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Too Many Thoughts About Genre

In one of my previous guest stints on Charlie's blog, I wrote a post about low thrillers and high thrillers. If you don't want to click through and read the whole thing, here's the Twitter version: high thrillers deal with seats of power and show the inner workings of government agencies/other powerful organizations as they deal with large scale dangers like coups d'etat or bio-terrorism, while low thrillers deal with ordinary citizens facing smaller threats, like professional criminals or a serial killer.

Those distinctions were at the front of my mind when I sat down to write One Man: a City of Fallen Gods Novel. I wanted to try an experiment, to create a fantasy that felt huge, but had very small stakes. No Dark Lord. No invading demon army. No impending magical cataclysm.

I wanted to write a story about a nine-year-old girl who gets kidnapped by gangsters because of something stupid her mother did, and about her neighbor--a man bearing many old scars, not all of them visible--who tries to rescue her. That was it. The stakes are one life, an orphaned little girl in a city full of them. A girl with only one person left in the world who cares what happens to her. But, with magic. A fantasy version of a low thriller.

My agent was (understandably) a little leery about this. Fantasy readers like big stakes, she said. It's part of the appeal of the genre. And, since I take her advice seriously, I promised that the book would have big consequences: murders, gang wars, noble families scheming against each other, the whole bit. The stakes for our protagonists might be small, but the repercussions of his actions would not.

Now, I know some people reading this are thinking Low fantasy. He's talking about low fantasy right now. To me, low fantasy, which has a long history within the genre, has much more in common with a crime thriller than what I'm calling a low thriller. Low fantasy almost always has criminals as protagonists--thieves, assassins or drug dealers--and they're often proactive heroes instead of the usual reactive ones. Also, the stakes usually escalate by the midpoint or sooner, but never mind that. To me, they're closely related sub-genres, but they have distinctive tones.

The other little experiment I wanted to try was to take out the travelogue aspects of the genre. Except for a handful of flashback scenes, the action of the novel takes place within the confines of a single city, called Koh Salash. There are no mountains to cross, no "exotic" foreign cities, no mysterious forests filled with even more mysterious pseudo-allies. Instead, I took everything I thought would be cool in a fantasy novel and either crammed it into one place or turned it into enigmatic rumors of magic and danger in far-off places.

So, bourgeois vampire hobbit? There's a scene with one of those. Terrible weapons of inhuman craftsmanship? Throw a couple of those into the mix. Dead gods? Have the characters walk on their bones. Sleeping giants whose flesh, when cut and eaten, granted incredible healing powers? Let's make those central to the larger plot.

But the force that drives the story forward is just one damaged guy trying to save an orphaned little girl, and while the whole kingdom/world/universe is not at stake, he is desperate to succeed nonetheless.

Here's a description of the book, taken from the back cover:

---

One Cursed City. Two Dead Gods. Ten Thousand Murderers and Thieves. One Orphaned Girl.

As a child, Kyrioc was groomed to be the head of one of the most powerful noble families in Koh-Salash, a city built inside the skeletons of two murdered gods. Kyrioc himself dreamed of becoming head of the High Watch, the highest political position in the land.

Those dreams have turned to dust.

Presumed dead after a disastrous overseas quest, Kyrioc now lives in a downcity slum under a false name, hiding behind the bars of a pawnshop window. Riliska, a nine-year-old pickpocket who sells stolen trinkets to his shop, is the closest thing he has to a friend.

When a criminal gang kills Riliska's mother and kidnaps the little girl, Kyrioc goes hunting for her.

He doesn't care about the forbidden magic the gangs are fighting over--the severed ear of a glitterkind, a creature whose flesh contains astonishing healing powers. He doesn't care about the bloody, escalating gang violence. He doesn't care about the schemes of power-hungry nobles.

In a raging city on the verge of civil war, Kyrioc only wants to save his friend. He will risk anything for her, even awakening the powers that murdered the gods so long ago.

"One Man is a superbly realised story set in a rich and fascinating world. The horror grips, the fantasy delights and the characters remain vivid and real to the end." -- Justina Robson

---

Was this little experiment a good idea? Readers will have to be the judge of that, and early reviews have been kind. All I know is, if you'd asked me last year what book I was most proud of, I would have said Circle of Enemies, the last of the Twenty Palaces books that Del Rey released. Now I would point to One Man.

You can read sample chapters from the usual ebook vendors or on my website.

I hope you like the book, and if you do, I hope you tell your friends. Thanks for reading

534 Comments

1:

I pricked up my ears when you started, but was a little put off when you said "murders, gang wars, noble families scheming against each other, the whole bit". Basically, I find the OTT nature of FAR too much modern fiction a turn-off - including detective novels, which have largely degenerated into soft sadism and bloodthirstyness. I shall probably buy it, anyway, but please accept that as reader feedback.

However, I am very much not yer everage bookworm, and your agent may very well be right.

2:

Well, I prefer low fantasy to high fantasy; for example Asprin & Abbey's "sanctuary" series, the Rat Queens graphic novels; so this has made a strong start.

3:

Elderly Cynic, I know a lot of people with no interest in reading my darker, more violent works. To be honest, if I soft-pedaled the tone in a marketing pitch, I'd be tricking people into reading a book that would put them off. You'd spend money on something you wouldn't enjoy, and I'd get a two-star review out of it. Nobody wants either of those things.

In fact, I routinely tell people not to buy my books if they don't like to read violence. Better for everyone that way.

4:

Rat Queens is brilliant. But yeah, there's low fantasy out there, but it can be a chore to find it.

5:

Reading it right now. Looks like the wheels are about to come off in the flashback to Kyrionik's first labor

6:

I bought and enjoyed it. Thanks for writing it.

7:

I bought it last November when it came out and read it with a lot of enjoyment. My only minor niggle (and I feel this about a lot of books so it may just be a quirk of mine) is that the ending seems a bit rushed. I'm also supporting your Patreon for more Twenty Palaces novels and look forward to reading them.

8:

I liked it. (Caveat: we've got a somewhat social relationship, and I do hope to meet him in person some time :).)

You clearly grasped something I wish more people did: sometimes, I want a story with lots of smiting, but where the stakes aren't the world. I compared the book to the US tv series Person of Interest -- Our Hero is trying to save one life.

I'll also point out that A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark, there no smiting, and the stakes still aren't the world -- but it's a compelling tale nonetheless.

As for this book: it's big, and ambitious. The implied setting (the world, that is to say) seems huge, and not in any way ours. There is a bunch of history that is only hinted at, and a bunch of world beyond the city that is barely hinted at. It makes for a confusing read sometimes, but... as I said, compelling.

My biggest problem is that I'm not good at visualizations, so I have a hard time understanding what the dead gods, and the city built upon them, look like.

9:

Oops - Kickstarter not Patreon.

10:

I liked _One Man_ too.

Yes, it's pretty violent. At one point... (indirect spoilers in rot13): V ernpurq gung bar cbvag va gur fgbel, fgbccrq ernqvat, naq fnvq "Vs gur yvggyr tvey qvrf, V'z guebjvat guvf obbx npebff gur ebbz." (Juvpu jbhyq unir orra rkcrafvir tvira gur pbfg bs n arj vCnq.) Gura V syvccrq gb gur ynfg puncgre gb purpx. Gura V pbagvahrq ernqvat, ernffherq nyorvg fyvtugyl fcbvyrq.

I almost never do this. If you want a mark of how wrapped up in the book I was, now you have one.

I missed the Twenty Palaces kickstarter but I look forward to the books.

11:

I just read 'The Thief' by Megan Whalen Turner and, um,... it's an interesting case for this particular genre breakdown.

12:

I really enjoyed it; I wanted to keep reading, more than for most books. A possibly awful analogy (from my perspective, and I hope not to cause any offence) is "Gerald Seymour writes thrillers like you write fantasy"; flawed characters seeking redemption in a cruel world.

13:

So, Fritz Leiber/Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and perhaps Jack Vance/Dying Earth. High or Low?

14:

reading the post got me to buy it right now.

15:

Thank you all for the kind words.

Allen Thomson, I haven't read the Dying Earth books (I've heard they're great, but at my age I don't think I'm going to look back so far) but I would classify Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as low fantasy. Mostly.

But genres are different things, depending on where you stand. For a bookshop clerk, genre is the place you put a book so it'll sell. For a reader, genre is a nested set of promises about what will be inside the covers: setting, plot beats, and especially emotional response. For critics or publishers or cover artists, I'm sure it has some other meaning.

For writers, genre is a box of toys. So when I talk about low thriller and low fantasy, I'm thinking in terms of character beats, painful reveals, story constraints, and how the reader is going to feel when the story's over.

So, is F&tGM low fantasy? They're in a lot of different stories, and I've only read a fraction. But where would they be put in a bookstore? What does the reader expect from them? What toys is Leiber playing with in any particular story?

It might change from one story to the next. Or not. Depending on who's asking and who's answering.

16:

Reading it now, almost done, and loving every minute of it!

17:

The Dying Earth is a short and nearly perfect book that is probably the best example of the science fantasy genre. Some might argue it is surpassed by The Book of the New Sun but I feel that work is overly literary and intellectual to represent the core of the genre. The Dying Earth certainly belongs on the list of 100 important books one should read in the genres of fantasy and sf imho.

18:

Thank you. Like Sean Eric Fagan, I liked "A Key, ...", not least because it was an unusual take on such things.

19:

Lois McMaster Bujold has defined a genre as "a body of works in close conversation (or heated argumentation) with one another". I think that's the best definition I've heard; it captures the way in which books in a genre will build off each other, such as the vast number of Tolkein lookalikes published during the 70s, but at the same time it also captures the way that in which a writer might react *against* the conventions of a genre, such as the way "The Forever War" was a reaction against "Starship Troopers".


20:

What about books that start Low and then shift High? I'm thinking of some of Robert Heinlein's works here, including "Citizen of the Galaxy" and "Glory Road".

CotG starts with a slave boy bought by a beggar scratching for a living in a big city, so very Low. But half way through the boy turns out to be the heir to a megacorp (i.e. a prince) and the rest of the book is High as he fights to reclaim his inheritance and then stop the slave trade at the galactic level through the corporation.

GR starts with an ex-soldier recruited into a fantasy quest (cue travelogue). Only the McGuffin at the end of the quest turns out to be the key to the galactic government.

Do these fit into this categorisation? I've always felt a bit unsatisfied at the Deus Ex Machina in the middle of these stories.

21:

It's very common for Fantasy to start low and shift to high - for example, a simple bourgeois Hobbit ending up interceding between kingdoms.

22:

Well, for me "genre" in this case tells me which books are about "high king living as a cowherder" (or whatever) and which are about "common thief who never becomes anything more...", and exactly where they're most likely to be in $shop.

23:

Having read the teaser, for me, it has the feel of other fantasy works, but seen through a different mind, for me, not a bad thing at all.

24:

See also farmboy growing up on aunt and uncle's farm on a backward planet called Tatooine turns out to be the son of the Evil Galactic Emperor's chief general, overthrows empire ...

25:

Or the (nowadays) overworked "true heir to the throne" trope.

26:

"The Dying Earth certainly belongs on the list of 100 important books one should read in the genres of fantasy and sf imho."

...as an example of how not to do it?

A series of pointless, brief, bald, ugly, boringly and badly written nastinesses, like a trail of turds left by a protagonist inappropriately tagged "the Clever", a thick, selfish boor who blunders about the place shitting on everyone, fucking everything up, being a complete wanker the whole time and basically needing a bloody good punch in the face. No thanks.

27:

Or perhaps a God-Emperor declares death to the sons of his slaves. The mother of one boy puts him in a basket in the river, which is found by the Emperor’s daughter and raised as a royal, he learns his true identity through supernatural means, starts a rebellion, eventually leading his people on some sort of exodus...

28:

It all comes down to engagement by the reader - if the writer can get the reader to commit to the characters and their desires, then that engagement will carry everything forward, no matter the genre (or sub-genre). For most people, I'd wager that the level of outcome (high stakes/low stakes) isn't a major factor in the ability to engage, although prior history may be a significant modifier. If a reader has had lots of positive reinforcement by being successfully engaged by high stakes dramas previously, then they're going to be pre-disposed to engagement in a similar setup subsequently. Similarly, some readers are going to be naturally inclined toward one level or another - immediate, readily-relatable local events compared to 'high-adventure' world-spanning sturm und drang. Both factors are just modifiers of the basic engagement equation.

As an aside, I'm in the middle of 'One Man' and enjoying it (with the caveat that I've read most of Harry's prior works and supported his Kickstarters).

29:

Here's a possible example of Low Fantasy, courtesy of James Nicoll's blog: The Dubious Hills, by Pamela Dean.

Purely local problem faced and solved by locals who aren't descended from anybody who expects to wield supreme power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at them.

30:

The Dying Earth is it's own kind of novel, one that inspired a lot of things, including a lot of dead magic users in early versions of Dungeons and Dragons. It's the adventures of an idiot rogue, which is one of those more obscure traditions in literature that goes back centuries.

Admittedly, I like the other Dying Earth stories a lot better, but I keep the anthology around. The homage to Vance's Dying Earth that came out some years ago is generally better as well. So is the RPG, although I haven't played it just read it. It's designed for *play*, rather than dice and table mechanics.

I should point out, incidentally, that Vance's central conceit, that the Sun will eventually dwindle and die, turns out to be entirely wrong. For the next billion years or so, the sun will continue to get hotter, not cooler, until the oceans evaporate away and only the bacteria in the rocks are left. In other words, there's quite a lot of room for a new Dying Earth scenario, if you're willing posit that humans survive the next billion years, which I think is not impossible. I'd also point out that my Hot Earth Dreams could actually help you write in such a world. A knowledge of C4 plants and an evolutionary imagination would really help you in this regard. For this scenario to work, C4 plants would have to take over the world. Think Hopi corn, African sorghum, and Amazonian manioc as crops, not wheat or rice.

I also suspect that Charlie has some thoughts on this genre based around Ghost Engines, although I might be wrong.

31:

Cugel doesn't appear in The Dying Earth but in the second book The Eyes of the Overworld. The self-styled Cugel The Clever exemplifies Dunning–Kruger and amusingly repeatedly fails to learn from his failures. The Dying Earth is a fix-up of six stories featuring different characters in each story and was voted number 16 of 33 "All Time Best Fantasy Novels" in a 1987 Locus poll.

32:

I hate to say it, but esp. your description, and the blurb, sound like urban fantasy, albeit set in a fantasy world, rather than one that resembles a modern city.

Not sure if I want to read it - I did read whatsername's Guardian story with an Aztec deity, but I'm really not into gore.

I could also note that Conan starts as low fantasy.

33:

It's not the theme that's the problem - that would be fine if it was well handled. It's about half-and-half between complete failure at DavidK44's point about engagement - if you hate the main character any book's pretty much a lost cause - and plain bad writing that has a strong smell of a child in the early stages of figuring out experimentally how you put a book together. It put me off reading anything else by Jack Vance for years, and when I finally did read a couple of his other stories I was greatly surprised to find how very much better written they were.

"if you're willing posit that humans survive the next billion years, which I think is not impossible."

"...just very, very improbable" :) Looking at the turnover of species on very much shorter timescales, even without mass extinction events, I expect there to be next to nothing familiar still around. After all, there have only even been multicellular species for about half that...

34:

Stapledon: 1, Vance: 0.

35:

I think "engagement" is more important than "stakes" as it affects what, subjectively, the stakes actually are. The Lord of the Rings is supposed to be a defining example of high stakes - a quest to save the world - but I find that, apart from in one or two specific places, that is pretty unimportant and it's the personal outcomes for Frodo and the other characters in their own branches of the tale that I'm caring about. Even at the climactic point when Frodo arrives at the Crack of Doom, his own personal struggle at that point is at least as important to me as the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

I've read books where my own definition of which side is the good guys and which the bad guys is completely opposite to the author's, but I've still enjoyed them through being involved with the characters' personal journeys even while the story's overall direction is going the wrong way. It doesn't always happen like this, but it can do if the characters are engaging enough and enough of the story focuses on the low-level events.

36:

So where does "ordinary citizens" facing threats from the "seats of power" fit into this scheme of things?

37:

Your idea of who the bad guys are are different than the author's reminds me of a series my late wife was reading, and by I think the third book she gave up, telling me the "good" guys were killing people, setting fires to barns (as a distraction), etc, etc.

38:

"...just very, very improbable" :) Looking at the turnover of species on very much shorter timescales, even without mass extinction events, I expect there to be next to nothing familiar still around. After all, there have only even been multicellular species for about half that...

Aw come on. If cyanobacteria can mess up the atmosphere and be around for billions of years, so can humans. It's not like cyanobacteria are tougher than humans. Well, actually they are, but..

Anyway, the high weirdness for future evolution is that humans require fire. If we're around, then the world's organisms and ecosystems are going to spend a billion years coevolving with human fire, as well as our desire to tinker, garden, domesticate, and generally be a nuisance. Think of garden pests after millions of years of dealing with gardeners, and you'll see what I'm getting at. On the other hand, leaf-cutter ants have done their "agriculture" for pushing 60 million years now, so it is possible.

Going forward, I'd suggest a gradual accumulation of species that depend on culture, fire, and eusociality in animals, and C4 and CAM photosynthesis and salt tolerance in plants. I'd also suggest that, as continental crusts get thicker and plate tectonics continues to slow down, there will be more cool volcanoes like Ol Doinyo Lengai, fewer bigger earthquakes, and possibly even taller mountains, as a thicker crust and slower-moving plates support giant hot spot volcanoes and really messy, slow, continent-continent collisions like what produced the Himalayas. Although continental plates may just crash together and stall, rather than sliding under each other as they do now.

Anyway, if a billion years is too long, you could set a story in Pangaea Ultima, Amasia, or Novopangaea, however the continents come together. That will only be in 50,000,000-200,000,000 years. Far more likely for human survival, and less crazy biology.

39:

Charlie @ 24 & others
Sir Percival / Parsifal in Morte d'Arthur/Wagner, then.
The simpleton who saves the world ...

40:

Yebbut. As you know, essentially all homeothermic vertebrate species have evolved into another (similar) species over a period of a few million years. Indeed, is there any homeothermic vertebrate GENUS that has lasted even 50 million years?

We may have descendents then, but they will not be humans.

41:

First thing I want to say is that I'm pleased to see so many low fantasy recommendations coming up. Anyone who wants to add more titles, please do.

As for engagement, the issue is more complex than it seems at first. Almost every successful high stakes story will feature personal dangers alongside world-beating stakes. LoTR makes us ask whether Frodo will save the world and also will Frodo be personally destroyed by his quest to save the world. Having read more than one book/watched more than one movie/seen more than one tv show, I felt pretty sure he would succeed. On that level, it's a question of *how* the story will play out. But with the personal stakes, the story could go either way. Frodo might be able to happily reintegrate to his community or he might not.

In a different story, the personal question might relate to a romantic lead. Or maybe a question of how many named characters will be killed before the kaiju is sent packing.

Which means that the small stakes are engaging on the level of "Will this plot end happily?" Gigantic stakes give a certain expansive feel to the narrative but engage on the level of "How will this end happily?" They're complementary responses embedded within a narrative and they delight people when they're done well.

And obviously, I'm generalizing here. There's no need to point out that some books with big stakes have the protagonists fail. I've written them, and I have the two-star reviews that show it. My point is that, outside of certain pulp serial fiction, gigantic stakes are optional but the personal ones are mostly not.

Another issue with engagement is that genre tropes either build it up or wear it down, depending on the reader. You can introduce me (speaking personally here) to a character with a great hook in any story but if it's hard SF or romance, story elements that readers expect will try my patience and wear down my interest. This is true even in genres that I typically like. I'm reading a psychological thriller/procedural at the moment, and I'm entirely over the psychological part. I'm really wishing this book was 80 pages shorter.

Plus, low stakes limit what you can have your protagonists do before you turn them into villains, as mentioned above. Aragorn might convince the soldiers of Gondor and Rohan to march on the Black Gate to help Frodo destroy the ring, and that's very much in keeping with his role as a romantic hero. In contrast, the goal of preventing a minor land-holding hobbit from turning into a terrible person is worth the sacrifice of zero armies.

This is too long. Sorry. But as I said above: all these questions are a box of toys, and the task of telling a story relies on understanding how they interact.

42:

With humans, we have two modes of evolution: genes and culture. I'd suggest in turn that our culture evolves exceedingly rapidly for any vertebrate, which is how we got civilized and took over the world as a single genetic species. While I think our genetic makeup will change, I'm willing to hazard a guess that our continual and rapid cultural evolution will blunt genetic changes, such that humans will be around as a genetic species into the indefinite future, so long as we don't go extinct.

Future humans will almost certainly having increasingly little in common with present humans in terms of things like culture, language, race, or ethnicity, and possibly not foods either. Those are things that change with varying, but quite rapid, rates (rapid compared with evolutionary time).

43:

So where does "ordinary citizens" facing threats from the "seats of power" fit into this scheme of things?

That depends on the answers to a lot of additional questions, I think. How much of the story is focused on the powerful? How ordinary are the citizens really? Is a peak inside the halls of power part of the appeal?

What effect does the writer hope to achieve?

Without knowing more, the story might be high or low, or it might straddle the genres. Or it might be something else. My approach to genre is less about classification and more about analyzing the tropes.

44:

Harry,

Btw, thanks - I just took your idea, a guy saving someone else because, no high muck-a-mucks involved, and I'm writing one of my own.

Not that it's like yours - no nasty violence, and no magic, and it's set about 35 or so years from now in Baltimore (the real one), oh, and computers, networking, ransomware and floods....

45:

Excellent.

When your book is published, drop me a note reminding me of this conversation, and I'll help spread the word on social media.

46:

So.. just finished it. Uhm. Gosh, are god skeletons made of lead? Because that is really taking "hive of scum and villainy to the next level.

47:

There is one combination that boils my blood, people traveling to other planets in space ships and then someone pulls out a wand and casts a magic spell. Don't know what franken-genre that falls under, but space ships and magic spells don't belong in the same book.
Novels are entertainment for me, i don't spend any time analyzing it for some deeper meaning the author might be intending. I like fantasy & science fiction, my suspension of disbelief is usually maintained as long as certain devices don't pop up where they don't belong.

48:

Harry Connolly @ 43:

"So where does "ordinary citizens" facing threats from the "seats of power" fit into this scheme of things?"

That depends on the answers to a lot of additional questions, I think. How much of the story is focused on the powerful? How ordinary are the citizens really? Is a peak inside the halls of power part of the appeal?

What effect does the writer hope to achieve?

Without knowing more, the story might be high or low, or it might straddle the genres. Or it might be something else. My approach to genre is less about classification and more about analyzing the tropes.

I don't know. I'm the reader, not the writer. It just occurred to me that "ordinary citizens facing threats from those in power" is what our real world is like today, so there ought to be something in the genre that reflects that.

49:

It depends on whether the ordinary citizens are immediately crushed. If not, it escalates into a high thriller.

50:

EC @ 40
Last & First Men

Tohron @ 49
Set in Hong Kong right now, do you mean?

51:

Don't know what franken-genre that falls under, but space ships and magic spells don't belong in the same book.

How do you view Five-Twelfths of Heaven by Melissa Scott?

52:

people traveling to other planets in space ships and then someone pulls out a wand and casts a magic spell.
I'm going to guess you've never read any Anne McCaffrey?

53:

Yes, I know this is heresy ....

I have read a couple, and she's on my "ugh" list, as is anyone following her. Lots of authors try to mix magic and super-technology, but even the best very rarely manage to get them to merge successfully. As an example, the Liaden books would be FAR better if the two aspects had been separated - where they meet, the combination grates.

54:

This is a digression, so this will be my last.

You are assuming that human genetic change will slow to a rate unprecedented in homeothermic vertebrate evolution, and a factor of over ten slower than for any known species. What's more, our ecological niche is changing, whether we like it or not, so we won't be able to do what crocodilians did. That strikes me as implausible, whether our genetic changes are natural or self-imposed.

Social sexual selection is a force for change as effective as simple survival, and we have that at least as strongly as most such species. Plus, if the world's ecologies change as much as we expect, there will be strong survival pressure.

If we learn enough about our genome to start doing more than trivial tweaks, so that we could in theory stabilise it, I do not believe that Stabilisers will be in continual power over Improvers over that timescale.

To Greg Tingey: Stapledon wrote FICTION.

55:

paws4thot @ 52:

"people traveling to other planets in space ships and then someone pulls out a wand and casts a magic spell."
I'm going to guess you've never read any Anne McCaffrey?

... or Modesitt's Recluce novels

56:

or Modesitt's Recluce novels

Indeed not.

57:

How do you view Five-Twelfths of Heaven by Melissa Scott?

I rate it as wildly imaginative (especially for the time it was written -- late 1980s, IIRC), and also picked a uniquely different strain of magic to play with: but kind of lost the literary magic in the third book. I suspect she wrote her way into a dead-end (it happens to most of us if we push a series too far). She's still writing, incidentally, and has quite a rep as one of the touchstones of LGBT representation in SF.

58:

WRT “You got your Magic in my SF!”, see also Hurley’s Bel Dame books. Loved the first one, it’s brutal (which seems to be her thing). I really need to finish reading them.

59:

How do people feel about "Clarke's Third Law" magic, where there is some unknown technology underpinning the magical effects, but people don't understand it on that level, only the more direct cause and effect? I've read a few enjoyable works that employ that.

60:

Also, IMO, any sci-fi work with psionics is already treading on the edge of fantasy. I personally don't mind mixing them, so long as the rules are consistent.

61:

You're missing the 900 kg elephant in the room: 50 years from now, genegeineering will be normal. Things they start with - metabolism, hair loss, etc, will be the bare edge. Muscles, resistance to a *lot* more, including heart disease, tooth decay, etc. Oh, hell, I'll bet we don't even have the gene for wisdom teeth any more, before the 2080s.

62:


Not a book, just a short story I've just started yesterday.

A book is a Big Deal, and a lot of time, as you know. I've got one in DAW's slushpile, and after I write this next novella, I'll be able to tie the three novellas, one novelette and three? four? short stories into the book they need to be... and I'm astounded that I'm over 80k words from scratch since Aug of '18 (not counting all the rest of the writing I've been doing, including my just-published short novelette....)

63:

What, no Witches of Karres, by Schmitz? You're no fun!

64:

How do people feel about "Clarke's Third Law" magic, where there is some unknown technology underpinning the magical effects, but people don't understand it on that level

Ah, you mean Microsoft Windows, right?

(Seriously, "it's magic" is how most people relate to software and computer technology. Even those of us who know better. I'm not sure any one person can understand a modern PC comprehensively at all levels of its hardware architecture, including firmware (hint: think about the Intel Management Engine, which is basically a complete MINIX micro-kernel OS -- we're talking a Posix-compatible UNIX clone), never mind adding a modern general purpose operating system on top.)

65:

Psionics was a crappy attempt to retrofit a veneer of scientific plausibility on religious trappings like an immaterial soul via mind/body dualism. It was a busted flush by the late 80s/early 90s; ironically the Koestler endowment (a chair in paranormal stuff at a respectable university) seems to have been instrumental in finally demolishing its plausibility.

66:

Heh. I was *just* on a panel about that at Windycon. IMO, it depends on how psi is handled - to me, there's a difference between handwavium mechanism for, say, telepathy, and *poof*, I've teleported you here.

67:

Thanks Harry Connolly for the heads up about One Man. I've bought it, and I'm damned glad you've published a new one.

Thanks too for sparking another round in the recurring and always fun magic vs. science genre/worldbuilding discussion.

I've often found it good for stirring up the indignant material reductionists -- folks who, with just a little careful handling, can often be provoked into going on record stating that, for example, quantum optics FULLY EXPLAINS Van Gogh's Starry Night Over the Rhône or Hasui Kawase's Snow at Kamibashi Bridge, Nikko YOU ANTI-SCIENCE IMBECILE. Which is good fun.

It also tends to bring out the people who like to argue various formalisms of science vs. magic. Which is a heavy load of rivet-counting and rule-enumeration, not to mention logical contortion, not to mention impromptu feats of schema-smithying. Again, fun to watch... At its best, it's as innocently exhilarating as eating psilocybin before the year's biggest fireworks display. Although it may leave you feeling comparably weary afterwards.

Yes, "Let's all go be wrong on the internet for a while together" can be awfully satisfying.

[Note: I'm not accusing anybody here of picking pointless fights or being foully in the wrong. My experience with the above modes of entertainment has occurred in other venues.]

But, because the post's title specifically references genre, I can suggest a more pertinent way to think about these things.

We are talking about Storytelling here. Any worldbuilding we want to do, with its constraints of plausibility and consistency (and I count myself among those who favor strictness), is still in service to Story.

SF and Fantasy have as primary -- or at very least secondary -- purpose to provide something of immersive wonder. Define "wonder" as you wish. If you must. It's easier to just say "I know it when I read it" and carry on.

If you are writing SF, you have some constraints on the technologies that underpin wonder, but mostly it's about how the wonder is presented to the reader.

If you are writing Fantasy, you have some constraints on your use of magic in the world of which you write. But again, it's how you infuse wonder via the magic.

The trick is: magic, and tweaked science, and invented technologies, are all handwavium.

Really, you only need to tell the story. Whatever handwavium you use -- science, cosmology, magic, psionics, technology, etc -- you need only care if it supports, ornaments, enriches, drives that story.

Make the various handwavia work for you, and not against you, and you can mix them all you like and rest content.

It's not like they are something real, like a metaphor.

68:

Yup. It looks like the current incumbent is asking "so... what makes people believe that they've encountered the paranormal?", with the implicit assumption being that it's not a thing...

https://koestlerunit.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/becoming-edinburghs-second-koestler-chair-of-parapsychology/

69:

You're joking, right?

Fifty years is two human generations, and less than one lifetime. You're assuming that people will dive right in to wholesale rewriting of their genomes without knowing the consequences of those actions throughout the course of their lives.

You're also confusing development and genetics. We have trouble with wisdom teeth because we ate baby food as babies. That inhibited the full development of our jaws, hence there's inadequate space for the last-developing pair of molars. If, as in most cultures, babies at some version of adult food, there would be no problem with wisdom teeth. Ditto shoes deformations of feet. We're not on our way to losing our little toes genetically, we're warping childrens' feet through putting them in shoes, then mistaking culture for biology.

We actually do that a lot, mistaking biology for culture. A number of the health problems associated with being black in the US have precisely nothing to do with skin color genes, and quite a lot with how black people are treated in the US on average. If you're not careful and believe in psionics, you'd argue, for instance, that the US is breeding black people for unluckiness genes, when the rather stronger problem is screwed-up politics.

Getting back to the original topic, I suspect what will happen is what we're already seeing: rogue geneticists will perform human embryo alterations, responsible researchers will scream bloody murder, the resulting children will be extensively studied, ones with serious health problems will be highlighted, and the whole technology will get a bad reputation for 10 or 20 years. This already happened with gene therapy in the US after one death. We've just seen the first use of CRISPR in humans in China, with the attendant outcry. If the children turn out to have problems, that will inhibit therapies going forward for another 10-20 years.

Given our probable timeline for climate change, I don't think we're going to have enough decades for the treatment to become a norm before we've got rather bigger issues to deal with.

Heck, I'm not sure we have enough time left to breed/engineer properly heat resistant crops, and we're much further along in that regard than we are with making human genies.

70:

Martin
That is, of course, the correct route to take.
"You are making a claim, let's see the evidence"
Which, also applies to the biggest lying paranormal scam of all ... religion.
The usual response is to ask us, the PROUDLY indignant material reductionists, in which I volunteer to be included ... to prove a negative.
"You can't show that OUR $Special_Version of $BigSkyFairy doesn't exist, therefore it does!"
Contrary to all the rules for evidence & proof.
Why are these arseholes allowed ot get away with it?

In the "Koestler" case it's: "OK you have a supposed example of paranormal activity, right, not a problem ... SHOW, PLEASE?"

71:

Yeah. And I have seen evidence produced, where the PROUDLY indignant material reductionists produced an 'explanation' that was pretty obvious physiological or psychological hooey (*). When asked to provide any evidence for their claim (such as actual numbers), they responded "We don't need to - it's up to YOU to show our 'explanation' is impossible."

(*) E.g. someone hearing speech at below thermal noise level.

The other totally way that they create totally bogus 'disproofs' is to find some charlatans who are claiming something completely ridiculous, and show that they fail. Even if the objectives were not straw men, showing that SOME people fail does not prove that EVERYONE must fail. I have known people use that argument to prove that nobody can do non-trivial 5-digit mental arithmetic!

Note that several of the 'disproved' abilities have now been found to be abilities and properties that it was assumed humans didn't have, such as psychosomatic disease and (sometimes) cure, acupuncture, and pheromonic communication (of emotions and hormonal state). Most are rare and poorly understood, but are NOW being studied.

Yes, there was plenty of what OGH described in #65, but that was ALSO used by the self-proclaimed sceptics to discourage investigation into plausible effects with no known cause.

72:

Re: genetic engineering arriving very soon: That sounds pessimistically slow, actually.
I fully expect the first round of genetic engineering to happen in my lifetime. I also expect that round to be basically "The genepool needs some bleach" - that is, the wholesale elimination of known-bad genetic markers, and for more speculative uses to take quite a lot longer to arrive

73:

Heteromeles may not have been entirely clear, but I side with him. Yes, you are right that SOME limited tweaking will arrive soon, but that isn't what was being discussed. There are at least the following issues:

The general point is that genes rarely have a single effect, their expression depends on largely unknown factors, the 'junk DNA' also gets involved, and so does development and environment (from uterine to adulthood).

Only a relatively few diseases etc. are known to be caused by a single defective gene and, even for those, it's fairly common for the gene to be not wholly disadvantageous. Sickle cell anaemia is the classic, but it is believed that effect accounts for the frequency of many of the recessive and sex-linked ones. There is a risk with fixing even those.

The causes of many more is a poorly-understood combination of the first-mentioned issues and often lifestyle ones. Both type I and type II diabetes fall into that class, as does autism and more. Fiddling with the genes involved in any of those is asking for trouble.

And when it comes to substantive changes, or fiddling with things like the immune system, we simply don't know where to start, and there are very good reasons to believe that we still won't in 2200.

74:

It was a busted flush by the late 80s/early 90s

Which meant that Julian May's Pliocene-Milieu series was the last big hurrah for psi powers.

I reread the series a couple of years ago. The Suck Fairy had got to it in a couple of places, but on the whole it held up relatively well. Especially once you realized that it was a reworking of Paradise Lost.

75:

Tohron @ 59: How do people feel about "Clarke's Third Law" magic, where there is some unknown technology underpinning the magical effects, but people don't understand it on that level, only the more direct cause and effect? I've read a few enjoyable works that employ that.

Is that the one that says "Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology"?

76:

"Psionics was a crappy attempt to retrofit a veneer of scientific plausibility on religious trappings like an immaterial soul via mind/body dualism."

I'm having difficulty relating that to the fictional context that Tohron is talking about. Psi in SF seems to me to be a very direct representation of pre-school-age wish fulfilment fantasies, both in what it does and in how well thought out it is - the latter being much of the reason why it so often really sucks. Doc Smith's Lensmen get away with it, but little else does.

Similarly I don't think failure to establish it as a discipline has a lot to do with its popularity in fiction. I reckon most readers simply took it as a fictional concept just like the FTL travel or the bug-eyed monsters, and serious enthusiasm for making it a really real thing was always the province of a handful of nuts (even if some of them were in the CIA).

I think its fictional popularity was down to things like the evolutionary heritage of SF including the late Victorian popularity of ghosts and spirits and shit, and the way the idea goes along so well with chemical brain hacking. I think its popularity waned partly because so many authors were so bad at it, and partly because it became respectable to write and read about actual magic with wizards and stuff instead.

77:

J Reynolds
Actually, realising, about 2/3rds of the way through, that actually, YES it was fucking christian salvation bollocks was what killed it.
I no longer have the books

78:

Fortunately or unfortunately, you're wrong. We've seen the first tweaking. How soon do you think it will be done again? For that matter, how soon do you think there will be the black market tweakers, as in Gibson's Neuromancer?

Come on, people from the US go to the islands, or other countries, to have surgeries, etc, that are not approved by the FDA, etc... even when some of them are pasture pastries of treatments.

The bigger picture is how fast we're moving. Let me remind you that the Human Genome Project *ended* what, a dozen years ->early

Or have you not seen the genetic test kit in your local pharmacy?

I'd be surprised if it was the 2040's before the Olympic committee was looking for genengineered competitors.

79:

Another note on psi: yes, I am sure there is such a thing. No, it is *not* a replacement for magic - that's completely different, and fictional[1]

Why, yes, I have twice in my life had incidents that had no other explanation, and I really am critical about this kind of thing.[2]

1. As opposed to magick, which I, like Isaac Bonewitz, define as "a series of psychological techniques used to control psi power".

2. Feel free to ask me for magical, Pagan, and newage jokes. Note that, in the early nineties on alt.pagan, we decided "new age" was one word, and rhymed with "sewage".

80:

This was the same logic that built psionics back in the 1950s. There were parapsychology experiments back in the 1950s that seemed to give good results, suggesting that the supernatural was amenable to systematic experimentation, rational exploitation, and being made into a technology: psionics. From these early speculations, the concept entered science fiction (thanks to Campbell, I think) entered magical theory thanks to things like SF and Bonewits, and is still kicking around, despite the science behind the technology being cast into disrepute.

Obviously genetics is a far better science than parapsychology, but you're using it rhetorically with the same rigor that Campbell used psionics to craft Golden Age SF with.

The meadow muffin you're crafting here is a problematic mix of somatic therapies, which are being tried in reputable clinics and hocked in bullshit clinics (I'll get back to this), and germ line alterations, which is what that researcher did in China that got him in so much trouble.

Germ line treatments are likely to not happen before climate change bites down, because ethical researchers will want to monitor the resulting infants until adulthood to find out what actually happened. EC's absolutely right on this: genes are the ultimate in spaghetti programming, and when combined with epigenetic signals, it's a horribly complicated mess to sort through. And only germ line alterations matter for genetic evolution, because somatic changes don't get passed to offspring.

Even somatic treatments, like using a highly modified HIV virus to carry a functioning gene into the bone marrow of someone suffering from sickle cell, is experimental right now. One reason is that early somatic gene therapies resulted in an unpredicted patient death, which chilled the research in humans until researchers had better control. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, think of it this way: most somatic treatments are trying to inject a functional copy of a single gene into the body DNA (not gonads) of a patient who has no functional copies. The problems include trying to get the DNA to the right cells, trying to get enough of the right cells to take the DNA to make a difference, getting the DNA into the cells, getting the DNA into the chromosomes in a way that doesn't damage other genes, and so on. This is much harder than trying to get beneficial computer viruses to infect specific home computers so that they work better.

Now yes, you can get black market stem cell injections in Tijuana right now. They've caused a fair amount of damage, including (and I'm probably not remembering this right) a case of cancer when putative stem cells, injected to cure back pain, proliferated in unintended ways.

Anyway, that's the reality of your meadow muffin. Which part of it influences future evolution?

Almost nothing. The only part that might conceivably impact future human evolution are those three poor kids in China who were born with a modified enzyme that some idiot researcher thought would make it less likely for them to contract HIV from their parents. They might conceivably pass that gene kludge on, although with three kids out of seven billion, it is highly unlikely for that variant to take over, even without climate change poised to winnow populations down by 90 percent over the next 40 years or so.

Me going to a black market Tijuana stem cell injector to get my bad attitude cured probably will land me in a world of hurt (with something labeled "stem cells" proliferating through my brain in an uncontrolled way), but it's not going to end up with me fathering a kid with golden eyes and psychokinesis, because stem cells injected inside my cranium won't end up in my gonads, and they weren't engineered in any case.

Now, if you wanted to talk about rapid genetic change in humanity, there is a very simple way to do it: a really nasty pandemic that spares people with a really rare variant gene of whatever cellular receptor system the virus attacks. The people who survived the pandemic would have a much higher proportion of the survivor genotype than did the population that was initially infected with the pandemic virus. That's far more likely than anything we can engineer into a germ line at this point.

And I should point out that genetic immunity from a disease seldom has any effect on things like intelligence, personality, race, ethnicity, or gender identity. It's just that you've got a weird receptor on some cells in your body that, completely by accident, saved your life. That's the course of future human evolution for you.

81:

I enjoy reading things like Triumph of the Moon which is a history of paganism, but rather more a history of western magic for the last few centuries. People have been trying to come up with unified theories for making weird stuff happen dependably for a very long time, and numerous systems have come and gone. Psi is a fairly recent one.

A lot of this gets mixed in with more religious questions of "what am I and what's the purpose of life," which is where the fun starts.

For example, classical Roman and early Christian thought saw the non-physical, mental life (the images inside your head) as spiritual, the part of a human that was closest to the Divine. Therefore, the old techniques for remembering, like the memory palaces, were also divine, and so the characters in stories you used to remember things were also divine (gods, daimones, demons, etc.). In the later Middle Ages, using the same system, bestiaries were produced to give students all sorts of memorable monsters on which to hang things they needed to remember (the "memory peg" method). Books were rare, so it was more important to remember what you read than to have your own copy. The Bestiaries went out of vogue with the adoption of the printing press, when you could have your own copy, and memory work became less important. However, the demons and crazy monsters from teh bestiaries got pulled into ritual magic(k), and ended up in Dungeons and Dragons, as well as modern fantasy. That's why I say that real magic is built around memory techniques, because it's historically true.

Similarly, magic may be an elaborate form of prayer, a precise recreation of a pattern that you were told required some supernatural to fulfill their end of the bargain, which leads to the idea of spells having to be performed perfectly, but belief being irrelevant. Or it could be that your state of grace relative to God was what God used to decide whether to do what you asked, so belief is paramount, but methods are largely irrelevant. Both of these ideas are hundreds to thousands of years old and have appeared independently in multiple cultures.

And then you get into the fun, weird stuff with Buddhist and Taoist spirituality and magic. Neither system believes in the existence of a unitary soul (The "I" looking out your eyes). Both believe that "you" are an aggregation of stuff, said aggregation changing over time as old members change and leave and new members come on board.

This is one reason the old Taoists worked very hard for physical immortality. They believed "you" fell apart at death, with some bits decaying, some bits reincarnating, some bits going to hell, some to heaven, etc. Better to keep it all together. When swallowing vast quantities of Mercury turned out to be a bad idea, they started looking at uniting your spirit, then adopting Buddhist ideas with enlightenment seen as the equivalent of immortality through merging with the Tao. That's one modern school of belief.

The Taoist take on "god" gets weird too, because apparently they think that gods are energies, but that personifying them and working with them as personalities in ritual ways through "religion" is a good way to shape the energies for the betterment of the world. Similarly, a parent, when dead, can be reshaped into a beneficial "ancestor energy" of the family if it is worshiped properly. Someone who dies without offspring becomes (in some bits at least) a wandering ghost or demon that can be quite willful and destructive. However, through Taoist ritual, the beneficial bits of the demon are encouraged and the bad discouraged through worship and exorcism, so that the demon (originally one or some of the souls of someone who died without offspring, like, oh, a Taoist hermit) eventually becomes a beneficial and powerful god. Unfortunately, it's all temporary, and without regular ritual and worship, the gods all go away and become other things or energies.

And that doesn't even get into the wonderful forest that is the diversity of Hindu religious thought. Even reading Wikipedia about Shaivism gets pretty complex, but every "-(the)ism" you can think of (and probably some you can't) is practiced somewhere in India, apparently, often in the worship of the same deity (especially Shiva).

The only reason to bring this up is that it's still fashionable in fantasy to roll your own magic system and theology. A lot of it is old Christianity and western spiritualist belief, remixed multiple times, often by people without much sophistication or originality. The good news is that such knowledge isn't limited to fantasy writers. The better news is that enough of this is available, either online or in books, that you can borrow someone else's unique ideas, adapt them, and save yourself a lot of work in crafting a distinctive spiritual/magical system, if that's what you're game for.

82:

Y'know, there's a *lot* to be said for the traditional email and usenet replies, where you intercollate what you're talking about with what you're responding to....

1. My take on why pretty much all religions are so against people doing things they consider "magic" is because they're "unlicensed magic users", and if anything they do works, it could *really* upset the apple cart... esp. in a time of "Chosen By God (tm) To Be King/Emperor/Whatever.

2. I'm not talking about some of the research, a bit of which used ver flawed test designs. I'm talking about things that were up close and personal to *me*, and *I*, given the situation, could see no other rational explanation.

3. If/when we actually find ways to detect psi, it's going to require some, ahhh, interesting detectors, not just guessing cards (and I don't remember if their test designs included "don't try to prevent the guesser from reading your mind"... which, of course, is also like telling someone to not think of a blue rhinoceros).

Now, on to genengineering.

What's going to happen, I think, is that it will become fairly common within 40 years. And consider: once those genes have been edited, do you think they *won't* carry over? Within a couple hundred ears, barring utter catastrophe, it *will* be happening.

83:

I'm going to ignore the genetic engineering part of the conversation until you can properly distinguish between somatic and germ line modifications. Seriously.

As for psi, I and a lot of people I've talked with have had weird stuff happen to them at some point. Making it repeatable and tractable has generally proved impossible. I'm skeptical, not about weird stuff happening, but that they're objectively real phenomena and not an epi-phenomena of normal processes, or merely subjectively real.

84:

Well, I'm reading "A succession of Bad Days" right now & that has improbable amounts of psi in it.
I also find suspension of disbleief is necessary for "The shape of the peacxe" ... since a cabal could take it over, I would have thought ... & turn it into a truly terrible instrument of repression.
OTOH, I saw a phrase in it that rang a bell: "Praise then, Darkness, & cretion unbfinshed"
U K l Guin, of course - "Left Hand of Darkness" Um.

Yes, wierd stuff happens.
But "paranormal" - really, truly really?
Not swallowing it without some really solid evidence ... for two reasosn.
One: Discussed here, before ... people pick up signals & notice things without realising & then "bingo!" - it only "seems" paranormal
Two: At least 3000 years of bullshit religious manipulation & professional con-men gulling the narks means that nay really genuine event has a mountain to climb in terms of proof AND - of course, the extremel strong likelihood of it being another scam or case of self-delusion.
And if yo want evidence of mass self-delusion, look no futher than the Cretinists, or for that matter, the brexiteers.

85:

As for psi, I and a lot of people I've talked with have had weird stuff happen to them at some point. Making it repeatable and tractable has generally proved impossible.

Yes to both of those.

When I went off to college I promptly fell in with some eccentric people, as one is supposed to, and got my nose rubbed in the observation that something weird is going on. Terry Pratchett used the analogy of baby turtles discovering water by falling into the ocean. But even then I was well read enough to know that people had been making up stories about this stuff for thousands of years.

My conclusion was that we're asking the wrong questions.

Notice that I'm not offering any answers; so far nobody is even able to clearly articulate the scope of the questions. Humans have been messing with this for as long as we've recognizably been human; we've discovered many interesting hacks for our internal wetware but that's not the same thing though confusion is common. Whatever is going on is either hard to reach, inherently impractical, or both since it's not a routine part of life (see xkcd). Which isn't to say it could never be - evolution didn't offer us much in the way of gears or wheels - but if we ever do figure out what we've been glimpsing for so long it's unlikely to be anything like what we imagined.

86:

1-3. Yes, it's a form of tribalism. It's amusing, in a cynical way, to compare the behaviour of most scientific establishments with religious ones; from a neutral perspective, it's hard to tell the difference. I have given specific examples in other threads.

In this context, one doesn't NEED to contradict known science - there is absolutely no reason to regard GR+QM as the Ultimate Truth and extra theories to be Anathema. Penrose became a fruitcake, but he is correct that there is enough slack in that area to allow quite a lot of what has been called ESP (including intelligence). But, if there IS anything there, it's sure to be subtle - most of the crap claimed by the charlatans is obviously bogus.

Re genetic engineering: see #73. That's not just a layman's opinion, incidentally, but is shared by experts in the fields. Some fiddling, yes; wholesale rewriting, no, let alone creation from scratch.

87:

EC
Your analogy falls down I'm afraid, since we know that: "GR+QM" do not match up & there's this slight problem.
If you'd said that between say 1950 & 1980 it would have been accepted - & wrong - but people are actively investigating the somewhat intractible problem

88:

This is why I like the term "extrasensory perception" rather than psi.

You can look like you have paranormal abilities simply by paying more attention to your feelings (e.g. sensory input from your body) than other people do. It's literally not that you have senses that they do not, it's that you're processing your sense perceptions better. A lot of chi phenomena seem to be more about improving the subtle internal and external senses of your body, and these are felt as "energy." Aura perception works similarly, in part off of feeling subtle temperature differences, in part off feeling the boundary layer of still air around someone's body.

The kicker is that the simplest way to cultivate ESP is old-fashioned qigong. The theory may be questionable, but the effects seem to be fairly real.

Another tool I use is to talk about objective and subjective reality. Objective reality is what we try to perceive through science. It's the stuff that's real that people tend to perceive the same way. The trouble is we live in subjective reality. Humans pre-process so much of the information we perceive before it gets to the level of consciousness that we need systems like the sciences to get a better handle on objective reality.

As far as I'm concerned, the divine is subjectively real. I've had my spiritual encounters, and I can probably train someone else to have similar experiences. What I have no evidence for is what I experienced was objectively real, even though some of those experiences were life changing.

Does this matter? Well, yes and no. If a book says the divine is unreal and my experience tells me otherwise, do I trust the book or my experience. As a scientist, I'd trust my experience above what someone else tells me is true, but my experience may not be shareable with anyone else. My solution to the conundrum is to make it clear that there are subjective and objective realities. All sorts of things may be subjectively real but objectively unreal and therefore difficult to impossible to share with others. So far as I know, supernatural and paranormal things are all subjectively but not objectively real.

Of course, this belief means I'm neither a theist nor an atheist, because both ideas are based on the belief that there is only one reality that all people experience. I regard that belief to be a dangerous oversimplification.

I will also say that I don't discount subjective reality. After all, that's what I live with, like it or not. I just accept that the objective reality we share apparently is different than what each of us perceive.

89:

"Clarke's Third Law"

There was supposed to be some unknown science at work around Iain M Banks culture universe concept of subliming. Some countdown device even appeared over the capital of the civilization about to sublime, I didn't ask any questions and just accepted all that as having an ersatz scientific veneer. The implementation was the thing that was a bridge too far and triggered my "magic in science" detector. To ascend to that higher plane just say the incantation ~"i sublime, i sublime, i sublime", might as well be "Abracadabra"

Clark's law does nothing for me.

90:

To ascend to that higher plane just say the incantation...

In that case I'd view it not as a magical incantation but a verbal trigger for complicated machinery.

I possess a mysterious ebon slab, created in distant lands and by what sorcery I know not, which houses an inhuman daemon that I may call forth and command to serve me as an oracle. The incantation begins, "Okay, Google..."

91:

The discrepancy between QR and GM was being taught to undergraduates by the 1960s, and I believe was known by the 1940s. The mindsets have not changed significantly, except that the handwavium used to cover up the discrepancy has changed.

What I am pointing out is that there is plenty of scope in the undetermined area for mechanisms that would make at least telepathy, clairvoyance and some other such things possible. No, that's NOT evidence that they exist, but it IS evidence that the 'rationalists' who claim that they are incompatible with known physics are talking bullshit.

92:

EC
I fundamentally disagree - simply because my interpretation of the same available evidence is dofferent.
As a rationalist ( I hope) I'm saying that is certainly seems to be incompatible with what we presently know - otheriws known as .... let's see some actual evidence

93:

What we're missing is good evidence that there are phenomena that could be called telepathy, clairvoyance, and so forth, that the evidence is sufficiently common that these phenomena can be studied, and that explanations involving more mundane explanations have been ruled out.

Here are some examples:
--When an idea is "in the air" in a scientific field (as when my PhD thesis research accidentally pre-empted some work that another group was doing), it's less likely to be the collective unconscious, and rather more likely to be a group of people with similar mind-frames, who have read the same papers, come up with the similar ideas for doing similar experiments at the same time. I didn't know this, and I independently came up with a faster (but probably not better) way of testing something that others were working on. We were all upset when we found out that I'd unintentionally scooped a group that I looked up to.
--Lots of people learn how to do psychic "cold reads" intuitively. They get classed as psychics. Skeptics can fairly easily train themselves to appear psychic in this way too. It's mostly based on empathy and confirmation bias.
--Astrology is based on confirmation bias too. Use the position of the planets as a frame to put out a bunch of general statements, generally in an unordered fashion, and the human talent for making patterns out of noise will kick in, making people emphasize the things they think apply to them and ignore the ones that don't. You can give a lot of good advice that way. One cure for this is to have people read each other's horoscopes. They'll often find that someone else's horoscope much better fit their lives than their own does.

Now I'm a bit of a fan of divination methods. It's not that I think they work as claimed, it's that they reveal unconscious issues and biases really nicely. If you're not good at picking up unconscious cues, that's actually pretty handy. Some of the older systems (like the I Ching) are also mnemonic devices, although so far I haven't done much with them that way.

94:

That is correct, but (a) absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and (b) demanding that phenomena appear to order is grossly unscientific, and there are a LOT of phenomena that were denied on that basis but which are now known to exist.

Note that I am NOT claiming that any of those exist, and I would personally bet against them, but the people who claim that they can't exist are being every bit as unscientific as those that claim they do (based on current evidence).

95:

EC
BUT
Your point (a) is the one always used by religious fuckwits/liars/blakcmailers/bullies to promote theor particular version of BigSkyFairy & its programme of coercion & blackmail. NOT BUYING IT
Your point (b) is now a known problem - it wasn't acknowledged as such, before - e.g. "Ball Lightning" as a classic example. Transient phenomena are difficult.

96:

Regarding genre:

I'll believe that fantasy & science fiction have clear boundaries when someone gives me a set of rules that definitively classifies Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light as one or the other.

97:

It's Science Fantasy a genre which deliberately mixes elements of both fantasy and science fiction. It's like saying "I'll believe detective fiction and science fiction have clear boundaries when someone gives me a set of rules that definitively classifies Asimov's The Caves of Steel as one or the other."

98:

And if you classify Lord of Light, where do Star Trek, Star Wars, and Babylon 5 fall?

Also, what to do about the whole Niven et al Dream Park series fall, if you insist on classifying stories on a one-dimensional spectrum?

99:

Well, the original elevator pitch for Star Trek (The Original Series, but The Next Generation is equally accurate here) is "Wagon Train to the stars".

You could use "Gunsmoke in the stars" of DS9 and/or Babylon 5.

Star Wars (episodes 4 to 6 certainly) are fantasies...

100:

There are precious few TV shows or films that cleave hard to the genre definition of "science fiction" as most readers would define it (even with the loosest of definitions). Almost all will sacrifice the science, internal consistency and continuity, or both if they think it provides a canvas and story that will appeal to a wider audience; that is, the creators will ignore the more critical SF fans to please a bigger slice of the less bothered viewership.

101:

I'm not arguing otherwise; the ST:TOS elevator pitch originated when Gene Roddenbury was pitching the original show at Paramount.

102:

I find it easier to believe in God than precognition (I fully agree with Heteromeles' comments above regarding subjective reality). I teach my students that science can't prove anything--that isn't what it is designed to do. I use the example of a chair or table in the middle of the room, and defy the class to prove it's there. I do whatever they ask: I kick it, I describe it to someone else, I sit on it. But I always come up with some possible alternative explanation: maybe we are all suffering from a mass hallucination, etc. No amount of theory applied to evidence can eliminate all possible alternative explanations to the apparent presence of a chair, and the same is true of psychic phenomena (and other things). What science and observation can do is influence the probability that something is true. The idea that information has arrived from the future, or that someone could directly alter the odds of an event, or that force could be applied at a distance without traversing the intervening space may not be demonstrably impossible, but because I have not myself experienced any of these things I find them to be extremely improbable (because they do not integrate well with my prior beliefs regarding how material phenomena occur). Anyone who believes that they have experienced one of these phenomena will naturally feel that they have a reason to believe in them, but no one else does.

As for genre, they are branding techniques, not a comprehensive categorization device. There is no reason to expect a high degree of consistency from them.

103:

I will admit, I've come up with a few real-world, objective gods, although they need to be understood more than worshiped:

--The Biosphere. We're dead without it. Actually, the Old Testament style idea of "follow the rules of the Biosphere or die horribly" is a fairly accurate statement of where we are now, which may be why so many Christians inaccurately regard environmentalism as a religion.

--Liquid water. Fundamental for life as we know it. Actually, the Old Testament style idea of "follow the rules of water or die horribly" is a fairly accurate statement of where we are right now. Odd that people who follow divine teachings that were largely rooted in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula have so much trouble with making sure the springs flow, the rivers are clean, and so forth, but that's what we get for a few thousand years of not disciplining careless believers. Or something.

--Entropy. Fundamental for life as we know it. Actually, I'd say modern civilization is as close to an entropy maximization system as anything on this planet has invented or evolved, so this is really The One True God of Civilization who we glorify with our actions. Except that most of the time, we're fighting entropy, even though these efforts generate even more entropy than not fighting it would. We're weird about our gods. Anyway, light a candle to Entropy whenever you need a simple dissipative system to inspire your planning.

--Bonus for the absent creator: Sagittarius A*. Don't bother worshiping it, just stay reasonably far away. But not too far. Odd how, without a star-devouring quasi-eternal monster nearby in galactic terms, we wouldn't even exist.

104:

"Clarke's third law does nothing for you"?

Really, I say, as we walk towards a door, and I wave my arm in front of me, and it opens, a yard or two away?

105:

Genre is just a starting point for book selection. I mostly read SF&F, murder mysteries, historical fiction and every once in a while 'literature*'. Genre sets the tone. After that, it's character and plot. 'Character' could mean development (maturation) or exposition (the onion/exposé usually with some sort of twist at the end).

To me, 'plot' is mostly a path that provides a combination of situations that affect the character(s) therefore will effect the next stage of the plot.

Another aspect of 'tone' ... When I'm looking for a new author, I'll pick 'humor' over 'serious'. That's how I found Charlie's Laundry-verse: I was browsing at the book store, opened up his Atrocity Archives and within a couple of pages I was laughing out loud.

Believability --- I really don't care/mind whether the world-building premise is fantasy or science as long as it's internally consistent. (And ideally at some point the author explains why something not present in my human universe is so/exists in that world - although this is not a 'must have').

I'm most interested in the consequences of existing in that world. Sorta think of this as the SF/F variation of Newton's Third Law: to every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So if a universe has FTL, gotten rid of all diseases, increased life span to 300 years or developed ESP, then I want to know what this is likely to mean to that world at the planet, countries/societies, socioeconomic, family/kin groups, and individual levels.

* Ahem ... 'classical literature' also comes in these 'genres' or flavors, so basically my reading is a mix of old and new versions of time-tested genres.

And I also happen to read non-fiction: science ('popularized', i.e., for the layperson/non-scientist level), biz/econ, history, etc.

Like many folk posting here, I'm also a pterry fan: his Discworld series (and spin-offs) hit it on the nail.

106:

I really don't care/mind whether the world-building premise is fantasy or science as long as it's internally consistent.

I am biting my tongue to avoid a practiced rant about a certain fantasy book whose plot went off the rails in chapter two. It's fine to have an imagined world where, as in ours, fortune telling is trickery and informed guessing; if you establish in chapter one that wizards can do actual prophecy, that makes for a different world.

107:

Yes. Very much so. The thing that usually irritates me is when either SF or fantasy is based on a 'technology', but uses it only in artificially restricted ways to make the plot 'work', whereas anyone with a functioning brain could use it to cut through the whole mess. That applies as much when it is the evil supremo who has it as when it is the heroes.

108:

paws4thot @ 99: Well, the original elevator pitch for Star Trek (The Original Series, but The Next Generation is equally accurate here) is "Wagon Train to the stars".

You could use "Gunsmoke in the stars" of DS9 and/or Babylon 5.

Star Wars (episodes 4 to 6 certainly) are fantasies...

Heard on the radio this weekend that Patrick Stewart is reprising the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard for a new Star Trek TV series.

109:

Re: ' ... biting my tongue to avoid a practiced rant about a certain fantasy book whose plot went off the rails in chapter two.'

I did say internal consistency mattered.

Anyways, I'm curious: which book is it that you think went off the rails by chapter 2?

110:

Re: ' ... when either SF or fantasy is based on a 'technology', but uses it only in artificially restricted ways to make the plot 'work','

Do you mean McCaffrey's Pern series? Background: a colony spaceship crashes on Pern; about half of the survivors go 'Lord of the Flies'; a series of once-in-hundreds-of-years natural disasters occur; one/some of the surviving sane/non-violent techies does some genetic non-specified/handwaving to genetically alter a native dragon species to fight the natural disaster threat ('thread'); the genetic tweaking also results in the genmod dragons to acquire limited ESP; ... years pass .... the original tech savvy crew dies off, social-technological-science dark ages descend, etc. The fantasy aspect occurs because the contemporary society forgot their history. Towards the end of the series McCaffrey re-introduced the tech: a computer room is discovered, the computer is turned on and reveals the colony's beginnings (Earth). Of about 20 books, only book 1 and the last two or three had any explicit tech - everything in between was perceived by the characters as non-tech/natural.

'Artificially restricted ways' -- as opposed to 'naturally varying socio-economic and educational levels plus always falls-within-area-of-personal-interest across all people' ways? Basically - tech is not uniformly/universally accessible now, so why should it be uniformly accessible/extant in some made-up universe? Universal and homogeneous culture, tech, belief systems, etc. seem to be the default in a lot of mediocre SF/F. That's a creative cheat. And not credible esp. since such stories usually then focus on hero vs. villain conflict aka the Ayn Rand school of SF/F character analysis - sheesh!)


111:

I can't remember. I read one or two a LONG time ago, didn't like them, and have not repeated the experience. It wasn't just the amount of handwavium, either.

I can tell you that riding on flying animals is almost always either clear fantasy or implausible handwavium. I have done some dimensional analysis to work out what gravity and air density is needed, and any suitable combination is both highly implausible for a planet and VERY different from earth.

Organic (hydrogen-filled) blimps are another matter.

112:

Organic (hydrogen-filled) blimps are another matter.
Welcome to Welcome to Gaea!

113:

Re: 'flying animals ...Organic (hydrogen-filled) blimps are another matter.'

So you'd be okay with a gen-mod biological creature that was able to extract via some sort of semipermeable skin/organ the appropriate gaseous mixture to fly while carrying a certain load size - approx. whatever its young might max out in weight by the time that mama says 'Time you flew on your own, kiddo!'?

Payload is the other factor which brings me the another thing that bugs me: the leading male/'hero' is always a muscular he-man. Why go he-man in a high-tech society - there's no survival advantage*. Or in fantasy where the hero comes from lowly origins (i.e., cyclic starvation), it's likelier that he's going to be undersized and not some beefy hunk.

* Sex selection is not an adequate argument. [See: Skinny/undersized rock stars/musicians, likelihood of getting laid.]

114:

No. What I am pointing out is that such a creature is compatible with physics as we know it, so can fairly reasonably be included in 'SF' without making it one of the 'suspension of disbelief' requirements, but that conventionally flying steeds cannot be. That's all. I am NOT saying that I am OK with one and not the other.

Actually, I prefer fantasy to most modern SF, both because I dislike the former's obsession with magnitude and violence, and because of its abuses of modern physical speculations. And, yes, I do mean Baxter, Pohl's Heechee, and LOTS more. I can tolerate them where their plots aren't totally bound up in their pataphysics, but intensely dislike those that roll in it like a dog in cowslop.

115:

Um, it may be incompatible with physics as we know it, but I do believe that some azhdarchid pterosaurs were large enough to carry small humans, at least in their crops if not their bills. See for instance this illustration by the noted paleo-artist Mark Witton (who is known to be very careful with his reconstructions). These cutie-pies weighed around 250 kg and flew very well. And they were carnivores that didn't chew their food.

116:

The context was that of using them as flying 'horses' - i.e. carrying an adult human for long periods/distances, under a wide range of circumstances. That's a different kettle of fish from carrying a small human a short distance.

It's not just the energetic issue, incidentally, but the structural strength one, which is particularly relevant as soon as one assumes their use in extreme circumstances (like battle). Those pterosaurs were not suited to such flying.

117:

True, but I suspect that a large pterosaur could carry a human child's weight at least for quite some distance. As noted, they were predators and they couldn't chew, so their only option for getting prey items was to swallow them whole. And apparently, these pterosaurs did prey on things the size of children.

As for flying battle steads, I see that people want something the equivalent of a WWI battle zeppelin. It's worth looking at what they did with those lovely machines, before taking one into battle.

118:

Yes, we are agreed, there. From that article and others I have seen, the larger pterosaurs were about as large as a flying creature can get, and were extremely specialised in that respect (which means poor in others and not very adaptable). It's the jump to carrying an adult and kit several tens of miles in less than ideal conditions that I found implausible. I could make it work, but only by assuming much lower gravity (Mars level) and higher air density, which is an implausible combination.

Yes about zeppelins, as noted by several authors. There are quite a few non-military stories about immense organic blimps.

119:

As for flying battle steads, I see that people want something the equivalent of a WWI battle zeppelin. It's worth looking at what they did with those lovely machines, before taking one into battle.

I note that it took a couple of years for the Zeppelins to be conclusively driven from the skies over the UK and non-occupied France: early heavier-than-air craft were not good at getting to their operational altitude and were under-armed for the job of shooting them down. It took a combination of incendiary ammunition and Germany's lack of Helium reserves (their Zeps ran on hydrogen) to doom them, and even then, it turned out to be much harder to set fire to a Zeppelin than one might naively expect. (The Hindenberg was a special case.)

What made "Zeppelin" a synonym for rigid dirigible in the early days was simply that Graf von Zeppelin had really deep pockets and thought big, which meant his ships had surplus payload and could carry decent engines and cargo (for the time). If one posits an alternative origin for Zeppelins in a nation with Helium reserves, and better engines, and a deep-pocket investor, and finally an engineer who focusses on aerodynamics like Schütte-Lanz (contemporary rivals of Zeppelin: G von Z's engineers tried to brute-force their way through the air: the early designs like the LZ 1 to LZ 4 were about as aerodynamic as a brick) then you might get to a situation where rigid/semi-rigid airships out-perform heavier-than-air by a sufficient margin that HTA craft are starved of investment. It was a close-run thing; DELAG began offering passenger flights in 1909 as it is.

120:

Now, for real fun, go for a secondary-world setting where there is a close relative of bamboo that is really light and doesn't absorb moisture when properly cured, an engineer who thinks like Buckminster Fuller (think tensegrity structure, rather than Zeppelin's heavy triangle-mesh aluminium frames or even S-L's better geodesic wooden structures), readily available helium ... and Azhdarchids smart enough to be trained to obey voice commands by radio (much like the Russian and US navy's trained seals, dolphins, and Beluga whales).

A reasonable size battle airship could easily carry dozens to a hundred azdarchids ...

121:

I don't think that you even need the bamboo if you have a suitable mechanism to maintain a constant slight overpressure inside the system. Flax makes strong, durable and water-resistant rope, and a mesh with internal bracing ropes is extremely rigid. I don't know whether it would be easier/better to seal the gas-tight fabric around those, or have multiple internal bags that fit between them.

I'd hate to have to design such a system without a computer, of course, but it should be feasible.

123:

Re: ' ...a secondary-world setting'

How would planet size and/or gravity impact your design and materials choices?

Also - why not use a mix of different power sources depending on what you were doing (take-off, soaring, landing, etc.) and/or weather conditions (strong winds, rain, sunny vs. cloudy, etc.).

124:

Tonight on BBC2 TV - "Good Omens"
Followed by a documentary/bio of Pterry.
In later episodes, in outside shots of "Soho" & the bookshop, I might just be visible for milliseconds ....
[ It is, of course, a set, actually on a disused airfield near Hemel Hempstead... ]

125:

Ligter than air devices are virtually unaffected by those, except insofar as those affect the wind speeds. And the only thing that they need significant power for is to move at speed (relative to the air, of course) - the others are all done by adjusting buoyancy.

126:

Sadly, the documentary ("Terry Pratchett - Back in Black") is not being broadcast on BBC 2 NI, for reasons which are utterly opaque. Instead we out here in the Colonies are to be treated to a "parody" 1970's documentary of Luton Library. Bastards.

"Terry Pratchett - Back in Black" is brilliant (the central performance by Paul Kaye is incredible). Do not watch it without tissues at the ready.

127:

Although the documentary will be available via the iPlayer service after broadcast.

And in other pterry memorial type news, it appears that the BBC have made available Neil Gaiman's wonderful tribute, in which he reads his introduction to "A Slip of the Keyboard". Wonderful, hilarious, sad, and uplifting.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/Y0Y3ltRzhZLBFJW8Zmkg51/neil-gaimans-tribute-to-terry-Pratchett

128:

(Earlier lengthy reply eaten by internet cookie monster.)

Q1: Airships are pretty basic and will work anywhere there's an atmosphere made of stuff significantly denser than hydrogen. Sometimes with weird effects! (Earth surface temperature and pressure air -- 80% N2, 16% O2, plus stuff -- is an airship lifting gas better than Helium about 30Km up in the atmosphere of Venus, for example. Where the incredibly chilly Venusian stratosphere is down to a mere 1 bar pressure at about 30 celsius. In other words, you can live comfortably in the gas cells of an aerostat cruising high above that hell-world.)

Q2: Multiple power sources = multiple parasitic weights when they're not in use. Much more helpful to use a single multimodal power cycle (e.g. solar PV electric to drive thrusters by day, plus hydrogen fuel cells -- filled by electrolysis of water scavenged from clouds using surplus PV power -- to provide power at night).

129:

Re: 'Ligter than air devices are virtually unaffected by those, ...'

Thanks! I was also thinking that a PlanetX's lighter gravity might mean a potentially larger (vs. Earth's) payload: if FlyerY can carry 100 lbs on Earth, then it could carry 100 plus appropriate gravitational diff/weight savings for PlanetX. (Or is this too simplistic?)

130:

For a very long time, I have appreciated the fact that there are no large flying livestock.

Consider that you'd constantly have to watch the sky... and carry a steel umbrella (unless you expect them all to wear diapers).

131:

A Zeppelin would probably not get off the ground if its gasbags were filled with helium as a lifting gas -- it's twice the density of hydrogen at standard temperature and pressure and provides 10% less lift in air for the same sized gasbags.

Hydrogen is a lifting gas and only problematic if it gets mixed with air/oxygen. If that's happening the Zeppelin's crew have more to worry about than simply the risk of fire since somewhere there's a hole and hydrogen is getting out while the air is getting in.

Bulkheaded vacuum and Fleury's Ray, that's the (Aerial Board of Control-issued) ticket!

132:

Well, there's a pterosaur "strike" in one of the 2 Flintstones live films...

133:

Re: 'Much more helpful to use a single multimodal power cycle (e.g. solar PV electric to drive thrusters by day, plus hydrogen fuel cells ...'

Yes - exactly what I was thinking. Thanks! Getting more out of your largest, most expensive unit is a standard approach. Read somewhere that PurdueU did calculations re: impact of reflected sunlight and found that getting the angles right on a PV backside can mean an additional 10-15% energy production per panel.

Relating this back to SF world-building: Since we know that on planet Earth, scientists, technologists, manufacturers are still continuously studying and adding new materials and tweaks to their designs and products, it doesn't make sense to not expect similar levels of research, materials combinations or mechanical/energetic machine hybrids on some imaginary tech-ish exoplanet. At the same time: just because a new tech works great on some alien planet, it does not automatically mean that it will be of any value/work on planet Earth.

134:

I must point out that SM Stirling kind of did this with In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, although he had giant eagle-ish war mounts on his Alt-Mars. Still, a fun book.

A couple other thoughts:
--One is that it's worth following the link to Mark Witton's blog if you haven't already. Azhdarchids are the giant pterosaurs (Quetzalcoatlus is the largest known of them), and they're weird. The one shown in Witton's blog is basically a marabou stork analog that's taller than a bull giraffe. Some of them were likely terrestrial predators, again like marabou storks. They aren't necessarily what I'd send in to battle, but as a reminder that nature's far more creative than our imaginations, they'll do nicely.
--If you want to get a bit weirder, imagine in the really deep future a bird lineage shifting from bipedal to quadrupedal and converging on Azhdarchids in the deep future. This is less weird than it seems. Some water birds (tropic birds, loons, grebes) have their legs so far back they struggle to walk on land. Some other birds (including some waterfowl, pigeons, ibises, hoatzins) have all sorts of bony structures on their wing wrists (e.g. this old blog post from TetZoo), so a bird evolving a walking stump on its wing, moving its legs back, and growing gigantic isn't impossible, just unprecedented. Just imagine a pigeon or a goose descendant the size of an Azhdarchid and in the same ecological role. Stranger things have happened. Azhdarchids, for example.
--Finally, if we're talking aerial battles, your dashing airship captain needs a weapon. I'd suggest this one,, which he (she?) can flourish to signal the giant war-pigeons to launch their attacks.

135:

Perhaps you meant "the latter's", rather than "the former"?

On the other hand, way too much fantasy these days also deals with scale and violence....

In either case, I'm working on it, and I hope you'll like what I write. As far as I know now, I have no plans for fantasies or sf with "Foretold One Who Will Come to Save Us All" stories.

136:

Quetzalcoatlus - Isn't that the feathered, South American take on a dragon?

137:

Quetzalcoatl is a Central American (Maya/Aztec, perhaps other) deity.

Quetzalcoatlus northropii is a giant, late Cretaceous, Azhdarchid pterosaur from Texas named after Quetzalcoatl. And after the founder of Northrop, of course. It's thought to be the largest flying creature known from history.

138:

Re: 'Quetzalcoatlus northropii is a giant, late Cretaceous, ...'

Considering that the continents were fairly close to each other in the late Cretaceous, this critter could have easily been able to fly to all continents since much smaller birds, capable of covering much shorter distances, migrate 000's of miles every year. (Would also expect its fossils on the other continents.)

Wikipedia says:

'After factoring wingspan, body weight, and aerodynamics, computer modelling led the two researchers to conclude that Q. northropi was capable of flight up to 130 km/h (80 mph) for 7 to 10 days at altitudes of 4,600 m (15,000 ft). Habib further suggested a maximum flight range of 13,000–19,000 km (8,000–12,000 mi) for Q. northropi.'


139:

For most scenarios I think hydrogen is better than helium, as it's a better lift gas and it's *easy* to get compared with helium. You may not have noticed, but helium's been in short supply recently.

I'd point out that tensegrity structures have been explored in lifting bodies. They're called blimps and balloons. Really cool, but I'm not sure what else you can do with them.

A few things that haven't been thoroughly explored in the airship realm, at least in my limited SF reading.

The Aereon, star of McPhee's Deltoid Pumpkin Seed. It's in the space between flying lifting body and zeppelin, designed as a slow speed cargo carrier that gets some of its lift from its shape and some from lifting gas. I could easily see this showing up on a resource-depleted Earth or on a heavier-G world, where airplanes as we know them are impractical due to engineering or materials issues (can't manufacture within the light/strong/powerful design space).

The serpentine airship. I think they experimented with this as an aerostat in the Afghanistan war, where they use aerostats for observation, but there's no reason not to make an airship out of it that I can see. The serpentine is actually more like a tadpole. It has a main lift gas bag that holds the payload and ballast, then a long tail that holds gas bags filled with hydrogen to power the engines. As the hydrogen is pumped out, the tail collapses and is reeled in. Ballast is dumped proportionally to maintain trim. This one would look weird (kind of like a tadpole or sperm moving backwards), because it would likely fly tail first unless it's going faster than the wind, and highly maneuverable engines would be a must. But using the fuel as a source of lift isn't a bad idea, and a serpentine fuel store could last a long time.

The windship, a zeppelin or balloon powered by clever use of kite sails. These kites would be unreeled or reeled in to catch winds of different velocities at different altitudes, so that the ship wouldn't have to constantly run a prop to go anywhere, or be stuck only able to move up or down. I know sailing balloons have been proposed in SFF for years (centuries?) but I haven't yet found a real-world example. I'm guessing, in my vast ignorance, that since lifting bodies tend to be pretty bulky on their own (and therefore decent sails), if you want to tack or change direction, you need a sail in a different body of air above or below the main ship to work against. Could be wrong. Anyway, if you're running sails off a balloon, this is where a tensegrity structure might really come in handy.

Not sure where to store the Azhdarchids on any of these, though.

I should point out that, years ago, I described a city built of mycoconcrete that had an airspace full of wind turbines tethered to lifting bodies high up in the winds, sort of like an enormous aerial kelp forest. In clear channels among the clumps of turbines flew serpent ships, their fuel-laden tails undulating in the wind. I'd love to see something like that, especially in decades to come, since it's a nice vision of a more sustainable city than we have at present.

140:

I must point out that SM Stirling kind of did this with In the Courts of the Crimson Kings...

I enjoyed his two Homage-a-ERB novels and sometimes wish he'd do another. But, seeing as Court ended with a pretty literal deus ex machina, that might be tough to do.

141:

I'd always thought that it was supposed to be a trilogy, but I suppose not. Oh well, fun while it lasted.

142:

Thank you. I did. I await your work with interest.

143:

Yes, a lower gravity would allow the lifting of more mass - but, as I said, a low gravity and a high atmospheric density is physically implausible.

144:

For organic blimps, hydrogen is definitely better than helium!

Blimps have been very successfully used for several purposes, mostly observation-related, and still are. Their main problem is that they aren't good in strong wind.

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

145:

Airships... sails, what does that remind me of... oh, right, Windwagon Smith (sails on Conestoga wagons, across the Great Plains.).

146:

Alan Dean Foster's "Icerigger" trilogy?

147:

I'd always thought that it was supposed to be a trilogy...

That hadn't occurred to me but yeah, and thanks for the thought.

Venus, Mars and ???. Maybe Earth? A Jovian moon?

148:

The Chinese got there first, many centuries ago in real life.

More to the point, wind-driven cargo wheelbarrows on the Chinese model are actually a really good post-apocalyptic/low tech vehicle. The Chinese reportedly adopted them when their road system fell apart at the end of a dynasty (wheelbarrows needing narrower roads than carts), and they innovated on the technology thereafter. The terminology is kind of interesting, too. If the handles were in the front (for pulling) it's a wooden ox, while if they're in the back for pushing, it's a wooden horse. Not sure what the models with handles on both ends are called, but it's a versatile technology that carries goods and people long distances fairly efficiently.

Oh, and SM Stirling did have wind-powered landships on Mars too (with a backup of an organic motor shackled to a crank, IIRC).

149:

A Zeppelin would probably not get off the ground if its gasbags were filled with helium as a lifting gas

Kindly explain the non-existence of the USS Shenandoah and its successors.

Hint: hydrogen is a dimer, helium is a monomer. Atomic weight of He is 4, hydrogen is 2 ... and it provides lift by displacement of a mix of N2 (28 Daltons) and O2 (32 Daltons), with an average of about 29 -- so you've got (29 - 2) units of lift for a given volume of hydrogen, vs. (29 - 4) units of lift for the same volume of helium.

Upshot: Helium is nearly as good a lift gas as hydrogen, and much, much safer.

150:

[Daltons]

Oddly, I was doing the very same sort of calculation today during the morning walk while thinking about carbon monoxide and air and why you have to be careful with indoor gas heaters. CO: 12 + 16 = 28, which is pretty close to 29.

151:

"Yes, a lower gravity would allow the lifting of more mass"

Are you sure? The more mass weighs less, but so does the displaced air (assuming magically equal density), and the two effects cancel out.

152:

Similar calculations show that there are five other common gases of low enough density to provide buoyancy. One of them is only marginally so, and goes bang; another of them also goes bang; one has a problem with hydrogen bonding, so you usually need increased temperature and/or reduced pressure to make it stay a gas; one of them stinks; and one of them eats your bones. But all of them are a lot more readily available than helium, and if you're building a massive fleet of airships and have a down on hydrogen, there's a couple of them that are probably better bets.

Useful point is that although the lifting power is roughly halved, so you need twice the volume, that's only 3√2 on the linear dimensions, so it does not automatically make the things impossibly big.

153:

Thank you for those interesting links. I didn't know about those beasties. I'm not convinced that they were able to take off without a runup, but I'm not sure it matters too much.

His dissatisfaction with the ignorant representations of dinosaurs in films reminds me of my dissatisfaction with the film "Valiant" - it was far too obviously animated by someone who had never spent any time looking at pigeons and had no fucking idea how they move.

"Just imagine a pigeon or a goose descendant the size of an Azhdarchid and in the same ecological role."

I'm imagining one that is still herbivorous and likes to stick its beak in my ear. Especially after finding the pidgical therizinosaurus http://markwitton-com.blogspot.com/2015/03/more-new-old-art-therizinosaurus.html

I'm also imagining an organism that has modified its kidneys to excrete gaseous ammonia into a large thin-walled membranous dorsal sac. Perhaps a kind of aerostatic vulture or petrel (it would probably want a high protein diet for the nitrogen). Instead of puking oil at creatures attacking the nest it would just gas them. A further specialisation might be to also excrete hydrazine and then decompose it for propulsion.

154:

For organic blimps, hydrogen is definitely better than helium!
Yeah, I don't see helium as viable for bio-blimps.
Unless it were some sort of inhabitable mostly-helium planet and there were some sort of biological process for concentrating helium from air, the only other obvious ways for a biological organism to acquire helium would be by tapping reserves built up from alpha decay of uranium U238 and thorium over time (ability to drill through rock and a salt cap to tap trapped gas with helium as impurity, plus something that consumes the methane), or by eating lots of uranium or thorium in a larval stage, and then very patiently waiting, grounded, for enough helium to accumulate and not escape (yeah :-), while absorbing radiation damage over 10s of millions of years.

---
I've stayed out of the magic/psi discussion. Opinions (somewhat redacted, and partial) in a recent thread, rather non-normative. Closest to whitroth @ 79, but not. I'll probably read William Gibson's "Agency". (January 21, 2020.) The reviews make it sound like I might not feel the need to throw the (e)book against the wall even once.

155:

I did say internal consistency mattered. Anyways, I'm curious: which book is it that you think went off the rails by chapter 2?

Embarrassingly, I cannot bring the title to mind now. I'm away from home and can't go looking through boxes of paperbacks; I'd thought it might be by Melanie Rawn but none of the novels in her bibliography sound right.

So, from memory: The tale opens in medias res with the protagonist having a prophetic dream of her home attacked and on fire. She awakens and the reader is introduced to the setting; she's a magician at a school for training wizards to foretell the future, and she finds this warning plausible and frightening. So far so good; I'm interested and looking forward to seeing how this goes.

It turns out neither the school administrator nor the local ruler has any protocol for handling warnings from people who claim to foretell the future. Apparently this has never happened at the school for prophets somehow. (If they have a known branch of study devoted to predicting things about to happen, shouldn't people believe the possibility of accurate predictions? Granted that a parable about climatology or economics would be redundant here.) What I imagined the plot to be does not happen and instead we get thousands of words about various intramural social position dramas that would be trivial in a modern high school, much less for allegedly adult wizards; the school administrator is useless on that front too.

It's been a while but I got about halfway through before accepting that none of the characters were going to get their acts together.

156:

Bulkheaded vacuum and Fleury's Ray, that's the (Aerial Board of Control-issued) ticket!

I'm partial to eighth ray tanks, but it's hard to get them filled on Jasoom.

157:

It's a second-order effect. Lower gravity means that larger machines and organisms are viable. That MIGHT be true for higher air density, too, but it's much more complicated.

158:

... years ago, I described a city built of mycoconcrete that had an airspace full of wind turbines tethered to lifting bodies high up in the winds, sort of like an enormous aerial kelp forest.

How close did Big Hero 6 come to that with its moored sky turbines? The San Fransokyo skyline is not as dominated by wind power as you imply but it sounds very similar.

159:

Anaerobic decomposition of plant material creates methane, which occurs in a cow's rumen, and that is less reactive, less hydrophilic than ammonia and gives 8% more lift. Half the lift of hydrogen is probably enough that its other advantages would mean that evolution would tend to 'choose' it over even hydrogen.

Once can easily see a water plant/animal evolving to create small floating balloons to carry its seeds long distances, with an advantage to increased lightness, and it goes on from there.

160:

I'm not convinced that they were able to take off without a runup


Which applies to a number of birds. Albatrosses, for example.

161:

EC Portugese Man o'War not-quite jellyfish?
The gas-filled bladder, or pneumatophore, remains at the surface, while the remainder is submerged.

RP & Pigeon
Swan taking off

162:

Once can easily see a water plant/animal evolving to create small floating balloons to carry its seeds long distances, with an advantage to increased lightness, and it goes on from there.

I've thought of that myself and am mildly surprised we don't see it around. It's possible that such things evolved previously and went extinct; they'd be unlikely to fossilize. But the lack of any organism using that approach seems to suggest that it's either not as useful as it sounds (dubious, considering how many wind-blown seeds we have) or it's hard to get there from existing plants.

By contrast wheels are easier than balloons, and sure enough we see convergent evolution of tumbleweeds in multiple flat windy places.

163:

Yes, I have thought the same, and I agree. My guess is that it's because it's worth it (over 'parachutes', which are used by spiderlings as well as seeds) only if distribution via the trade winds or medium-altitude winds is worthwhile. And, on the earth, that tends to take them in a single (fixed) direction, which isn't. On a planet without massively obstructive mountain ranges and a less contiguous ocean, I can see it being beneficial.

164:

Why engineers should take classes before speculating about biology

Believe it or not, biologists have studied what's in the air since around 1910 or so. Google aeroplankton and aerobiology for details. The most widely known result of this research field are pollen forecasts.

Life early on figured out the simplest way to go airborne: go small. Fern, lichen, and orchid spores go intercontinental distances on the wind. So do spiders.

Why nothing uses balloons: Why should they build huge, complex, delicate structures that are easy to chow down on and hard to steer, when the same resources can go into making millions to billions of tiny propagules that will do the same thing and be harder to chow down on?

Why is there no aerial ecosystem? First off, there is (watch radar videos of bats rising to chow down on swarms of moths), but compared with the ocean, the sky's a fairly extreme desert. I'd put this down to a quirk of chemistry, namely that H2O, which is a very simple molecule, forms a fluid at living temperatures, rather than a dense gas, and it's dense enough that floating is effective in those parts of the world where water is the dominant molecule. Making a sky dense enough that it can support an aerial ecosystem is something that didn't happen in this solar system (apparently!).

Why albatrosses are the upper limit to powered flight, and we should take our lessons from them. Short answer. They aren't. The heaviest flying bird is the kori bustard. The biggest flying birds known in history were either the Pelagornithidae or Argentavis magnificens, and there are a number of birds (large raptors and teratorns) bigger than anything currently flying, some recently extinct. Making limit statements based on living organisms is always a fraught comparison. For example, if birds didn't exist, we'd think that all flying land animals had to be quadrupedal (bats and pterosaurs). If bats didn't exist, pterosaurs wouldn't make sense (note that when the first bones were found, they were reconstructed as giant penguin analogs). If birds and pterosaurs didn't exist, we'd be making stories about how flying vertebrates couldn't get bigger than a flying fox. If we hadn't found the few Azdharchid bones, we'd think he biggest flying things was Pteranodon.

And that's just with the example of flight. If you get into things like neck length, pterosaurs have longer necks than giraffes, and if you tried to scale a giraffe up to sauropod size, its brain would explode every time it bent down to drink and it would pass out reaching up to eat, due to changes in blood pressure from the height of the brain versus the height of the heart. But sauropods somehow did this with no problem for hundreds of millions of years. Animal clades get some weird limitations, and sometimes, extending what you know one clade can do to others leads you seriously astray.

165:

Helium works as a lifting gas but a rigid-hulled Zeppelin with gasbags designed for hydrogen will not have enough lift if helium is substituted. The Shenandoah and other rigid, semi-rigid and blimp designs designed for helium were scaled larger than they needed to be than if they were designed to use hydrogen.

The accidents large airships have suffered were almost all due to bad construction, difficult weather conditions, ground handling issues, insufficient engine power etc., the type of lifting gas used generally wasn't the problem. Even in the spectacular demise of the Hindenburg, the escaping and burning hydrogen played only a small part in the disaster -- hydrogen produces little heat when it burns (although it burns at a high temperature) and it rises rapidly away from the gasbags once they are structurally compromised. The bigger worry is a contained mixture of hydrogen and air which is explosive over a wide range of mixtures (a quick Google says between 18% and 60%) but again as I said if air is getting into a gasbag then there are more serious problems to worry about.

166:

Bioconcrete, perhaps - scaling-up & reliability problems?
Could be interesting

167:

Why nothing uses balloons: Why should they build huge, complex, delicate structures that are easy to chow down on and hard to steer, when the same resources can go into making millions to billions of tiny propagules that will do the same thing and be harder to chow down on?

Don't introduce straw men, and apply your OWN logic to YOUR arguments.

What Scott Sanford and I were discussing was small, simple, unsteerable structures suitable for propagation - i.e. functionally comparable to the 'parachutes' used by many wind-born plants and a few animals. Yes, they would require more resources to generate, which is PRECISELY why I said what I did in #163.

I could use EXACTLY your argument to 'explain' why seeds never took over from spores, and why there are no plants with large, complex seeds. It's a variant of the standard r/K selection theory, and the point to make is that both have evolved.

If there were an advantage in preferring very long-range propagation over short-range, such a gasbag mechanism might well evolve, not least because it could get over obstacles that 'parachute' seeds/animals can't. The classic plants that are claimed to have done just that are the coconuts.

Actually, if I recall, there IS some marine plant or animal that uses a gasbag for propagation (to float, obviously), but I can't find it on the Web because I am swamped by bloody Spongebob Squarepants hits and similar junk.

168:

five other common gases of low enough density to provide buoyancy. One of them is only marginally so, and goes bang; another of them also goes bang; one has a problem with hydrogen bonding, so you usually need increased temperature and/or reduced pressure to make it stay a gas; one of them stinks; and one of them eats your bones.

Dear Cthulhu, ammonia as a lift gas is bad enough: I don't even want to think about the implications of trying to contain HF in balonets!

169:

Have we even invented an NSAID that powerful yet? ;=)

170:

Lower gravity does, however, mess with the scale height of your atmosphere, and ensures that unless your sun is particularly reddish and dim, you're going to get lots of solar UV stripping of hydrogen ions from the ionosphere, leading to a dessicated lithosphere before you can snap your fingers (in cosmological terms).

Your best bet is probably a super-Earth in the 1.0-2.0 terrestrial mass range, orbiting in the habitable zone of a particularly boring red dwarf that isn't prone to flaring (if such things exist).

171:

Yes, precisely, which is why I regard the combination of low gravity and high air density as implausible. I am not sure if a large moon orbiting a warm superjovian / brown dwarf orbiting a dimmish G-type star would do the job. That's one to keep it warm, and one to provide enough light for evolution.

172:

Yes, but they don't have the panache of the great Conestogas, sailing across the plains, not needing roads....

And they didn't talk about them around the campfires at night in the summer camp for kids.

173:

Sorry, but that's just bad writing - failure to think through the setting, and "let's just start with an oomph, never mind what it does to the consistency".

In what I've been writing, one of the things I *always* do in the later polishing of the drafts is adding a sentence here and there, so "where'd that come from" doesn't happen. And foreshadowing, and the ever-popular "don't show a gun if you're not going to use it".

174:

Then you have to contain the eigth ray. Way too difficult. I prefer intertron, and then I can also have flying belts, Wilma.

175:

Well, I haven't done an impulse purchase in ages, guess it was time for one. Bought the book when i got to about comment 50.

Guess having guest posts on Charlie's blog to promote them actually works.

176:

Greg Tingey @ 122: Charlie @ 120
Almost happened. Consider the R 100 Cheif designer one Mr Barnes Wallis. R 100 scrapped after violent & ignorant press campaign, after crash of fucked-over & fucked-up R 101.

At the top of the page there's an "ad" for Wiki Loves Monuments 2019 winners.

https://medium.com/freely-sharing-the-sum-of-all-knowledge/behold-the-winners-of-the-worlds-largest-photo-contest-wiki-loves-monuments-fda57994b7f1

Makes me sad. There are so many beautiful places I'll never get to visit because our government can't get along with their government (and vice versa). I didn't see any way to view ALL of the entries, just the winners. I really would like to see all of the entries.


177:

whitroth @ 130: For a very long time, I have appreciated the fact that there are no large flying livestock.

Consider that you'd constantly have to watch the sky... and carry a steel umbrella (unless you expect them all to wear diapers).

Reminded me of this little ditty from my childhood:

Birdie, birdie in the sky
Drop a whitewash in my eye
Me big boy, me no cry
Me just glad that cows can't fly!

178:

This was worked out most of 50 years ago in biology, by looking at the ancestral conditions of the species that colonized islands. Since my doctoral advisor worked on the Hawaiian flora and I've got a case of island fever, yes, I did read the material and it's still on my shelf. Sherwin Carlquist's Island Biology is the book you want.

For ultra-long distance dispersal, there are two obvious candidates: tiny spores and stickers that get lodged in bird feathers. Spores have allowed one lichen to colonize both the Arctic and the Antarctic. There are rare cases where seed plants *apparently* moved from hemisphere to hemisphere, but the mechanism almost certainly involves a bird.

There's one unobvious mechanism for long distance dispersal: sea beans. These are waterproof floating seeds. There are a number of species that do this, but the ones that disperse long distances are limited to beaches. Note that many "sea beans" aren't beach species, but seeds that got washed out to sea during floods. They don't often arrive alive, although collectors treasure them.

For close range dispersal, heavy, gravity-dispersed seeds are the answer. Plants normally do this so they can dominate their local habitat and provide the embryo resources needed to deal with competition from other plants. Tiny spores are for plants that are willing to colonize substrates like bare rock, where they either have no competitors, or they can so flood the environment with spores that a few of them survive. They also work for orchids and other plants that are looking for fungi to parasitize. Presumably this works because the chance of finding a suitable host is almost nil, so blanketing the local area with tiny seeds is the best solution. At least, a lot of mycoparasitic plants have tiny seeds for some reason.

For intermediate range dispersal, there are a range of things: inside animals is one, where the range is the digestion time of the disperser (e.g. a few hours of flight or one day in an herbivore gut). Another is things like dandelions, which have large, wind-blown structures. Dandelions can't cross oceans, they're an intermediate structure.

So getting back to your balloon design, you're proposing an ultra-long distance, resource-intensive, unsteerable structure to travel on the wind. The chance of it finding suitable habitat is pretty minimal (it can't steer), so it's almost certainly a wasted investment. The plant that invests in a few huge balloons has a poor chance of reproducing. Nature did a better job, either by minimizing the cost of sending huge numbers of small spores into the sky, or by harnessing a bird to find suitable territory and hitching a ride. Both of these are cheaper than balloons, and this is almost certainly why we don't see balloons in nature.

179:

There are a couple of solutions.

One is obviously Earth, because we did it. The bigger point is that plate tectonics matter. There's a lot of water inside the Earth, and if it gets emitted by volcanoes, it can make up for solar wind stripping. Apparently you also need plate tectonics for a functioning carbon cycle and life, so this is one workaround.

Another workaround is the exomoon. Gas emitted by the moon goes into orbit around the primary and the moon can pick it up again. While there were some arguments based on solar system gas giants about the maximum size of exomoons, I recall there's some evidence that this limit doesn't hold in other systems. The nice thing about an exomoon is that, because it's getting a lot of energy from orbital variations around its motherworld (especially if there are other large moons in orbit), so even if it's tiny, it should have enough energy for plate tectonics. After all, Io gets so much it melted. An added bonus is that the magnetosphere of the motherworld protects the exomoon from a lot of crap. The downside is that flying through a superjovian magnetosphere would be on the seriously-no-fun-with-a-side-of-probable-death side of space voyages.

A third workaround is to start with something like a waterworld in an elliptic orbit in the habitable zone of a red dwarf. IIRC, red dwarfs flare for a very long time, so you're going to lose a lot of atmosphere for a long time. That's why you start with something with a lot of atmosphere and hydrosphere to lose. The elliptic orbit is because there are suggestions that water worlds have too cool (hence thick) a crust for plate tectonics. While a moon is not a viable solution for a red dwarf world, tidal flexing from a elliptical orbit might still add enough energy to keep heat the world and keep the plates moving until the ocean gets mostly blown away.

A third-and-a-half workaround is the TRAPPIST system, where there are enough planets that they're all flexing each other, heating up the planet and powering plate tectonics, even if they are water worlds with cooler crusts. Even if this system gets heavily eroded, if it keeps outgassing new volatiles until its parent star calms down, it might have a livable atmosphere after seven or eight billion years.

180:

"Why albatrosses are the upper limit to powered flight, and we should take our lessons from them. Short answer. They aren't."

Neither Robert Prior nor I were arguing that. My point was that the pterosaur article seemed to be going over the top about hyper-effective launch mechanisms. He produces comparisons of lift capacity that show that both pterosaurs and swans have about the same ability to sustain flight once they've achieved minimum airspeed, but then proposes that pterosaurs can accelerate to minimum airspeed just by jumping into the air and flapping, which requires a vastly higher peak thrust-to-weight ratio and asks something the size of a giraffe to leap like a mouse. (From the surface of a marsh, too, apparently.) I can buy scaling up from a Victor to an A380, but a VTOL A380 is a bit much to swallow.

Besides, I'm not convinced it's that vital anyway. Lots of birds are slow to take off and plenty can't take off at all if they cock up and land in the wrong place, and they're far less able to defend themselves than a pterosaur would be, but it hasn't stopped them.

181:

Different models of launch. So far as I know, Witton and Naish were advocating that the Azhdarchids launched something like a vampire bat, off their forelimbs. See this video of a vampire bat. Albatrosses and other large birds have to build up horizontal ground speed using their hind legs to run, getting air moving under their wings to launch. Pterosaurs in general probably couldn't run bipedally, as their legs were quite far back. They had to move quadrupedally, and most of the strength (as with a vampire) was in the forelimbs, not the back legs.

Launching off the forelimbs basically means they push down as hard as they can with their forelimbs (basically a modified downstroke), then unfurl their wings on the upstroke and (if they have the clearance, as the vampire in the video did on the second thrust) flap away from there. There's little or need for them to get airflow under their wings to lift them first to get a full flap in, as something like an albatross has to do, because it can't get a full stroke of its wings in near the ground.

182:

You mean, like Venus? 0.9G, and 90 atmospheres?

Something intermediate between that and ours, so it wasn't totally dominated by CO2 and missing water, might be plausible. A slightly higher partial pressure of oxygen than Earth, a slightly lower gravity, and the maximum size of flying creatures could increase substantially.

183:

Why albatrosses are the upper limit to powered flight, and we should take our lessons from them.

Who said they were?

I was trying to point out that albatrosses aren't VTOL — they need to taxi to take off. Plenty of water birds need a run to take off from water.

So a flying critter can be too big to take off without a run. Could that have applied to some pterosaurs?

184:

See #181 for an explanation of how extrapolating from albatrosses can lead you seriously astray. It's not clear that a quadrupedal pterosaur could run bipedally fast enough to get enough lift under its wings to get a full downstroke and get airborne. Fortunately for it, it may not have had to.

Changing the subject slightly, much as I love Dune, Herbert's designs have aged a bit. His still-suits would steam people to death, his shields would be fun to manipulate (basically, you can stick a bunch of skewers into a force shield, impeding the guy inside, and as they slowly sink towards the ground, buoyed up by the shield, you just keep poking with one after the other until one scores. Since he can't move fast inside, he's kind of, erm, stuck. Anyway, his ornithopters weren't well designed either, since they had both the heavy engines to flap the wings and jets for takeoff. That's two propulsion systems to lug around.

They're filming Dune again. If someone wanted to be really cool and revisionist, they could redesign the ornithopters along quadrupedal pterosaur lines. On the ground these airships would rest on the "knuckles" of the front wings and on skids at the back of the V-shaped (swallow) tail, which would be poised flaps down. To launch, the wings push down with full force, pushing the 'thopter into the sky about 30 or 40 feet (fun ride, that), then reach up, unfurl, and give power strokes down until the 'thopter is moving. Bumbled takeoffs would be really fun to watch (hop, hop, hop, dammit, get it moving, hop-flap, flap flap, flying yay...anyone okay?), but they'd definitely have the Rule of Cool, springing into the air like enormous vampire bats.

Oh, and that Arrakeen desert garb? Definitely very shiny breathable robes, large, highly reflective parasols (or broad-rimmed hats), and thick soled boots to keep the heat from the sand from heating up the body. All this is designed to minimize energy input from the surroundings. Hard to save water doing that, but sweating and panting is about dumping heat into the air by losing heated water, and if you can't evaporate the water, you don't lose the heat. That's the problem with the still-suit. Anyway, I can see wonderful fights with a crys-knife in one hand, large silver umbrella in the other.

185:

No. SERIOUSLY lower gravity, like Mars, and possibly a higher atmospheric density. A fairly implausible combination.

186:

The mind boggles. Yes, I do know about how things occurred on earth, but the discussion was about another planet entirely. In particular, in #163, I pointed out some (geological) differences that would provide an evolutionary advantage. Are they plausible? I don't know, and you don't, either, because NOBODY does.

In your posts #164 and #178, you imply (possibly even assert) that (a) every path that was followed on earth will necessarily occur everywhere and (b) only things that have occurred on earth can occur anywhere. Well, what if no terrestrial vertebrates had arisen; would there still be bird-analogues? And, if the ocean were discontiguous (see #163), floating seeds would not have a global reach.

187:

Plenty of land birds do, too, even if they don't have to. The assertion that albatrosses are the upper limit is a straw man. Everyone with clue knows that they aren't. It's not just bustards that are heavier, but several swans, as well, and a couple of vultures.

188:

You mean, like Titan? It's smaller than Mars, and has a surface pressure about 150% of Earth's.

This actually presents another model, a small ice world, or exomoon, orbiting what is now a gas giant. For most of the planet's history it was frozen, but as the primary expanded, it warmed and became habitable. This is in line with those who hypothesize that in billions of years, Titan will have a biosphere after Earth was swallowed.

189:

My apologies for repeatedly revealing your ignorance, but that's not what you said.

The problem with trying to come up with biological balloons is you're trying to create a scenario where something that's structurally complicated, metabolically expensive, huge, flimsy, and hard to produce is more useful than something that does the same job that is simple, cheap, small, and easy to produce.

I'll be happy to hand you a shovel if you want to keep digging into that particular hole, but that's the shortcoming in your scenario building.

190:

I suggest that you ask someone to teach you basic comprehension; that is exactly what I said.

191:

The problem with a Titan-like scenario is that its 'habitable zone' lifetime may not be long enough to evolve as far as flying vertebrates. I have been unable to find any reference to the estimated timescale of the sun's changes. When they start, yes; details of how that develops, no.

That's why I said what I did in #171.

192:

Agreed on Titan's course with the lifespan of a red giant, but the fundamental point is that you can get a small body with a dense atmosphere.

I don't think orbiting close to a red dwarf is going to do it, since they don't appear to stop flaring, but there may be other alternatives. As I noted in #179, a jovian or super-jovian world has a fairly powerful magnetosphere, and the protection against solar winds provided by that, coupled with the fact that at least some of the atmosphere lost by the exomoon will stay in orbit around the parent planet and hit that exomoon atmosphere again, might enable a low-gravity moon with a dense atmosphere.

As for biological balloons, I've played with the idea for decades on and off. There are plenty of examples on this planet, but they're primarily in the swim bladders of fish and the floats on kelps, sargassum, and hydrozoans like the portuguese man of war. The difference between water and air seems to be the reason these floats work, but I don't think you get quite the same benefit from having aerial bio-balloons, at least until the atmosphere approaches water in density and properties. That, in turn, brings its own problems, as we see on Venus.

As for long distance dispersal, figuring out mechanisms, pathways, and evidence for it is a favorite game of botanists and zoologists. There's a large literature on it, and it's a common seminar topic. Spores (tiny propagules) are so versatile that they've re-evolved in groups (like orchids) that evolved from seed-bearing ancestors. That's something worth seriously considering.

It's also worth seriously considering that a large number of marine species (likely a large majority) use tiny propagules (larvae, spores, swimming zoospores, and the like) to spread, even though they're in an environment where making floating propagules would actually work, and floats are actually used by many of the parents that release their tiny offspring. To me, this suggests that either going tiny or hitching a ride really are the best methods for long distance dispersal, because organisms (like kelp, plants, and animals) that evolved multicellularity independently came up with analogous solutions. Floats work in other contexts.

193:

"Albatrosses and other large birds have to build up horizontal ground speed... getting air moving under their wings to launch."

So do pterosaurs. The article emphatically tells us this, hammering home the point that their relative lift capacity was pretty much the same as large birds, but it doesn't seem to fully grasp what that actually means.

The speed of the airflow over the wing affects how much lift it can generate - as we all know from looking at planes. What isn't obvious from planes is that it also affects how much thrust it can generate by flapping. Simplistically, a flapping wing on a stationary (relative to the air) body generates no thrust; it just stirs the air about. It needs some forward airspeed to shift the effective angle of attack before it can start to generate thrust.

Small birds are actually better off than bats or pterosaurs in this regard. A bird's wing has the lifting surface cantilevered off a single spar, so it has great freedom to cyclically vary the angle of attack by rotating the spar. With the great excess of power a small bird has, this means they can develop thrust while stationary relative to the air. Hummingbirds are an extreme example of this. A membrane wing which is attached to the side of the body and supported by its own tension is much less able to do anything of the kind. (Like a sailing boat with a fixed boom; you could get it to sail close to the wind, but not at any wider angle.)

Large birds don't get that advantage because they don't have enough excess power to use it. They have no option but to accelerate - by whatever means - to the minimum speed where their wings can generate enough lift to keep them up and also generate enough thrust to maintain that speed. The same applies to anything with the same kind of relative lift capacity, like a pterosaur. It also applies to anything that is small enough that it could have an excess of power but doesn't have the rotatable wings to use it, like a bat.

That bat video is quite a decent demonstration of how having membrane wings and no back legs gives you a pretty rotten take-off performance. It can't accelerate on the ground, so it jumps into the air, struggles madly against the inability of its wings to provide accelerative thrust at such a low airspeed, and doesn't make it. It has to kind of bounce itself off the ground to keep itself moving while it gains enough forward speed for its wings to start working properly.

Far from being a launch mechanism that allows large creatures to take off without a run-up, what we see is a launch/flight mechanism that compels even small creatures to take a run-up (or flap-and-bounce-up) when considerably larger creatures with a better mechanism don't have to. A bird that size would be straight up and away. A pigeon, which is much larger than the bat, can accelerate vertically upwards using its massively powered wings with cyclically variable angle of attack and ability to develop thrust on both strokes, faster than the cat it has just pecked can jump after it. With the bat, though, a cat would be on it before it completed its bounce.

A pterosaur not only has the same lack of power and need for airspeed as a swan, it is also struggling against the standard scaling problems that make large animals crap at leaping compared to small ones. I am thoroughly unconvinced that it could just leap into the air and be off and away as the article seems to think it had to be able to - not because of what existing animals can and can't do, but because of the reasons why different body configurations find different things easy and different things hard. What I'm seeing is reason to believe its takeoff would have been a swan-like struggle to attain airspeed executed in the manner of a bat: lots of mad thrashing in a series of knuckle-bounces off the ground that got longer and longer until it finally got going fast enough not to hit the ground again, and then flew off more or less horizontally until it accelerated into a more favourable part of its performance envelope to manoeuvre, saying to itself "fucksake, I'm getting too old for this shit".

And I also don't see that this is really a problem. It's not as if it can't take off, just that it does so with the kind of difficulty appropriate to its size/aerodynamics/mechanics/etc. The idea that a carnivorous giraffe with a beak like Concorde needs to be able to take off like a pigeon to avoid attacks is just a little bizarre. It's not much less so as a requirement for the survival of the preceding versions before they got that big; after all the herbivorous swan isn't exactly harmless and vulnerable, and a pterosaur that size would be bloody lethal. Not to mention all the animals that manage to survive without being able to fly at all...

194:

I think we disagree.

A wing can be like a rigid plane wing, but it's also a propeller. Moving the wing moves air. This how helicopters take off. Your argument looks a bit like the old argument about why bumblebees can't fly.

But again, albatrosses aren't the best model. A kori bustard, the heaviest bird known to fly, can take off from a standing start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eabAb9TzLqc.

The problem is that the albatross has long wings that are optimized for its style of gliding, and it simply doesn't have strong enough legs to give it that kick upwards that the kori bustard uses to get airborne. Kori bustards, to my knowledge, don't fly very far. Their flight, like that of a turkey, is for short-distance escapes (turkeys can also take off without a run: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWyMbMTAvgY)

The problem birds have is that they push off with their hind legs. Big birds that take off fast depend in part on that push off, but they also have short, deep wings designed more for powerful thrust than efficient gliding, which requires a long wing. I don't think that many (any?) big soaring birds can take off from a standing start, because they need long wings optimized for soaring (hard to move those fast) and do better with lighter legs. The closest to doing both are probably cranes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mMeV7coJVQ)

Pterosaurs use their wings both for launch and for flying, so a bigger wing benefits both. They don't have to trade off between launch power and soaring capability.

195:

"A wing can be like a rigid plane wing, but it's also a propeller. Moving the wing moves air. This how helicopters take off."

That propeller action depends on the wing having a suitable angle of attack. It's the same deal as treading water. You scull your hands back and forth holding them nearly horizontally but inclined slightly upwards in the direction of movement, and they accelerate water downwards providing you with upward thrust. The steeper the angle of inclination, though, the more effort it is and the less thrust you get, until when you're holding them vertically it's lots of thrash but you get no thrust at all.

If you do the same movement lying face down in the water so it propels you along, you can also observe the effect the overall movement has on the effective angle of attack. Smaller angles of inclination become ineffective, and you have to twist your hands to a steeper angle to get effective thrust.

Birds can alter the angle of their wings in the same way, over a considerable range. This is particularly clear in the case of the first turkey to take off. It's going vertically upwards but it's turning its wings very sideways to get that helicopter rotor effect working. Then the ones flying horizontally later on are holding their wings much more nearly parallel to their direction of motion, as their overall forward speed is shifting the angle of attack forward. Hummingbirds take the twist-the-wing-sideways thing to an extreme, doing it all the time and getting thrust on both strokes too. IIRC bumblebees are similar.

Even swans are doing this; they have more difficulty than turkeys because of their different wing shape and their much lower proportion of burst muscle to endurance muscle, and their needs are less extreme with their horizontal forward-moving take-off, but it's very clear in Greg's swan video how the wings are twisted on the downstroke and how it does this to a progressively lesser extent as its forward acceleration shifts the angle of attack forward.

Bats and pterosaurs can't do this because of the different way their wings are supported. They have some limited control over effective angle of attack by varying the tension in the membrane, but you can't go too far with this before the wing gets too slack to work and just becomes a flappy sack. The bat video makes it clear what the struggle is - the bat can't twist its wings sideways and bully its way upwards by brute force like the turkey can, even though it has a wing shape optimised for low speed performance and manoeuvrability; instead it has to concentrate on gaining enough forward speed to achieve a useful angle of attack from its overall motion relative to the air.

Pterosaurs are constrained in their take-off by having a soaring wing shape with a more or less fixed angle of attack. They have the same problem as the bat of not being able to get their wings into an efficient operating regime other than by overall forward motion, plus they have a wing shape which is optimised for working at very small angles of attack. It has the same problem as the bat, only more so, of having to do most of its accelerating horizontally by using its wings in a very inefficient manner, with only very brief opportunities to help itself with reaction against the ground.

The tradeoff between launch and soaring isn't much to do with the initial leap. Even at the size of the bat most of the accelerating is done aerodynamically and the same is true of birds from roughly that kind of size - certainly of pigeons and of all the birds in the videos. It's about whether the shape of the wing is more efficient at one or the other (as you point out) and whether the muscles that power it are optimised for burst power or endurance. That bats and pterosaurs both independently evolved the same pattern of vestigial legs and dedicating all their musculature to powering their tensioned-membrane wings suggests to me that it's tough enough to make that kind of wing work that evolution has twice found it easiest to do it by dumping power to everything else, and the thing about using the wings to jump with is simply a consequence of not having anything else to use, not an adaptation for super-effective jumping - certainly in the bat's case it's made it rather shit at jumping compared to pretty well anything that size that uses its back legs to jump with.

Like I say I'm not trying to argue that they couldn't take off. I just don't see either the evidence or the need to go to the opposite extreme and ascribe to them unfeasibly superpowered takeoff abilities.

196:

Before you get too wrapped up in what azhdarchids can do with their wrists, it's worth being honest and pointing out what we know of them. For example, in this picture, the known bones are in gray. We're speculating about speculations, basically. There are more complete specimens of some Zhejiangopterus which was considerably smaller.

We do have some hind limb bones, and they're comparatively thin. What you're arguing is that the animal somehow runs, either bipedally on its tiny hind legs, or galloping quadrupedally like a vampire bat (!) to build up speed to launch like an albatross. Especially if it's moving quadrupedally, that's not going to work, unless it does the wing pushed take off (again, using the most powerful muscles in its body). If it can get enough clearance to flap its wing from thrusting off the ground with its wings, why does it need to run?

As for vampire bats being crap at running, they are, compared with gazelles. Compared with most other bats they're extremely agile on the ground, and they're the only bat known to gallop.

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It's also worth seriously considering that a large number of marine species (likely a large majority) use tiny propagules (larvae, spores, swimming zoospores, and the like) to spread, even though they're in an environment where making floating propagules would actually work, and floats are actually used by many of the parents that release their tiny offspring.

That is a good point.

It's cost-effective to disperse vast numbers of cheap spawn essentially at random, check. Some adult creatures use floats, check.

So when would an adult organism (having already invested resources in becoming an adult) make a balloon and float away? The two answers that immediately come to mind are for food or mating. (And if food is locally scarce an elaborate escape mechanism is likely unaffordable, the bizarre reproductive strategies of the Dictyostelium slime mold to the contrary.) I'm not sure what the optimal size would be but I'm guessing an ant is about right, being small enough to easily be lifted into the air but large enough to have a brain capable of making judgments about navigation. If something routinely produced lighter than air gas anyway I can imagine spiders weaving balloons to use it. Even a little active navigation and steering should greatly improve a flyer's chance of success.

This also seems optimal for medium distance travel, tens of kilometers. It's too much work to go hundreds of meters and going thousands of kilometers is so unlikely that it calls for billions of attempts and a near miracle.

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The idea that a carnivorous giraffe with a beak like Concorde needs to be able to take off like a pigeon to avoid attacks is just a little bizarre. It's not much less so as a requirement for the survival of the preceding versions before they got that big; after all the herbivorous swan isn't exactly harmless and vulnerable, and a pterosaur that size would be bloody lethal.

We know nothing about their life-cycle, but I'm going to guess they spent most of their time airborn. Which has implications!

They obviously landed to lay their eggs (dinosaurs: egg-layers), so I'm guessing they probably built nests in high places such as cliff-edges. Think albatross. And then someone had to incubate the eggs. (I'm assuming they didn't behave like lizards and just bury them in the sand and bugger off, if only because it's hard to get a good take-off run on a beach, whereas a cliff-edge nest is just perfect for building airspeed if you're a pterosaur with a ten metre wingspan.)

So I'm going to guess they probably pair-bonded and incubated their brood much as many modern sea birds do: one sits on the nest while the other hunts, and either they take it in turns or the hunter feeds the sitter, and then the hatchlings.

And nobody, nothing, is going to try to sneak up on the eggs in a cliff-edge azhdarchid nest because then you get attacked by a pair of angry carnivorous Cessnas.

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Um, there are a bunch of misconceptions here.

Pterosaurs aren't dinosaurs, they're another kind of archosaur (if you call them dinosaurs, you've also got to call crocodiles dinosaurs). They had hair, not feathers, although it's not homologous with mammalian hair. They did lay eggs, but the better analogy for the nests found so far is the seabird colony, not the raptor roost. So far as anyone can tell, yes, they buried their eggs in the sand rather than incubating them.

Foraging wise, the bigger Azhdarchids were thought to be terrestrial predators and foragers, like marabou and other storks, or ground hornbills.

When you have something that's built like a giraffe but 40% lighter, forages on the ground, and shares a landmass with Tyrannosaurus rex (as did Quetzalcoatlus) or other large theropods, then yes, being able to take off fairly rapidly is rather useful.

Finally, remember that while there were grasses in the Mesozoic, there's no good fossil evidence for grasslands until the Neogene. The equivalent ecosystem was more like a bracken fern meadow. If you've ever wandered through one of these, or (for that matter) walked through a wild grassland or prairie, you might understand why running takeoffs are favored more by aquatic birds taking off on the water or island birds using beaches. Even for a giraffe-sized animal (3-5 meters tall), picking up speed while being chased through meter-high vegetation isn't the easiest thing in the world.

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Heteromeles @ 194
Do Buzzards count as large soaring birds?
Because they jump-start, without a run, even from the ground.

201:

Not the ones that occur in Britain, no.

202:

The reason that I have difficulty with a Titan-like scenario is that my understanding is that it is assumed that life needed a lot of both warmth and ultraviolet to get started. Worse, for a particular solid density, the escape energy is quadratic in the surface gravity. That's a combination guaranteed to lose too much hydrogen, and quite probably nitrogen and even water as well. Titan is very cold, and so is Europa, and the atmosphere of the latter is very thin indeed and primarily oxygen.

That's entirely thinking about the 'flying horse' scenario, of course.

but I don't think you get quite the same benefit from having aerial bio-balloons

You assuredly don't, which is why I concentrated on thinking of a scenario where avioids would not have arisen, and yet there is strong evolutionary pressure for long-range distribution. The best that I can think of is the following:

A 'super-earth' with (say) twice the gravity, which would make flying vertebrates less likely, combined with the water (whether ocean or lake) being highly discontiguous yet still covering much of the surface area. I haven't a clue if that is geologically plausible. Anyway, no avioids.

Consider a littoral seaweed, that spreads its seeds by releasing them with small bladders - but, unlike here, they are filled with methane, for some biochemical reason. There would be a higher probability that lighter ones would be blown over ridges to the next water unit. That might continue until they became very light and started to take off. I am talking about gasbags with an inflated diameter of about 5-20mm, a small (but not tiny) seed, and a short lifetime (from leakage, if nothing else).

Anything larger would be dependent on such a mechanism become established first.

No way am I saying that WOULD happen, nor that it's a likely scenario, but that's the sort of thing I was thinking of.

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Oops. I meant to say "twice the gravity and 2-3x the air density".

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Gas-filled bladders...

Wind is not entirely random, since there are all sorts of ground boundary layer issues and local vortices that I strongly suspect plant spores and seeds take advantage of, because there's all this stuff on seeds ("ornamentation") that might actually have a use. I proposed some studies back when I was in grad school, but they went nowhere.

Wind dispersal is a (semi-)random mechanism. The propagule (seed, spore, spider, aphid, whatever) goes into the wind at point a, gets blown downwind to land somewhere in the downwind plume from where it was released. Thing is, the downwind territory probably isn't all identical to where the propagule was released, so there are a couple of ways to do the search.

One way to search for a safe spot is to flood the downwind area with propagules. This is what ferns, fungi, and many other things do: small, cheap propagules, released en masse. Individually each of them has a minute chance of surviving, but release enough of them and some will make it.

Another way to search is to put in some mechanism that helps the propagule find its preferred habitat. For an airborne seed this means being the right weight and having the right shape so that, when it encounters air conditions that are generally present around its preferred habitat (a pond, a fallen log, etc.), the propagule will tend to end up on the ground and in no condition to move further. This is abstract, but as I noted above, obstacles create vortices, so if you have something that tumbles out of the air when it hits a vortex of a certain power, that's a way for the propagule to "seek out" its preferred environment without wasting any energy doing so.

For a wetland plant, passive options include producing seeds that act like dirt and survive a long time. The thing about dirt is it can get lofted in a strong wind, but it also tends to wash downhill, settling in a low spot where there's water. Seeds that can both go airborne and survive for years have a chance of washing up in another pool eventually. More commonly, freshwater plants have seeds that disperse downstream in floods, and which last a very long time. This lets them end up in things like pond sediments where they'll eventually sprout. Streams are fairly chaotic systems (at least when humans aren't building dams and aqueducts), so producing a propagule that can get moved around passively by water, wait a very long time, and sprout when conditions are right works pretty well. Plants, fungi, and invertebrates all use various versions of this system.

Another way to move between habitats is to use an animal that moves between those habitats. Mud is a great mover of propagules, which is why you need to clean your boots and vehicles when exiting areas infested by stuff, so that you don't track it with you. Ingesting seeds is another trick, and even some invertebrates have eggs that can survive a gut.

Anyway, a lot of the methods above are cheap: a seed coat is dead tissue, as is the cocoon around something like a freshwater shrimp egg, as is the fluff on a cattail fruit. These are metabolically cheap compared with a balloon, and they perform pretty much the same function. A balloon that's inflated with methane isn't impossible, but again, you've got to keep it intact, because a balloon with a hole in it is basically a dandelion seed anyway. Moreover the fluff is dead tissue, while the balloon probably has to be alive to keep the methane in (I may be wrong about this), but regardless, it needs to be alive to produce the methane, or hydrogen, or whatever gas, until right before the seed is released.

Anyway, feel free to keep fiddling with bio-balloons, but the thing to remember is that plants "figured out" a long time ago via evolution that they can use dead tissue, like the fluff on a cattail seed, to act very much like a balloon. It's almost certainly metabolically simpler and probably cheaper to do what cattails do that to try to do it with a gas-tight but flimsy envelope.

The more interesting question really is nature's real use of balloons: fish swim-bladders, which apparently evolved from lungs and are used for buoyancy control. Try figuring out a gaseous atmosphere where the need for small-scale buoyancy control is as strong a selective force as it is underwater. That's where you'll find a biological balloon in action. My first guess is that the answer will be an atmosphere that's primarily...water. But maybe something else would work, like a Venus that's somehow not a runaway greenhouse.

205:

I've watched white pelicans and turkey vultures take off. Turkey vultures can do it without a running start, because they jump into the air and sweep their wings down at the same time - more wing for their mass. White pelicans mass a lot more, and need more speed to get off the ground.

206:

Turkey vultures can do it without a running start, because they jump into the air and sweep their wings down at the same time

Perhaps a bit of ground effect too?

We have very impressive buzzards/vultures here. They do quite a bit of soaring but do flap every once in a while, unlike the local hawks. Also, they have a very intimidating stride on the ground and I could believe that they could get up a bit of speed on take-off if necessary.

207:

Their flight, like that of a turkey, is for short-distance escapes
Not entirely escape. First, they roost in trees at night, flying up. Also I have personally seen a flock of 50+ (counted 50+) wild turkeys ascend and fly from over 1000m (estimate from google maps) away, and fly/glide over my house, landing a little upslope about 75 meters away. Did not see the actual takeoff, so it might have been inspired by a threat. They were not silent fliers even gliding, unlike e.g. owls. (I've seen other smaller flocks flying but typically only a few hundred meters at most. The takeoffs are attention-grabbing loud.)
Took about a second to id the flock as "not geese, turkeys OMG". Both will happily work over a harvested small corn field. The distance was far greater than needed to escape predators. (Eastern coyotes in area probably the main threat.)
Wikipedia suggests that long flight is not common, but a search result summary (google) of a paywalled article suggests max 1.5 km. (This article probably cribs from that - https://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/wild-turkeys-flying/ )

208:

Speaking of vultures, is it too soon to mention the latest dastardly assault on American Freedom?

Vulture Poop Has Compromised a Customs and Border Protection Radio Tower in Texas

United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has lost control of a radio tower in Texas—not to a downed power line or a bizarre frequency fritz, but to a flock of well-fed vultures that arrived to unceremoniously drop a deuce.
Concerned that the infestation will compromise their ability to exchange intel on trade and border security, government officials are seeking to obtain a “Vulture Deterrence Netting System” that would make the tower less appealing to land on, before the birds’ roosting season begins in late summer or fall.

At least VDNS seems to be a relatively unused ETLA:

Virtual Directory for NonStop Servers (computing)
Virtual Domain Name Services
Visual Domain Name System

209:

When vultures are telling you this, I'd say it's time to hang it up and leave....

210:

The other big birds that roost on cliffs and take off by diving are penguins. What makes them interesting wrt discussion above is that while they commonly fly up to the base of the cliff they spend a lot of their time walking.

Yes, they fly in water which is much easier than flying in air, but they use a distinct form of flying (well, flying marsuipials and some other mammals use it too) and we have pretty good fossil evidence that big penguins existed. You can wibble about exactly how much a 2m tall penguin weighs but I still wouldn't want to get into a fight with one. Or downwind of it, all in all probability.

211:

Re: '"twice the gravity and 2-3x the air density"

I'm assuming that 'air' here can mean any mix of gases. And if it's okay to take it to the extreme, super-densely packed gas isn't really that different from a liquid. So - basically - a liquid 'atmosphere'. Flying through such a 'dense atmosphere' is then not really all that different from swimming through liquid. If so, then maybe the deep oceans should be looked at.

I really don't know anything about deep ocean creatures but the fact that any creatures can survive such conditions is just plain amazing. Even more amazing is the variety of different 'tweaks'/adaptations to the environment. Like this one (tube worm):

'Free-living bacteria found in the water column are ingested randomly and enter the worm through a ciliated opening of the branchial plume.This opening is connected to the trophosome through a duct that passes through the brain. Once the bacteria are in the gut, the ones that are beneficial to the individual, namely sulfide- oxidizing strains are paghocytized by epithelial cells found in the midgut and are therfore retained. Bacteria that do not represent possible endosymbionts are digested. This raises questions as to how R. pachyptila manages to discern between essential and non-essential bacterial strains.'

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

BTW, this creature grows very fast - not the brightest but fast-growing - which could also be useful.

Was figuring that if we're going to be gungho SF, then GMO is on the table: start with an Earth-sourced* creature likely to survive whatever alien environment and then add genetic tweaks to 'build' the best functioning body for our needs in that environment. The genetic tweaks would have been discovered in the various umpteen million different Earth species.

* Earth-sourced because it might be faster to make genetic modifications on a known creature - you know that the different genes are likely to 'fit' - than an alien one.

212:

Yes, I'm quite fond of the giant fossil penguins. Wrote them into a story I'm working on right now, and I spent some time figuring out if someone could use (really dense) penguin bone as a tool or handle material. You might like the March of the Fossil Penguins blog.

Seriously, Paleocene oceans were weird. Giant tropical penguins that were red and brown as well as black and white, large marine constrictors (Apparently--aquatic definitely, marine less certain), lots of big crocodilians and turtles, and giant pseudotooth bird flying overhead, but no cetaceans, pinnipeds, sirenians, or albatrosses, because they all evolved millions of years later. The critters that are dominant today are as much a result of the PETM and the Grande Coupure as they are of Chicxulub, and I'll bet you've not heard of the latter.

213:

Birds have what's referred to as locomotor module decoupling; the legs and the wings are independent. (Unlike say quadrupedal mammals, where the gait of all four legs controls respiration.) Pretty much all volant birds are leg-launched. This is a major constraint on large birds because you have to maintain enough leg muscle to launch and enough wing muscle to fly. So you get swans doing running launches over the water surface.

Pterosaurs generally and azhdarchids specifically did not have locomotor module decoupling, were wing-launched, and fossil trackways are known depicting abrupt launches. They also have really dinky back legs because they needed only enough muscle to walk on, not launch, in the legs.

You can't analogize pterosaur wings with bird wings because birds are heavily mechanically limited by feather size limits and the metabolic costs of feathers. (Most birds have more feather mass than bone mass, sometimes by a factor of around two. The feather replacement cost is high, and it's a constraint; if you do stuff that damages your feathers, you wind up with a metabolic size constraint around the metabolic cost of the necessary moult frequency. This might be why forest eagles gets relatively bitsy compared to open-country eagles.)

214:

Sails only work if you've got two media of different density; otherwise you just go directly downwind.

There was an early French dirigible experiment that involved an attempt to stick sails on a balloon and allow control by trailing a large cart full of rocks. The sudden arrival of the cart in indifference to the road network was not popular, and the ability to keep the cart on the road wasn't present with the technology of the day.

215:

That was an interesting diversion into mass extinctions and wikipedia random walks. Thanks :)

216:

PJE & EC
That, of course, is how Buzzards & Eagles do it as well - a sychronised huge downstroke at the same time as a jump.
YouTube clips will confirm this ....

217:

I haven't read the Dying Earth books (I've heard they're great, but at my age I don't think I'm going to look back so far)

Speaking of DE, this

https://boingboing.net/2020/01/18/excellent-review-of-jack-vance.html

218:

I was considering possible variants of 'earth-like' environments that would lead to (a) 'flying steeds' and (b) natural balloons. Ones that are very different from earth are another matter.

(a) looks implausible, for reasons I gave above.

(b) looks implausible, UNLESS flying vertebrates have not evolved and they have a selective advantage over wind-borne 'parachutes'. The former condition is possible in several ways. The second is trickier, which is why I was concentrating on it.

As far as I know, there are no sub-surface aquatic plants/animals with wind-borne seeds/eggs/etc. So I was considering one that evolved via floating seedpods into very light ones that would blow around, into ones that would actually take off. I still can't see any reason why it's impossible, as such, though it's possible that the geological conditions to make it advantageous are infeasible.

219:

Thanks for stating it this way. And I'd forgotten about the trackways.

This might be why forest eagles gets relatively bitsy compared to open-country eagles.

Um, yeah. There's even a listicle or two about the world's largest eagles, which I'll pitch as reference. The tl;dr version of this is that the largest extant eagles get up to 10 kg-ish in the wild, and the three contenders for top bird are the Harpy Eagle, the Philippine eagle, and the Steller's Sea Eagle. Of these, the first two are forest birds with a wingspan in the neighborhood of 1.8-2.3 m, while the Steller's is a fish hunter with a wingspan of 1.95-2.5 m. So not much difference, really, but the first two tend to do the accipitrid bomb through the canopy after vertebrates thing, like hulked-out goshawks, while the Steller's is more like an upscale fish eagle or bald eagle.

The biggest extinct eagle known was Haast's Eagle, which apparently weighed in at 11-14 kg and had wings that were 2.6-3 m. It was definitely a bird hunter and probably a forest hunters, although you may notice that there's not all that much size difference between the forest hunters and the open air hunters at the top end. Anyway, it was a moa specialist in New Zealand, and the Maoris (probably accidentally) extirpated it in one of the Anthropocene's opening stages.

The final cool thing is that each of these giant eagles evolved independently, in a different lineage within the raptor family. This is unusual, because often a group figures out how to super-size itself evolutionarily, then proceeds to expand. Big cats and pythons are good examples of this (yes, I'm cheating on the anaconda), as are elephants and rhinos.

220:

Haast's is a weird special case driven by needing to be large enough to strangle a moa and not having much to worry about in terms of terrestrial predators. They're otherwise embedded in the relatively small Hieraaetus eagles. (Though eagle phylogeny has been a bit contentious lately and there have been calls to sink Hieraaetus completely.)

The extant canopy-eagles, the traditional-but-polyphyletic harpy eagles, are all taking advantage of the stuff that sticks out of the continuous canopy and plausibly got big so they didn't have to follow freshly killed prey to the ground, they could fly away with it.

There are still a lot more ~1 kg eagles than ~5 kg eagles, it's pretty likely the ~1 kg eagles are the more basal morphology, and most of the ~5 kg or greater eagles are open-country specialists of one sort or another.

221:

That's not so clear to me. Here's a Harpy Eagle taking a sloth. It's open, but then again, it's also in a place where it was possible to photograph what was going on. The top of the canopy isn't analogous to a steppe or the ocean, really. Here are some other raptor kills if you're feeling bloodthirsty

The bigger point is that with wing power, the fundamental problem is the square-cube law. Lift scales as surface area (square), while weight scales as volume (cube). Apparently, around 10 kg, there's only so much rearranging of that broad wing surface you can do and still be a large raptor. Harpies go for somewhat broader and somewhat shorter wings to focus a bit more on maneuverability, while a golden eagle goes for slightly narrower, longer wings for distance flying. But they're pretty similar in outline, and I think it's because the big eagles are hard up against the competing constraints of needing to be able to fly maneuverably, kill, and carry substantial prey. The bigger they get, the fewer options there are. Haast's eagle may well have been a jack of all habitats, simply because selection pressures at that size constrained its body shape pretty substantially.

When you get down to a few hundred grams, the constraints relax, and the differences in wing shapes and hunting patterns become far more pronounced, even among fairly close relatives. To pick two about the same weight (200g), the white-tailed kite and the sharp-shinned hawk (flight profile for the sharpie is here), and you'll see the differences that are possible among accipitrids. Both used to live in my area before they thought that it was a good place for 100,000 people to live. The kite literally kites, floating more-or-less motionless in a gentle headwind over a field, before dropping on prey. The sharp-shinned hunts fast using obstacles as cover (here's the famous sparrowhawk sequence from the BBC's Life in the Air. The sparrowhawk is the Eurasian equivalent of the sharpie). The kite has longer, thinner, buoyant wings to maximize lift, while the sharpie has shorter, wider wings that maximize power and maneuverability in tight spaces.

And yes, they do fly in tight spaces. There are still cooper's hawks around, and they regularly hunt my rather cluttered yard every day, usually flying in horizontally a few feet off the ground as in the video. Since I've been replacing the larger shrubs, I've had fewer birds at my feeders, and those mostly around dawn and dusk. There used to be more, because they could dive into the shrubs nearby when the hawk came through at speed. Until the replacement plants grow tall enough, they have less cover, and as a result, they only feed when the light is bad or when the hawks have already made a kill elsewhere.

222:

As far as I know, there are no sub-surface aquatic plants/animals with wind-borne seeds/eggs/etc. So I was considering one that evolved via floating seedpods into very light ones that would blow around, into ones that would actually take off. I still can't see any reason why it's impossible, as such, though it's possible that the geological conditions to make it advantageous are infeasible.

So far as I know, you're right, that there's no submerged aquatic species that produces wind-borne propagules. Trouble is, there are a bunch of submerged plants that get pollinated by flying insects. All they do is pop their flowers on a stalk above the surface to get pollinated. In principle, there's no reason they can't go in for cattail-type fluff dispersal by pushing the infructescence up in the air and shedding seeds or spores, but for whatever reason, they don't*. If they need to get to another pond (as with many ephemeral pool species) they seem to move by sticking their seeds as mud to bird's feet or by getting eaten by birds. That's something my local vernal pool species apparently do.

If you want to waste some time here's a compilation of In Defense of Plants' posts on aquatic plants. There's a lot of cool weird biology going on in these.

*Whatever reason, in this case, probably is because most of the fluffy seeds would fall into the water near the parent, and most submerged plants simply shed their seeds into the water to begin with and save the step of getting the seed blown a few feet into the water.

223:

Heteromeles
Raptors in varied habitats ....
Kestrels moved into London ( along with a lot of other birds ) during the appalling cold winter of 1962/3
As is well-known Peregrines have coloniosed the strificial cliffs of the towers of central London & there are now Buzzards inside the M25 - I saw one in December.
Walking between home & my local station - all of just under 500 metres I saw a Spar-Hawk take an actual sparrow, by the tree flowering in the forground of this picture
I don't think it will be long before the Red Kites - re-introduced to the Chilterns about 30 years ago, are now moving inwards, parallel to the M4 & the ex-GWR/GCR railway lines, appear inside the GLA area, too..

224:

When I was last in Reading, nine or ten years ago, there were Red Kites in numbers (at least 5-6) over the ring road at the Winnersh Garden Centre. I was almost offended; the first British kite I saw was 1976, in central Wales, and there might have been 80 of them in Britain at the time.

225:

At the risk of going on and on about the one thing (no-one here would do that, surely?)...

We're already seeing a bunch of "bushfire recovery through tourism" chatter down here. Viz, short-term financial benefit regardless of the long-term cost. FFS, we *know* what the problem is, it's become painfully obvious even to the most willfully blind and/or stupid. Even the Prime Munster of 'Straya is now saying "climate change is a problem, we are committed to solving it (using completely ineffectual measures)".

But somehow we're going to solve the problem by exporting more coal and flying in more tourists.

I'm working my alcoholism, I find that if I drink enough it doesn't bother me.

226:

I saw one on Tumblr yesterday: a bald eagle being released; after a couple of seconds you see a white head pop up, just enough to see over the side, and then whoosh! the eagle comes out with the wings already in a downsweep. (The camera then tracks it flying off across a lake.) They are so very much not small birds!

227:

Cattail fluff can blow farther than a few feet - my parents got cattails coming up in their turtle pond (for the box turtles, which don't swim at all). The pond was at least a hundred yards from any place else that could host cattails. (The stuff is impossible to get rid of, without completely draining, letting it dry out, and then removing everything inside.)

228:

This is the difference between submerged and emergent plants. Cattails are emergents. They need to have their roots in water, but most of the plant is above the surface. What EC was talking about were plants that grow underwater. There are a bunch of flowering plants that do that and pop their flowers up to the surface for pollination, but I don't know of one that grows entirely underwater that releases its airborne seeds above the surface. The only reason I don't think it would happen is that most submerged plants don't grow much above the surface, unlike cattails. Lofting a bit of fluff right near the surface of the water likely means that the fluff would end up in the water in a short distance. Cattails have some height, which makes a huge difference in going airborne.

229:

Well, if they're extending the season on tourists, are they also increasing the bag limit?

Actually, if Disney hasn't trademarked the name to hell and gone, I'd suggest the following promotional campaign:

"Come visit Tomorrowland Down Under, where the future is already here."

230:

I’ve been working on mine for a while, and I think I’m getting good at it. Last year I’d never heard of hepatic encephalopathy, now I are one.

231:

“Not Tamara, to die!”

232:

are they also increasing the bag limit?

The best slogan is probably trademarked in the US: "if you're lucky you'll get shot".

OTOH it's a bit subtle so might not suit the tourist market. Some variation on Damian's one...

"Visit Australia, drink our spirits before they burn".

We should also revise all those stupid don't litter signs to say "fucking Australia: anyone can have a go".

233:

There was a piece of graffiti in an improbably prominent place that stayed there for years and years encouraging the reader to “Sink more piss!”. I forget where exactly, but it would have to be somewhere in Sydney or Brisbane (Canberra is possible but unlikely). It was at least as constant and iconic as the “Lentil nightmare... where is my brain?” mural on Glebe Point Rd. Is that still there?

It dates from a time when you had proper, good old-fashioned junkies prowling the inner west, second hand book shops everywhere, second hand music equipment shops that were not actually just pawn shops everywhere (though catering to the junkies I suppose). The music scenes in the big cities were much richer then, before the triple curse of yuppies, poker machines and compulsory Irish bars (not one Australian former-music-venue pub survived the 90s without either introducing pokies or morphing into an Irish bar, where live music somehow contradicts the spirit of the leprechaun or something... even in the “authentic” ones you’d need to brush up on Brendan Behan songs and include at least one provisional IRA supporter in the band).

Anyway, I can see “Sink more piss!” being as good a slogan as any for the Australia we find ourselves in these days. It comes pretty close to the tourism slogan Scotty from Marketing was famous for being involved in, which ended so badly. It lacks the obvious shameless hucksterism and oily pickpocketing-bordering-rapey-coercion feel of the original, but retains the belligerent blokey Joie de Vivre and nihilism, while bringing it a great sense of bleakness. Fin de siècle all grande and everything.

234:

Fortunately a kiwi famous Australian band have already written the song for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1KOp1PesW0

Drink yourself more bliss
Forget about the last one
Get yourself another
Drink yourself more bliss
Forget about the last one
Get yourself another

[Verse 1]
Drink yourself more bliss
Have a stiff one all night
Everything is alright

Try and reach the bar
Coppers took the car
Offers from the sidewalk
...

https://genius.com/Th-dudes-bliss-lyrics

235:

I don't think you can go past "how good are bushfires?" to sum up the current state of politics in Australia.

The idea of getting TISM or one of the other sarcastic local bands to write the theme for an ad like that has a lot going for it. The dirge-like lyrics of "Once a Day" by the Triffids are probably more appropriate, but perhaps spice it up with Urthboy or Joelistics for that genuine dad-rock Triple-J-of-the-2000's feel?

Which reminds me: https://youtu.be/CiKyHnIEVwA

This morning on the internet
I discovered our destruction's imminent

:)

236:

Yes. Bulrushes (cattails) also grow quite happily 'above' the water where the soil is almost always wet, and grow below the water only when it's very shallow. As you say, I was referring to more aquatic plants - and animals, incidentally, such as sea anemones. Floating plants and animals are another complexity, and some (like water hyacinth) grow quite tall, but even deep-water species could rise to the surface to propagate.

237:

Going back to genre and writing....

I worked out on of the two major "human" societies in a novella I wrote (all of this stuff is waiting to see the intro novella), but now I'm spending a lot of time (and having a conversation via email with a friend from WSFA who's a retired Foreign Service officer) working out *sigh* bureaucracy, and interpolity meetings. If that isn't as complicated as a biome....

I also realized that, doing all this, is like Ye Days of Yore, when I dungeoned a lot, and that was before pregenerated modules - the DM spent weeks or months designing the dungeon.

238:

Actually, and this is not meant to be sarcastic at all, if you get into the microbial complexity and scale everything up, if wild nature were scaled to the size of a normal city, we'd be roughly the size of Godzilla, and our manipulations of the "city" that is nature are comparably crude.

I've had some minuscule luck explaining to planners that the problem with restoring nature is it's like playing SimCity scaled down 1000, if they're trying to restore full functionality and not just landscaping with native plants. The planting of the plants is like the Chinese ghost cities, where you build skyscrapers and hope that everything else you need to make the city function, including infrastructure, sort of builds itself. That's one reason why restorations often get thrashed by weeds and so rarely attract the animals and birds they hope to get, especially when they're done on a budget.

IMHO, this is one of the great, crippling shortcomings of science fiction, that detail is only meant to be in service of the story. While I get that this is important from a storytelling perspective, and that the story exists to be read, it's one reason why the genre is so clumsy when it comes to envisioning ways of dealing with our intractable problems, at least IMHO. Not only does it not adequately represent the complexity of the universe within the story, I suspect most authors don't even understand within several orders of magnitude how complex their everyday reality actually is, when it incorporates everything from viruses to changing climates to building codes and food safety laws to (what the stories focus on) interpersonal relationships.

239:

crippling shortcomings of science fiction, that detail is only meant to be in service of the story.

Among the many things that annoy me in Neal Stephenson's "Seveneves" is the bit where he finally gets to establishing the meaning of the title, then next page "five thousand years later", eliding the actually challenging bits. There's another 10 novels in that "five thousand years" and most of them would be more interesting than the apocalyptic action-sf that makes up the book. I guess I am not the target market.

It also seems odd that after a long series of disasters those suddenly stop for no apparent reason and now everything works just fine.

240:

there is a close relative of bamboo that is really light and doesn't absorb moisture when properly cured, an engineer who thinks like Buckminster Fuller (think tensegrity structure, rather than Zeppelin's heavy triangle-mesh aluminium frames or even S-L's better geodesic wooden structures), readily available helium

Such a thing could easily be a sequel to Niven and Gerrold's The Flying Sorcerors. (Though they did use hydrogen rather than helium.)

241:

You wrote:
IMHO, this is one of the great, crippling shortcomings of science fiction, that detail is only meant to be in service of the story. While I get that this is important from a storytelling perspective, and that the story exists to be read, it's one reason why the genre is so clumsy when it comes to envisioning ways of dealing with our intractable problems, at least IMHO. Not only does it not adequately represent the complexity of the universe within the story, I suspect most authors don't even understand within several orders of magnitude how complex their everyday reality actually is,
---
That actually depends on the author. Really.

For example, when the first novel gets published, I've got 200k words that we wrote that need major editing. In that, there are a couple of characters who only show up in a couple-three chapters, minor characters. My late wife and I spent long parts of four and six hour car trips (we *were* living in Texas) talking about them, and I know their life histories, and what happens after the story.

They may be minor, but they're *not* cardboard.

In all of my stories, I try to leave *no* plot holes, and nothing happens out of nowhere for no reason.

And I know I/we are/were not the only writers to do this.

And I'm just starting to get published. Don't tar all writers with a broad brush.

242:

It sound like floating is only useful when there's no way to hitch a ride. Like if you're say... terraforming, it might be very useful to have a plant or animal which does that.

243:

We had some of those, too. Galvanized washtub, sand and rocks on the bottom, plants at or near the surface, and a school of mosquitofish happily living in the water, even when it got a quarter-inch of ice on top in winter. Not sure where the plants came from, but might have come in with the fish. (Our maintenance routine was making sure the water didn't drop far.)

244:

It would be interesting to find out how the California tarweed got to Hawaii millions of years ago and evolved into silverswords.

245:

The basic answer is the ol' constipated seagull...

That's a botanist shorthand for bird dispersal, bird unknown, but since it was a long distance over water, we'll call it a seagull. Something like a tern or a golden plover (or even a Canada goose) is a more likely candidate for transporting plants from North America to Hawaii.

The Hawaiian tarplants, aka the "silversword alliance made it to the Hawaiian Islands at least eight million years ago IIRC. Their closest mainland relative is Carlquistia muirii, a rhizomatous perennial in a tribe more known for annuals. The genus name honors Sherwin Carlquist, a well-known island/California botanist who wrote Island Biology and blogged about his work on tarplants and silverswords.

The silversword alliance is cool because it contains shrubs, trees, lianas, and the silver and greenswords, which converge towards yuccas and tropical alpine rosette plants found elsewhere in the world. Most of them are pretty rare. They're still so close to the mainland tarplants that a few decades ago researchers made a hybrid tarweed X tree at UC Davis. It was rather anatomically confused, and fortunately sterile.*

I've actually heard Bruce Baldwin (The tarplant guru) talk about his work on this group (that's where I saw a picture of the weed tree) and chatted with him about it. The tarplants made it, not just to the Hawaiian Archipelago, but between all the main Hawaiian Islands. Almost certainly they dispersed by attaching to the feathers of birds occasionally, because there are different species on each island, and occasionally the same species on multiple islands. The fruits have bristles, but the seeds are too big and the bristles too small to allow them to fly on the wind on their own.

*The cover of my book Hot Earth Dreams is actually a picture of sunrise over Haleakala taken back in 2015. While I was up there, I got a nice picture of a hybrid between a little shrubby Dubautia and a silversword, growing at the edge of the parking lot. The silverswords get a lot of attention just because they're morphologically diverse, but genetically so close that they readily interbreed, even in the wild.

246:

Kind of the other way around. Floating as a tiny propagule was the default for the first 4.4 billion years of life's history (roughly), and it's still the default for a lot of microbes, fungi, insects, and plants*. Animal dispersal is much more recent, probably only the last 100 million years, give or take a fair amount.

*We tend to focus on grasses because they're so vital to civilization, but when you get to parts of the tropics, especially the islands, the flora is heavily into ferns, most of which produce aerial spores that travel a long ways. Ferns may be primitive, but they're far from outmoded or rare.

247:

Fern propagation is ... temperamental.
I introduced common harts-toungue fern Asplenium scolopendrium many years ago - & although it's supposed to like damper conditions than one gets in SE England, it thrives & comes up everywhere. Similarly with "Male Fern" Dryopteris felix-mas though only in shady places.
However, I have a large & mature Dicksonia antarctica [ Tasmanian Tree fern ] which is producing spores, but will it propagate? Nah, nix. Sniff.
OTOH, fungal spore-propagation, if one provides the correct substrate & environment, means that now, every year, I get huge Horse/Field mushrooms ( Agaricus sp. ) coming up between & under my raspberries & whitecurrant bushes. It just might have something to do with the (horse) manure I put on the bushes' roots in winter to keep them cropping, of course (!)

248:

Don't need to go that far - there are plenty of places where ferns, mosses etc. are more prevalent than grasses in the damper parts of the UK (and, I assume, a few places in North America).

The key factor about aqueous floating dispersal is that it can't reach separate water bodies, or go upstream in flowing water. Aerial dispersal isn't so limited, but things as heavy as seeds do seem to be blocked by major mountain ranges, long distances of hostile environments etc. I believe that, following the start of the Holocene epoch, the British Isles were initially colonised largely by wind-blown plants. Beyond that, it's birds or balloons (except for truly miniscule spores, of course)!

On the matter of constipated seagulls, a standard rant of mine is the lunatic (political) distinction between British native and introduced plants, even for pre-Roman ones. Beech and damson spread together across Europe, but the first is classified as native and the second as introduced. Why wouldn't a shaman introduce the very useful tree, beech? And a pigeon doesn't even need to be constipated to eat a damson in France and drop the stone in England.

249:

Are you suggesting that rabbits grow from pips? ;-)

250:

It's an interesting hypothesis, to be sure, but I am unable to work out how you came to that conclusion.

251:

Are you suggesting that rabbits grow from pips? ;-)

I understand that the Australian experience is of rabbits spontaneously congealing out of the ether, attracted by the psychic emanations of other rabbits. As soon as one rabbit appears one is doomed to see dozens, and in time perhaps thousands, of rabbits infesting the area until further notice. *grin*

Coincidentally I spotted a rabbit earlier this evening, which I terrified by existing where it could see me; it fled further back into the bushes. This was in America, so for the moment the building is not yet buried in rabbits.

252:

You're the one who suggested that the pips of "non-native species" are transported by birds. Rabbits are a non-native species...

253:

I think you need a better pair of glasses. I have rechecked, and I definitely used the word 'plants', twice. Of course, you may regard a rabbit as a plant, which would explain everything :-)

254:

in reductio ad absurdum

255:

Re: ' ... the problem with restoring nature is it's like playing SimCity scaled down 1000, if they're trying to restore full functionality and not just landscaping with native plants. The planting of the plants is like the Chinese ghost cities, ...'


Let me know what you think of this still in-editing/formatting article. The pre-publishing blurb from a Nature email is below.


'Biogeochemistry

16 January 2020

The manicured wetland that sucks up more carbon than a natural marsh

Restoration and strict controls help a saltwater marsh in China to absorb greenhouse gases.

A restored and carefully managed wetland on the Chinese coast is a much larger carbon sink than a natural marsh nearby.

Since 1970, 35% of global wetland habitat has disappeared, largely owing to human activity. Researchers say that wetlands restoration is crucial for both maintaining biodiversity and combating climate change.

Jianwu Tang at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Xuechu Chen at East China Normal University in Shanghai and their colleagues measured the flows of three powerful greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — in two coastal marshes in Shanghai. The first marsh was relatively untouched; the second had been restored by planting local vegetation and installing erosion controls.

The team found that the rehabilitated wetland took up more carbon dioxide and emitted much less methane than the natural one. As a result, the restored habitat has the net effect of soaking up 13 times more carbon than the natural marsh.

The authors call for similar restorations of degraded wetlands to store carbon.'

256:

Re: 'reductio ad absurdum'

Hmmm - thought this got tossed out as an acceptable argument when scientists started doing/incorporating stats a century or so ago.


NOTE: Skip the below if you have a queasy stomach.


About Australia's famous excess of rabbits ...

Used to think that rabbits were the worst of Australia's human caused ecosystem screw up until I saw 'Mouse House' [Steve Irwin]. Until that episode I never knew that mice were potentially dangerous omnivores - for some reason I thought mice basically just ate seeds and maybe some cheese. Nuisances and disease spreaders. Anyways, this TV episode showed what looked like a flowing river/mass of mice chewing their way out of a large still-living pig. From then on, if I ever saw any sign of mice, I set up a tight perimeter of mouse traps and ultrasonic pest repellers.

257:

SFR
There was me thinking AUS' worst eco-fail was the introduction of the Cane Toad ....

258:

I see. You seriously misunderstood, then. The idiots I was railing against were the Little Englander BOTANISTS - that's not the only imbecility they have been responsible for, incidentally.

259:

Re: Cane Toad

Hadn't heard of these before: another 'Good grief, what were they thinking!' exercise. Just looked it up on Wikipedia: cane toads were introduced to several countries but didn't become anywhere the problem they've become in AUS.

Wonder whether these disasters are part of the reason Aussie pols are reluctant to accept/do anything about CC/GW, i.e., previous scientists' recommendations/solutions only made things worse.

260:

EC
Yeah
"Oh the horrible "Spanish" bluebells" etc . Same species, though ....
IIRC several other lunacies along the same lines

261:

“ My agent was (understandably) a little leery about this. Fantasy readers like big stakes, she said. It's part of the appeal of the genre.”

I hate this about fantasy, and am much more likely to buy books that avoid this lazy way of making the reader care.

And it reliably destroys fantasy detective series. Classic detectives don’t level up to more and more power every novel, but fantasy detectives do - until the detective is so powerful that it is not a detective story any more.

But fantasy has been becoming more formulaic, and the “big stakes” is part of the formula.

262:

Classic detectives don’t level up to more and more power every novel, but fantasy detectives do

Reginald Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe series had Pascoe leveling up from DS to a high ranking cop. I can't remember his final rank, but it was high, with indications that he was going higher - unfortunately, Author Existence Failure intervened.

John Rebus, however, found his niche as Detective Inspector, and didn't try to fly any higher. He was aware that the higher the rank, the more time is spent in administration and politics.

Which is to say: a hostile high-ranking cop could cause you far more problems than your local PC Friendly.

263:

My first thought on this is:

--Gee, I hope it really works the way they say it does. And I also hope it keeps working that way for the long term under sea level rise, and

--what does "relatively untouched" mean? Marshes usually have issues due to human impacts of various sorts.

264:

I think that the idea that characters must level up may be a more recent phenomenon? Might it possibly have to do with several generations of people growing up with RPGs and thinking that's the way reality is supposed to work?

Inevitably, I think about Lord Darcy when I think about fantasy detectives. He didn't particularly level up. Neither did John the Balladeer either.

265:

Arguably Gil the ARM had already done his leveling up before the first story. He didn't need to go anywhere for interesting things to happen. (Yes, it said "SF" on the book covers. How much more fantasy do you want than a guy with an imaginary arm?)

On the other hand Granny Weatherwax and Sam Vimes certainly do level up over time.

266:

Lord Darcy had nowhere to level up to - he was already right at the top!

267:

This sounds familiar. Isn't this the plot of the Korean movie 아저씨 , translated as "Man From Nowhere"?

He's a former solider rather than nobility, but otherwise, well, I need only swap out the names :)

" lives in a downcity slum under a false name, hiding behind the bars of a pawnshop window. , a nine-year-old , is the closest thing he has to a friend. When a criminal gang kills 's mother and kidnaps the little girl, goes hunting for her."

I guess there are only so many plots to go around. It's a very well made movie, and the South Korean ethic is very refreshing for those used to Hollywood. The Bollywood remake, "Rocky Handsome", is atrocious though. Really, really bad.

268:

Oh, FFS. The text filter has false-positived on some symbols, presumably suspecting me of trying to inject XML of some kind. Here's what I meant to write:

This sounds familiar. Isn't this the plot of the Korean movie 아저씨 , translated as "Man From Nowhere"?

He's a former solider rather than nobility, but otherwise, well, I need only swap out the names :)

" 'Cha Tae-sik' lives in a downcity slum under a false name, hiding behind the bars of a pawnshop window. 'So-mi', a nine-year-old 'shoplifter', is the closest thing he has to a friend. When a criminal gang kills 'So-mi' 's mother and kidnaps the little girl, 'Cha Tae-sik' goes hunting for her."

I guess there are only so many plots to go around. It's a very well made movie, and the South Korean ethic is very refreshing for those used to Hollywood. The Bollywood remake, "Rocky Handsome", is atrocious though. Really, really bad.

[[ I assume you wanted those to appear as <Cha Tae-sik>. If so, you needed to type &lt;Cha Tae-sik&gt; - mod ]]

269:

This reads like a cross between Harry's OP and "Leon".

270:

And they do get transported by birds. As reported in "Island Going", which I'm sure someone on here other than me has read.

271:

Re: 'Granny Weatherwax and Sam Vimes certainly do level up over time.'

Granny Weatherwax was introduced as the 'leader' of the witches even though all the witches denied that they had a leader. I think that in the first book Granny appeared, she was also already trying to figure out how to borrow the swarm mind. Ditto Vimes - he met his future wife in the first book that he appeared as the principal character. This relationship was the wedge that provided his social leveling-up but neither his character nor professional outlook or abilities ever really changed. Same with Carrot who from both work hierarchy and 'Krisma' perspectives leveled up fastest. (Carrot had already memorized the police training manual en route to Ankh-Morpork before he took the King's Shilling and continued to actively learn about his professional role, its inhabitants and the city.) All three of these characters had been practicing/studying their respective crafts so were ready when the opportunity came. (More of an exercise in: Given these characters, what would happen under conditions A, B, C, etc.)

272:

Indeed, in Granny Weatherwax's first appearance she fights a magical duel with the Archchancellor, using wizard magic, and is just as good at it as he is. We know from the start that she has a far deeper understanding of the fundamental principles of Discworld magic than she ever lets on, good enough that she can take on an opponent who is a top specialist at a completely unfamiliar (and despised) method of applying those principles from a standing start and win. Then in several of the subsequent books we get to see her applying that same understanding and adaptability to defeat various other opponents on their own ground. It's pretty clear from the start that she already has this sort of level of ability when we first meet her, but keeps a very firm lid on it because she doesn't want to end up like people who don't.

With Vimes it's not so clear because much of his ability to act comes from the successive promotions the Patrician keeps giving him, but at the same time his basic competence certainly improves, and the two things are connected. The Vimes of the earlier books would be completely at sea if he was sent thirty years back in time, but by the time it does happen he's sufficiently used to being a competent commander that he succeeds by carrying on acting like one. He's also well aware of how crap he used to be and puts a lot of effort into trying to instil a bit of spine into his younger self so he doesn't end up even worse.

273:

Wonder whether these disasters are part of the reason Aussie pols are reluctant to accept/do anything about CC/GW, i.e., previous scientists' recommendations/solutions only made things worse.

Nope, it's all about coal.

China pivoted towards a more open industrial policy in the mid-1980s and began buying lots of foreign coal to fuel their new power stations. Open-cast coal mining in Australia produces cheap fuel that can be floated to China at relatively low cost, and the booming Chinese market soaked up other natural resources once the shipping route was up and running. Upshot: today, the Australian government subsidizes the mining industry to the tune of about $20-30Bn (AUS) a year, and has been captured entirely by the mining industry lobby (with help from the Murdoch press, who have been pro-mining from the get-go).

274:

At the risk of supporting xenophobia, could one make the argument that the coal subsidy is effectively a subsidy of China (by making coal cheaper than it would be without the subsidy)?

And if that argument can be supported logically, would it increase opposition to the coal subsidy?

275:

Re: 'He's [Vimes] also well aware of how crap he used to be and puts a lot of effort into trying to instil a bit of spine into his younger self so he doesn't end up even worse.'

Agree: Self-awareness is a common thread through the Discworld books.

276:

Re: 'Upshot: today, the Australian government subsidizes the mining industry to the tune of about $20-30Bn (AUS) a year,...'

Sounds like a good topic for John Oliver (Last Week Tonight) the next time he wants to do something non-USian.

FYI - Below is the 2017 episode he did about a US coal mining outfit, esp. the CEO.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aw6RsUhw1Q8

And here's the 2019 follow-up video on 'SLAPP' suits that recaps the meat and consequences of the video above, i.e., a lawsuit launched by the monied bully above in order to stop people/orgs from airing bullies' dirty laundry.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN8bJb8biZU

This is also begs the question: how did the Aussie coal mining CEOs/Execs salaries & bonuses fare throughout this, i.e., how much these corps pay in income taxes. Surely Australia has got at least a few decent investigative journalists that can dig up info on this?

277:

Once again, jumping back to genre and writing: I'm working on the final novella (this, and the other two, and the three shorts, and the unsalable short novelette will be a book), and I've got a problem, something I'm not enthused about writing.

There's an Important interstellar meeting, where one polity is offering evidence and witnesses to Important representatives of another of crimes. Now, I've got a small bit after the meeting, and I'm up to about 3400 words... but it's going to run over 25k or 30k words.

Opinions on whether I actually need to be present as the evidence and witnesses give testimony (all of which is told in the short stories, and I'm not sure I intend to sell this as a separate novella, or just fold it into the book)?

278:

could one make the argument that the coal subsidy is effectively a subsidy of China

One could, but it wouldn't really work. To much the same degree that it's a subsidy of China it's also a subsidy of anyone who buys Chinese products.

It's more accurate to see the subsidy as a high return investment by the coal companies. They pay a few million dollars to political causes very year and receive a few billion dollars in return. Occasionally they have to find a nice office for a second hand politician and that probably adds another couple of million a year to the cost of ... getting billions in subsidies. Doesn't sound like much but it could easily drop their rate of return from 1000x to a mere 500x. Or 100,000% to 50,000% if you must have percentage rates of return.

Another way to look at it is to say that we spend (30 billion) / (30,000 jobs) = a million dollars a year to employ each person who has a job in the coal industry. Bitch about the cost of welfare all you like, but it's not unemployed people that are the expensive ones.

279:

Absolutely right. I’ve long described the resources industry in general as a much-glorified work-for-the-dole scheme. It’s the same thing with logging, and in Australia much agriculture. In most cases the indirect subsidies are considerably greater than the returns to the community. However apparently we need lots of low-skill high-pay employment, because we tried education and that... well it actually worked, but means there are more educated people and apparently we can’t be having with that.

280:

"One could, but it wouldn't really work. To much the same degree that it's a subsidy of China it's also a subsidy of anyone who buys Chinese products."

True, but that's a more complicated bit of reasoning, so it depends what level you're pitching it at... on the other hand, at that sort of level the task of keeping it from descending into straight xenophobia has probably moved from "fairly impossible" to "extremely impossible".

281:

It's kind of hard to say anything useful with so little context, beyond the obvious point that a separate piece will require more detail than a subsection of a larger book, but at the same time is at considerably greater risk of being overwhelmed by the weight of it. Maybe that could be a factor in deciding which it should be.

Given your previously-stated attention to consistency, it may be impossible to avoid large amounts of detail so you don't end up with loads of things that have already happened about which the reader may come to think "but how come they didn't mention that at the hearing?" On the other hand it might be possible to turn that need to advantage if there is stuff that could do with a recap.

Personally, I quite like bits where something that happened earlier on is briefly revisited by some character who was involved in it that we didn't get to hear from at the time.

Perhaps you could do things like play games with points of view to abbreviate the boring bits. Like, say, for instance, we don't need to follow every detail of the accountants dissecting how the perp handled the proceeds, but when they get to arguing about whether the Arcturian psychotic mind aardvark pissing triflic acid all over the dealer in exotic species maybe really was just an unfortunate accident, everyone in the pub stops talking and turns round to watch the TV report.

282:

Some grasses have seeds so heavy, and so close to the ground, that they pretty much would only get distributed by being caught in hooves or by being eaten and processed by the owners of the hooves. Those grasses tend to have really good runners - they're at or above ground level, so they're not exactly rhizomes - and make a good tough sod.

283:

China buys a small amount of Australian coal comparatively speaking -- part of it is that it can be cheaper and easier to ship Australian coal to Chinese coastal power stations than to transport it thousands of km by rail, part of it is supplying metallurgical-grade hard coal for coke production to make steel with, something China doesn't have a lot of.

From a brief search it seems China produced about 1.8 billion tonnes of coal in 2018 while Australia exported about 300 million tonnes of coal in the same period, not all of that to China. Further investigation suggests that most of Australia's coal exports go to Japan, not China.

284:

It's interesting. Reading a book on African history (Toby Green'sA Fistful of Shells) argues that West Africa was relatively equal with western Europe at the end of the Middle Ages, but that they went in for exporting things that were relatively more valuable (labor in the form of slaves, gold) for things that turned out to be less valuable (iron, copper, cloth), and that they built up a growth market system based on credit to do so. A few Africans got extremely wealthy off the trade, but they impoverished that part of the world in doing so, by importing effectively perishables and exporting the people who would have made them even wealthier had they stayed in country instead of working as slaves elsewhere.

When I look at the areas where fossil fuels are mined and exported, it seems to be a similar pattern, where a few get wealthy in the short term, but the land gets trashed in the long term.

I wonder if we can generalize that large scale civilizations, whether powered by slaves or fossil fuels, tend to be about drawing the "energy" (human work or fuel for mechanical work) in towards the center, while empowering a few elites on the supply end to provide the energy while externalizing the cost of doing so onto the hinterlands.

If so, Australia's screwing up, exporting fossil fuels to places like India and China that have a very long record of high civilization. In this, they're little different than the oil barons or the slave raiders of centuries past.

This perhaps suggests one of the problems with going towards sustainability. While there's certainly a movement towards putting solar and wind farms in the hinterlands were others have to bear the brunt of their problems, they're not nearly as damaging as slave raiding or extracting fossil fuels, so they don't empower the buyers and disempower the sellers nearly as much. Thus, renewables superficially don't seem to lend themselves towards the concentration of power that has marked our civilization for the last few hundred years.

Maybe that's why it's so very difficult to switch over to renewables? They challenge our notion of how a structurally unjust and coercive civilization is supposed to work, by asking it to bend a bit more towards just distribution of resources?

285:

Ok, this novella I'm writing will be the *end* section of the book, all the information in the hearing was in the stories, earlier.

But I like your idea of hitting just high points....

286:

On another note, crap. I had to just ask my lady if she wanted to visit her folks' grave Friday - Hugo-winning cartoonist Steve Stiles' funeral is Friday, and he's being buried in the same cemetery.

287:

I think you should sum up the already offered evidence and go straight to the arguments about why X is bad (or not bad,) because the drama isn't in the evidence. The drama is in the arguments over the evidence; the charges, the responses, the name-calling, the aspersions about someone's honor, etc.

288:

The top global producers of fossil fuels are United States(20%), Russia, Iran, Canada(5%), Qatar, China, Norway, Australia, Saudi Arabia & Algeria.

If Norway isn't going to walk away from +$60billion in fossil fuel exports, Australia definitely isn't going to walk away from +$120billion.

"Australia is the world’s largest coal (thermal +metallurgical) exporter,accounting for about 29% of traded coal globally in 2016 and will soon be the world’s largest natural gas (LNG) exporter. As a consequence, Australia's global carbon footprint is very significant, with exported fossil fuel emissions currently representing around3.6% of global emissions. In 2017,Australian coal and gas exports produced around 2.9% and 0.6% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion respectively."

https://dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/Documents/cot-2018.pdf

289:

I believe that history is driven by at least two general tendencies. In one, all societies tend toward wealth centralization, because being wealthy gives one a competitive edge in terms of access to skills and technology needed to derive more wealth. This will eventually lead toward a rentier class that maximally extracts wealth from wealth flows at all levels of society. However, this trend is opposed by the phenomenon where new sources of wealth are a product of ingenuity, and humans are maximally ingenious across larger populations. This is because innovations are not primarily produced by a small class of creative geniuses under the employ of the previously wealthy, but by large numbers of people having access to the knowledge and tools required to tinker with ways of solving problems. Thus, societies that spread knowledge and resources around are more innovative than those that centralize it, while those who inherit their wealth have a competitive advantage over those who do not.

The interplay between these two trends keeps our lives interesting. Occasionally we do something that increases social innovation on purpose, like invent democracy, or public education, or the internet. And occasionally we do the opposite, like regressive taxes. If you are up on your Piketty, he argues that the late 20th century was a period of decreasing wealth disparity in the developed world, which ended sometime in the 1970's. From other sources, it appears that this trend was primarily the result of certain central government policies.

The good news is that what government policy took away, it can give back. There is nothing inevitable about any of it.

290:

I've just finished writing that part, another 2k or 2.5k words this evening. I decided to stick with some key interactions, with summaries or less of the rest of the hours of testimony.

Please note, this is *not* a trial, this is an interpolity (interstellar governments, with what my friend who's retired Foreign Service calls "fraught", like the US and the USSR). It's a review of the evidence/data, and the other society has a completely new, and out-of-the-box rep with his team on top of the embassy people....

I'm rather pleased with dealing with it this way. The fact that the writing just flowed tells me it's the way it needs to be handled, and my people are very nicely telling me what's happening (note that I have very little to do with it, it's them telling me). Which, of course, is the way it should be.

291:

I'll take a look at if when you're done if you'd like. I'm currently three-hundred pages into my new effort, and I've spent the last two weeks addressing issue with backstory, so I have considerable sympathy for your current problem.

292:

SFR @ 275
Self-awareness is a common thread through the Discworld books.
Tiffany Aching

Heteromeles @ 284
Well spotted ... something the fashionable left-wing wanking whingers NEVER EVER seem to acknowledge is that slavery & the slave trade would not have been possible at all without the enthusiastic co-operation of the local (corrupt & cruel) rulers.
It's all the fault of the evil white exploiters. In the same way that they ignore the 1000-year-plus history of enslavement & trading between Arabia & points at least as far S as Zanzibar.
Of course the moment I point out these .... inconvenient facts ... I'm immediately labelled a "white rascist fascist".

293:

Well, I can't be certain, but can historical events be handled by "As every fule know $event" stuff, rather than needing eyewitness testimony?

294:

... NEVER EVER seem to acknowledge is that slavery & the slave trade would not have been possible at all without the enthusiastic co-operation of the local (corrupt & cruel) rulers.

That reminds me of an unproductive exchange with a teacher I had when I was, oh, about 13. (That's a difficult age: old enough to ask awkward questions, too young to know anything.) I asked how the slave ships could carry off that many people. Grabbing one guy they spotted on the beach, sure. Filling entire ships with captives? Doing this for a hundred years? I don't know if I even knew the word logistics then but I suspected there was a problem in their business plan.

I still don't know what the official position was about explaining corrupt rulers to clueless kids, but I didn't get any useful answers.

295:

This is one of those situations very similar to the one where people try to read Shakespeare and complain that it’s full of over-used cliches, or complain that Tolkien is only using the standard monsters of the genre so isn’t really all that interesting. CSIRO made a lot of very successful* species introductions, most of which were specifically done in an attempt to correct some other species introduction. For instance, Australia had no large (Hoover or otherwise) herbivores until suddenly there were cattle and sheep everywhere and the local ecosystems were not good at decomposing dung, till African dung beetles were brought in. Prickly pear had been introduced in an amateur intervention (like rabbits, deer and a shitload of birds) sometime in the 19th century and was a massive pest weed, till CSIRO brought in a moth species that ate it. Most people here are probably familiar with the story about rabbits and myxomatosis.

The thing is that cane toads are one of CSIRO’s 2-3 most significant failures. However our (as in the world’s) understanding of ecology grew from that. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that CSIRO scientist wrote the book on certain branches of population biology, ecosystem-oriented approaches to management and so on. It’s not that they were doing this stuff in ignorance, it’s that they were leading the world’s knowledge of the material they were interested in at the time, a time when the scientific literature totally supported these sorts of interventions.

Of course, CSIRO was heavily involved in climate research until recent budget cuts and political appointments. Which is sort of coming back to where we started.

* In that they achieved the outcomes they were intended to. I won’t comment on unintended consequences outside the scope of the original interventions, although they too are grist for the mill.

296:

Er, Tolkien's monsters WERE standard in the genre long before he wrote anything.

297:

Help me out here: I’m riffing on the idea there was no such genre before Tolkien (although many of the themes existed in other forms of storytelling).

298:

Well, in Scotland at least those would be in the category "frequently glossed over questions" (for values relating the frequency of glossing over to how often the questions were asked out loud).

299:

Quite an interesting irony to bookend your comment with themes about self-awareness.

But this proposal that because there existed compatriots of the victims who profited from their exploitation, it therefore isn’t all whitey’s fault, doesn’t really bear a lot of close scrutiny, does it? I feel obliged to reprove someone making this argument, and my suggestion is that the argument itself is a form of onanism. A purple tumescence on display to passing school children, white beard framing a shuddering thighs and knees, a gleeful Little England cackle carried away on the wind.

It’s probably worth talking about the old Native Police here in Queensland, but another time for a different reason.

300:

Damian
You have missed the point entirely - by a good country mile if not considerably further.
I have no doubt that "Whitey" ( Or a very small subset of the above ) was indeed guilty of slaving - but that transaction required (Still requires) AT LEAST TWO participants - a seller as well as a buyer. And the former are conveniently & intentionally whitewashed ( Deliberate sick pun ) out of the story.

There are other cases of this sort of deliberate selective erasure of parts of stories for political/religious/fashionable "reasons" (prejudice) - two of whcih regularly get up my nose, apart from the one we are discussing.
[ First World War myth about competence or lack of it, & the persecution of the poor benighted catholics after 1558 - in case you were wondering. ]

Oh & I can do without the personal insults, as well - irrelevant ad hominem not wanted here, unless you want to imitate many-names - if you have an argument, let's see it, OK?

301:

Tolkien re-used a few pre-existing tropes -- dragons, for example (Smaug) -- but much of his Middle Earth was populated by beings he put his own spin on, or invented completely (Orcs, hobbits). And they subsequently served as the source for a lot of rather less creative writers, who recycled them without much thought. So in a very real way, Tolkien created modern epic fantasy. (Source: discussions with various critics, not to mention editors who explained *at length* how everyone wanted "the next Lord of the Rings" in the 1970s but nobody could quite figure out how to deliver it.)

302:

Yes, he put his own spin on all of his monsters, but he did NOT entirely invent orcs. The word orc (meaning monster) dates from 1605, and was used a certain amount in the fantasy revival of the 19th century. And the trope of a monstrous, warlike species wasn't new, either. In The Hobbit, he refers to them as goblins, and his orcs were fairly similar to the mediaeval use of that term. I agree that all modern use of orcs (both as a term and concept) dates from Tolkien, but he was familiar with older English and many of the obscurer literary works of that period.

I was excluding hobbits, as not being monstrous.

303:

Tolkien is the "trope codifer" for High Fantasy. There were certainly fantasy books/stories before Tolkien, but he defined the genre.

To quote the TVTropes website:

"You have before you three series. The first, Series A, was the first known use of a trope, but it may or may not have been intentional. The second, Series B, was the first intentional use of the trope. The third, Series C, does not claim originality, and may in fact have ripped off series B, but was much more popular than Series A or B and is the template that all later uses of this trope follow.

Series A is the Ur-Example.

Series B is the Trope Maker.

Series C is the Trope Codifier.

In other words, if in tracing the history of a trope, one example stands out as the template that many, many other examples follow, that's the Trope Codifier.

The Trope Maker is frequently also the Trope Codifier, but not always. In particular, when the Trope Maker is a work of outstanding quality, the Trope Codifier may often be a story that shows how lesser authors can do a good imitation. Conversely, a great writer may gather up many old tropes and polish them to a shine, codifying them for later generations. Occasionally somebody rediscovers a Forgotten Trope."

304:

Indeed. And, if you were to select the author of fantasy most likely to be familiar with forgotten tropes, it would be Tolkien :-)

But imaginative authors rarely simply adopt a trope, and are more likely to combine them or vary them (as Tolkien did with orcs), which is one reason that they vary with time. The Series A tropes for such things are lost in the mists of time, and even the series B are pretty variable.

305:

You mean done the current novella? That's coming in at the end of the novel, which (currently) I view as structured like this:

Novella 1
Possible location in the novel of short #2
Original short whose fault this whole universe is
short #3 (about 20 years after short #2)
Novella 2 (wherein I make the Unpleasant People not cardboard)
Unsalable short novelette (no oomph, moves story along)
current novealla

306:

Well... I read a *lot* growing up. Goblins were certainly around... orcs, though Charlie says the word was first used in 1605 or so, I have never seen before LotR. Note that Tolkien's orcs are larger and explicitly nastier than goblins.

307:

Re: 'CSIRO scientist wrote the book on certain branches of population biology, ecosystem-oriented approaches to management and so on. It’s not that they were doing this stuff in ignorance, it’s that they were leading the world’s knowledge of the material they were interested in at the time, a time when the scientific literature totally supported these sorts of interventions.'

Thanks for the background - wasn't familiar with CSIRO.

Seriously wondering how Australia's native flora and fauna diversity (both range & number of distinct species) impacts degree of damage if a 'fix' doesn't work as originally planned. I'm guessing that more diverse ecologies are more stable, but really have no idea because a very diverse ecology could still fail if some one key factor was screwed up.

I'm guessing that the CSIRO archives would probably make for good background reading for anyone writing a planet-building SF manual. These scientists would probably also make excellent guest speakers at SF conventions.

308:

I understand the point you’re trying to make, Greg, and to me it’s at best a digression, certainly a diversion from the point Frank was making, which is that colonialism changes the societies it touches. Some of how it does that is by changing the relationships between locals and sometimes that means elevating some to unheard-of riches. Cf the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia.

It’s complicated in the example of Australia because of Australia’s own colonial history: you absolutely can’t describe fossil-fuel-billionaires as locals in the pre-colonial sense. They are very much in the category of colonisers. But in some ways that really is just getting into a transactional view of colonisers and colonised, which is not entirely helpful to understand the situation.

The reason I raised the Native Police is that it sort of deconstructs this perspective merely by existing as an example. But the closest, most modern parallel there is probably the German expansion into Poland, Ukraine and Belarus in the 1940s. Locals were certainly used as part of the deliberate pattern of slaughter. Those who did so certainly enjoyed some advantage, but it’s a stretch to say they were enriched. But that makes it a bit fraught to say what the distinction might be: an extreme ends of the continuum it might be obvious, but there is clearly a graduated scale and where on earth do you draw a line?

Anyway, it’s one of the hard points where colonialism and capitalism rub against each other, witch much chafing. Or it’s some of the functions of the engine of history that made the world we find ourselves in. Images, frames, themes, tools for understanding or at least picking at the details till something unravels.

As far as insults, if you read back over your own language you’ll realise I was merely reflecting yours back, albeit more colourfully. If people talk about coloniser societies as predators or despoilers without, for the sake of “fairness”, allocate “blame” within colonised societies as well and this scurrilous, outrageous omission makes them “lefty wankers”, then I want to focus on the sort of mind that is obsessed with that sense of “fairness” and in making sure “blame” is distributed according to what looks a lot like some preconceptions about the role of their own societies but mostly an ossified snapshot of the way things were understood in the 50s and 60s. My question is really which of these categories fits the label of “wanker” better and I am providing an image to contrast with yours. Nothing personal whatsoever, dear chap. Just trying to put things on equal footing.

309:

People are just people. I subscribe to a simplifying mental framework that says there are no "immoral" or "moral" populations--given a large enough sample size, any community will produce about equal numbers of evil, good and in-between. The reason why more evil is perpetrated in some regions and time-periods than others is largely arbitrary: economic, demographic and other large scale forces coming together in such a way as to promote the interests of an especially exploitative cadre of leaders. Wait long enough, and it changes.

Of course, we don't have to wait, and that's the thing.

310:

If people talk about coloniser societies as predators or despoilers without, for the sake of “fairness”, allocate “blame” within colonised societies as well

I thought it was interesting that as part of that he tried to link to the British slave trade as some kind of eccentric counterpoint. I guess as "they're guilty too, we couldn't have been so central to slavery without willing buyers and sellers, and people willing to host our slaves. Even if they did so at gunpoint, they're still guilty".

Individual cogs in the system are definitely guilty, but only to the degree to which they choose to participate/fail to try to extract themselves. Perhaps it's the Neimoller vs Bonhoffer distinction - one is a collaborator who felt bad afterwards, the other is a martyr. Both are better than active supporters, but one more so than the other?

311:

I wasn't familiar with the word orc, either, though I was with the concept. You are probably more familiar with the modern usage of goblin (as I am) but, in mediaeval usage, it meant essentially one of Satan's minions. #302 was taken largely from the OED, though I responded only because I knew some of it already.

No, I am not putting Tolkien down - creating a monster from a mixture of existing tropes is a perfectly good literary practice, but that is essentially what he did. The merits of his world were in its structure, not in the details.

312:

Genocide, conquering other people for slavery and so on were well-established in sub-Saharan Africa before the slave trade started. In general, it was only the slaves that were held at gunpoint, and I believe that relatively few were the result of direct raids by the slavers. See #284.

However, without the European traders, it would have remained a local activity, not the major business that it became. And that should not be forgotten.

313:

I never did figure out whether Tolkien really differentiated between orcs and goblins all that much.

Talking about Tolkien is hard, because he was writing in the 1930s-1940s, and most of us don't have expert knowledge of any writer other than Lovecraft from that era. We've got to think a bit before we bring up epics in the form of the Dream Quest, or Dunsany, or Robert E Howard, or other old fantasies like Oz and the myriad SF works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. There was fantasy back then, but like pre-internet computing, it was a different era.

Tolkien's accidental innovation was to write an effing huge book that got split into a sequel, and accidentally enough, it ended up selling really well, although not in its original edition. Then it turned out that the long novel chopped into a trilogy form actually works pretty well for fantasies, and we got door-stopped (door-stomped) for decades thereafter.

But getting back to the problems of goblins and orcs, kids of a certain age probably saw "greenskins" in Dungeons and Dragons or online in WoW or other games. Or in watching the LOTR movies. When they read LOTR, there's probably a "meh, it's derivative" reaction, because they've seen the tropes for years before they saw the trope-maker.

Something similar happened with Harry Potter. I gave the "Earthsea" trilogy to a niece who'd already read Harry Potter (I think she was ten--precocious). She thought Earthsea was okay, but that whole school for wizards thing wasn't as good as Harry Potter. Then I pointed out to her that Earthsea was written in the early 60s, a good 30 years before The Philosopher's Stone hit the shelves. That didn't impress her much, but she at least understood that it was the original, not derivative. There have been wizard's schools for many years before Harry Potter came along.

Reading things in achronological order makes it hard to judge how revolutionary a trope was at its time.

Another point is that the fundamental change of the Potterverse wasn't really the story (although I do love it), IMHO, it's that it got sold through Scholastic, which was a children's educational publisher, and that only because it was turned down by conventional publishers. I suspect that this was one reason why it spawned the whole "Young Adult" section in the bookstore. Had Potter been bought by, say, Tor, it would have been just another coming of age fantasy in the adult section, and we wouldn't have that painful split where the kids in the "the golden age of fantasy" (their teens) are exiled to a separate section of the bookstore ("young adult") and often give up books altogether when they outgrow that section, while their Pre-Potter elders were initiated into the adult SFF section as young teens and stayed there for life, because they got used to reading "age-inappropriate" books early on.

314:

The thing is that even leaving the moral aspects to one side, the conventional narrative, which is based around the existence of some homogeneous, blameless, exploited group called "Africans", who were carted helplessly away in droves by the British, or the Americans, or whichever other white slave-owning group is under discussion, and only by them, is wrong. The Arabs were customers of much longer standing than the Europeans, and there were lots of groups of "Africans" who made a big thing out of trading in other "Africans", which is a point more or less ignored by white education but has been known to cause punch-ups when someone descended from one group meets someone descended from another.

Certainly my education began the story of what happened to the slaves with the terrible conditions of the slaving ships, and didn't say anything useful about how they got to that point. C S Forester's "The Sky and the Forest", and the Flashman book where he is on a slaving ship, were both far more informative than anything school fed me.

Some group of educators seems to have got hold of the idea that you can't adequately convey how evil the slave traders were unless you redraw the picture so that the good and bad actors are neatly separated by skin colour. Then you get people whose grasp on rationality isn't all it could be, who latch on to this picture at an impressionable age, and subsequently view any new information aimed at filling in the blanks as if blankness is conserved, so that revealing the existence of the slave traders they weren't taught to despise must be a disguised attempt to get them to forget about the ones they were, and therefore worthy of retaliation.

You also get people forming the impression of slavery as being a thing that white people used to be into but don't do it now and stopped doing it a long time ago, therefore in this day and age if you're not a historian you don't need to think about it. From which point lead many erroneous paths. Possibly this is even the point - which would tie up with the narrative also distorting "a long time ago" to be a lot longer than it really is. By the 1860s it was only the Americans still doing it and then Lincoln knocked it on the head and that was the end of the story, or so they wanted us to think. Never heard a whisper at school about Leo the Shit, for example.

315:

The goblins in The Hobbit do get called orcs at one point. Can't remember the exact line, but it's talking about the different tribes of them and the way the word is used it's clear that goblins and orcs are just two different words for the same thing, like calling pigeons doves. Similarly in LOTR the orcs get referred to as goblins once or twice.

Pretty sure he calls them goblins mainly because The Hobbit is more of a kiddies' book and it's a more familiar word. The goblins of the same colony that trouble the Hobbit expedition are referred to as orcs in LOTR.

Tolkien's explanation of where he got the word from goes back a lot further than 1605 (well, it would, wouldn't it). He pieces together references from about a thousand years before that and reckons it's a valid word to use for some kind of monster, even if his aren't quite the same as what it originally meant.

I can't remember where I learned the word. It wasn't from The Hobbit; that instance didn't register until after I had read LOTR. But I do remember beginning LOTR and noticing that it was orc this and orc that and thinking "oh yeah, that's the grown-up word for goblins that grown-up books use". So I must have come across it somewhere between reading The Hobbit and reading LOTR but I'm buggered as to where.

316:

Forms of involuntary work are still alive and well in the US. They include:
--Prison labor
--Sex trafficking
--Use of illegal migrants to skirt employment laws,
--Servitude on fishing ships (well, that's less in the US).

Indeed, judicial enslavement is something I expect we're going to see more of going forward. It's a classic technique (Roman, if not Pre-Roman, and invented independently by civilizations all around the world). The Black Lives Matter movement has made it more visible that black men are treated effectively as slaves by being locked up in higher numbers for more trivial crimes, and being forced to work in prisons for sub-minimum wages. Latinos have had to deal with similar issues as illegal immigrants in the US, forced under threat of deportation to do problematic work. Indeed, you could see the argument about illegal migration on the border as part of a conflict over who gets to designate who is illegal, and who gets to choose who profits off those illegals. Are the illegals to be entombed in the Prison Industrial Complex, or do they get made into migrant laborers for Big Ag? Or do they get used in transnational systems that take advantage of desperate people building up in camps, due to some clever arrangements with border build-ups?

If you want a really evil solution that's already been pitched, put garment factories and similar problematic work on large ships, and sail them to places that have been devastated by natural disasters. People desperate to make some money to buy food can be ferried aboard the factory ship and made to work under horrendous conditions. "Better still" (better if you're a cost-conscious capitalist), you can avoid the laws by anchoring the ship in international waters, and manipulate all sorts of fees by making your workers pay for their supplies, food, and transportation home--at the rate of your choosing. I'm just waiting for one of those Sea State boffins to figure this out. For all I know, they're doing it already.

317:

"...editors who explained *at length* how everyone wanted "the next Lord of the Rings" in the 1970s but nobody could quite figure out how to deliver it."

Oh, I'm sure they could. They just rejected solutions of the form "start the worldbuilding now, and see what's spun off it in 40 years' time".

318:

Well, quite. Failure to register that kind of thing is just one of the erroneous paths.

319:

"onanism"

This word irritates my sense of pedantry.

The sin of Onan was to try and sneak out of his obligation to father children on behalf of his brother, who was having difficulty due to being dead. What he did to achieve this was to pull out before he went off. Wanking doesn't come into it. He might have been tugging away frantically every private moment he got or he might have never touched it, but we don't get to hear anything either way because nobody cared about that.

I think the word serves better to mean "the habit of building diesel engines", because we do know for sure that Onan did that.

320:

Ah, but you are not thinking like a proper churchgoer.

The sin of Onan was to “spill his seed upon the ground”, which (from a certain perspective, one possibly a little under-informed about the details of how these things actually work) is the common outcome to both practices.

Last visit to Melbourne we were overtaken by a speeding Mercedes with a personalised plate that said “Onan”. This seemed to me a pretty stunning level of self awareness, one that you don’t often see in such circumstances.

321:

I think the real Sin of Onan was defying authority, always the worst crime. God said "Do this." He didn't. He intentionally and knowingly did not follow orders.

322:

conventional narrative ... some homogeneous, blameless, exploited group called "Africans"... white slave-owning group

Yeah, I'm living in a different context. Maori used slaves, who were other Maori. Growing up with that history casts the multinational commercialisation of the practice in a different light. Sure, it was inevitable that capitalism would modernise slavery and likely in the ways that Heteromeles describes, but I've only seen that presented as being uniquely bad in the context of the US as a counterpoint to the "fine and normal" narrative that'[s also very common there. Or from a critique-of-capitalism perspective, which is a completely different thing and commonly only mentions the racial element as an additional thing wrong with the practice.

323:

Given the other things that that God approves of, and his common response to disobedience, I think not much was asked of Onan and he got off lightly.

324:

But getting back to the problems of goblins and orcs, kids of a certain age probably saw "greenskins" in Dungeons and Dragons or online in WoW or other games.

I'm interested in the "greenskin" description for orcs. I first encountered orcs in (the Finnish translation of) the Lord of the Rings in the 1980s, and soon after played (A)D&D, in which they also appear.

In AD&D Second Edition, orcs were pig-headed humanoids, not at all green. Also in the Shadowrun roleplaying game, 1989, there were orcs (rather, Orks), and they were described as having a wide variety of skin colours.

Of course nowadays we have that "greenskin" thing. I think it's because of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K games from Games Workshop, originally - they both have orcs which are mostly green. In the fantasy version, there are for example Black Orcs, but in the spaceships version (which is of course as much if not more fantasy than the "fantasy" version, but I digress) they are mostly green. They are very, very popular games, apparently, and probably have affected many representations of orcs afterwards. For example, I think the World of Warcraft orcs owe much to Warhammer.

This kind of annoys me. I started playing Shadowrun in 1989, and I was quite annoyed at the Fourth edition art which seemed to have decided that Orks have greenish skin - for no apparent reason. In the original game there was no such thing. I understand that my annoyance has a very small effect on anything, of course, but as long as I'm not playing Games Workshop games, my orcs are not green. The GW is one of the largest companies and markets quite strongly, so I don't think this'll change in the greater order of things.

I'd like to study this more rigorously than just browsing the internet, though. It's on the somewhat large list of project ideas I have.

325:

Slave trading - for everybody
Mandatory You Tube video of about 14 minutes length HERE
Please watch it?

Oh yes - certainly back in the 1960/70's you had to be carefu to keep "W Indian" & Nigerian/Ghanaian workers apart on building sites, or someone would often get knifed.
Because the former were descended from slaves & the latter from the sellers.....

cptbutton @ 321
Spot on
Disobeying appointed religious authority - gets you dead.
Even more so if female - though I LURVE the sequence in episode 2 of "Good Omens" where Mistress Nutter blows up the witchfinders

Moz @ 322
I'm told that if the Maori start going on about exploitation by the Pakeha, the word to speak is: "Moriori" - who were exterminated by the Maori - yes?

326:

I encountered goblin as a name for an underground dwelling race in the George MacDonald (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_MacDonald not the Flashman one) children's books - The Princess and Curdie, and The Princess and the Goblin. The goblins here seem to derive from old miners legends of kobolds (or knockers).

Given MacDonald died in 1905, it's entirely possible Tolkein was influenced by these.

327:

On slavery (as an institution)

I think it depends on whether you have the conventional "North American" view where slaver is/can be for life, with little or no prospect of manumition ever, or the Celtic Church view, where the slavery is a punishment for a serious criminal offence (eg murder), and you will be manumitted after you have worked for a period that delivers compensation for your crime(s).

In the Celtic case, you could, if rich enough, avoid some or all of your enslavement by making immediate compensation for your crimes, and would still enjoy legal protections such that if the people you were enslaved to (not by, this is a punishment in law) did not take reasonable care of you, they would themselves become liable to enslavement.

328:

Greg: nope, that marks you as a dishonest racist bigot, so much worse than the honest ones.

Moriori are Polynesian and almost certainly Maori. It's a bit like the Kensington separatist movement in London... sure, they're an identifiably distinct group. Just not a racially distinct one. If the rest of you killed them all, or vice versa, that wouldn't be genocide.

Also, two seconds of research on your part would have saved you the shame of repeating racist nonsense in public.

329:

Moz
My wife is from Aotearoa ... she always goes on about the Moriori
Then there's this little snippet ... finishing with:
Only 101 Moriori out of a population of about 2,000 were left alive by 1862. Done to the Moriori by the "other" Maori - well?
Now then, are you claiming that the virtual extremination of the Moriori didn't happen, or what?

Please explaim how I'm a QUOTE: dishonest racist bigot - when I'm pointing out that, actually this happened ... didn't it? And that the sub-set extermination ( For want of a better phrase ) is not confined to one continent or one "racial" ( whatever that means ) type.
The jews of Europe were & are at the very least, extremely similar to all the other people in Europe ... but that didn't save them, once "divide & conquer" was restarted by the Nazis.
So, the Moriori were to all purposes idintical to the other Polynesians - who wiped them out.

330:

Greg the main point here is why you think you have a right to take such a judgemental position on other people. You’re (very) clearly not any sort of expert on the topics you express opinions about, and you’re very aggressive about anyone turning that sort of judgement back on you, something that you’d need to proactively welcome to demonstrate any slight glimmer of honesty in proceeding along the pathway you have, unfortunately, been clamouring and crowding.

The British were a plague on the world. This isn’t even debatable. Their colonial history is an unmitigated tragedy for billions of people whose ancestors suffered the rape and murder it involved. The UK that sank itself into the EU was another species, one with a rehabilitatable future. The entity backing away from that, seeking vindication of the violence of its previous zenith, is a pariah and can never be anything but. Sorry about that, old bean, but these are simply the way it is, facts that can’t be dodged (with any honesty.. though there’s plenty of self-delusion that can help you out for a while.

There’s still good news but. There’s literally heaps and heaps of good you can do. The next few years are going to suck really badly for you, though, so you pretty much get a free pass, leave of absence for the duration. Sorry, that’s not really part of the good news and it’s likely to take quite a while to unravel.

331:

Oh dear ..
The best I can say about "the empire" is that it was almost certainly less evil than the others, which is not a lot.
NOT the point, though.
IF I happen to point out that other people are or were doing these things, I get accused of being racist, when I'm simply pointing out that it's not only "whitey" who is to blame.
To quote a very regrettable source: "Who now remembers the Armeninans?"
And if we don't remember them & others like them, then some evil bastards are going to do it again
In fact, they are doing it again - right now.
To the Uighurs in Xinjiang province of the PRC & to the Roninga in NW Burma, in fact.
But it's so much easier to blame people that are long dead, than actually do something to try to stop it right now, isn't it? Especially if the murderers have the economic clout of the PRC.

332:

There was a picture making the rounds on Twitter recently[1]. Unfortunately, I, can no longer find it.

Three pictures, three captions.

Panel 1: Caption: English history as seen by the English. Picture: Sir Ian Mckellen as Gandalf.

Panel 2: Caption: English history as seen by everybody else. Picture: Sauron armed and armoured.

Panel 3: Caption: English history as seen by the Irish. Picture: Sauron armed and armoured, but with extra-evil red glow added.

[1] OGH himself may have retweeted it.

333:

Greg the main point here is why you think you have a right to take such a judgemental position on other people. . . . The British were a plague on the world. This isn’t even debatable. Their colonial history is an unmitigated tragedy for billions of people whose ancestors suffered the rape and murder it involved.

Hmm. OK. So why do you think you have a right to make such a judgment, if you are querying Greg's?

On the factual basis, "unmitigated tragedy" is NOT supported by all of the 'conquered' peoples, especially those whose genocide or enslavement was stopped only by the coming of the British Empire. Even Rhodes's Rogues stopped the Mashona from being 'ethnically cleansed' from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) by the Matabele, and they were adventurers, pure and simple - though Rhodes himself was more complex.

334:

Another point is that the fundamental change of the Potterverse wasn't really the story (although I do love it), IMHO, it's that it got sold through Scholastic, which was a children's educational publisher, and that only because it was turned down by conventional publishers.

Wrong. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was published in the UK by Bloomsbury (after eight rejections) in mid-1997.

Scholastic then acquired NorAm rights for a hitherto unprecedented advance (for a first novel by a no-name kidlit author) and rushed it out in November 1998 after re-titling it and modifying the spelling and grammar to fit American educational standards.

Bloomsbury Press gave Rowling a £2500 advance for UK/EU EngLang rights, then slapped an adult-friendly cover on it -- it went viral when parents who'd read it to their kids began passing it around their friends, at which point sales took off by word of mouth: those first editions are now worth $BIGNUM because they didn't print very many of them.

The point is, HP was already a runaway out-of-nowhere bestseller in the UK before Scholastic ponied up $105,000 to jump on the bandwagon.

335:

Oh, I'm sure they could. They just rejected solutions of the form "start the worldbuilding now, and see what's spun off it in 40 years' time".

Because that's not their job: editors edit existing work and manage publishing workflow, that's all. They're not venture capitalists. (Book advances are loans against future deliverables but are a relatively recent -- past 150-200 years -- tradition because authors are poor and it helps if they can eat while they work.)

Mind you, they kinda-sorta did the 40 year worldbuilding run-up thing indirectly; why do you think there are so many 70 year old fantasy authors still working and even starting new series works?

336:

Of course nowadays we have that "greenskin" thing. I think it's because of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K games from Games Workshop, originally - they both have orcs which are mostly green. In the fantasy version, there are for example Black Orcs, but

Simple explanation: it sells more paint!

(Remember, this is the Spiky Space Womble Corporation we're talking about.)

337:

Sorry, but I think the equivalence you’re trying to draw here is fundamentally dishonest.

338:

Agreed. It's like taking the existence of Oskar Schindler as a mitigating factor for the Shoah.

339:

Update
If you REALLY want bigoted right-wing haters
Try here rather than calling me names.
HINT: My neighbour's grandfather had to flee Kashmir in 1948 ....

JRyenolds
I've just come across the behaviour of the French in Algeria 18930 to about 1930 ... euuuw.
The BIG mistake in Ireland was in either 1801 oe 1802, I forget which.

EC
One can also chalk up the abolition of Thugge & Suttee if you want to.
And, if you are talking about racist/tribal genocide, Mugabe in Zimbabwe & his treatment of the (?) Ndebele IIRC?

If you want to go far enough, then both Charlie & I are "guilty" since we've both bought a snazzy new phone, designed in the UK, but made in Shenzen - are we helping the PRC in their criminal acts by so doing?

340:

Moriori are Polynesian and almost certainly Maori. It's a bit like the Kensington separatist movement in London... sure, they're an identifiably distinct group. Just not a racially distinct one. If the rest of you killed them all, or vice versa, that wouldn't be genocide.

Here are a couple of things to think about with regard to the group known to us as the Polynesians.

Yes, they made war on each other and robbed each other, just as did everyone else AFAIK. If you dig a bit, you get all these interesting stories, like Kamehameha the-not-yet-great passing out from fatigue while holding up the barbecued body of a defeated chief during a very long ceremony to honor Kuka'ilimoku, a god the chiefs worshiped in Hawai'i. I'll get back to this god in a bit.

Language lesson time: Maori (Maoli in Hawaiian, because of that R/L change) means (according to my old pocket Hawaiian dictionary) "native, indigenous, genuine, true, real." There are a bunch of Polynesian peoples who call themselves Maori. Whether they all mean the same thing by it, and whether it's the equivalent of a political group from Polynesia a thousand years ago, I can't answer.

Moriori doesn't have a direct cognate in Hawaiian (checked the online dictionary too) but I suspect there may be some humor involved. Polynesian words are often compounds, so breaking it into parts and translating the bits, "in cold happiness" may be one possible translation of Ma li 'oli, with various macrons omitted. Mo is an uncommon version of Ma. Likely it means something completely different.

Just for completeness' sake, there's another word for Polynesian people used in places like Hawai'i and New Caledonia: Kanaka. It means "human being."

It's hard for a mainlander like me to tell, when people label themselves collectively as either "natives" or "human beings," whether there are underlying politics involved (as there are in US nativist and racist movements), whether the label is one they've accepted, because some ignorant explorer asked an islander centuries ago what they called themselves, and they've been stuck with that label ever since. It's also possible that groups have decided to call themselves Maori or Kanaka depending on how outsiders treated them. Was it more necessary to tell colonialists that they were natives to the land being taken, or that they were human beings whose rights were being trampled? I don't know.

Back to Ku Ka 'Ili Moku, one of my less favorite gods (note that the ' is a glottal stop and a letter). Let me translate that name. Ku is one of the big three Polynesian gods,a deity with many "avatars" more or less in the Hindu sense. Continuing the translation of the name, ka is the equivalent of "the" in English. 'Ili is a section of land or a district. Moku as a verb means to cut, amputate, section, or portion out. It can also mean a land section. In my dictionary "ho'omoku" means to place someone in charge of a section of land (ho'o is "a very active former of causative derivatives," effectively "make happen." It's one of those Hawaiian words like Wiki that needs more use. But I digress again).

So Kuka'ilimoku is commonly translated in English as "Ku the eater of Land," but it's more like "Ku the redrawer of districts," "Ku the breaker of chiefdoms," and so forth. The cult originated in Tahiti and came to Hawai'i in one of the last boats to make it between the islands before voyaging ceased, and the kahuna Pa'ao who brought it is well known (the ruins of the first human sacrifice temple he built still stand, and I visited it a few years ago. Creepy place if you know the history).

Given my political leanings, I'm not all that thrilled about a cult that sacrificed a lot of people in the pursuit of political power and bloody competition over who got to be the authoritarian rulers of districts and islands. The cult of Kuka'ilimoku seems to be sort of a deification of "The Game of Thrones." Anyway, that's how Kamehameha ended up carrying the barbecued corpse of his defeated foe as a sacrifice to this god, and why he was admired for holding that body for hours while the kahunas chanted, to the point where he passed out rather than dropping the body. He showed great form in honoring the arduous rituals of the Hawaiian version of the Great Game.

So yes, they weren't all that peaceful in the islands. Were the power-hungry Polynesian chiefs all that different than the ones we have today? Only in that most billionaires or politicians couldn't hold up the roasted bodies of their defeated foes for more than a few minutes, perhaps. Conspicuous consumption and bloody overkill are still very much with us.

The other thing to realize is that, under Kamehameha's rule as the first king of the united islands, the Hawaiian population dropped by at least two-thirds. That wasn't him being genocidal, that was the result of diseases brought in by the whites, coupled with the trade in imported products (imported iron and venereal diseases, exported sandalwood) corrupting many of the chiefs to exploit their people to produce goods for export instead of taking care of their own land, because that's a standard play book for colonial traders and a standard failure point for leaders who love luxuries and aren't wise enough to understand the toll trade imposes on their people. In the end we're left with this issue of comparing atrocities, and asking how they scale relative to each other, and asking which is the greater or more repugnant evil.

Perhaps the better question is to ask which problems we're still dealing with. We're not (to my knowledge) still dealing with problems caused by the cult of Kuka'ilimoku or the islander wars and the resulting destruction. We are still dealing with issues raised by exploitative land practices, exploitative collusion between the wealthy natives and outsiders (in Hawai'i. Some of the old aristocratic families are still around and still quite wealthy landowners), and fights over land ownership and land management throughout the Pacific, as well as cultural erosion due to imported diseases and exported slaves (blackbirding). Whether they are more or less repugnant, those problems have proved more intractable.

This digression doesn't justify what the Maori did to the Moriori. The good news at least is that there are still Moriori around, and they're enjoying a cultural renaissance at the moment too. Genocide or not, it wasn't successful. And that's a good thing.

341:

Whenever you'd like someone to look at your manuscript would be fine. Just send along whatever you'd currently like some comments about, and let me know what stage the current manuscript is on so I can aim my comments appropriately.

342:

Simple explanation: it sells more paint!

Yeah, I can see why the GW wants to have some colour for the figurines they sell. Green is probably distinctive, but it doesn't really matter what colour the orcs are, unless they are gray... and all their clothing and equipment is also gray.

That still doesn't explain why D&D (Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro), Shadowrun (FASA/whatever has the rights to it now), or everybody else's orcs would be green. Might be that the GW is such a big player that it's the first orcs people encounter.

343:

I'm guessing it's more likely that somewhere in Tolkien it is made clear that Orcs are not green, so by making them green and pointing to the 17th century coinage the gamescos are immunizing themselves against trademark litigation. (The Tolkien estate is notably litigious and you will note that hobbits are "halflings" in AD&D for a reason ...)

344:

Heteromeles
So ho'o is cognate with the German verb "machen" is it?
[ One that trips up many English-speakers, incidentally, since it DOES NOT MEAN - "to make" - which is "fabriken" IIRC ]
Um, how cognate is Kuka'ilimoku with Kali, I wonder?

345:

Yes, I seem to recall that they're described as having sallow skin and slanty eyes, although that might have been the uruk-hai. Anyway, there is a tinge of racism in Tolkien's description of the orcs. Not that I'm dinging him for it, but there's something to be said for giving them green skin just to get away from inappropriate racial analogies. Not that D&D didn't have issues with the black=evil thing elsewhere.

346:

Um, how cognate is Kuka'ilimoku with Kali, I wonder?

Probably not much. I'm not sure that Kuka'ilimoku is even all that similar to the Maori war god Tumatauenga, although Ku and Tu are notionally the same god.

347:

I was thinking of Billy the Bastard myself. I anticipated your translation with "?conqueror?" and when I got to the "accepted" translations it looked even better.

Explorers and linguistic misunderstandings... (of course another possible interpretation is "people" as in "the other lot are just monkeys") ...it is noticeable looking at English maps made by the Ordnance Survey that lots of Welsh (and Gaelic) place names mean things like "big mountain" or "your finger you fool", and whenever I look at a map of Wales I keep half an eye out for somewhere called Twp Sais.

348:

Unrelated genre/MilSF question:

So what about the US Space Force? How does this idea fit in with military SF in space?

From a science fictional perspective, having a military force that doesn't (apparently!) field any weapons seems bizarre. All tail, no teeth? Why is it an independent force then? Where are its teeth?

What's the relationship between the Space Force and the NRO? They seem to be doing the same thing, possibly with the same people. Is this another of those situations where an operation can be "sheep-dipped" as either clandestine civilian or covert military depending on whose budget it comes out of? Actually, the public reporting seems to say the same thing, which suggests to me that the Space Force is structurally a hybrid warfare corps in inextricable symbiosis with the NRO. It may be a sign of the future, at least in the US, with hybrid war being fought by hybrid bureaucracies.

Ignoring the fundamental idiocy that is the US division of military forces by specialty, is this the way space forces are going to be structured going forward? Or will they become more conventional, with mechanical offensive weapons and so forth? This is an important SF question actually. We tend to assume that war in space will be like a navy battle, perhaps with Captain Hornblower ordering broadsides across the system or something. That's not what we've got with the USSF, and given that space velocities tend to be orders of magnitude faster than what we can do with bullets or most missiles, it seems that fighting in such an alien environment (alien to human reflex speeds and thinking) requires radically different warfighting. Is it that hybrid warfare (defending through getting real data and controlling assets, attacking through mind games, misinformation, and hacking, with a sideline of disabling satellites)is the only way we can fight in space? Or is it just the only way we can currently fight effectively? If it's the latter, does this mean that future space wars will involve pilots shooting at each other (for some value of pilot and shoot), but that their cultural inheritance is from spy stuff, like recon, psyops, and cyberwar?). That's an interesting combination.

Finally, do you think the Space Force is going to be around long enough to make it worth writing about, or is this just Corporal Bonespur's attempt at military immortality, hopefully to be abandoned in a year? I can see a case for either side, since the US DoD has been trying to work out what to do about and in space for many decades. But that doesn't mean that the USSF is going to remain even as separate from the USAF as it is now, at least beyond 2020.

What do you think?

349:

Shoah

As long as people in the last couple of threads are getting offended about various other things, let me ask just how unacceptable the term "Holocaust" is.

A commenter on the Washington Post just took umbrage at its use because it's a "hateful antisemitic" term, which seems like a bit of a stretch considering that it goes back centuries in various contexts and is still in common use in more or less respectable sources. OTOH, it does have some connections to important Second Temple religious practices (and Solomon's Temple?) and it's not strange that another term (Shoah) might be preferred.

So should one avoid "Holocaust" altogether, be understanding that it might be awkward in specific contexts, or what?

Oh, and, of course, Wikipedia:

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


350:

So what about the US Space Force?

I've been watching the USAF's efforts in space and the NRO fairly closely for thirty years, so I'm guessing that the USSF will spend quite a bit of time (years) trying to figure out what it's supposed do and how it's supposed to do it. Also getting budget and personnel. And that the NRO will at best be a frenemy, leaning to the second half of that word.

That could change if someone else actually started no-fooling offensive operations against US satellites.

351:

According to Wikipedia, the USSF is under the Secretary of the Air Force, as a "coequal" branch with the USAF, also under that Secretary. This is analogous to how the Commandant of the Marine Corps reports to the Secretary of the Navy, even though the Marines are a separate corps.

It's worth reading Mazzetti's The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth for how Special operations evolved under Obama, with the CIA becoming more a paramilitary organization, the DoD increasingly handling intelligence, and SEALs and other killers being "sheep-dipped" into CIA employment temporarily for operations that would be illegal otherwise (and vice versa). Relevant to this discussion is the point that there's not just fraternization between the spooks and the uniforms, there's a lot of people being passed back and forth, depending on who needs to be responsible for whatever it is they're doing.

I suspect the same thing's been going on with the USAF and the NRO for a very long time, and it's a fundamental basis of the US' "black space program."

While I don't disagree with your characterization of the USAF and NRO as frenemies, I suspect it's the equivalent of the Mexican standoff that seems to be the norm within many biological mutualisms, where the partners' ability to harm each other allows them to cooperate, because it makes it harder for each to take advantage of the other.

If Interagency symbioses are the future of hybrid warfare, it certainly requires a bit of a rethink, especially since it's layered onto previous military traditions, rather than replacing them. That's the part that might be interesting to explore from a military SF perspective.

[waiting for someone to bring up Singularity Sky...]

352:

AIUI the only people offended by "Holocaust" are (a) neo-Nazi holocaust denialists, and (b) members of other persecuted groups who see it misapplied to just the genocide of European Jews, erasing their experience. Roma/Gypsies were targeted, as were Slavs, homosexuals, Communists (whether or not they were Soviets), mentally ill people, the physically disabled, and a bunch of other groups. "Shoah" specifically refers to the extermination of Jews; other labels have been applied to other groups.

353:

Re: ' ... when people label themselves collectively as either "natives" or "human beings," whether there are underlying politics involved'

Ermmm, I dunno ... I think calling yourself 'people' is pretty common across languages/cultures. As groups met other groups with different languages, they introduced/referred to themselves as 'people' in their own language. Or, they named themselves after their territory/river. Same difference. Time passed and the self-labeling stuck.

354:

from Aotearoa ... she always goes on about the Moriori

You know how there are tropes beloved of overtly racist bigots? And sometimes other people who might agree with the trope decide that it's not worth standing with the overtly racist bigots? This is one of those. You've said you're with the bigots, the question is how far you go.

Some people in Aotearoa very much try to use the Maori wiping out the Moriori as a justification for the British wiping out the Maori. The rest accept that it happened, but it's just part of history, like Ngai Tahu wiping out Te Ati Awa in Te Wai Pounamu (which is also not genocide), or the Saxons wiping out the Celts (maybe genocide?).

The bigots, OTOH, are explicitly making that point to to argue that The Treaty of Waitangi should be ignored, and that Maori today should STFU unless they're expressing gratitude for the benefits of civilisation. We conquered them, we get to make the rules...

355:

OTOH "a commentator on a website"... that doesn't rule out much in the way of bizarre behaviour. There's everything from "the Queen of England is an alien lizard wearing the skin of a human" to "every word of the King James Bible is a literal description of reality" ("the Queens English was good enough for Jesus Christ and it's good enough for me", sorry but I can't not think of that line)

356:

Decades ago, at my first school, I got accused of anti-Semitism and "attempting to diminish the Holocaust" by mentioning that the Nazis targeted non-Jewish groups for extermination. I was informed in no uncertain terms by the head of the Holocaust Education Committee (who worked with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Yad Vashem) that the term "Holocaust" applied only to the killing of Jews by Germans/Nazis*, and mentioning other groups (or other genocides) was diminishing the tragedy (which must never be forgotten).

I was also told that, not having lost any family in it, I had no right to an opinion** about the matter.

This was backed up by the school principal, who later got promoted.

*She used the terms pretty interchangeably.

**My family lost 2/3 of its members to the camps, which apparently didn't matter because they weren't Jewish. Or even if they were, it didn't matter because I wasn't.

357:

So what about the US Space Force?
It's about aliens. :-) And a vehicle for those who want $$$ to play with/build exotic weapons systems and near-space-surveillance systems. And probably some ASAT and anti-ASAT work. (I haven't looked at their docs, TBH.)

What do people think of the new Space Force logo?
It's rather like the Star Trek logo but has something that strongly resembles a giant space spermatozoon[1] around what I presume is a very abstracted Earth, protected from space spermatozoa and other threats by a stylized low-polygon shield of some sort. At least the stars are mostly reasonable; round or 4 pointed[2].

[1] Got bogged down in fascinating (new to me) papers. The elongated head and long tail suggest strong sperm competition (note this is certainly not settled science, and an interesting field): Sperm competition: linking form to function (Stuart Humphries, Jonathan P Evans, and Leigh W Simmons, 2008)
Perhaps polyandrous Space Bats?

[2] https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/3327/optical-explanation-of-images-of-stars

358:

My take on that logo is that it's actually for the PATCHINTEL crowd. What we've got there are two top-secret doodads.

The "Star Trek Logo" is actually the survival arrowhead that all space cadets pilots will be issued with. It's ceramic, so if they get caught, it won't be caught by an xray. And if you wear thick enough gloves and can still hold it properly, the arrowhead doubles as a nifty can-opener, toothpick, and anti-personnel dagger. It's so nifty that this is all they're getting as a survival kit.

The "Sperm of Azathoth" is actually a really neat SDI spinoff code named MALACLYPSE2. It was originally designed as a defense against anti-satellite and anti-ICBM interceptors--it's a system that sheds large amounts of chaff when the body is in space, so any interceptor gets blown up before hitting the payload. Then someone figured out that this defense was a better offense. In case of DEFCON 1, certain satellites in LEO will start shedding large amounts of chaff, creating a temporary Kessler Cascade and making LEO impassable for anything. The effect will degrade rapidly (according to the suits briefing the brass on the system). And POTUS signed off on it once they told him what it would do to the International SS, because of that International word. And since only the USSF will know when it will be safe to launch (since no one has radar that can spot the stuff MALACLYPSE2 sprays), they'll have a first strike advantage. Assuming they weren't being lied to about how fast the chaff falls back to Earth. In fact, the X37 was designed specifically to sneak up on enemy satellites and attach MALACLYPSE2 deployment modules onto them, as an added element of surprise.

But yes, I think polyandrous space bats are more likely.

359:

The best I can say about "the empire" is that it was almost certainly less evil than the others

That's one of those {citation needed} things. The USA didn't think the BE was "not very evil", and they were brutal slavers and genocideers. So yes, there have probably been empires that were more evil (Aztecs, maybe?). But the claim that the British one was very much at the less evil end doesn't hold water IMO. Take the EU, for example. Not very evil, and positively delightful compared to the British Empire. But that also means we need to agree definitions of empire and evil... some people would call the UN an evil empire, others would deny the the EU is an empire at all.

NOT the point, though.

What is your point, though?

This just popped up, and is worth reading if you can push yourself past terms like "decolonisation".

For nation-states that emerged from centuries of brutal colonial rule, decolonisation is needed, in all its forms. The coloniser left India in 1947, and still the country is struggling. In Aotearoa, the coloniser coexists with the colonised, and maintains dominance over public institutions, including education, justice and health.

"less evil" == "centuries of brutal colonial rule"?

360:

I think calling yourself 'people' is pretty common across languages/cultures

One of the things I like about Nu Zild Inglis is that there is a word for "non-Moari New Zealander" and it's widely used by all concerned. There's nothing like that in Straya, except "Australian", but the invaders also try to call the locals that. 'Tis most weird*. Although hearing aboriginal individuals abused by calling them "un-Australian" still makes me laugh.

The closest parallel I can think of is Europeans calling themselves that, except that for now the origin of language used is still part of the group. Maybe once the Boris Barges have dug the channel deeper and towed the UK away from the degenerate scum that word will work better?

* how does one capitalise a word where the first letter has been dropped?

361:

Moz
Of for fuck's ake
ALL I am saying is that "whitey" is NOT the only murderer or enslaver out there ... & that attempts to portray us as such are simply "Not even wrong" & highly counterproductive.
It's SO EASY to blame our ( or other people's ) ancestors who cannot answer back, whilst conveniently ignoring the injustices & cruelties going on RIGHT NOW.
Have we got that yet?
SEE ALSO Robert Prior @ 356 - that is my point exactly

[Exception: The US deep south - where enough people want a return to pre 1955 - at least - or "better" still to pre 1960 - they are still guilty ]

As it happens, I think that Waitangi should be properly observed & if necessary re-interpreted threoguh the courts ... which I understand (?) some of the Maori are doing ... good.
And the saxons didn't wipe out the celts (assuming there was anythng remotely like "the celts" in the first place) - as can bee seen by genetic evidence across the UK
[ DON'T get me started on fake "celtic" bollocks, please, or we'll be here for months ... ]

India is struggliong because of it's own internal fascist political problems
Modi's party are the people who murdered Ghandi, right? Actually, up until Modi getting power, they were doing quite well & getting a lot bvetter.
Now, they are headed back down the road they had before the Brots came & where Trump's USA is going, with amazing inequalities of wealth & poverty - I mean they have theor own space programme ffs.
IU'm one of the peole who believbe that the Brots ran away from the problem 1940-47, resulting in the utter disaster of Partition- which (of course) promotes extremism, religious extremism.
I'm still of the opinion that WW2.5 is more likely between India/Pak than anywhere else .....

362:

'Stralian, if I recall. It's a fairly rare construction, though it uased to be more common.

363:

What you are missing is that the trope that, because 'conqueror X' did a hell of a lot of evil, EVERYTHING it did was evil, and therefore anything it stopped was NOT evil. I regard genocide, 'ethnic cleansing', death cults, human sacrifice, enslavement (whether of other people or women) etc. as intrinsic evils, WHOEVER does them, and stopping them to be a meritorious act. But it is clear that many people are prepared to tolerate such things if they are done by nominally oppressed peoples, and flame me for condemning those acts, as we can see from above.

364:

EC
You've got it, but I don't think Moz has .... yet.

365:

Charlie Stross @ 334: Scholastic then acquired NorAm rights for a hitherto unprecedented advance (for a first novel by a no-name kidlit author) and rushed it out in November 1998 after re-titling it and modifying the spelling and grammar to fit American educational standards.

Just out of curiosity ...

Besides removing the letter 'u' from "colour" and "humour" to make them "color" and "humor" what else has to be done to modify the spelling and grammar?

I don't understand why they had to change the title. I think "American" kids are smart enough to figure out what a "Philosopher's Stone" is.

366:

Mikko Parviainen @ 342: That still doesn't explain why D&D (Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro), Shadowrun (FASA/whatever has the rights to it now), or everybody else's orcs would be green. Might be that the GW is such a big player that it's the first orcs people encounter.

The first orcs I encountered were Mary Gentle's Grunts They're "OD Green" Orcs.

367:

Heteromeles @ 345: Yes, I seem to recall that they're described as having sallow skin and slanty eyes, although that might have been the uruk-hai.

I'm not that familiar with Tolkien (only read the Trilogy & the Hobbit once ... and struggled with that), but I thought the "Uruk-Hai" were the Orcs?

368:

Heteromeles @ 348: Unrelated genre/MilSF question:

So what about the US Space Force? How does this idea fit in with military SF in space?

Since it's You Know Who's boondoggle, it's either a distraction or a swindle (or probably both.)

369:

p>Allen Thomson @ 349:

Shoah

As long as people in the last couple of threads are getting offended about various other things, let me ask just how unacceptable the term "Holocaust" is.

A commenter on the Washington Post just took umbrage at its use because it's a "hateful antisemitic" term, ...

Can you unpack the reasoning behind that commenter's contention that it's a "hateful antisemitic" term? I thought "Holocaust" is the accepted name for WW2 Nazi genocide?

370:

Off-topic ... China's latest coronavirus

For anyone following this topic, this piece is very informative. Garret is an Explanatory Pulitzer Prize winner specializing in epidemics (Ebola, SARS, etc.)

'What it will take to stop the Wuhan coronavirus' (By Laurie Garret)

https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/24/opinions/wuhan-coronavirus-china-strategy-garrett/index.html

371:

Grunts is a wonderful book. One of my favorites!

372:

Bill Arnold @ 357: What do people think of the new Space Force logo?

Gene Roddenberry's heirs should sue for copyright infringement.

373:

Greg Tingey @ 361: [Exception: The US deep south - where enough people want a return to pre 1955 - at least - or "better" still to pre 1960 - they are still guilty ]

Greg, I take exception to your "Exception:". You're doing the same thing you accuse Moz of doing.

374:

Bully for you - especially as a child. I have been told the same, but only as an adult, as someone not directly affected, and not 'officially'. I have even heard that approach (by non-Jews, as far as I know) used to downplay the Holocaust's effect on the Roma, and even to justify the continuing discrimination against them.

It's not unique to the Holocaust, of course - I could describe several similar uses applied to southern Africa and (less personally) to other places.

375:

Correct. "Uruk-hai" means "orc-folk" in a bunch of Polynesian dialects orc language. When Merry and Pippin are kidnapped by Saruman's orcs we spend quite a while with the orcs more or less as viewpoint characters and using the term to refer to themselves a lot, and it's even used as one of the chapter titles in that section. It's used much less often in the other parts of the book that aren't about orc bands from the inside. So there have always been some people who think it refers specifically to the orc subtype Saruman uses (big daylight-resistant ones) and don't realise that all orc-folk are uruk-hai, just like all monkey-folk are bandar-log.

376:

JBS
No
I REMEMBER 1955 - no desire AT ALL to go back there, not even for the steam traction, I'm afraid ...
It was a dirtier, buttoned-up repressed society with inequality that we are starting to return to.
NO thank you.
( Oh & typo - I meant 1860, of course )

377:

So Greg, if I understand you right, saying "the Maori wiped out the Moriori" means, to you, "not everything the British Empire did was evil".

I apologise for failing to grasp that link immediately. Especially since I hadn't made the claim you were "disproving" by bringing up that unrelated material.

378:

Half correct
The British Empire was the first to abolish slaving, it ended thuggee & suttee, it conducted a long campagn to extirpate slave trading. ( Etc. )
And my comment on the Maori was meant to show that OTHER PEOPLE do horrible, evil things too & we should not be blind to that fact. See also my comments on the colonialism & ethnic cleansing being perpetrated by the Han, right now ....

379:

Can you unpack the reasoning behind that commenter's contention that it's a "hateful antisemitic" term? I thought "Holocaust" is the accepted name for WW2 Nazi genocide?

Grr. I just posted a reply to that, but some cyberspatial thing ate it. If it eventually shows up, oh, well.

Short form:

I don't know what was in the commenter's head, but Google indicates that

- "Holocaust" has been used for centuries, and specifically for the Nazi genocide(s) since the 1940s.

- But some Jewish commentators have been uneasy with it because of one or both of a couple of reasons, those being

1. It doesn't distinguish between the Jewish genocide and others, like the Roma. Hence, AIUI, Shoah to distinguish the specifically Jewish genocide.

2. An important raison d'être of the Jerusalem Temples was the offering of burnt sacrifices in holocaust. The association of this practice with the Nazi genocide strikes some people as a bit blasphemous. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnt_offering_(Judaism)

If anyone here has more than google-information about this, please expound.

380:

I noticed one place where they changed "trainers" to "sneakers" when referring to athletic shoes.

Dunno if lorry versus truck or jumper versus sweater ever came up.

381:

Also to the rest of the thread about orcs....

As Madelaine said, I, too, met goblins in George MacDonald.

Tolkien's use - I always pictured the goblins as a lesser/smaller race than the hobgoblins or orc, the latter being almost man-sized. Of course, I always pictured gnomes* as smaller, less sturdily built than dwarves, and kobalds like gnomes, but more malicious.

Tolkien *says* that Morgoth created Ocs, in "parody" of the Elves. Oruk-hai were created, explicitly, by Saruman, and there are *very* strong suggestions in LotR that he did that by crossing orcs with humans. Yes, of course we're talking about kidnapping, rape, and murder - they *are* orcs, after all.

Oh, and goblins' heads are turnip-shaped, in case you were wondering.

* I really dislike gnome as a window manager, it's as malicious as kobalds.

Hmmm, I should introduce Ellen to leaving out some solder and flux for the gremlins....

382:

70 yr old fantasy authors? Next you're going to bring up 70 yr old sf authors.

Nope, don't know any, never met any, and I'll deny all knowledge if you mention my age to an agent or publisher.

Btw, at Steve Stiles' funeral yesterday, Ted White, a good bit older than me, was one of the pall bearers.

383:

American young folk would've been fine with "Philosopher's Stone", it was American "Suits" that had the issue.
Racism seems endemic to humans, expressing it openly strikes me as a sort of mental slovenliness, like only being polite to people who can hurt you.

384:

Sounds good. The current/final novella part is closing on 9k words... which makes me wonder if it's going to end at 30k, or 40k words. In either case, any publisher will be happy with the length.

385:

You wrote:
I don't understand why they had to change the title. I think "American" kids are smart enough to figure out what a "Philosopher's Stone" is.
---
Because the PR folks, and other managers, have never read anything they were not required to read, have a tiny vocabulary, and think that readers of SFF are stupider then they are, and "no one ever lost money by underestimating the taste of the American public".

386:

Re: 'Tolkien's use' ... orcs, elves, gnomes, etc.

Wasn't Tolkien mostly interested in folklore/mythology and language rather than the sciences? Analyzing his ideas/rationale of how his fantastical races emerged is like trying to scientifically rationalize the Bible. (There was a series of novels c.1970s-1980s that did try an SF take on the whole Jesus thing - lots of handwavium. Unfortunately I don't remember the series name/titles or the author.)


387:

I was an adult, at my first teaching job.

With decades more experience, I'm pretty sure I unknowing stumbled into someone's promotion plan and raised waves. In some organizations you can get power by positioning yourself as a victim/oppressed and "punching from below", and the old NYSB was like that.

One of my mistakes was publicly suggesting that the Holocaust Education Week could be expanded to "Genocide Education Week", so we could bring a lesson from the past into the present day. Pointed to Rwanda (then fresh in the news), got told "what can you expect from a black country, they're savages"*.

The next year I was at a different school. Apparently the superintendent publicly congratulated the person who called me anti-Semitic etc — she had had the brilliant idea of bringing the event into the present day and making it relevant to all students by changing it to a Genocide Education Week.

So I won, in the end. Just had to let someone else take the credit.


*Told in private, so no career-ending witnesses.

388:

I'm interested in the "greenskin" description for orcs. I first encountered orcs in (the Finnish translation of) the Lord of the Rings in the 1980s, and soon after played (A)D&D, in which they also appear. In AD&D Second Edition, orcs were pig-headed humanoids, not at all green.

In the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon they were both green and pig-headed, that last in both the literal and metaphorical senses; for examples see this picture or this crowd scene. The lack of variation highlights that they really only had the one basic character design for orcs, but they were limited by the TV animation budgets of the era.

389:

Besides removing the letter 'u' from "colour" and "humour" to make them "color" and "humor" what else has to be done to modify the spelling and grammar?

Not just spelling; a bunch of British and American grammar and idiomatic usage differs, and also there are probably differences in cultural background/assumed knowledge. The latter is exemplified by the title: Scholastic decided that "the philosopher's stone" -- a Thing on mediaeval alchemy -- was too obscure/weird/ungodly for the American market (because Jeezer parents). For the former -- "I could care less" makes no sense in British English; it has to be "I couldn't care less". "A [xxx] value" is equally grammatically wrong/meaningless but fairly frequently encountered in American English. Then there are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings -- we have pavements, you have sidewalks: we have lifts, you have elevators: and so on.

(I spent 3-4 years as a technical author working for a US multinational, being edited daily in American English. There was a whole manual for British tech authors joining the department. Canadians and Australians, too. Given that the US market is the largest English language market for SF, that training has stood me in good stead ...)

390:

we have lifts, you have elevators...

Also, the UK ground floor is the US first floor and the UK 1st floor is the US 2nd floor and so on up.

391:

It's probably not relevant in this case, but educated British English speakers/writers also use several times the vocabulary and range of idiom of most educated American English ones - at least ones of my era. I learnt that when involved in a European user group, and again when I worked in the USA; I learnt how to simplify the language I used when writing documents for it. The same is needed on the Internet :-(

392:

A lot of Japanese parallel-world stories ("isekai") describe orcs as upright pig-men to the point where the Adventurers (capitalisation is correct) that hunt them sell the carcasses as pork-like meat for human consumption. Some other species of monsters are similarly "farmed" but usually only the ones that can be thematically linked to our own world's domestic meat animals -- Minotaurs, large bird-type creatures, Kraken (seafood) etc.

There's a whole subset of isekai stories involving food in an RPG-like world starting with what was probably the original one, "Dungeon Meshi" in which a group of starving Adventurers trapped in a dungeon learn how to cook various monsters, complete with recipes and serving suggestions.

393:

Also, the UK ground floor is the US first floor and the UK 1st floor is the US 2nd floor and so on up.

That's not merely a hypothetical to me; I once had to address a Harry Potter fan fiction author about this and spent a while trying to get the British floor numbering scheme into his American head. He wasn't happy to hear it, as he'd written a lot already and a search & replace wasn't going to fix the problem.

394:

There's a whole subset of isekai stories involving food in an RPG-like world starting with what was probably the original one, "Dungeon Meshi" in which a group of starving Adventurers trapped in a dungeon learn how to cook various monsters, complete with recipes and serving suggestions.

I choose to imagine that a gelatinous cube really is a one-ton cube of Jell-O for all practical purposes. *grin*

Many of you will remember the Order of the Stick's innovative defeat of a regenerating monster and the highly profitable All You Can Eat Hydra Hut.

395:

Nitpick: Bloomsbury didn't release an adult cover edition of Harry Potter until September '98, well after it had gone viral, and the second book had been released.

The story goes that a Bloomsbury staffer spotted a commuter on the tube hiding his kid's copy from his fellow passengers behind The Economist, so they produced an edition to give grown-ups permission to read it in public.

Which is a little sad.

396:

Which way do you look when you cross the road?

Which direction is the easier one to execute a turn in, when you're driving? (Hint: flip left-for-right; in the UK it's much easier to make a left turn than a right).

What is this "jaywalking" you weirdos keep talking about?

And so on.

397:

... And then there's "Chasm City" by Alastair Reynolds, in which one of the characters is a genetically modified, uplifted, talking pig (and mercenary). Yes, he bears a grudge, why do you ask?

398:

In the fantasy RPG world of Glorantha there is the "walktapus", a Chaotic creature, basically a man with an octopus for a head. Being Chaotic, it regenerates.

There is a trick to help with military logistics. You feed a soldier a piece of walktapus tentacle just the right size so it regenerates at the same rate it is digested, so the soldier needs no food.

Of course, if the soldier is killed, eventually a walktapus emerges from the corpse...

399:

What emerges from the corpse when a walktapus is killed? :-)

400:

I got to the point when the Orc leader raped an elf girl to death ("Get me another one, this one's broken") and set the book down, disgusted. YMMV.

cptbutton @398: I wonder if the Walktapus is similar to the Fucktopus? (Funny, but so very NSFW).

401:

There's a whole subset of isekai stories involving food in an RPG-like world starting with what was probably the original one, "Dungeon Meshi" in which a group of starving Adventurers trapped in a dungeon learn how to cook various monsters, complete with recipes and serving suggestions.

Now I'm wondering how well having orc buns in the oven translates in other countries.

402:

That was definitely a difficult scene, but satire isn't always pretty. :-(

403:

Charlie
re "jaywalking" ... I wonder how many US viewers of the BBC/Amzn "Good Omens" series realise that the way the characters behave in the scenes outside the Soho bookshop are actually very realistic in the way the pedestrians are crossing the roads?
( All a set, of course - not actually in London at all. )

404:

Also, the "dead" elf shows up again, albeit heavily damaged, but not dead, at Ashnak's trial.

405:

Pavement is recognized in American English. Here's one, and I don't know if there's a Britishism for it, but when I was a kid, we wore dungarees. It was, I think, in the seventies or eighties that they overwhelmingly started being called jeans.

406:


Re differing floor/storey numbering conventions:

There might be a plot gadget there, in which actions (raids, precision attacks, whatever) go wrong because the executors were using a different convention than the target's.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storey#Numbering


"Captain, we need to take out the occupant of Room 536."

"Yessir. So '5' means it's on the fifth floor?"

"Of course, Captain. Good hunting!"

Oops.

I'm reminded of the US Mars probe that crashed because the scientists designing the mission were using SI and the engineers executing it were using traditional units. (That might be apocryphal, but it's a good story anyway.)


407:

*sigh*

Someday, I may write the story in the same universe that the novel that I've currently got submitted to DAW's slushpile is in. My late wife and I were talking about writing it... eventually, after she was published, and had a couple of books under her belt.

It was going to take place on a colony moon, during an interstellar war. The bases (and miners) on the moon were blockaded, and could only get food from the colony once in a while. Two races, us and another that we got on well with, were fighting the nasties.

Why, yes, the bases had not just rats, but the friendly aliens' version of rats. The occasional video was, um, interesting. Also VERY NSFW.

Oh, and if you're wondering what kind of novel it was going to be... think Stalingrad.

408:

[smile] I grew up in Philly. Which way do I look when crossing the road? BOTH WAYS, because a) it could be a two-way street, or b) some moron's driving the wrong way on a one-way street, or c) some idiot's crossed the line, and is driving the wrong way on the other side of the street.

409:


To add another possibly embarrassing confusion, where I currently am in Latin America, the basement level(*) is "Sótano" and the elevators use 7-segment displays to show floor numbers. So S and 5 look alike.


(*) The ground/1st floor is "Planta Baja" and the one above that is the 1st floor, like in the UK.

410:

Some American English speakers recognise 'pavement' in context to mean what you normally call sidewalk; others don't, I can assure you, from experience on cycling forums.

And, when I was a child, I wore dungarees - but they meant what you call bib overalls. The OED says that is the usual sense in British English.

It's that sort of thing that causes the trouble, as well as idiom you don't use (which causes similar confusion), even more than words that don't occur in American English and FAR more than the variant spellings.

411:

I grew up in Philly. Which way do I look when crossing the road? BOTH WAYS, because a) it could be a two-way street, or b) some moron's driving the wrong way on a one-way street, or c) some idiot's crossed the line, and is driving the wrong way on the other side of the street.

I grew up in a somewhat smaller town where drivers were fairly well behaved. And I always have looked BOTH WAYS because of a), b), c), others) and a general desire to remain alive. Trust is not a survival trait on the roadways.

412:

I certainly wore them when cycling around London in the early 80s.

Basically bib-and-brace overalls, and I also owned a boiler suit at the time as well. I think dungaree is in use over here along with overall.

413:

It's probably important to remember that the base of this is the USAF Space Command, which has been around for quite a while - they handle military satellites.

414:

I'm glad I grew up reading British mysteries. I'm more-or-less bilingual in US and British English. ("Mind the lorry 'round the next bend" - me in 1979, while we were driving between Dover and Rye, across Romney marsh)

415:

in the UK it's much easier to make a left turn than a right).

I have a broad, vague general sense that there’s a deep underlying preference for things to turn clockwise in the UK and Aus/NZ/Japan/etc while in the US and Europe to turn anticlockwise (or counterclockwise, SWIDT).

Regarding pavement, sidewalk: in Aus it is almost always footpath, sometimes pavement, never sidewalk. I wonder about the origins, given time periods where the footpath might be paved by the road not, or where the footpath is a raised timber boardwalk rather than paved.

Of course here, when it’s not paved, it might be a “nature strip”, which might later have a concrete footpath added.

416:

I grew up in a small city, and they taught us to look both ways crossing streets, and also to look both ways when crossing railroad tracks - at the time, there were two railroads running through the middle of town, both with two tracks. (It was before crossing gates became common, and I had to cross both to get to high school.)

417:

I think Charlie's comment is assuming that American kids get taught the same guff about crossing roads as British ones do, only laterally reversed, but the responses from you and whitroth imply that this is not the case...

We have this formulaic crap called the "Green Cross Code" which is taught to kids as a ritual for crossing roads to keep them safe as a substitute for actual understanding of the situation. It starts off "look left, look right, look left again" (or possibly the other way round, I can't remember) and this gets abbreviated into references to being taught to "look left when crossing the road" (or "right", whichever it is) even though that only makes sense for crossing one way streets and then only half the time. People who notice this refer to being taught to "look both ways when crossing the road". In any case, it's a reference to the third stage of learning which follows "hold Mummy's hand" and "wait until Mummy says you can go".

Which way do I look when crossing the road? BACKWARDS, because I'm already looking forwards and can see when there's a gap coming towards me in that direction without doing anything special. If there is, I look over my shoulder to see if there's one the other way as well, and if so, I cross. If not, I just keep going on this side. On the odd occasions when the road does happen to be perpendicular to my intended route, I look both ways, and don't feel any need to follow a ritual to decide which way to look first.

418:

Now I have a jingle from the 70s stuck in my head:

“Look to the right, look to the left, look to the right again
Then if the road is clear of traffic, walk straight across the road (don’t run)
Walk straight across the road”.

419:

Inclined to agree. Isn't the Swallows and Amazons series appreciated, unedited, in the US? That's pretty alien even in the UK these days because the social background is so out of date. And coming the other way, being fucking weird to those not supposed to know the word didn't seem to be a problem for Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, let alone Brer Rabbit.

420:

There may be regional variations *within* American (and UK dialects of) English, just to add to the confusion.

Dungarees are not jeans, although they're often made of denim; they're what I think you call bib overalls.

421:

"Oruk-hai were created, explicitly, by Saruman, and there are *very* strong suggestions in LotR that he did that by crossing orcs with humans."

We get to see a lot of detail of a band of Saruman's orcs from the inside, boasting about having killed Boromir and giving it all the "rah rah rah, we're the Volk Uruk-hai, aren't we great". But the phrase still means simply "orc-folk", and its association with that particular orc subtype is more reporting bias than anything. There's at least one use of the word "uruks" to refer to Mordor orcs at one point.

Certainly Saruman bred up his orcs himself and one of the characters wonders if he did it by crossing them with humans, but he didn't have to have done. It's clear enough from LOTR, and more from the "unpublished" works, that orcs came in various different breeds, like dogs. Saruman could quite well (and probably more easily) have just found a colony of pit bulls somewhere and used standard dog-breeding techniques.

422:

I will note that Arthur Ransome not only wrote childrens' books during the inter-war period; he spied on the Russian Revolution for SIS and was investigated as a suspected Soviet spy by MI5 (because inter-agency coordination? They'd never heard of it): acted as a secret intermediary between the Estonian government and the Soviets: and his second wife, Evgenia Petrovna Shelepina, was Trotsky's secretary during the civil war (later she allegedly smuggled diamonds to Comintern agents in Paris).

Lots of kidlit authors back in the day led, ahem, interesting lives: Ian Fleming ("Chitty Chitty Bang Bang") was a sometime spook, while his mate Roald Dahl was a fighter ace (but, alas, deplorably anti-semitic).

423:

Crossing the road in the US? I learned "Stop, Look, and Listen." It was particularly appropriate for me because I grew up on a road with a lot of blind curves and cars going 40 mph. You could hear them before you saw them, and reacting when you saw them was too late.

424:

Been meaning to respond to this because it's wrong on multiple levels.

So why do you think you have a right to make such a judgment, if you are querying Greg's?

The two are certainly not the same thing. I'm Australian, born a citizen of a settler-state that exists as a result of genocide. I'm complicit up to the eyeballs, and when I talk about the empire I'm talking about the outcomes that make my existence possible. You, Greg and I belong to different branches of this same culture, and the privilege that has brought us to the point where we can even have this discussion is an outcome of colonialism too. My discussion of empire is a discussion of my own culture, partly a kind of self-awareness.

Greg's discussions of Other cultures is not like that at all. He talks about them as an outsider looking in, an overlord looking down. All this "it wasn't all bad" and "we were less bad than the other colonial empires" because some others were bad too and "we brought civilisation to the ignorant savages (although unfortunately this involved killing quite a lot of them)" is not an argument, it's just a restatement of premises. It allows some people to feel good about themselves, in a smug sort of way at the expense of others (specifically at the expense of our appreciation that other's lived experience is as important as ours). Those who offer judgement open themselves to it, myself included, but you can't argue that reflecting Greg's (and sometimes your) own language back, suitably transformed, is some sort of hypocritical unreasonableness. Well, sorry, that's not entirely true: of course you can argue that, it's just that that you'll be wrong.

The other point is that you did the good old specific-universal switch fallacy in the rest of your comment, interpreting "unmitigated tragedy for billions" as something that can be rebutted with a single counter example (even if I had made a universal claim, it would still be a straw man argument focusing on semantics). But I prefer to let that go, because arguing about logical fallacies is especially derailing here.

425:

For sure, aside from being into boats he was nothing like the kind of chap you'd expect the author of Swallows and Amazons to be, and it's a great shame that so many people writing about him who grew up with him as a favourite author go "eeurgh he was friends with commies" when they find out about that period and try and convince themselves that he can't have been really. If you haven't read "The Last Englishman" by Roland Chambers, I recommend it.

Fleming and Dahl, of course, are of that group in which loads of people have some interesting history because of WW2 coming along when they were of an age to do that sort of thing, but at least with the author of the Bond novels it doesn't seem so unexpected. Fleming's brother Peter was part of the same SOE training unit that Gavin Maxwell was in, who was himself a considerably more complex figure than just "some bloke who liked otters", and it makes me wonder if the resemblance of Fleming's sketch of what he thought Bond ought to look like to Maxwell is more than just chance.

426:

There may be regional variations *within* American (and UK dialects of) English, just to add to the confusion.

Oh, sure. Regional variations are common in, I suspect, most languages that have any geographical extent. Puerto Rican Spanish uses words and pronounces some differently than in Mexico and Argentina and Spain, and those have their own internal variations. "Grass" can be gramma, césped, hierba/yerba, zacate depending on where you're cutting it. Not a huge problem in most cases, but someone coming from one region to another has to pick up the local usages.


427:

There's a whole subset of isekai stories involving food in an RPG-like world starting with what was probably the original one, "Dungeon Meshi" in which a group of starving Adventurers trapped in a dungeon learn how to cook various monsters, complete with recipes and serving suggestions.

There is also a Finnish tabletop RPG 'Sotakarjut', which can be translated as 'War Hogs' or 'War Pigs'. It's a mil-sf game, and the default campaign mode is playing genetically and cybernetically enhanced human-pig-hybrids, bred for war. Sadly, it's only available in Finnish. Some pics can be seen on the game's pages.

The war hogs look quite a bit like those AD&D orcs. I gamemastered a campaign last year, but the idea of eating the pigs didn't come up.

428:

Damian
*cough* ... "nature Strip" - refers to a nudist colony, surely?

Erm, bollocks
"Overlord looking down" - you are like the people in the past whio have criticised me for being a dangerous commie lefty & (difffernt people) a dangerous fascist authoritarian.
Or, when I was teaching, was told by my ( Deeply unprofessional - told deliberate lies to the children ) H-o-D that I was "too Patrician" - I replied that some of my ancestors were penniless religious refugees & did she have a problem with that?
THAT didn't go down too well either, as I was apparently supposed to grovel ......
See also my comment in the other thread on the communists, the fascists & Chile, huh?


Ransome/Fleming/Dahl ... yes
I wonder if Dahl was brainwashed into anti-semitism as a child?
Though, after 1945, he had no excuse, really, did he?

429:

We have this formulaic crap called the "Green Cross Code" which is taught to kids as a ritual for crossing roads to keep them safe as a substitute for actual understanding of the situation. It starts off "look left, look right, look left again"...

*boggles* That's the exact traffic safety ritual from the 1 2 3 Go episode of Our Gang, and I don't think it was a new idea in 1941. (I don't know if the Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts crossed the Atlantic; they were comedies with an ensemble cast of children.) On the other hand I saw it on TV in the 1970s when I was in elementary school and still remember it despite no reminders in ~40 years, so the film obviously succeeded in getting its message into kids' heads.

430:

*cough* ... "nature Strip" - refers to a nudist colony, surely?

I'm reminded that Pittsburgh's Strip District is not nearly as interesting as it sounds. *grin*

431:

We have this formulaic crap called the "Green Cross Code" which is taught to kids as a ritual for crossing roads to keep them safe as a substitute for actual understanding of the situation.

The problem with anything more substantial with kids less than perhaps ten years old is that they usually cannot fathom any complicated instructions, and are not aware of their surroundings in a way that would be helpful in traffic. Having routines which they know they do at which point helps them survive to get to be older and more aware. Though I don't like dismissing children as not able to do things, I still think it's dangerous to think that they can perform equivalently to an adult in traffic.

Yes, I try to be aware of the traffic around me, and I have had years of practice. Still I understand that children mostly cannot do that, but they often still need to be able to function in traffic. Knowing that they need to check the road for incoming traffic and having a routine for that helps a lot.

It'd help that the car driver would also follow the rules and look out for pedestrians, but I think that's too high a hope. Hereabouts people disregard the speed limits and traffic lights all too often.

432:

Well that certainly gives a new meaning to "mowing the nature strip"*.

Look Greg obviously I don't think you're an overlord, satrap, viceroy or any other sort on evil imperial agent. The serious bit is that we all owe the relatively pleasant positions we find ourselves in to people who came before and bought it with a mountain of skulls, which, so to speak, we are still standing on. My point, if I have one, is that we're obliged to try to look at things from the skulls perspective, which is inevitably different to ours. Sometimes the skulls might have a point than we do. Well, that and we can also try to stop making it worse, or keeping the things that make it bad for others from continuing to do that.


* Something I actually did yesterday.

433:

I'm guessing you're not in your mid-seventies?

Greg is that old. He's old enough that he grew up while there was still a British Empire, and he grew up and lived in London, the hub of that empire, which could not exist in its present form without having been the capital of a world-empire.

Even among the privileged, the view from the hub is different from the view at the periphery.

(Also -- I'm just guessing here, but I think I have some exposure, due to my own relatively eccentric upbringing, to the sort of childhood literature that was published between roughly 1890 and 1930 and which Greg would have grown up with as a primary medium, TV in his day being (a) expensive and (b) minimal (2 channels of black and white, running for maybe 12-18 hours a day if you had a TV set to watch them on). To call it pro-empire propaganda would be charitable: just go hunt up a 1930s edition of Arthur Mee's The Children's Encyclopedia -- the British version, rather than the American-localized "Book of Knowledge" edition -- if you want your jaw to hit the floor. (Going by wikipedia, I think the family set I read as an under-10 was a 1920s one ...))

434:

We have this formulaic crap called the "Green Cross Code" which is taught to kids as a ritual for crossing roads to keep them safe as a substitute for actual understanding of the situation.

It's not "formulaic crap": it's designed to be readily memorized by a medium-impaired five-year-old with learning difficulties. "How to cross a road without dying" is a vital life skill in our current century. Severely impaired probably won't be out on their own, but everyone else -- including medium-impaired pre-teeens -- will have to cross the road autonomously at some point. They may be completely unable to reason about their environment, but if you can teach them to follow a rule so simple a guide dog can handle it, they might not die.

As usual, you're complaining about something that isn't about you, without considering the actual target audience.

435:

Charlie
ALMOST EXACTLY correct
The true "empire" ceased to exist in 1947 on Indian independance, when I was just over a year old, but the hangover continued
I also remember how dirty London was then ( I have seen precisely 10 minutes of the TV series "Call the Miodwife" & promptly had hysterics - the buildings were CLEAN! ) & how buttoned-up & repressed & sanctimonious everything was, even to a child.
Things have improved greatly in about 95% of all areas & I certainly don't regeret it.
We were the first household in our road to get a TV ( Late April 1953 ... guess why? ) & also the first to dispose of it ... about 1976 - I think we were the first to get a car - a a 1929 Austin Seven (!)
Oh & somewhere, wrapped up in my loft, I actgually have a full set of that encyclopedia ... um err ....
I was present, as a 9-year-old ( because my father thought I ought to - glad he did ) at W S Churchill's last public speech, for the local (by modern standards extreme left-wing tory) candidate in the 1955 election.
OTOH I took to SF at an early age, because my father had bought a "Pelican" copy of Stapeldon's "Last & First Men" & I read the Sayers' translation for the first part of Dante at age 9 .....
And came across A C CLarke at about the same time.

436:

"Trust"?

I was probably under 5 when my mom and I went down the shore (that's Atlantic City to you, where relatives lived). Now, there *were* no superhighways (well, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but not much else), and it was a couple hours' ride on the Grayhound to go the 60 mi. We got off, and I started running around, of course. My mom grabbed me and pulled me back onto the sidewalk, telling me never to run in front of a bus. Then she pointed down to a squashed pigeon, and said, "See what happens if you run in front of a bus?"

That certainly got through, and I didn't do it again. Of course, these days, I can see horrified faces.... But then, those folks have trouble with the RW.

437:

I picked a lot of that up in various and sundry books. Certainly, I figure my manager at the job I just retired from after 10 years was bemused by my comprehension of about 90% or more of his usages (he was an ex-pat from Leeds).

438:

There are most certainly dialects. I think it was reading Sapir, back in the seventies or so, where I read that before WWI, there were something like 237 mutually incomprehensible dialects in the UK. Meanwhile, in the US - this may have been later, before WWII, there were, count 'em, six.

Then there was radio....

439:

My late ex told me how she and some friends were in Puerto Rico, I think, and one guy was from southern California, and knew some Spanish... and nearly got them into a fight, because he said something that was innocuous in s. CA, and a serious insult in Puerto Rico.

440:

Now if we could just come up with an app that did it for the zombies created by the Zombie Apocolypse, to get them to LOOK UP FROM THEIR ZOMBIE CONTROLLERS WHEN DRIVING OR CROSSING THE STREET....

I swear, most of them, 200 years ago, would be dead from falling over a cliff, or being eaten by a bear, while waiting for letters to appear on the large piece of bark in their hand.

441:

I understand that. I remember when I relocated to Austin, TX the end of '86, and as we were driving along, I was astounded at how *clean* Texas was. I looked at my late wife, and she agreed, yes, Ladybird Johnnson actually meant it when she talked about beautifying America.

I considered newspapers and other trash blowing on the street normal.

442:

Of course he's not an overlord. I mean, by now, *everyone* has read the Evil Overlord list, and he's told us far more than enough for me to put on my fedora, get a whip, and come defeat him before he (dare I say it?) Conquers The World....

443:

Since this was a reasoned, even if mistaken, response, I will reply. I wwas responding in the context of your assertion "The British were a plague on the world. This isn’t even debatable. Their colonial history is an unmitigated tragedy for billions of people whose ancestors suffered the rape and murder it involved."

That statement is at least as all-encompassing and one-sided than Greg's more extreme ones, and apparently based on as limited a set of knowledge. I cannot see that you have justified your right to be so judgemental of him.

While you have some knowledge of a location where the worst atrocities were committed (which I am NOT denying), you do NOT seem to have knowledge of where the British Empire stopped very similar atrocities from occurring. Or you are denying them, because that is the meaning of "unmitigated". For all its undeniable faults, from somewhere in the 19th century, it DID have policies of and DID expend effort on stopping slavery, genocide, human sacrifice, torture and so on. It is a simple matter of historical record that its muscle was the reason the (Arab) slaving in East Africa was stopped, the practice of human sacrifice in much of sub-Saharan Africa was suppressed, and so on. Greg mentioned the Thugs and suttee, and there were many other such examples.

If you are claiming that the British Empire was an UNMITIGATED tragedy for those peoples, then you are necessarily condoning those practices.

The example on #338 is, to be polite, misleading polemic. There is no way that the Nazis were trying to eliminate a PRE-EXISTING evil by creating Oskar Schindler. But that IS what the British were trying to do in those cases.

444:

That's what most people with a larger than average vocabulary do. I keep being picked up on pronounciation, exactly for that reason.

There are fewer dialects in English than there were even in my childhood. I could understand a couple of the West Country ones, but have not heard them recently.

445:

cptbutton @ 380: I noticed one place where they changed "trainers" to "sneakers" when referring to athletic shoes.

Dunno if lorry versus truck or jumper versus sweater ever came up.

I don't think they eliminated all UK English usages in the American versions of the books. Don't remember if lorry/truck even occurs anywhere in the Harry Potter books, so that one may be moot.

I do remember that in the MOVIE for "Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets" (I think that's the one), when the Ginny Weasley character is introduced she's asking her mother where to find her "jumper" when she first encounters Harry, but I don't remember which is used in the book. I also vaguely remember it being "trainers" in the movies.

446:

Re: ' ... but if you can teach them to follow a rule so simple a guide dog can handle it, they might not die.'

Actually looking around at traffic is much better than just looking at traffic lights given how many people are red-green color blind. Not sure what the overall genpop awareness is of this condition but it's probably fairly low. Remember when I first learned about it: one of my undergrad profs mentioned his first child having red hair which he couldn't appreciate because he was red-green color-blind. (And a redhead.)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22472762

Abstract:

Literature that describes the prevalence of inherited red-green color deficiency in different populations is reviewed. Large random population surveys show that the prevalence of deficiency in European Caucasians is about 8% in men and about 0.4% in women and between 4% and 6.5% in men of Chinese and Japanese ethnicity. However, the male: female prevalence ratio is markedly different in Europeans and Asians. Recent surveys suggest that the prevalence is rising in men of African ethnicity and in geographic areas that have been settled by incoming migrants. It is proposed that founder events and genetic drift, rather than natural selection, are the cause of these differences.'

447:

Scott Sanford @ 393:

Also, the UK ground floor is the US first floor and the UK 1st floor is the US 2nd floor and so on up.

That's not merely a hypothetical to me; I once had to address a Harry Potter fan fiction author about this and spent a while trying to get the British floor numbering scheme into his American head. He wasn't happy to hear it, as he'd written a lot already and a search & replace wasn't going to fix the problem.

I wonder why it was so hard to understand. I learned about it sometime in Junior High School, ~ age 13 back in the last century before the internet even existed**. A "Harry Potter" fan-fic writer should have an easier time of it than I had, because he does have access to the internet.

It's a simple concept. I wonder what he'd do if he ever had to figure out where the "Mezzanine" is located?

Admittedly, if I was outside the U.S. and someone told me something was located on the "first floor", I might wander around in confusion for a few minutes before I remembered the difference in usage.

** Back when a "computer" was still more likely to be a person than a machine.

448:

Charlie Stross @ 396: Which way do you look when you cross the road?

You always look BOTH ways. Learned that in kindergarten. 8^)

449:

My family lost 2/3 of its members to the camps, which apparently didn't matter because they weren't Jewish. Or even if they were, it didn't matter because I wasn't.

Walking through Dachau a year ago brought it home that it was an equal opportunity event with some slight inverted preferences to some "tribes". Dachau opened in March 1933. Kristallnacht was in November 1938. Not that there weren't a lot of Jews likely shipped off before that event but much of the populations sent to the camps in the early days were just the "not good enough" locals no mater what the "tribe".

My mother in law (born 1928) talked about her sister in University in the 30s and some students who were outspoken about their dislike of current events just vanished. Never to be seen again.

450:

whitroth @ 405: Pavement is recognized in American English. Here's one, and I don't know if there's a Britishism for it, but when I was a kid, we wore dungarees. It was, I think, in the seventies or eighties that they overwhelmingly started being called jeans.

Dungarees have a bib (aka Bib & Brace Overalls) ... what Sarah Jane Smith was wearing when she got out of the TARDIS "probably not even in South Croydon."

AFAIK, what we call "jeans" have been called that since at least 1955, although for the first half dozen years of my schooling they were described with a redundant "blue" ... "blue jeans". I think the "blue" was dropped some time in the early '60s when "Levi's" started to become available in fashion colors.

Does anyone else here remember their mom starching their blue jeans and putting them over "pants stretchers" before hanging them up to dry?

451:

You always look BOTH ways

... on all the roads.

We have "Copenhagen Lanes" which are bikes lanes between the road and the footpath, often with parked cars between the moving bikes and cars. It takes a long time for pedestrians to get used to the idea that they should look for silent death swooping in *before* walking onto the bike lanes.

Viz, when riding on those bike-only paths you have to be very aware that pedestrians are likely to walk onto them without looking, and obviously without any indication that they are about to abruptly change direction. Plus of course there are the "IDGAF I'm walking here because I'm special" ones.

This makes the lanes somewhat less useful than they might be, especially in the crowded city centre. Although oddly it's one of the things Sydney pedestrians do better than Melbun ones, on the whole. Perhaps because the Sydney cyclists generally travel faster and are known to be probably-violent scofflaws with no respect for life or limb?

452:

Just in case it's not obvious, here's a picture:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/Copenhagen_Style_Bike_Lane.jpg

Bit of a write-up:
http://www.omnicrete.com.au/2007/01/18/copenhagen-cycle-lanes-melbourne/


Also, they're not as bad as the Sydney Harbour Bridge cycle-only size, which still periodically gets infested with morons (both sides are there's long, sweeping downhill turns... do you really think cyclists will see you?)

453:

Charlie Stross @ 420: There may be regional variations *within* American (and UK dialects of) English, just to add to the confusion.

Dungarees are not jeans, although they're often made of denim; they're what I think you call bib overalls.

Isn't "Dungaree" actually the fabric from which cheap working clothes were traditionally made? "Denim" is a kind of "Dungaree" cloth. In the U.S. "jeans" are a subset of "dungarees".

I remember back in elementary school, the terms "dungarees" & "blue jeans" were used interchangeably. (U.S. upper-south, North Carolina regional variation.)

454:

Actually looking around at traffic is much better than just looking at traffic lights given how many people are red-green color blind.

Probably worth asking a dichromat how they see traffic lights, because there are two workarounds.

I've got full color vision, but I got my PhD in a department where a grad student and a professor were red/green deficient. That should be a tip right there, that you can have a really good career in botany, the green science, with vision shortcomings. Anyway, I had to code a diagram with something like 12 different colors, so I made my color choices, ran them by these two, and to my total non-surprise, they had no difficulty distinguishing all 12 colors.

Here's the thing: color is hue, value, and chroma. People with color vision problems have trouble distinguishing particular hues. They can still see them as light or dark (value) and to some degree how saturated the color is (chroma)*. While I had a diagram that had red and green colors in them, it was a dark, saturated red and a light pale green. All the other colors were similarly fiddled so that they were visibly distinct even if you looked at them in gray scale.

I'm not sure if traffic lights have different values or chromas, but that would be the first thing I'd do.

The second, obvious workaround that I think most color-blind people use is the position of the light in the display. If the gray light on top is shining and people are slowing down, it's red. If the gray light on the bottom is shining and people are speeding up, it's green. It's not that hard. Adding stereotypical positions and symbols to color displays is a simple way to add an information channel for people (and guide dogs) who have trouble processing the color.

*This, incidentally, is how you can "see" the UV light reflected by a "color brightener" in a laundry detergent. They put in a UV-reflective dye to make the clothing look "brighter." You can't quite see the color, but you do perceive the brightness. You can also "see" certain wavelengths of infra-red, because your skin perceives them as heat, and certain microwave wavelengths the same way, although the mechanism is different. As a final aside, if you're very observant, you can directly see polarized light bare-eyed. As you can tell, I like playing with sensory hacks.

455:

Charlie Stross @ 420: There may be regional variations *within* American (and UK dialects of) English, just to add to the confusion.

Dungarees are not jeans, although they're often made of denim; they're what I think you call bib overalls.

Isn't "Dungaree" actually the fabric from which cheap working clothes were traditionally made? "Denim" is a kind of "Dungaree" cloth. In the U.S. "jeans" are a subset of "dungarees".

I remember back in elementary school, the terms "dungarees" & "blue jeans" were used interchangeably. (U.S. upper-south, North Carolina regional variation.)

456:

I have "severe" red-green color blindness, but not "mild" red-green color blindness*. While occasionally irritating, I've never found it a real problem.

As to traffic lights, besides using the position as mentioned above, I have always been able to tell the lights apart. Red means stop, yellow means stop if you can, white means go. Huh? "Green"? That's isn't a green light it is white. OK, maybe a tinge of green to it, but pretty faint, not worth mentioning.

Sometimes on a long street at night I can't tell the distant green lights from distant street lights. Until they turn yellow, of course.

* I think is about if a certain type of cone cell is miscalibrated, or entirely absent.

457:

Until they turn yellow, of course.

... and run away?

For some reason I am reminded of the bumper sticker "magician driving: this car will turn into a driveway".

458:

just looking at traffic lights given how many people are red-green color blind

Oh, yes, I've got that NW European RG color blindness too. Mostly it's noticeable in the far field -- I can't see red flowers in green foliage until getting quite close. Forget Autumn foliage. A few times I've experienced green-red *inversion*, like when a St. Patrick's Day hat looked red on first glance.

459:

I remember back in elementary school, the terms "dungarees" & "blue jeans" were used interchangeably. (U.S. upper-south, North Carolina regional variation.)

Huh. Must be a regional thing, as I never heard the term dungaree while growing up in SE Arizona in the 1950s, where we all wore blue jeans. To this day I couldn't tell you what a dungaree is.

460:

Mostly it's noticeable in the far field

Oh, and charts with various lines that are color coded. So you have an x-y chart comparing different things and they're distinguished by color. OK, I can see that there are different lines but can't tell which one is which.

461:

Must be. As I said, in the fifties, and very early sixties, Philly, my parents (where do you think I got it from) called them dungarees. Blue jeans was far less common, until into the sixties.

Oh, and sneaks are still sneaks. (e.g. Converse Chuck Taylors). Running or athletic shoes are specialized (and overpriced) other things.

Humph.

462:

The train cars I rode on my commute had a lower floor where the doors were, two intermediate levels, one at each end over the wheels, and an upper floor.
I called the intermediate levels "mezzanines".

463:

I met an electrical engineer when I was in college (the first time) who was RG colorblind. He would ask someone else to read the color codes on parts - resistors, mostly. He's retired now, after a long and successful career at various radio and TV stations.

464:

It works fine as long as you know what position is which. I moved from California, where they're hung vertically, to Texas, where they're horizontal, and had to get used to looking at a different spot. (Red is on the left, green on the right).

I have no idea how it's handled by people who are completely colorblind - we had a family friend who had that version. (He was a bird watcher, and was better at spotting them because the colors weren't in the way. (It's amazing how easily a bright orange bird can disappear in a partially-leafed-out tree.))

465:

Re: ' ... department where a grad student and a professor were red/green deficient. That should be a tip right there, that you can have a really good career in botany, the green science, with vision shortcomings.'

Or hematology ... Family member undergoing chemo for leukemia started experiencing side effects and - unrelatedly - had accidentally spilled a glass of water resulting in a very large dark stain on their greenish-gray hospital gown. The nurse called the ranking senior heme on the floor (our regular heme wasn't in) who arrived very quickly to check on the situation, saw the hospital gown and asked: "Is that blood?" (My unvoiced immediate reaction: WTF! Monty Python moment...) He must have seen my expression because he then added: "I'm red-green color blind." (FYI - great heme, everything worked out fine but that was one helluva moment.) I can accept red-green color blind hemes because they look at blood cells under microscopes to check for cell abnormalities. Anyways, ever since then I've wondered whether there are any red-green color blind surgeons or army/field medics because surely they'd need to be able to immediately tell the difference between blood and something else.


As for the traffic light placement scenarios: I think that the vertical units are standardized as to color order placement but I'm not sure that placement is standardized for the horizontally placed units. I've had to guess a few times esp. in the summer when the very strong sunlight hits the bulbs and bleaches them out to the point where I couldn't tell which 'light' was on.

466:

That's a relatively common design for high-density, slow-egress trains I think. Sydney heavy commuter rail is almost all built that way, for example. You have to go to non-electric units to get away from it. Tangara is one useful keyword if you want to look at them.

Wikipedia calls them bi-level cars: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bilevel_rail_car

467:

"This, incidentally, is how you can "see" the UV light reflected by a "color brightener" in a laundry detergent. They put in a UV-reflective dye to make the clothing look "brighter." You can't quite see the color, but you do perceive the brightness."

No, that stuff is a phosphor. It absorbs UV energy and re-emits it at visible wavelengths. This is why people's shirts light up in discos. They do the same trick with white paper to make it brighter and that lights up in discos too.

Quite a lot of things also do that naturally to some extent, such as fingernails, which light up a bit in discos though not as much as shirts. The constituents of the eye also do it a bit, for which reason there can be the sort of "UV brightening" effect you propose, but it doesn't become significant until you approach dangerously high intensities. The same effect makes it difficult to see visible violet light as violet if it's too intense. I have a couple of 405nm visible violet lasers, and while the scatter looks violet all right, the spot looks pale whitey blue unless it is greatly defocused.

468:

The diesel portion of the Long Island Rail Road in New York State uses a different kind. A single level at each end with the bathrooms and limited mobility seating/space, and an upper and lower level in the middle of the car, reached by stairs.

469:

Given how old it is, I'm not convinced that your supposition about the design criteria is accurate; but even if it is, that's not what it was used for, rather it was fed to everyone. And then, in the case of the majority who are potentially capable of understanding, nothing is ever done to activate that potential. Instead they are programmed not to learn, never to deviate from the ritual. The whole thrust of the combination of indoctrination and supervision is aimed at preventing them from gaining meaningful experience with judging interception courses involving objects moving at unnaturally high speeds, and not letting them off the leash until they are considered sufficiently programmed not to seek it for themselves. Instead of learning any instinct for addition of vectors of grossly different magnitudes when they are developmentally best suited to, they are taught to not even try to learn, that ritualised ignorance is the best way to proceed, and grow up in that mould.

(Obviously, much the same rant could be applied to the teaching of fuck only knows how many too many other aspects of life also.)

One obvious consequence of this custom is the number of physically fit grown adults who have no bleeding idea how to cross the road. Another is that other physically fit grown adults with equally piss poor four-dimensional awareness nevertheless manage to pass the driving test and get behind the wheels of cars (at which point they are subjected to further propaganda to the effect that if just one vector is maintained at or below an externally specified arbitrary magnitude with sufficient precision then collision avoidance is assured). So the problem exists on both sides of the windscreen, as it were. I submit that if the ultimate aim is the avoidance of energetic vehicle/pedestrian interactions, instilling a lack of instinct for the relevant trajectory calculations in both parties to the interaction is probably not the best way to go about it.

470:

I sometimes find that a problem under LED lighting because of the hole in the middle of the spectrum. Needing a meter to distinguish between 22k/33k/2.2k/3.3k, or wondering why it doesn't work and finding I've installed 3.3Ω instead of 330Ω because I couldn't tell the difference. It doesn't always happen, so probably it also depends on different manufacturers using paint with pigments having a different reflectivity spectrum.

Re trains, we tried that here but it didn't really work - too cramped because the maximum size allowed by the British loading gauge is only just big enough to do it at all, and too slow for getting in and out. (A lot of our commuter rail operations depend critically on people being able to get in and out as fast as possible.) Ask Greg about the Bulleid DD units.

471:

Yes! Exactly like Andy Pandy!

What British mums had a name for doing was ironing creases down the front of the legs. After a couple of iterations the dye would start to fade on the crease and even if you could flatten it you had a pale stripe down each leg for ever.

472:

so I made my color choices, ran them by these two, and to my total non-surprise, they had no difficulty distinguishing all 12 colors.

I have color vision issues. Never bothered to have it "named". Point to a color and I can tell you what it is. Well violet/purple seems mostly a shade of blue to me.

Anyway, my issues is in patterns. On those dot tests I have no idea what I'm supposed to see. But if you tell me it is yellow dots I can visually trace the yellow one and tell you it is a triangle, the number 5