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Student of Trinity

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Magnificent Ornk

Magnificent Ornk (16/17)

  1. I hadn't kissed anyone except relatives at twenty, either. I got married at 28; we just had our twentieth anniversary. Until I met my wife, my social life was sparse at best and heartbreaking at worst. That was partly because finding an intimate relationship is just difficult, and partly because I made poor choices about how to spend my time. I didn't take seriously enough the fact that finding an intimate relationship is difficult. I assumed too much that it would just magically happen, so I hardly gave it a chance to happen. I should have been a lot more pro-active a lot sooner. I never had an imaginary girlfriend, but I can imagine myself doing that. It would have been weird, but weird happens. In fact hardly anyone is really normal. But that means that 'normal' is actually a much broader category than people think, and so most people really are normal, even if they are weird, because weird is normal. At least up to a point. So, unfortunately, are loneliness and desperation. So are relationships that seem miraculously wonderful and yet don't pan out. Movies and books hold up an ideal of romantic ecstasy that is very rarely attained in real life. The thing is, that's okay. It turns out that love is kind of like basketball. You don't have to make the NBA for it to be a great game. You will have one or more real girlfriends in future. (In the 'more' case, hopefully in series rather than parallel.) Your imaginary girlfriend will be a kind of ex. Most people have history like that. The worst problem I see is that this ex may be unnaturally free of defects, though also lacking in positive traits, such as reality. Real people all have some annoying features, and real relationships have to deal with this. The pros outweigh the cons. I add whatever weight I can to Alorael's expert advice. Counseling psychologists are a really great resource. You absolutely do not have to be crazy to benefit from seeing one. I've been helped a lot by a few sessions, at times of stress in my life. In fact, to have gone through an episode of constructing an imaginary relationship, and discussed it with a counselor, could be a substantial asset in future real relationships. To be conscious of what you really want, and of what relationships can bring people, could make you quite a prize. Edit to say that I mean what I say. Counseling is good. Getting counseling is not failure. I'm a physics professor, I'm a husband and father, I even used to be an infantry officer. If the only form of macho credential you recognize is being a biliionaire, okay, I'm not a billiionaire, or even a millionaire. But for other forms of macho success I can say, I've been there and it's [censored]. Three weeks ago my favorite paper got rejected by a good journal and I freaked out and came down with shingles. I went to the doctor and got some anti-viral pills and it's getting better pretty quickly. If I show the shiny side of the apple then my life looks just awesome, and if I turn the apple around then it still has the same kind of troubles that I had at 18, just in slightly different forms. Life is like that. We got a cat recently. Cats are animals and their lives are simple. Human lives are harder; it's the price that we pay. The human edge is technology. Humans use it. Counseling psychology is technology. Using it is just smart. Edit 2: First time I've hit the auto-censor, in all these years. I'm glad it was good.
  2. With 22 answers, the poll results are consistent with having 9 respondents rank the three powers Shapers-Empire-Pact; 7 rank them Empire-Shapers-Pact; 3 rank them Empire-Pact-Shapers; 2 rank them Shapers-Pact-Empire; 1 ranks them Pact-Shapers-Empire; and no-one picks Pact-Empire-Shapers. The poll results for these four questions provide enough information to work out exactly how many people believe in each of the six possible rankings — if one assumes that everyone has answered in terms of a single-valued power ranking of all three powers, and has kept all their answers consistent. If someone answers inconsistently, it is not necessarily apparent in the results of a poll like this. Some possible poll results could be manifestly inconsistent, though. If everyone voted SEP in the first three questions, but then picked Pact for question 4, it would be obvious that something fishy was going on. I, on the other hand, can't answer the poll at all, because I can't answer the fourth question. I believe the Shapers would defeat the Empire because the Empire is vulnerable to monster plagues and the Shapers are all about that. I believe the Empire would defeat the Pact because the Empire is very much like the Pact, except bigger and better, and the Empire's vulnerability to adventurers (like Hands of Avadon) is limited. They might lose an emperor, but not the war. I believe the Pact would defeat the Shapers, because you just know that Redbeard would get his hands on a Geneforge. So for me the fourth question is like Rock vs. Paper vs. Scissors. I'm stumped.
  3. My writing project is still slowly going along. It will eventually end up as at least one finished novel. I don't really have a lot of time to work on it, but I hack away when I can. Sometimes I plunge ahead writing; sometimes I step back, frown, and gun down darlings. Up to a point I have high standards, but I'm not trying to write a Great Novel; just write something I like. If you want to make money from writing, I am no-one to advise you, but I can recommend writing a novel as a hobby. It's fun. What was originally going to be one book has expanded into a trilogy. First I cut it into two. Then this summer I recognized that the first volume was getting too big because it was really two stories, and I decided I had to surgically separate the conjoined twins, to make a total of three books. Compared to what was going to be that single, fat first volume with one sequel, the new result for the first and middle books of the trilogy would be two books that were each less densely packed with wild and crazy stuff; but I decided that this was for the best. A dense story that seemed cool to me, having lived along with it for years, would be incomprehensible to a reader. I'm writing to please myself, but still the task with which I'm trying to be pleased is writing a book that could be popular with other readers, at least in an ideal world. When I first carved off the part of my story that will now be Book 3, I was still at an early stage in the project. Splitting the first volume into Books 1 and 2 is being done now in a heavily re-written second draft. So it's really quite a surgery. It's an interesting task. Some things that I like don't look so easy to save in the separated version; for one reason or another, things they needed to work will no longer work. Some of these may be salvageable, with effort; and that's an interesting puzzle. Some may just have to be lost. That's disappointing, but everybody says you have to kill your darlings. I'll try my hand at that, too. And some things that were kind of pinched into the previous story now have room to expand to a natural length. So it's not all disappointing. I think I've learned a few basic things about writing longer stories. Who knows whether these are things that will help anyone write commercially, but they're things that, when I first started writing, I didn't realize that even I myself wanted them. Now I realize I do. One is that there's a kind of physical limit to how complex your plot can be. Past a certain point, you can make your logical connections as solid as you want, but the mere fact that there are too many of them makes the story feel rickety. It just becomes too hard to take seriously. I think that what goes on is that every reader knows instinctively that in any real scenario there are bound to be a bunch of unknown factors. It's plausible that two or three clear and basic reasons are decisive over all these unknown factors; but it's just not plausible that a string of ten reasons would really hold together without getting screwed up by something unknown. So complicated scenarios are just inherently unbelievable. You have got to keep it simple. Ingenious answers for nitpicking hit a plateau of diminishing returns. A sort of related thing is that you have to give the reader a sense of where your book is going. You may get a certain grace period at the beginning, a couple of chapters in which the reader is prepared to simply gawk and nod Uh Huh. But pretty soon, you have to give your readers a confident sense of which issues they are supposed to be keeping in mind, so they can relax and let the rest of the stuff just wash over them without trying hard to keep it all straight. You can't expect your readers to keep perfect track of everything. It needs to be enough for the reader to be clear on just a few things — and the reader has to know which those things are. They could be things like your protagonist's love life, or where the Maltese Falcon is, or what lies over the mountain. Probably all kinds of different things will do; but by around Chapter 3 the reader has to have a sense of what these main issues will be, for the long haul of the book. You cannot wait until The Two Towers to bring in the Ring. Once you've established that sense of direction, of course you can mess around with it. Instead of just pulling a plot twist, it's a subtler but deeper way to pull off surprise, to make what seemed like a minor theme turn out to be more important than it seemed to be. Of course you have to watch that this isn't just annoying or disappointing. But at least at this point, my feeling is that those problems are not so impossible to avoid. A well-managed surprise can be good, I think, but a lack of direction is just boring to read. The other surprising thing I've found is that Anastasia Morandau has taught me to write. Literally: she's my narrator, and in an effort to give her a distinctive voice, I gave her writing a couple of characteristics that I thought would be interesting and yet still easy to take in large doses. In particular, I made her follow most of Elmore Leonard's rules for writing — not because I thought his was the only way to write well, but because I thought it was one way to write well, and it suited her character. So Anastasia is spare with adverbs, especially emphatics and superlatives. She almost never says 'very'. She has no fear of short sentences. She doesn't use cliché expressions. She almost never reports dialog with anything other than an unqualified 'said'. And she never ends a sentence with a preposition, because she saves the emphatic last place in a sentence for a word that carries more than a preposition's worth of her thought. Well, after writing a bunch of chapters in her narration, I found I preferred Anastasia's style to my own. I felt that her style was blunt and forceful. I thought it made you take seriously whatever she said. I started writing more like her, all the time. The other quirk I gave her narration was an aversion to commas. She hardly ever uses them unless they're grammatically necessary. I try hard to make her sentences comprehensible just by making them clear and simple, and by avoiding ambiguous antecedents. So if the sentence is comprehensible at all when read all in one breath, she writes the sentence that way. This is supposed to indicate the high speed of her thought. Her brain is always in top gear. When she speaks to other people, though, her dialog has plenty of commas. She knows instinctively that she has to slow herself down for other people to follow. Whether this works, I don't know. Maybe I'm mistaken about how clear her sentences are, and they're really misery to read, and at some point I'll have to go through the whole book line by line, adding commas. But these are fun experiments to make.
  4. I've been busy for a while; too busy to play Spiderweb games, and hence, ultimately, too busy to really keep up with the Zeitgeist here. But sometimes busy-ness defeats itself. Like when you're procrastinating on an overdue grant proposal. A while ago here I described my experiments in running radically stripped-down pen-and-paper role-playing games for nieces and nephews. (Take-home message: pets must not die.) This was apparently one of the pebbles that eventually led to the mighty avalanche of AIMHack. Here's an update that might add a useful twist. This summer's game was: Zombie Apocalypse: Hundred Acre Wood Let me admit right away that there wasn't really anything more to it than the premise. On the other hand, that was its beauty. The game almost played itself. It could have been much more elaborate. But there was a zombie heffalump, and my 73-year-old Mom came through for the win. The rules consisted solely of the character cards. Each character had two attributes: Health and Brain. These were really just flavor text. Oh well. Each character had one special power, and these were the game. Winnie-The-Pooh Health: Stout Brain: Very little Special power: "Many a bear ..." Once during the game, you may declare, "Many a bear would not have thought to bring along a X", for pretty much any value of X. Add it to your inventory. Piglet Health: Very small animal Brain: Acutely aware of danger Special power: Trespassers Will Once during the game, you may recite pretty much any procedure for accomplishing pretty much anything, and declare that it is what your Grandfather Trespassers William used to do. It will prove to be effective for its purpose. Owl Health: Fussy Brain: Can spell Tuesday Special power: Necessary dorsal muscles Once during the game, you can fly while carrying pretty much anything, at least for a short distance. Rabbit Health: Runs fast Brain: Clever Special power: Captainish day Once during the game, you may explain a plan. As long as it involves every single player character, and you explain it in detail, it will work. Kanga Health: Motherly Brain: Can count pieces of soap Special power: "Roo, dear!" Once during the game, if Roo is in danger, you can do pretty much anything. Roo Health: Very small animal Brain: Squeaky Special power: "Look at meee!" When you shriek, "Look at meee!" the attention of everything in the vicinity will be drawn to you, at least briefly. You may use this special power as often as you like. Eeyore Health: Sturdy Brain: Under the circumstances, your persistent pessimism must be reassessed as an acute grasp of reality Special power: "How like them." Once during the game, you may observe, "How like them." Whatever just happened, your acute pessimism accurately anticipated it. Time rolls back to before the last bad event. The group may plan an alternative course of action, taking your anticipation into account. Tigger Health: Bouncy Brain: Easily distracted Special power: What Tiggers do best Once during the game, you may declare of pretty much any activity that it is What Tiggers Do Best. You will be good at it. And the ringer PC, played by my mom, who was grandma to most of the players. She had a vision for the character. Very Small Beetle ('Small' for short) Health: So small, most people don't notice him Brain: No-one ever speaks to him, except occasionally to say, "Really, Small!" Special power: More Than He Seems The scenario map was the Ernest Shepard illustration of the Hundred Acre Wood, downloaded from the internet. The quest was just a multi-part fetch, to get the ingredients for a de-zombification potion that would de-zombifie Christopher Robin. (Extract of Malt, Haycorns, Honey, Condensed Milk, and Thistles. The book with the recipe was at Owl's house.) The main weakness in the game was that only a couple of the players actually knew much Winnie-the-Pooh lore — even the Disney version, for crying out loud. Kids these days. It turned out to be decisive that my brother played Rabbit. Much of the actual session was devoted to refining his Captainish plan. But my youngest daughter quite enjoyed being Roo. She appreciated the fact that she could use her power at will, instead of only once, like all the others. The surprise twist was how Small turned out to be More Than He Seemed. At a climactic moment he suddenly grew into a monstrous demonic scorpion and stung the zombie heffalump back into the howling void from which it had spawned. Yay Mom! I can recommend the Hundred Acre Wood scenario itself, but the concept is bigger. You can whip up a sort of fan-fiction RPG scenario quickly by picking characters that everyone knows, and just plunking them into any scenario you want. As long as enough people have some ideas about the setting and characters, this background knowledge will substitute adequately for rules. We don't need no stinking rules. The surprise ending with Small was entirely my Mom's idea. It was why she wanted to play. I'm reassessing my childhood. Man.
  5. I emerge from a hiatus dominated by separatrices and branch cuts (please do not garble that) to make a shameless commercial plug. It's not for any product in Spiderweb's line. It's for a book. I have not actually read the book yet: I pre-ordered it months ago, but it has yet to arrive. A friend of mine has written a book about the 1935 invasion of Ethiopia by Fascist Italy. The book is entitled Prevail, and it's available on Amazon and wherever else. It's not self-published; Jeff Pearce is a successful commercial author and an actual publishing house has given him money. Thing is, this is a history book, and Jeff is not an academic historian. In fact he never graduated from college. I know the guy, though, and he's intelligent, very seriously interested in this topic, and very articulate. He has done a lot of homework on this book. He has gotten a foreword from the leading academic historian on the topic. He has also published many other books (many of them under pseudonyms); "but" they're all relatively low-brow. This one is serious. I make this plug for two reasons. 1) I'm persuaded of Jeff's main thesis, that this 1935 conflict really was a chapter in human history. On the one hand it was the pathetic failure of the League of Nations, the crushing end to all the hope that World War I had been a war to end wars. On the other hand, it was the end of colonialism. Ultimately, the Africans prevailed. 2) My job is to train PhDs, and/but the reason I think this job is worth doing is that what it really means is nothing but serious and intelligent study. There is no magic; there is no priesthood. If higher education means anything, then it means nothing that someone could not do without any degrees, if they just worked hard and thought carefully. So it may sound perverse, but for me it's a sort of acid test for the whole concept of higher education, that we can recognize insight when it comes without the formal credentials. I haven't read the book itself yet, but I know the author. From knowing him I feel that this is a test case. If you also happen to care about this issue, this is a book I think you'll want to check out. By all means wait until you see some actual reviews of the book before buying it, but make a note now to look out for reviews of this book. With recent controversy here in mind, about sciences versus humanities, let me emphasize that I would be every bit as hopeful about an un-degreed physicist, if they really were serious and intelligent and articulate. I can definitely imagine amateur books on physics that would impress lay people but actually be worthless; I can also imagine that a professionally trained historian might declare this book to be like that, even if it impresses me. If that happens, I will of course defer to the professional authority, who may be as expert in their field as I am in mine; though, if it comes to that, I'll also insist that there can be intelligent lay views on science that will attract scorn from many professional scientists, but admiration from others, and these others might be the best. 'Professional' and 'degreed' are broad categories. Even from the most hieratic of experts, it can be reasonable to consider a second opinion. The larger principle remains, and it's really important, that academic credentials exist to represent realities that can exist without the degrees. If I shoot an amateur physicist down, it'll be for errors, not for being an amateur. I can say nothing about whether Prevail will be free of errors that a professional would recognize, but I can say that it won't just be garbage. It'll be a test case at the very least, and worthwhile in some meta kind of sense just for that.
  6. No, you don't. I don't. You have leapt to conclusions about what I believe. No doubt for understandable reasons; no doubt because I've been unclear. Unclarity, however, is the inevitable norm. In my view, you should have been more charitable in your interpretations. You should have followed more carefully my actual reasoning, persisted a bit more in trying to see what I was getting at, based on our long acquaintance, and perceived my genuinely valuable points, rather than noticing the first superficial resonances between my points and various tedious bagatelles, and assuming that I was offering no more than the same, warmed over. Slarty: of course I'm doing a bad job explaining myself. If you haven't noticed, notice now: explaining is hard. Cut some slack. Try harder. It's worth more effort than you're giving it, it seems to me. The role you are choosing, of carping at people who are trying to solve actual problems, is easy to play, but pointless. Get back in the game. Stop blowing the whistle. Start kicking the ball. Most of the pure sciences fall on the same side of the usefulness divide as the humanities. There is a largish demand for education in star appreciation, just as there is for education in Shakespeare appreciation. Kelandon nailed this one. But understand what he nailed, and what he didn't. Nobody ever recovered from a heart attack because of star appreciation, any more than anyone ever did from Shakespeare appreciation. There is a smallish market for people highly trained in satisfying these largish markets for appreciating wondrous things. So a few people should be trained to teach star appreciation, and to teach fiction appreciation. This is in fact how physics departments have worked for some decades now in North America. Something like 1% of North American undergraduates study physics, and these few do so mainly to become physics teachers or professors. And that's probably the reasonable and sustainable proportion. Physics departments in North America mainly subsist on research grants and on large-enrollment courses for engineers. And that's probably the reasonable and sustainable situation. Humanities departments should probably work in a similar way, I think. This is the full extent of my prejudice against the humanities. As a matter of fact I've studied them a bit. I took four lousy undergraduate English courses. On the other hand, I won the freshman English prize in my circa 10,000-enrollment university for what turned out to be the lowest grade I earned in English, and my three following courses were a narrowly period-specific progression of seminars to an Honors thesis on Paradise Lost. Somewhere along the way I've read a lot of books. I've met and talked with lots of people in fields outside my own, including some who are famous within their own fields. I've sat on search committees to hire professors in fields outside my own — search committees always have some faculty-external members. I know full well I'm not an expert outside my field. I am not an ignoramus outside my field, however. It's not true that every field is entirely autonomous. In the end there is only one pie to carve up, and everyone judges everyone else. Rightly or wrongly, every academic expert has to justify their existence to people like me, just as I have to justify my existence to them. I ask questions. I don't accept buzzwords and snow as answers. So far, I have always been satisfied, though sometimes I've had to ask twice. In my judgement, my colleagues in the humanities are peers. Not on politically correct principal, but because having grilled them, they've passed muster. If you think I'm being arrogant in saying that: what do you think 'peer' means? They judge me, too. So far, I have always left humanities professors nodding, reassured that physicists are not idiots after all. I can speak their language. I can understand their answers. I can explain myself to them. Why should anyone study anything? Getting a job isn't the only reason, but look. I'm a professor. This is my job. I need an actual answer, not just a politically correct affirmation of what things are not the only answer. After quite a few years of experience, it seems to me to be like this. There are the reasons that, if you need to ask about them, you ain't never gonna know. Fine; they're real reasons. But then, there are the reasons about acquiring skills that are of use to other people. Those reasons aren't crap. Those are good reasons. Somehow you have to balance the different kinds of reasons, when you decide to go to one lecture, or another. In my sophomore year I pulled a miserable B in thermodynamics, because I skipped every third lecture to attend the Renaissance poetry and prose seminar. Now my research is on quantum thermodynamics, and although I think about stuff I learned in those two thirds of physics lectures, sometimes I also think about Milton's picture of creation from Chaos. I wasn't thinking about a job either way. In retrospect, I was lucky, but that was stupid. Universities have not yet quite caught up with this. They need to. There is a lot of money in telling bright people in their twenties not to think about this. It's blood money.
  7. I'm confused about what education is really for. I feel bad about that, being a professor, though being a professor in Germany, I don't feel as bad as I would if my students were paying tuition. But they are still paying a big opportunity cost by taking several years of their youths to study. Why should they do this? I can think of two kinds of reasons, but they're very different, to the point where it's not at all clear to me that it makes sense to try to serve both reasons at the same kind of institution. On the one hand you can learn things that are directly valuable only to you, and whose value to others is more intangible. People like learning cool stuff about stars and numbers and poems and plays and old battles and stuff. Yay; learning stuff is fun. People will pay for it, in time and in money, and so they should. Yay learning. On the other hand you can learn useful skills that enable to do things you otherwise couldn't, valuable things that other people for which other people will want to pay. So people will pay to learn how to perform brain surgery or audit company books. Then they need to get a credential to certify that they can really do those things. So this makes sense. In practice there's not actually so much overlap between these two kinds of education. They tend to concentrate pretty strongly (though by no means perfectly) in different faculties or schools. Maybe the fact that these diverse schools are nominally part of a larger structure called a university is just a historical coincidence, as are the facts that the instructors bear the same 'professor' title, and credentials called 'Bachelor's degrees' and so on are issued by all. It's arguably unfortunate, though, that these superficial similarities tend to conceal such an important distinction. Maybe fewer people would make choices they later regretted if there were a choice between getting a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature at a College, after being lectured by Professors, and getting a Diploma in Electrical Engineering from a School, after being trained by Instructors.
  8. Fixed a typo. Pretty much any professor would love to have the second extreme case. If you can do it, you're probably not going to be shot down for it.
  9. What do you want to do? If there's nothing you really want to do, but you just want to get some kind of job, then that's actually a handicap in getting any kind of job, because almost any employer will choose someone who wants their job in particular over someone who just wants a job of some kind. Wanting to do something in particular is an edge. What do you want to do?
  10. Unbelievable. But the iOS version of Galactic Core appears to have nothing in common with the old turn-based strategy game except the name. It seems like a randomly generated choose-your-own adventure story, with pictures, where you try to get home in your spaceship, through a series of random encounters and explorations.
  11. I've mostly finished reading Germany: 1866-1945 by Gordon A. Craig. I've pretty much hacked my way through it, not because it's hard going, but because I have it in the German translation from the original English, because it was a lot cheaper on Amazon and I thought I'd give it a try. Turns out there are a lot of fancy words in this level of written German. Plus some unfamiliar ones that aren't fancy. It turns out that 'arg' is a German word. It means something like bad or sore, which seems appropriate enough, but I've never heard it spoken. Coolest thing I've learned: the nickname for Hitler among German soldiers and generals was 'Gröfaz' (pronounced 'groe-fatz', where 'oe' is like the 'oo' in 'book'). It was a German-style abbreviation for 'grösster Feldherr aller Zeiten', 'greatest commander of all time', a phrase applied to Hitler in Nazi propaganda. After Stalingrad, the goblin-like name became a bitter meme. Otherwise the main novelty in the book, for me, has been the perspective that Hitler was not simply continuing the authoritarian strain of German society from the 19th century, but that in fact he destroyed pretty much all the previous right-wing elements, along with the left-wing and democratic traditions. According to Craig, Hitler was an opportunistic genius who wrenched Germany into his own horrible new direction. Craig does not paint an especially rosy picture of imperial Germany before WWI, but he argues against seeing Bismarck in Hitler's shadow. Up to a point, at least, I think he's right. The Junkers were hardly democrats, and if you know a bit about WW2 and nothing about the 19th century it's easy to think of them as proto-Nazis, but in fact that's absurd. They and the Nazis despised each other. I wonder, though. Craig's book has been popular in Germany. Craig himself was awarded the Pour le Mérite, though presumably not just for one book (he had a long career). Up to a point it's right to emphasize Hitler's discontinuity in German history, but I think I should maybe read another book and compare.
  12. I don't know much about US-Mexico things. I lived four years in New Mexico, but NM was NM before it was American, and I lived for seven years in Boston, which is northeastern and rich and liberal about everything; about everything, it's all three of those things. Writing about any kind of underprivileged group is academic low-hanging fruit. Somebody has to write about cultural differences, and everybody who can ought to write about injustice; but wherever there's fresh meat, vultures gather. You can get tenure and promotion, book contracts and celebrity (of a sort at least) by writing a trendy book with the right kind of political slant. I'm not talking about the corrosive corruption you get from Big Oil money, or Big Tobacco, or Big Agro, or the military-industrical complex ... but academia is the financial bush leagues. Even quite modest book sales are sweets on the other side of the foggy window pane from most academic noses. And cash is not the only currency. Suspect privilege. Writing books about privilege, and its lack, is also a privilege. There is another hand. If someone is right about something that really makes a difference, then that doesn't change just because they are also wrong about a lot of other things. At some point it counts as privilege simply to have enough to eat, but humans need food, and you can't close your ears to everyone who isn't starving. Starving people can't think well. So the whole issue of privileged viewpoint is only important up to a point. You have to look at angels through narrow eyes, but you have to give even devils their due.
  13. If it's really the most advanced civilization in existence, then it might be advanced enough to be like the green realm in Jack Vance's story "Green Magic". I find this story haunting, and having read it: I think I'd rather stay on earth; yet I probably wouldn't.
  14. So I wrote a 130K-word first draft in a year, and I thought I'd try to finish the second draft in a second year, but that deadline passed four days ago, and I wasn't even close to making it, despite a lot of steady work over all that time. I did manage to hammer out an improved version of the most difficult part. The revised version held together and I thought I was over the hump. But then I asked myself, Why did this take so long? It took so long because it was hard. I thought that was okay; sometimes writing is just hard, I thought. But now I think that this was hard in a bad way. I was trying to fix an engine with tape. That's hard work, all right, but it's also futile. In this one part of my story, the engine was broken: there was a basic problem in the plot. Because of timing constraints that I felt I had to respect in order to keep my story's integrity as a realistic fantasy, my secondary protagonist was sitting around for six weeks, waiting for the main protagonist to show up. This basic problem was concealed in the first draft because I didn't directly describe the six-week waiting period. It was backstory. I introduced the second protagonist at the moment he meets the first one. So in the first draft, the six-week lull came out in reminiscences and background data dumps. I thought it would be harmless this way, but dull and implausible don't really taste any better for being spread thin. I missed seeing the basic problem for what it was, I think, because it hid in the interface between two ideas: "fill in backstory" and "timing constraints". The timing constraints seemed to stick me with this six-week lull in my backstory; of course I had to fill in backstory. So I didn't connect the dots to realize that my writing and re-writing was really all about excusing a bizarre lull in what was supposed to be an urgent plot. The six-week stasis was like a tumor in my story that my scans failed to detect. Over the past year I moved a lot of backstory into main story, by starting to follow the second protagonist before the two meet. I invented some interesting things that would happen during the six-week lull, and I turned my second protagonist into a vengeful schemer with a suitably nasty scheme. It was all still hard going, however. The episodes that I invented to pass the boring six weeks were interesting but mostly pointless; I tried to present them as parts of the nasty scheme, but they really mostly weren't, because it was nastily simple and didn't really need them. I believe I have a simple solution to this problem. I'm going to let my second protagonist spend four weeks traveling to the climactic setting. He was always supposed to have traveled there, but his starting point has never been pinned down, so I can easily make his trip take longer. I think I can salvage almost all of the stuff I've invented over the past year, by just transplanting it from the destination castle to a river barge en route. I think this single trick will really help a lot. Right from the beginning, my guy can be making clear progress towards a clear goal: he's going to the castle. And the interesting episodes that played no genuine role in the nasty revenge scheme itself can now become genuine solutions to problems of the journey. Having the hero solve genuine problems helps a story even more than you'd think it would, I believe. All kinds of nice details seem to fall naturally into place, when the basic plot makes simple sense. My main concern is that this will end up lengthening the book too much. I think I'll just have to try it and see how it goes. Anyway, I think I've learned something. When writing gets hard, is it right to just keep on writing? Up to a point, I think it is. By hammering away on my second protagonist, even within his crippling time frame, I improved him a lot and invented some neat parts of the story. But I think I took this too far. There's a level of effort that is too hard, and past this point the difficulty is a signal that something unrecognized is basically wrong. If I had taken this hint a bit sooner, I might have saved myself a lot of time. And if this trick works, then the next time I find that a story seems to be lacking momentum, I'll try putting in some literal movement. Maybe journeys are the ketchup of fiction, and every one-line plot summary can be improved by adding "... on a road trip."
  15. That's very fair, but I just can't do it — so go on without me. My proposed role was going to be basically spectating anyway, so I can just spectate.
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