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Over at Mefi there was a discussion about an article that claims that J.R.R. Tolkien’s dwarves were really Jews. They were of but apart from society, you see, and really interested in gold, and longed for a homeland of their own (Moria, or the Lonely Mountain).

bob_olley_dwarfs

Now, the thing is, you can actually point to passages in Tolkien’s letters or interviews which support this identification. He even made Dwarvish a little like Hebrew.

Still, as a conworlder, the whole idea bugs me. The thing is, I’ve been asked about bits of Almea in these terms… are these people the Greeks, those the Romans, these the Bulgarians, those the Kazakhs, etc.?  It seems that many people think that to create a conworld, you take the real world and just rename all the people.  If you do more work it’s to carefully create a Latin-clone for the para-Romans, a Mandarin-clone for the para-Chinese, etc.

But good conworlding doesn’t work this way. You understand this with characters in novels, no? You don’t write a novel by placing Richard Nixon here, Amelia Newhart there, and your aunt Lucille over there.  You create characters that might have been real  but aren’t.  You draw from all over, and you make up things from your own brain, and even the tributes to your old pals are changed and disguised.

I can’t proof-text this from Tolkien, but I’m sure it’s true of him as well. He talked about subcreation, after all, not about subcopying, and he told us quite explicitly how annoyed he was by outright allegory. The Jews might have been an inspiration for the dwarves, but so were the dwarves of Germanic legend– the ones in the Hobbit even have names straight out of the Prose Edda. Plus dwarves are a longstanding part of the European fantasy tradition– they’re there in Malory, in William Morris, in Wagner. Plus, Jews are not particularly associated with mining, or bearded women, or beer, or fights with dragons.

At a first approximation, to create a conculture, you take aspects from multiple Earth culture– or literary models. And you try to make them cohere with their environment, with their neighbors, with the major events of their history.  Sometimes the real-world borrowings I’m happiest about are the obscurest, the things that no one would notice but an expert.

At the same time, some of the clear borrowings may be left in for narrative convenience. Not everything should be a medieval European kingdom, but sometimes a medieval European kingdom is OK, because readers (or viewers or players) understand what is possible in that environment, how it works and looks.

An example, with good and bad elements, is C.S. Lewis’s Calormen. A reader quickly recognizes it as a Middle Eastern culture, and isn’t surprised to meet the floridly speaking para-sultan, the cringing vizier, the fast horses and crowded cities.  It’s so recognizable that many readers assume that it’s more specific than it really is, thinking that it’s a reference (or an insult) to, say, Islam.  But it’s as much Indian as Islamic, especially with its horrific god Tash; I could print out for you a British guy’s description of a temple of Durga that conveys the same lurid tone– this is what some variants of Hinduism looked like to 19th century Englishman, who conveyed it to impressionable youngsters like Lewis.

(As a boy C.S. created a Narnia-like land called Animal-Land, while his brother created a version of India; they ended up putting them in a separate world, India being an island, connected to Animal-Land by steamship routes.)

Plus, Lewis was so steeped in the classics that there’s always an element of Greek in his work, as in names like Aravis, or the Grecoform adjective Calormene. Browsing his autobiography to confirm some details, I also note his delight in Matthew Arnold’s Sohrab and Rustum, which retells part of the Persian epic, the Shahnameh.

The point is, Calormen isn’t simply Arabia or Persia or India or Babylonia; it’s a mixup of all of them, and in some ways it’s a more successful creation than, say, Archenland in the same book. Lewis’s modern British children are fun, but when he attempts to depict Narnian or Archenlander adults he falls into a pastiche of Malory that, fatally, lacks any spirit of inquiry.  The wise old king of Archenland will never lead you to question monarchy or the structure of medieval society, as any page of medieval history will.  There are no real restraints on Calormen, so it can be simply rousing adventure mixed with light satire.  It’s not under any requirement to be perfect and likeable, as Archenland is, and so it seems far more real.

In 2016 some of these borrowings may be considered problematic… but I’m not sure that people are at all consistent or even coherent about this. Is it a bad thing to know something of the Shahnameh, or to use non-Western models instead of endlessly re-creating medieval France? Plus the same people who are very worried about Calormen often swallow George Martin’s Dothraki and Slave Bay, which I’d say are not only more Orientalist, but more questionable because they seem to be meant to be taken far more seriously as a portrait of the medieval world.

 

 

 

 

 

This has probably been done before, but here’s a consolidated map of Gotham City as depicted in the Arkham series.

Arkham-Gotham

(WordPress used to automatically make a link to a bigger version, but now it doesn’t, so click that link to get there.)

Weirdly, Arkham Knight (which we have to assume is Rocksteady’s last word on the subject) tilts the Arkham City portion of the map by 45°. If you don’t believe me, check the in-game map! You can identify the courthouse, the Peabody Institute, Wonder Tower, and the steel mill, and clearly see that the street grid is tilted relative to Miagani Island.

Arkham Origins gives the location of Wayne Manor and Blackgate.  The Origins portion of the map may be oversized here.

Seagate is from the Matter of Family DLC for Knight; its location relative to the city is not given.

The inset (bottom left) gives the Arkham City map; it has a little peninsula that doesn’t appear in Origins, and also makes downtown Gotham much closer than in Knight.

As a bonus, here’s a comparison of the same view in Arkham City and Arkham Origins.

Arkham-Ace

Not everything matches up, but a lot does. What you chiefly notice, I think, is that even with the snow effects, City was much clearer. Origins has way too much fog.

The people in charge of the Angoulême comics festival were recently completely unable to think of any female cartoonists, so I thought I’d help by contributing a list of more than 200.

If your favorites aren’t there… tell me!  Especially if they’re non-English.  I’m especially weak on manga.

As it happened, I was already reading Deborah Elizabeth Whaley’s Black Women in Sequence, which is about black female cartoonists.  It has a whole chapter about Catwoman, so I had to read it.  (Catwoman has been played on the screen by black actresses twice, going back to 1967, so it’s not surprising she has a special meaning for black comics fans.)

The most interesting chapter is on Jackie Ormes, who had several syndicated strips in black newspapers from the late ’30s till the ’50s.  I would love to see more of her work; it’d be a fascinating glimpse into those times.  What’s striking about her elegant, smart characters is simply that they look human, and sexy, at a time when white cartoonists were producing abominations like the Spirit’s Ebony.

Anyway, Whaley’s theorycrafting doesn’t turn me on much, but the introduction to a bunch of artists is worthwhile.  (I kept wanting to ask what she thought of Jaime Hernandez, or what she might think of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new Black Panther…)

 

 

This week I cobbled together an impressive argument, to myself, which succeeded in convincing me that I needed an iPad Air. So now I have this little portable slab of computation sitting on my desk. The main expected use is as a camera. Here’s an example, otherwise known as “what every new iPad user discovers within the first hour”:

Distorto

I hear there’s an app that will distort your face, too

Something else I needed, which you can see above: computer glasses. I’m near-sighted, which is supposed to mean I can see near things, but in the last few years my near vision got fuzzy with my glasses on. I learned to take them off, but the in-focus zone is now about 8 inches from the book or monitor. So now I have computer glasses, so I can sit at a comfortable (and probably healthier) distance from the screen.

I haven’t had a lot of chances to play with the gestural interface before, but I have to say: I love it. The basic gestures are intuitive, and manipulating the screen directly is a huge conceptual improvement over doing it remotely with the mouse. It’s not as great for detailed manipulation— but I learned how to make a stylus with a wet Q-tip wrapped in aluminum foil.  (Yes, that is a thing. The iPad screen works with your body’s static electricity, which is why most other objects don’t work as styluses.)

I’ve seen Apple Maps before, but their 3-D representation of major cities is pretty damn awesome.

aqua-bldg

Can you fuse the images? (I can’t.)

It’s neat that Apple has spent some ungodly number of man-hours creating 3-D models of all these buildings, including their setbacks and roof units. They could have wimped out with the Aqua Tower, above, but no, the undulations on the sides are 3-D modeled.

Sadly, they haven’t done the 3-D modeling out this far from the city.  They’ve done Evanston, though, where I went to college.

Another neat thing: it has a charger, but instead of using that, you can just hook it up to the Mac. Hey, it saves an electric outlet.

One reason I got the iPad instead of a Surface is because it talks nicely to my Mac. It can use the local WiFi, or the cable— I was able to grab the pictures easily enough, and to copy some PDFs to the iPad for reading.

Another projected use is research. I wish I’d had it back when I was researching numbers— scrawling numbers down in the library was always a hassle, to say nothing of the surprisingly tedious process of identifying what language a book represents (it’s often different from the name in Ruhlen or the Ethnologue) and whether I had its numbers already.

(The one thing I won’t use it for is phone calls, as I didn’t pick up a phone plan with it.)

For those who were concerned, we are back at home.  We spent seven weeks at our lovely and patient friends’ house.

Here’s a view of the courtyard of the building next door, from shortly after the fire:

dead-building

The whole 22-unit building next door was demolished rather quickly. It took up a surprisingly small swath of land, which is empty for now. It used to dwarf our 2-story building, but now ours looks normal-sized.

There were several hiccups along the way. They replaced the roof; but after removing the old roof the roofers didn’t put out enough tarps, and it rained, causing water damage to our unit. They repaired this, but that caused more delay and a spray of dust that covered everything.

Just before we were going to move in, the unit below us had plumbing trouble: their sink was overflowing when either they or we used the water.  This was fixed (by rodding out the line), but from that time on we had no hot water in our kitchen.

The plumbers came by, saw that the report was correct, and started taking pipes apart.  They were clogged with rust.  But they got to where the water comes out of the wall without getting any water flow.  Apparently the riser that comes from below was blocked too.  They talked alarmingly about taking out the countertop and the sink to get at the riser, which would have been a huge mess.

Fortunately they thought about this, and came back on Monday to get at the wall from the other side— which is the building’s front hall.  This was no small task, because our walls are plaster, which is like rock.  Plus there were concrete bricks in the middle.  But with the right (very noisy) tools you can do anything, and they made nice big holes in the wall to get at the risers.

Now they discovered that there was a shutoff valve in the bottom unit… it wasn’t the rust that was preventing water from coming up, it was that the plumbers fixing the overflowing sink had turned off the valve.  I’d suggested as much, but of course the customer is never viewed as a reliable source of information.

Since they’d already gone into the wall, though, they replaced both hot and cold risers.  It took another day to redo the plumbing, hooking up the sink, dishwasher, and refrigerator. With a working dishwasher, it finally felt like we were at home and could relax.

They’re still working on the building— the units on the west side, facing the fire, need much more restoration, and then they have to repair the basement, which had 3 feet of water.  We lost a bunch of things we kept in the basement, including the original map of Verduria City.  (Fortunately I’d redone it in Illustrator.)

There’s no answer, by the way, on what caused the fire. The fire department said that any evidence was itself destroyed.

Curious fact: the bricks from the destroyed building were carefully piled up and carted away.  Old Chicago bricks are valuable.

 

On a brighter note, looking at sales, I found that five copies of Against Peace and Freedom were sold in December. That’s just enough to make the 200 sales for which I said I’d make an Incatena conlang.  It only took four years.  So, Hanying it is!  (Not immediately, but it’s on the to-do list.)

 

The China book has sold over 50 copies in the same month.  The Market continues intoning that it wants me to write nonfiction.

I think I may be done with League of Legends.  I haven’t picked it up in a couple of months. Part of this is that Arkham Knight and Fallout 4 have louder voices. Part of it is that, due to schedule changes, my friend Ash is no longer available for late-night games.

But the biggest reason is just that I’m not very good at it. I’ve put more than a year into it, I know the basics, I’ve played a ton of ARAM so I’ve played most of the champions.  I do well sometimes, and a few times I do really well. But I still have trouble staying alive, I lose more games than I win, and the learning curve seems as steep as ever.  I never even got into Ranked; the one game I played with friends was a disaster.

Millions of people love League, so I can’t really criticize it, but I think it has a few design problems.

  • You’ll enjoy it best if you play with friends, preferably over voice chat. But if you’re low level, you basically can’t play with high-level friends. They may mentor you a bit, but the game is too different at different levels. If you play with them, you’ll get a higher class of opponents and it’ll be worse for you, not better.

    (This is mitigated in ARAM, which is why I could play with Ash at all.)

  • The game could use a fourth level of tutorial bots.  It’s still too much of a leap to go from the bots to humans.
  • The game avoids voice chat for good reasons… jerks can be bad enough in text. But it means that mentoring usually doesn’t happen. (I appreciate it when it does occur, but it’s easiest to do in voice chat.)
  • The games are long. A bad TF2 round ends in five minutes, and then you can start over.  A bad SR match can take 45 minutes (even if your team surrenders, it’s 20).  If the problem was a bad team comp, a player who messes up, or a bad laning phase, that’s a long punishment for a short mistake.
  •  All the items and champs and strategies that make it a great e-sport make it, well, a grind to learn, except for you teenage and college whippersnappers. And it just keeps getting worse as they add more champs and items.

I think I could maybe go for a League Lite.  Something more complicated than TF2, but far less than pro LOL.  Maybe something with 30 champs instead of 128, no items, and start each game at level 3.  Maybe even an option to switch out champs.

(ARAM is almost a League Lite, but the problem I have with it is that it doesn’t prepare you for SR.  You do learn the champions, but they play differently in SR, and ARAM doesn’t teach you the teamwork, the laning, or the overall strategy.)

If you’re considering League, I don’t mean to put you off.  I’m not sorry I tried it, and you might do better at it than I did.  I might even go back for ARAM once I’ve put down the Institute. Though I hear the new Tomb Raider game is next month…

Mùlán is here to tell you: the China Construction Kit is now available!

mulan

I spent yesterday making the Kindle version. If you get that and something is unreadable, drop me a line. I will have a page up shortly with the maps in a larger size.

I hope it’s not a bad sign that the roofers at our apartment didn’t protect the roof against the rain, causing some water damage precisely to my copies of the History of Imperial China.

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