Contesting the culture

Usually I leave the political stuff to Gitabushi, but I’ve been thinking about something. Gita recently talked about the current struggle between Right and Left.

Well, I was talking a little with Kaiju the other day about the continually raging culture war. After decades of liberal takeover and entrenchment in entertainment, news media, and education, I feel like some of those on the Right have finally begun to wake up.

The Alt-Right is part of a reaction to the spreading decay of political correctness and social justice crusading. I’m not going to dive into what I think of the Alt-Right other than to say I think some of their impetus is understandable and that though there are a lot of decent folk who have been driven to join or sympathize with them, they are just a different shade of what is being termed the Control Left. They’re all collectivist bomb-throwers.

A popular talking point of the Alt-Right is that Conservatism has failed and therefore the Left’s own tactics must be taken up against it. “We don’t like the Alinsky dirtbaggery of the Left, but we need to win,” they say. As if it’s a binary choice – become what you despise or lose.

I’m of the mind that there are several reasons the Right has lost so much ground up until now. First, it’s unorganized. Until the Tea Party, I can’t think of any concerted efforts to primary squishes and run staunch, fighting candidates. And because the Right hasn’t infiltrated and embedded itself into high levels of educational institutions or media outlets, workers in those industries who don’t subscribe to orthodox liberalism are usually closeted and fragmented.

Second, not everyone realizes there’s a cultural war on. I think especially over the past few years more people have awoken to this fact, though. They tire of being called bigot, sexist, racist, transphobic, or whatever the slur de jure is for folk who don’t agree with the latest Leftist dogma. Remember a few years ago when transsexualism was seen as disordered and abnormal? Well now if you haven’t all of a sudden changed your mind because Bruce Jenner has boobs, you’re a terrible person.

Third, we’ve failed to contest. How many “family” sitcoms these days now inject random normalizing messaging about SJW pet issues? How many gay characters do we have now compared to the actual size of the gay population? If you watch TV, then the gay/pedophile Catholic priest joke is probably within your realm of experience, as is the criticism of the Church and Christians in general as anti-Science™, but when’s the last time you heard a joke about Islam? Why are the chief pop-star spokesmen for Science™ major celebrities of the Left?

The first two reasons, I think, have begun to swing. As a result, the Right is beginning to fight back, if not reclaim some lost ground.

Twitter and Facebook are largely Leftist spaces, though Twitter’s got a healthy Conservative population. Many of the Pulp Revolution crowd and allies have kindled dialogue and offered alternatives to Lefty-dominated publishing outlets like Tor.

Gamergate, for all it’s slandered, has woken up some to the rank hypocrisy of the Left.

On YouTube and in other new media, we’ve got a lot of fresh talent pushing back against virulent Leftism, from the Conservative brand of Louder with Crowder and Ben Shapiro to the Classical Liberalism of Dave Rubin.

In the spiritual sphere, Bishop Barron, of whom I’ve written before, has also created a huge online presence.

 

By engaging with different, often younger, audiences in a variety of places -but especially online- and with talented communicators to carry our messages, I think we stand a chance of reversing some of the damage that’s been done. The up and coming Generation Z is apparently the most conservative generation since WW2. By reaching out to them and engaging in outlets that they’re more likely to find, we can counter some of that cancerous liberal PC programming. We have strong voices working to take back the culture, and so as Kaiju mentioned the other day on Geek Gab – if we don’t see the kinds of shows, stories, commentary that we like, we can’t just bitch. We need to support what we like, and we need to create.

-Bushi

bushi

 

Thoughts on the Broken Sword

The Broken Sword, perhaps the best known and most renowned of Poul Anderson’s novels, is the third book of his that I’ve read, and with that I put a notch in the last of his Appendix N entries.

My feelings on this one are mixed. Of the three I’ve gotten to thus far, my favorite has been the High Crusade (which Gita just recently reviewed). The Broken Sword is a skillfully crafted example of what a fantasy story can be when a talented writer just lets loose and does what he wants. Goblins and dwarves? Of course. Christ plus a bunch of Norse gods? Sure. Throw in some Celtic godlings and crap while you’re at it! Cursed sword, changeling berserker, elf vs troll war, oodles of magic – get it all in! Why?! Because it’s fun and cool!!

Before we get into spoiler territory, let me just say that there’s a lot to unpack here. The Broken Sword has plenty going on. Anderson’s fluency with Scandinavian (and other) folklore is on full display, and though this one perhaps contributed less directly to the worlds of D&D and vanilla fantasy tropes than Three Hearts and Three Lions, that’s not for lack of creative and wondrous material.

Now let me get to some specifics. *Spoilers ahead!*

“Be nice to your sister”

Ok, let’s just get this out of the way first. There’s a lot of incest. Now it’s not really distastefully done; it’s reasonable for the characters given that they’re unaware of their siblinghood; it’s integral to the story. Yada yada yada. Sorry, it just bugged me. To expand upon that a bit:

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I found the amount of ink spent not only developing but emphasizing the love between Freda and Skafloc to be excessive. We get to have to read about their lovemaking, kissing, cuddling, yearning for one another, tickle fights, and all those tender moments. It may have been a little too much for me had it been a non-incestuous union, but in this case, yeah. I just got sick of reading about it.

Pacing

This may very well be on me and the fact that I spaced out my reading of the book for so long (it’s only like 200-something pages, if I recall correctly), but I found the story a bit slow until the last quarter-ish. Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty of action and interesting happenings, but I felt like it was all setup and not really the main event. I mean we knew there was this magic sword waiting to be reforged and wielded; we knew Skafloc was (probably) going to find out eventually about his parentage and that he was banging his sister; we knew that Skaloc and Valgard were heading for a showdown. But none of that stuff happened until the end. That’s fine, I guess. Really that’s the point of the climax. But I felt like it was a long wait for the payoff.

Drow and gods and things

That said, there’s a lot of cool stuff going on. I found the sparingly employed appearances of the Norse gods to be exciting (Odin is a prick, by the way) and was pleasantly surprised to see Irish deities and spirits showing up, as well. We even get mention of shen and oni, though they’re not prominently featured (nor do they need to be). One of my favorite parts of the story is when Skafloc sets out to Jotunheim with a Celtic sea godling. Though I did find it a little lame when Anderson tosses in couple lines that basically say “and the two had many awesome adventures and kickass brawls, but I’m not gonna write about those, so.”

The story also offers the earliest use I’ve come across of the term “drow,” which these days just evokes Drizzt and his crew of OP, Forgotten Realm goth elves. So that was pretty neat.

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Demon sword 

The titular broken sword turns out to be the cursed blade Tyrfing, a weapon right out of Norse mythology. I’ve been saying for a while that Durindana needs more love, but really I welcome the namedropping of any non-Excalibur weapon. Nothing against Excalibur or the sword in the stone; they’ve just been done to death.

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The Broken Sword also most likely played a role in the inception of Moorcock’s Elric character. It’s been noted that Moorcock was an Anderson fan and that his whole Chaos/Law alignment system smacks of Anderson’s Three Heart’s and Three Lions. So does his demon blade, Stormbringer (and also Mournblade, I suppose) strongly resemble Tyrfing in some regards: perilous, evil, a tool of malicious gods, and also granting a supernatural strength and fighting prowess. When wielded, Tyrfing’s grim influence affects Skafloc’s personality, driving him to cruelty , fury, and violence. So does Stormbringer possess its own demonic personality – a dark will that Elric must subdue and overcome.

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Stumble

It happens to the best – a scene that makes you scratch your head. I complained about this in my thoughts on King David’s Spaceship and Triplanetary.

There’s a part in the story where Skafloc has infiltrated the troll-occupied castle of Alfheim, the former seat of Imric, Skafloc’s kidnapper and foster father. He seeks to steal away the secretly hidden broken sword and have it reforged. As he makes his way to Valgard’s chamber, he encounters a troll sentry. They do battle and he slays his foe. Though he worries about being detected, no one seems to have heard. Ok, good.

So he climbs some stairs and proceeds to the lord’s quarters, where he finds Leea and Valgard. His antagonist is asleep, and he wishes he could kill him but decides he cannot risk the noise.

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Aw come on, Poul. Maybe you wrote yourself into a corner and didn’t want to revise or overthink this, but just feels nonsensical. Skafloc has just brawled with a killed a troll outside in the hall and no one had heard. But now that he’s facing a sleeping enemy (I’ll note one of the strongest and powerful leaders of the troll army and one he’s got a grudge against), he’s afraid that he’ll make too much noise? Let’s not forget that Skafloc is almost elfin in his grace and agility while still a superbly strong human man. And he’s not up to the task of clamping a hand over Valgard’s mouth and quickly slicing open his throat? Meh.

Not really a major sticking point, but it stood out to be as a “wut” moment.

The elves!

This may warrant a write-up of its own, as I’ve had longish Twitter debates on the topic, but Anderson writes of a different, older kind of elf than we see these days. Tolkien popularized the image of elves as tall, graceful, honorable, and good. That’s not to say that elves have historically been villains only, but it certainly used to be a more common role for them and fey in general.

But the Broken Sword is pre-Tolkien, and we get another look at elfin kind. When it comes down to troll versus elf, the latter comes out looking pretty good. They’re fair to look upon, often merry, and usually they don’t come across as especially cruel or sadistic. However they’re pagan beings – they cannot bear holy words or symbols, and they fear the White Christ. They perform unholy magics, such as being able to call upon the dead (though this is a rare and dark ritual). When they can get away with it, they steal human infants. They’re wanton both in bed and in battle.

Now Tolkien may not have meant his elves to just be guys with pointy ears who live in the woods and are good at archery and magic. To be fair to him, his portrayal of the elves of Mirkwood in the Hobbit was a little more sinister than the image we all have now of Orlando Bloom as Legolas. May not be his fault, but that’s what we’ve got, and that’s what D&D elves, for example, tend towards.

Contrast that again with Anderson’s elves, who favor cavalry and wield strange alloys unknown to man, because they cannot bear the touch of iron. They also don’t shy away from familial banging and other sexual depravity (so far as I remember Tolkien’s elves do some cousin kissing but not too much closer than that).

By the way, for some reason I always picture Leea as that evil elf chick from Record of Lodoss War.

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Speaking of Leea, one interesting point about Anderson’s elves is that for most of the story we’re led to believe that they are incapable of love. We do see that Leea is fond of Skafloc and jealous of Freda. It’s not until the very end of the story, though, that Anderson drops a bomb on us. Imric makes a comment about elves being unable to love, and we get an aside from Leea about him being wrong. So really she aided Skafloc and Freda out of love for him.

Skafloc and his shadow

I remember not being particularly impressed with Holger, the protagonist of Three Hearts and Three Lions. Likewise I was underwhelmed by Skafloc. At first he was too arrogant and cocksure (thinking to know better than his foster father); next too enraptured by his sister; and finally too angsty and brooding. These were perhaps all understandable and human ways of acting, but I didn’t find them super attractive in a hero we have to spend so much time with.

He did have an interesting arch, ultimately. His transformation when wielding the cursed sword was tragic (but fun), as was the way he undid himself in the end.

I honestly found Valgard to be a more engaging character much of the time. More and more often these days we get villains who are evil because of their parents or because of society; because they’re victims. I think that’s fine, but it is often lazily done. Ultimately the choice to be good or evil is just that – a choice. And that is reflected in this antagonist. Valgard is clearly conflicted about his wickedness. There are a few times when he laments his evil deeds and shows remorse. But in the end he lays the blame upon his father, Imric, and curses his life. Instead of atoning and taking responsibility for himself and his actions, he decides to say “f it” and just be evil. So I did feel sorry for the guy – he was dealt a crap hand, and even in the end when he bests Skafloc and is about to claim the evil sword, it betrays and kills him right off. Dang – at least Skafloc got to have some fun with it! Still, he was a dick and he deserves what he got.

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In conclusion

Anyway, those are the main of my thoughts on the book. I felt like the buildup was slow but worth it – the ending was tragic but satisfying. Not among my Grand List favorites, but definitely a cool story worth a read. On the classic 5-point scale, I’d give it a 4/5.

 

-Bushi

bushi

Lol of the Rings

It’s unfortunate that certain SFF properties have become somewhat politicized in recent times. Harry Potter, Star Wars, and the Hunger Games are favorites of the Left. I mean, isn’t Trump just like Voldemort/the First Order/President Snow? Alas, Star Wars can’t just be a fun, conservative morality play anymore.

There have been a number of decent Lord of the Rings memes in the years since the production of the Peter Jackson films. You may remember this golden oldie:

 

Lately I’ve noticed that the Right has begun to adopt LOTR to convey its own political messaging – not so much to make outright moral indictments (most conservatives wouldn’t be so crass or facile as to compare, say, Obama to Sauron), but to skewer the ridiculous and illogical arguments coming from the Left.

And so I present some without further comment.

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-Bushi

bushi

Bro, you’re reading wrong

Something that’s been irking me recently – a bit of indignant pretension I’ve seen from some parts of the Pulp Rev crowd. This may be tied to the “your waifu is shit” fanboyism common to most nerds, and heaven knows I’ve engaged in some of this myself. But I’m going to beat an old drum here; maybe at a slightly different rhythm.

Now I hardly think that Gitabushi needs defending. He’s a big boy, and he’s not exactly a persecuted soul. But you know, I think some of the reactions to his opinions and observations on SFF are a little kneejerk and sometimes a little unfair.

Let me expound a bit, if I may.

Gita and I are both big Scifi/Fantasy fans, but our preferences beyond that differ more than they intersect, I’d wager. And we don’t always agree on genre. Still, these differences make for some interesting conversations about what we like in a story and about various authors’ writing styles.

If you read this blog regularly or my posts over as Castalia House, you’ll know I’m a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E Howard. They’re two of my favorites. Gita…well, not so much. And we’ve gone back and forth quite a bit. One of the things I really respect him for, though, is that he wants to see what fans see in these authors and their stories. He would love to harness the spirit of the old pulps, if he could find some pulps he really enjoyed. Not a lot of pulp non-fans out there actively reading and rereading them to glean their attractiveness, I’d wager.

Now it may just be that he doesn’t really enjoy pulp SFF. Not everyone is going to, and that’s not a sin. After all, he’s not loitering in the comments or tweeting about Howard being racist or how the pulps demeaned women. He’s not a SJW, despite the accusation having been leveled at him. We can mock Gita for his inferior taste in SFF, but treating him like some kind of fool who just doesn’t get it isn’t quite right. Hell, I actually find it interesting to have a Pulp Rev ally in our midst who isn’t a raving pulp fanboy! Makes for some memorable dialogue.

But if you’re going to skim his comments, roll your eyes, and dismiss him as not reading Conan correctly or being too modernist, or perhaps being one of them pink slime loving commies, well…you’re going to miss out on getting someone else’s (perhaps valuable) perspective, and you’re going to lose out on a potential conversion.

After all, do we really want to spread the fever? Or are we just blowing the horns to rally those who already like the same things as us? Some people just take longer, and if they’re not hostiles, why paint them as such?

It may be that some of our brethren are more disposed to casting the wide net – catch who you can, and don’t waste much breath or thought on the non-believers. I can get that. We’re all busy and have to allocate our time and energy as best we can! But some of us are willing to put in the legwork, man. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t make our jobs harder by engendering this misplaced hostility. (I know – “smoke what you appreciate, Bushi!”)

I haven’t called out anyone specifically, and I don’t mean to. But if you feel like going a round or two here or on Twitter, let’s hash it out, dudez.

That’s right, Gita – I still hold out hope that we will convert you from a filthy Hard SF lover to a bonafide pulp man.

-Bushi

bushi

I built a pie

I’ve wanted to build something with Raspberry Pi for a while now. But I never really came across any projects that interested me, and/or I didn’t want to solder stuff. But then Nintendo flipped everyone off with NES Classic Edition, and word is that SNES Classic Edition is now in the works. I’m not holding my breath that supply will be able to meet demand this time.

So F it – I’ll make my own! But better!

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I knew the Pi would be a relatively simple and straightforward little gadget to assemble, but dang. It was literally just a few pieces to fit and sometimes snap together.

Look at those cute little heat sinks.

I was surprised by how small this thing is. Fits in the palm of your hand.

So that was easy. Reformatting the microSD card (using the nifty little USB adapter provided in the kit) and loading up an image with the Retropie OS was really the hardest part of “building” it, mostly because there were several steps and a few little utilities to download.

 

The main hurdle was my display, actually. Damn Insignia TV was overscanning and cutting off the border of the Retropie’s display, and apparently this model has no fit-to-screen or overscan setting to toggle.

So I had to dig into the OS’s config file and play around with the overscan properties – lucky that’s an option! It was a little tricky when the text was cut off at the edge of the screen, but eventually got it sorted. Woot!

Now all that’s left is to load up some roms! Legally, I can only download and play games that I already own. But if I were to download the entire SNES, NES, and Sega libraries and do some sorting, and then select titles from other consoles like Dreamcast, PS, N64, and maybe some arcade games…well, I imagine that would be the most time-consuming piece of this project.

Anyway, it always feels nice to successfully build something. F you, Nintendo.

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-Bushi

bushi

Ringworld and Rimworld

Rejoice, dear readers – I live!

What have I been up to of late? My discovery of the Last Kingdom and first reading of EE “Doc” Smith are chronicled over at the Castalia House blog. But what else have I been up to? Certainly not writing blog posts, right?

Well, I’m nearly done with my first “Known Space” book. I read the Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle some years back and remember being impressed. Since then I’ve read one of Pournelle’s solo works and it was pretty solid. Time for Niven, right?

One of the challenges with going back to read these older series is sorting through the various collections that pop up, along with conflicting or sparse information on proper reading orders. I don’t think you can ever really go wrong following stories in publication order, but for some reason I settled on this order, starting with Neutron Star.

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It isn’t exactly publication order, but close enough. Neutron Star is a collection of short stories taking place in the Known Space universe. Once I’m finished I intend to proceed as chronologically as I can, though I’m eager to get to the famed Ringworld.

So far I’m really digging the setting and Niven’s writing. Stylistically his sense of humor and sarcasm come through without crossing over into silliness (a ‘la Douglas Adams). In my Doc Smith post at Castalia House, I noted my enjoyment of Smith’s aliens. Incidentally I’m also really liking that about Niven’s Known Space. Rather than space elves and dwarves (which I suppose you could argue some of the variant non-terran humans resemble), you’ve got space-faring cat folk, intelligent and honest yet cowardly monstrosities like the gentleman pictured in the above cover art, and physically weak, bizarre-looking yet honorable squid people. Then there’s the grog.

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So far most of the human protagonists blend together, but there’s a lot of cool technology, intriguing plots (especially if you’re into “hard”ish SF) and at least one rad alien character.

In gaming news, I recently powered through XCom 2, which was a flawed but ultimately fun preoccupation. Now I’m on to Rimworld, and oh boy this is a time sink.

If you’re unfamiliar with this title, it’s a scifi colony sim/survival game. There are several modes and difficulty variations to toy with. And holy crap is it detailed. When your colonists are injured, you can see exactly where – they might get a bruise to their torso or lose a pinky or toe. They can get scars and health conditions like asthma and infections and diseases.

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There’s crafting, of course. There are pets and animal taming. There’s hunting, cooking, and growing crops for food and medicine. You can build defenses like sandbags and turrets to help you ward off raiders and hostile animals.

Perhaps one of the most interesting features of Rimworld is the storytelling AI. You can pick from among three AIs with different personalities and tendencies, and they basically generate events at certain intervals. The base AI, Cassandra, tries to ramp up the difficulty over time and keep your number of colonists at levels she likes (so if you have too many she won’t give you chances to get more or she’ll try to kill someone off).

The stories that can develop are nuts. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re sad.

For example, in my first game I wound up incapacitating one of the raiders who attacked me. I remember she was a doddering old fat woman named Delgado. She had dementia and was a pyromaniac. Still, people are resources and I lacked manpower. So I captured her and treated her wounds, and kept her locked up until she agreed to join me.

Eventually she did, and she ran around naked and unhappy until I was able to craft some garments for her. Things went well for a while. She could cook, and that was a skill my people sorely wanted for. One day, however, she snapped. She started wondering around and setting fires on the outskirts of my base. I had to send someone to beat her down and throw her in the clink to cool down.

Shortly after that we suffered a heat wave that I was woefully unprepared for. My colonists all collapsed into unconsciousness in the 50 degree (C) weather before I could figure out how to treat their heatstroke. With no one to rescue them, they all died. The end.

Another time in a succeeding game, I was hunting muffalos for meat. Usually they just try to run away. But this time they decided (or Cassandra decided) not to stand for that shit. They got mad and I wound up with a couple dozen alien buffalos chasing my colonist back to base. I was able to draft everyone and ward them off without any deaths, but damn.

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Meat for the meat god.

One of the saddest things to have happened thus far, though, involves one of the colony pets. Stupid me had no problem letting them all sleep outside despite the bears and wolves and crap wandering around. After one raid, one of my dogs was pretty badly wounded. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when a lynx attacked him. I was able to get the dick cat in time, but damn. Only a couple minutes later, a BEAR showed up for an easy meal. I was able to kill the bear before my dog kicked the bucket. But the damage was done, and the dog was down to two good legs.

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There was another raid, and the dog went in to help its master. I mowed down the invaders, all except one, and this guy was tagged and about to go down. So the piece of crap raider stops advancing on my entrenched colonists, turns to the dog, and slices its leg off right before he bites the dust.

It was a while before I noticed the dog wasn’t moving from the spot where my colonists had carried him to treat the wound. He would just lay there, periodically sleeping and being fed. I checked his stats, and…

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Yup. Down to one leg, and zero mobility. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.

It was just a virtual dog in a stupid little game, but it took me a good few minutes of inner deliberation before I euthanized it. Damn game.

But man if Rimworld hasn’t got its hooks in me. There’s already so much content packed into this thing, but I can’t wait to see what’ll be added next.

-Bushi

bushi