The Club, the Wheel, the Mind – A Blast From The Past Post from February 2011

*I want to point out this is a blast from the past post.  I want to point this out because I don’t want you to think I’m sick again.  I’m not.  I started an exercise program and I’m feeling like someone put me through the ringer, but I’m not sick.
On another note I noticed below that I mention The Left Hand of Darkness.  This amuses me because the usual twitter suspects are throwing fits that we don’t want to allow (!) non binary science fiction, because we’re such idiots who never heard of the Left Hand of Darkness.  I thought we’d spent years yelling at them that their sad attempts were nothing new and that everyone and their parents had done it better, The left Hand of Darkness most definitely included.  I’m starting to believe they’re not liars.  They’re mentally deficient. Apparently they can’t process it’s not the subject we object to, it’s the execution.  (Poor prose should not be suspended by the neck till dead.)*

When I’m sick – yeah, let’s just say that my respiratory system is a walking liability – I can’t read fiction. This is part of the reason I’ve fallen so far behind on my fiction reading. It doesn’t seem to be a rare affliction. When you’re sick you can’t handle emotion and, of course, all good fiction is emotion.

However, I can’t stop reading. Reading is what gets me through the stupid stuff that must happen in life, like washing dishes, cooking, cleaning. I have yet to figure out how to read in the shower. Someone must make a better, water-proof ereader.

So, instead of fiction I read non-fiction. The more tired/sick I am, the dryer my reading material. Years ago, when pneumonia put me in the hospital (ICU for eleven days) I read a collection of nineteenth century biology manuals. No, you probably don’t want to ask.

And I know I’m at least becoming somewhat more human because I either start having story ideas, or I start figuring out how what I’m reading applies to some aspect of writing.

This last month and a half, as I’ve been spiraling deeper and deeper into illness (And no, I don’t even know if it’s the same illness or a succession of respiratory bugs) I’ve been reading about the pursuit of the Indo-European language and culture.

Yes, this morning I finally decided enough was enough and this afternoon I dragged self to doctor and I’m now medicated. While I’m still not substantially better – except the fever must be down because my head is clearer – in the “up” points of this er… bug sequence I’ve been able to realize what I’m reading is both a wonderful seed for stories, possibly a setting for a series of novels which has deviled me (my last run at it was … fifteen years ago, when I was definitely not ready) and, more importantly, a world building tool.

What I’ve been reading, particularly, which attempts the reconstruction of an ancient culture that might have been homogenetic, but was almost certainly heterogenetic (same or different genetic heritage), might have been located over a region or another, and might have worked out one way or another, has made me realize how things are connected, things we don’t tend to think about.

No, I don’t know how much their guesses are true, but I do know that there are certain “rules” that tend to apply and that these archaeologists use them to reconstruct a culture just like a paleontologist reconstructs a dead animal from a loose tooth. Will they sometimes be wrong? Oh, yeah, heck, yeah. Remember the dinosaurs that have changed name or shape as more has been found out about them? But still, there are certain things that apply. If you find a certain shape of tooth, you know you’re dealing with an herbivore, for instance. And if you find human craniums with largely cavity-free teeth, you know you’re dealing with a culture whose diet was low on carbohydrates. Oh, there might be some genetic freak that keeps them from getting cavities, but, more than likely, you’re dealing with a diet based on protein.

The same goes for population replacement, for instance. One population disappears, another comes in. Was it war? Maybe. Sometimes you do find a population where the graves show women of the previous population and men of the new one. You could be dealing with a Rape of The Sabines situation. Alternately, you could be dealing with some elaborate treaty and bride price, and perhaps the men of the tribe moved elsewhere to marry women from the other tribe. Yeah, that wouldn’t be total replacement, but these graves never represent everyone, just the powerful families.

And then there’s that too – what was powerful at the time? What was “wealthy”. A man is buried in a grave that would require immense labor with only a few shards of pottery and a dagger. Was it because the culture was terribly poor, or were the gifts symbolic? You only know by comparing to smaller graves of the same culture.

I’m not going to go into details, but it is important, not just for historical fiction but for science fiction and even for fantasy to think through these details. “What does my culture use for transport?” for instance, limits how far your character can travel. That much is obvious. But it will also limit the ideas of the world; how far her parents’ married; how many languages there are in the immediate vicinity; what they eat and possibly how they pray. “What do they eat?” again limits or shapes what the culture is like. If they are mostly agriculturalists, their culture will be different from if they are herders. And if they are herders with frequent cattle raiding (which also correlates to weapons) the culture is yet different. (And if they eat mostly stew, you’re caught in The Tough Guide To Fantasyland.)

I confess that even with as much as I know about history and how cultures evolve, and how economics influences daily life, I’ve caught at least a couple of mistakes I’ve made in one of my cultures – where they could not possibly be settled agriculturalists with those habits.

We live in a time where the world is our backyard, where food of all seasons and all continents is available to us and transport is cheaper and easier than it’s ever been. This divorces source from event in our minds, so that we have trouble creating even complex, future cultures.

Of course, the classic work with everything integrated is Le Guin’s The Left Hand Of Darkness. I’m not saying I don’t have problems with some of her extrapolations. I do. She and I come from widely different philosophical traditions and that always shows. Also, though I liked it originally, the presentation itself now seems incredibly dated to me. BUT at least she tried to show a culture integrated in all facets of myth and daily living and its natural environment. And managed to hint at a full fledged society, which of course never fits in a book.

What is your favorite such example? Do you have one? What would you like to see? How do you think archeology can help us learn world building?

181 responses to “The Club, the Wheel, the Mind – A Blast From The Past Post from February 2011

    • while true: {
      try {
      runWater(ziploc && kindle);
      } catch { NoHotWater: break;}
      }

      • On the topic of waterproof e-readers, I personally read books on a Sony smart phone, and those are water resistant up to a few feet at least. You can use the volume buttons with most book reading apps to change pages so the water on the touch screen doesn’t interfere with your reading.

  1. Jack Vance was a master of worldbuilding, tossing off great swathes of intricate background with casual ease. (and sometimes pages of footnotes, but that was one of Vance’s charming quirks)

    It is possible to go into intricate detail about how a world works. (oh, right, another five thousand word wodge of Elvish language…) Sometimes the story is more about the backstory than the frontstory. Which is fine, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’ve read a few books where the author spent so much time describing their backstory that the rest of the book got lost in the noise.

    Mostly, you just need to touch on what’s different from your readers’ default society, which would probably be defined as “modern Western culture.” Some things need to be accounted for; some things don’t. And *that* is the trick.

  2. c4c

  3. > The Left Hand of Darkness

    That book has come up often in blogs in recent months. I know I read it – there were half a dozen Le Guin books at the library when I was growing up, and I read the entire SF section – but I remembered nothing about it. I remembered “Lathe of Heaven” as gloomy and overdone, and “The Disposessed” as gloomy and boring, but I couldn’t remember anything about Darkness other than its title. (in fact, every Le Guin book I remember anything about, “gloomy” is the first thing that comes to mind…)

    Looking at the synopsis on Wikipedia… bits of it are vaguely familiar, mostly names, for some reason. Possibly since I hadn’t yet reached puberty, the plot resolved to “stuff happens, more stuff happens, The End” and I went on to something else.

    Looking at the list of Le Guin’s books, there’s “The Tombs of Atuan,” which I do remember well. It’s the first book I never managed to finish. The third or fourth time I tried it, I think I made it a couple of chapters before giving up. They were English words in recognizeable grammatical arrangements, but it was a case of near-total disconnect between Author and Reader.

    • I haven’t read a lot of le Guin. I got halfway through the first page of THE DISPOSSESSED and threw it across the metaphorical room (it was borrowed, and the room wasn’t mine either–I was avoiding property damage). The idea of a more-or-less human society that was so perfectly libertarian/anachrist that a thousand people standing there, looking at someone they all hated passionately, couldn’t figure out how to become a mob…

      I did read and appreciate ROCANNON’S WORLD. And I had no problem getting through the EARTHSEA trilogy.(Though the…thing…she wrote later, where the White Lady of Atuan moves out into the country and opens a lower-class bar… It smacked of THE RINGWORLD ENGINEERS, in which Larry Niven spent 300+ pages screamiing, over and over, I DIDN’T MEAN IT! I DIDN’T MEAN IT!)

      And you’re right. The first word that comes to mind when remembering her work is “gloomy.” Oddly enough, she managed to work that into high fantasy. How she could write that many pages of “gloomy” without the whole story becoming *depressing* as well–I have no idea.

      • She did not write anything later. Earthsea has only the first three books.

      • Forgive me for the complete digression, but I rather enjoyed THE RINGWORLD ENGINEERS (though I haven’t read any later books in that series) — what was the “I didn’t mean it!” you’re talking about?

        • There was a fair bit that annoyed me, but the biggest one was the Teela Brown gene. “No such thing. She just rolled straight-18’s 250,000,000 times. Pure chance. Nothing to see here, folks, move along…”

          I can sympathize a little–he said himself that he put that in there as his comment on the SF love affair with pseudo-psionics: “You want to play ‘can you top this’ with psychic powers? Well, here’s the ultimate psychic power–AUTHOR CONTROL!”

          Then that book got so popular it was economically necessary to write a sequel, and what can you do if one of your characters is established as inherently invincible?

          Nevertheless, it was a cheap and obvious cop-out. And that pretty much poisoned the whole thing for me.

          It didn’t help than I knew half the other basic background points were as fan-dictated as a Xanth novel…

          • I knew about the chants of “THE RINGWORLD IS UNSTABLE!” thanks to Niven’s own afterword; what other background points were fan-influenced like that? (And to be fair, just because fans spot problems in your book before you do, that doesn’t necessarily mean fixing them in the next book is submitting to their “dictation”, does it?)

            • At a certain point, it starts to feel like it. The dictation thing, I mean. I will admit to letting my irritation override my literal-mindedness at times.

              Besides THE RINGWORLD IS UNSTABLE! (and the things that came from that, like turning the humanoid “natives” into techno-parasites that threatened the whole thing by stealing the attitude jets to make starships out of), there was also the whole idea that the Ringworld was built by the Pak. Again, he admitted himself that came from someone else. And it was such a *cool* idea that he ran with it in several (in my opinion) odd directions. Such as, that the Pak would have found the Kzin and *not* simply exterminated them (as a potential threat in however-many-thousand-or-million years).

              Then there were the things where he did something simply because the story wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t. Like the Teela Brown thing. Not only that it didn’t happen–really!–but proving it by having her run over by a train (metaphorically speaking). Everything going wrong at once, like a Douglas Adams plot twist. And the idea of a human Protector being overcome by doublethink (!) because the idea of non-humans dying was intolerable (!!) and therefore committing suicide so someone more ruthless (!!!) could do what had to be done to save the whole Ringworld–which *might* still contain humans recognizable to a human Protector (!!!!).

              I have no idea where risharthra came from, and my own reaction to it is quite independent of its origin, so I won’t go there…

      • I actually really enjoyed The Dispossessed. There are few books that have made me feel like I knew and understood a character as closely as Shevek. Say what you want about gloominess or prose style, but her character development is fantastic.

    • The LHOD is presented in a very seventies way that bothers me. There are a lot of books of that era that have that effect. When I read it at the time (76? I think) it was fine.

  4. Ursula K. Le Guin had some great cultural concepts but her prose style bit big-time. Her characters never really came alive to me. She really should have opened her Hainishverse for other writers to use, the way that Niven did with the Man-Kzin Wars.

    • As I said, part of it was the “Seventies thing” — there is a cultural marker of the seventies “more primitive than thou” etc which makes some other novelists unreadable too.

      • And that shouldn’t be surprising. It is a rare book that is as easily read 46 years after its publication as it was when published. That it is read at all after that time puts it head and shoulders above its contemporaries.

        Looking at more recent Hugo winners, how many of those are forgotten two years later (who remembers what the Hugo Novel of 2012 was without looking it up).

        That said, I’ve long noticed the 70s scream themselves more than any other decade regardless of the area: TV, books, clothing, music*, and so on.

        *Think 80s music screams itself? What people call 80s music starts in the late 70s and ended barely half-way through the 80s. Disco, however, the quintiessential 70s music is completely housed in that decade and screams when it is from. Read the list of titles on the 25 year collection of KC and the Sunshine Band if you don’t believe me.

        • The Other Sean

          Except for the works by Lois Bujold and Connie Willis, I can’t remember any Hugo winning best novel in the last 10-15 years.

        • Not quite. There is no quintessential “70s.” It started with moon landings, anti-war protests, Vietnam, psychedelic motifs everywhere, obsession with psychic phenomena; rapidly moved to Americana courtesy of the Bicentennial; a nostalgia craze for late 1920s to 1950s; moving rapidly to the Disco craze by the end of the decade. In between you had things like Southern Rock, a distinct Country & Western fad, Barry Mantilow, Muskrat Love, and at the height of the Disco craze, a symphonic orchestra with a classical style song at #1 on the pop charts.

          • Don’t forget, AC/DC started in the 70’s.

          • Take a look at a Mercedes 450SL with the top off, dark green exterior, and avocado green interior, and tell me that’s a product of anything but the 70s.

            • The only thing that color that isn’t from the 1970s is.. an avocado.

            • My dearly departed 1974 Volvo sedan (which I sold a couple of years ago to a local Volvo motorhead who could lavish all the loving and expert mechanical attention on it that I could not and could not afford to outsource) was originally painted a color described as “Pumpkin Orange” and with sh*t brown interior paneling, and seat upholstery the olive-green color of Army blankets, when I purchased it from a fellow NCO in 1983.
              My father replaced the interior panels and seats with a slightly better grade early on, and helped me repaint it a modest chocolate-brown, sometime in the mid-1990s. Lovely car, with a champion engine … but oy, the colors!

          • Try growing into your brother’s hand-me-down bell bottoms in 1984. Then tell me about the 70s.

  5. I have been listening to a series of lectures around the end of the bronze age and that led me to a series of lectures on the origin and dispersal of the Indo-European languages family and the related technology and archeology of the cultures. (cause I am just that wild)
    The one that really got my attention was one by David Anthony, who was in a Danish seminar “Tracing the Indo-Europeans: Origin and migration.” He covers both linguistics, spread of technology and culture based on archeological findings.

    Put into YouTube: David Anthony, Early Indo-European migrations, economies, and phylogenies

    It is an hour lecture, so I am reluctant to put a straight link in.

  6. I have sentimental fondness for Heinlein’s “Citizen of the Galaxy”. It really emphasized (albeit a bit heavy-handedly) that different cultures have different rules, and those rules usually make sense given where the culture came from, and that you just can’t ignore those rules that don’t make sense.

    And, in non-fiction, I read “Congo Kitabu” when I was young and it was really eye-opening.

    • Heavy-handed? He had an anthropologist character come out and state it. Granted, he’d shown plenty of examples beforehand, but…

      • To do him justice, CITIZEN was (like most of his good stuff) a juvenile. The lecture was useful to the ten-year-old who read it sprawled on my bed…

    • Congo Kitabu was described as more than somewhat embellished by people like Peter Hathaway Capstick (Death In the Long Grass, etc.).

      • Oh, no! You are breaking my heart!

      • Considering the fact that I have heard considerably harsher criticism than that of the honesty of Capstick’s books, I’m not sure that is necessarily a reason to skip reading it. It certainly isn’t a reason to skip Capstick’s books. If the stories in them aren’t true… they could be. Anyways I’ve never spotted any glaring fallacies, and Capstick is a heck of a storyteller.

  7. The best series are the ones with the best world building. If you can’t build a good, consistent world, your story will fizzle (or suck) after a volume or three. Think about Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series. The worlds are built to the Nth detail, to the point that when I read one of the Foreigner books, I can pick up on an infelicitous phrase, even if I can’t explain why. The rules are there, and the rules aren’t broken any more than someone writing a series of books about George Washington would have him flying off to Hawaii. It’s no accident that both authors, Tolkien and Cherryh, are serious scholars in subject related to how OUR world is “built” and the rules around different groups.

    • The best series are the ones with the best world building. If you can’t build a good, consistent world, your story will fizzle (or suck) after a volume or three.

      A counter example might be C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series. The entire series is widely admired (even by non-Christians who first read the books as an adult; so, it’s not just a shared word-view or nostalgia thing). But Lewis’ world building could charitably be described as spotty.

      Obviously, other virtues can help to make up for deficient word building, and the best world building will not help a book with few other virtues.

      • Lewis was working in a different subgenre with different aesthetics. He was essentially doing one of the more miscellaneous medieval romances crossed with E. Nesbit.

        • On one hand, you want your world to hang together.

          On the other hand, you want it have the cheery, sloppy, wildly mismatched air that the real world so often has.

          • Tolkien’s aesthetic was to introduce complexity through ridiculous amounts of documentation and worldbuilding, extended through time and space. Underneath it all, he really liked the Northern saga feel and the more constructed, laconic kinds of poetry. (Hated the Irish medieval lyric.)

            Lewis’ aesthetic was to throw in everything that fit his theme emotionally or psychologically, or even according to coolness factor. (Sorta like Chaucer or Orlando Furioso, or like John C. Wright.) He liked other people’s Northern sagas, but he wasn’t ever going to write one.

            Neither of these aesthetic preferences are wrong. But yeah, they can easily lead to “artistic differences.”

    • I like Cherryh well enough, but not the Foreigner books. Oh, the aliens are fine, it’s the humans I can’t get my head around. “SJWs meet aliens and direct their progress with their Superior Knowledge.” Plus greenie propaganda, Humans Suck, and other tropes. And to top it all off, bo-ringg.

      I kept wondering why the atevi didn’t just kill the humans and take the goodies.

      • I like her Faded Sun and Chanur books better. And she puts a lot of detail into her Merchanter novels, although sometimes she focuses so much on shipboard life and so little on what the ship is actually doing it can get confusing.

        • As a former submarine sailor that focus is arguably correct. I knew very little about what holes we were poking in the ocean unless there was a port call coming up or something else that broke the routine (under ice ops for example).

          Day to day shipboard life in terms of running the plant, going to training, playing the deployment Magic Tournament (on my last deployment), and so on were much more real to me. I suspect a character in a novel wouldn’t be any different.

          • If we wanted pure realism, we could get it 24 hours a day, straight and unsurpassed. It may be right to call it realistic, but it’s another to call it “correct.”

            • I was thinking more it is what is interesting.

              Which is more interesting, how you cope with being locked in a metal tube for months on end or how much cow dung you’re carrying to what star system (we are talking Merchanter novels, not military sci-fi or espionage, etc). I realize it is a matter of taste but I have found “how to stay sane without sunlight” more interesting than some of the supposed action in some action stories.

              Of course, at this point in life I look back and wonder how I did it so that may be a factor.

              • I’m just as happy at night, as long as I have light to read by. I’ve never been a sun worshipper.

                My Dad, though… his mood was wired directly to sunlight. Bright sun: happy. Cloudy: depressed. Dark: really depressed. Morning: cheerful. Rain: depressed.

                Observing that went a long way to understanding various turns of phrase, like “sunny disposition.” Apparently Dad had a lot of company with his moods controlled by sunlight.

                • Actually I use the without sunlight but I’m a night owl.

                  The confinement didn’t really bother me either.

                  What I missed was fresh air. Boat has a smell all its own.

                  In fact, one of my best memories is getting permission to go up to the sail while running at night in March in the Irish Sea heading into Holyloch. The night was completely clear and full of stars. The air was bracing and smelled like the happiest days I’d ever had.

                  • All sorts of bad things happen in broad daylight. Or the indoor artificial lighting during ‘day’ hours. Starlight might not be the Universal Panacea, but somehow starlight and night air seem, at least to me, to be a wonderful restorative. Small town* life is alright, but aside from the cable net.connection, the dead-end country road I could walk nights without neighbors caring a whit is sorely missed.

                    * A good friend lives in NYC and loves it. We agree that ‘civilization starts at the city limits’ – but we do not agree as to which side is which.

                  • As I recall, we’d crack open the snorkel head valve to equalize pressure before surfacing, and everyone would sniff and ask, “What’s that smell?” before realizing it was fresh air. I knew one guy whose wife had a shower installed in the garage so he could clean up and wear something that didn’t have the “patrol smell” before he came into the house.

                    I did get to take the conn on the sail once or twice, but periscope liberty was occasionally available.

            • Well said. “Realism” is not my goal, ever. Plausible, readable, believable, yes, but “realistic”?

              • Realistic comes out slow and depressing, which I have a tendency too anyway because of initial Portuguese storytelling absorption. So. No. Though Robert has infected me with a “realistic-ish” near future world which might very well be the way the world goes, and I want to write in it. The key is to find a way to make it exciting WITHOUT changing the worldbuild. I think it can be done, but I’ll mull it in the back brain while I write the more important/urgent stuff.

              • I guess, I have used realistic to describe what is better termed, believable, to describe good science fiction. But believable doesn’t quite cover it either, nor does plausible. Something can be implausible, but believable, and still not be exactly what I termed ‘realistic.’ I guess I meant the author made it seem “real”, you don’t consciously think that it would be cool if telepathic dragons were real, you think, “I wish I could talk to dragons.”

            • “When I go to the theatre, I want to be taken out of myself. I don’t want to see lust and rape and incest and sodomy. I can get all that at home.”

              One of the Beyond the Fringe skits.

          • That makes sense. But just as a reader, it sometimes got confusing when they’d leave the ship, and I couldn’t figure out where they were or why for a while, in one or two of the novels.

          • One of the advantages of the surface Navy, you could get some clues about what’s going on. 102 in charging station? We’re in the Arabian Sea bombing Afghanistan. 112 in charging station? We’re in the Arabian Gulf boring Iraq.

            • Oh, you could learn where you were in different ways. I could tell how far north I was by sea water injection temperature and if there was ice in the bilges. Most people don’t realize seawater freshes at 0F (nominally) not 32F and look at me crazy when I talk about how cold a steam plant is when immersed in 28 degree water.

              I think more to the point I just wasn’t interested in what we were doing with a few exceptions. The biggest time I was really interested in mission activities was when we did blockage observation/air rescue stand-by off the Dalmatian coast when we were bombing the Serbs. We had interesting people embarked for signals and heard locals fishing with hand grenades (scary the first time you hear it in a submarine).

    • Foreigner is getting a little long in the tooth, but for pure bravado, the Chanur books are hard to beat. She comes up with cultures for four oxygen breathing species, plus humans, and three methane breathers and somehow makes them all believable. A real wild ride!

      • Yes. I plowed through 3 Foreigner books before admitting I was full; it was repetitive by that point. It was only loyalty to my earlier loves (Chanur, Union/Alliance) that kept me going that long. What is new and fresh in the 15th latest wonder, I wonder, gah! As for the Chanur world, endless possibilities there, and I grieve that she apparently decided she had had enough of that. I think it would make a great shared world, as well, plenty of variety and angles.

        • I’ve only read a few of Cherryh’s books more than once, other than “Merchanter’s Luck.” Which is a love story, but I’m so awesomely macho I can read that sort of thing without damaging my reputation.

        • Cherryh is an extremely talented author, although I get to the end of a lot of her books and realize that I didn’t actually like the book. The Chanur books were awesome, the Union/Alliance books showcased Cherryh’s ability as an author to write great books that dragged me through to the end, and convinced me to go ahead and read the next one, but that I didn’t really like. I figured out that the problem is that I like almost none of her human characters. They are either angsty, navel gazing cowards; or if they have a spine they are almost invariably rapists.
          I’ve only read the first three or so Foreigner books, but I have about the next 7 or 8 in audio versions, and will probably “read” them when I start driving back and forth to Montana every day, again. They are fairly anti human, and again I don’t like any of the human characters, and are slower than some of her other books. On the plus side, she is just about the epitome of an author that manages to convince you to “suspend your disbelief”, if I stop and think about it, there are an absolute myriad of bones to pick with the ‘facts’ of the universe and each story. But you read along and it just flows together, of course it makes sense for the atevi to do that entirely insensible thing, they’re alien… of course it makes sense for the humans to do that entirely insensible thing, they’re human.
          She also wrote a series I can’t think of the name of, sort of a science fantasy series of a bunch of interconnected medievalish worlds connected by a bunch gates. That the woman, who is a descendant of the gate makers, and a ‘manslave’ she picks up, are going through and closing the gates. Again you have the POV character being entirely too angsty and cowardly for my tastes, but he actually usually ends up acting bravely despite his cowardice, because it is necessary to do brave acts. This is a redeeming feature of these stories to me, and overall I found I enjoyed them more than about any of her works except the Chanur novels, even though I like the worldbuilding and for lack of a better description, plot outline, of stuff like her Merchanter, Union/Alliance books a lot better.

          • And I have it right here: The Book of Morgaine ($1.50 [tag is still on it] for the used hardcover, which is now spineless). I’d forgotten all about it. Your description matches my (dim) recollection. I think it might have originally been three books – Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan, and Fires of Azeroth – being as the book is divided into those sections.

            Unrelated: I think I’ve figured out why closing </I> tags keep breaking: Something is auto-correcting the “i” to a capital “I”.

  8. The last few years I have been consuming history, mostly about eastern North America in the period between 1750 and 1825.

    I grew up in Philadelphia and know the old area of the city well. By the time I lived there, while street layout and many of the buildings from that time period remained, most of daily life had changed. While it may not be fiction, history requires the author to convey a world made foreign by the passage of time. Now this could be done dryly, with tables and charts (actually I like tables and charts) or in can be conveyed through the manner the author tells the stories of that different time.

    Simon Winchester in his book Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded manages a masterly job of providing massive amounts of factual information without leaving you feeling overloaded. He does this though how he weaves the various lines of information and story together.

    • The history of Louisiana and New Orleans is one of my new interests. The three-cornered deal between France, Spain, and England, where France and Spain sold their interests in Louisiana to the British, along with invalidating the Louisiana Purchase, gave the British a solid title to Louisiana… in Europe, anyway. A lot of went on in 1812 was a direct result of European court politics.

      Britain’s goal wasn’t so much as “take New Orleans” as “make the Mississippi River British from end to end” and keep those annoying Americans to the eastern side of it. That would have made an interesting timeline…

    • Two of the best Heroic Era SF novels ever written are non-fiction History: THE GREAT BRIDGE and THE PATH BETWEEN THE SEAS. Great “how do we raise ourselves by our bootstraps?” drama, easily as thrilling as Ringo’s LIVE FREE OF DIE. And they HAPPENED.

  9. I remember reading “Left Hand of Darkness” many years ago, but don’t remember much about it. On the other hand, I would really rather point out her Earthsea trilogy as being a greater example of world building. I read it in high school and then once again much later after having obtained my degree in anthropology. Not only did it thrill me to learn that her father was one of the prominent anthropologists I studied (or at least heard about), but I saw with much more educated eyes the cultural things built into her story that I had not picked up on before. I always describe Le Guin as being the “anti-Tolkien” in regards to use of verbiage and complexity: sometimes being simple and concise and NON-descriptive is as elegant as Tolkien’s enthusiastic applications of the English language. I love her for the exact opposite reason I love Tolkien. I didnt need to know the histories and dialects and folk tales of every single island in the Archipalago to know that Ged traveled amid a vast variety of people.

    I think an earlier poster said that implying the parts that are important to the story and how it is distinguishably different from your readers’ experience is the best thing.

    • LHOD is important because of having to extrapolate an hermaphrodite society. Of course, I thought she was wrong in every detail, which is what propelled me into writing.
      Eventually I gave up on that world, having decided that the publishing industry couldn’t accept hermaphrodites. I was wrong. The problem is they were GLORIOUSLY anti-politically correct.
      I’ll probably write them at some point, possibly under cover of darknes– er. Pen name.

    • With Earthsea, LeGuin was trying to write in a Zen way. Sort of.

      Anyway, I wouldn’t say this was anti-Tolkien, particularly, since he was very fond of writing some really laconic stuff too. The problem is that very few people would understand his laconic stuff unless he put a lot of explanatory footnotes into it.

  10. Christopher M. Chupik

    A while back I seem to recall N K Jemisin (?) bragging that her fantasy worldbuilding was “decoupled from history” or words to that effect. To me, she was telling us that her worldbuilding was decoupled from reality. I try to take history into account when writing SF or Fantasy, because chances are, someone, somewhere, somewhen has dealt with this crap before.

    • The trick to world-building is reading lots and lots and lots of primary source.

      The information learned is incidental. The important thing is to knock your block off. Once you learn to not assume things are the same elsewhere as here, you can really begin.

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        Ah, but with today’s writers, all other times and places must reflect the views of today. Or rather, the views of a very narrow range of people.

        • Even their stuff in this time and place is only supposed to represent the views of a very narrow range of people. All other views are invalid.

        • Precisely. That’s what we call “diversity.”

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            Diversity is looking an awful lot like conformity these days.

            • Brian: Please, please, please listen! I’ve got one or two things to say.

              Crowd: Tell us! Tell us both of them!

              Brian: Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t NEED to follow ME, You don’t NEED to follow ANYBODY! You’ve got to think for your selves! You’re ALL individuals!

              Crowd: Yes! We’re all individuals!

              Brian: You’re all different!

              Crowd: Yes, we ARE all different!

              Man in crowd: I’m not…

              Crowd: Sssh!

              • Most subversive lines of the movie:

                Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
                Attendee: Brought peace?

                But decolonization was the best thing evar…

                • I wonder how many people realize that India as we know it is an entirely British creation. The whole reason a clump of islands on the wrong end of Europe was able to dominate the entire subcontinent is because it was fragmented into hundreds of small polities, which allowed the British to play exacerbate the divisions and conquer.

            • There’s persecution in the name of tolerance, too.

            • Freedom is slavery, comrade.

      • Exactly. In one of my historical-writer groups, we had a long discussion thread about how most of us were most comfortable and confident writing one particular period/country, and how or if it would be desirable to stretch a little and venture into another. Some of the writers felt that it wasn’t – we would basically have to start all over again in historical world-building, but others felt that just starting from the ground up with the realization that there would be substantial differences was a considerable head start. We would already know that attitudes, ways of living, technology, and social life would be radically different and so could buckle down to specifics right away.

  11. I like Andre Norton’s with “Forerunners.” All the various ruins with people trying to figure out an alien civilization from what was left behind. And, of course, the occasional working tech, which generally had dire consequences for the MC.

    • And the occasional dead-ends. Like the tech in ICE CROWN, which they though was Forerunner–and eventually realized (just before the book starts, if I recall) was actually Psychocrat. The humans had been in space long enough that some earlier human cultures were advanced enough and obscure enough to be mistaken for the long-lost Ancients…

      • I think there was actual Forerunner stuff, it’s just that Roane gets in deep with Psychocrat. That’s one of the good ones. . . I also particularly like Dread Companion, one of the few full blown fantasy/SF crossovers.

        • Don’t recall any more, but you could be right. And that just made it better. Layers and layers. How many Forerunner cultures were there? How much overlap? How many times did someone lose track of which Forerunners they were trying to study here? Or were they even Forerunners?

          I suspect a lot of it (though not all–as ICE CROWN itself shows) was that she wasn’t trying to build a “future history,” so tight consistent continuity wasn’t important to her. But the result was like a much more casual version of Tolkien. The “world” was a HUGE place…

  12. Hmmm. . ..

    Some nice ones are:

    Teresa Edgerton’s The Queen’s Necklace, an early clockpunk novel set in a world millennia after the fall of the tyrannical Maglore, with a hundred human kingdoms.

    Michael Flynn’s far future Spiral Arm: The January Dancer, Up Jim River, In the Lion’s Mouth, On the Razor’s Edge.

    L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Prospero Lost, Prospero In Hell, and Prospero Regained, where for once the reason why magic is hiding among us is thoroughly and completely explained.

    A Midsummer Tempest by Poul Anderson sprung entirely from a world-building question.

  13. So we live in Fantasyland? That explains a whole lot!

    (Stew being a good way to both stretch expensive ingrediants and accommodate schedules.)

    Which is a point to add to world building. What we eat depends on wealth and distance from food suppliers. Modern refrigerated trucks and trains being such a new thing.
    We had a fun moment last evening involving a scheduled power outage, a candle, and the kids realizing that without electricity, really there is not enough light to do much of anything.

    • Communications, too. Until the telegraph, your transport system WAS your communication systems. Burke observed that Britain would just have to live with having a looser rule in the American colonies:

      The last cause of this disobedient spirit in the Colonies is hardly less powerful than the rest, as it is not merely moral, but laid deep in the natural constitution of things. Three thousand miles of ocean lie between you and them. No contrivance can prevent the effect of this distance in weakening government. Seas roll, and months pass, between the order and the execution, and the want of a speedy explanation of a single point is enough to defeat a whole system. You have, indeed, winged ministers of vengeance, who carry your bolts in their pounces to the remotest verge of the sea. But there a power steps in that limits the arrogance of raging passions and furious elements, and says, SO FAR SHALL THOU GO, AND NO FARTHER. Who are you, that you should fret and rage, and bite the chains of nature? Nothing worse happens to you than does to all nations who have extensive empire; and it happens in all the forms into which empire can be thrown. In large bodies the circulation of power must be less vigorous at the extremities. Nature has said it. The Turk cannot govern Egypt and Arabia and Kurdistan as he governs Thrace; nor has he the same dominion in Crimea and Algiers which he has at Brusa and Smyrna. Despotism itself is obliged to truck and huckster. The Sultan gets such obedience as he can. He governs with a loose rein, that he may govern at all; and the whole of the force and vigor of his authority in his centre is derived from a prudent relaxation in all his borders. Spain, in her provinces, is, perhaps, not so well obeyed as you are in yours. She complies, too; she submits; she watches times. This is the immutable condition, the eternal law of extensive and detached empire.

      • That was something that confused me when reading some of Winston Churchill’s stuff. He kept saying “communications” when talking about moving men and materials about. It took me a while to realize that Britlish used “communications” to describe what American English treated as two separate things. (transportation and communications)

        • No worries – Trans-Mat tech will reunite these concepts, so this is a temporary confusion state, just a few centuries.

      • “Communications, too. Until the telegraph, your transport system WAS your communication systems. ”

        And will be again, once we move into space; that’s why Weber could move “Hornblower” into space so well.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Well, as long as we’re stuck in the Solar System, radio would still be faster than spaceships.

          David Weber’s “Hornblower In Space” is that way because the Honorverse lacks FTL communications between star systems. (Note, Honorverse FTL communications are only possible within star systems.)

          If we had both FTL communications (between star systems) and FTL travel, the communications *might* be faster than FTL travel.

          • Also reminds me of the Traveller RPG’s express boat network… interstellar pony express. Xboat would jump in to a system, broadcast its messages, and wait to be picked up, because it had FTL but no normal-space drives.

            The Emperor, of course, kept ships with even more powerful FTL drives for when he needed to send messages ahead of the official couriers.

          • One presumes the communications might also be cheaper.

            But Michael Flynn’s Spiral Arm has FTL drive and acquires FTL communications. It changes things.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              In one of Weber’s universes, FTL communications is possible *but* expensive and can’t be used on board starships (too bulky).

              Only the wealthy star systems can afford to build/maintain the FTL installations.

              • In the Battletech universe interstellar communications are one of the few surviving technologies of centuries of internecine war, controlled by a supposedly neutral ‘priesthood that actually uses their control of it to manipulate the affairs of human space.

    • well, yes. I do that too, which reminds me, I need to put dinner in crockpot.

      • I pointed out to a post-appocalypse-I-need-a-map-type the other day that one could figure communications tech by state size and that in his future without electricity he should be looking at Rhode Island size states in the former USA not Idaho-Montana-Wyoming size conglomorate states.

        • scott2harrison

          Seems odd as those states existed before the telegraph in reality.

          • The Other Sean

            Those states didn’t exist as political entities prior to telegraphy. There were working electrical telegraphs by the 1820’s, Morse had his more advanced model by 1837, and commercial telegraphy was off and running by 1844 in the US. By 1861, the Pony Express has been driven out of business by the transcontinental telegraph line.

            Idaho was organized as a territory in 1863, Montana in 1864, and Wyoming in 1868.

            The transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, and passed through Wyoming.

            • scott2harrison

              Thank’s for the correction. I hadn’t realized that the telegraph was that early, I had thought it was about 40 years later.

              • The Other Sean

                You’re welcome.

                I think the essential point about the big states being unwieldy to govern without faster communications is supported by the range wars in Wyoming and Montana. The State/Territorial and Federal governments had trouble exercising control early on.

            • LOL. I read this as “Those states didn’t exist as political entities prior to telepathy” and was momentarily confused. “Did I slip into another universe while writing this morning?”

            • Oregon got statehood in 1859.

            • No, those states didn’t exist then. But New York did. So did Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. Well, for all practical purposes Georgia was half the size it is now, Consider that states heavily relied on the county unit system and that militia districts were designed to be semi-autonomous. For instance, the local officers could call up the militia when needed, notifying the governor of what was taking place, but if the situation was urgent, could act independent of pending orders. Of course, the militia officers were subject to be court-martialed if they screwed up, so it wasn’t a blank check.

              Even on the frontier, counties were expected to be small enough that a person could travel to the county seat in a day. In some instances large counties were subdivided when this proved unworkable. And, of course, there’s that whole Second Tuesday in November thing, to allow time for people to travel to polling places.

              In short, everything was designed around the expectation that information and people would travel much more slowly than it did now. The top-heavy administration structures favored today would be a disaster under such circumstances, but not the administration structures that existed in, say, 1810.

              • It also assumed something else: That the President and the Governor and the Mayor and the Justice of the Peace and the Militia Captain were all Americans.

                You simply couldn’t have a society that (more or less) free unless everyone all the way up and all the way down had more or less the same ideals. That was why the continuous chain of delegation worked–the President had at least some idea of what the Governor of North Carolina would and/or would not do, and a standard to judge his performance by after it was done. And vice versa. Same for the Governor and the Militia Captain. Autonomy, based on mutual trust.

                And then we got better communications, and it all went to, um, a Warmer Place. Anything that can be micromanaged will be micromanaged. I’m sure that’s *somebody’s* Iron Law. And once you’re watching every move I make, ready to come down with the hammer if I step out of line, it no longer matters whether I agree with you or not.

          • Really? I thought there were trains and telegraphs both. Maybe it was just trains.

            I think Idaho’s Centennial was around ’88 or ’89. On the ‘droid right now so not looking it up. I remember it with about the same clarity as the Berlin Wall.

    • The potential for power outages is why I try to keep my phone, PSVita, and 3DS all charged up. I also have car chargers for all of the above, so I can always go out and waste some gasoline to do something. All of those things work without any light source. The phone can even connect to cell towers and run netflix for the kid, but most of my games on the other systems don’t require internet access.

      I like my fantasyland, it’s comfy.

      One nice thing about the modern LED lighting we have is that you can actually get decent lighting off of a modest sized battery. One thing I’m working on is rewiring the kitchen with 24v lighting so that I can power it all off a pair of car batteries. Combine that with a couple of small solar panels and the kitchen lighting can be run for free aside from the occasional replacement of batteries as they wear out. That would let us have light even in a rare power outage.

      I actually can’t remember the last time I had a power outage though. Our power company here is surprisingly reliable. The lighting project is only because I enjoy these sorts of do it yourself electronics things.

  14. The Mote in God’s Eye was my first collaboration with Larry Niven, and Mr. Heinlein liked it well enough to give us a line editing critique, then a blurb. Niven was already known. Heinlein was well known. I was an aerospace scientist — OR man really — who thought he could write, and this might make my career take off.
    The book sold very well, and sales increased rather than decreased so that Simon and Schuster put in a special 800 line for bookstores to use to get rush orders. And we got lots of Hugo nomination buzz, then a nomination.
    Problem: the Worldcon was that year in Australia, and the book was not yet available in Australia; there was no Amazon and books traveled by ship. Simon and Schuster boxed up 200 hardbound copies and sent them air express to the Australian Con Committee, free, for distribution among members.
    They refused the shipment, and the books were destroyed.
    Their Guest of Honor was Ursula K. LeGuin, about as famous an SF writer as there was in those days, especially with literary reviewers — she got more Times Literary Supplement Reviews than Heinlein, for example. And her The Dispossed was nominated for a Hugo, and they didn’t want anything to spoil her chances. Needless to say, the Con Committee did not consult Mrs. LeGuin about this and she was unaware of their refusal to accept the shipment; this was in no way her decision.
    The Dispossed duly won, and Mote didn’t get a Hugo, but it did manage to become a best seller when SF wasn’t expected to have any best sellers, so I couldn’t be too unhappy, although yes, I wanted that Hugo; Larry had one and I wanted to have one also. Oh, well. I think MOTE holds up better, and it still sells to this day, mostly on Amazon, he said, bitterly.
    But that incident gave me a permanent attitude toward that book, which isn’t really fair, so it’s not surprising that I don ‘t like it. Objectively, I do not think people are as docile during depressions as her people were, and I think there would have been a different outcome; but that’s hardly an unbiased view, and I do not often comment on the book. And my admiration for Mrs. LeGuin’s writing ability remains very high despite our political differences.

  15. scott2harrison

    I realize that this is an old post, but just in case you have not found it yet, Kobo has a water resistant (down to about three feet) e-reader.

    • I know. There is one problem with Kobo. I can’t upload my Kindle library to it and I’ll be D*MNED if I’m going to pay to replicate it. Them’s the breaks.

      • Actually, it can be done…Linux Voice issue 9 (now free to download) has a review that touches on it.

      • It’s a bit of pain but you can download Kindle books, fix the drm, then use Calibre to convert kindle to epub. I’ve used an iPad, Nook and Kobo ereader with books from Amazon, B&N and Kobo.

        • I’m an idiot. I could never figure out Calibre.

          • Calibre has a nasty habit of appearing to load a file, that it can’t use, and not throwing an error until you ask it to do something with the file. I know it’s there, and it still gets me if I haven’t used the program for a while.

            • Yes, it did that to me the other day. Also, if you accidentally download certain audio books instead of the ebook, and don’t pay attention to the format, Calbre will “convert” them and load them to your Kindle. Only when you open them, the only thing there is Title, Author, and maybe copyright. No, I have no idea why or how it does this.
              Otherwise Calibre is very useful, and after I figure out how to use it, it is fairly easy. Until I go to use it again two months from now and have to learn it all over again.

            • I use the standalone drm fixer not the Calibre plugin. That way I know if it worked. Calibre itself doesn’t give me fits. Of course, I have a bit of practice (over 2000 books so far). Kobo and B&N (before they broke it) are the easiest to work with. Amazon keeps changing things so it’s a chore to fix their books. I refuse to use Apple because I can’t do anything with their books even though I use an iPad for most of my reading.
              Baen, Gutenberg, archive.org and Smashwords are the best. No DRM ever and whatever format I want.

              • My issue is with .doc files. Calibre will appear to load them, but can’t convert them to anything. The workaround is to pull up the file in an editor and save it as .rtf. Calibre then converts them handily.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        There are free programs that will convert Kindle ebooks to ePub formatted ebooks.

        There are free programs that will remove DRM from Kindle ebooks so you can convert them.

        Of course, it will cost you *time* and I’d prefer you to spend your time writing (when you’re not doing housework or recreation or other necessary things). [Smile]

  16. Hmmm. The PERN world springs to mind. David Weber’s Grayson also, because it makes sense – those people, under those circumstances, made logical choices, and the resulting culture fits.

    Working the Azdhagi into a full culture involved things I’d never really considered. Like Rada and ceilings. If everyone around you prefers to go about in quadrupedal fashion, and they max out at a meter and a bit on average in that mode, what happens when a 1.5m tall humanoid walks into a doorway? Thump, owch. How do you carry things if you walk on all four grasping limbs? What does that mean for tools, weapons, pouches and pockets? And then there’s the larger culture, the belief system, government, and so on. I think that was easier to sort out than the “daily life” bits.

    • So, with four grasping limbs, can a Rada literally pull a dumb idea out of its ass? *g*

      • Nope. She usually gets hit by the Good idea Fairy. The Azdhagi tend to pull “brilliant ideas” out of, well, a couple different orifices. Although they tend to be methodically dumb, not so much spur-of-the-moment dumb. Except some of the military cadets . . .

    • Pern suffers from permance. Notice that although it is an agricultural society, no one’s built a single new keep between the time of the Old-Timers and the “current” day.

      It’s the heavy emphasis on “change, change, change” when the actual changes are trivial that get me.

  17. I think any well-designed alien culture should have aspects we don’t understand or find believable. I mean, is there any culture on Earth outside of the 2D cartoon brains of proglodytes that DOESN’T have features, customs, behaviors that leave an outside observer saying, “What the hell—?”

    • This. If I’d written this today I’d have referred to “fossilized culture elements” and also “fossilized belief elements.” I was reading a comparative myth book in the bathroom (don’t judge me) and realized that the ah… virtues enshrined in roman myth are still more or less what I was raised in, though it would have shocked heck out of my relatives to hear that. (Well, maybe not dad.)

      • The shelf in my bathroom contains several books on automotive engineering, firearms, one on the chemistry of explosives, a couple of large format “true crime” books, and assorted gun and auto parts catalogs. It’s not like anyone around here would say anything about comparative myths…

      • Yup. The bones of belief, of morality, honor, justice, and relationships go very, very deep. Reading Latin tends to shake some students up a bit when they get to the point where “these were actual *people*” kicks in.

        These are out ancestors. And, like the older generations we know today, things will change for the younger, but there’s often an unbroken thread that travels back farther than the eye can see.

        I’ve an ancestor on my father’s side who saved a Prince, once. Our family name in England gets a tax break because she refused to be ennobled, as I gather from the history, and just wanted to do the right thing. I’ve a cousin today who got fired from the city PD for doing two things wrong: one, opening his home to a battered woman when she couldn’t stay at the shelter, and two, beating the ever-loving-tar out of her piece of dung boyfriend when he arrived waving a pistol and demanding she come out. Said cousin is doing fine, as is the young lady, today. The same cannot be said of dung-boy.

        I also have ancestors who were wolves in human form, and yet other relatives who are on the path to become same. And being the age I am now, I can see how much the same the younger are, making the same mistakes their grandfathers did… And sometimes the same virtues, too.

        I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Primus Pilus Lanius (after my father- or would that be before?), posted on some lonely stretch of Hadrian’s Wall, muttering in a mash of Saxon and Latin about the idiots back in the home country, and how they were bringing it all down…

    • James Lileks once said that he wanted sometime to see something totally inexplicable with no reportage or commentary in the paper, just to remind him that such things happened. His example, as I recall, was someone being chased down the street by 300 redheaded unicyclists.

  18. I think archaeology is very handy in helping to flesh out what is possible, but so is paleoclimetology, geology, and history. From history we know that the Indians in North first encountered by the Europeans were essentially city-states. From archaeology we know that they suffered a massive cultural collapse. From paleoclimetology, we know the Mound Builders rose about the time of the Medieval Warm Period, and collapsed about the Little Ice Age.

    Lately I’ve been obsessing over 14th Century England as a model for a book. It’s more of a matter of how Europeans lived; their culture; how many people the land could support; how this all related to towns and how many knights and lords the kingdom could support; how they fought their wars; how they built their fortifications; what they raised and why, and what the weather was like and when the diseases swept through.

    • A couple of books that may be good resources on 14th C life, culture, and rural economy are:
      Barbara Tuchmans’ “A Distant Mirror” a novelized biographic history of the 14th C, through the life of one of the 12 Peers of France, who was involved in most of the interesting things that happened in that century,
      and a book called “Fishers’ Craft and Lettered Art” about records and descriptions of fishing in medieval manuscripts, but which also includes information on the design and operation of monasteries as economies, how much fishing, how much cropland, how much beer, and how many people were needed to run a monastery of 200 or so.

      • I’ve just finished The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval Europe. I didn’t finish Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders as it was uneven, the author tried to explain away contradictory archaeological discoveries, and assumed what went on in France clothes-wise was the norm across all of Europe. But the last straw was when the author came across as semi-apologetic toward Rousseau and company. At that point i set it aside.

        Others I’ve read so far are Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives, Daily Life in the Middle Ages, All You Ever Wanted to Know About Fortifications, and a ton of SCA material online, including period names. I have, but haven’t read, A History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages, but I understand Oman’s conclusions don’t bear up well. I jotted down the name of a better book in my pocket notebook, then promptly lost the notebook.

  19. This has been a fascinating discussion. I thank our Great and Evil Princess Of Evil for the start, and her friends, fiends, familiars, minions, hangers-on, and random whacks of “humanity” for the continuation, I would give you the Red Dwarf salute if I could remember it, or perform it.

  20. ATTACK OF THE 3-FOOTED SJWS! (I made that part up.)

    September 15, 2015

    WHO KNEW THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY WAS SUCH A FEVER SWAMP HOTBED OF RACISM, SEXISM, AND HOMOPHOBIA? An Insta-reader forwards this Publisher’s Weekly-distributed survey, which was sent via the following email:

    http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/214536/#respond

    • I have this Bad Idea to fill it out with things like (*) Other: [Mythical creature]. Or is it [Mythical Beast]? Then again, the most correct answer for might be, “Juzt siz guy, you know?”

    • William Underhill, Barbarian 1st Class

      Q1 – Race: Do you identify as (check all that apply):
      A1 – Other: Grey alien
      Q2 – Gender: Do you identify as:
      A2 – Other: Non-conforming trans-other
      Q3 – Sexual Orientation: Do you identify as:
      A3 – Other: Fissile reproduction
      Q4 – Do you have a disability?
      A4 – No (if they’d asked to specify, I would have checked “Yes” and put in “Complete inability to react with false civility to arrant idiocy in any form.”)
      Q5 – Department: What department do you work in? (check all that apply)
      A5 – Other: One of the many who ultimately pays for all of the above; in other words, a reader.
      I’m sure it’ll be discarded, but I feel better. 🙂

  21. “… has made me realize how things are connected, things we don’t tend to think about.”

    One of my all-time favorite television shows is James Burke’s Connections, which was entirely about that. It used to be available online, but my link for that appears to be dead. It looks like at least some of it is available on YouTube, as are his follow-on series.

  22. Reading in the shower is possible. My husband discovered that you can put a Paperwhite inside a quart-sized freezer Ziploc bag. It fits almost perfectly, and the touchscreen still responds through the plastic.