Monthly Archives: August 2012

Wisdom of the Ancients

We tend to think of people of the past as being wise. Having had knowledge and techniques that have been lost, except perhaps for a few old books containing forgotten secrets. A big part of this probably has to do with actual history, for example in Europe the trick to making concrete was lost for a thousand years between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance.

If memory serves (it frequently doesn’t), it was returned to Europe, or at least Christian Europe, during the Crusades when Christians captured a cache of Greek and Roman books that had fallen into obscurity. (In Spain? Can’t recall.) It’s not clear to me whether the Muslims were still using concrete or if they were just sitting on the books without actually reading them. (Hey, it’s been a long time since history class!) That must have seemed pretty awesome to people at the time, finding those forgotten techniques from people who were, to them, mysterious and alien cultures from the distant past.

That’s still a common theme in fiction, a forgotten civilization with knowledge and technology more advanced than our own, whose secrets lie waiting to be rediscovered. It makes for grand adventure stories, where daring heroes explore mysterious ruins and unlock ancient secrets.

But in the real world, things aren’t so simple.

See the tricky thing about ancient people is that they were people, just like us. On the whole, they weren’t any smarter or stupider than we are now. Their wisdom seems above average to us now mostly because we tend to remember the things they were right about and discard their mistakes. This isn’t necessarily a deliberate act of distortion, (actually I think that’s very rare) but probably because what they were wrong about usually isn’t useful to us.

But the idea has power, as ideas do. Something marketed as “Ancient Chinese Wisdom” will sell better than the same thing without that label, because we remember that the ancient Chinese invented magnetic compasses, gunpowder, differential gears, and a thousand other mundane miracles. We forget that ancient Chinese wisdom also drives the demand for illegal rhinoceros horn, which has already caused the extinction of more than one species of rhino.

I’ve heard that in China the equivalent catch-phrase is “New American Science”. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but approve of the symmetry, at least.

This post germinated while I was reading the Medieval Bestiary site, looking specifically for fantastic creatures to use in fiction. I got a little distracted by how very wrong it was about animals that weren’t flights of wild imagination, but ordinary, mundane beasts that you can see in any zoo.  Read the rest of this entry

Search terms? In this heat? Of course!

It’s hot, really hot. That’s the only excuse I have for not writing more lately, but seriously it’s 107 degrees today and that’s part of a cooling trend this week.

Anyways, today’s the 15th, and that means search terms. I’m losing my enthusiasm for this monthly post because it’s creating a feedback loop, things that turn up once are more likely to turn up again as I keep adding more references to it. It’s apparently possible to add code that will except certain categories from Google and other search engines, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to do that.

So anyway, I’m going to skip the ones that have already been here over and over, and focus on terms that are new or that I think are interesting. As usual, search terms are bold while my comments are italicRead the rest of this entry

“Most of my friends won’t repost this…”

You’ve seen these things before, right? On Facebook, mostly, usually something about some injustice that ends with a crude, hamfisted attempt to manipulate people into sharing it and spreading it around more by implying that those who don’t are either callous or taking part in whatever the issue is.

I hate them. I hate when people try to manipulate me.

So I figured, as a public service, I’d announce that anything which has something like that, “I bet 99% of you won’t, but re-post this if you’re that 1% with a heart”, or whatever, will be ignored by me regardless of content. I suppose if there’s something that actually needs to be said there I can take it as inspiration to write up my own post about it, but I will not be spreading shit like that around.

And if you are one of the people who make these things, if that sort of cheap emotional blackmail is something you’re willing to use, either to spread awareness of a genuine issue or just to boost your own ego, then I kindly invite you to go fuck yourself.

This is one of those posts I think of writing every time I see one of those asinine things, but it was this splendid and worthwhile blog post by Alyson Miers that got me to actually write it.

Leo Tarvi: Paranormal Investigator!

Just realized that the last Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator game was released this week!

The Ben Jordan games are point and click adventures, like the old Lucasarts games, and they are completely free to download and play. I found them years ago and would now and then learn that a new game was out and play it. I’m excited to see the end of the story, but a little sad that there won’t be any more of them.

The games follow Ben Jordan, a young man who’s decided to follow what would have been my dream job: investigating weird, paranormal events. The first two games were very silly comedies, but in the third the tone suddenly got a lot darker. The creator, Francisco Gonzalez, has since remade the first two games with voice acting and updated graphics, and slightly changed to fit more into the mood the series developed. So if you decide to play through them all, don’t be shocked when the voices go silent and the looks get weaker in the third game.

These are mystery & puzzle games, the kind you want to keep a notebook handy while you play. The art and the acting get the job done, but it’s pretty clear that these games were made by amateurs working in their spare time. That really doesn’t take away from the plots and the puzzles, though, which are excellent. Each game is a story in its own right, but there is also a story arc over the whole series. The plots are good, the characters are interesting, and the puzzles are challenging but not usually terribly frustrating.

If you’re a Linux user, like myself, the games work in WINE. So don’t let that “windows” label turn you away.

And that’s all you’re getting from me now, I have a mystery to solve.

On destruction, knowledge, and posting while drinking too much.

I have this tendency to think that I don’t like comic books. Then every so often I’ll wander the internet reading comics that I like… so clearly there’s nothing about the medium itself that I dislike. I suppose what I really don’t like is the sort of “comic book culture”, that’s grown around mainstream comics, mostly Marvel and DC.

Plus the superhero genre really doesn’t do much for me.

But there are comics that I like, and most of them are freely available on the internet. I’ve mentioned Girl Genius, probably my favorite, before, and another excellent example is The Order of the Stick, a Dungeons and Dragons based fantasy with a remarkably expressive style of stick figure art. There’s actually a surprisingly long list, and yet I usually think of myself as someone who doesn’t like comics. People are weird.

Today I’m thinking about the latest installment of Chasing the Sunset, another sword & sorcery fantasy with possibly my favorite title ever. It’s a poetic description of the plot’s quest, which takes the characters westward. I guess they’ll have to end the story before our heroes turn around to head home. Unless they circumnavigate the globe or find a new home elsewhere or something.

This is going to have some spoilers for the most recent subplot, if you worry about such things. I’ll try to keep it vague. Read the rest of this entry

But how do you reason to religion?

I saw this on Facebook this morning. Check it out.

There’s a lot of wrong here packed into a short passage. Things like this have a lot of power mostly because it takes so much more space to explain what’s wrong with it than to say it. I mean, Lewis’s writing here is fairly clear and concise, if it speaks to your biases you’re going to be very tempted to just trust it and not bother reading long-winded rebuttals like the one I’m writing now.

But I think you should read this. If only so you can honestly say that you consider what you believe. Read the rest of this entry

Fighting the Monsters of Roleplaying Games

Last night I dreamt about a series of children’s books in which a girl fights monsters with the aid of a suspiciously accurate D&D Monster Manual. I think they were mostly paranormal mystery stories, but there was always a monster, and she could find useful information about that monster in this battered old game book.

I remember reading an interview with the author who said she’d come up with the character and basic premise way back in 1968, before D&D existed, but could never really get the stories to come together until many years later when she saw the Monster Manual and flipped through it. Can’t recall the author’s name.

What’s really driving me crazy though is that I can’t remember the character’s name. It was an interesting name, the kind that belongs in a book title. I think her first and last names together made five syllables. Bah, just driving myself crazy trying to think of it.

I suppose this premise would fit into the whole “D&D is a trick to make kids into witches and slaves of Satan” bullshit, but it felt more like the other way around. Like, “This is a way to get this information widely published so that people can use it to protect themselves”. A warning and a weapon, instead of a trap. Could actually get some deep mythology in there about how the anti-D&D movement was just right enough to get it horribly wrong, interesting.

Anyway, that’s the dream that I remember. I’m vaguely aware of having others, but they didn’t stick around. Have a great day!

Spontaneous rhyme

Another warm morning, a bright shining day.
I’m hoping the summer heat soon fades away.
Because while I love swimming, & diving down deep,
the nights don’t cool off now, it’s too hot to sleep!

Book Review: “Be Ours Forever” by R. C. Murphy

This is Ms. Murphy’s first book to be published in actual paper. You might think that in that case I’d go easy on her in this review. Especially since she’s not only a friend but also knows where I live. Bah! Honesty demands the truth, angry authors be damned! Besides, honest reviews will make it easier for her to get better, and since I like her writing, I want it to improve. Though I will be sleeping near a dog and checking for poison needles the next few weeks.

Be Ours Forever is a story about love, power, trust, outdated conservative political entities, telepathic group sex, sadistic monsters, nontraditional family units, and lots and lots of vampires. Seriously, there’s a whole mess of vampires in this story. The plot is kicked off by the question of whether or not the sole named human character should change and become a vampire. It’s that kind of book.

The genre is given as “Paranormal Romance”, but I kept thinking of it as “Fangbanger Porn”. An outline of the book might go: Introduction, Body Horror, Sex Scene, Torture, Torture, Torture, Sex Scene, Resolution.

Read the rest of this entry

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