose, provided you get the PRC to fly the fighter cover, whilst the US heavy-lift people shove all the food out the back of their planes ....
    ( ? ! )

    249:

    There are two themes running through this thread, one thankfully stronger than the other. The first is basically a nature/nurture distinction and the debunking thereof. Enculturation is at least as significant as any underlying physiological precursor based in sexual dimorphism in our species, most likely considerably more significant. But the modern understanding is that the distinction itself (between nature and nurture) is a meaningless one that is not well supported by evidence, so even my statement of it here doesn't really make that much sense. However, there are some important points: there's no such thing as a purely physiological mechanism in the human body, rather all mechanisms are environmentally mediated; there's no strong distinction between psychology and chemistry, psychological factors are physical and vice versa; epigenetics is multimodal.

    The other theme, one I see often enough to remark upon, is that some people have difficulty recognising that the common sense of one's received worldview does not have the status of a null hypothesis. Some people seem to think that for any assertion of truth, the onus should be on the side of a proposition that does not align with a particular social group's version of normality. You see this mostly with Christians who think that atheists need or want to prove that God does not exist. But some statements about gender follow the same pattern, apparently inevitably.

    White Ribbon day here in Oz tomorrow, btw.

    250:

    The Percys managed 6, which was really notable
    MUCH LONGER THAN THAT ....
    The Percys were originally Earls of Northumberland .. they are, right now Dukes of the same title, with Ralph Percy being the 12th Duke.
    Um, err .....

    251:

    Wikipedia says that the crossbow was in use around 500 BCE in China and in Europe.
    But, this does this not appear to take into account the classical Greek "palintonon" which was a giant crossbow, powered by twisted tendon "strings" capable of firing scarily large "arrows" or stone balls - see also J E Gordon's classic book "structures"

    252:

    We've also got the opposite, in Britain at any rate ...
    Everybody got fed, through careful rationing during WWII & women, especially pregnant ones, got extra rations ...
    This showed up in the statistics of the size, weight, health etc of the post-war "baby boom" ( Including me arriving here on 12/01/1946. )
    We are now on the third & just-arriving fourth generation since then, mostly, say children arriving at year 25 gives 1946, 1971, 1996, 2021 ( or at 20 years, '66, '86, '06, next year .... ) and ...
    Look at them & us. Look at the sizes & general health & even more, life expectancy - we still do not know what my generations' life expectancy really is, do we?

    253:

    Remind me some time to tell you the true story of how unaathletic me ( I escaped from the hideous & bullying crypto-fascism of "team games" through a fluke at age 14 ) Walked every other school pupil into the ground on a walking holiday in the Lake District when I was 17 ....
    "Sports" & "athletics do not necessarily make you fit, but cycling 5 miles a day, every day, to & from school will make you very fit & wiry & thin.

    Hence my utter contempt for the idea of sports being forced onto victims children

    254:

    Err...
    Wrong
    Mouldboards are known in Britain from the late 6th century on - from Wikipedia.

    255:

    Well, the House of Percy basically outlasted feudalism. And once the original feudalism was over, families seem to have kept their status fairly well over centuries, with certain exceptions.

    But to take an example of one estate, Levens Hall in Cumbria

    1170 - The de Redman family receives grant of the land, and builds the original hall
    1562 - the widow of the last of the de Redman's sells to Sir Alan Bellingham, who (once he got possession a couple of decades later) built the current Hall
    1689 - Colonel James Grahme buys it [1] from Sir Alan Bellingham[2] and builds the current gardens

    And it hasn't changed hands since.

    On the other hand there is some truth in the 'three generations' thing. Again using examples from my family history: there have been three baronetcies. The first lasted two generations. The second also lasted two generations. The third baronetcy would have expired with the death of the first baronet except that it had specifically been set up so that it could be inherited by his nephew, and as a result has survived to the present day[4]

    [1] To pay off gambling debts[3]
    [2] A different Alan. Alan is quite a common name in the family
    [3] Don't weep for us - the family owned Castle Bellingham in Co. Louth from 1660 to 1950
    [4] And yes, given a suitable Kind Hearts and Coronets scenario, I could in theory also become a Sir Alan.

    256:

    Woo, thread derailment.

    In the Falklands, the snakes froze, the weightlifters starved, and the plugs just kept plugging along. Totally not the image of a soldier but better able to do the job.

    Yup - it's about appropriate conditioning. Unfortunately, a lot of "gym fitness" is too specific... If you look at the pictures of the soldiers who fought their way across Europe, they weren't superheroes one and all; just well-conditioned to the task at hand. Big biceps for the beach don't necessarily mean "good core stability"; good CV fitness on a flat running surface don't mean your ankles are up to cross-country work. The story from the Burma Railways that I recall was that in one unit, the Regimental football team were the first to die; they may have been the fittest, but they weren't carrying any energy reserves.

    Generally, you'll tend to find the chunkier blokes in a light-role infantry battalion in the Mortar Platoon, or MG platoon - these being the roles that demand the ability to lift heavy things (an MMG team carrying their full scaling of ammunition are walking with 140lb each; so the sensible planner distributes it somehow).

    You'd have thought that in the days of the GPMG in the eight-man rifle section (a 12kg lump of metalwork, plus 4kg for every 200-rd belt), that it went to the physique monster - it didn't, it went to the best shot (because it was half of your firepower). If that best shot happens to be a scrawny type, unlucky :( As ever, it's about practicality. You don't often get to be highly physically selective, except for those few "selective" units with nice coloured hats - you take what you get, en masse, and figure out a way to make it work.

    When the Army tried to define the minimum task-specific physical requirements as more army jobs opened up to women (e.g. "combat engineer must be able to lift and carry X weight over Y distance", because "do Z pressups/situps per minute" is not quite a battle-relevant activity), they discovered that ~10% of the serving blokes were failing the tests that the women were passing. Many units have a few people on remedial fitness training. One recent Chief of the General Staff might have been a rugged type in his youth, but had certainly become a stranger to the salad bar over the years.

    257:

    I read somewhere (not a reliable reference, I know) that the generation raised just after the war, when rationing was still in force, was the healthiest in British history before or after. Any idea if that is in fact true?

    Drifting sideways to the National Health, listening to my mother talk about what life was like before it is true scary. (I wouldn't be here for one thing.) In a magical setting, the effects of freely available healing magic will have quite an effect on the culture (including child and child-bed mortality). In pseudo-medieval setting (often D&D-inspides) healing magic usually comes from priests, who should often provide it to anyone not just the rich and powerful. But the effects of this don't seem to be explored.

    (At least not in the fantasies I've read, but I haven't read that many so may well be missing lots of good examples that do explore the idea.)

    258:

    often D&D-inspides

    That should have been "often D&D-inspired". Sorry.

    259:

    The "Ross Kemp" look

    260:

    Still no da-esh thread from OGH?

    Here are some subjects.

    261:

    If it isn't true it is very close to it ....
    I suspect that many are fitter & healthier now, but the average is dragged down by the occasional lardbutt, living on big Macs (euw)

    262:

    Sorry, my mistake. What I meant was the iron moldboard, which was a Chinese invention of the Han dynasty (around 100-200 CE). Similar plows were first made in England in 1789, although people were facing the wooden moldboard with iron in 1730.

    That wooden, moldboard plow in Europe was in place through the entire Middle Ages, while the Chinese were using a cast iron form. While prairie sod and its kin are tougher than forest soils, I don't think that Europe's tougher soils were the reason that the peasants were less productive. The European problem was that they were cutting the soil with wood, not iron or steel.

    263:

    Agree - nature-and-nurture (rather than vs.) and as Susan previously said, we don't know because the data aren't available.

    That said, here's a contemporary study examining Norwegian male and female cadets' performance under stress. For some reason, the US Army specifically excludes female personnel from participating in such research (thereby perpetuating the no-data problem). And, this just might provide some useful background info for fantasy warrior scenarios.

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/83/5/1068.full

    Negative energy balance in male and female rangers: effects of 7 d of sustained exercise and food deprivation1,2,3,4 (Authors: Reed W Hoyt, Per Kristian Opstad, Ann-Helen Haugen, James P DeLany, Allen Cymerman, and Karl E Friedl)

    Abstract

    Background:A challenging 7-d ranger field exercise (FEX) by cadets in the Norwegian Military Academy provided a venue in which to study the effects of negative energy balance.

    Objective:We quantified total energy expenditure (TEE), food intake, and changes in body composition in male and female cadets.

    Conclusion:Female cadets maintained a significantly more fat-predominant fuel metabolism than did male cadets in response to sustained exercise and semistarvation.

    What the above suggests to me (a non-tech/non-scientist): recruit your combatants based on most accessible/efficient/low-cost fuel. Females need more fat, males need more carbs and protein.

    264:

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I've read some other books about everyday life in Medieval times, and it's always good to see more.

    As for agriculture books, I personally like King's The Farmers of Forty Centuries, which was researched in 1909 and written in 1911. That's if you want to see how agriculture worked in China, Japan, and Korea, before it became largely mechanized. If you like door-stop histories, Geoffrey Parker's Global Crisis is a good world history of the Little Ice Age, specifically the 17th Century. It goes from agricultural issues up to military and political fiascoes and back again, so it's a general history, not something that focuses specifically on agriculture.

    As for future agriculture, I'd suggest Paul Stamet's Mycelium Running, which is about all the things we could do with fungi, but which we generally aren't doing yet. He covers everything from forestry and restoration to getting rid of carpenter ants and destroying nerve gas, and he's actually got patents on a number of them, so this isn't vaporware but underdeveloped technology. The other area I like to look at is permaculture, although the books tend to get expensive. Permaculture depends on thoughtful design more than gimmicks, and as you might imagine, it's harder than it looks and seems to inspire more believers than adepts. Still, there's a lot of smart design ideas out there for better agriculture, and permaculture seems to have captured a bunch of them.

    265:

    I read somewhere (not a reliable reference, I know) that the generation raised just after the war, when rationing was still in force, was the healthiest in British history before or after. Any idea if that is in fact true?

    My understanding is that rationing compelled the substantial consumption of vegetables. This was one of the reasons it was loathed, but it did have good nutritive effects.

    Sheer amount of food matters a great deal. On the Spadina streetcar through (one of) Toronto's Chinatowns, it's quite easy to see three generations of a family together who originated in East Asia somewhere. You often get more than a foot of height difference between Grandma and Granddaughter.

    People whose families have recent UK origins don't show that much resulting variation, but it shows.

    266:

    Yup - it's about appropriate conditioning.

    This is why your sensible wizard doesn't produce big, strong, voracious idealized soldiers; effective soldiers are regular sized and not exceptionally strong, but can eat anything, have implausible stamina, and need very little sleep.

    267:

    That study is fascinating.

    Diet and nutrition is such a woo woo field these days, it can be very hard to see real data.

    It comes down to because they burn more fat over glycogen, females are more suited to endurance activities, and though they might be less powerful initially, they would maintain their ability far more consistently over the duration of the mission, while their male counterparts would show more severe deterioration. Since men start from a higher mass level though, they only reach parity after an extended duration.

    I was surprised at how drastically they underfed the candidates - they got between 1% to 9% of their required energy budget for the week. No wonder they all lost a kilo a day which in fit people is a heck of a lot.

    268:

    This is why your sensible wizard doesn't produce big, strong, voracious idealized soldiers...

    It's also why your sensible Army doesn't try to produce identikit soldiers (with the repeated meme in US fiction about trying to make "perfect soldiers that just obey orders").

    Ideally, you build on the skills and personalities that the recruits bring, you don't try and break then rebuild them in your ideal image. Persuasion and example is far better than all that screaming and shouting; in fact, a few years ago the British Army started insisting on sending all recruit instructors off on a courses before letting them near recruits. It may not have eradicated the "just do it right or I'll hit you, no I can't explain it" Corporal of old, but there are fewer of them...

    269:

    females are more suited to endurance activities, and though they might be less powerful initially, they would maintain their ability far more consistently over the duration of the mission

    Case in point: the adult survivors from the Donner Party expedition/disaster were mostly female. The party were all pioneers and had already spent six months slogging across the continental interior before they got stuck in the Sierra Nevadas during a harsh winter, so they were presumably for the most part in good physical shape (for the 1850s: exceptions for children and elders riding in the wagons). However the men succumbed to starvation first. While there might have been an element of them leaving their food for the women and children, that mostly went out of the window towards the end (when the survivors were reduced to eating their dead). The women just plain lasted longer.

    270:

    Ideally, you build on the skills and personalities that the recruits bring, you don't try and break then rebuild them in your ideal image. Persuasion and example is far better than all that screaming and shouting;

    Absolutely.

    Which runs us into "you can have success or you can have control" and the perceived need to have some control of an army. (I don't think that's true; you need a really strong definition of success.)

    (I am reminded of the Kangaroo, field expedient APCs from useless armored vehicles during the D-Day breakout. The engineering unit that got told to make them on an insane schedule did it; the vehicle was a success for its intended role. The rest of the Allied force was left wondering what sin of their was so great that they should be subject to a plague of engineers with cutting torches liberating plausible armor plate from any undefended source. Including starting to cut up grounded cargo ships.)

    And then we get the example of Sauron, the army entirely in the grip of the Dark Lord's will, and success arising from dis-informing the Dark Lord, more than any martial valour. Something about Tolkien that isn't copied enough in fantasy.

    271:

    "...no pre-industrial society anywhere, anywhen, recruited large numbers of women for front line combat..."

    Not so... I mentioned a counterexample earlier on: the Dahomey Amazons. They weren't the only ones, but they are a good example: they made up a very large proportion of the total army, and they were sufficiently recent to be photographically attested.

    I fully agree that it wasn't common, but at the same time it certainly isn't true to say that it never happened at all. That indeed seems to be a general problem with this thread: arguments in the main aimed at supporting positions at one extreme or the other, and so failing to reach resolution, because the truth is somewhere in the middle.

    272:

    Actually, it was often "loathed" because, then, the Brits cooked their veg in useless & disgusting ways - to wit boiling everything to death
    E.G. Rule for Brussels Sprouts - NEVER let them see water in the cooking process - chopped thinly they stir-fry wonderfully.
    Etc

    273:


    Given your medical/scientific background and much of your employment of speculative fiction - aka Lies for the entertainment of the Paying Customers .. you know far more about this sort of thing than I do of course ..BUT? Hows about ..

    " Not that I’m thinking about trying it, but is cannibalism unhealthy? " ..

    http://scienceline.org/2008/01/ask-stern-cannibal/

    And also ...


    http://www.livestrong.com/article/519284-what-is-protein-poisoning/


    I dunno ..how many Protean Calories a day does it take to keep a Zombie Un-Dead but .. Healthy? ...for a given value of " Healthy "

    BRAINS, BRAINS !!! All, righty, but ..wot kind of BRAINS? and How often must Brains be Eaten and so forth?

    But still on the Donner/Dinner Party and such like modern events ..

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1972_Andes_flight_disaster


    I am a mere amateur in this of course ,but ..the secret to survival in these situations would seem to be not to leave it too late before you start to eat the corpses of your fellow passengers? Also not to neglect eating the vegetarians first since their stomach contents will be filled with healthy nutritious Veggies.

    274:

    Disagree. Here, from Sainsbury's The Vegetarian Gourmet by Rosamond Richardson, is a very fine recipe: Preheat the oven. Parboil 1 lb. of sprouts in a pan of boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain. Put in an ovenproof dish with 1½ oz. butter, 3 tbsp. grated parmesan, and 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed, and toss well. Cover the dish and bake at Gas Mark 4/350°F for 20-25 minutes.

    Since sprouts and cabbage are homologous, I've also tried it with white cabbage: layer the leaves, intercalate with the parmesan and with lots of black pepper, and optionally with peanuts or walnuts too. In that case, because white cabbage leaves are thicker and juicier, parboiling is less necessary.

    275:

    I was born in 1949 in the UK and so I can say that ..there is SOME truth in this.

    The thing is it wasn't just the rationing - and restriction to HEALTHY foods of the Grow For Victory sort during the war and just after WW 2 ..fish and chips were always off ration I understand .. but that, with the introduction of the NHS, children were made to consume rose hip syrup and cod liver oil and also a ration of MILK at school in little, children sized, bottles ..some children became MILK Monitors and supervised the administration of Cow Juice to their fellow school pupils. Milk was FOOD and this was the reason why the Chant of ..Margaret Thatcher Milk Snatcher!! had so much impact once upon a time in the UK ..


    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/7932963/How-Margaret-Thatcher-became-known-as-Milk-Snatcher.html


    No forcing Milk and Veggies down the Throats of the Poor these days of course. Now we have Food Banks provided by charity ..which must be a Great Comfort to The Poor and Indigent .. or do I mean " Indignant. " I was never all that good at spelling ..probably didn't drink enough milk way back then and thus ' stunted my growth. '

    " Stunted my/your growth " as was a commonplace reference way back in the Long Ago of the UK.

    HISTORY ..don't you Love it?

    276:

    A warning: it is the apparent opinion of the owner of this blog that the members of the brassica family are so noxious as perhaps not even to be suitable for feeding to livestock. In light of that, I would suggest not starting a sub-thread on the best way of cooking the delicious delightful HORRIBLE items known as Brussels Sprouts.

    Personally I like them steamed till just tender

    277:

    And I was just thinking of sharing how I prefer them, but had the thought that Charlie likely considers Sprouts to be Evil.
    So I won't mention that I like them roasted; with the bottoms trimmed and outer layers removed, sliced in half, with enough olive oil to coat and favorite herbs, with possible addition of garlic cloves and halved fingerling potatoes, put in the oven at 400ºF until the potatoes are forkable.

    278:

    I had to go back and READ ..carefully to that ref on Brassicas ..as if I didn't already feel sufficiently unwell as a consequence of watching a British TV program ..

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06q6y95/doctor-in-the-house-episode-1

    " Medical documentary series. The doctor is called in to help 48-year-old Priti, a working mother who is struggling with stress, headaches, weight gain and disrupted sleep."

    Humm, that sounds familiar as a symptom pattern ..though I'm reasonably sure that I'm not suffering from ' The menopause '

    But really Alan! As a Milk Monitor you should know better that to frighten people by waving Brussels Sprouts at them!

    279:

    This, unfortunately, is why I'm not sure OGH's books should catch on in Korea. Their kim chi and other brassica preps are a religion, not just a food.

    Totally unrelated... Brassica fart magic. Or is that a form of exorcism?

    280:

    Hey, brassicas are about the only vegetable I can think of which are not suitable only for feeding to livestock. (Well, them and potatoes, although people somehow don't seem to count those as vegetables; probably because they are indeed very unlike anything which is unquestionably so classified.)

    Of course, to become palatable they do have to be cooked in traditional British style, ie. boiled until most of the texture and flavour has been destroyed. Traditions become traditions for a reason, and this is an example: vegetables are inherently vile and therefore need to have the vileness thoroughly boiled out of them before they become edible. Nobody ever forced anyone to cook vegetables like that; they just did it because it produces a better result. The choice to take them out when they are barely warmed through has always existed, but nobody did choose to do it for the simple reason that the result is horrible. It is only the apparently magical enhancement of the power of suggestion which arises when the suggestion is delivered via televisual means that has been able to override common sense and install in people's brains filters which invert the signals coming from their tongue.

    281:

    One can neutralise some brassicas — white cabbage and cauliflower, at least — by adding nutmeg. The taste vectors would seem to be roughly opposed, leaving only a small resultant.

    282:

    So you're saying, every time we see Charlie, we should slip him some nutmeg?

    283:

    " ..we should slip him some nutmeg? "

    Well ..that depends ..

    " The mechanisms for the toxic effects of nutmeg have not been fully elucidated. Although many references mention monoamine oxidase inhibition and conversion of some components to amphetamine analogues, these hypotheses have not been proven -


    See more at:

    http://www.thepoisonreview.com/2010/12/11/nutmeg-abuse/#sthash.7N1Jruhn.dpuf


    284:

    The Dahomey Amazons look like the transition from muscle powered weaponry to technological.

    I'm using Wikipedia as primary source, cross checked against a couple of other online histories I found and skimmed.

    The Dahomey Amazons began as royal hunters, and then became a small royal bodyguard. Key development appears to have been industrial weaponry:
    Houegbadja's son King Agaja (ruling from 1708 to 1732) established a female bodyguard armed with muskets.

    Other sources don't agree that they had guns from the very beginning, but do agree that the number of Amazons started small.

    The Dahomey Amazons fought with guns against other people with guns, industrial era warfare. They didn't make the weapons themselves, but neither does Australia today.

    The number of Dahomey Amazons increased as, according to all the sources, the Dahomey suffered heavy casualties in various conflicts. At the end of the kingdom, they were fighting for survival. As noted by Susan way back at #216, that's when women are most often found in combat.

    285:

    My grandmother apparently used to add copper sulfate to the peas to bring back the nice green colour after they'd been boiled long enough*.

    *Long enough to have lost any hint of an intimation of texture, from what I remember.

    286:

    The number of Dahomey Amazons increased as, according to all the sources, the Dahomey suffered heavy casualties in various conflicts. At the end of the kingdom, they were fighting for survival. As noted by Susan way back at #216, that's when women are most often found in combat.

    Because the functional definition of patriarchy is that women are classed with cattle and slaves, and "armed woman" is not very far off "armed slave" in terms of reflexive cultural badness. You have to be desperate to allow it because you're accepting cultural dissolution in preference to total defeat. (See also Great War, consequences of same) Cultures that have moved away from the legitimacy of slavery have moved away from the patriarchal norms. (slavery being in its inception mostly the notion that it was ok to treat some men as women were treated.) You can find first-person, firsthand accounts of how it was not seen as particularly problematic for women to fight in the Red Army because the Revolution brought equality. (Or French Revolution accounts of how it was OK to have generals and marshals of base-born origins, which was about the same scale of deal at the time.) (Or why it was entirely fine for noble women to command castle garrisons in both Medieval Europe and the analogous period in Japan.)

    So in a magic-works universe, where the problem of "how do we deal with maintaining a standing army at neolithic tech level" might well have had a different solution, you don't have to make those cultural assumptions. It's a lot more work, and you won't get anything like the Medieval period, but it's not all that difficult.

    Anything from "the Pangs of Macha make mass armies _really unlikely_" to "Wizards compete over the fecundity of their lands and the health and happiness of their dependent population, because Inanna is really angry with them otherwise and turns the magic off; any fighting that happens happens between wizards in the middle of a salt flat" to a collective basis of competition other than armies (Mesopotamian version would have cities competing for divine favour and luck based on who threw the best civic orgy; just try and write that one for the YA market!) to a yeah, men fight, but you fight by having yourself anointed a sacrifice; no normal man can withstand you, but you _will_ die within a year and it takes nine priestess to do it.

    Or it's some grim crapsack hell where wizards fight, view the populace as something to sacrifice to demons, and neither armies nor cavalry matter much (horses are easy to terrify). You could get a story out of sailing away to /Madagascar/ or some other unknown island and getting the hell away from the wizards. (and then, inevitably, there's this kid in the third generation who is going to be a really strong wizard. Do you drown them?)

    What it really can't be, with cost-effective operant magic, is exactly like our historical social patterns. (If it's not cost-effective it's still very likely to have made a mess of things somehow.)

    287:

    So in a magic-works universe, where the problem of "how do we deal with maintaining a standing army at neolithic tech level" might well have had a different solution, you don't have to make those cultural assumptions. It's a lot more work, and you won't get anything like the Medieval period, but it's not all that difficult.

    Actually, there's a simple solution to defense at a neolithic level: it's called running away. Quite a few societies (including, apparently, most of the "uncontacted" Indians in the Amazon) practice it quite effectively.

    Beside that, I don't think you really meant "neolithic." Medieval?

    You have to remember that this is a world that was at a somewhat higher technical level under the Romans, but the large-scale (read civil engineering) aspects of that disappeared from Western Europe (not the Byzantine Empire, India, or China), and we use post-crash Medieval Europe as our template for most fantasies. If you think about it, this is an extremely bizarre setup, but for reasons probably having to do with the history of the Progress Meme and Romantic reactions to it, this is what has caught on.

    288:

    I am reminded of the Kangaroo, field expedient APCs from useless armored vehicles during the D-Day breakout. The engineering unit that got told to make them on an insane schedule did it

    ;) Should have told them to Ram their schedule... Badoom-tish, thank you, I'll be here all week :)

    Regarding "success or control", this can vary according to whether you're attacking or defending. After the CO 2PARA got killed at Goose Green while leading his nine-phase deliberate attack (yes, really) his German-trained second-in-command took over, and allowed the Company Commanders their lead. Then reinforced success, and won the battle (don't ask what happened to his career afterwards). Auftragstaktik in action. You have to command, you may control, you mustn't over control.

    However, if you're planning a deliberate defence, the doctrine is to control two levels down; it's the need to coordinate so that there aren't any gaps in coverage across the defensive frontage. Very befehlstaktik by its nature.

    In an attempt to combine two off-topics, I should point out that as a young soldier helping on kitchen duties, any remaining illusions about Brussels Sprouts disappeared when I got jiffed to peel enough of them for an eighty-soldier Christmas Dinner. Let's just say that only the first layer in the bucket got little crosses cut into their base...

    ...I will confess that when my beloved pan-fries the sprouts with garlic, pepper, and pancetta, they are actually rather delicious :)

    289:

    Not when you have temples and farms you can't. That's where we get patriarchal forms of social organization from; how do we maintain a standing defensive army at neolithic tech?

    (We get this thing that's totally worse than neolithic peacetime used to be, but better than being conquered (that is, killed or enslaved) would be, and good at perpetuating itself. Even when it's an active detriment to effective economic competition millennia later.)

    If the neolithic problem had a different solution in a magic-works universe, it would totally prevent anything like our Medieval period from existing.

    That's what I was trying to talk about; any decent fantasy author ought to be able to exploit the insane proliferation of possible cultural divergence points to get whatever they like. I think it says sad things about the field that mostly what they like involves murder and knives as central themes.

    290:

    Actually, there are whole forms of agriculture, notably "standardized" as slash-and-burn agriculture especially in the Southeast Asian mountains, that are "designed" to be as difficult for marauding armies to confiscate as possible. One big trick is to use root vegetables instead of grains, and focus on crops that can be stored in the ground, not in a granary. After all, if an army wants to confiscate a field of potatoes, they've got to dig them all out themselves. If it's wheat in a granary, all they have to do is cart it off.

    If you garden this way (and many groups did), you leave your crops and run if a big army shows up. The army probably burns the field down, but when you come back, you dig up yams (or sweet potatoes, or potatoes, or whatever) until the new ones sprout.

    This has played out in some interesting politics, especially in Oceania, where one form of protesting against the chiefs on some islands was "oops, there aren't any more potatoes to keep you fed, so sorry..." As if the chief could (due to taboos) dig in the fields himself to find where the potatoes still were.

    In the bigger picture, there's an interesting complex between growing grain to feed warriors and chiefs, the need to find or impress labor to grow the grain to support these people, and things like fixed temples, granaries, and walls to defend all these structures. But that's not the only way to live.

    There are also corresponding rebellious "barbarian" lifestyles, including slash-and-burn agriculture, horse-based nomadism, and retreating to places like mountains, swamps, and deep forests. There are also intermediates between the two lifestyles, and a lot of interactions.

    Ref: Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed.

    291:

    ;) Should have told them to Ram their schedule... Badoom-tish, thank you, I'll be here all week :)

    The Ram was a pretty decent cruiser tank; I do like the narrative about it as the Canadian committee, presented with an M3 Lee, going "that's not a tank; let's see if we can make it into a tank". (And I've been told the seconded British tank expert came very close to getting the second turret design to be something that could take a 17pdr. Which would have been an interesting point of historical divergence, had they succeeded.)

    The thing about control is you can't generally know what's going on well enough, or in a sufficiently timely fashion, to make good decisions. You could on a small-scale pre-industrial battlefield, usually; that's why the commander wants to be on a hill and to have lots of message riders. It took a long time to get over that particular expectation once the battles got too big (and longer after radios and field telephones started presenting seductive illusions of knowledge). So the battlefield problem significantly becomes "make sure the whole damn army agrees on the objective" and "try to have decisions being made at the first level of sufficient knowledge" which is really damn hard. (nor presently solved, so far as I know.)

    (and why deciding your company commanders had better know what's going on and reinforcing success is a good heuristic. Similarly with making sure there aren't holes in the information flow a couple levels down on defense. You're going to have to guess, but by all means let us guess with minimal opportunities for surprise.)

    Magical applications, well, subtle spells to make sure everybody hears the messengers speaking in an accent they don't like will trouble your opponents. Insert the occasional "flee, the flank has collapsed!" carrier pigeon. There's all sorts of relatively subtle stuff to be done to make the other fellow's army not work so well. Or maybe the wizard can see all of what's going on, and do it in a way that isn't subject to being dis-informed, and send messages to their field commanders directly and securely. This would be why this wizard is conquering their neighbours, if they're the first to figure it out.

    Less palatably for the good guys, the wizard is smart; they're not interested in that Sauron mindless obedience stuff. They've altered all their soldiers to be anxious if they're not doing the best job they can. They've altered all their officers to know what the plan is, even when the plan changes. They're smart enough to prefer eventual victory to avoiding retreat now. Success is rewarded significantly by brain chemistry for all ranks.

    It'd be interesting to see what the good guys would have to come up with to beat that.

    292:
    Or maybe the wizard can see all of what's going on, and do it in a way that isn't subject to being dis-informed, and send messages to their field commanders directly and securely. This would be why this wizard is conquering their neighbours, if they're the first to figure it out.
    Cook up a necromancy that allows necromancers possess any zombies they've raised; there's your battlefield knowledge and your secure communications (and means your C-in-C is also your scouting force; interesting consequences abound).
    293:

    I liked my compulsory milk ... but huge numbers of children didn't & only drank half of it, or wasted it - which was part of the "logic" behind the madwoman's pogrom ...( And .. "Do we really need free milk, still, in 1980, 35 years after the War?" .. note the quotes, please! )
    I don't remember cod-liver oil, but I do remember free orange juice, also v nice.

    294:

    ... AND 277
    Well, wrong.
    But - Charlie does have a point, because, as I hinted earlier, far too many people really haven't a clue how to cook Brassicas properly.
    Done right, they can be & are very testy, done wrong, they can equally, be utterly revolting.
    Currently being eaten from my "plot"
    "Romanesco" calabrese - steamed, then cooked with cream a smidgen of anchovies & cheese + fgbp.
    B sprouts - stir-fried, of course.
    Fresh Turnip - I dug up a humungous one on Sunday, to go in a "navarin" with some pretty sheep.
    "Japanese Spinach" ("Komatasuna") - wilt, then stir with butter + cream + fgbp & whizz to a mush.
    Coming along nicely for later: Permanent green tops (an experiment), Chinese Cabbage, Pak Choi, Chinese "green-in-snow" mustard leaf ( SPICY! )

    So there.

    Someone else was moaning about spuds.
    Again, picking the right variety is important & growing your own.
    Supermarket spuds are usually tasteless & uniform. [ NOTE ]
    I've finished my "Foremost", have almost finished "Epicure" (As the name implies they are very tasty, & make superb parboiled-the-fried crispy semi-roast eating. To follow: "British Queen", then "Sarpo Mira"
    Disadvantages?
    Yes, they can be knobbly, & you may get wormholes - who cares, they are fresh & tasty!

    NOTE] There's been a fuss about supermarkets rejecting perfectly edible, but supposedly mis-shapen veg.
    They should see my carrotts! They look like strange medical experiments.

    295:

    NO
    Brassica fart magic operates - usually when they are not too fresh.
    Like the dreaded "Jerusalem Artichoke" ( Helianthus tuberosus ) there is very little gas, if eaten really fresh. The latter make a really good soup-base, incidentally.

    296:

    YUCK
    You DO REALISE that Copper Sulphate is poisonous to humans - blocks the uptake of oxygen by heamoglobin? (IIRC)
    Fresh peas should be cooked for 3-5 mins maximum.

    297:

    You have to remember that this is a world that was at a somewhat higher technical level under the Romans, but the large-scale (read civil engineering) aspects of that disappeared from Western Europe
    Except that, certainly by 1300 & possibly by 1200, the European Mediaevals' had passed the Romans' technical achievements?

    298:

    One reason why Gen X believe that the UK was using iron to cut the sod since the 7th century would be the 1977 series "Connections" by James Burke, with episode 3 showing a plow with wooden mouldboard but iron "knife" oriented vertically and 6-12 inches in front of the mouldboard to do the actual cutting while the mouldboard did the turning.

    I'm not claiming serious historical accuracy for this, just wanting to mention why many people will believe that the plow was not the main problem.

    299:

    "I liked my compulsory milk ... but huge numbers of children didn't..."

    Warm and yucky and slightly off in summer; plugged with ice in winter. It would have helped if the school had got their heads round the idea of keeping it at a controlled temperature instead of just leaving the crate sitting outside until break. Though I did always drink mine, and also blow bubbles in it with the straw.

    As for copper sulphate... aged about 7 I had some in a chemistry set which stated in its instruction book that none of the chemicals in it were poisonous. Someone else at school also had some in a chemistry set but his instruction book said it was poisonous. So we argued over whether it was or not and eventually settled it by him bringing some in and me drinking a solution of it. It tasted utterly foul and gave me a horrible gutsache, but I managed to avoid both dying and throwing up and we regarded the matter as settled.

    300:

    Yup. Traditional British cooking at its finest… :-/

    Those who long for the "good old days" are wearing rose-tinted blinders.

    301:

    Except that "traditional British cooking" in the revolting form was a 19th C invention.
    Before then our cooking was very good.
    How far back do you want to go for a "tradition"?

    302:

    So the battlefield problem significantly becomes "make sure the whole damn army agrees on the objective" and "try to have decisions being made at the first level of sufficient knowledge" which is really damn hard (nor presently solved, so far as I know).

    It involves lots and lots of training; and hard work at telling people what they're supposed to be doing and why, rather than what they're supposed to be doing and how. This is one of the better links on the subject...

    http://www.arrse.co.uk/wiki/Auftragstaktik

    You work on describing what's happening two levels up, at any given briefing - so that if the whole plan goes south, that people can figure out something supportive to do.

    and why deciding your company commanders had better know what's going on and reinforcing success is a good heuristic

    Good luck with that. On my Company Commanders' course, I was reserve Company Commander in a Battlegroup attack on Imber Village. As we moved in to support the attack, I suddenly spent ten minutes trying to figure out what was happening; it turned out my 2ic had seen an opportunity and taken it. We (or rather the reserve platoon he'd grabbed) had got around the back of the enemy position and so we all cleared through the village in somewhat less time than was expected. I found myself spending a lot of those minutes trying to both catch up with him, and persuade the nice Challenger tanks attached to the Battlegroup to come with me to support him... You try climbing through a window, talking on two different radio nets, and trying to relate garbled radio messages from busy people to a sketch map of a village that is partly rubbled and strung with obstacles.

    Note for all: Tanks don't tend to obey pedestrian crossings, the sensible type makes sure to leave lots of room when you cross in front of them.

    It is possible as a Company Commander to be too far forward, and at risk of being involved in the contact battle, while at the same time being too far back to see what's going on. Unlucky, that's why they pay you more. It's like playing a couple of games of blindfold speed chess, with people above asking what's going on, while you're trying to figure it out while not distracting the people who are actually doing something... all so you can anticipate things and get them the support they need.

    In other words, analysis isn't as effective as intuition, and the problem becomes developing that intuition.

    The whole gig works best if you trust people (as appropriate - you occasionally get a young officer that you watch like a f***ing hawk), let them get on with it, and learn from mistakes in training. It doesn't work so well if you have a "zero defect" mentality, a bad case of over-control, a long-handled screwdriver, and a fear of failure...

    303:

    Re: Female warriors, childbirth stats, etc.

    Does anyone know how common twins and triplets were in the past? Apart from Remus and Romulus (probably mythological), I can't recall any. Consider the increase in multiple births among women waiting to have children in their thirties in North America and Europe (at least). Anyways, in the fantasy realm with/without female warriors, one of the quick fixes to boost a reduced population is to have more than one child at a time. Gender selection can also be skewed/planned around the ovulation cycle. Such power/knowledge would seem typical for a priestess/witch in a medieval fantasy scenario.

    304:

    'in the past'? How far in the past?

    305:

    I don't have the answer, but the more interesting question to me is not when piecemeal technical achievements surpassed the Romans, but when did the social organization and headology of Europe surpass the Classical Age? Probably somewhere between The Sun King's France, Isaac Newton's systematics and Bonaparte's tin cans, but it's probably too complex a question to get a definitive answer.

    306:

    How far back do you want to go for a "tradition"?

    "When I was young" or "what my grandparents told me" seems to be the usually time period :-)

    307:

    At least a few centuries in the past ... After a natural disaster, war, or famine when a large portion of the population dies, keeping accurate birth records is probably not a top priority. But it would be useful to know whether any population groups had an understanding of reproduction beyond the obvious. For example: After a population is decimated, a clan that can repopulate quickly would win the land-grab and/or army-building contest.

    308:

    Does anyone know how common twins and triplets were in the past? Apart from Remus and Romulus (probably mythological), I can't recall any.

    Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, twin children of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. They were adopted by Antony's remarkably tolerant Roman wife Octavia after Cleopatra's suicide. We don't know what happened to Alexander—probably he died early—but Cleopatra Selene subsequently married a North African client king.

    I imagine successful twin births were much less common before the era of modern medicine: there are more likely to be problems with the pregnancy, the birth is more complicated, and they're more likely to be underweight. A lot of mythologies have twins: clearly they were rare enough to be regarded as "special" (though not necessarily in a good way).

    309:

    The natural rate of multiple births is around 1 in 80, 99% of which are twins. Roughly 1/3 of those are identical twins.
    IVF brings that up to around 1 in 30 today.

    Looking at the mortality statistics the profound note is that with modern medicine in the UK twins have roughly 20% and triplets have a 50% infant mortality rate, mostly due to the reduced gestation time - triplets gestate a month less than twins and that's a profound lack of development.

    In history, I'd say the likelihood of triplets surviving to adulthood would be extremely low.

    Twins in history would probably be around 1% of births, compared with 2-3% today. Given a developing world infant mortality rate of around 10%, that makes twins being around 1-3 in 2000 children living to age 5.

    I don't even want to think about birth defects.
    Lets just say that identical twins would be fairly easily the chosen of the gods.

    310:

    No
    Before the end of the late mediaeval period - remember, some parts of social organisation are technology-dependant & Europe had mechanical clocks before 1300 & the Romans never had them. Wind & water-mills were more advanced than anything in classical times + gunpowder & also semi-mass production of firearms, which takes a lot of doing.
    Them regard the late medieval/early renaissance trading entities & banking services - a lot more sophisticated than anything the Romans had (I think)
    Shipbuilding & all the associate trade & social organisations was advanced enough to reach the tip of Africa in 1488 & round & across to "Calicut" in India within 10 years.
    No classical ships or organisations could ever have done that
    [ Possibly excepting Hanno the navigator ]

    311:

    Also called: "Since time immoral"

    312:

    with modern medicine in the UK twins have roughly 20% and triplets have a 50% infant mortality rate

    Fortunately not—the site you cite is very bad about specifying its units (tut, tut, lose a mark), but in fact mortality rates are per 1000 live births, not per 100: see here for England and Wales 2009.

    However, this doesn't change the fact that this would be much higher without modern medicine, mostly because, as you say, multiple births have shorter gestation times on average and are therefore much more likely to have low birth weight and other issues associated with premature birth.

    313:

    < headdesk >

    That makes a lot more sense. The ration is the same but the scale is out.

    Probably makes the 1 in 2000 about right though - populations were much smaller with very little social or geographic movement between populations, so twins would be pretty rare on a local level even if more common over continents.

    314:

    I imagine successful twin births were much less common before the era of modern medicine

    Being utterly oblivious to complications and confounding factors and pretending we can use pure probability, then if 90% of single births are successful, one can expect 81% of twin births and ~73% of triplets to be successful. If only 50% of single births are successful, then you'd expect 25% of twin births and 12.5% of triplets to be so.

    So pure probability hits multiple births much harder. If those percentages should include gestation as well, then the success rate even now is much lower than that posited 90% (a value I chose for convenience). There are certainly cases of twins being seen on the scans, but only one child being there at the end.

    It's relatively recently that triplet births have been relatively routine. I have seen a copy of the Daily Express from 1981 containing a full page article about how a set of triplets all graduated from University1 that summer. That may have been more unusual in that they are women, but even so that's living memory.

    On the subject, there's the ... ahem, interesting ... Vanishing Twin hypothesis (Google search) that left handers are the survivors of identical twins where the other one failed to survive. On the other hand I'm not sure how that's supposed to work with surviving identical twins. Or identical triplets — my only data point is that my ex-wife is left-handed, but I'm not sure of her sisters.

    1 Three different Universities, about as far apart as they could get while not ending up in Scotland. They'd fought to be considered individuals through the school system, but it gets a lot easier if you're not all in the same place.

    315:

    Being utterly oblivious to complications and confounding factors and pretending we can use pure probability is, I suspect, a very bad approximation, for a number of reasons, such as:


    • As previously stated, the average gestation time for multiple pregnancies is shorter than for singletons—according to this site, "On average most single pregnancies last 39 weeks, twin pregnancies 36 weeks, triplets 32 weeks, quadruplets 30 weeks, and quintuplets 29 weeks." That alone must stack the odds: I don't think many 32-week infants would survive without neonatal intensive care.

    • Twins share the same environment. If one twin contracts an infectious disease, it's hard to see the other one avoiding catching it. Similarly, any environmental issues—a bad harvest, a cold winter, an excessively hot summer—will affect both infants.

    So my guess is that infant survival would be more concordant in twins than in non-twin siblings (because of common environmental factors), but would be lower than expected, possibly much lower (because of prematurity).

    I think the Vanishing Twin Hypothesis is a dead duck, but heredity of lefthandedness is not at all well understood (I remember hearing a talk from Chris McManus on the subject, many years ago). The various theories are well reviewed—as far as I can tell; it's not my field—here.

    316:

    a very bad approximation

    Oh yes, definitely, which is why I was hedging so hard. My sisters are (non-identical) twins. My first wife was one of (identical) triplets. None of them reached full term and that alone is as you point out a risk factor. What I was demonstrating was that even if all those were not the case, probability alone would preferentially stop multiples.

    (Though I did ignore that some triplets would end up twins instead.)

    As for the Vanishing Twin hypothesis, yes, I personally find it more bemusing than persuasive.

    317:

    One or two weeks early isn't that bad (twins) since the last month of gestation is mostly increasing weight/mass. Also, I'm assuming that the childbearing would start only once the local food/security situation had stabilized - say, at harvest festival time.

    Overall, I think (but have no data to support) that hyperovulation (releasing more than one egg at a time - having twins) would be a safer strategy than repeated pregnancies for the mothers, children and community overall.

    318:

    You don't even have to talk about prenatal issues. Postpartum issues can be just as bad, if a mother doesn't produce enough milk to feed both infants and there's not a wet nurse available.

    One thing to remember about humans is that we're obligately social in order to complete our life cycle. No woman can care for a child entirely on her own, no matter how good she is. Other people have to supply food, resources, child care, and support. And that's just for a single infant. For multiple infants, the burden is that much greater.

    Now obviously women do have multiple children, but in general, two infants simultaneously is much easier now in the developed world, simply because there's a huge glut of cheap food, halfway reasonable alternatives to breast milk, and huge numbers of people around to provide support even if the family can't. I'm not arguing that this is perfect, but it does vastly increase the odds of multiple children surviving to healthy adulthood.

    319:

    Found some reputable data re: twin incidence ... see map on url below. Article: Twinning across the Developing World (Jeroen Smits , Christiaan Monden)

    Method: 'Data on incidence of twinning was extracted from birth histories of women aged 15–49 interviewed in 150 Demographic and Health Surveys, held between 1987 and 2010 in 75 low and middle income countries. During the interview, information on all live births experienced by the women was recorded, including whether it was a singleton or multiple birth. Information was available for 2.47 million births experienced by 1.38 million women in a period of ten years before the interview. Twinning incidence was measured as the number of twin births per thousand births. Data for China were computed on the basis of published figures from the 1990 census. Both natural and age-standardized twinning rates are presented.'

    http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0025239


    Comment: While reading Frank's book have been wondering what non-environmental survival strategies humans might need to pursue in order that the human race survives.

    320:

    While reading Frank's book have been wondering what non-environmental survival strategies humans might need to pursue in order that the human race survives.

    What's a non-environmental survival strategy?

    Food implies environment. Even growing yeast in vats implies an environment; a very dangerously truncated one, but an environment. Absent food, no survival. So my brain is making that clunk-skip noise trying to understand what you intend.

    321:

    No one has mentioned _The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant_ by Stephen R. Donaldson as an example of ecofantasy.

    Wiki - The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

    to see how everything is tied together with magic and the Land.

    322:

    I'm afraid that always reminds me of the game of Clench Racing. The rules and their connection to Donaldson are explained in Section 2 of Nick Lowe's "The Well-Tempered Plot Device".

    323:

    SFreader

    Go to Google Books and enter the search string "anatoly fomenko history". You will see his first two books listed.

    History Fiction Or Science: Chronology 1

    History Fiction Or Science: Chronology 2

    They are complete and free to read.

    Read the first two books and you will see that he has made his case. The first four books in the series are available from Amazon in paper. Fun books, great resources for Story.

    324:

    'Non-environmental' as in human biology: what we are as opposed to what we interact with or use.

    325:

    Well, my basic answer is that the survival of our species will be a matter of skill and luck. Since I'm a conservative type who likes his comforts, I prefer to minimize the luck part of the equation and go for a drastic overhaul of civilization instead, where we put on our Adult Pants and deal with it. Those who want to cling to civilization as it is are increasing the role of luck in our survival, although I'm quite sure they don't see it that way.

    Incidentally, this is why I wrote the book assuming humans would survive, rather than specifying how it would happen.

    326:

    Read the first two books and you will see that he has made his case.

    WHAT ARE YOU SMOKING?

    Fomenko is totally batshit insane.
    His propositions depend upon well-established Physics being utterly wrong in every single respect.
    I am, of course, referring to standard dating methods, not restricted to various form of radio-decay dating - thermal luminescence results are pretty solid too.
    [ Etc ad nauseam, as "The Eye" would say ... ]

    327:

    'Non-environmental' as in human biology: what we are as opposed to what we interact with or use.

    I would say we are what we interact with or use.

    (Look at the evidence trans fats cause depression by introducing inappropriately non-kinked lipids into people's brains, for example. Or the gut fauna, or generations-long rippling consequences of famine.)

    328:

    Speculative fiction, right? I did look up Fomenko on Wikipedia. His claim about Christianity being a Medieval construct just doesn't work for me - too much hard evidence (e.g., cathedrals) that predate the Medieval period.

    If he means that Christianity was defined or redefined in that period - okay - it's been redefined a few times. But the origin - no. Christians were mentioned by Tacitus sometime around 120 CE.

    329:

    Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker (from which my username is taken (a bit arrogant, I know, but I like the sound of it)) does this. The main magic system is too costly to use in direct combat, but it's possible to reanimate corpses. Their biggest advantage is that they don't have to eat or sleep, and they can repair themselves more quickly than humans can. A major plot point is the struggle for control of the Lifeless armies.

    330:

    SFreader said: Speculative fiction, right?

    Right. Like I said, read the books. He makes his case. The Wiki article is okay to get you started, but does not get past the resistance created by consensus History.

    If you need to read something to get you started, read _A People's History of the United States_ by Howard Zinn. That will get you up to speed on how consensus History is propaganda and lies. I was born in 1956 and have watched consensus History mutate and change. When I was in grade school I would do well in History. I noticed that each year we would get new History books that profoundly twisted what I just learned the year before, building the lie of American Exceptionalism, etc... I kept my mouth shut, learned the new dogma to get those good grades, but I paid attention to what was going on.

    Just recently one of the major publisher issued a History book stating that African Americans were "economic migrates" with no mention of slavery or the hideous death toll among each load of slaves on the slave ships. The lies, twisting, propaganda are ongoing. In just sixty years consensus History is deeply corrupted, yet it is nothing compared to the lies of the past thousand years.

    Read the first book, and you will see.

    BTW, I don't waste my time with nonsense like Mundane SF. It's based on consensus Reality which is also lies and propaganda. Give me fun stuff like this any day:

    - The Electric Universe
    - Growing Earth Theory
    - Fomenko's History Fiction Or Science

    And I have great fun using the concept of the Omphalos hypothesis, where everything may have been created five minutes ago, and there is no way to tell it was not. That is a classic form that lets you get away with anything. Here are example stories:

    - Strata by Terry Pratchett
    - Missile Gap by Charles Stross
    - the Quantum Gravity Universe series by Justina Robson

    And before anyone starts getting crazy about this stuff and having a cow, don't forget the purpose of this thread: to Imagine and have fun with Story.

    Don't let the lies of consensus Reality get in the way of fun Story.

    331:

    BTW, I don't waste my time with nonsense like Mundane SF.

    You know you just stuck your thumb in my eye, right?

    (Hint: I've written four novels that play by the Mundane SF rule set, and I've done so for good reasons.)

    332:

    Interesting. I knew twin rates are higher amongst people of west african or northern european descent, but hadn't seen good figures for the developing world. There is also a genetic trend of fraternal twins having a higher chance of twins down the maternal line, and older mothers have a higher rate, presumably using up their eggs before menopause.

    One huge problem we have is you really need to only look at data prior to around WW2, because after that nutrition and medical care exploded, meaning far more babies in general survived to 5yrs.
    Also there has been a lot of adulteration of the food supply with various growth hormones this last century, especially in cheaper meats.

    Remember though, while twins are generally two to three weeks early, triplets are at least six weeks early, which is a hell of a development shortfall. It's really no wonder they aren't common in history prior to 1700.

    333:

    Yeah, because The Martian was a terrible bit of propaganda and no bearing in reality. And a lousy story.

    I'm finding myself agreeing with Greg on this one.

    334:

    Well, to someone who thinks all of reality is propaganda, it might well be.

    335:

    Even earlier than that actually. Pliny "junior" wote to Trajan, approx 112 CE, asking for guidance on this new sect ....

    336:

    OK
    "Consensus history"
    But there are also testable FACTS, such as a revealed by using the previously-mentione laws of Physics, such as dating methods & other physical evidence ... even in Britain, we have a building like
    A site I know well, as the Dengie is a strange place.
    ( But it does have good pubs )

    Fomenko, of course, if you look at the summaries is following a n other propaganda-agenda, that of the "Fourth Rome" as seen in the classic Stalin-era film by Eisenstain, on Ivan the Terrible, of which the last part was never made, as the parallels between Ivan & Joe were getting a little close ....
    I wonder if that nice Mr Putin reads his stuff?

    337:

    History is fuzzy, but it's not infinitely malleable. Quantum mechanics does not generally mean your socks don't really exist, just that their position and velocity can be hard to pinpoint with complete precision at any particular time.

    If you find contradictory bits of evidence at to the location of Louis XIV on September 23, 1654, it does not mean the Louvre was actually constructed by the Ile de France Chamber of Commerce in 1873.

    338:

    Even that's not true: the position and velocity of your socks can be pinpointed pretty much as accurately as you can measure them, which gets into a fractal problem on the thread level, but whichever. Quantum reality kicks in when you try to model how the motes of dust fall off socks due to electrostatic forces.

    In any case, calling history a consensus fabrication is sort of sophomore level trolling: it's facile, cute, inaccurate, causes trouble, and misses the point. Yes, people routinely disagree about what happened, especially when there are no obvious metrics or memorialized events (like a battle or vote) that make relative positions clear.

    That's a function of the limitations of human perceptions and memory, not a quantum function. All uncertainty isn't quantum, and as Greg points out, there are a whole host of other objective measures that can tell us what happened when.

    To spoil the dorm-room mysticism, the guru dudes who talk about reality being an illusion are trying to tell their chelas that our brains are processing data to make sense of it before it gets to our consciousness. That doesn't mean that objective reality doesn't exist, but it does mean that you cannot perceive an unfiltered version of it. On the flip side, your brain has learned over the years to make a model that lets you live, so until there are data to the contrary, you have to assume that the model in your head is a good enough representation of objective reality and go with it, which is what most humans do.

    339:

    Re: 'Just recently one of the major publisher issued a History book stating that African Americans were "economic migrates" with no mention of slavery or the hideous death toll among each load of slaves on the slave ships.'

    I've read how US textbooks are selected (Texas school boards) and how the fundies have been insisting on getting dinosaurs and Jesus on the same page (historically.) Suggest you discuss this with your elected school board members. On a positive note: since about 2011 fewer school districts feel obligated to buy/use whatever Texas decides on.

    http://www.nea.org/home/39060.htm

    You might also try non-US sources (UK, Canada, Australia, NZ) for an overview of American history. Yes, there will be some bias, but the overall story will probably be closer to what actually happened.

    340:

    Are you sure that applies in all contexts, for instance, when your socks are nominally located in the Laundry?

    Not sure if all of your comment is directly addressing mine because if it is, I think you are missing the jokes.

    If you were just continuing the conversation with allynh, then carry on.

    341:

    It's always amazed me that American publishers 'need' to be able to sell to the entire country to be profitable, while Canadian publishers manage to produce books for much smaller markets and still make a profit.

    Something doesn't add up. Especially as profits from textbooks have traditionally propped up Canadian literature (which means textbooks are more profitable than most books).

    342:

    Greed & stupidity don't usually "add up".
    Doesn't stop people from doing it, though ....

    343:

    Slightly late to the party, but Sheri Tepper has an image of an environmental-apocalypse end-world which might be relevant. "Beauty" is probably the canonic one, but the same scenario crops up in a lot of her other books.

    Being Tepper there's an awful lot of misandry about it, but that's as much about writing style as anything.

    344:

    Possilbe magic system with application to alternate historyfollows:

    Doing the samethings over and over (with slight variation) creates a little god. continuingthe same thing makes it stronger, as do explicit sacrifex in time (a ritual) or actual stuff. it usually takes a few centuries though till any new god can make themself noticable in the world.
    So a bunch of wolfes howling at the moon perform a ritual and create a little god. A hed of mammoths where most animals choose to visit the same place to die performs a sacrifice. A horde of neanderthals who send the their young men into the same cave for a rite of passing perform a ritual, etc. The god is as local as the ritual/sacrifees that made it.
    Some beeings can communicate with the little local god and get useful things like a weather foreast, or they solciit its support for the deceased members of the group in the afterlife.

    Every major change in societal makeup changes the rituals, weakens the gods (and thus those who are most directly connected with them). Occasionaly the gods use their (limited) power and knowledge to help their group fight back. Maybe a herde of wooly mammoths is curiosly good at dodging traps. Maybe a small tribe manages a surprisingly efficient garden.

    Anyway, history happens, a tad slower and different, but ultimately the plow is more powerful than the gods etc.
    One guy, lets call him Zoroaster, figures out how the system works and makes up one god, figuring that if many people dispersed pray the same way etc, this god will become more powerful than Athena and the other patron gods of the city states.
    A while later, the scholars amonga bunch of levantine slaves in meopotamia take this one step further and make up a backstroy, to see if they claim their monotheistic god has existed for a while he wil be as powerful as an actual old god.
    etc.

    345:

    That idea worked for Neil Gaiman in his _American Gods_. I see no reason to let the concept go to waste. Well done.

    346:

    The misandry in Tepper makes it impossible for me to read her, I'm afraid.

    347:

    Susan, speaking as an ex-identical-twin (30 weeks) there are much bigger problems with twinning than that, particularly cases where identical twins share a placenta. The thing is, this means that before birth they share a blood supply, but *not* a pumping system: so if one twin should die in the womb, it will continue to receive blood but not pump it back out. It will exsanguinate its sibling, turning into a horrific blood bag while the sibling turns into a withered bloodless corpse.

    Biology can outdo horror novels any day.

    (My brother died a few minutes after birth. I'm *ever* so glad he waited until he was born to do that.)

    348:

    Small Gods by Terry Pratchett also explores this thing in (IIRC) more detail than American Gods does. One of the major characters is the Great God Om, who is trapped in the body of a tortoise because too many people believe in His Church rather than in Him.

    349:

    Having just read the first 75% of _The March North_ (fabulous: Graydon, if you want some typospotting I have found a few), what it reminds me most of is Glen Cook's Black Company novels. James Nicoll also made this comparison, but for different reasons: he thought it was similar because of the gritty "not ignoring the aftermath" stuff. I think it's similar because of almost everything else: the writing style, ultra-spare and eschewing pronouns almost completely; the extensive use of nicknames (quite probably for the same reason); the deep, deep history in which all you've had for longer than even immortals can remember has been the same sort of horrible things happening over and over again... I almost expected One-Eye to pop up in the middle of the plot, and I'm not entirely sure that Halt isn't the Lady of the first few Company books grown old and even cannier. Except that as Charlie notes she's actually something much, much worse...

    (All the differences I can think of are in _The March North_'s favour, many of which you noted: the plotting is comprehensible and doesn't sprawl without limit until you forget half of it; the Independents don't act like cackling lunatics like Goblin and One-Eye did, and nobody would put up with it if they did, powerful sorcerers or no; the Standard is a wonderful invention and clearly explains just how the Line has stood, when the reason the Black Company hasn't long since been shattered and forgotten by its millennial travails and repeated near-extermination, loss of all records, etc is never adequately explained... plus, artillery! Magical artillery is just plain nifty terrifying.)

    350:

    Typeaux identities are always welcome!

    (append "ish" to my name at gmail.com and it ought to work.)

    Halt certainly isn't the Lady as a venerable terror, but I'm glad the impression is there. (And I would never dare try to write One-Eye; Cook is a remarkable stylist and I haven't got his particular ear for dialog.)

    The first book I wrote, the goal was to start off like a generic fantasy and slowly have it get stranger and stranger, because if it started off as strange as it ended up that would never work. Various persons kindly informed me that it had got stranger, that part worked.

    In a lot of ways I'm now trying to do that with a series; maybe that will work!

    The artillery in The March North are prototypes; subsequent versions will hopefully continue nifty.

    (Much of Commonweal #4 is about the person who gets sent off to document red shot production after they have to give up studying magic because their brain got lit on fire.)

    351:

    Tyop report coming up.

    In _A Succession of Bad Days_ it becomes clear that Halt is... really quite different from the Lady, yes. But in _The March North_ this is less clear: I can imagine the Lady terrifying a [censored for obvious reasons] in just the same way. :)

    It's definitely getting much stranger! Although, good grief, Blossom already gave the world something about as powerful as middling-big nukes in _The March North_!

    352:

    Tyop report coming up.

    Thank you!

    And yay! getting stranger.

    The March North really is meant to be the easy on-ramp to a bunch of stories about militant egalitarians who aren't setting out to conquer hell (where they happen to live) because conquest is antithetical to the ideals of peace.

    And then I ran into "what does a consciously rationalist sex-positive atheist egalitarian culture use for swears?" and the narrator turned out to be a bit odder than I had expected. And then Halt wandered in out of the dark, looking quite pleased with themselves. So I do wonder if I've got to a good place between "strange enough" and "too strange", but it looks like I've managed so far.

    The Experimental Battery isn't going to lead to bigger bangs, as such; it's going to lead to having to figure out how to apply lessons learned and getting the kit into series production, that is, can people who aren't Blossom make this? reliably? at all? at reasonable expense?

    (And only about 40 TJ; fairly teeny as nukes go. Also fairly teeny as traditional wizard-war energy releases go in the setting, there's a reason for the outbreaks of geological discontinuity. But compact and sudden and surprising.)

    353:

    Small note since ruining host posts is kinda a sin I'm culpable of.

    Smart OP, much love.

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