December 2010

Today’s Order of the Stick contains a fascinating bit of storytelling.  The situation: Elan (rightmost figure) has just learned something devastating about his father.  He rushes to tell his girlfriend Haley (the redhead).

The clever bit is, we don’t hear their conversation; we just see their gestures and facial expressions, while listening to snippets of the unimportant conversation of the three characters in the foreground.

It’s clever, because something has to be done to indicate that Elan brought Haley up to date, but it’s inherently dull (we just saw the events ourselves in the previous strips).  In a novel you could just say “Elan quickly told Haley what he learned”, but that doesn’t work as well in comics.  So Burlew found an innovative way to say the same thing without the dull part.

Burlew has a way with villains, by the way.  His Xykon, evil overlord as bored CEO, is amusing.  But Elan’s father is a neat creation.  He has two sons, naive but good bard Elan and evil plotting rogue Nale, and his personality is a perfect triangulation between the two: he’s got the calculation and amorality of Nale and the friendliness and theatricality of Elan.  The combination is interesting and refreshingly far from the usual eeeevil.


A reminder to conworlders just how bizarre our planet can be.


From the Kawah Jien volcano and sulfur mine in Java.  (“In Java”, by the way has become a decidedly ambiguous prepositional phrase.  In this case it means the mine is on the island called Java rather than being made of coffee or implemened in the quirky predecessor to C#.)

I’ve written a description of the Incatena universe and timeline, which I’ll put up soon.  And I just finished another edit, focussing on consistency and tech level, fixing some of the satirical bits, and tying together some of the structure.  (Often I had no idea in writing a chapter what would happen a hundred pages later, and a couple of quick explanations or bits of foreshadowing help a lot.) 

Allso spell-checked it.  It seems I picked up some quirky notions of what to do with verbs with final -l. 

I love the Internet.  Years ago I wrote a program to calculate distances between local stars, and I needed to revisit this as I changed which stars I’m using.  But my program looked wrong, and I started to call up half-forgotten bits of trigonometry.  Then I recalled that Internet thing.  In a couple minutes I’d found some pages which precisely solved the geometric problem.  So, I’m pretty sure that Beta Hydri is seven light years from Zeta Tucanae.

This may sound like a lot of work for a comedy, but comedy doesn’t excuse sloppiness, in my view.  I mean, I don’t scruple at inventing a new technology for laughs, but on the whole I did about the same sort of conworlding (or conuniversing) that I’d do for a ‘serious’ novel.

Now the hard part: that damn cover illustration, which is going to stretch my 3-D illustration skills.  At least Mod Tool loaded this time.

I think I could use two or three readers to see if I’m on the right track.  Contact me if you’re interested.  The basic desiderata are 1) you’ve read a fair bit of sf; 2) you can read a 300-page book within a couple of weeks; 3) you can answer some basic questions on whether you liked it and if not, what bits didn’t work.  I don’t need detailed notes, I just want someone to point out if the whole thing is embarrassing.

Stross has gone all melty-eyed over Julian Assange.  It’s worth reading, and perhaps even more so this link which analyzes Assange’s own declared motivations.

Many people assume that what Wikileaks wants is more openness in government, and that the leaks are designed to make secrecy harder.  They point out quite rightly that the response of governments is going to be more secrecy: more documents will be classified top secret, fewer people will be given access. 

But the plan isn’t at all to induce more openness.  Assange is an anarchist.  He thinks governments are a conspiracy of authoritarians.  He expects governments to become more secretive; he welcomes this because he thinks it will make them unmanageable.  And then somehow the hold of the authoritarians will be broken.  Stross notes that the people most exercised about Wikileaks are on the right… the left is pretty much yawning.  He takes that as indicating that Assange has stepped on the bunions of the rich and powerful.

Sadly, I think Stross has let hope, and his sf writer’s enthusiasm for a Stainless Steel Rat trick, triumph over skepticism.  Think about that last point: Republicans don’t like Wikileaks.  Republicans currently attract well over half of the US electorate.  There isn’t going to be a mandate for reform, much less tossing out government in favor of left-anarchist heaven.

Think of it this way: we have a Democratic government right now– by its actions, pretty much centrist.  If Assange succeeds in weakening a centrist government, who benefits?  Left anarchists?  No, he strengthens the authoritarians on the right. 

What if the right were in power, as it will be sooner or later?  Do they care if Wikileaks publishes secrets?  Not a bit.  When Bush was in power, far worse things were leaked… remember Abu Ghraib?  Did the government collapse in favor of the anarchists?  The authoritarians just bunkered down and officially embraced torture.  Republicans in power use national security as a mantra to continually increase the power, intrusiveness, and unresponsiveness of government.  (Remember Bush’s signing statements, which invariably denied the power of Congress to oversee the administration, even when Congress was a rubber stamp from his own party?)

Like all those plans that have a missing step before “3. Profit!”, Assange’s has a missing step before “3. Anarchy!”  What is the evidence that increasing the secrecy of governments makes them susceptible to overthrow?  Russia and China have shown that obsessive secrecy (and for that matter incompetent government) can be maintained for decades.  Assange’s notion is just irresponsible wishful thinking.  He probably won’t succeed in nudging the government further right; if he did there’s nothing to suggest that a more secret government would be untenable.

Plus, we should put all this in perspective.  American embassies are going to be a lot more careful about what they write down and much more generous with the Top Secret stamp.  Big deal.  If anyone’s going to muck up the US government, it’s not Assange, it’s John Boehner.

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