Letters Column for July 2005


I have dreamed of August for some time now. In my dreams there were willows and reeds bending in the wind. There was sunlight and the sound of distant water. Great things happened; good things; scary things, but true.

So now it is here.

The air is much the same as July, I think. The sun is more or less as bright. But enh. I am going to live in dreams. How about you?

In July, I received $50 in donations.

There is no longer my computer in the house. It is sad and dying. It tells me that hard drive failure is imminent, and even without that I am not sure how much longer it would have lived.

This machine I am on is a nice machine. It is my housemate’s machine. It is heavy and solid and its keys make satisfying clicks. But do you want me writing Hitherby on my housemate’s machine? What if he takes it back? What if something in a machine knows its master, and it does not harmonize with my writing in the way a computer should?

I have started a little wiki for Hitherby to finally organize all my thoughts. Perhaps we can start one for you, later, so that you can organize my thoughts as well. That is a big technological step up; my notes files were scattered and growing rapidly difficult to read, and now I have just a few months of work before that level of organization is simple again.

I don’t know if the endless thousands of hits I get reflect an actual audience. I don’t know if there are endless readers out there who do not comment because commenting is hard, or just people who like to revisit the dancing popes and occasionally drop by for a story or two. I think that if you want this story to finish that it would be helpful to donate this month, enough to help me out of my financial hole, find out if my machine is salvageable, and if not, obtain a machine I can use that is my own.

What if he takes it back?

It’s hard when Nobilis money does not come in because Guardians of Order is hammered by exchange rates and Eos Press money is legitimately delayed by the extended delay in Weapons of the Gods hitting the shelves. I could probably barely afford a replacement, if these things did not happen. As it is I am $3500 in debt.

I’ve heard that webcomics readers like that kind of thing—targeted donations, not general ones. And that’s fair. There’s no reason that you should pay me huge amounts of money every month, because I have an IP that is growing more valuable with every word. I intend to make a goodly sum off of Hitherby: monthbooks, chapterbooks, and of course the RPG. I intend this to be quite profitable enough to justify the million plus words of story that I’ll have here, at perhaps a good rate of six cents a word.

But right now, seriously, if something happens, I have no resources to recover things with. I’m not in a position to do that without more liquidity right now. And it is hurting my ability to write, directly and overtly, although my muse is not going to let me off the hook until this story is done.


histories have been thin on the ground lately.
— David Goldfarb


I try to make them rare early in a chapter, to balance out the fact that by the end it’s all history all the time. ^_^


“Yes, there are dragons, they’d rather you left them alone!”
— mneme, quoting Ben Newman

They could be gregarious, though!

I mean, it’s problematic living definitionally at the edge of the map. You have to be isolationist. You can’t ever visit people in the center or they get all wonky.

“Why is London marked on the map as ‘Here There Be Dragons?'”

“Now, now, Mr. Cubbidge . . .”


The world is divided into two groups of people, those who divide people into two groups, and those who divide people into four groups.
— rpuchalsky

It turned out on further examination that these were actually the same number—a “twofour” of groups. Thus was born the pair theory of mathematics. Only half of the mathematical community accepted this theory, but each mathematician who didn’t believe found themselves inextricably quantum-entangled with a mathematician who did! You can use these pairs to convey information across long distances. Reverse the belief on one mathematician, and the corresponding antimathematician also changes their mind! Spin one mathematician—the other ceases turning! It’s just hours of fun for the whole family.


The more I think about this, the more depressing it is. (Not that Jacob’s story was particularly uplifting in the first place.) See if I try to interpret legends again.
— MariaK

Jacob’s story was horrid.

I am going to talk about interpreting legends now!

Interpreting legends is, in a real way, telling legends about legends. I think that’s cool. Or maybe antilegends about legends. That’d be even cooler! It’s picking them apart to see what you see in them. And that’s great.

But it does mean that if you want to find happy stuff you should find stuff that inspires you to be happy and interpret that.


Jane isn’t very complicated. A lot of the time she’s just thinking about stuff like: “I wish people could have a land where suffering was still real, but remembered rather than experienced. Let’s tell people about that!”

Or “hey, what would it mean if victim-blaming were justified?”

Or “hey, what if you really could change the results of scientific experiments by fiat?”


There is a lot more. I totally admit that. But it’s not necessary to see it to enjoy the story, and I’m nervous that if my readers try to find all the stuff I bury in here that they’ll wind up starting at shadows.

Which is okay! But make sure you’re enjoying yourself while doing so!


I’m not sure this is our Jane, actually.
— insanitykun

I try really hard to stay Jane levels of chipper while writing but I kind of failed on Sweeping Day. Not because of the 4th of July; it was just really hot and I was a little sick.


For a story about Hell, that seems oddly beautiful.
— Eric

“Hell is other people.”


Sin, mist, darkness, fire, and so very oddly beautiful.


“Jaime’s riding for the gap,” says Emily. “So that’s a higher oblation!”

Should this have read “obligation,” or am I failing to parse this correctly?
— ADamiani


It was a childish malapropism, as David Goldfarb pointed out. And also a legitimate word for the situation, although only barely, as S pointed out.


Have mercy on me, someone, I beg you, and explain the ant pun, ’cause it’s too obscure for me.
— Metal Fatigue

“That’s your human standards,” mulls the lake of fire. “But consider it from the perspective of an immortal lake of fire that nobody ever swims in.”

It roils and casts its foam of ashes onto the shore.

“Looking at it from your perspective,” Jaime agrees, “everything in life is transient and full of the pity of things.”

“Worrible pity,” Emily agrees. “Like, that ant.”

They stop and look at the ant for a while.

Eventually, they both sigh sadly and walk on.

There is a place in the Tale of Genji where Murasaki Shikibu uses the word “awa,” or foam, as the kake-kotoba (pivot word) for a set of three concepts: foam touching the island, Awaji, as Genji experiences the emotion of “aware“—recognition of “the pity of things.”

Here, as the lake of fire casts its foam onto the shore, Emily and Jaime witness an awa—an ant without antennae—and reflect upon the pity of things.

It’s not a good pun! But it amuses me, particularly since it is only through the pun that one can realize that the ant has no antennae, and it adds a bit to the story, particularly in context of the earlier legend.


The “pity ant” bit made me remember a short story about a Jain woman (whose religious beliefs forbade her to harm anything) who was eaten by a tiger, constrained by the ant in her hair that might have been harmed had she jumped up and run away.
— vortexae

Ooh, nice story. Thank you, vortexae, Metal Fatigue. ^_^


What’s the unit thought?
— cola


At least for me. 0 is silence, 1 is impetus. Observe that silence + impetus = impetus, while silence x impetus = silence.


Where might one obtain a Tickle Me Cthulhu?
— tem2

R’lyeh has a gift shop!

It’s totally commercialized these days. Lovecraft thought that the star-spawn would overwrite our petty human morality, but it turned out that Madison Avenue and Wall Street had them trumped. They jet around under the sea in their sunglasses and with their cell phones, frantically shouting things like, “Sell! Sell!” and “Okay, so what if a sensible family car was raised by a family of sportscars? Zoom zoom zoom!”

I think you can probably get them online, too. Try “Tickle Me Cthulhu -porn -xxx” in google.


Wouldn’t (a weasel that absorbed weasel-colored light) just be a stealth weasel, perfectly invisible to radar, but an obvious, chitterring furry blackness, when scampering across the rug?
— ADamiani

It depends entirely on whether it’s in RGB or in CMYK.


Shouldn’t weasels be able to stay weasels?
— Talion

That’s what the Weasel Marketing Board wants you to think, but in fact, most weasels are only weasels for a small portion of their lifecycle. It’s only the artificial hormones given to them by Big Weasel—

—that’s a derisive term based on the way the weasel industry crushes lesser competitors, not a personal name, even though there is in fact a powerful weasel mob boss named Big Weasel, and also a porn star—

—that keep modern weasels weasels for so long.

In nature, they eventually turn into gnus and artificial life support machinery and Starbucks outlets and so forth. It’s the beautiful cycle of life.


I, for one, welcome our new Snavering Lavelwod overlords!
— nemryn

Such a warm welcome is inappropriate in the chilly sunless Earth! Instead, greet them with distant disdain and a thin-lipped smile; such is the appropriate protocol.


I… could nearly watch (Lizard Cops)…
— Archangel Beth

More network television should include terrorists who reenact the Book of Tobit.

Also, more stuff like Firefly!

And a new season of the Andy Griffith Show would not be entirely out of place.


They could combine them! Vin Diesel is Barney Fife on The New Andy Griffith Show. Watch as lovable cop Andy Taylor and his sidekick Fife hunt down terrorists and honorable smugglers for the Alliance—but why does Barney keep letting Captain Mal get away?


I think the Snavering Lavelwods are a blessing in disguise, made concrete by a real and loving God, one last act of mercy and compassion before the end.
— GoldenH

I agree.

If humanity dies, I darn well want adorably fuzzy successors to inherit the Earth. And if the sun goes out, it’s not going to be the squirrels, if you get my snowdrift.


If you could keep just one thing—one thing to last you all the empty years, what would it be?
Adversity. Specifically, just enough adversity to keep life interesting, but no more. Everything else I can make for myself or do without.
— Jennifer

Yay! I find this pleasant ’cause it’s pretty close, in the final analysis, to what Iphigenia picked.


The other thing I was wondering about was how people could be descended from animals if the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Evolution takes far longer than that. Perhaps Charles’s idea about reincarnation is correct.
— David Goldfarb

It is problematic to accept Creationism partway. That said, I assume that begatting is optimized for evolution in a way that sex isn’t—it’s practically supercharged with the potential for favorable mutation! That’s why Methuselah lived for so long, David could sling a stone at mach 4, and Onan had a special third eye that shot lasers.


I’m not really sure how Dunsanian this entry is.
— rpuchalsky

Not very. I think the last thing I’d read was still the Glass Elevator. I can’t actually emulate someone without reading them—not even Vance!


Man, this has been one of my favorite ones in a while, I think. Hot!
— Ben

I’m glad people liked Countdown to Annihilation!

I was surprised to have one legend that long last month, much less two. Do people enjoy that? Multi-part legends?


Hey, Rebecca, have I told you lately that you rock?
— David Goldfarb

Thank you for your kind words!


The Great Glass Elevator crossover was amusing.
— mneme


I don’t actually have the Chocolate Factory in the house; I had to read the Glass Elevator instead before writing Countdown. I think it probably shows.

(Although, interestingly, my last house used to be a chocolate factory. Or, well, a candy factory.)


So it has to be significant, especially in a story about timekeeping, that the sun re-emerges in 2038. For non-computer types, 2038 is the year when Unix time, which is counted in seconds since Jan 1, 1970, will finally wrap around into a negative number on computers that store it as signed 32-bit integer. But this happens on Jan 19, which is far too early for daylight savings, and far before the end of the story on April 4. Is there some elegant way to account for the 75-ish missing days? Were they eaten by years of accumulated daylight savings? Frittered away one leap-second at a time?
–Victor Lighthill

I totally failed to account for the fact that Congress would move spring forward back as well as moving fall back forward. That’s the problem! If I’d realized that, I would have ended the story on January 19, as appropriate for Unix time. But because I didn’t know that, I had to hypothesize an extra fractional bit that no one knows about on most 32-bit architectures.


A tangent: since it’s established that there are places on earth where you can actually walk into the Chaos, I wonder how many of them there are?
— Sparrowhawk

You may know that by the end of this chapter!

(I don’t plan to provide a list, but it’s possible that it will come out in the discussion of Truth’s history.)


So fashion trends are dictated by dinosaurs?
— Egarwaen

Bell bottoms are in, baby!


Would it be true to say, therefore, that the Gorgosauruses were responsible for the dispositioning of the Brontosauruses but not the way everyone expected?
— James Wallis

It would!

Except that strictly speaking this is only a legend. It’s a way of interpreting and understanding the truth, it’s a way of extracting meaning from a pre-meaning factual universe, it’s a . . . dream about the world.

So I think it is very possible that in reality, it is the gryposauruses who are our shadowy masters, and the gorgosauruses their hapless pawns.


According to Sid, stopping the show is impossible. Why is it so important?
— Graeme

The show must go on, Graeme.

*shakes Graeme by the shoulders*

The show must go on!


Gorgo seems tense.
— JoeCrow


One of the things that surprised me about that entry was that the gorgosaurus turned out not to be a good person at all. Its intentions were good, and that was a lot of what I wanted to talk about, but somewhere between the outline and the story, the gorgosaurus developed into a very bad person, whose good intentions failed to camouflage a near-total lack of moral development.

I think it is harder to write morally advanced dinosaurs. A morally advanced Buddha—that’s not so hard! But a morally advanced tyrannosaurus? That’s like eating water with a fork!


Not that that’s anything like the most important part, but I keep having this image of the Gibbelins’ Tower stage being something that we would not recognize as a stage at all–something like a big steam engine with actors instead of pistons. And powered by chaos vapor instead of by steam.
— Metal Fatigue


It’s not unimportant.


Still, I found it a bit confusing. Never have gotten a really solid grip on the regular cast, and I couldn’t quite see how the thematic paralellism between the Andhaka storyline, the Iphigenia/Martin/Misc. Players storyline and the Ink storyline was supposed to play out.
— ADamiani


I hate explaining these things in letters columns, as it’s really just a failure of the original story if I have to. But, hey, I’m almost to the end of the month so I will!

One of the things that’s happening right now in the story is Iphigenia coming to terms with the fact that she’s alive.

(See also Countdown to Annihilation! and DST Nocturne.)

She thinks that the sacrifice should have happened. Because it was a sacrifice.

Jane doesn’t!

Iphigenia is to Jane like Andhaka is to Mrs. Schiff: a broken dream, taken back, that is still mad and broken until it turns to peace.

It’s not really intended as parallel to the Ink storyline in the same sense. They’re about similar things—backstage—but not the same story in any fashion.


Also, the issue of who currently sits on the throne of the world is for the moment still shrouded in uncertainty for me. Several possibilities suggest themselves, but none are clearly the right one.
— Eric

Another thing I must remember to get to this chapter. Hm. I need to get out my timeline and crunch some numbers. ^_^

That’s it for this month!

Thanks for reading. Thanks for commenting! I like that people read. I like that people comment! I am a total attention slut.


On that note, if you like Hitherby Dragons, here is a request:

1. Pick some of your favorite entries.
2. Start a thread on maps, “(your name)’s favorite entries,” with short summaries and/or your reasons for liking them.
3. Also, post that on your livejournal or tell a few friends or something.

I would like to gather momentum with (3), and I would like to use (2) as the seed for figuring out how to do Reader’s Favorite pages.

I’d just ask you to tell people to read rebecca.hitherby.com, but, let’s face it: this coming week could be the best week ever here on Hitherby, or it could be one of those comparatively sucky weeks. It might even end up with a history or something—good for you regular readers, not so great for newcomers!

Better to point people straight to the gold!


15 thoughts on “Letters Column for July 2005

  1. I hope this next week is better for you too, Rebecca. I’m itching to pull out my patented Five Star rating once again! :mrgreen:

  2. Yay! I got the first reply again!

    Someone’s comment mentioned Jacob, and I went searching for that name so that I could remind myself of which story it was. This turned up an interesting tidbit: In Priyanka, the title character says, “I tried to help Jacob, and he died.”

  3. Gah. I can’t afford to ignore work long enough to re-read the archives right now. (In fact, I had to stop reading Hitherby entirely for more than a week, and only caught up because my body and mind rebelled after three and a half weeks of 70+ hours and I had to take several days off.)

    Maybe later this month. I hope.

  4. I am going to talk about interpreting legends now!

    Interpreting legends is, in a real way, telling legends about legends. I think that’s cool. Or maybe antilegends about legends. That’d be even cooler! It’s picking them apart to see what you see in them. And that’s great.
    There is a lot more. I totally admit that. But it’s not necessary to see it to enjoy the story, and I’m nervous that if my readers try to find all the stuff I bury in here that they’ll wind up starting at shadows.

    Which is okay! But make sure you’re enjoying yourself while doing so!

    Yay! I’m glad that interpretation and analysis is OK as long as we’re enjoying it.

    Even for the cases where a legend is intended to be simple, and we find things in it that aren’t there (or, at least, that were not intended to be there by the author), I tend to think that’s all part of the creation of meaning. Of course you sometimes look like Mei Ming in Reinterpreting Bad Milk (I/I) while doing this. But, well, OK.

    About money: I’ve been saving mine to buy monthbooks with, figuring that $15/month would be about right. However, the monthbooks are obviously not really coming out at that rate. (That also takes a pretty big cut out for shipping.) Maybe if we start to donate more, the monthbooks could become multimonthbooks?

  5. I’m new– just found you last week. I’ve never commented. I’ve been reading archives in a ravenous devouring starving-soul oh my god sort of way, but I felt too new to comment, because all the comments were all “Oh yes, this links up to this other thing with the chthonic pomegranates and the cosmological implications of ferret toenails” and I felt a little dumb piping up with “Wow, wow, wow, oh my god wow.”

    So… I donated. I’m spreading the word on my LJ, linking and plugging left and right. But I’m still too new to make my favorite entries list. Right now it would be something like “All the entries from ’04 and ’05, except this one that I didn’t really understand, and that other one that was too sad. Only, it was sad in a really good, enlightening way, so actually, that one too.”

    I just wanted to let you know, be the voice of one of those voiceless thousands of hits. And thank you. So much.

  6. Hi mineownaardvarks,

    As one of the people who likes to write about chthonic pomegranates and cosmological implications, I hope I’m not discouraging you from posting wow many times. What I write is simply the kind of thing that I like to write. People like to write in different kinds of styles: I particularly admire Archangel Beth, who writes very well with emoticons.

    I thought about this before and, of course, came up with a classification scheme (embedded in the poem “Maps (Four Explorers)”). It seems to me that Hitherby Dragons commenters fall into four archetypical groups: the conversational ones who like to chat or be witty (and argue perhaps or even flame, if this wasn’t Hitherby), the celebratory ones who like to say how great the latest entry was or otherwise share their emotional reaction, the analytical ones (see chthonic pomegranates above), and the lurkers, who pop up with something unexpected, then vanish again, perhaps to someday reappear. Naturally no one really falls into one of these archetypes; individual real people post a range of things. But the classification scheme, in its form as a poem, is really supposed to also be an argument — an argument that all of these things are equally worthwhile. (Not that it is up to me to judge. This is only my opinion.) And to express the sense of a shared goal which different people approach in different ways.

    So I hope to see you commenting here as you like!

  7. I’ve been a lurker here since I discovered this site a few months ago. Typically, I look, but don’t touch– I’ve always been paranoid about posting to forums owned by people I don’t know in the flesh. But– part of what I like about Hitherby is the courage and strength on display here. So I’m going to stand up and be counted (I Chronicles 21, anybody?). I’m also making a donation.
    I will also mention, just for fun, that I have a personal interpretation of Ink Catherly. Ink stands for all the people like me, who discovered the site just recently, and have been ascending slowly through the Archives. Some of what we see is Hell, but it’s your Hell, and I don’t always understand it. Even without understanding, though, eventually we reach a point of decision… and here I am.

  8. Okay! I’ve donated. I also intend to start a thread on my favorite entries, but am procrastinating a bit. (I have Greek homework to do.)

    As my comment to “DST Nocturne” shows, I did notice that the Sun was a theme, but I have to admit that I didn’t connect that to Iphigenia until the connection was explicitly pointed out here.

    I do like the multi-part legends. Longer stories allow more in-depth delving into the ramifications of a situation. Really, the whole top-level plot is one large multi-part legend in a way….

  9. I don’t so much enjoy each individual story as I do the concept of such a collection of them existing in one place. It’s far too much of a strain on my willpower to keep up with each of them as they’re written, but it’s nice to know that they’re there if I desire to read something kickin’ rad by my favorite still-living author to pass the hours by. That rules out a contribution of effort, sadly, since one has to be more coherent than ‘I like this, you should too’ when expressing ideas to strangers.

    But donations, now that’s interesting! It’s not a good thing for an incoming college student to go spending money he doesn’t have yet as freely as I’d like to, but if the future of such an exemplary author is still in dire straits a month or two down the line, I’ll be sure to send one hundred or thereabouts.

  10. Crud, Rebecca! I’m sorry things are so dicey for you right now. I’d contribute, but I’m in some financial pain too! …I thought I’d done you some good, having finally broken down and ordered Nobilis a few days ago, but it sounds like there’s a knot in that hose. Well, maybe I will find some change under the refrigerator.

    I just now finished reading the archives from front to… well, whatever point of the middle we’re currently at. I’ve been tangentially aware of you for awhile, at least since Aslan Shrugged, and have occasionally looked in on you since, but it was only recently (following the link from Crooked Timber) that I decided to buckle down and read all those other stories that looked too oblique and intimidating before, when I didn’t know what the context was or even if there really was a context for sure. I think you have an excellent idea in asking people to post lists of their favorite stories– it was reading the entries in Novalis’ list (in the comments to that CT post) that decided me to finally tackle Hitherby like a novel.

    As for posting such a list myself– for me, one reading of a work of this length and depth is like one coat of housepaint: pretty thin. I’ll probably need to go over it at least once more just to know which entries I particularly like, and more to begin to grasp the connections and meanings people are turning up in the comments. So, it’ll be a bit, at least.

    Besides, it’s not like I actually have an audience. Normally, I’m 100% pure lurker. In the past, when I’ve gone about posting my thoughts on forums and comment boxes and such, I would get along quite nicely, until I would randomly encounter a troll. Trolls make my head explode! Then a warty green grimacy blob pops up out of the raw stump of my neck and I turn into a troll too! It isn’t pretty. But it seems like this place is fairly well warded against the trolls. Maybe I will risk it.

    Hmm… I do belong to an sf reading club. And I have considered proposing Hitherby as one of our monthly subjects. I won’t, until it’s finished, but that doesn’t mean I can’t evangelize a little in the meantime.

    Seriously, commenting is hard. The regulars here do set a fairly intimidating standard (though the encouragement is appreciated, rpuchalsky). Also, as I just discovered, the registration process for maps is a tiny bit of a hurdle. It’s not, like, actually onerous or anything, and I’m sure hitherby.admin has excellent reasons for it, but I’d imagine it is a deterrent for a number of readers who might like to leave a casual comment, see the registration screen, and decide not to bother.

    Anyway, I should probably note that the segment of the Liril and Micah stories incorporating the line “Wow, the Monster is really bad at Greek” have finally motivated me to study Greek, which I have been thinking about and taking no action on for a long time. So thanks for that too! [size=9:9d815a2b1e”>(Does “Kyrievo” really mean “lordship” or suchlike? All I have for now is the rather inadequate glossary in the back of the “Teach Yourself Ancient Greek” book I got at friendly local library…)[/size:9d815a2b1e”>

  11. Although, interestingly, my last house used to be a chocolate factory. Or, well, a candy factory.
    Nope. Chocolate. Specifically chocolate.

  12. OK, I donated. More than I could afford, really, but financial pain shared is financial pain halved.

  13. I finally donated, just before the end of the month. I thought I’d remind anyone else who procrastinates in a similar fashion about this as well.

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