This got a little too long for the blog, so it’s on my main page: a review of Tim Powers, one of my favorite sf writers.

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I just finished this; it’s by Clive Ponting, and it was published in 2007. Immediate reaction: Human beings suck. I really wish there was a better species to belong to.

ponting

You may get an idea of its depressiveness from the fact that just one chapter is devoted to global warming. Yeah, that might destroy our civilization, but we were already headed that way. Also, if you think the culprit is manufacturing, or oil, or capitalism, think again. The problem goes way back, at least to the beginnings of agriculture.

And that may be letting the hunter-gatherers off the hook too easily. Humans are not only frighteningly efficient hunters, they’re death for other large animals. When humans reached the Americas, they quickly eliminated 75% of all large animal species.

As for agriculture, the main problems are these:

  • Soil erosion. Exposing the soil means that much of it is blown or washed away. This in turn silts up the rivers and causes flooding. The process is particularly deadly in the tropics, because rain forests have very poor soil— after a few crops are grown the land turned into baked clay, good for almost nothing.
  • Salinization. Irrigation in poor soils creates waterlogging and brings up salt, which impedes crops. Sumerian culture basically destroyed itself this way: by 1700 BCE crop yields were 1/3 of what they were when civilization began. (Sumer itself never fully recovered— political power moved north to Babylonia.)
  • The extension of agriculture to more and more marginal terrain.
  • Deforestation. Forests are cut down for building and for fuel. Over six thousand years, almost all of China and all of northern India have been converted into cropland. The current appearance of Mediterranean countries— semi-desert with occasional stands of olive trees— is man-made; forests once covered most of the land.
  • Poor diet. Most peasants survive almost entirely on grain and beans. Hunter-gatherers are far healthier. Plus, living with animals we get all their diseases.
  • These days, the unsustainable and polluting high usage of fertilizers and antibiotics.

Basically, Malthus was right: any increase in productivity is soon eaten up (literally) by increased population. 90% of human beings lived in starvation-level misery well into the 1800s. And that’s before you consider epidemics, war, or slavery.

There’s just one civilization that had a sustainable model, due to its geography: Egypt. The flood of the Nile brought a new coating of soil every year, so salinization wasn’t a problem. The valley is surrounded by desert, so there was no forest to cut down and no temptation to use marginal land. Egypt basically farmed the same way from 4000 BCE till the 19th century. It’s in trouble today, largely because of the Aswan Dam. The dam stops the silting process, so the Nile delta is shrinking, salinization is now a problem, and soil fertility must be supplemented by chemicals. Irrigation has spread schistosomiasis and fresh water is scarce.

Then there’s overhunting and overfishing. The chapter on fishing is particularly depressing. Humans just cannot seem to figure out that fish stocks are finite, even as they exhaust one after another. The fishing industry naturally resists any form of regulation, but again: we don’t just use fish species, we use them up. Once the fish are gone, you don’t have a fishing industry any more.

If you have an early-industrial conworld (as I do), some observations from Bernardino Ramazzini, an Italian doctor. He noted a number of industry-specific diseases in 1700:

  • potters got trembling and paralysis from lead poisoning
  • glass-makers got ulcerated lungs from antimony and borax
  • gilders and hatters got mercury poisoning (thus the Mad Hatter)
  • coal miners got lung diseases
  • cotton mills also produced lung problems, due to lint in the air; people who worked with wood had similar problems due to wood dust
  • coal and oil products caused cancer

Next— colonialism. Here at last the Europeans get to be the clear villains. I’ll just tell one story, which was new to me. In Kenya, whites stole all the good land. But they needed cheap labor for their plantations, so they couldn’t just let the natives continue to use traditional methods on what land remained to them. They instituted a poll tax and a hut tax, paid in cash, to force the Africans to work for them. When this didn’t produce enough labor, they raised the taxes, appropriated more land, and put import duties to raise the cost of living. This “worked” in the sense that the plantations got their labor. It also killed off nearly half the population.

The kicker: this happened, not in the 1720s, but in the 1920s. This is part of why stupid articles about how the American revolution preserved slavery drive me up the wall. The British were evil to the people they ruled… and not much better to their own descendants. (Not to get into too much of a digression: the British were able to outlaw slavery in their own colonies only because they’d lost the biggest slave-owning population, in British North America. And they supported the Confederacy in our civil war. They sold warships and blockade-running ships to the CSA— for which they had to pay the US reparations afterwards. No, they weren’t more benign than any other unelected overlords. And no, monarchy is not cuddly.)

The USSR did its fair share of devastation. They purposely drained the Aral Sea, which was supposed to provide good cropland but instead created a salty desert. Attempts to use Kazakh steppe as cropland was a disaster, resulting in losing 50% of the cropland in Kazakhstan. Collectivization killed millions of peasants and reduced food consumption even in the cities. Most industrial sludge was dumped untreated into rivers… several times rivers caught on fire. A nuclear accident in  Siberia released radiation equivalent to 3000 Hiroshima-sized bombs, and made Lake Karachai the most radioactive place on earth: you’ll get a lethal dose if you just stand on the shore for 30 minutes.

Another big mistake? Cars. Cars use 20% of world steel production, 35% of zinc, 50% of lead, 60% of rubber, 1/3 of oil. Car accidents kill a million people a year worldwide. In car-based Los Angeles, 2/3 of the center city is devoted to roads, garages, freeways, and parking areas. Yet street traffic is actually slower in modern cities than it was in 1900.

As for global warming… not much of this is news by now, but prospects are bad. Temperatures are up 0.85° C on average, and rising 0.2° C per decade. But it’s not uniform: the change in temperate areas is about 150% of that, and even higher at the poles. The goal of limiting warming to 2° C is optimistic. Worrying signs:

  • Polar ice is already starting to melt. That could raise the sea level significantly and, by removing all that reflective white ice, accelerate warming.
  • As the tundra melts, huge amounts of methane are released. And methane is a far more powerful warming agent than carbon dioxide.
  • Ironically, reducing industrial pollution could accelerate warming, by removing dust from the air.
  • The oceans absorb CO2… but there’s a strong possibility (based on examining climate change from millions of years ago) that this doesn’t continue indefinitely.

Predictions are tricky, but if these processes take off, warming by 2100 may be more in the range of 10° C. (That’s 18° F in case you’re rusty on Celsius. And recall, it’s higher in temperate latitudes. So Chicago’s average summer day of 85° F might be 112° instead.) And note, if we haven’t done anything, temperatures continue rising.

I’m naturally an optimist, but it’s hard to maintain that reading this book. At least let me emphasize that all this is a crisis of humanity’s own making. If we keep going as we’re going— well, we get ecological collapse with massive population die-off. But like Scrooge’s ghosts, the message is that we could pick another path. But it will require a hell of a lot of painful change, rethinking our civilization from the ground up. And at precisely the moment we need to make changes, we’re ruled by reactionaries who want to accelerate the collapse.

So, any other species need recruits? Gnolls? Half-orcs maybe?

 

 

 

 

In the course of expanding the Almeopedia article on the Esčambra and writing a new one on the Mažtan-Kal, I decided that the portrait of Abend needed redoing. Here’s a comparison.

Abend-compare

The old pic dates back at least to 2006, and I’ve never been completely happy with it, for a few reasons.

  • I didn’t know how to draw hair. I still don’t, really, but I’ve watched a few videos and learned that hair (long hair, especially) can be divided into curls which each have their own shading.
  • I used to rely on an animator’s trick, using colored outlines; but here at least it looks too washed-out.
  • The eyes are pretty bad.  And the line of his chin goes seriously awry… it looks like his jaw gets confused with a bit of shading.

I redrew it yesterday, in the same pose, but I wasn’t satisfied— he looked way too young, like a member of a boy band. So I redid it today, and I’m reasonably happy with it. (Yes, he looks more melancholy.  He has a lot to think about.  More on that later.)

I might as well admit that Abend’s face is based on a French actor, Dominique Paturel. That’s mostly because he once played Figaro, who influenced Abend’s character, but it’s also appropriate that he’s played D’Artagnan and Baron Münchhausen, and been the voice actor for Leslie Nielsen. (He’s also the regular French voice actor for Michael Caine.)

He would be the perfect choice to play Abend, but only if we could get him from the ’60s or ’70s. It’s a little weird to see pictures of him as an older actor— I’m not sure I’d cast him as Abend today.

 

I’ve had the impression that Overwatch League is getting more and more dull, one-sided games, and I decided to see if it can be quantified. It can.

owl-blowouts

I went through the current three stages, adding up the number of games with each possible score. Here’s the raw numbers.

Stage 3-2 2-1 3-1 3-0 4-0
1 17 7 29 2 15
2 13 4 25 2 26
3 7 2 19 3 16

I define “interesting games” as the ones in blue. Sometimes a blowout can be a really good game… but really, watching a far superior team wreck a worse one is not fun. A close score indicates a better match.

Note the progression: interesting games were 34% of all games in stage 1, 24% in stage 2, and 19% in stage 3 so far.

4-0 blowouts were 21% of games in stage 1, 37% in stage 2, and 34% in stage 3. Pretty striking trends in both categories!

Now, this may not be surprising. There were a lot of new teams in stage 1; players were getting used to their teams and learning about the opposition. But it seems it could have gone either way. There’s intense reason for mid-tier games to figure out what the top tier is doing. (Admittedly, the low-tier teams have it rough psychologically– a losing streak is hard to break.)

I expect there’s no solution to this, by the way. Maybe it’ll be the same next year, maybe not… it might take a year for other coaches to figure out how to break the Titans.

The overall standings are also interesting, as there’s such a sharp break into tiers.  The Titans, Excelsior, and Shock all have map W-L differentials of at least +45; the next best is the Gladiators with +17. Two teams (Mayhem and Justice) are doing absolutely awful; two more are under 1/3 W-L ratio. That leaves 14 teams in the muddy middle.

Edit: After writing this, I see the Titans just lost their first game of the year– to the LA Valiant, who are in 17th place overall. Now that’s an upset!

This stage, the Dallas Fuel has completely fallen apart: 1 W 5 L.  I feel bad for Jayne, my favorite streamer/commentator, who’s one of their coaches. Still, they made the playoffs last stage and are still at .500 overall.

It’s nice to see the Shanghai Dragons in 6th place this stage, with a winning overall record (10-8), since they lost every game last year.  But I’m pissed that they never play Geguri any more. Jeez, coaches, at least put her in during one map a game.

 

I already reviewed Golden Age Wonder Woman, written by Charles Moulton and drawn by Harry G. Peter, but I just finished Volume 2 and I thought I’d go over some of the weirder panels in it. These are all from 1943— they wrote and drew over 400 pages that year.

ww-punish

Moulton’s fascination with bondage gets a little more overt. These girls are former slaves of Paula the Nazi, who has now reformed and become an avid Amazon. The girls are in Amazon prison, which they love.

ww-kanga

Comics love one-off, improbable solutions to problems, but Moulton sometimes leaps to complete absurdity. WW needs to get to Mars right away.  A spaceship won’t do; she needs an elephant-sized space-hopping kangaroo. Just like the ancient Greeks used to get to Mars.

ww-japanese

We were at war with Japan, so naturally the Japanese are ugly and nasty, but I just want to highlight the utterly atrocious attempt to represent Japanese writing. (Also, Chuck, Snidu is not a very good Japanese name.)

Oh, and WW understands them because one of her minor powers is knowing all languages.

ww-feet

Yep, WW spends the night with the goddess’s feet on her head. Moulton, I think your fetishes are showing again.

ww-cheetah

Introduction of the Cheetah, a longtime antagonist for WW. What’s notable here is Moulton’s blithe assurance that, you know, psychologists use mirrors like this all the time. It’s just standard practice to show you your inner costumed supervillain, who will then make you create a costume to look just like her.

ww-president

There’s a lot going on here. WW, in 1943, is looking at the future on a viewing machine her mother has. The country finally elects a female president— though, to keep anyone from scoffing, it’s 1000 years in the future. And it’s Wonder Woman, or rather her civilian identity— which she’s managed to keep secret for a thousand years. (To be fair, WW isn’t the first female president in this timeline.)

Dig the 30th century clothes, which run toward short dresses for women (long ones here for a presidential look), and shorts and muscle shirts for men. And 1940s hairstyles.

Earlier Moulton says that women make better rulers because women are “more ready to serve others unselfishly.” Here, though, he can’t help declaring that “all men are much happier” when dominated by women.

I’ve finally read Gilgamesh.  Three times.

hamurabi

This is not Gilgamesh but Ashurbanipal, but that’s fine: the best copies of the epic are from his library. Really!

News to me department: apparently you say gil-GA-mesh.

First, who was Gilgamesh? Well, he’s listed on the Sumerian King List as one of the kings of Uruk. The King List says that he ruled for 126 years, while his grandfather Lugalbanda ruled for 1200 years and his son Ur-Nungal for 30 years. Scholars tend to believe that these numbers are a bit exaggerated. He probably ruled sometime between 2800 and 2500 BCE.

And that’s about it for history. Oh, and his real name was Bilgames. More on that later.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is not Sumerian, but Akkadian. Akkadian was the Semitic language that took over from Sumerian by 2000 or so, and was spoken by both the Assyrians and Babylonians. It was spoken and written for 2000 years, though in the last centuries of that period the spoken language gave way to Aramaic. The epic was also translated into Hittite and Hurrian. There are two major Akkadian versions, the “Old Babylonian” version from around 1800 BCE, and a longer “standard version” from about 1000 BCE, the one in Ashurbanipal’s library. We even have the name of the compiler, Sîn-lēqi-unninni.

Here’s the basic story:

Gilgamesh is the mighty king of Uruk, whose massive brick walls (which the king had built) the reader is invited to examine. He is, strangely, “two thirds divine and one third human”. This is because his mother is the goddess Ninsun. In the epic Lugalbanda is his father rather than his grandfather.

However, he has a deplorable habit of bothering the young men and women of the town. They complain to the gods, who decide that he needs a companion.

They create Enkidu, a shaggy-haired wild man who lives with the beasts outside the civilized world. A hunter complains that he is undoing his traps, preventing him from getting food. His father sends him to Gilgamesh with a plan: send a temple prostitute, Shamhat, out to civilize the wild man with sex.

This works.  After making love for a week, Enkidu is no longer attuned to the natural world (the beasts flee from him), but more reasonable. He talks with Shamhat, who convinces him to come to Uruk. There’s an amusing moment when she gives him bread and beer to eat, and he doesn’t know what they are.  

After a quick fight, Enkidu and Gilgamesh become fast friends. Ninsun adopts him as a brother to Gilgamesh. 

They decide to find and kill Humbaba, a monster who guards a forest in Lebanon. Before doing so, they ask for the counsel and blessings of the elders of Uruk, the young men of Uruk, and Ninsun. The elders at first counsel against the attempt, but relent; Ninsun also wonders why her son has such a “restless spirit.”

They travel to Lebanon and fight Humbaba, who is defended by multiple auras; but the sun god Shamash comes to their aid, sending the winds to strip off the monster’s auras, allowing the heroes to kill him.

Now Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, asks Gilgamesh to be her consort. He refuses contemptuously, pointing out that most of her previous consorts have ended up dead or miserable. Angrily, she asks her father Anu to send the Bull of Heaven against Uruk. It kills several hundred of Uruk’s warriors, but the two heroes manage to kill it.

This, however, is too much for the gods. They decree that Enkidu should die, and they send him a sickness that kills him. Gilgamesh mourns him, refuses to bury him “until a worm dropped out of his nose”, and decides that he must defeat death itself.

He leaves Uruk, letting his hair grow and wearing hides, and wanders in search of Uta-napishti, who survived the Flood and became immortal. A theme of this section of the epic is self-sabotage. He keeps coming close to the secret of immortality, and messing up. E.g. Uta-napishti asks him to stay awake for a week, and he falls asleep immediately. He is shown where a plant grows that regains one’s youth and grabs it– but loses it to a snake. (On the plus side: now we know why snakes can shed their skin, rejuvenating themselves.)

Uta-napishti narrates the story of the Flood. Another myth makes the Akkadian notion of the Flood clearer: the gods sent the Flood not because of human sin, but because humans, being immortal, were too numerous. After the Flood they revoked the gift of immortality, except for Uta-napishti and his wife, and also made sure to keep human numbers in check with wild animals, plagues, and famine. 

There’s not much epilogue: Gilgamesh returns home, and shows Uta-napishti’s boatman the walls of Uruk, echoing the beginning of the epic. The idea seems to be that he has given up on deification, and will be satisfied with lasting renown as a great king.

So, how is it and should you read it?

If you like fantasy, mythology, or epic, I think you’ll find it interesting. It’s not as polished as the Iliad or the Ramayana… but you’d be kind of surprised and disappointed if it were, wouldn’t you? This is early stuff, from a culture we don’t entirely understand.

The text makes a lot of choices we wouldn’t. E.g., it relies heavily on repetition: on the way to Humbaba’s forest, Gilgamesh has ominous dreams– five of them. The language is highly repetitive and yet breezy; a modern writer would surely be content with one dream, more vividly realized. There are a lot of details about Gilgamesh’s consultations with the assemblies, Ninsun’s prayer before the heroes’ trip, Enkidu’s funeral, that take a surprising amount of the text. On the other hand, the actual fights are not described in much detail, and the ending is very abrupt.

What easily sticks in memory is the friendship of the two heroes, and Gilgamesh’s bitter grief over his loss. He doesn’t seem to recognize that taking on divine monsters was a bad idea… but arguably the text does. Gilgamesh is a big unthinking bruiser, exploiting his people until Enkidu comes along, then ignoring the duties of kingship to undertake various unnecessary quests. Pretty much everyone who talks to him explains with more or less politeness that he should be doing something else instead.

It’s striking that, after all, Gilgamesh fails in his quest for immortality.  At the same time, the original audience presumably knew that Gilgamesh did end up with a semidivine role: he was a judge of the dead in the Underworld.

Western readers may be surprised to see, in polytheistic form, a version of the Genesis Flood story. Some literalist Christians might get a little excited about this: ooh, confirmation that the Flood happened!  Others might be disturbed, because the story starts to seem less like divine inspiration than a borrowing from a common stock of Semitic folklore.

Which version should you read? I started with a “rendering” by David Ferry, from 1992. Ferry knows no Akkadian; he’s a poet, working from scholarly translations. His aim was to create a poetic version that would be readable and coherent in English. In this he succeeded; I don’t think you’ll go wrong reading it. I should note that it’s barely a hundred pages– Sîn-lēqi-unninni was no George R.R. Martin. But it may leave you wondering if you’ve read the original epic, or a retelling.

I wanted to know what those scholarly translations were like, and I read two: The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Andrew George, from 1999; and Myths from Mesopotamia, translated by Stephanie Dalley, from 2000. Both are very good and I can’t recommend one over the other. Both come with plentiful explanations, and include the earlier Old Babylonian version of the epic. George also includes five Sumerian myths about Bilgames. These did not form a connected narrative for the Sumerians, but they were obviously a source for the Akkadian epic, and they have some interesting variations. E.g., in the Sumerian myth, Bilgames defeats Humbaba by trickery: he persuades him to give up his protective auras by offering him a succession of gifts.

(If you’re deciding between the two, I should note that, as the title indicates, Dalley includes a few other myths too, including a separate, longer version of the Flood story.)

The major difference between Ferry and the scholarly translations is that the latter respect the fragmentary nature of our text. There are a lot of gaps, from single words to entire columns… we have perhaps only 80% of the original text. There are also uncertain translations, or words we don’t quite understand.

(Avoid translations earlier than these: we’re always learning more about Akkadian, and getting better and more complete texts, so earlier translations will not be as complete or as reliable.)

As a comparison, here’s a part of the first tablet, first in Dalley’s version:

Look for the copper tablet-box,
Undo its bronze lock.
Open the door to its secret,
Lift out the lapis lazuli tablet and read it.
The story of that man, Gilgamesh, who went through all kinds of sufferings.
He was superior to other kings, a warrior lord of great stature,
A hero born of Uruk, a goring wild bull.
He marches at the front as leader,
He goes behind, the support of his brothers.
Son of Lugalbanda, Gilgamesh, perfect in strength,
Son of the lofty cow, the wild cow Ninsun.

George:

[See] the tablet-box of cedar,
[release] its clasp of bronze!
[Lift] the lid of its secret,
[pick] up the tablet of lapis lazuli and read out
the travails of Gilgamesh, all that he went through.

Surpassing all other kings, heroic in stature,
brave scion of Uruk, wild bull on the rampage!
Going at the fore he was the vanguard,
going at the rear, one his comrades could trust!

Wild bull of Lugalbanda, Gilgamesh, the perfect in strength,
suckling of the august Wild Cow, the goddess Ninsun!

Ferry:

This is Uruk, the city of Gilgamesh
the Wild Ox, son of Lugalbanda, son

of the Lady Wildcow Ninsun. Gilgamesh
the vanguard and the rear guard of the army. 

Open the copper chest with the iron locks:
the tablet of lapis lazuli tells the story.

You could write an epic, at least as long as that of Gilgamesh, about how we came to have the epic of Gilgamesh. The first tablets were dug up in 1853, at a time when Akkadian couldn’t even be read.

The key to reading it was the trilingual inscriptions at Persepolis, from the period of the Persian Empire, written in Old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian. They were known to Europeans from the 1500s. All are cuneiform, but it was noticed in the late 1700s that there were three languages, and the first (using only a couple dozen symbols) was alphabetic. By the end of the century the Avesta was studied, giving scholars an understanding of Old Persian. By 1850 the Old Persian could be read.

The next step was to understand the Akkadian. Progress was made rapidly during the 1850s, and received a big credibility boost when a new text was discovered and sent to four different scholars; their translations were close enough that it seemed like the project was on firm ground.

Sumerian, by the way, was discovered at the same time. Many tablets were obviously themselves bilingual: Sumerian-Akkadian vocabulary lists and interlinear translations. Later, it was recognized that some tablets, the oldest ones, were in Sumerian only.

George gives an example of the enormous difficulty of getting Akkadian texts. One particular tablet is broken in three pieces. They were discovered separately: one piece in 1850, one in 1874, one in 1878. It was not until the 1920s that someone realized that two of the pieces fit together, and the third wasn’t fitted to them until the 1980s.

And that’s just one tablet! He shows a photograph of it– it’s still a mess, with a huge chunk missing. Only the left part of the column of text is readable. Fortunately there are other tablets that include the same text… one includes just the right-hand portion; another shows about 3/4 of the column, missing just the right-hand side. The texts have to be painstakingly collated, glyph by glyph, before you can even read the text.

By now we have over 80 versions of the epic. That still isn’t enough to restore the whole text; nor do they all belong to the standard version, that of Sîn-lēqi-unninni. Not infrequently, to get a coherent story we have to consult the Old Babylonian version, or even the Hittite translation.

 

 

 

You may be wondering, or if not you should: what’s my next book?

It’s books. But the next one should be my Quechua reference grammar.

cusco-market

Based on some quick quizzes on Twitter and the ZBB, it seemed that people are more interested in a reference grammar than a textbook. Which is good, because I more or less have one! I wrote the grammar (and a dictionary) for my own use when I was studying Quechua in the 1990s.

It needs quite a bit of work yet, partly to make the text as good as possible, and partly because I need to go over some of the source materials in much more detail. But, that work is underway now.

If you’ve been following the blog, you’ve probably seen that I’m also doing research on the Middle East. Now, in theory this should be no harder than distilling all of India or China into a book. But, well, it isn’t. China is largely the story of one people and language. India is much more miscellaneous, but it’s mostly one civilization, whatever exactly that means. I could cover everything from Sumer to Khomeini in one volume, but it would mean compressing each bit into near unrecognizability.

So, my current idea is two books. One will cover the Ancient Middle East— concentrating on Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Persia, more or less up to Alexander. (That is, I don’t expect to cover Egypt or Anatolia in detail.) That’s certainly doable. After all, histories of Mesopotamia alone have to cover a lot of this material, because its empires were all over the Levant, and were eventually conquered by Persia. And most of the area was occupied by Semitic speakers, and shared a good deal of culture and cosmology. The obvious languages to cover would be Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hebrew.

There are a couple of really interesting puzzles to cover:

  • How did agriculture get started, and more importantly, why? People seemed happier without it.
  • How did one unimportant subgroup of Semites, of the same language and culture as the entire Levant, come up with a fervent monotheism?

Naturally, the latter question could take over the whole book, but I don’t intend to let it. I just read a history of ancient Israel, and though it’s interesting, what I crave is precisely the larger context. The Bible, and thus most historians, present Israel as somehow totally distinct from their neighbors. But they weren’t, at all; they basically spoke the same language, and indeed if you read a little closer they actually had enormous trouble keeping separate from those neighbors. And then there’s the tantalizing Persian connection— they interacted closely with the other monotheistic religion in the area. More on that later.

Book Two would cover the same area from about 600 to the present. That’s mostly the Islamic era, but also includes the very interesting 600s, when the age-old war between the Byzantines and Persians heated up, well, more than it ever had. The languages covered would be Persian and probably Arabic.

Clever people may note that there’s a gap of nearly a millennium in between. That’s intentional. I expect to cover the Persian part of the story, but what’s missing is the Greeks and Romans, and early Christianity. That’s nowhere near as new to most of my readers, I think; and covering them would require a different base area anyway.

Now, that’s plenty to do, but one day recently I woke up with my head full of Xurno. That is, I was thinking about the plot for Diary of the Prose Wars, my unfinished Almean novel. I read over the material I had. I think it’s in worse shape than I remembered, but that’s fine. The real problem was the plot, and I worked on that a bit. (For what it’s worth, it does focus the mind a bit when one’s own country is going to pot. “Oh, that’s how awful authoritarian regimes are formed.”) This won’t be a high priority, but apparently my subconscious was working on it, and I look forward to seeing it do some more.