I like Minecraft, and I kind of like Torchlight, and it got good reviews, so I thought this would be great.  And it would be, except it has a third parent, which is Dark Souls.

mc dungeons

The idea is charming, and it looks beautiful. What it’s taken from Minecraft is the blocky look and the monsters– there’s absolutely no mining or building. But that’s fine; it’s pretty fun to kill hundreds of mobs, and knowing Minecraft you come in already knowing how most mobs behave.

The problem is– and this is really surprising for a game supposedly aimed at kids– it’s extremely unforgiving. You get 3 respawns, then you fail the entire mission. Which means you have to replay the whole thing, and the later missions are 20 or 30 minutes long.

The game is also extremely stingy with arrows, which are the best option against quite a few mobs, as well as some of the heavy mobs that will quickly overwhelm you.  You get a replenishing health potion, and can get a totem that also regenerates health, but when there’s a dozen bruisers or a boss bearing down on you, that’s not enough.

Now, I kinda get it. There are only 10 missions total, and the idea is that you keep replaying them, getting better gear as you go.  So in theory, if you can’t get through a mission (and I fail at what I think is the end of #9), you replay earlier missions again and again until you’ve leveled up.

Only, well, I’ve reached the “why bother?” stage. The gameplay is basically “click enemies till they die”– the only strategy seems to be knowing when to back off and heal. Even Torchlight felt like it had more options and alternatives, and it got tedious too. So replaying a level over and over is just not fun.

(Gearing up is important too, and it may well be that I’m using the “wrong gear”. But I’m at the mercy of the random number generator. To go on a mission at all, you have to have gear of a certain level, and you may not have found your favorite item at a high enough level yet.)

It’s a pity, because the game is very pretty, and the first levels are a lot of fun. But the design decision to limit respawns ruins it for me.  I don’t understand it… what would be so bad about respawning infinitely, as in nearly every other frigging video game?  If you really want a penalty, reduce the score or take away some emeralds or restart at an earlier checkpoint or something. Or, you know, don’t think you have to punish the player for playing your game.

You might have better luck, or a greater tolerance for grind.

I made a few changes to the Sound Change Applier.

First, files should be supported. That is, you can now download your work to a file, and upload it back into SCA².  You can include the input lexicon or not.

(I use the download attribute on browsers that support it, and another method for Explorer and Edge.  Hopefully it’ll work on your browser.)

Second, you can now have intermediate results. E.g. you could generate Old Ibero-Romance and then Portuguese with the same sound changes.  (Basically: add the special rule -* at the appropriate place in your sound changes. You can add a descriptive name after it.)

See the help file for details on both changes.

Youtube has for some reason decided to show me clips of the new Harley Quinn animated series.  And they’re great! Actually watching the show costs money, so I haven’t seen a full episode.

This is the first clip I saw, and one of the best:

(I notice that my borders make the viewer too small, so feel free to follow the links to watch on Youtube instead.)

I love this version of Catwoman, and the interaction with Ivy is brilliant: she goes in an instant from bad-mouthing her to Harley, to sucking up in person– a very human reaction that tells us a lot about both characters.  Ivy normally plays slightly-wiser older sister to Harley, so the turnaround is even funnier. In my favorite Catwoman interpretations she’s a bit nicer, but failing that I love seeing her super-competent at what she does, as here. And all three characters avoid the oversexualization that surfaced in the Arkham games.

Follow-up to that scene, where Catwoman shows off more of what she does, and Ivy has a cringey boyfriend with the poorest of timing:

jwz’s review is right on:

This is the greatest DC cartoon series ever made. It had not occurred to me that what was missing from these stories was lots and lots of swearing. But it is. It really, really is.

Elsewhere, the story can get pretty dark, which I’m not too fond of. (Take that as a warning if you don’t like cartoon gore.) But it’s not grimdark, it’s comic darkness, and that makes a huge difference. A lot of the humor is aimed at the grimdarkness or at least the over-seriousness of regular Batman, anyway.

Plus, focusing on the second tier of supervillains turns out to be the key move for comedy. Comic heroes are hard to do; though it can be done (cf. The Tick), it tends to leach the drama out. And making the top psychopaths (Joker, the Penguin) funny weakens them. But Ivy, Harley, Clayface, King Shark are just the right level: they can be made fairly human and fairly dysfunctional as needed, and they’re in just the right place to make fun of both the top tier villains and the heroes.

(To be clear, Mark Hamill’s Joker works, in Arkham City. But he’s a clowning psychopath, not a comic villain. He’s not usually funny, though he does have some good lines. Joker’s jollity isn’t meant to amuse onlookers, including us; it’s a marker of the way he really enjoys being a psychopath.)

The Covid-19 case count in the US has reached 1.4 million. Hey, remember those long-ago days when it was under 1000?

Some fun facts about death tolls, for some very queasy values of “fun”:

  • Covid-19 deaths in the US as of today: 83,700
  • US deaths in Vietnam War: 58,220
  • All US gun deaths in 2018, including suicides: 39,221
  • Automobile deaths last year: 38,800
  • Flu deaths 2018-19 season: 34,200
  • US deaths due to terrorism since 1995: 3,658

The coronavirus toll is likely significantly higher than the above figures. E.g. a recent survey of New York City alone found 24,200 excess deaths (those above the normal amount, 7900, from previous years). 5300 of those were not officially linked to Covid-19. There’s no other particular reason for that many deaths, so they are probably untested cases, or emergencies that turned into deaths due to hospitals being overstressed by the virus.

I took worldometer’s by-state figures and found the number of deaths in states won by Trump and by Clinton in 2016:

  • Blue states: 58,600
  • Red states: 22,600

Now, 62% of the blue state total is New York + New Jersey. Still, these figures alone are obviously part, though just part, of why the GOP doesn’t take the virus seriously.

22,600 deaths is still a lot. If the red states were a separate country, they’d still be #6 in the world for total deaths, just behind France. But only three red states (MI LA PA) have more than 2000 deaths.

The GOP logic is “The parachute has slowed our fall so far, so that proves we don’t need it.” So it’s pressing to “re-open the economy”. It’s not hard to predict what’s going to happen: a disaster.  Maybe if it hits some red states hard, it’ll finally knock some sense into them.

Once again, it’s a false choice, indefinite lockdown vs. killing millions.  Other countries are actually mastering the virus. Perennial comparison: in all of April, the US had 62,000 Covid-19 deaths. South Korea had 85.

Grimly amusing: Trump has everyone near him tested constantly. But he doesn’t see the need for testing the rest of the country, because he doesn’t fucking care.

The sad thing is that it’s hard to see things improving before the end of the year.  That could be a lot of deaths, and a Depression’s worth of financial destruction. All because Donald J. Trump doesn’t have a fuck of a clue, and the GOP is terrified of standing up to him.

 

Here’s a great set of articles, by Bret Devereaux, on what he calls the Fremen Mirage, or what might be called the Myth of the Warrior Race. There’s also a great sub-series on Sparta, one of the most pernicious of these myths. All this should be of great interest to conworlders, as well as people interested in the history of our planet.

A warning, though: there’s a lot to read. I spend most of Friday on these.

dunefight

Pedantic note: Devereaux likes the miniseries, but this is from the Lynch film, which is the only one I saw, and whose costume design rocks.

The basic elements of the myth are:

  • Empires are started by virile, manly men full of manliness.
  • They get weak because of luxuries, corruption, and sex.  They may actually lisp.
  • They are then taken over by virile manly men from warrior cultures.

Dune happens to be a shining exemplar of this; in the Sparta series he invokes 300. His use of the name invites digressions on the book, and he provides one, but it’s probably better than limiting the idea to one real-world exemplar, or using squishy words like “barbarian”. I’ll just use “barbarian”, but do imagine scare quotes used throughout.

To summarize the rebuttal:

  • States have little to fear from barbarian bands, which they normally beat or co-opt. Their major preoccupation is advanced states similar to their own: either neighbors or opposing factions in a civil war.
  • Agricultural states have no problem creating a professional army which, pound for pound, can beat barbarian bands.
  • On an individual basis, your basic state soldier was probably more fearsome than the barbarian, not less.
  • Corruption and sex have nothing to do with the decline of states.
  • Sparta was a pretty horrible place and its elite cruelty destroyed its own power in not much more than a century.
  • The myth generally has no interest in the accurate description of barbarians; it’s always a self-criticism from within the advanced states. To be more precise, it’s the whining of certain elites within those states, used against other parts of the elite.

The obvious counter-rebuttals, and the counters to those:

  • But the fall of Rome. Yes, all empires have to fall sooner or later. But people get inordinately interested in the 400s alone. Devereaux goes over Roman history from one sack of Rome to another– 390 BCE to 410 CE.  Think about that: that’s 800 years of solid power.  And in the East, another 1100 years. Barbarians win sometimes, but the state is forever.
  • But the Mongols.  The steppeland of Eurasia has a long and important history, and was a major threat to multiple civilizations. Nomad power is real. But the Mongols were just the high-water mark of a tide that, in the larger view, was controllable. China was almost always ruled by Han Chinese, and anyway was very good at assimilating conquerors.

Kind of amusingly, the Warrior Race trope is often used for and against the same people. E.g. the Greeks were manly warriors when fighting Persia, corrupt softees when fighting Rome. The Romans were manly outsiders when they took over Greece, softees when fighting Germans. The Arabs were virile outsiders during the Caliphate, and unutterably corrupt for the 19C Europeans.

But again, it’s never really about the barbarians. The myth was elaborated, though undoubtedly not originated, by Roman writers around 100 BCE to 100 AD… that is, the height of Roman power, when Rome was still expanding and the Germans were nothing to worry about. It was basically the complaint of one bunch of rich Romans against another. None of those making the complaint gave up their wealth and went to live in military camps in order to build up their manliness. Few of them actually visited any of the barbarians they praised. (Caesar did, but he was fighting them; he wasn’t engaged in conservative whining so much as flattering his own enemies in order to puff up his victories over them.)

Sparta is a fascinating story, and when you really look at it, it proves just about the opposite of what its fans think. Consider this: there were just 8000 full Spartiates– males with full citizenship– in 480. It was the largest state in Greece, and it was able to send just 5000 hoplites to Plataea. Athens sent 9000. Aristotle notes that if worked like other Greek states, Sparta could have supplied 30,000 hoplites. So its 85%-slave social system made it underperform in number of troops, a key metric for military success.

Nor were they that much better than other Greek troops. They shared the same equipment and tactics of all Greek states, and phalanx warfare was a matter of group action, not individual prowess. The Spartans may have had no profession but war, but they didn’t bother to train much.  Sparta did defeat Athens in 404– with the help of Persian funds. When it attempted to defy Persia, Persia simply switched its subsidies to Athens, and Sparta’s response was to appease the Persians by giving them the Ionian cities. Very manly!

And that was Sparta’s height. By 418, Spartiate strength was down to 3500.  By 371, it was 1500. Not coincidentally, Thebes was then able to shatter Sparta’s power and free Messenia, the territory that supplied most of its slaves. Devereaux goes into the reasons why, but in short: the Spartan elite was self-inoculated against all change. Their system was based on exclusion: excluding the helots, excluding elite members who couldn’t pass the agoge training system or maintain the common mess, excluding impoverished Spartiates. They had no way of maintaining their numbers without changing at least some of their ideology.

The myth was revived in the 19th century, added to the malodorous stew of European racism. Tacitus’ praise of the Germans (who he had never met) were intended to shore up Roman manliness, but they found a new audience in Germany, which liked to see itself as a scrappy and manly warrior race. France found its warrior race in ses ancêtres les Gaulois, while the Brits chose the Celts. (Not that this made the English particularly appreciate their sister nations.) The British in particular loved to divide their own subject people into warrior and non-warrior races… not the least reason they lastingly screwed up Indian politics.

One thing Devereaux doesn’t quite go into is the importance of the Fremen Mirage to modern conservatism. A lot of conservative ideas make no sense unless you interpret them in its light. Adapting the adage that American vote as if they were temporarily distressed millionaires, we may say that conservatives see themselves as temporarily comfortable Spartans. Yes, they live in nice suburban houses and have nice office jobs, but in their minds they’re living in a mess hall with other manly men, ready to lay waste to the softies. Spartan attitudes about the 85% of slaves below them in the hierarchy are relevant as well. Conservatives are fond of hazing rituals, even for themselves; but they also approve of pure misery for the lowest swaths of society (i.e., everybody but themselves).

What can you do with all this in your conworld?

One, throw out your Warrior Race– your Klingons, your Dothraki, your Cimmerians, your orcs. These are all fantasies made by civilized people who are tired of civilization but don’t want to leave it.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that you can’t have warriors, or war. War is hell, but storytellers can hardly do without it. But get rid of the notion that civilized states are bad at it, or that barbarians are particularly cruel. Agriculturalist empires are very good at cruelty in war.

The main threat to your civilized states will be other civilized states, or themselves.

At the same time, you should balance Devereaux with Scott.  (Not that they conflict, but they have different emphases.) The state has been near-unstoppable for the 5000 years since its invention. But until recently, it had real trouble extending its power over the people who lived in non-grain areas (marshes, mountains, jungle), and over nomads. The first group may be sizeable, but is not usually a threat to states; the second is.

But your nomads should be based on real nomads, not on the mythical Warrior Race. Some generalizations about real nomads:

  • They’re trained on horse-riding and archery, which makes them a great natural cavalry. Occasionally this can be parlayed into the conquest of an agricultural state… but that’s a) a rare reward, and b) a poisoned one. Nomads are rarely good or lasting rulers. (Mongol rule lasted less than 75 years after Khubilai Khan. The Qing held on much longer, but they weren’t really nomads.)
  • The first resort of states is to co-opt nomads. And that works pretty well!
  • Nomads don’t disdain city luxuries; in fact they’re quite fond of them. Historically they have a great interest in civilized religions, and nomad elites are good at joining agricultural elites.
  • Nomad societies are not extraordinarily macho; in fact their women are often far freer than in agricultural states.

Due to geography, Europe, India, and China were never going to be overwhelmed forever by nomads anyway. They just have too many people. Arguably Mesopotamia did not have this advantage, and that’s why it was not a major power after 500 BCE. More on that in my upcoming book…

States do decline, but it’s not due to luxury and corruption. More often, it’s due to the concentration of wealth, or ecological factors, or the elite losing interest in supporting the central power.

Finally: unlike individual humans, an aged state can rejuvenate itself. This may be as simple as a vigorous new dynasty taking over. Both Rome and China had some dramatic periods of instability or civil war, and yet kept picking themselves up for centuries.

 

 

So, good news and bad news about the pandemic.  The good news is that the number of new cases may have peaked in the US. The bad news is that the GOP has become a full-on death cult.

We’re at 740,000 cases and 39,000 deaths.  Hey, that’s more than the flu deaths in the 2018-19 season, maybe Republicans could take it seriously now?

No, the new Republican obsession is “re-opening the economy.” Trump first wanted this to happen by Easter, but was somehow dissuaded. Some governors want to try, and GOP pundits are test-driving ideas like “the cure is worse than the disease” and “closing businesses is tyranny” and “God will keep us safe” and “why keep old people around anyway.”

To be clear, here’s what happens when you stop social distancing early.

St._Louis_social_distancing

That’s the excess death rate in St. Louis in 1918-19, during the flu pandemic.  Note the timeline of the social distancing measures.  The city seemed to be doing better, deaths were down, and the city responded by ending restrictions.  Deaths shot up to twice the previous peak.  Oops.  Social distancing had to be resumed. The same thing happened in every city that tried “reopening” and in none of the ones that didn’t.

(What’s the “excess death rate”? Deaths above the normal level in a particular place and time. That’s the best way to measure the real effect of a pandemic, since But deaths are recorded far more accurately than causes of death. The numbers we have now, scary as they are, are probably way under the real values, because we’re still not testing enough.)

So, to be clear, what the Republicans are demanding is that people die in large numbers.  And suffer in even greater numbers.  Recall that up to 20% of all cases are severe, requiring hospitalization.  Under GOP plans, that means up to 20% of the population, or 65 million people.  Most but not all of them will be older people, meaning their own voters.

Here’s what a severe case is like: you have trouble breathing, so they stick you on a ventilator to force air into your lungs. You may get pneumonia or, worse, acute respiratory distress syndrome, which makes oxygenation extremely difficult. You get fluid instead of air in your lungs: you’re essentially drowning in those fluids. You may try to pull out the ventilator tube because you feel like you’re choking, so they’ll restrain you.  (That’s if you have a ventilator at all, since Trump is playing games with the states and hijacking shipments of supplies.) Through all of this, for the month you’re in intensive care, you can’t see family and barely see care workers; if you die you won’t be able to say goodbye. Oh, and while all this is going on, good luck if instead you have a garden variety heart attack or other emergency condition: the ICU is full.

That’s what the “protestors” are asking for: for tens of millions of people to suffer like that, with many of them dying. They’re clamoring to get the illness themselves, infect their workers and church members and families and the general public. Because… jesus christ who knows why, to own the libs.

Back in the Spanish civil war, supporters of Franco had slogans like ¡Viva la muerte! ¡Muera la inteligencia! — “Long live death! Death to intelligence!” That was their response to anything or anyone they didn’t like.

How did the GOP get to this point? Didn’t they call themselves “pro-life” once?

There is probably a lot to learn from the history of European fascism… but it’s really a logical development of home-grown, all-American trends.  American conservatism is the result of two basic facts:

  • Rich people are terrified of high taxes.
  • Rich people are a tiny minority of voters.

See my liberalism page for what they’re afraid of– especially the chart of tax rates. For half a century, from Roosevelt on, marginal taxes on the richest were twice what they are today. For the rich, the one and only purpose of the Republican Party is to keep tax rates down.

The rich generally get what they want, but it’s a lot trickier when they have to deal with a democracy. They need votes; therefore they need allies. But very few potential allies really care about other people’s taxes.  The best the rich can do is to co-opt movements that are popular enough to win elections.

During the liberal period (Roosevelt to Carter), they didn’t find the winning formula. In the 1980s they did: a potent mixture of religious reactionaries, bigots, and libertarians. Each of these had a grudge against liberalism, and that provided enough zealotry to win elections. Mostly their grudges were too unpopular to become law, but by God they got taxes as low they could and kept the 90% from sharing in increased productivity.

(Old history: The bigots used to be in the Democratic Party. They were by no means liberal, but they liked redistribution, so long as it didn’t go to colored people. But they switched sides, in a long process that finished with Reagan.)

So, the Nixonian model was that GOP politicians would make use of this potent but unstable coalition, and keep it from doing too much damage. Then came the ’90s, for which the formula is: talk radio + losing the Presidency = GOP loses its mind. Talk radio meant that power moved from elected officials who retained some interest in real governing, to unelected entertainers whose only interest was in riling things up. And the defeat of Bush I meant that moderate Republicans were seen as failures. Clinton had already raised taxes, so the rich were OK with a program of anything goes to oppose the Democrats.

It still took 25 years to get to ¡Viva la muerte!  But the groundwork was laid, by going through ¡Muera la inteligencia!

It’s been remarked that we have two elites in this country: one financial, one cultural/educational. The money is of course far more powerful. But rich people lack charisma; frankly, they’re often stupid and venal. They would love to have the soft power of universities, newspapers, and Hollywood, but they can’t buy them, mostly.  (They own a lot of them, of course, but it turns out that when you let the rich guy dictate the content, its popularity plummets. So they have to let the creative people actually produce it.)

But the cultural elite insists on a more or less liberal message, and the scientific world is even worse, pointing out little problems like the threat to Earth’s ecosphere caused by industry. What’s the solution here?  Why,  ¡Muera la inteligencia!  Attack science and attack government when they’re inconvenient for the rich; and if that the base embraces every other anti-science fad it can, well, remember Goal #1.  (Did you forget? It’s “low taxes.”)

The nice thing about climate change– for the GOP– is that it’ll bite people in the ass only in decades to come, after the chief perps are dead. The problem with a pandemic is that it makes expert advice, good health care, and government help a necessity right now.

But they can’t turn off the propaganda machine.

  • One, that might mean people would vote for the other party, and taxes would go up.
  • Two… well, the rich no longer have control of the off button.
  • And three, too many people are inside the con. Without a steady diet of fear, lies, and outrage, how could the talk radio people keep their public? How could the new generation of GOP politicians stay in power? How could the late-capitalist hucksters keep profiting by making crappy Internet products or bankrupting old businesses or inflating drug prices? How could the sellers of guns and Bitcoin and dubious alternative investments or medicines stay in business?

Which isn’t to say that they have a plan for success. What would they even do if the liberals all disappeared and they had to run the country without an enemy to hate?  Turn on each other in about five minutes, of course.

The thing is, when you actually despise expertise and competence of all kinds, and as a topping on the cake elect a narcissistic thug, and you win, you do not get the long centuries of conservative dominion of, say, the Spanish Empire, or even Franco’s decades. Fascism crashed and burned. The Confederacy crashed and burned. George W. Bush, whose control was so total that conservatives were writing self-congratulatory tomes on how conservatism was going to be in power forever, crashed and burned. (Scant consolation, I know. These people all caused a hell of a lot of damage going down.)

OK, a few people have read this far and are jabbing their hands up, eager to ask, “Yes, but when can we reopen the economy?”

And you know, the infuriating thing about this whole mess is that there is another path. The alternatives are not “stay on lockdown forever” vs. “accept tens of millions of dead Americans.” Option three is to handle the damn virus as well as South Korea has.

Vox has a good article on this.  In short: test, test, test. We’re testing maybe 160,000 people per day, and that number isn’t even growing. We need at least four times that level– and maybe 40 times that level. We can’t reopen businesses while not knowing who has the virus.  And once we know, we have to trace contacts zealously.  (Recall: Covid-19 spreads extremely easily at a point when the carrier has no symptoms. One person can literally infect a thousand.)

I wish I could say the GOP will come round to this. But they made the choice long ago to politicize everything, which means saving lives is now evil Democratic tyranny. 

Do you think a few of them wonder how they got to this point?  Did anyone look at, say, the landslide election won a few days ago by South Korea’s Democratic Party, and wonder if maybe just once, they should do the right thing and maybe even get rewarded for it? But that’s crimethink; they just watch Fox News long enough to make the feeling pass.

I just read this, by 刘慈欣 Liú Cíxīn, a name almost designed to confuse people who don’t know Chinese. You can get close to it with lyoh tse-sheen. His given name means ‘kind (and) glad’; the surname Liu has no current meaning, but happens to be that of the rulers of the Han dynasty.

I liked the book a lot, though I’m going to have trouble describing it, because it’s written in the form a mystery. So even saying what it’s about is a spoiler. This mystery is initially faced by a nanotech physicist, Wang Miao, and a cop, Shi Qiang. In the near future, they’re called to a strange meeting where they hear about a wave of suicides among top physics researchers. One of the physicists they meet is playing a virtual reality game called Three Body, and that gets Wang playing the game as well. Oh, and the book starts with a sequence set in the Cultural Revolution, focused on a very unlucky physics student, Ye Wenjie.

This sounds rather random and slow, but it’s a whole Chekhov’s armory. Everything ends up being connected and important.

I always skip the testimonials and other stuff that comes before the title page, and now I see that the very first page gives the plot away. But, well, I still won’t. I’ll say, though, that the trilogy of which this is the first book can be described as space opera.

So the first thing I’d say about the book is that it’s very tightly plotted, though it doesn’t seem so at first. And the second thing is that it’s pretty compelling– once I got going, I kept reading till the end.

It’s pretty interesting to see sf from a non-American perspective. Liu has said that he doesn’t write sf to comment on contemporary society; but he does of course write within it. American sf has tracked the corruption of our own society: classic sf came from a confident, ever-more-prosperous society, and largely projected that into the future; as plutocracy took over, sf plunged into endless dystopias. China has almost the opposite trajectory: two centuries of frustrating oppression, of which the Cultural Revolution was only a  part, and then a burst of dizzying progress. But while the Cultural Revolution lives in current memory, there’s not the same triumphalism of 1950s American sf. (In an interview, Liu mentions that Chinese sf is usually dystopian, and he’s considered an optimist.)

If you’ve read my China Construction Kit, that would be excellent preparation for this book, as you’ll already know some historical figures that show up here. (They’re explained in footnotes, but it’s more fun to recognize them rather than be told.)

I would say, on the whole, that Liu is like classic sf in that he’s more interested in ideas than in people. It’s not that he’s bad with people, or that they seem artificial; but it’s definitely not a character study, and for the most part they are fulfilling roles demanded by the plot. So, Wang is just curious enough to go talk to people and play the Three Body game, and react with the appropriate puzzlement or despair; Shi is the cop who doesn’t play by the rules but gets things done, on loan from every cop movie. It works fine, but Liu obviously has more fun when he gets to talk about string theory or the titular problem in celestial mechanics.

(One bit did seem unconvincing: a description of future technology involving a couple of protons. They seemed a bit overpowered. But it is future tech, which is after all pretty hard to talk about.)

One more thought, which I’ll leave in white to avoid spoilers. Liu makes a case that the existence of aliens would be terrifying news. The book has been compared to War of the Worlds, and it’s notable that both Wells and Liu are well aware of the problem of colonialism. China was a great victim of it; Wells had a guilty conscience about it. Americans, by contrast, barely got into the business of direct colonialism; they’re neither conquerors or conquered, so they’re far more likely to think about aliens as exciting and interesting.