Letters Column for October 2006: The Covenant of Perfect Things!


There’s been a bit of a medication screwup. :-/ I’m not entirely sure what to do about it ’cause while it’s mostly just messing up my productive time levels I’m concerned that it’s also diminishing craft competence. The worst case will be a week’s break while I’m impaired. The second-worst cases are “a week of filler” or “a week with only 1-2 entries.” The third-worst case is already here, that is, not finishing the letters column this week!

For those of you wondering what I’m up to in my other work: I finished some work for Unhallowed Metropolis that I suspect people will consider my first meaningful contribution to the RPG biz. There’s a bit of a crude flint-knife aspect to the tech but I’m quite shockingly fond of it. (No pun. It’s not anything to do with shock treatment, although I guess you could use it for that. But it’s probably more practical to just hit people on the head with Hero 5th edition until they become pliable.)

I am starting playtesting on a diceless rules set for somebody y’all know and love and I’m in early design stages on building a game for somebody else of whom the community is pretty fond. I’ve written another 6k on _A Society of Flowers_, pushing the draft up to 86.67% completion, give or take 8.5%. (After that, an edit, which should be quick, and then I hand that off and start working on the mortals book.) I’m working on a YA novel; I’ll be sharing the first bit of that with you at the next site code update. Since I’m being horribly laggard in taking advantage of the really rather shocking opportunity I was offered to do a graphic novel some time back, I’m considering taking out some of the Hitherby-specificness and converting Island of the Centipede to a manwha when done; would there be interest?

I also have an absolutely appalling number of things I really should turn into small ransom-model or print-on-demand RPGs and amn’t. And I have an exciting opportunity that’s under an NDA so strict that I should probably disavow the word “exciting” as giving too much away. And opportunity. I have an, yeah, that’s it, an.

I like November a lot. It’s a good month.

Donations for October totalled $40. Thank you! Also thank you for reading and commenting, and in particular to the following for the following kind words during October 2006:

BethL (“Priceless”)
cariset (“spiffy!”)
chaomancer (“Very nice!”)
David Goldfarb (“Ding ding ding!”)
Eric (“Ooh, ooh, want!”)
EricHerman (“the Enlightenment hazaah!”)
ethan_greer (“fabulous”)
GoldenH (“wonderful”)
madpawn (“I just made a two-page comic”)
Michael (“Cool.”)
mineownaardvarks (“amazing”)
Mithrandir (“*brain explodes*”)
mneme (“Yay!”)
Ninjacrat (“Well there you go”)
Penultimate Minion (“chanting for Society of Flowers since before I was born”)
Rand Brittain (“I confess to desiriousness”)
rpuchalsky (“very Vertigo”)
ryan (“how delighted I am”)
tikitu (“*way* spiffy!”)
villum (“I loved the ending of this story.”)

I’m fully aware that evolution can be used in a general sense to represent an attempt to improve oneself in some way. But, given that the Roomba in the Tower as an LED that reads “Evolution occurs over multiple generations” (or something like that, I haven’t looked it up), the standard biological understanding of evolution seems relevant. Evolution requires replication, mutation, and selection pressure. Not all of these seem to be present, so the mention of what’s happening as evolution seems a bit off. It wouldn’t if it didn’t seem so pseudo-biological, perhaps.
— rpuchalsky

Here Mr. Puchalsky is speaking of Sarous. Sarous had been a blind fish in the rivers that flow through the hollow crust of the world—rivers made from water flowing down from the Earth, some say, or perhaps from the fluids of the titan Cronos who dwells there, interwoven with the crust, maintaining time. One day King Snorn, who had been a stone, went out into a great cavern and set his feet and spoke.

The words were difficult to say. He spoke like the lifting of a great weight. That was an undertone in his voice. The rumbling of stone like the shifting of great plates—you could hear that under the enunciation, in his voice.

Like a carrier wave.

I don’t know what he said, but it was something that awakened a fire in the creatures of that place. It was something that made their dharma to move, so that where they had held no purpose greater than blind survival, now they had a desire to be as people are. It made Sarous, who had been a fish, into a man, and made him to dream of an end to suffering.

I think that in this case Mr. Puchalsky is correct, but I would like to explore it a bit.

You see, there is mutation and selection pressure in this, although I am not sure that there is replication. Perhaps there may be.

When King Snorn spoke, one cannot imagine that every listener heard his words as they are. For all the effort he put into those words, he was still speaking over a noisy channel, and that noise, I think, mutates.

And when dharma moves it is not changed by other people.

You might imagine that, that because of King Snorn’s great effort to lift up the mindless things with the gospel of King Snorn, that he executed a change upon their dharmas; but that is not so. You cannot make others to change and you cannot control the pathways of their change. What you may do, ultimately, and only, is to choose the paths you walk yourself. So I think that one can view King Snorn’s words as a selection pressure of a sort.

I am not a biologist, of course.

I cannot speak as to replication; although I am surprised, because it seems to be a fallacy—a fallacy, oddly, directly relevant to this storyline—to think too greatly in terms of which things are different from which other things. It would seem to me that a single entity should be capable of evolution, in that “single entity” is a frame of categorization, while evolution is intended as a description of a process in the world.

That said, there’s an important and meaningful objection that you could be making here, and I’m not sure whether you’re making it or not but I’m guessing that you are.

That is, the assumption of this storyline—let us call it Ink Uninterrable—is that evolution moves towards a telos, a final “superior” state.

This is deeply problematic on scientific and moral grounds. Scientifically, because it’s just not the modern understanding of biology. Morally, because it’s very dangerous to get the idea in one’s head that you know or embody a superior way—a way that people should be going. Even though most of my exposure to this sort of thinking has been from the humane works of Andrew Greeley and secondhand rants about Teilhard from pretty good people such as Bruce Baugh and some of the ideas lurking in the corners of geek Rapture-style transhumanism, I’m aware that the idea of a telos in evolution has been used as a conceptual justification for racism and classism and is, in short, a pretty dangerous idea.

Even the idea that “people” are better than things that are not is kind of risky. I mean, it’s not *so* xenophobic in the absence of regular dealings with aliens or angels; it’s really mostly kind of a slight against the Order Coleoptera, which, to be honest, doesn’t really seem to care. But it’s still in a broad kind of thinking that violates the Copernican Principle at one end and basic social justice at another.

So what’s going on here?

Well, part of it is that I’m not a biologist; I’m a geek. I am also irrationally optimistic and I’m not likely to examine that optimism with the full scalpel of reason until it clashes with either my work, compassion for somebody, or some fundamental bit of ontology. I like having it.

The other part is that dharma is a great beast writhing to position itself in minimal comfort within the restraints imposed by those who have, over the years, seated themselves upon the throne of the world; there is a telos, for that beast, which is, a position wherein it may rest and consider, what is next?

The Paradise-Fall story could be seen as a kind of story about the beginning of evolution — both reproduction and selection pressure start at the same time. As such it would seem to have a good deal to do with the Hitherby theme of imperfection being in some ways better than perfection (because it at least gives you somewhere to go, something to do).
— rpuchalsky


I guess there’s a case there. I think for me personally, it’s a bit like the covenant of the shark—what business is it of ours, the covenant of perfect things? We can never understand them. ^_^

There exist entities in the Hitherby universe who would prefer to cause suffering. The monster. Martin, if it was transformative. Possibly siggorts count.
— Aliasi

I think Dr. Sarous’ opinion was that the desire to cause suffering is everywhere rooted in error.

This is hard for me to analyze because I believe it myself. ^_^

I’m not sure I really understand this entry yet, but all the stuff about lenses and fixing the broken world seems like a critique of Jane and Martin’s methods.
— David Goldfarb


Possibly. Certainly idealists are rarely very different from their worst enemies; that’s why I’m a pacifist!

At the same time, it’s not clear that Dr. Sarous’ methods in practice resemble Jane and Martin’s, just some of the underlying motives and ideas. I often suspect that motives are, as Jack Vance would say, noncupatory; the big thing is methodology.

Timeline is *way* spiffy! Is that ‘Chronological’ an implicit promise of other arrangements?
— tikitu

I used FreeMind to build that particular timeline, and it was the only way I could get everything to hang to the right of the root. *^_^*

That said, yeah, I’m thinkin’ about having a “presentation” order sometime!

If you’re going to talk about author identification, note the name Rebecca uses to post entries (this is visible in the RSS feed): Jenna.
— David Goldfarb

Hee hee. caught! But Hitherby_Admin set that up, not me.

Still, if you want to go into layers, you might find it interesting to note when she set that up, which is to say, at the transition to the imago.

And what if you put down the burdens and discover that you were wrong to think that the world would improve, but then it’s too late to pick the burdens back up again?
— cariset

It’s never too late with the new Tachyon Sub from Subway! It uses the mysterious particles that keep Twinkies fresh, allowing its devourer to travel back in time! You can even get it toasted if you don’t mind explaining yourself to the Time Cops later^H^H^H^H^Hat some point.

On another note, I just made a two-page comic loosely based on early Hitherby for an art assignment! The characters’ heads are sculpted, and the rest is photo manipulation.
— madpawn

Thank you so much! As a reminder, for those who don’t read comments, that’s here and here. ^_^

Jane and Martin have spent AGES wracking their brains about how to answer to suffering. Turns out all they have to do is find this guy and give him his balls back. Boy will _they_ feel silly!
— Ninjacrat

“But what do you call this act?” says the King, somewhat disoriented.

The Cakkavattisihananda Sutta!” declares the family together.

And just to see if I’ve got it straight, the ages of Hitherby history are:
— Ninjacrat

Technically Uri and Cronos share an “age” (the Second Kingdom). That’s probably one of those factoids that’s more unhelpful than helpful, though. ^_^

So it’s:


– Transitional moment: ?

First Kingdom

– Transitional moment: ?

Second Kingdom (up to the Titanomachy)

– Transitional moment: Time Begins

Third Kingdom (Hitherby histories from the Titanomachy to the Buddha)

– Transitional moment: World Breaks

Fourth Kingdom (Hitherby histories from Buddha to now)

If we go by the congruence of Hitherby to normal history, the one who comes after Zeus is God.
— rpuchalsky

This is an interesting statement! But there’s no time for analysis! No time to discuss it! This entry’s going to end in just twenty more words! That’s it for today! I’ll answer comments from Ink Ascending onwards in my next post. ^_^


16 thoughts on “Letters Column for October 2006: The Covenant of Perfect Things!

  1. *gasp*

    Finally! I figured out how to log back in!

    Um. Sorry about that. I add my kind words to everyone else’s, if only because I couldn’t get WordPress to play nice with me while it was all going on.

  2. The other part is that dharma is a great beast writhing to position itself in minimal comfort within the restraints imposed by those who have, over the years, seated themselves upon the throne of the world; there is a telos, for that beast, which is, a position wherein it may rest and consider, what is next?

    *Blinks in the sudden light* I wouldn’t say I understand, but I understand better.

  3. “secondhand rants about Teilhard”

    I always thought that Teilhard de Chardin got a bad deal, at least in regard to his religious writing (he had what sounds like an exciting and productive life in many ways). I mean, here’s someone who keeps writing perfectly good works of mysticism, has the church lean on him to the point where he has to publish posthumously, but soon after that, the scientific understanding of evolution is asserted so that the basis for his mysticism gets discredited. It’s like he was slammed between the Pope and Dawkins.

    And yes, I was thinking in part about the idea that evolution moves to a superior state. The idea that entities move to a superior state is a perfectly good one, common to most religions, and I don’t think that it’s necessarily a dangerous idea. It’s just that the doctrine of King Snorn seemed to evoke it as a sort of false consciousness — instead of telling every entity in the cavern that they should rise up and try to become human (and then, try to become better humans), he told them something about “evolution”.

  4. “Technically Uri and Cronos share an “age” (the Second Kingdom).”

    If I’m not imagining things, isn’t each age broken into a Kingdom and a Tyranny? For some reason, I had thought that Uri’s rule was the Second Kingdom and Cronos’ the Second Tyranny (or maybe just part of Cronos’ rule).

    It’s hard for me to imagine the First Kingdom, let alone prehistory. The time of Uri already seems so elemental, it’s hard to think of how it could get even more so.

    Also for the First Kingdom it seems like you’d be running out of world-mythos. Cronos-Zeus is Greek, and prior to that you’ve got — Egyptian? Sumerian? Somehow Egyptian doesn’t feel right; there isn’t really the direct descent from their beliefs to ours that makes the others feel relevant to a present-day answer. Sumerian is just really odd.

    I wonder whether we’re going to see any Zoroastrian influence? If I remember rightly, angels and devils were imported into Christianity through Judaism, which passed them on from Zoroastrianism.

  5. Well, Boedromion 15 tells us something of what things were like before Uri ascended the throne.

    This may be the place to share my crazy Greek-Christian myth fusion that came to me a while ago. In my imagination, Zeus had sex with Mary (the Virgin bit was later PR), coming to her in the form of a dove. But Zeus didn’t know that Mary was Metis reincarnate. So her son Jesus grew up and ascended to godhood (after of course dying and passing through the Underworld) and overthrew him, as Zeus had previously overthrown Chronos who had overthrown Ouranos.

  6. Yes, Round Man is another name for Uri. I see that history as chronicling how Uri got onto the throne of the world.

    I notice one thing about the timeline: there is a definite trend towards greater freedom, or perhaps greater chaos. In Uri’s time, only perfect beings could exist in the world. Chronos allowed imperfect beings into the world, but harmony still ruled: all outcomes were harmonious and appropriate. Zeus introduced misrule, freeing outcomes; but beings were still constrained by their innate natures. Siddhartha, Belshazzar, and Chen Yu between them removed those constraints. (So that, frex, we can now have a siggort who does not vivisect.)

    If Jane and Martin follow this pattern, they should remove some further constraint. I’m not certain what that will be. Perhaps they will abolish the throne of the world entirely, allowing all people to remake reality? Perhaps Martin will remove the distinction between isn’t and is?

  7. “Yes, Round Man is another name for Uri. I see that history as chronicling how Uri got onto the throne of the world.”

    Oh, I see. I had thought that the moment when Uri declared that things should be appropriate marked the transition between the Kingdom and the Tyranny of that age. I thought that if he hadn’t already been on the throne of the world, he wouldn’t have had the ability to make his statement change everything. But that was when I had thought that Uri / Round Man was in the First Kingdom. Cronos says “The Kingdom I have builded gives way to Tyranny”, so if he and Uri are both in the Second Kingdom, it seems like he must have used that transition up.

    I agree about the trend towards greater freedom; maybe the next transition (whose transitional moment name seems pretty clearly to be “Wind Changes”) is going to lead to something other than a Kingdom or a Tyranny.

  8. This came to mind when reading a discussion of theodicy elsewhere.

    I mean, obviously, I’m not really the best sort of person to be thinking about theodicy. For all the scientists among you might find me a bit excessive in my faith, I know the faithful among you might find me a bit lacking. ^_^

    This is interesting, because you once took issue with my claim that Hitherby Dragons, as “an answer to suffering” was similar to, but distinct from a theodicy per se, back in the April ’05 letter column:

    There is an argument that an all-powerful benevolent God was inherent in the setting the moment that I asserted that the world had a purpose, regardless of the temporary aberration in the status of that purpose.

    So, I suppose I’m wondering: what is your current thinking on the status of Hitherby as theodicy?

    An aside: is there anywhere I can find a summary of “Island of the Centipede”? I went away for a few months to deal with moving half way ’round the world (and partly because the move from daily postings gradually edged it from my morning routine). When I tried to come back, Hitherby was in the middle of a multi-part arc that seemed slightly-more-difficult-than-usual catch up on … so I thought I’d just skip this whole “Island” nonsense, and wait for the resumption of the normal legend schedule. It’s rather belatedly become apparent that I must either figure out what the heck has gone on or abandon Hitherby for good.

  9. Summary: the “Island of the Centipede” is like the movie “Heavy Metal”, except with no cheesy sex scenes.

    Seriously, don’t abandon Hitherby, ADamiani. Ford Dent finally made it back, and I’m still hoping for Metal Fatigue and Sparrowhawk and the rest of the formerly frequent commenters who seemed to go missing in the transition to make it.

  10. If anything, coming in after so much of it is down should be helpful; the rest of us poor saps had to wait day by day!

  11. Alas, RPuchalsky! I am in Korea (which means Rebecca’s manhwa mention is of particular interest to me) and copies of “Heavy Metal” would seem rather hard to come by (though, by contrast, cheesy sex-scenes apparently make up 98% of late-night television content). It doesn’t help that the “catch up” section of the site ends right about the part where I stopped being caught up!

    So you’re telling me I wasn’t the only one to get thrown by the transition?

  12. Apparently you weren’t the only one, no. I’m not really sure why. Ford Dent up top mentions login problems, but I think that some people just couldn’t do without the benevolent presence of the angel picture.

    Definitely don’t rent “Heavy Metal” just because of my joke, if you haven’t seen it already. I guess that I could write a summary. Anyway, here’s a slightly longer one, from memory, with some Sid scenes rearranged in order:

    First scene: The Tower turns out to be built on top of Sukaynah, a person transformed into something like a _Dune_ giant worm. In one big action scene, the Demon Rahu tries to eat Iphigenia and is stopped by Sid, Sid and Max have a lover’s quarrel and fight each other, Martin frees Sukaynah, who causes an earthquake and a “goodblow” which is kind of like the force of good/God escaping from the center of the Earth, and Martin sends Max off to terminate God with extreme prejudice, promising to make Sid an is if he does.

    All this happens at a time before most of the current events that we’ve already seen.

    Background music: some kind of death metal, I’d guess

    Second scene: Max sails over the sea to cap the goodblow. Max avoids some Buddha Pirates and gets steadily more and more wounded fighting off a mermaid, who eventually helps him when the crystalized essence of Confucious that Jane gave to Max affects her. He is eventually in too bad shape to continue. Meanwhile, Sid moons over Max.

    Background music: prog rock

    Third scene: A mysterious cocoon that fell into the depths of the Tower during the earthquake turns out to be Ink, who has become real. She joins up with Sukaynah in order to find God at the center of the earth and dethrone him. Sukaynah breaks into the earth’s crust only to find that it’s hollow; she falls, Ink doesn’t. Ink spends some time journeying part way up again, meeting various creatures who are all trying to evolve, and generally being threatened as she was in her legendary journey.

    Background music: electronica

    Fourth scene: Martin realizes that Max has failed, and sends Sid out to rescue him / complete the mission. Sid meets up with the Buddha Pirates, and after they realize that he’s a badass siggort, they agree to put off trying to kill him and get him to come along with them on their attack on the skandhas of Head Island, the whole thing being a good excuse for lots of Buddhist concepts and more romantic angst from Sid. (Speaking of which, try my poem if you wish.)

    Background music: emo

    I think that’s about it. I’ve left out Tep the werewolf and so on, but that should tide you over.

  13. _The Island of the Centipede_ starts on June 6 and has been running near-continuously. It should end this month and will end this year, after which I’m hoping to write a bunch of legends. I may build a catch up thing when my medication is fixed.

  14. One quibble: I don’t believe that Martin promised to make Sid an is. Max told him to, and Martin didn’t say he wouldn’t — but he didn’t say he would either, he just called Max a “ridiculous dolt”. (Which Max deserved, to be sure.)

  15. Well, Martin doesn’t seem to me to be the type to renege on a clearly understood implicit agreement, especially given his conversation with Sid later. But for a from-memory summary, I think that kind of error isn’t too bad. (Although I did forget to mention that, while Ink is ascending, she narrates in prophetic bits and pieces an entire history of Cronos up to the point where Zeus escapes from him with his siblings, and takes woglies from this story that help to undermine what’s threatening her.)

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