Letters Column for May 2006: A Soundless Thunder

We interrupt this letters column for a note on Orange Kit-Kats.

They are like the best thing ever!

I actually meant to tell you all about them back sometime around Christmas when Kirby had some and shared but I kept forgetting. But now you know!

Okay, now, back to answering your letters.

But this is all a tangent. My main point is that, at the time of saying things like he did in The Show, the monster is clearly not a god. And still, he exhibits the “openness and honesty” feature, to a higher degree than most of the gods we’ve seen. Thus, on this basis, I argue that within the canonical narratives that we’ve seen, the trait which Pete expected of Sid is not unique to gods.
— Eric

I think you’re right!

I’m not sure that honesty is quite the right word but the monster is definitely open.

It has a dark middle.
— silversmoke

Most things do. Even 24-hour periods and M&Ms!

Some people would blame that on the persistent universal characteristic of suffering but since I have received a cease and desist letter from Dukkha (motto: “We suck because you like it that way!”) I will instead suggest that the characteristic of brightness is not found in things but rather flowing all around and outside things, like the luminiferous ether. That’s why people who practice holistic medicine are so happy and joyous and peaceful right up until they choke to death on growths in their spleens. It’s the attention to brightness, that glorious outwards-turning gaze that tunes us to the infinite celebration that is life and light and existence!

It is extremely admirable, I think, to turn wounds into a map. It speaks of great internal strength and integrity.
— Mithrandir

Yay!

I think that makes everyone in the world admirable, even Dick Cheney.

Because look:

What distinguishes us from innocents is the scars of time. We are marked by the things that happen to us. We cannot ever unmake the past because we are our pasts. And the wounds are the path by which we got from then to now.

I think that it is difficult to differentiate wounds from experience.

For example, I fight three thri-kreen; I suffer wounds; I gain a level. Is this because my spirit has enriched itself naturally over time and, as I Cleaved from one thri-kreen to the next, the universal love in me finally broke past the boundaries of my ego and swamped out to hug the world? Or is it more that the nicks and cuts I suffered from their terrible insectile scythes showed me a map to the secrets of higher-level spells? I think that one of these things is much more likely than the one before.

As it is with thri-kreen, so it is with the heart.

Also, thousands of wings? Cherubs?
— cariset

One of the lesser-known tragedies of Hamlet is that, once flights of angels sing someone to their rest, the angels are unable to return to Heaven. Instead they are made into beds. That is why they call it Bed, Bath, and the Beyond. It’s nothing to do with the bishop!

(I think that Martin would approve of this tactic, using your suffering to good use.)
— Dryn

Suffering is also extremely handy for when you want to get zestfully clean. That’s why martyrs always smell so delightfully fresh!

I’m going to need to read it a few more times…
— chaomancer

Thank you for your kind words!

Is a miracle wheel the same as a treasure wheel or something different? Especially if it’s gotten all dry and hard over time.
— mneme

They’re something different. If you tried to put tomato sauce and parmesan on a treasure wheel, it’d roll away. If you tracked it down, it’d wriggle! And when you finally bit into it, you’d break your teeth!

That doesn’t happen with miracle wheels. If you look at any of the classic literature of religious experience, miracles are things that numinously limn the outlines of our lives and make us remember that even such overwhelming powers as death, life, sacrifice, loss, and greed are the finite borders of a specific context. So, like, when there’s a miracle, you might get a second chance to say goodbye to the 80s or Emperor Huangti might come back to life and learn to surf, whereas when there’s a treasure wheel, you might need major reconstructive dental surgery.

Not that I’m bitter.

Is it significant that the miracles take the place in the recipe of eggs?
— David Goldfarb

Know your ingredients!

There is a soundless thunder, a fire that does not burn, a deep and subtle power that moves on the face of the cosmos. It is in turns bitter, sour, salty, and sweet; but principally it is rich, and it hath not the others to excess.

This is the thing that the mind gropes towards as the substance and the source of miracles. Some call it God.

Excess glucose it generateth not.

Starches it hath not.

Thus even when the bush does burn its branches slump; even at the end of days the collars of its shirts will slouch and make the teeming legions of the world say, “Ah, slovenly revelations.”

And the substance of miracles maketh no sound flour nor even a good meal.

As for salt, that would be blasphemy; it would make miracles commensurate with gold.

There is a strong theoretical case for considering milk and miracles interchangeable when baking. Milk has fat, lactose, and calcium; miracles have fat, lactose, and calcium. Female mammals express milk to feed their children; that quality of mysterious beneficence in the cosmos expresses miracles to feed its children. Miracles even curdle and grow sour through the process of kenosis, so that people will say, “Man, this miracle is all clumpy and unsatisfying! Try it!” In practice, however, miracles lack the liquid content necessary to substitute for milk.

Naturally miracles cannot substitute for butter—butter is part of the leavening process!

Now, the discussion of eggs.

One of the major reasons to use eggs in baking is the lecithin in the eggs. Lecithin acts as an emulsifying agent—something to help mix together two immiscible substances, such as a morally upright nation and torture, human and divine natures, oil and water, mortality and greatness, or pirates and robots. If you wanted to make a torture-using morally upright nation, for instance, you would grind up that nation and the torture and then mix them together with a lake-sized basin of egg yolks. Similarly when frying a pirate-robot quiche inexperienced chefs are often startled to notice strange combination creatures such as tiny robots with peglegs that say, “Yarr” or baked pirates driven by insatiable logic.

Miracles can substitute for lecithin in this context. You can use a miracle to bind incompatible things together, such as families, love and duty, or the oil and water in the traditional Jesuit condiment transubstantiationnaise.

So that’s why miracles substitute for eggs. Also, ’cause I liked the Easter picture Hitherby_Admin dug up way back when.

This is so amazingly amazing that I had to delurk.
— Insomnius

Thank you for your kind words! Raar!

So, in effect, you’d be getting eaten in two different metaphorical ways at the same time.
— ethan_greer

Or three, if you have a x1.5 Vulnerability!

If a leopard ate a book on (choose one) {painting, fashion, transvestisim, molting, some self-help subject} could it change its spots? Or is it always a tool other critters use to change their own spots?
— rylen

Yes.

It does not take much of a push for a leopard to change its spots. It does not take deep knowledge.

The only thing that keeps leopards from changing their spots is fear.

Fear.

Fear and, okay, surprise.

Fear, surprise, and the power of the Pope.

Oh! Right.

Speaking of Popes.

In the old days, you could totally buy the office of the Pope. I mean, right now, it’s all holy and stuff, but back then, it was all about politics and gold. And all that went on for years and years, with the Popes issuing bulls on virginity and bulls on witches and bulls playing poker and so forth and everyone listened because, after all, the Pope was the direct heir of Apostle Peter. Then one day you actually had a Pope, Pope Eugene IV, who didn’t buy his office, and suddenly nobody listened to him!

He dissolved the Council of Basle. But nobody listened! They just went on counciling, and then elected an antipope!

“I dissolved this Council of Basle!” raged Pope Eugene. “Why are you going around electing antipopes instead of dissolving?”

And they replied, startled, “But simony didn’t say!”

I love simony jokes.

If a leopard ate a copy of Primal Chaos and then ate a semi-pre-pubesent child of unspecified gender, would the child understand how to use the horrific experience of being eaten to induce growth of character?
— Taliskar

Of course! The lecithin in the leopard’s stomach would totally emulsify the child with the Primal Chaos to make an unstoppable warrior—half human, half fiction!

I feel compelled to ask what would happen if a leopard ate a copy of The Leopard, but I’m not sure I want an answer.
— James Wallis

“Raar!” says the leopard, leaping out at a penguin.

Suddenly the penguin recognizes that change is coming to Italy. That the old ways are passing and must give rise to the new.

“Wark!” says the penguin.

It waddles around in agitation. It had wanted Italy to remain exactly the same! The proud blood of medieval aristocrats runs in this penguin. It is no traitor to that class of great men who once had run the world.

“Wark!”

Its adorable flippers flail in distress that the Risorgimento must come!

The leopard claws at the penguin. Its powerful foot strikes the penguin on the head. Suddenly the penguin’s ears are full of the buzzing of nonexistent bees.

Oh, the penguin understands, in that dizzying moment between the worlds of life and death.

Oh.

The old ways were a myth, even then.

It falls backwards into the water; into the endless salty chill; and if there is a quality in the world that redeems this moment for the disillusioned penguin it is the knowledge that a leopard in the arctic soon freezes.

It remains to be seen whether one leopard can grant knowledge to another.
— dan_percival

Man, it would suck if they couldn’t. Can you imagine? You’re a leopard and you’re in the jungle and suddenly one of your buddies, who has been eating too many books, attacks you—

And you CAN’T TELL WHAT BOOK HE ATE.

It’s got to be like talking to Mr. Dobson or eating bad cheese or something. Maybe even worse!

Fortunately the dome wasn’t made with a screen door. Then we’d never have this story.
— Penultimate Minion

Totally true. I can’t write within two miles* of a screen door—they’re like sluices for muises!

But… but… why didn’t the left hand know what the right was doing, and what did the right hand do that was so offensive that it got cut off?
— cariset

The right hand fed a leopard too many copies of Nietzsche and then showed it to the left hand, killing it instantly!

Actually I think the right hand wasn’t cut off. It was pulling a takeover bid, and had to get rid of the Face before the seraphim would go along. ^_^

Assumably Hobbits trump spiders, however I can’t seem to find anything about Spocks and Spiders.
— Dryn

It’s actually pretty much just an assumption on the part of futuristic children. However, if you’re an avid fan of Diane Duane’s earlier work you might be able to find a connection. (Spider extracts Spock from space-time!)

Trivia: this was originally hobbit-Spock-Sauron. Hobbit beats Sauron, Sauron beats Spock, Spock sings about hobbits. This seemed to make sense to me because there really isn’t any way that Sauron wouldn’t beat Spock. Spock would be all like, “Huh. This inscription—this ring has the U.S. Constitution on it!” and then Sauron would burn him with Sauron’s eye.** However, I decided that ‘spider’ was more euphonious.

Still, if the perfect RSP algorithm went up against another perfect RSP algorithm, wouldn’t the outcome be limited to two results: A continuous string of ties, or a probabalistic singularity?
— Penultimate Minion

Technically Navvy Jim wasn’t perfect. He was just heroically good.

There was this . . . Asimov? story . . . about how you could do time travel by building sufficiently large rotating cylinders. And he suggested that the implication of this is that in the causal history of the universe from beginning to end, no one actually does so, as manifest in the story by events that prevent the project’s completion.

So you could argue that by definition a perfect RSP player could never encounter another such player and choose to play against them. This is one of many reasons why Navvy Jim’s existence threatens the common concepts of free will. An interesting question for Christians is what happens if God chooses to play RSP against Jesus, while similarly one can entertainingly challenge a Hindu by asking what happens when Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu play Brahma-Shiva-Vishnu against one another. The correct answer in both cases, however, is to transcend dualistic experience and recognize the fundamental oneness of things.

If your opponent assumes a relationship then the best thing to do would be to play randomly. If he doesn’t then you can play however you want, since your opponent will be playing random.
— Dryn

The difficulty of being random increases with increasing causal proximity to Navvy Jim, finally going asymptotic when you interact with him.

I have never lost a game of Paper-Scissors-Rock in my life..
— GoldenH

And also, apparently, when you interact with GoldenH!

Who knew?

I’ve had a deprived childhood. How do you throw dynamite?
— rylen

Hold up a finger or thumb to be the wick. Personally, I’d use the thumb because I like the OK! gesture, but perhaps with some nagging fear that we’ve been lied to regarding Strewwelpeter’s actual crime.

That’s it for this month! Thanks for reading, commenting, donating, etcetera, and I’ll talk to you again next month!

Rebecca

* Distance exaggerated for comic effect. The correct word is “nanometers.”

** Not having anything else to burn him with.

6 thoughts on “Letters Column for May 2006: A Soundless Thunder

  1. Niven, not Asimov. The title (taken from a paper by Frank Tipler) was “Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation”.

  2. the funny thing is, they’re looking at using rotating cylinders as a replacement for jet engines. apparnetly the gaps between the cylinders can kick up a pretty hefy wind ;)

  3. As ever, there is so very much worth responding to.

    I choose, however, to take issue with your assertion that a Sauronic victory over Spock would be inevitable– on the basis that this is marginally geekier than even discussion of whether the thri-kreen attacks are causal or merely correlate with the growth of power and experience.

    I suggest that victory for Mordor is likely only if Spock is foolish and allows himself to engage in close or medium range conflict, presumably hoping to leverage his superior demi-Vulcan strength and death grip agains an apparently intangible malign force. A more effective strategy would be to employ the use of a starship, of the kind to which Mr. Spock has easy access. Even if Sauron were immune to photon torpedoes (of which I express some skepticism), Spock could still beam the Ring directly into the fires of Mount Doom.

    Plus, you know Spock would be all “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the One Ring.”

  4. I wonder how being “heroically good” at RPS differs from being incapable of losing (which, though astounding, requires no particular heroics). Throw in a dash of “What’s Expected of Us” for seasoning.

  5. I just rated a number of entries that I really liked. I’m sure I missed a few but it is exhausting to judge the quality of things.

Leave a Reply