Letter from a Minotaur: Why Humans are Scary – by Orvan Ox

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Letter from a Minotaur: Why Humans are Scary – by Orvan Ox

Summary: Persistence

That’s the core of it, or perhaps the driver of it, but it’s not that alone. The way of using it matters. The tune High Hopes[1] might have a very persistent ant, or ram but we know that in reality the poor ant and ram aren’t going to get anywhere. There’s even the line (not in that tune) about how repeating the same thing hoping for a different result is sign of insanity.

Humans are stalkers. Sure, you might say that all actively hunting creatures are stalkers – and that passive hunting is called trapping. These might be extremes on a spectrum, but humans? Oh, the stuff of nightmares! There you are, peacefully (or not) grazing on the plains and… these things appear.. and come at you. They are not very fast and a short run gives distance. But not relief, for they keep coming. Run. They keep coming. You have to sleep sometime, but they seemingly don’t. Or some disappear – but different ones take their place! If you do get some rest, they’re there when you wake up. That is, if they didn’t get you in your sleep. Or you didn’t drop dead of exhaustion from this slow but evidently eternal chase. Lions and Tigers and… a good many others…  they’d have found something else to chase some time ago. Alright, some pack-type animals also do this. But they tend to have claws and sharp teeth and not much else going for them.

Now, somewhere in human ancestry, some human – or some proto-human, picked up a rock. And threw it. And it hit something. This might have happened many times, but finally there was that “Aha!” moment of “Say, this could be useful. Or (or and) it happened with a stick. Either way, or both, humans now had the projectile weapon. They could project power. Not far, but a little distance means a little more chance of survival and even slightly better chance helps.

And then some clever person likely mused, “What if I put a rock on the end of a stick?” Sure, club. Force amplifier. Spear – force projector. And then the weapons program really began – how to project things farther, faster, more accurately?  And if the otherwise wonderfully effective means of defense the muskox has (a defensive line, made circular when needed) hadn’t been thwarted before, it was then. Persistent development.

Oh, but it doesn’t end there. Sure one could continue on the advances in weapons, but once the concept of projected force had been realized, the key was out in the open.  Humans dream, and they dream impossible things. And despite that, have a habit of doing them anyway – eventually.

One way or another, they figured out fire. Some put the credit or blame on Prometheus and tell his story, but however they got it, got it the did. And then used it, for many things. And watched the smoke rise – for centuries, millennia.  Meanwhile there were dreams of flying. The tale of Daedalus and Icarus, for one.  In what might well have been sort of a “D’oh!” moment that was another “Aha!” a couple brothers, Montgolfier, watched the smoke rise. They thought about it and… if the hot smoke rises, could it lift something into the air? Hello hot-air balloon and one version of flight.

Of course it didn’t stop there. Systems to try guide the balloon were added. As chemistry developed its way away from alchemy, new lifting gasses were tried.  But it was still largely at the whim of winds, the speed was only wind-speed, and there was this great gas-bag above. Humans didn’t stop trying to “fly like a bird” just because they had figured how to fly one way.  Never satisfied, powered flight, heavier than air flight, was a dream – eventually realized in the early 1900’s when a powered heavier than air machine did something none had done before: NOT crash.  Flight, perhaps, had been achieved by such before, but the controlled landing? That was new. About 16 years later, they crossed the Atlantic with descendant of that machine[2]. In another 8 years, a lone human would do it non-stop in a more advanced machine.  Even that wasn’t enough. Faster! Higher! Jets! Rockets! And sound itself got left behind. Persistence.

Rockets? Yeah, they had those for ages and ages and such were toys and crude weapons (that projecting power thing again). Still dreaming a very old dream: Going to the moon.  One very early story of such, utter fantasy, even hinted or more than hinted at how one part needed to be dealt with. No, not Verne – he had so much more right, having so much more knowledge available to him. This story is much older.  I’d point to a reference, but I have not found such readily available. A fellow is planning a trip to the moon and someone asks why he doesn’t ride a horse or some other animal more befitting such a grand journey, only to be told that the trip will be long and all supplies must be kept as light as possible. Thus the ideal mount was not the horse which would need its own supplies, but the dung beetle.  Oberth dreamed – and built. Goddard dreamed – and built. Tsiolkovsky dreamed – and how! von Braun dreamed – and did he ever build! Persistence. Armstrong left footprints.

Once upon a time (alright it was the 1970’s – a mythical time indeed. Alas, often mythically bad. Avocado-colored kitchen appliances? Wage & Price controls?) I had access to the set of the World Book Encyclopedia’s books of yearly updates.  Sometime in the 1950’s or perhaps early 1960’s someone claimed that “hang on the wall” flat-screen televisions were 10 years away from being real.  I was reading this well over ten years later and there was no such thing. It might well have been twenty years – but such things were, I had heard, still somehow “10 years away.”  In the 1980’s, I heard it again – except this time it was, if not right, closer to right. LCD screens did appear, and there was even a TV watch. It was more than a simple strap-a-TV-on-your wrist thing and rather clunky, but it existed. Now? People have flat-screen televisions bracketed to walls.

Power generating fusion reactors were 20 or 30 years away – and still are.  And humanity is still working on that one. Will they get it? I wouldn’t bet against it.   Even if they discover or invent something better, some will almost certainly not be willing to leave that dream behind. Humans “keep on keeping on.”  They realize the dreams of the ages, and then dream anew or look at the unrealized dreams and keep at things. Persistence. Downright stubbornness, even.

Without detail, a very short list of the “impossible” things humans have gotten to:

They dreamed of flying. Now they fly.

They dreamed of reaching the moon. They’ve grabbed bits of it.

They dreamed of telepathy. They have radio, Bluetooth equipped phones.

They dreamed of magic mirrors. They have television and webcams and video-calling.

They dream of telekinesis – and they’re working on it, even making some progress.

Humans just do not stop.  That is what makes them scary.  Do NOT get on their bad side.

[1] I rather like the Doris Day recording of the tune.

[2] The Curtiss NC-4 flying boat, finally landing in Lisbon after Starting in NY state 19 days earlier.

287 responses to “Letter from a Minotaur: Why Humans are Scary – by Orvan Ox

  1. I played Keep On The Borderlands back in the day… so yeah, no sympathy for minotaurs. 🙂

  2. It isn’t that we all dream, its that some of us also nightmare.

    • There is that critical difference in response to nightmaring.

      Some work to prevent the nightmare from happening.

      Others seem to do all they can to realize the nightmare.

  3. There you are, peacefully (or not) grazing on the plains and… these things appear.. and come at you. They are not very fast and a short run gives distance. But not relief, for they keep coming. Run.

    Heh. I actually used that as a plot point in my most recent book, the reaction of one of the aliens to how a human had completed one of their ritual hunts:

    “The human is terrifying,” Kaleka said. “There was no charge, no rending, no trapping. He just walked. And when the thisok trotted away from the human, the human walked. And when the Thisok stopped, the human walked, and approached. And the thisok trotted away again. And again the human came, still walking. And again the thisok departed. And again the human came. And again and again and again. As a youngling, I had nightmares so: the monster that never quits. In the end, he walked up to the thisok and took its tooth. And the thisok raised neither claw nor fang to stop him.”

  4. Humans are even so crazy that we learn from our eff-ups. Some klutz does a bad job tying his rock to the end of his stick, so that when he swings his club the rock goes flying off — and he ends up inventing the atlatl, the sling, and Jai Alai.

    • WP, don’t post before I finish:

      Evidence that humans are the “hold my beer” species in the universe which is the real way we learn from our mistakes.

    • except for socialism. No one ever seems to learn from attempts at socialism and the disasters that follow. They just declare it not-socialism, and keep trying.

      • Socialism is the patent medicine of economics: it produces great benefit for the purveyor and the consumer is generally too weakened to take suitable redress.

        There is such an utter embarrassment of riches in the news that I will not deign to cite any examples of human gullibility regarding medical therapies.

      • Come to think of it, I’ve NEVER heard a socialist say, “Hold my beer” as they try to implement any form of socialism. Heck, I don’t think they’ve ever said, “Hold my Evian” or “Hold my Grey Poupon” either.

      • I don’t know, I’ve met a large number of Eastern Europeans who’ve seemed to learn that socialism is bad. Now if only we could convince more North Americans and Western Europeans. (sigh)

      • Socialism is humans’ attempt to be Vulcans, which we’re really bad at.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          That’s an insult … to Vulcans.

          Vulcans are too smart and too logical to attempt something like socialism. 😈

          • That’s the point. Some of us wannbe like that, and (being over-the-top humans) pick something that would require near-infinite smarts, knowledge, & logical planning to work any better than what we’ve got, to try to prove we can hack it. Naturally, failure results.

            • There’s nothing near about it. For socialism to work would require infinite knowledge of the economy – which means perfect knowledge of the actual needs and desires of every single person in the economy. There’s a reason why even fictitious socialism requires some kind of deus ex machina to work.

              • It is much easier if the government simply tells people what they want.

                Some elimination of people who insist on wanting what they want instead of what the government tells them they want may be necessary.

          • IIRC, even the Federation engaged in trade. They never explained how, but trade agreements were common.

          • Yes, and while they were better at working towards living their ideals, they weren’t always so, and acknowledged that they weren’t perfect. Though, they tried, and goodness knows, had the flaw of tending towards arrogance while they were at it.

            I think it’s the trying to live those ideals on a personal basis, versus the socialist’s plan of having everyone live according to their enforced ideals, that makes the difference between true virtue and virtue-signaling.

      • It took a long time for Socialism to infiltrate our culture.
        It’s going to take a long time for it to work it’s way out, and most likely because it’s been replaced by something worse and more stupid.

      • Regarding socialism and things of its ilk. “I am persuaded that a lie grounded in human desire is too powerful for reason to kill.” – David Horowitz

      • It works for the ruling class that the dumbarses think they will be. All the money and power they could desire

      • Socialism’s persistence is a malfunction of the same thing that got us airplanes. Mistaking the mechanism for the end dream.

    • Not to mention the trebuchet.

  5. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    There are REASONS why Dragons don’t pick fights with Humans. 😉

    • Because then no one would make the ketchup?

      • Because while a dragon can take out a human without much difficulty, rarely does a dragon get to deal with *a* human. The Panzerkorps learned a similar lesson.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          True that.

          Of course, there was one Dragon visiting an Alternate Earth city called Metropolis. He never bothered anybody in that city again after he annoyed that “mild mannered reporter”. 😈

          • Technically not a human.

            • Technically, assertion of facts not in evidence. There is cause to believe the Kryptonian is cross-fertile with terrestrials, which makes him human enough for all practical purpose.

              • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                He has fathered a son on LL but it was in a situation where his powers weren’t working.

                • He’s had kids with LL multiple different times, when his powers were working– it was a go-to thing for the “what if?” stories.

                  The closest I can remember to being different is one kid getting the “sunlight powers” thing, and the other not.

                  • “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex”

                    My absolute favorite Niven short story

                    • I understand the humor, but after some 40 to 60 years of “twists” like that, I can’t stand it.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      In the Wearing The Cape series, it is mentioned that Hope (ie a Super-girl stand-in) got a wedding present from a “goddess” that means Hope wouldn’t hurt her new husband in their “wedding bed”.

                      It’s also mentioned that Atlas (a Super-man stand-in) only “sleep with” super-strong women.

                      Although, nothing was mentioned about Atlas’ ex-wife being a “cape”. 😀

                    • I suspect that was an aspect of the world building the author hadn’t quite caught up to….. After all, Atlas was also mentioned as having a “harem” of “Atlas-girl” cosplayers on Hope’s first visit to “The Fortress” nightclub.

                    • scott2harrison

                      Not true about Atlas. He slept with pretty much any woman who was willing. He was however one of the few go-to partners for super strong women who wanted “to swing for the bleachers”.

                    • Considering what the vaginal muscles do at climax, any guy who wants his equipment in there when that happens is effing crazy.

                    • @Foxfier – If Wonder Woman and Superman got together, Mount Everest is toast.

                    • One “what if” story had him successfully impregnate Lois. Unfortunately, she then died when the fetus kicked.

                    • That one doesn’t hold up to canon scrutiny, though. Where does Superman get his powers from? Earth’s yellow sun. So his son, while he’s still in his mother’s womb, wouldn’t yet have gotten his powers. After the baby is born, Lois would have a lot to deal with, with a toddler stronger than she is. But while he’s still in the womb and hasn’t ever had sunlight touch him, he’d have a normal human level of power.

                  • Christopher M. Chupik

                    In the current continuity, he has a son with Lois, Jon Kent.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              He thought the reporter was just a human when he annoyed the reporter, but I didn’t say that he was a smart dragon. 👿

              • Oh, but a “just a human” is the very worst kind to go against.

              • If he thinks annoying that reporter was a bad idea, he should thank his lucky stars he didn’t annoy a certain millionaire playboy in another nearby city…

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  Well… He doesn’t talk about his visit to That City, but rumor has it that he annoyed that person and a green-haired clown. 😈

                  • “Well… He doesn’t talk about his visit to That City”

                    Except in his sleep…and then he whimpers a lot.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      Chuckle Chuckle

                      Yep, but he does talk about his trip to the New York City in another Alternate Earth where he encountered an enhanced human who used webbing to swing though the city.

                      He knew that the kid didn’t have a chance against him but somehow the kid won.

                      To be fair, the kid only remembers a “mad-moment” that ended with the dragon “all webbed up”. He doesn’t know how he won. 😀

                      Still, the kid admits that the fight occurred in the Greenwich Village area of NYC so he wonders if a certain sorcerer had a hand in his victory. 😀

                    • Could have been worse. He could have run into the woman who can summon an army of squirrels.

                      (and for what it’s worth, she HAS canonically single-handedly taken down the setting’s best-known dragon)

                • Yeah – Tony Stark would have disassembled him and sold the parts on eBay.

                  As readers of Chestomanci know, dragon’s blood is worth more than its weight in gold for multiple projects. The prices for dragon scales are nothing to be sneered at, either. Just ask Christopher Chant; he’ll attest it is worth several lives.

        • Meanwhile, I’m working on a fight scene where a bunch of elves will kill a dragon.

          It’s the start of the real story. 0:)

  6. Monochrome flat screen displays were around in 1970, and were used on the terminals for the Plato computer learning project. They weren’t recognizable as flat screens, though, because the terminals were set up for microfiche projection, so everything looked like an industrial TV monitor from the ’60s. These were plasma displays, using Neon. (Toshiba used a similar display module in a laptop in the early ’90s. The surplus one I had used DOS 3.1.)

  7. Mercedes Lackey said, in one of her Modern Fantasy books “Never piss off an engineer. An engineer will keep trying things until one of them kills you.”

    Yes, I read Lackey. She can tell a story, even if I think her biases are drivel.

    • I’ve read a couple of Lackey’s books and I agree, she can tell a pretty good story (at least in the ones I’ve read.) I haven’t gone back and read more of her books because I’ve lost track of which ones I’ve read and which ones I haven’t, and I have enough favorite authors that one of them usually comes out with a new book before I get around to trying to figuring that out.

      Two funny thoughts. First: The first of Lackey’s books that I read was the first book I ever read that depicted a main character that was gay. It was challenging for me, since I had grown up on a small farm just outside of a small town, in the bible belt and homosexuality wasn’t something I had ever thought about seriously. Second: I picked that book up because it was pretty much the only thing available that looked even remotely interesting in a little store, on the Marine Air Station in Iwakuni Japan… During the height of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” years.

    • The biggest problem with Lackey isn’t her biases (or at least wasn’t…she’s got the big bag of lefty tropes but she didn’t push bitd).

      Her problem is she only has like 5 stories. She’s talented, but she got repetitive real fast.

      She also killed the series I liked most, for the logical reason of sales, but didn’t revive it when sales should have been better.

      • I dunno — there is only so much “Magical My Little Pony” fanfic a person should be permitted to write. Angry torch-bearing, pitchfork-waving mobs have some justification, you know.

        • The series in question was Diane Trigard.

          I burned out on “Magical My Little Pony” (which inspired one of the saddest failures in RPG history IMHO) before four books were done.

          Although the Oath series of shorts in the same universe are a favorite.

          • As I recall, she killed the Diane Trigard series because the subject was attracting a species of stalker/loon she really didn’t want to deal with. At least, that’s what she said at the time. I’m fuzzy on the details (I think she was, too, probably for legal reasons) but the impression I have is that those books attracted fans who were SURE the author knew how to make magic work in the real world, and at least one of them went full-on stalker creepy on her.

            She HAS revisited that world, but shepopulated it with non-human reasons why magic worked there, kind defusing the situation (one hopes)., if you care, look up the Bedlam’s Bard series.

        • How restrained you are,dear marsupial

      • Ditto.

        I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that was the Diana Tregarde series. I thought DT was much better than the Valdemar series.

        • Correct, and with the right spelling.

          I am surprised when Dresden struck big she didn’t revive Diana.

          I guess she got weird fan mail over stopping and that probably poisoned her on the character.

          • IIRC the weird fan mail and some threats were what ended the series and kept it from returning. Apparently a few nut cases took the books a little too seriously, both wanting to be witches and the opposite. However, that’s based on one or two comments in her short-story collections and some things I read on-line, so I could be way off base.

            • I read one bit online claiming she needed extra security because of it, but that is tempered through her security complaints about DragonCon and comments from people I know on DC staff.

              That said, even her discussion was hyperbolic, having weird fans claiming it was real and she was being forced to stop writing about it, even if harmless, could make you not want to touch the character again

              • Er… whenever writing contemporary you ALWAYS get weird fans who think it’s real. Or that the character is based on you. Or whatever.
                What I heard is that she didn’t like the numbers. The rest is window dressing.
                And the numbers … well… the biggest fiction publishers put out is the statements.

                • You mean… we all can’t move to built downtown Goldport? Or suburban Goldport, or a nice acre or three a few miles outside Goldport? Bugger!

                  • There are rental sites for trailers available in the Forty Acre Wood just outside of Goldport.

                    N.B. – buggery only permitted between consenting adults. If in doubt about the existence of either of those conditions, please desist and depart.

          • There were a significant number of fans who thought the organizations in the books were real, that Lackey knew magic, and that she should be forced to hire them as apprentices.

            Because angering someone whom you think has real magic is such a good idea.

        • Everyone did. But publishers do differential pushing and never EVER take that into account. As far as business traditional publishers are the blind man in search of an elephant.

          • Without trying, Valdemar pushed all the diversity markers long before that was openly required.

            If you look at the RPG Blue Rose you can see how crucial Valdemar (and some similar series) are to a significant number of people’s ability to like themselves. I suspect her editors are among them.

            • Amsel, Matthew

              The difference being, of course, that Vanyel was *awesome* once he grew out of the whiney phase in the first book.

            • The problem with Blue Rose was that the setting creators focused heavily on stealing the bad ideas from their inspirational sources.

              I don’t remember the exact discussion, though I’m pretty “Mind Control & Rape” was one of them (actually, “Mind Control” comes up a few ways, & mostly as a “good” thing in universe/context), which considering the conversations in question were generally being held by otherwise pro-Blue Rose proto-SJWs (the term was still several years off I believe) on RPGnet

              I think that was also when I first saw people starting to object to Lackey’s portrayal’s of, what they could now call, non-heteronormative cisgendered characters because she had gay & transgendered villains (oddly, I think the main target was some character I’d never actually noticed late in the Bardic Voices series, but the returning/reincarnating villain in the various Valdemar series got their goat too).

              • because she had gay & transgendered villains

                You kind of hitting on my reason for disappointment it there.

                It was such wish fulfillment that there was nothing interesting to do. The only real conflict was with the evil “conservative Christian” country and the occasional anti-gay bigot.

                They passed up so many good ideas.

                For example, the mystical hart they selected the next monarch was so perfect (despite having once picked an insane king who had to be assassinated) there was no internal drama.

                Contrast that to Lackey’s Companions and Heralds. The royal succession was by blood but the heir had to be a Herald and if no Companion choose the heir that was trouble.

                Lackey’s entire second book was about the brewing crisis when the only heir was clearly not Companion worthy. Yet the Blue Rose analog was impossible.

                Why wasn’t there a revolt when the hart picked an insane king. Hell, why wasn’t there a radical faction saying it was time to change and an ultra conservative faction claiming that was punishment for something wrong in the kingdom that are crushing the majority between them.

                Now you have all kinds of conflict for interesting stories.

              • Bruce Vilanche wrote somewhere that the Gay Pride movement needed to grasp that if they wanted to claim Michaelangelo as Gay they would have to admit that there were some historical Gays that were real snakes too.

                The SJWs Are simpleminded. That’s why they fall so hard for Socialism.

        • Try the SERRAted Edge books, if you can find them.

        • scott2harrison

          I will be eternally grateful to her for using the term “Whoopee Witch” in that series. It is so spot on.

      • She also never figured that sales reported aren’t necessarily so. (Beer? Liberty con?)

      • The only Lackey I ever read listed her as a co-author with Andre Norton. I picked one up and… no. Nonononono. The only “Norton” was what was printed on the cover, and what was inside was… not-Norton. And nothing I wanted to read. I don’t know, maybe her own stuff is OK, but I might as well have burned those dollars. Plenty of stuff out there without Lackey in it.

        There was also a Larry Niven book with someone called “Brenda Cooper.” It wasn’t just bad, it had so many gaping plot holes that I briefly wondered if it was some kind of parody. Holes even a junior editor should have flagged. Niven likely had his reasons for both loaning his name and not reviewing the final product – I can’t imagine he actually looked at it – but it was the literary equivalent of kicking his fans, some of who go back to 1964, right in the yarbles.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Building Harlequin’s Moon?

        • I have liked some Lackey’s books, mostly the sort of historical urban fantasy ones sort of based on fairytales, whatever that series was called (aha, found it – Elemental Masters, seems like), and a few other of her sort of fairytale adaptations, except more based on ballets done from them, Swan Lake was one (which seems to be only the two books I did read, Firebird is the other, and called Fairy Tales series. Except I think there was also something older based on Beauty and the Beast. Maybe stand alone, or in some other series, or even not hers).

          Never tried anything else but the witch series besides those, and while I found it okay I didn’t love it.

          And those fairy tale stories, both series – never felt any urge to reread. They are once and then bye bye stories.

          • 500 Kingdoms is rewritten fairy tales as romances; Elemental Masters is vaguely Victorian (?) Urban Fantasy, IIRC Sherlock Holmes shows up eventually; the Baen Beauty and the Beast thing is I think what she wrote when she first started the Elemental Masters series and didn’t know she had started it.

            The Swan one seems to be a sort of pre-Elemental Masters story, kinda like the Baen Beauty and the Beast one.

    • Her earlier stuff, at least. She still has moments of brilliance, but I’ve been less than thrilled with her post 2005 work.

      • I feel about her stuff the way I feel about the David Eddings series; her books are kind of like slipping into a nice warm bath. Soothing, but not challenging. Very few surprises. Fun, and I can re-read every so often, but I’m always pretty sure I know what I’m getting.

        • That is an excellent comparison. I enjoyed what I read of Valdemar, and the first couple of her urban fantasy series (something to do with street racing elves?) But it was basically brain candy after high school.

          • Her (Hundred? Five-Hundred?) kingdoms stories are fun. Especially the one with the Sigfried equivalent who figured out early that he wants NOTHING to do with ol’ One Eye’s plots. Fluff, but amusing. Writing’s a couple of steps up from formula pulp like The Shadow or Doc Savage, though The Shadow had occasinal flashes of storytelling brilliance.

            • I found his endlessly running away from the valkyrie in the circle of fire rather amusing.

              Rather sad there aren’t more of the 500 Kingdoms stories. They were fun, enjoyable reads.

              Which is what I look for. Entertainment.

              There was one with the Beauty and the Beast/Werewolf (?) one that I was rereading (hadn’t read it in a few years) and I found myself cackling very, very wickedly. Forgot that I wasn’t alone in the room and looked up to find in-laws staring at me funny. XD I sounded positively evil, I’m told.

        • I like that type of stories, but I don’t usually reread them. Which makes for a good formula for a writer, I assume, because if most readers are like me then there is a rather high demand for them because we don’t reread, but want new ones, regularly, as they are the comfort food reading, something to go to when there is a need to forget about the real world and get something where the heroine or hero is guaranteed to have a happy ending and everything will be as you expect and want it to be. No real complications, no real surprises, you get exactly what you want and need at the moment.

          Also hard to write, I presume, because it probably is a bit hard to keep writing the same story over and over again without going too formulaic and so boring even for those readers who want the same again and again. There still needs to be at least some variety, small surprises, small twists, somewhat different characters, or it does get boring after a while.

          Which actually did happen to me with Lackey. She is good with that type of stories, but not perfect.

          • Come to think, the best ones of the comfort reading category for me have been the stories where the story itself is pretty formulaic, but the world building is not, the surprises are mostly with that.

        • I’ve read several of Eddings’s series, and I concluded that he only ever writes one story. But he populates it with such fun characters that I don’t mind knowing ahead of time how the story is going to unfold, because I’m having fun watching the characters react to the unfolding story.

    • A good engineer already has a dozen ways to kill you. I’ve been pulled in front of security multiple times because people don’t get that. I grew up looking for the weak spots in structure during mass as a kid.

    • I never could. Even when she collaborated with authors I liked. Go figure.

    • I recall being deeply annoyed as a teen by a Lackey series where engineers & elves are teaming up to save children from a cult of stereotypical redneck bigot white Christians, but I enjoyed the books with the magic animals and mind powers a lot better.

    • I think I read that one. I certainly remember a quote very similar to that, after the engineer shoots some creatures that were sent after him with a super soaker with iron filings in the water.

  8. We probably discovered dead-falls before projectiles. But that’s even more terrifying. Whole herds of prey pursued slowly and relentlessly until run over a cliff.

    • And a tactic still used today based on modern media.

      Not sure it will work like they plan, because other humans tend to turn around and fight back at the cliff.

      • Kamehameha used that in conquering Oahu. Most of the warriors who went over were pushed (either by the people fighting in front of them trying to back up, or by Kamehameha’s men.) Some jumped rather than be captured (and probably executed far more painfully.). But yeah…

  9. About the only thing that really gets in our way is us. Even then someone, or some group of us, finds a work around.

    over, under and through… 😉

  10. Christopher M. Chupik

    “Once upon a time (alright it was the 1970’s – a mythical time indeed. Alas, often mythically bad. Avocado-colored kitchen appliances? Wage & Price controls?)”

    To say nothing of the fashions. *shudder*

    • The fashions? I will admit that the ubiquitous Farah Fawcett hairdo was horrible, but it was nothing on the Mullet. THAT was an Eighties abomination.

      We will not discuss that decade’s innovations in padding padded shoulder pad pads.


      Okay, I will concede white polyester leisure suits were the stuff of nightmare.

      • I do remember those shoulder pads. You couldn’t find a single jacket without them.

        • They were pretty easy to snip out, though. I know because I was usually involved in My Lady’s clothes shopping. When she was a (chubby) teen her Granmother hit on the bright idea of taking her clothes shopping as a way of fat-shaming her. It didn’t make her lose weight, but it did make her hate clothes shopping.

          These days, I get most of the incidentals like underwear and socks for her, and we get her dresses from Dharma Trading and paint/dye them ourselves.

        • The very first shoulder pads of the era were fine. It did start as a recreation of the 40’s styles, and the first pads mostly just made it easier to make the sleeves sit better (according to my mom who was a seamstress). But then they soon got bigger, and bigger, and bigger…

      • OMG, shoulder pads. I loved shoulder pads. I almost managed the Big Hair, too.

        • Depending on the woman I miss shoulder pads.

          There was a certain androgyny bordering on masculine look some women could pull off that was very attractive. It was sexy, but it was also more. It was like distilled essence of a handsome broad.

          Now I’m imagining a classic Katherine Hepburn character in a eights skirted power suit with shoulder pads in the jacket. It really works.

          The lot of you are a bad influence.

          • For a femme who could remain fatale while in men’swear,


            nobody could match Marlene.

            • Truth.

              Although I’ll admit from that period I’m more a Mae West man.

              • Mae West made Cary Grant a star, picking him out of “the chorus” for her special attention.

                Marlene “mentored” Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne and her list of lovers included “Maurice Chevalier, Frank Sinatra, Michael Wilding, numerous Kennedys, Yul Brynner, and the Prince of Wales. ‘I can do it better than Wallis Simpson,’ Marlene boasted.” She also, reputedly, did more than her requisite share to keep American G.I.s morale high: “During the war she entertained the U.S. troops — all too literally. She slept with the GIs and caught crabs.”

          • I don’t need shoulder pads. Have shoulders like a quarterback.

        • I managed the big hair, and the shoulder pads were fine, really. Only I didn’t need them…

      • I entered school in BRIGHT CHECKERED ELEPHANT BELLS. The seventies fashions WERE the horror, the horror.

        • But didn’t we think we were awesome? We knew it!

          • high school.
            Actually no. I was ugly and my mom dressed me funny.

            • Bah. It’s true. Alas. Mom sewed my clothes too, some of them. But the cute girls who’s parents bought them all the best clothes from the department store, including bright checkered elephant bell pant suits, looked awesome.

              In retrospect, my teenaged photographs are probably LESS cringeworthy than the popular kids as a consequence of my not getting the trendy outfits.

          • I hated the colors. And the artificial fabrics used, they were mostly stiff and looked funny. Some styles I did like though, like the peasant blouses, and the long loose layered skirts that usually went with them. Unfortunately something that mostly only looks good on somebody young and preferably rather svelte – or alternative hourglass shaped with very slim waist – woman.

            • You know, someone seriously needs to make a Writer’s Wikionary for what the **** various things are.

              I think I know what a Roman Nose looked like (mostly because of cowboy songs crossed with looking at Roman statues and comments about a nose like an eagle’s beak), I have no idea what a peasant blouse is, I know what a zoot suit looked like because my grandfather had one made in Italy when he was over there during WWII (it was a very restrained version, like a “more realistic” version of Joker purple, can’t remember what the tiny little stripes were colored), and I know what Allie Oop pants are because my mom explained how she had to sew them on, thanks to being a track star who STARTED with thighs like a horse.

              Things like Peter Wimsey’s “nervy” and “chinless” profile? I have no clue.

              • Peasant blouse: loose, light colored, puffy loose sleeves, often a drawstring neckline so you can leave it loose and let it drop off one shoulder, or maybe both. Looked good on 50’s Italian sex bomb actresses like Sophia Loren (google Madame Sans-Gene), somewhat less so on us more average ones.

                😀

                • The thing about such as Ms Loren is that she wore clothes, clothes never wore her. Not many of us can make that claim.

                  Of course, few of us have the benefits of lighting, make-up, camera lens and angle which she enjoyed.

        • I take it that you were never exposed to that ultimate in male fashion, the Zoot Suit with a Reet Pleat.
          Before my time as well, but plenty of references in the old B&W movies they played on TV growing up.
          And then of course there were leisure suits and disco.

        • Eh … I did most of the 70ies in military uniform … which Air Force-wise, was pretty well stuck in the Jackie Kennedy beret and tidy jacket phase. (We looked like 1960ies stewardesses, in our Class-As. let me tell you.) But yes, I did get used to snipping out the shoulder pads in bought clothing. I have shoulders — I didn’t need to have large predator birds landing on them.

      • white polyester leisure suits were the stuff of nightmare

        Somehow, you must have missed the double-deal horror: avocado-green leisure suits. Talk about repressed memory; I’d forgotten them until THAT clip showed up. 🙂

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        Oversize shirt lapels overlapping jacket lapels. Enough said.

    • Leisure… Suit… these words… these concepts do NOT go together.

  11. Was reading along and this suddenly came to mind.

    Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates,
    and your cubs as they need, and ye can;
    But kill not for pleasure of killing,
    and seven times never kill Man!

    From The Law Of The Jungle by Rudyard Kipling.

    • Aye. If you’re lucky they will merely hunt you to extinction. If you are unlucky, there will the horrible ‘compassion’ of taking the last two groups of your kind and preserving them in freezers “just in case.”

      • …and cloning the DNA 10,000 years later to find out what you were.

        • But then your progeny can eat them because they neglected to ask if they should

          • The two samples in freezer example I was thinking of, is smallpox. Though I understand there have been a few unpleasant finds outside those – but (so far) none have become genuinely troublesome.

            • Smallpox definitely a potential nightmare scenario. Especially if deliberate.

            • The one I recently read about was something in a museum that had been owned by a smallpox victim, because the scabs can contain hibernating virus. Since it was behind glass, it wasn’t hazardous just to look at, but they removed it from the museum anyway. Don’t know if it was sterilized or added to the laboratory stashes.

  12. Oh, and the pets we gather along the way. It is interesting that the herd animals become working animals for us, but the predators become pets.

    • “… but the predators become pets.”

      This seems profound, somehow.

    • It seems logical. We brought into our hierarchy other hunters and filled the bottom by promising to eat some prey last.

    • We co-evolved with dogs, who will protect our homes and children, comfort us in our sadness, herd our livestock, fight alongside us, and go with us into the dark places where the bad things are.

      • I’ve seen some mostly tongue in cheek arguments about who domesticated who.

        Much like cats, dogs seem to be working for humans less often than humans working to feed dogs.

        At least in the first world.

        • Heard recently: dogs are looking for a job with people; cats… want to see your resume.

        • Heck, first world we have so many pets that folks don’t realize that herd animals do not think a herding dog is a predator.

          Their reactions are EXTREMELY different.

          It’s easiest to see with cows, because you can have three varieties of “dog”–coyote, working dog, and wolf-or-feral-dog.

          The cows ignored the coyotes, to the point of letting them clean up afterbirth ten feet from the new, nursing calf. (note: I know some folks have “coyotes” that are the size of dogs and hunt in packs, ours topped out at maybe 30, 35 and would be in pairs or an adult with pups)
          They notice the working dogs, either go defensive or trot to avoid the obnoxious thing.
          They try to run over the wolves or feral dogs, and if they can’t they’ll psycho-run– the first time I saw a herd running away from some idiot’s dog, I didn’t know that was what had happened, but I DID know that it was nothing like even a bad working dog harassing the cows. (I’ve mentioned before my poor mom had to warn folks not to let their dogs maim the cows. She never shot one without warning the owners. Saved several dogs that way, although it also cost a couple of calves a really horrible death.)

          • We have nastier coyotes around here. A horse and a cow got killed by a pack (different times) some years back. This was before the Grand Wolf Experiment, though there was a dog/wolf that lived nearby.

            When a druggie lived near us, he had a German Shepherd and a young Lab. Alone, the GS was a decent dog, but the Lab was psycho and the GS would go nuts trying to protect it. Both dogs ended up on another neighbor’s property and tried to chase him while he was on his ATV. Two shots later, and the problem was solved. (I intensely disliked ATV neighbor, but he was right on that.) The druggie ran afoul of one of the big drug busts and spent several years in the greybar hotel.

            • It’s from talking to folks here that I figured out the not-hunting-like-pack-animals thing. (I would be interested in seeing the genetic tests for the different coyote groups; I know the Canadian “coyotes” are up to 90% wolf.)

              It helps explain some of the foam-at-the-mouth reactions that some folks had to coyotes, though not how it survived meeting the local coyotes.

              Sorry to hear about the good dog.

      • Not all dogs are pets, you know.

        And, really, a lot of humans are basically pets…

      • And in return, we give them car rides. I would have loved to see the discussion with the wolf pack who realized that, while these hairless apes might not look like much, stick with them and your 300 times great-grandchildren will get to go for bye-byes.

  13. While Brin has fallen off my reading list in recent years as he doesn’t interest me, his earlier stuff still is excellent. This whole theme is treated well in “The Uplift War” including a persistence-hunting scene.

    • Heh. I used to like Brin way back when but of late I have gotten the impression that he does not want his bank account sullied by my dollars.

      Of course, the list of authors and publishers who do not desire the custom of the likes of me seems to daily grow lengthier. Happily, there are ever more available authors eager to take my money in exchange for wrongfun.

      • Alistair Reynolds was the one whose firing of me as a customer (he basically said if you’re a puppy he doesn’t want you) was the one that disappoints me most.

        Someone should look at the prominent authors who were puppy kickers and see how many started complaining about Amazon destroying their ability to make a living after they kicked puppies.

        • Me too. And he was one of the handful of writers I actually wrote to, to congratulate them on a story. (Century Rain) Got a nice reply, too.

          He’s moved off to writing some weird “Afro-centric SF” now, and some nihilistic galaxy-traveling series. If either of them are going anywhere, it’s not immediately obvious.

          It must be nice to be making enough money to tell big chunks of your customer demographic to piss off.

          • Given it’ll all racis/sexis/homophobicis/etc so they won’t read it doesn’t matter, but I will happily invite all those people who call me Nazi and Alt-right because I disagree them to buy my stories on Amazon.

            I will even deal with their creepy fan mail as long as it isn’t wanting me to teach them archery.

          • He’s gone back to Revelation Space, and writing more book about Prefect Dreyfus.

            • That’s nice.

              Call when he apologies for firing me as a fine based on false and inflammatory information.

              Revelation Space is interesting. But he is still just one author and one I don’t have to give my business.

              • It’s not that good a book, actually.
                The bad guy is a pretty transparent Trump analogue, a populist trying to rid the Glitter Ban of their political system for his own gain.

        • Alistair Reynolds was the one whose firing of me as a customer (he basically said if you’re a puppy he doesn’t want you) was the one that disappoints me most.

          I’m stealing that phrasing.
          Kaja Foglio is the one who makes me sad. She made a big deal about how it’s a terrible thing to give custom to bigots– and then immediately called for a boycott of Orson Scott Card for being an observant Mormon.

          Reluctantly, I acquiesced to her request. Too bad, I rather liked their swag, and had planned to buy more.

    • Brin hit print with a bang with Sundiver, started drifting left quickly, and had fallen off my buy list long before 2008, when he dedicated his blog to worshipping the Anointed One, who was going to Fix Everything When Elected, in the kind of swooning sycophancy one might expect to see more in a preteen girl re: a pop star than a grown man about a political candidate.

      “Let me know how all that worked out for you…”

    • I still like Brin’s “Sundiver.” I think it was his first book.

      It was written in 1980, and was basically “murder mystery in space.” As part of the setting, Earth was a provisional member of a galactic confederation millions of years old, with limited access to the Library; all the contributed knowledge of hundreds of thousands of civilizations. The Library wasn’t a government, but no government or species could defy the Library’s influence on Galactic affairs…

      And those troublesome humans had found out that the Library was selectively editing the data available to various species, in order to influence them to behave as the Library’s controllers wanted them to…

      Somehow I got a vague sense of deja vu reading that. But really, that sort of thing would never happen in the real world.

      • That reminds me of Chess with a Dragon — if only because of the “Earth joins organization of much older civilizations and there’s a library that’s more dangerous than they initially thought” aspect, plus, well, the “read and later found out the author was a jerk” disappointment…. Or IIRC didn’t read Sundiver itself but I think enjoyed one of the sequels.

        • Lot of authors doing that lately.

          No one has done it quite as well as Asimov, but the man was a master.

        • “…a library that’s more dangerous than they initially thought.”

          I would expect any species new to The Library would cause a few surprises. Each would have its own ideas of what needed or interesting and “mash up” ideas that to others seemed disparate – with… interesting.. results.

          • In the Uplift novels, species that are “new” to the Library are few and far between. The vast majority of intelligent species are “uplifted” by a patron species, so they’re typically aware of the Library long before they have their first space flight.

            Humans, on the other hand, are “wolflings” – i.e. exceedingly rare species that appear on the galactic scene with no known patron. In fact, wolflings are so rare that the majority of galactic species are convinced that humans had a secret patron who either quit halfway through the project, or who are still remaining hidden for some unknown reason.

            Humans. on the other hand, are muddling through it all. And doing things like spot-checking entries in the Library (which is how they discovered an entire fleet of occupied starships in stasis in a spot that the Library swore was empty; that’s the kick-off trigger for some of the later books).

        • As an evil Librarian, I approve.

      • I’d try Googling that, but I’m afraid I might get some weird answers.

      • I have and enjoyed The Postman. I had a faint desire to see the movie (a Usenet acquaintance did some blacksmithing for the movie), but never did. I gather I was really fortunate to miss the movie version…

        • the movie version wasn’t bad per se, they just removed the entire … uhhh, end fight and reasons behind it from the book

        • I liked the book as well. It does a good job of portraying the importance of symbols of civilization.

          Haven’t seen the movie, though.

  14. Is this where we come to bitch about our lack of personal flying cars? Because I’m pretty persistent in whining about that.

    Let me guess, I have to wait ten years?

  15. That’s not at all a technical problem depending on how you define “flying car”. Could start design on a vehicle which would be road-legal as a 3-wheel motorcycle, fit in a garage, take off, fly, and land tomorrow if someone wanted to write me the check for it.

    The problem is that you’d need to be a pilot to fly it, or else it would have to be so slow as not to be practical transportation. That limits the driver pool tremendously, to the point where market is very limited.

    And you’d have to use 1950’s technology throughout, because otherwise you’d never get it certificated for carrying passengers.

    And you can’t share the ride with anyone to bring the costs down (as if you couldn’t show your $10,000 flat screen TV off to anyone else — how many would we have sold and would $1000 TV’s be a product today)? Because FAA has ruled that “ride sharing” for hire in an airplane means you have to qualify as an airline.

    And you wouldn’t be allowed to take off and land from streets, whether they were big enough or not, because regs require use of airports.

    And the big cities you’d want to go to have horribly congested air traffic systems, even though any airliner made in the last 20 years needs air traffic control the way you need “ground traffic control” — the pilots can see the other airplanes on their screen just as well as the air traffic controller can, and all we need air traffic for is to manage congestion going in and out of the major airports.

    And you’d have to be so absurdly quiet that a lawnmower, leafblower, or motorcycle would never be allowed because otherwise you can’t meet modern noise regulations.

    And you’d have to burn car gasoline to be practical for over-the-road transport, and most small airports don’t *have* what avation folks call “mo-gas”, and thanks to ethanol in the fuel, you can’t switch them around very well….

    …. in other words, nearly all the challenges are regulatory. Not physical or technological.

    And while we can make forecasts about overcoming technological obstacles, making forecasts about changing social/legal ones is harder (How long until we can get rid of daylight savings time?)

    “We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming” — Wernher von Braun

    P.S. If anyone *wants* to write that check for a flying car, would love to build one; that would be fun.

    • So. First step is to de-regulatorize all that.

      • I’ll pass on deregulating the “you can’t land on normal roads” thing, since I just spent several days watching people who failed to see A LARGE VAN WITH A GLOWING LINE DOWN THE SIDE WHICH IS THREE TIMES THE SIZE OF THEIR VEHICLE when they are merging or changing lanes.

        Not too keen on the idea of every house being basically on a busy intersection without a fence between random cars and the livingroom, too….

        But the ride-share, and making it so there can be dedicated takeoff-landing roads, and the motor stuff….

        Go full Chesterton on the regs. Identify why they are there, and why those reasons don’t apply any more.

        • I used to ride along with a friend who ran a wrecker service. Almost every time there was a collision, the driver would be telling everyone around, “But I didn’t see it!” like it was some kind of get-out-of-jail-free phrase.

          “But I didn’t see it!” was evidently supposed to excuse hitting garbage trucks, school buses, light poles, ambulances, and marked police cars…

          Then they’d start declaiming that it was all an *accident*, which somehow, in their minds, absolved them of any responsibility for their actions. “Yes, I blew through a red light, hit another car, and killed the driver, but it was an *accident*! Why are you writing me a ticket?!”

      • Not really…

        Remember, Back to the Future has a flying car.

        Back to the Future 2 has a *highway* full of flying cars.

        It’s all well and good to talk about flying cars, and how great they might be. But if *everyone* has a car that can fly, then you’re going to need some rules in order to keep people from getting into constant accidents at 5,000 feet.

        • if ‘everyone’ has a car that can fly, then you’re going to need some rules

          Well, then, that‘s easily solved!

          Only the right sort of people will be permitted flying cars.

          Hell, for all we know they’ve already got them. (Is a helicopter a flying car?)

        • and that Future was 4 years ago….

    • If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll get rid of Daylight Savings Time this year or next year.

    • A proper flying car is more like the modded DeLorian from Back To The Future 2 or the spinner from Bladerunner- a normal car shape that uses anti-gravity of some sort to get off the ground.

      Traditional flying cars tend to be neither fish or fowl- a thing that’s too clunky and heavy to really fly good, yet has to somehow tote some sort of airfoil & prop to actually get into the air. Some have a bulky & inconvenient trailer, others have a parachute wing which one would have to get out and fold up upon landing. Neither is especially convenient.

      Current theorizing is the use of multiple props ala most drones, but then you run into more problems. Energy density & range (those props burn up lots of energy to keep the thing in the air), engine failure, and so on.

      Then there’s the practical problems of a flying car using airfoils, mainly in the fact that most folks don’t want poorly maintained machines in the air over their heads, so you have the normal course of FAA airworthiness inspections ($$$). People don’t want idiots in the air over their heads, so proper licensing will remain. The airfield thing will remain, because many streets have lots of power lines overhead.
      Tech wise, we’re just not there yet.

      • Lots of freeways would be easy enough to take off from, if rotation speed was about 70mph; but landing … scary!

      • “A proper flying car is more like the modded DeLorian from Back To The Future 2 or the spinner from Bladerunner- a normal car shape that uses anti-gravity of some sort to get off the ground.”

        I would pay extra for a more picturesque flying car using a dirigible body for lift and square-rigged sails for motive power.

    • if I win the lottery, you totally get that check 😀

  16. I always thought it was because we are all Crazy Eddies.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Nope.

      The ideas of real Crazy Eddies never work (or work in disastrous ways).

      Our Crazy Ideas sometimes work to make things better. 😀

  17. Just visualize 3 million flying cars commuting over Los Angeles twice a day. THAT’S why we don’t have flying cars. Watch 5th Element and then think about flying a cab there,

    • Visualize there being 100 elevation levels with 30,000 cars on each, and trying to safely merge downward so you can land at your house…

      • eh.
        You know, this is why I don’t drive. If you abstract these things, they’re all terrifying.

      • scott2harrison

        The reasons we will not have flying cars at least in cities are threefold: winds, updrafts and downdrafts. Without a LOT of space any of the above would result in a very loud CRUNCH!!!!

        • Not to mention what those buildings do to things like GPS signals for navigation. I literally can’t use my GPS in most downtowns with 20+story buildings because my location bounces for blocks depending on what the signal is being absorbed / reflected by.

    • OTOH, that would sure thin out the Califorian Liberals, wouldn’t it?

    • Also, think Reefer Madness, and how many of those flying cars are piloted by stoners…

  18. The self driving plane is the answer, rather than self driving car. It is easier in the sky than on the ground. There are no irrational pedestrians up in the air.

    With communication between planes, it will be trivial for computers of 50 years or even 20 from now to keep from crashing. There would be corridors of travel, so you would only need to make sure the GPS kept working to make sure every craft had the same elevation data to work off.

    Each direction would have a 250′ high corridor, start with east going, next north going 250 feet higher, then west going, then south going, over again the next 1,000 feet. To ascend or descend, a series of right or left turns onto your intersecting direction higher or lower. A grid with half a mile separations. The capacity is amazing.

    Buildings and hills are the only complications, but they tend not to move, so would be built into the software.

  19. We have talked before about the sworn virgins of Albania who became legally men.

    There is a documentary on Amazon Prime called Wild Flower, which interviews one of them and shows her going about her workday. Very interesting.

    • Nobody’s talked to me about that! Not that I have any interest in virgins, these days.

      • Hee! It was part of some discussions about Amazons, female warriors in real.life, etc.

        This lady’s motivation was not about feuding with insufficient guys in the family to make a good fighting force (which was one of the biggest reasons it was once done), but she ended up doing some feuding anyway. (Although it amounted to.getting rid of a squatter who built a house and farm on her family’s land.) And she got feuded on, also.

  20. Not a huge fan of “multicopter” vehicles with many rotors of small diameterfor personal transport; unlike either a fixed wing or conventional rotorcraft, if you lose power, you’re a brick. (airplanes can glide and rotorcraft can autorotate). The counterargument is “that’s why we have all the independent rotors”, but it makes me nervous….

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