Letters Column for May 2005

Hello everyone!

It is now June. Ask anybody! (Except possibly Heribert Illig. Never ask Heribert Illig for the time.)

I am quite exhausted of late. You will still benefit from daily Hitherby but sometimes an entry might stop in the middle and be replaced by the cat-tracks of my face hitting the keyboard. This I will explain away suavely as an interjection by Mrs. Schiff.

Thank you all for your donations in May. In addition to $112.46 of targeted donations (pushed over the $150 target by early contributions from friends), there were $30 of miscellaneous donations. I also received the first payment for the Primal Chaos sales; all together, it made it possible to eat.

(Or, rather, to be somewhat less of a drain on local friends while waiting for Weapons of the Gods to hit the shelves and pay me the on-publication fee. I would probably have eaten anyway, but with much more stress as an extra spice.)

I’d also like to thank you all for your kind comments, and for buying the first monthbook if you did, and for putting up with my dear friends’ absence on their honeymoon and the accordant delay in the release of the second monthbook. ^_^

I am thinking about bugging Hitherby_Admin for reader review pages. These would be pages, one for each person who wants one, giving links to and descriptions of entries you think are cool. It seems like a reasonable thing to do so that people who wander in from elsewhere aren’t completely lost—there’s a lot of stuff here these days, and practically speaking the best thing for newcomers to do is to read a random selection of the best legends rather than jumping right into the canon. What do y’all think?

**

I’m going to have to start refering to Rebecca as “Dr. Borgstrom” now, because that’s classic mad scientist name right there.
— Ben

I’m not mad. I’m differently paradigmed! That’s my point of deviation.

**

I’m busy preparing for finals week! oh woe is me.
— GoldenH

I hope they went well! And that they were not as final for you as your ominous phrasing suggests.

**

We usually call you “the goddess Rebecca” (when we talk about you)
— Tiger Spot

I’d endorse this, but I’m just too fallible! I think a goddess should have about 5% fallibility on general matters and .01% fallibility on matters of her expertise or of life and death. I exceed all of these margins of error substantially, rendering my other qualifications moot.

**

The distinction between pain and suffering, the place where pain becomes suffering, is when it doesn’t stop.
— Juke Moran

That’s a decent definition. When I’m trying to write a technical definition of suffering—

(Something I attempt surprisingly often)—

I usually wind up defining it as the pain caused by the awareness of pain.

Today, though, I have a new theory. I’m going to go a bit Buddhist and speculate that suffering is the pain brought on by contradictions in one’s worldview, most notably the belief that you “should” experience something that you aren’t or “shouldn’t” experience something you are.

There is a Mr. Moran in Hitherby, too! I’m not sure when that tidbit will show up, though.

**

I don’t have much interest in saying what I think Martin is, because the best that I can do is half-baked speculation. Nor do I think I understand the Hitherby world well enough to explore “what-ifs”. That’s why I’ve been agitating for an ex cathedra pronouncement.
— David Goldfarb

There are many problems in fiction and in life, and some of them can be solved with angels.

Some of them are best solved by angels.

As you move through life, though, the kinds of problems you face change. Sometimes because you change and sometimes because you’ve already solved the old kinds of problems. (Or, at least, passed them by.)

Martin is something that comes after the time of angels.

**

Perhaps scientists answer the emptiness with quantification, which makes me think of Martin trying to remake the world to his specifications. Scientists seem like people who would be able to kill woglies, because they strive towards theories without internal contradictions.
— HedgeMouse

This is pretty sound.

I don’t like the kind of story where it turns out that magical creatures give way to magicized scientists. It’s too meta and, since I’m something of a scientist, it’s too self-congratulatory.

So I don’t think Hitherby is ever going to go in that direction.

But it’s really very sound, and pretty cool, too.

**

What if Martin is simply a person? He clearly has magical powers, but maybe he’s not categorizeable in some simple fashion because he’s a complete person, with all of the complexity that entails, and with no single purpose.
— rpuchalsky

I thought about just calling him a person, actually, earlier tonight, but that’s not how zoology works—as marvelous and strange as the platypus is, it’s still an Orthinorhyncus Anatinus. ^_^

**

(Pain) helps people express (their beauty), or drives them to express it?
— Metal Fatigue

I don’t know.

Honestly, it might just be like that thing where if you go deaf your other senses get sharper and sharper until you can see the little vibrations where sound waves bump into photons and make them jiggle. (That’s how famous deaf people like Mr. T. and Robert Novak get by.)

**

This… is so amazing, it’s unbearable.
— koldun

Yay! Thank you for your kind words.

**

I’d like to say a word in her behalf
Earth’s destruction makes me laugh

— rpuchalsky

*giggle*

**

Poor Tom. Why is he so guilt-stricken?
— Archangel Beth

It’s much more regret and sorrow than guilt. He’s not fooled by the light tone of the story—he knows what that ending really means!

**

So is this a literal lamb, or one of those metaphorical ones?
— DSPaul

The lamb in “Having Missed the Dragonflies Entirely” is more the kind of lamb that gambols and philosophizes than the kind of lamb that washes people clean of sins. Mind, I can’t say for sure what’d happen to your sins if it licked you. But, then, I can’t say what happens to people’s sins when ordinary lambs lick them!

Experimental theology is so nerfed.

**

There is a terrible beauty in the lamb. I hope it someday finds an entity worthy of its love.
— cappadocius

That’s the spirit!

**

2. Why can’t the lamb become its own caretaker?
— TedPro

It’s against the law for lambs to have pets!

**

Making brownies is degenerate? What about strawberry jam, pumpkin or banana bread, jello cake and cheesecakes?
— BethL

When Martha Stewart makes a delicious apple pastry out of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil—

For Eden is, as every savant knows, located not in the musty past but in the days to come—

She doomed us all to original sin.

It’s because of Martha and Emeril that you have such wicked thoughts. If she’d just gotten the death penalty, we wouldn’t be in this mess!

So let me put it bluntly: your obsession with fruity doughy products suggests that you’re a swirling vortex of pure evil, and in the end, the wobbly sea monsters beyond the world will probably judge you with great harshness.

I’m sorry.

**

“Ow! Ow! Ow! Shuffle-civic guppy-badgering three-eyed son of a hobo! Fudge! Fudge me upside-down cake with a trowel!”

Is there an art to writing this sort of stuff? Or is it just “write down a random list of adjectives and nouns, then arrange them around the structure of an imprecation”?
— Ilanin

I ran over a sailor’s foot with my Segway and then took dictation.*

* It was an imaginary Segway, and I’m really bad at shorthand.

**

I must say I found this piece rather sexist. Where are the gingerbread women?
— Graeme

If I knew that I wouldn’t need the invisible fence.

**

I’ve been back to read this one at least a dozen times. I have nothing intelligent to say about it, but I love it.
— MariaK

Yay! Thank you for your kind words.

**

There is no author byline on the Girl’s Own Paper piece (on what to do if one is on fire). It wasn’t you, was it?
— James Wallis, all-around cool guy

Huh! I don’t know. I wrote most of the surviving records from the 1890s but I don’t remember that particular piece. It might have been Ken Hite’s.

**

Alluding to Moore’s Law AGAIN, are we?
— Lebob

It’s getting consistently funnier!

**

Isn’t it the Starndard Operating Procedure, after nuclear weaponry fails, to send out the mecha?
— Tremir

I pretty much used up the special effects budget for this month around the time of the cornbread episode. I couldn’t afford mecha. :(

**

“Dragons help you map the emptiness”. I wonder if that’s going to become part of “What Is Hitherby Dragons” later, or if it is only legend-true?
— rpuchalsky

Ink stuff is usually pretty canon-tight. ^_^

**

And isn’t a human who accepts the Shark’s Covenant doing something that goes beyond mere “good?”
— SquidLord

Strictly speaking, by the terms of the story, you’d have to be both a human and a shark to have the capacity to answer that question.

**

Good story. But the concept of original sin just doesn’t work for me. If the world is in an undifferentiated state of sin, and if there is any metaphysical reality, then the one at fault for the sin is the creator of the world, not the people living in it. To attempt to heal the world is then a form of rebellion, and to do evil is just to cooperate with what the creator has set you up to do.
— rpuchalsky

This assumes an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator, and that Creation is finished.

The Covenant of the Sharks is more a speculation on what alternate covenants look like than about the details of their moral justification—it’s soft moral fiction, not hard moral fiction. That’s why, instead of an exposition of serious metaphysics, it explains its conceit with some flippant ethicobabble.

That said, if I poke around at my underlying assumptions, the story makes the most sense in a world that’s still a work in progress—a world that takes more than the seven traditional days to build, and which therefore has vestiges within it, in its equivalent to the modern day, of a chaotic unsainly pre-Creation state.

**

Thank you, Emily.

It matters that you popped all those demons.
— Scott Lutz

Yay! I’m very pleased that someone said that.

**

I actually became a bit teary when reading the description of the things that dwell within the ship. Rebecca, either your writing is becoming more powerful for me, or the withdrawal effects of my anti-depressant are responsible…
— Graeme

Thank you! Although I’m confused! Was that part sad?

Does the Pacific Ocean exist in Jane’s world? Is it the Chaotic Ocean instead?
— Graeme

More on this this chapter. ^_^

**

Well! Now I’m wondering whether corn bread is NP-complete or not.
— nemryn

You can reduce 3SAT to cornbread by using cookiecutters in the shape of letters and logical symbols.

. . .

(I’m sorry. That was probably opaque to some members of my audience. What it means, in sum, is that if you could generate cornbread through pure computation, you could then employ that cornbread as a sort of precognitive engine for a computer, cracking essentially any code and rendering certain intractable problems trivial. It would function as a magical oracle that would simply know the answers to any problem you pose to it, as long as you had some means of testing the answer—but when you came to rely too thoroughly on the cornbread, and asked it questions whose answers you could not or would not test, it would betray you, causing your computer to crash and losing all of your work. Such are the strange and crumbly reaches of modern complexity theory.)

**
That’s it for now! Thanks again, and see you next month.

Be well.

Rebecca

13 thoughts on “Letters Column for May 2005

  1. Martin is something that comes after the time of angels.

    Now that’s an extremely interesting little tidbit, for which I thank you.

    I am thinking about bugging Hitherby_Admin for reader review pages. These would be pages, one for each person who wants one, giving links to and descriptions of entries you think are cool. It seems like a reasonable thing to do so that people who wander in from elsewhere aren’t completely lost—there’s a lot of stuff here these days, and practically speaking the best thing for newcomers to do is to read a random selection of the best legends rather than jumping right into the canon. What do y’all think?

    I have in fact already done this. I was trying to get my dear Katie interested in Hitherby, so I gave her a list of stories to try — not all legends. The list came out a bit longer than I’d originally expected….
    Here it is:
    The Angels(III of IV)
    Ragnarok
    Necessary Things
    It’s Only Wounds(I of I)

    (It’s Only Wounds is the story that hits me harder than it deserves to. Not that it’s a bad story. It’s a good story, and might well have made the list on its own merits. It hits me particularly, because I used to have a sister named Erin.)

    Tantalus(I of IV)
    The Tower
    Ink in an Introduction
    Panda Dancing
    Exactly One Pterodactyl, For Clarity’s Sake

    If I were making the list now, I would likely include Remus and The Covenant of the Sharks. Not sure what (if anything) would get cut to make room.

  2. I hope they went well! And that they were not as final for you as your ominous phrasing suggests.

    They weren’t as final as I thought they would be, but alas, it turns out that they were nowhere final enough.

    thanks though :)

  3. I am thinking about bugging Hitherby_Admin for reader review pages. These would be pages, one for each person who wants one, giving links to and descriptions of entries you think are cool.

    Cool!

  4. Does it follow from the title’s premise — that “here there be dragons” when something to be mapped couldn’t be — that then dragons help map the emptiness primarily by indicating what of the emptiness can’t be mapped?

  5. You know, I always considered those sections on old maps to be the opposite in fact. I’ve always felt that dragons let you know where the Real and the Empty are seperated, so they were challenging you to find them, and push back the boundaries. Which makes dragons kind of tragic actually, since in showing you were to go, they lose their homes.

  6. I think that the idea of Martin as a dragon really works. And I think that these last few hints pretty much settle the issue, at least for me. The only other remaining suggested category with resonance is Messiah, and that doesn’t really work as a Hitherby category — all the others are types of entities, like species. In my opinion of course.

    Martin, as I believe that Metal Fatigue once pointed out, wears a suit — with both the characteristic garb of angels (the jacket, representing wings and the ability to fly/hope) and monsters (the tie, representing — well, maybe sometimes a tie is just a tie, but sometimes not — let’s say a degree of aggression and ability to damage). Both are part of the attributes of dragons as commonly imagined, and both are part of Martin’s statements and actions.

    On a deeper level, I think that a dragon, as used here, is a metaphor for a certain aspect of the creative artist. Mapping the emptiness is what you do, as a writer, when you start with a blank page and have to decide how to fill it with words. When other people read your work, your ideas may influence them, may help them put an interpretation on the world that they didn’t have before, or consider aspects of it that they didn’t previously consider. In this way, the writer can function as a (Hitherby) dragon, that helps other people work out their own meanings. And just as the dragons on maps can only live at the boundaries of known areas, a creative writer has to be writing about something new.

    Of course, Hitherby isn’t solely, or even primarily, about metaphors. Within the story, Martin has the actual power to create meaning — he is the smith, the test, the maker and so on. In this context, “Dragons *help* you map the emptiness” is instructive. The helping part indicates that Martin isn’t going to just carry out his own agenda and create meaning on his own, he’s going to be helping someone else figure out how to assign meaning to her life story and to the universe — namely, Jane. I’ve always thought that Jane was engaged in emptiness-mapping with all of the plays that she puts on, in any case.

  7. This interpretation of Martin as dragon brings up the question of whether we’ve ever seen any other dragons in Hitherby. I think that there’s a good chance that Bob, Jane’s brother, was a failed dragon.

    There are a trio of fairly early histories: Daniel (I/IV), Alan (II/IV), Bob (III/IV). They concern three of Jane’s brothers who tried to protect her in various ways and failed. There were many other brothers and at least one sister (Lisa) as well, but their failures haven’t yet been described in as much detail. It is stated that Daniel was an angel, and it is clear that Alan must have been a fiend. So what was Bob? He’s not on the list of failed angel-brothers that Martin recites to the monster.

    Well, Bob was a maker, like Martin. “He just builds. He creates. He gives integrity to the world.” But his world is made of firewood, and he’s hidden a wogly in it, an embedded contradiction. Bob is able to pick up the wogly, and he isn’t harmed by it (at least, not instantly) but unlike Martin, he’s not able to destroy it, so he can only try to save the real world by hiding the wogly in the firewood one. I think that the wogly, in this case, represents the suffering in the world. Bob isn’t able to make suffering *work*, like Martin does, by making it mean something. He can only hide it. So his attempt to assist Jane in mapping emptiness, to create something out of nothing as Martin does, must eventually fail.

    However, his failure did contribute towards an entity that could stand up to the monster. Martin was born out of the firewood world that he and Jane created. There is meaning there that I haven’t really figured out.

  8. So you’re saying that Dragons help map the emptiness by walking the line between is and isn’t? I think this works pretty well, suggesting them to be telltales to let you know where the line should be drawn. Not everything has dragons, though, but I can see how it could be productive to watch for dragons, and if possible, to anthromorphise them so that it is easier for one to see the line and not cross it themselves.

    Honestly I thought that the idea of Martin being a Dragon was ridiculous before but the above post makes me see a way it could work. nice job!

  9. I don’t think the anthropomorphizing thing is a real problem. Hitherby demons can look human, the primary Hitherby monster looks human, fiends can look human. I don’t see why Hitherby dragons would have to look like dragons. The role/species/classification/dharma(?) would just mean that the entity had a certain purpose, and a certain power.

    I also think that “mapping the emptiness” isn’t just walking the line between is and isn’t. The process of mapping can be a process of creation. If the unmapped areas were part of an already existing world with a single meaning, then you wouldn’t need a new type of entity to help you map them — you’d be fine with merins, which “help make sense of the world.”

  10. The role/species/classification/dharma(?) would just mean that the entity had a certain purpose, and a certain power.

    Steve, after all, became a shark.

  11. Welcome aboard, Suzume! Nice to see another Exalted wikizen!

    However, I’m not sure sharks qualify as an entity type in the same way as angels or dragons, since they have only appeared in a single legend, and never in a story or history.

  12. Thanks! ^_^

    I’m not sure sharks qualify as an entity type in the same way as angels or dragons, since they have only appeared in a single legend, and never in a story or history.

    Not really relevant, though. It’s an explification of type, and shows an instantiation of a possible (read: increasingly probable) pattern.

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