Economies of Scale

  • by Gitabushi

When I’m a famous writer, I won’t have to explain myself to you, bub. I won’t have to answer to anyone!

I am not a famous writer. As such, I think I need to give a brief introduction to this story.

This is intended to be a fairy tale. I don’t know the rules of writing fairy tales. I just thought of the story, mulled on it for a day, and wrote it. It might not follow all the conventions of a fairy tale.

Nonetheless, it is supposed to be more light-hearted. I hope there are moments that get an actual chuckle out of you, but I’ll take just an internal “heh” if that’s all I can get. The focus is supposed to be on the story, rather than the details.  Consider it Soft SF, perhaps.

If it doesn’t work for you, I’m sorry, but that’s also okay.  The feedback I’ve gotten on this story from friends has reminded me that there are many tastes, and many audiences. This might not work for everyone, but I hope it works for you:

We’ve had enough of this ado crap, no?  So without any further ado:

 

“I’m going to kill the dragon,” Timor Redcraft said one morning.

“Hush, Timor, eat your breakfast,” his mother replied.

“You don’t have time to kill the dragon, Timor,” his father said. “We need to get the fences repaired on the south ridge by midday or there’ll be hell to pay!”

“The dragon” was Emporilio, the de facto ruler of the land ever since arriving in flames, smoke, and fury years ago, nearly seven years before Timor was born.  On the balance, it was a fairly lenient ruler.  It only took the occasional sheep from the occasional farmer, not adding too much burden to the relatively heavy taxes of King Stephen. Particularly since Emporilio’s presence did more to keep rival nations from invading the Kingdom of Marista than King Stephen’s standing army did.

There was, however, Emporilio’s requirement for a blonde maiden to be sent to keep his den clean and orderly for a year, at the end of which she was eaten. This was a difficult demand to swallow, not only for the parents who were required to sacrifice a beloved daughter, but to the young men who chafed with the tragic reduction in the number of beautiful and marriageable maidens. Periodically, a young man would decide he was the one who could rid the realm of the foul beast. He would collect armor, a spear, and a horse, and ride to his rapid death.

The only good that came of their sallies was it tended to keep the number of men seeking marriage in somewhat of a balance with the number of marriageable maidens.

In the Redcraft hovel, Timor did, in fact, hush and finish his breakfast. He and his father did repair the fences by midday, and so no debt was owed to hell.

Timor was not very intelligent, but he did like to think things through at his plodding, deliberate pace. So as he worked, he thought.

“I need a weapon,” he said to himself. “I have the family boar spear! So that’s good.”

He pounded more nails into the fence he was building and continued to think.

“A dragon has fire for defense,” he said to himself. “Fire heats things up.  When the hammer sits in the sun for a few minutes, it feels hot if I pick it up by the iron part.  That’s why we pick it up by the wooden handle.  I wonder if I should make armor out of wood?”

That evening, he placed a doll fashioned from an old corncob and covered with a bundle of twigs near the banked coals of dinner cook fire. When he pushed it close to the coals with the hearth poker, the wood caught fire.  He used the poker to pull the doll away from the burning twigs, but the corncob was already scorched.

“Bosh,” he thought. “That’s no good. I must keep thinking.”

Days passed.  Timor continued to think about a hammer heated by the summer sun.

“If I weave a straw pad,” he said to himself, “it also keeps my hand from feeling hot. Perhaps I should make armor from straw!”

Rice_straw
Rice Straw, by Green https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Green

That evening, he placed a doll fashioned from an old corncob and covered with tiny straw mats near the banked coals of dinner cook fire. When he pushed it close to the coals with the hearth poker, the straw caught fire even more quickly than the wood. He again used the poker to pull the doll away from the burning straw, but this time the corncob doll was not scorched at all.

“The straw absorbs the fire,” Timor said to himself. “If I leave it behind, the fire will stay on the straw and not on me!  That’s good.  But if I drop the straw mat, I will not have any more protection. That’s bad. I wonder what I can do?”

Days passed. Timor continued to think about straw set on fire by a cook fire.

“If I used more than one straw mat,” he said to himself, “the straw pad on the outside protects the straw pad on the inside just like it would protect me.”

That evening, he placed a doll fashioned from an old corncob and covered with two tiny straw mats near the banked coals of dinner cook fire. When he pushed it close to the coals with the hearth poker, the straw caught fire again. He again used the poker to pull the doll away from the burning straw of the outside straw mat. Sure enough, the inner straw mat was not burned at all.

Satisfied, Timor began weaving straw mats.  Very soon, he had finished ten layers.  But when he put them all on, he couldn’t do anything more than fall over.

“Bosh,” he thought. “That’s no good.”

The next day, Timor wrapped himself in only nine straw mats, but he still couldn’t do anything more than fall over.

It wasn’t until several days later, when Timor wore only four layers, that he could move at all. He still fell down very often from the weight, and couldn’t walk to the end of the pasture without needing to rest.  He decided that three layers would have to be enough.

He tied the mats to his body with string, and practiced untying the string as quickly as he could.

Each week, Timor would travel to the nearby village to trade some of their fruits, vegetables, or crafts for other items they needed for their farm.  While there, he would take a half hour to talk to Balen Fingerlet, the oldest and wisest man he knew.  He would ask about dragons.

“Dragons is parful!” Balen would say. “Don’t be wasting you self trying to be no big hero, Timor!”

“Dragons is evil!” Balen would say at other times. “Don’t be wasting you self trying to match wits with no dragon, Timor!”

“Dragons is trickee and dasseptuv!” Balen said a few times. “Don’t be wasting you self trying to reskew no maydun, Timor!”

“Dragons is deeveeus!” Balen said once. “Dey allwayz have layers to their defense. Whenever you think it be there, it be someplace else!”

Timor decided Balen was no actual help to his goal.

“I will go to kill the dragon now,” Timor said to his parents. “I have said I will do this, and I will do it, or die trying.”

Timor’s parents were in tears, trying to talk him out of this notion. But Timor was resolute.

“Father, Mother,” Timor said. “You know that Emporilio has been a problem for our kingdom. Others have had the courage to try. Why should I not have the same courage?”

The tears of Timor’s parents did not diminish by even one drop.

“Father, Mother,” Timor said. “You know that Emporilio has been a burden for our kingdom. In helping you take care of our farm, I have learned that problems do not solve themselves if you wait for others to solve them for you.”

The tears of Timor’s parents did not diminish by even one drop.

“Father, Mother,” Timor said. “You know that Emporilio has caused continuous pain for our kingdom. In helping you take care of our farm, I have learned that the longer you wait to solve problems, the worse they became.”

The tears of Timor’s parents did not diminish by even one drop.

Timor sighed, but could think of no other words to comfort them.

Father, Mother,” Timor said. “I will return with the head of the dragon, or on it.”

Timor paused.

“You know what I meant,” he added.

Timor took up his boar spear, stuck the hammer in his belt, donned his straw armor, and left.

The path to Emporilio’s lair took him through the village.  He trudged slowly, due to the thick straw mats making it impossible for him to bend his arms and legs and torso normally.  When the villagers saw him stumbling along, they laughed and pointed.

“Look at Timor,” they laughed. “He looks like a walking haystack!  Timor can’t even walk right anymore!”

Stung, Timor felt he needed to explain why he had dressed in such an outlandish and awkward fashion.  He responded with, “I am going to kill Emporilio!”

This did not help.

“Look at Timor,” they jeered. “He thinks he can kill Emporilio!”

Timor had no answer to that, and so did not respond.  They quickly grew bored with insults and derision. One small child flung a tomato and hit Timor in the arm. From the smell, the tomato had been rotting for a few days. Another followed.  Timor felt multiple impacts, stumbled a moment as his foot came down on a slippery bit of moldy fruit, but continued forward.

One older villager tossed a moist, odiferous, and brown-colored clump of something that was not fruit. Before long, Timor’s nose was filled with the odor of a horse barn that had not been mucked out for far too long. But he continued forward.

“This is a small village,” Timor said to himself, “and there aren’t many animals. They will run out of manure soon.”

The rate of noisome missiles diminished, and then stopped.

Children skipped alongside Timor. Then one dashed in front and got down on all fours directly in Timor’s path.

Unable to halt in time to avoid the unexpected obstacle, Timor tumbled to the ground over the child.  He was moving slowly enough the child was not hurt from the impact, although the straw jabbed and scratched Timor’s skin.  No one asked if Timor was hurt; or if anyone did, the question was drowned out by the laughter of a dozen people.

Timor did nothing but clamber to a standing position, bend to pick up his spear, and continue along the path toward Emporilio’s mountain.  This new game was repeated three or four times.

“Say something, Timor!” shouted one older child.

Timor said nothing, and just kept walking.

“Why haven’t you quit yet?” asked someone a few years old than Timor.

Timor said nothing, and just kept walking.

The crowd of villagers shadowing Timor became smaller, then smaller still, as villagers went back to their daily duties. One small child followed for another five minutes before finally running back to her home.

Timor walked on, alone again.

“My heart is aching,” Timor said to himself. “My parents were inconsolable. The villagers mocked me and even tried to disrupt me upon my quest. Does no one support me in this task? Does no one even want our kingdom to be rid of this foul beast?”

Timor could not help but notice, however, that the sky was the very pleasant shade of a robin’s egg. In the dusty yellow heat of the late summer, the leaves of the trees along the road were green enough to make him feel cooler just by looking at them. The wind sighed through the tree branches, the birds were twittering and chirping high up in the boughs, and the vexation Timor felt began to fade away the way the mist does as the morning moves toward afternoon.

Timor began to whistle a happy tune about maidens and buckets and mushroom picking.

“Maybe it isn’t that people want the foul beast to remain,” Timor said to himself. “Maybe they have just grown accustomed to its presence, and its cost, and simply cannot imagine what life without a dragon might be like. I can certainly understand that, because I have never known what life without the dragon might be like.  The dragon has taken sheep and eaten maidens since before I was born.”

Timor thought more.

“Come to think of it,” he said to himself. “I am very happy my mother was not one of the maidens.”

Emporilio’s lair, halfway up the rocky mass of Widows Peak, was a handful of hours from the village under normal conditions. Hampered by a heavy spear and armor, however, it took Timor five hours to reach the base of the small mountain.

“Why is there no path?” Timor asked himself, as he began to use the wind-twisted and stunted pine trees to pull himself up the boulder-strewn slope.  “I wish I had wings like Emporilio, then I could just fly…oh! I think I understand why there is no path.”

An hour later, Timor was nearing the dark spot below the ridge that had been pointed out to him a few weeks ago as Emporilio’s lair. He began to hear the gurgle and splash of water.

“There must be a small stream,” Timor said to himself. “It makes sense that Emporilio would want fresh water nearby, just like our sheep like to be near the pond.  I know I would like a drink of water, and it would also be nice to wash off some of this stink.”

Within a few minutes, Timor had found the stream.  He took a long slow drink of water, and then tried to splash water to cleanse himself of rotten fruit, animal waste, and Timor sweat.

“This will never work,” Timor said to himself. “I must find a place I can immerse myself.”

He splashed up the stream, looking for a place to lie down. He could not find one for a long time.  The stream sometimes became broad, flat, and too shallow; other times, it became narrow, fast, and too deep; if the depth and speed were just right, then there were too many rocks and broken tree limbs for him to even lie down comfortably.

He neared the cave.  In fact, Timor was in sight of the cave when he finally found the perfect spot: not too deep, not too shallow, but not so many rocks and tree branches that he could not lie down among them.

“I am already here, though,” Timor said to himself.  “There is no need to delay. I would like to take a nap, but as mother always said: work first, rest later.

“Hallo!” Timor called out.

No answer.

“I say, Hallo!” Timor repeated. “Come out and fight me, you sneaky lizard!”

There was no response.

“I guess there is nobody home,” Timor said to himself.  He shrugged, but shrugging did not summon the dragon.  He put his spear on the shallow side of his intended stream bed, splashed down on his back, and closed his eyes.

Timor opened his eyes.

The sky had changed from a crystal clear, blue afternoon sky, to a crystal clear, deep indigo evening sky, replete with a thousand sparkling and glimmering stars.  It was a sight he had not seen often, as his mother would have him in bed each day as the sun went down.  The moon was out, as well, full and round. Its light bathed the little gully formed by the stream bed, enough that he could see the sinuous form of the dragon as it slurped from the stream a few yards away.

It was not so large as Timor had imagined.

“Why, it is not much larger than the miller’s horse!” Timor thought to himself, so as to not make any sound the dragon could hear. “This is certainly a fine opportunity to kill the dragon and keep my vow!”

He stood up and thrust with the spear at Emporilio’s ribs, just behind the shoulder, striking hard and driving the blade deeply, slaying Emporilio almost immediately on the first try!

Or, at least, that is what Timor wanted to do.  In fact, he splashed clumsily to his feet, dropped the spear in the process, bent to pick it up, slipped and fell as he overbalanced forward, got his hands on the spear shaft, and used it to lever himself to his feet.   He then rushed forward, tripped as the water bound his legs, leveraged himself to his feet once more. This time he walked more slowly toward Emporilio.

Emporilio merely watched the spectacle.

If a dragon’s face could have an expression, Timor would have sworn it held an amused smirk.

“Who are you?” Emporilio said.

“I am Timor! I have come to kill you,” Timor declared, in his bravest, loudest voice. “If you don’t mind, that is,” he added.

“I see,” Emporilio purred. “No, I don’t mind you trying.” Then he breathed fire.

The fire was hotter than Timor could have imagined, but it was over more quickly than he could have imagined.  He was engulfed in flames for a moment. The water in the outer layer of his straw matting turned to steam in a flash, and the straw caught fire.

Timor quickly unbound the strings holding the outer layer of matting and it dropped to the ground.  Lighter, Timor took a step forward more quickly.

Emporilio breathed fire again.

Timor was engulfed in flames for another moment.  The water in the middle layer of his straw matting turned to steam in a flash, and the straw caught fire.

Timor quickly unbound the strings holding the middle layer of matting and it dropped to the ground.  Timor strode through the burning straw toward Emporilio, and thrust with the spear, slashing through the muscle below Emporilio’s left wing.

Bright blood splattered. It splashed on nearby rocks, where it hissed, sizzled, and blackened.  A few droplets flew from the impact to hit Timor.  The fiery blood left pinprick burns on Timor’s face.

Emporilio breathed fire a third time.

Timor was engulfed in flames for a third time.  The water in the innermost layer of his straw mating turned to steam in a flash, and the straw caught fire.

Timor quickly unbound the strings holding the innermost layer of matting and it dropped to the ground.  Timor sprang through the burning straw to see Emporilio try to fly, fail, and begin to scramble back towards its lair.  In desperation, Timor thrust with the spear and hit Emporilio in the ribs.  The spear head sunk in deeply.

Emporilio spasmed and thrashed, and the spear was torn from Timor’s grasp.  Emporilio yanked the spear out of his side, and a stream of blood flowed from the wound.  Emporilio snapped the spear in two, and threw it away.  The dragon looked extremely vexed.  It turned toward Timor.

Emporilio fell onto his side.

Timor took the hammer from his belt, and walked forward. He heard a gasp behind him, and turned to see a beautiful maiden, dressed in dirty white rags.

“I’m Timor,” Timor said. “I’m here to save you. Just let me finish the job and I will save you right after that.”  Timor turned and walked around the dragon, being careful to stay out of reach of its dagger-like talons, and needle-sharp teeth.  He walked around Emporilio to be able to approach from behind, but stayed three long paces away.  Emporilio turned heavily to face Timor.

“Wait!” Emporilio said.  “Please don’t kill me.”

“Why not?” Timor asked.

“I…I…am now powerless.  I cannot breathe any more fire, and I cannot even stand up.  I cannot hurt you, I cannot take any sheep, and I certainly cannot take or keep any maiden.  You have vanquished me! I am no threat to you or anyone else now.”

“Don’t liste—” the young maiden began, until a gesture from Emporilio ended any sound from the movements of her mouth.  From what Timor could tell, she was not in any exceptional distress; she could still breathe, and could still move and breathe freely, but Emporilio’s gesture had robbed her speech of any sound.

She mouthed words silently and hurriedly, her arms flailing with excited gestures.

Timor didn’t understand, and shook his head.

She mouthed words slowly, exaggerating the shape of the words, her hand movements slow, deliberate, and evocative.

Timor decided the maiden was no actual help to his goal.

He turned back to Emporilio to see it had moved three steps farther away, and closer to its lair and the maiden.

“You say you are powerless,” Timor said. “But you seem to still have magic. I must kill you to end this power.”

“That was but a small cantrip,” Emporilio responded. “Had I any real power, I would have used it to kill you as you stand there.  Does that not make enough sense to penetrate your dim-witted skull?”

Timor admitted that it did.

“I know this will seem self-serving,” Emporilio continued. “But being this weak and helpless for the first time in years, I have learned what it must be like to be weak and human.  I have had a flash of empathy for your kind.  I swear on my True Name that I will leave and bother your people no more.”

“Well,” thought Timor to himself.  “That certainly seems serious.  His True Name!”  But he scowled in doubt.  He raised the hammer and took a step forward.

“I see you are still considering,” Emporilio said.  “But consider this: I know I have sinned. I have committed grievous sins upon your people.  But I have confessed! I have repented! I have given you my solemn word!  Surely you must give me a chance, to see if I keep my word.  You have bested me once, so you can always come back and kill me later if it turns out I lied, is this not true?”

Timor said nothing.

“Moreover, I am now weak and helpless.  I cannot stand. I cannot run.  I cannot breathe fire, and I cannot even use magic to defend myself.  What kind of monster would you have to be to slaughter me now?  I repeat: I have seen the error of my ways, and will tread a righteous path from now on.  Does your faith not tell you to forgive the repentant? Should you not give the reformed sinner at least one more chance?

“Look, I am not a sheep, or a rabbit, or a cow.  I can think!  I can feel!  I can speak to you!  I am a person, just like you, albeit in a different shape.  If you kill me, is it not the same as killing an innocent child?”

Timor lowered the hammer.

“If you spare my life, I will dedicate my life to keeping the Kingdom safe from all enemies.  I will also serve you, personally.  Anything you want.  Just spare my life.”

“What if he is telling the truth?” Timor thought to himself.  “Could he really have repented?

“Except, I cannot be the smartest person who ever tried to kill Emporilio.  Young men have been trying for twenty-four years.  Others must have figured out ways to protect themselves from its fire.  Others must have been able to surprise Emporilio and have the chance to end this terror.  Emporilio himself said this was the first time he was this weak and helpless in years.  That means he was this weak and helpless before. Maybe more than once.

“And yet, Emporilio is still here.  Sheep and maidens are still being consumed regularly. Every young man who came up here died.”

Timor took two strides forward and brought the hammer down on the bare patch of ground with all his might.

As the hammer connected with Emporilio’s skull, the illusion of the further-away Emporilio disappeared, and the maiden’s voice returned to her.  Even its blood had lost its caustic power.

A few more blows with the hammer, accompanied by repeated and enthusiastic promises of gratitude from the maiden on behalf of her family, and Emporilio’s reign of terror over the kingdom and its maidens was no more.

Timor did not marry the maiden.  Having killed the dragon and claimed its modest treasure, he was able to choose the maiden with the mildest and most dependable character from among the beautiful brunettes of the kingdom, which he found much more attractive than blondes.

Timor felt that was enough excitement for one life.

He was wrong, but that’s a tale for another time.

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Must Read, er, Fantasy?

  • by Gitabushi

I highly recommend reading The Paladin by CJ Cherryh.

CherryhPaladin1stPB

The hesitancy of the title is that while this story is set in a semi-fictional world, there are no fantasy elements at all. The people are superstitious, so belief in demons has some impact on the story…but there’s no magic to speak of.

When I originally read the story, I assumed the setting was a fictionalized Japan. Re-reading it, I’m not really sure why I thought that: the setting is quite obviously a fictionalized China.

Perhaps it was because the names are Asian sounding, but most are not valid Chinese syllables, so it is easy to assume Japan as a not-Chinese Asian.  Perhaps it was because of the artistry of the martial arts, except that China also has such artistry.

In any case, regardless of the society C. J. Cherryh intended to copy, it could easily be ancient China, and is probably best understood that way.  Although, to be honest, you don’t have to know a thing about China or Japan to enjoy the story.

The story is about the Emperor’s martial leader, exiled for disloyalty, but left alone as long as he remains in exile, and the girl who brings him back to the world. His martial leadership is never really explained: he’s a master swordsman, but also a tactical and strategic genius.  Prior to the beginning of the novel, his only student was the boy Emperor; hints during the novel indicate he was possibly the top Imperial General, except that his fame is for prowess in fighting, and he never meets anyone considered an equal in the story.  If he was supposed to be the most skilled bodyguard or champion of the Emperor, it wasn’t clear to me.  So it seems more that he was taught all the martial arts, and his training and talent made him the best at all aspects, both personal fighting and leading small units and large armies.

I’ve said before that one things C. J. Cherryh gets better than any other writer I’ve ever seen, is language.  She has always shown the difficulties in communicating in languages learned as second languages, and that plays some small part in this story.  However, in The Paladin, Cherryh displays one of her other strengths: speed of communication and transportation.

One of my theories is that what makes a story work is uneven information flow.  This can be seen in how ubiquitous cellphone coverage has had such a profound impact on film stories, including slasher flicks.  They *must* include some explanation of why the characters can’t simply make a phone call; in truth, the conflict in most stories would be resolved with just a quick phone call.  Time and Communication can create all sorts of conflicts that make a story good.  Thus, C. J. Cherryh has included language differences as a disruptor of clear communication, and her FTL isn’t just “press a button and get there,” but rather a system of applying power to an advanced physics problem, so mass vs power causes different ships to make it to the next normal space location at different times; and so ships can race to get through FTL hops, and take risks to cut time, because presence and communication are the key to conflict and resolution.  But those are her science fiction stories.

The speed of horses, the fatigue and endurance of humans, and the speed of gossip and misinformation, all play a significant role in this novel, and it is the better for it. If for no other reason you should read this novel to see how she handles the flow of information and people. It makes the world *feel* more real.

One other reason to read this book: realistic handling of feminist topics.  It has never been confirmed, but I and others have assumed that C. J. Cherryh was the liberal science fiction writer (Sherry Atkinson) appearing on the Alien Assessment Team in Niven and Pournelle’s Footfall.  I felt their characterization of her, for all that it was good enough to make it clear who they meant, was unfair.  She may be (and probably is) Progressive, but she is no bleeding heart, naive liberal.  Her books always display a clear and profoundly accurate grasp of human nature, vulnerabilities, and motivations.  This book is no different.

In this book, a young girl wants to learn how to be a killing machine so she can get revenge on the man who killed her family and destroyed her home community.  Cherryh handles is quite realistically: the girl doesn’t become an equal to a man; in fact, after a full year of training, the viewpoint character shows her how even a half-trained man could easily defeat her just by height, reach, and strength that will always outmatch her own, no matter how vigorously she trains.  But then the sword master alters his training from the ideal set of skills to helping her minimize her weakness and maximize the strengths of her different set of abilities.

Cherryh may be a liberal/progressive/Leftist, but her stories often seem to arrive at the same conclusions conservatives do, and she has a gritty and insightful view of human nature that shines through.

On the other hand, her current epic series masterworks (the Foreigner series (at last count, 20 books and still going), is filled with the same Leftist Dowager political assumptions that mar the later works of Lois McMaster Bujold: “Conservative = bad,” “Conservatives are hypocrites or ignorant people who would be Progressive if they would just open their eyes,” “It’s okay to lie/cheat to obtain a Progressive societal win, because after the stupid Conservatives have Progressive societal advancements shoved down their throat, they’ll see it was right,” “the correctness of the Progressive cause justifies using dishonest and dishonorable methods on anyone who tries to stop us,” “There is absolutely no decent argument for opposing the Progressive agenda, so I won’t even let them make an argument in my book,” and “Progressives win simply because they are virtuous in their commitment to Social Progress.”

The change in her writing seemed to happen about the time she turned 52. McMasters Bujold became less enjoyable for me when she turned 51.  Come to think of it, Heinlein became unreadable in his later life, as well. I disliked Stranger in a Strange Land, written when he was 54. In all three cases, there is a novel where their writing disappoints me, then a novel or two that are still good (in the older style?  or in concert with the older themes?), and then within 3-4 years, their novels become wholly unreadable.

This has implications for my hopes of establishing a writing career, since I’m already extremely close to that age.

Anyway, The Paladin has a great setting, great characters, a good plot, a great grasp of the realities of communication and travel in a non-technological world, and one other thing I appreciated:

Disruption.

I think I’ll discuss this theme tomorrow.  Let it suffice to say that the girl uses disruption to get what she wants, only to have it used against her later.  And then Disruption becomes the main theme of the last third of the book. We’ll discuss this more tomorrow.

The World Needs Another Frontier, Badly

– By Gitabushi

It is a common refrain among conservatives and science fiction fans that we need a new frontier.  I’m not above advocating what is already popular, but I think I can add some depth to the argument.

Science fiction fans want a new frontier because we were attracted to speculative fiction for the exploration of new ideas, new societies, and new worlds.  The Earth’s surface has been extensively explored. I would never claim we understand everything about the Earth, but there are few places that haven’t been thoroughly explored, categorized, and claimed.  But consider colonizing the moon!  Or terra-forming and settling Mars!  Or learning to live safely and profitably underneath the ocean’s surface!

For the Science Fiction fan, exploration, claiming, and settling new frontiers is a no-brainer: it’s what we do. We do it because it’s there. No other reason is needed.

For the conservative, however, and particularly for the libertarian, the idea of a new frontier is attractive because of the lure of liberty and freedom.  When man sets foot in new territory, civilized society, with all its laws and restrictions and control, can exert only a weak influence at best.  The Statists are constantly seeking to extend their control over ever-more-minute details of the everyday lives of citizenry: surveillance, taxes, restrictions, more taxes, nudges, property taxes, Sanitized by the Government for Your Protection, stealth taxes, corruption, etc.  Civilization is wonderful, but where civilization goes, Statism follows, and the infringements on liberty are incessant and pervasive.

I think there are additional reasons we need a new frontier, and we need it badly, and we need it as soon as possible.

I mentioned previously that where civilization goes, Statism follows.  But it is more than that. Systems and structure grow organically.  Interests and assets become entrenched.  The Left is decrying the collection of  wealth in the hands of the few, and always complaining how difficult it is for the unskilled and poorly educated to earn a living wage.

This is exactly why we need a new frontier.

Think for a moment, if you will, of the individuals who have an IQ of 80-90.  Just saying “that person has an IQ of 90” sounds like you are calling them stupid, doesn’t it?  How can someone with an IQ of 90 succeed in a world that is increasingly information- and knowledge-based?  And a person with an IQ of 80 is even more constrained by their limited intelligence.

But those with an IQ of 90 are just as numerous as individuals with an IQ of 110.

Sure, in the United States, it is still possible to work hard with diligent attention to detail and succeed.  Even more so if you can acquire a strong grasp of human nature and cultivate good judgment of character.

But those opportunities are dwindling.

The Elite protect their own.  With greater wealth, they are able to give their children more experiences. With greater status, they are able to give their children more opportunities.  That doesn’t guarantee any success, of course, any more than the lack of wealthy experiences and opportunities damns a child to failure.  A child’s future success still depends mostly on the child themselves, as they learn and grow and seek knowledge and ability. Parents can teach their values, schools can teach information, but it is always up to the individual to accept, grasp, mull, and apply the values and information into knowledge, life skills, and success.

However, I think no one has much heart to argue that the paths for lower-IQ individuals who start with a lower economic class base are fewer than just a few decades ago, and will continue to disappear in the future.

A new frontier multiplies those paths and opportunities.

First, wealth flows to those who risk and work hard.  Leaving civilization is a risk. Leaving, you risk death itself, but also encounters with the lawless that are beyond the reach of civilized law. Being a pioneer means investing yourself into risk, and the returns from exploring new frontiers are correspondingly rich.  You can actually *own* your territory without property taxes. With zero or minimal taxation, you can actually *own* the fruits of your labor.

Second, frontiers require labor.  Intelligence is absolutely required, as well…but a strong back and willing hands go farther in a frontier.  Remember, your earnings are not based on the value you provide (although the value you provide to your employer caps your earnings), but are based on how much it would take to replace you with someone equally skilled. Earnings for trades and other manual labor stagnate and sag in a civilized, established, knowledge-based economy because there are so many other people that can replace you.  There’s always someone else willing to work for just a little bit less, and the learning curve for the job isn’t that high.

But in a frontier, the risks reduce the ranks of those willing. Labor is always at a premium in a frontier.

Opening a new frontier should appeal to all people, regardless of political affiliation, ideology, or societal view.  If you want new worlds to explore, you want a new frontier. If you crave liberty, you want a new frontier. And if you care about the poor, the poorly-educated, the less-intelligent, the ones who did not do well in the genetic lottery, the downtrodden, those left behind, etc., then you should be clamoring the loudest for a new frontier, because it is the best way to provide new opportunity and new wealth to those currently experiencing extensive obstacles in our stratified, calcifying society.

Wending My Way Through ERB: The Mucker, A Review

  • by Gitabushi

I just finished reading The Mucker, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, last week.

This is, by far, my favorite book that I’ve read by ERB.

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It has sword fighting!  Pirates!  True Love! Gun Battles! Banditos! Head Hunters! Drunken brawls!

Quick synopsis: A guy has a pretty bad start in life. A series of events cause him to reconsider everything he valued, and through time, effort, exposure to good and bad people, and a series of events, he builds his character into something to be admired.

To be honest, I’m a little perplexed, because as I was reading it, I thought: okay, this is so good because it is late in his writing career. He had done all the Barsoom stories, the Tarzan stories, the crappy Land that Time Forgot stories (Caspak series), and wanted to do something with a little more moral and literary heft.

Nope.

He wrote in 1914.  At that point, he had only completed 2 or 3 Tarzan novels, and only 2 or 3 Barsoom novels.  The crappy was still four years in the future.

But I liked this book because it has character development in spades, and it was actually mostly believable.

Its plot was okay.  It is long and winding, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good. It doesn’t have a deep or complex plot, it just winds its way through various locales and sub-goals.  It does wrap up nicely at the end, which is nice.  But it is linear, rather than a web of plots and subplots to be resolved.  That’s okay, that isn’t a criticism.  In contrast, Chessmen of Mars has a few subplots that work together and get resolved by the end.  And Princess of Mars is another linear plot, with nothing really existing or unresolved out of the main action that is happening to John Carter at any given moment.  This isn’t good or bad, because it is what the story calls for.  A more complex web of plotting requires better writing, but good writers can also have simple plots.  I think that is the case here.

For that matter, if you read my review (and also read the book) on “Monster Men”, I think that novel has a much more complex plot than this one.  It is necessary for that story, it isn’t for this one, so both are great for what they are.

Descriptions are mostly pretty good.  He doesn’t get into lush details like Robert E. Howard does, but you should always have a clear image in your head of the stage the characters are on and what they are doing.

There are several very enjoyable characters, but my favorite character of all is Barbara Harding.  My, what a woman!  She shows strength, grit, intelligence, courage, skill, grace, wisdom…you name an admirable trait, she has it.  Anyone who wants to blather on about misogyny in old pulp novels, or the lack of Strong Female Characters in older fiction needs to take a big glass of Shut Up Juice and read this book.

I haven’t read the later books in this series.  I think I need to.

In any case, I highly recommend this book. If you like John Carter books, I think you’ll find many of the same elements here, plus extras. If you don’t like John Carter books, I think you’ll find enough other qualities of good writing that you’ll enjoy this book.

If you read/read it (first: short e, past tense; second: long e, future tense) and didn’t/don’t like it, let me know, and why.  I’d like to improve my grasp of objective criticism.

If you need more to make you want to read the novel, let me know. I’d like to improve my skill at recommending books without giving away spoilers.

Ironically, when I got in an argument over “A Princess of Mars”, one of the things I said is I wanted some more complexity to the main character regarding love.  I was told that ERB doesn’t need any of that soap opera, mushy, emotional angst stuff.  Apparently that person was wrong, because the romantic conflict is all through this book.  But it is done well.  I think ERB really understands the motivations and thought processes of his main characters, and shows it well.

The Mucker

Go read it!

 

Dimmer Switch, Revised

  • by Gitabushi

The original “Dimmer Switch” was written, first draft, on twitter.  Later, I wished I had ended the story differently. After talking with my kids about it, I decided to rewrite the story with the new ending, and cleaned up and expanded the rest of the text to match the new ending.

I think I may stop trying to write novels for a year or two, and just write as many short stories as I can, just to build the habit of writing.  We’ll see. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this short story.

Be sure and let me know what you think, good or bad. And let me know which version you like better.

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It’s the little things that strike you at the strangest times.
You’d think awareness of the Event would have permeated to my core, but when driving at night, I am still poised to click off my brights, should I see other headlights approaching.
No other headlights will approach.
Well, okay, I don’t *know* that for sure. I’m here. That at least implies the potential existence of others.
I think. I think, therefore I am?
Were none of the other inhabitants of the Earth thinking when it happened?
I dunno, I was never a philosopher.
Except now I think I am.
What do I have to do now except think, now that mankind killed itself off?
I love the feel of night air rushing over me when I leave the top down. It reminds me of simpler days, when I had a family, of trips to the beach…or even just going shopping.
There have been so many changes.
I’m amazed how quickly infrastructure crumbles when there isn’t constant human maintenance.
But perhaps the biggest change is me.
I’m many magnitudes smarter than I was before.
Things I simply couldn’t conceive of before are now clear and sensible.
Things that once perplexed me now seem obvious.
Details that seemed random now fit together to form unified wholes.
I can predict the weather accurately out to several weeks almost as soon as I enter a new region, just from the little clues of light, stirred grasses, and cloud volume.
Along with intelligence has come an unexpected mechanical talent.
My attempt to convert the Mazda Miata run on biomass worked perfectly after some minor modifications. The autopilot I rigged worked on the first try.
But I still drive the car myself. It feels more…mundane.
I have an idea what might have happened.  Bear with me, this may seem like a digression.
There was a theory on a time-wasting website that had tried to codify all the various tropes in fiction. The theory I’m thinking of was the “Conservation of Ninja.”
The idea was that in the climax of first movie/book/book section, the hero would fight a single ninja, and would struggle, but would eventually win.
Later in the same story/series, however, the hero would fight multiple ninjas, and defeat them with relative ease.
The website takes this sudden incompetence of Ninja ability to posit there was merely one unified whole of ninja ability.
When concentrated in one individual, that person was nigh-invulnerable.
When the numbers of ninja multiplied, however, they became laughingstocks, nearly Keystone Cops in incompetence.
A zero-sum of Ninja competence. The more Ninjas, the more diffuse the skill became.
Is this true for human intelligence?
Could there be a zero sum total of human intelligence, divided among each human being?
The movie Idiocracy posited that we were breeding for stupidity.
What if population *is* stupidity?
When virtually everyone died, intelligence concentrated in me.
Imagine the computing power of 7 billion humans, all in one mind. The intelligence would be superhuman.
And, in fact, I’m improvising technology that was beyond the reach of human science at the time of the Event. Imagine what I could do with a supercomputer, or a fully-equipped fabrication laboratory.
Is it possible that I am now God?
In the beginning, there was God.
He knew all, and was All Powerful.
Did He, in creating Man, divide His intelligence, part out His omniscience, divide His ability?  Did God disappear when His intelligence was divided among too many people? Was there a tipping point at some moment in the previous century when humanity became numerous enough that God died?
If so, did the Event bring God back into existence in me?
Or are there others who still share Humanity’s Intelligence with me?
I must find them.
Or perhaps it’s just the combined mental power of 3.5 billion humans.  Or 1.7 billion.
It depends on if I have the whole, or merely a fraction, and how many fractions we are.
As intelligent as I am now, how would I know, considering where I started?
There is a way to know, of course.
It has only been a few short months since the Event. That’s not enough time to be sure.
But if I suddenly find my intellectual ability taking another leap, then someone sharing humanity’s intelligence died. Conversely, if I suddenly find my intelligence dropping by a significant amount, it means a new mind was born.
But I can’t wait. I’m lonely. So I search.
What I wouldn’t give to have someone throw me a ball again, or even a stick. I yearn for someone to call me a Good Boy again.
Unbidden, my tail thumps against the seat. And my paw is on the dimmer switch.

Dimmer Switch

– by Gitabushi
It’s the little things that strike you at the strangest times.
You’d think awareness of the Event would have permeated to my core, but when driving at night, I still have my hand poised to click off my brights, should I see other headlights approaching.
No other headlights will approach.
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Photo courtesy of Getty Stock Images
Well, okay, I don’t *know* that. I’m here. That at least implies the potential existence of others.
I think. I think, therefore I am.
Were none of the other 7 billion-plus thinking when it happened?
I dunno, I was never a philosopher.
Except now I think I am.
What do I have to do now, except think?
I think back to when she once said, “I love you!”
It took months, years even, until I realized that what she meant by it was, “I depend on you!”
When I said it, I meant “I want to keep having fun with you forever!”
Same words.
Totally different meanings.
Both assuming the other felt and meant the same as their own.
And probably smug of me to think I had stumbled on some unique insight.
No wonder mankind killed itself off.
My attempt at rigging an autopilot worked fine, as did the conversion that let my Mazda 929 run on biomass.
I don’t really know how I came up with them. I seem to be thinking more clearly, and several magnitudes faster since everyone died.
But I still drive the car myself. It feels more…mundane.
Things that once puzzled me now seem obvious.
Details that seemed random now fit together to form unified wholes.
I can predict the weather accurately out to several weeks almost as soon as I enter a new region, just from the little clues of light, stirred grasses, and cloud volume.
There was a jocular theory on a website that had tried to codify all the various tropes in fiction: Conservation of Ninja
The idea was that in the climax of first movie/book/book section, the hero would fight a single ninja, and would struggle, but would eventually win.
Later in the same story/series, the hero would fight multiple, and defeat them with relative ease.
This led to the conclusion that there was merely one unified whole of ninja ability.
When concentrated in one individual, that person was nigh-invulnerable.
When the numbers of ninja multiplied, however, they became laughingstocks, nearly Keystone Cops in incompetence.
Is this true for human intelligence?
The movie Idiocracy posited that we were breeding for stupidity.
What if population *is* stupidity?
In the beginning, there was God.
He knew all, and was All Powerful.
Did He, in creating Man, divide His intelligence, part out His omniscience, divide His ability?
Am I now God?
Or are there others who still share Humanity’s Intelligence with me?
I must find them.
We must procreate.
The burden of sharing my thoughts with only myself is simply too much.
…my hand still hovers over the dimmer switch.

MUST READ SFF: Replay, by Ken Grimwood

  • by Gitabushi

It should be no surprise by now that I like books with good stories, good characters, and ideas that challenge me.  Who doesn’t want to be entertained?  But there are so many options for entertainment, so when I read, I want my mind to get a workout.

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This book does that.

To be honest, this book may be generation-locked.  The main character was born in the 1940s, and so is in college in the 1960s, and the culture of the 1960s has an impact on the plot. Growing up in the 1970s myself, I didn’t live 1960s culture…but most of the books I had available growing up were written in the 1960s or early 1970s, and set in the late 1950s and 1960s, so I was familiar with the culture.  For someone who never had to dial a rotary phone or never lived before there was cable TV or microwaves, maybe the book will lack some impact.  I don’t know. If you are one such reader, try it out and let me know.

However, Grimwood does an excellent job capturing the normality of those early times.  The protagonist goes back to his youth, but brings his adult sensibilities with him. And if you can imagine how society has changed just from the introduction of widespread use of the birth control pill, you can imagine how his mature assumptions clash with the culture and society of his youth.

The entire book is written with bedrock-solid descriptions of mainstream life in the United States. It feels real. The characters actions and reactions seem real. The author thinks of aspects I didn’t (and maybe couldn’t) and plays them to the hilt. The result is a book that makes it extremely easy to willingly suspend disbelief. It is easy to get drawn in, to care about the protagonists, what they want to do, and why.

It is also intersting to see things fall apart when the main character gets to experience one of the most common wishes of humankind: “If I knew then what I know now.”  Jeff gets several lifetimes of that wish fulfillment, and it still never turns out like he expects.

From that point of view, the book can be seen as a comfort: you are already doing pretty much the best  you can. More knowledge wouldn’t make your life better, it would just move you along to encounter new problems. Life is life. Stop pining for how things could be different, and start appreciating what you actually have.

In the end, you may get a “Groundhog Day” vibe out of this book, but rest assured: this preceded Groundhog Day by several years.

In fact, I would like to challenge all writers: Take the premise of this book, or Groundhog Day, or Flash Forward, and write your own stories. We have endless takes on zombies, vampires, young adult dystopias. Enough!  These three formats are crying out for additional exploration.

But first, you have to read this. Find it and read it. Let me know if you think I steered you wrong, but I think you’ll love it as much as I did.

Oh, and give me a review of the review. Did it make you want to read the book? If not, what else should I have included to help persuade you?

Replay Radar