Letters Column in January 2012: “Holy Thursday, Batman!”

The problem with “God values free will, and talking to people would compromise their free will” is that our concept of god is based on the Bible, and in the Bible God talks to people all the time. (In at least one case, he struck someone blind, and the person only regained their vision after they agreed to be God’s direct servant.)
— David Goldfarb, on And Three Points is the Game

Oh, man, it’s supposed to be based on the Bible?

looks once, sadly, at her tetrachloradic divinity device, then puts it away in the closet, folds the closet after it, and pastes a sad-face sticker in the air whereupon it used to be.

**

There are a bunch of possible responses to that, and I’m disinclined to try for a serious discussion of non-Hitherby theology here, but here’s the one that amused me the most:

What if the Bible’s made of legends, not histories? (Using Hitherby definitions, obviously.) It’s the sort of thing God would say if he did talk to people. *shrug*
— Xavid, on And Three Points is the Game

“This is going to be LEGEND. . .

three days pass

**

Beautiful as always. An unexpected origin for Tainted John, for me at least.

On a more general note, with the progression of my contemplative path, Hitherby Dragons is gaining a deeper resonance for me. I suspect it is half-secretly an elaborate metaphor or instruction for the process of awakening.
— villum, on Green

When we are not ready to wake up, the world is full of comforters and pillows. When it is time to wake up, it is full of alarums shouting. That is not narrative! That is simply life. ^_^

… although, hm, technically I suppose that is a broken metaphor since it is if anything the other way around when one is actually in bed.

This is why I’m not a guru, y’all. My allegories are more backwards than a pollening tree at a Claritin convention!

**

Caught up. I’m glad you’re writing Hitheryby again.
— ScrewyAnathema, on Green

Yay!

**

I wonder who John’s father is. Is it the monster? the fiend that came to pick up micah?
— durroth, on Green

A casualty.

**

Why does John’s father have to be anybody other than an abusive asshole? Not everything has to be tied into the storyline.
— David Goldfarb, on Green

Oh, I could make a point of it—of his normalcy, of the fact that the real world is full of people like John’s father, and kids like John. I could say “here is a wonder. Here is a brightness. In Liril’s neighborhood, there was a perfectly ordinary, mundane boy who was both abused and going to become an abuser. A boy who didn’t have a compass. And she decided, before she left to deal with her more magical problems, that she’d step in and save him, because he was too young for his awfulness to count.”

And that would be meaningful, because this is a story of the end of the tyranny of the mundane. It’s a story of how magic went away, and everyone was happy, only, now? There’s no magic to stop things like John’s father from doing whatever they like. It’s a story about how sometimes, because there’s no such thing as magic, people sometimes just suffer, and it’s not their fault, and yet they keep on suffering anyway. About how, in fact, everybody just keeps on suffering anyway, but also, sometimes? For some people? It’s this unbearable, unimaginably

awful thing.

I could do that. I could write that. I totally could.

But there isn’t a kind of god that saves you. There isn’t a magic that rescues. That’s the wrong analogy. This isn’t a story about how Jane and Martin will appear in your lives and make things better, or Liril and Micah, and certainly not Melanie.

John’s history ties into the storyline because the point where magic enters his life is the hook for magic to change it.

So here’s where it started. Here’s where it came from.

John’s father was in Santa Ynez when the monster broke the Dominion at Elm Hill. His father was made sick by the breaking of a King that humans have no pacting with. He drank that breaking, ate that breaking, breathed that breaking; it was in the groundwater, and the soil, and the sky. He was there when when the monster’s truth asserted its supremacy—not at Elm Hill, not in the monster’s employ, simply, well, nearby. It poisoned him.

He was a casualty.

Of course, not everyone who gets sick on the monster’s leavings goes on to hurt others. That’s just the easy road. That’s what happens when people are bright enough to figure out that their suffering is unfair, but a bit too dim or broken to realize that that doesn’t make it justice when they pass that suffering on.

Aside, in January 2012: “Of the Pontiffs and Magistrinae and their Wailing”

Hm.

So I was working on a tetrachloradic divinity device in response to the way that an omnibenevolent omnipotent omniscient God should really be intervening a lot more often, and, apropos of nothing, found myself wondering if it is in fact true that God does not talk to people in dramatic, externally observable and trackable events all the time. Oh, sure, there’s no evidence for it, and there would be such evidence by definition, but

You can totes build a perfect mapping between the real world and a world where that happens. It is easily space-time isomorphic.

Now, that mapping? It isn’t a simplification. It’s got to be practically a complication. And I’d even go so far as to say that that is why we do not experience it. That we tend not to experience things that add that much Kolmogorov complexity to our experiential world unless we’re schizophrenic (or human) or whatever. but

I’d also guess, using my way undernourished computer science intuition, that the additional complexity of an active interventionist God is less than logarithmic in world-size, and possibly even constant. So what does it even mean to say that that world isn’t so?

Now that may make me seem like I’m all apologetic for the Lord and stuff, that I’m being a good theodicist, but OK, that’s not quite true, because look, this bit here? This bit is where I go off the rails of apologetics and crash right into a brain controlling a trolley.

My instinct is also that getting from here to a perfect world is quadratic.

And that is so much worse than merely bad apologetics that it will probably actually be described by future archaeologists as a crude biologically-prototyped example of the computational heresies that would later tear apart the allegiances of the pontiffs and magistrinae of the First Artificial Church.

Letters Column in January 2012: “Because, Otherwise, it Would Be Wrong.”

More than half of the people around you are sharks in disguise. They wear their fleshy human faces so that we do not know. However you can spot them by their plover fish and their inability to breathe on land, if you try. By their vastness. By their rows of teeth.

Why have we allowed them into our homes? Onto our streets?

Ultimately it is probably the fault of all those people who voted for Nader. This is what you get, Nader voters. This is what you get.

**

I tend to think of God as valuing free will; choosing to walk the path of righteousness is only meaningful if you had a free choice and reasonable alternatives. If God doesn’t give answers, you can’t really be sure whether you’re rebelling against God or rebelling against a false interpretation of God, or something.

It also reminds me of the old question of, say, whether it would be morally good to sell your soul to the Devil to feed starving children.
— Xavid, on And Three Points is the Game

Dude . . . um . . . that’s not what children eat.

Seriously.

The Devil is misleading you. The Prince of a Thousand Lies hath thee in thrall. What most children eat is not made of humans at all(*), but even if it is, even if they are vicious wolf-raised free-range anthropophagous orphans, they’ll still prefer something that’s more meaty than a soul. Now, I suppose that if you’re not a dualist, you could argue that the Devil intends to feed your enfleshed soul to the hungry orphans, but that’s not only sophistry but it’s a pretty easy moral choice to make to boot: human trafficking is always wrong.

Even if you’re just exporting someone to the nutrient pits to be torn apart by starving children while the Devil laughs! Even if it’s yourself!

You probably aren’t even allowed to traffic humans to feed God.(**)

(*) I mean, except for nursing children, of course. But frankly by the time they graduate from nursing school they aren’t really children any longer. That’s the horrible irony of it all. It’s even worse if they become doctors, sharks,(***) or pharmaceutical researchers! Although I don’t mind you taking a moment to think about Doogie Howser and more generally Neil Patrick Harris so I can make a Barney Stinson as Jesus joke tomorrow.

(**) although seriously after all these years of transubstantiation he is kind of owed. That’s not the joke. It’s not Barney’s flesh. That would just be ridiculous. Nobody would want to eat a purple dinosaur. I mean, except for starving children. But even they would probably not attach spiritual significance to it.

(***) you don’t know pain until a baby shark tries to nurse from you. Particularly if it is a robot shark. I mean, seriously. Also, that plover fish? NOT HELPING. Let the robot baby nursing shark cry. Your nipples will thank you for it. I thank God every day that I failed out of the Young Ladies’ Squaline Robotics and Finishing Academy before the mandatory nursing seminar.

**

I am pretty messed up from running out of all money and all food that was not oatmeal for a fair few days but now it is resolved. However if I seem a little visceral and bleak, like my words are an undersea-installation shell encrusted with barnacles and through the window-glass are peculiar vibrating, darting globules of darkness—well, then, that is why!

Incidentally that is what they sound like to me. I’m not just being random! Though that description doesn’t capture the golden hue of the thing or the rust on the pipes.

**

It took me this long to realize that the non-chibi pictures of the Fox and Hound, like the last panel in #27, are from Prosaic Reality. Before I’d thought it was a way of providing contrast and highlighting the Chibi style of the rest of it, but in Nobilis “two different styles” isn’t just art; it’s the way the world works!

Is there any other area for comments on it?
— dave.o, on And Three Points is the Game

There was not!

There is now. You could go over and say something cool about the guest art for this week or last week! But at the same I was using ComicCMS as an experiment. I wound up taking the comments down when I made a test comment and lost all my queued posts or something. It was sad! So I switched Chibi-Ex over to WordPress.

**

From Should Siggorts?:

These are the signs of the coming of a King: corrupt actions. Fear and hatred. The pollution of the groundwater, so that sinks run with green water and with black.

Right now these little hints just tease at me, but I look forward to the day I’ll be able to look back over it all and see the connections I couldn’t see now.
— dave.o, on Green

It is probably just another Nader reference. I can’t stop talking about him! I think it’s some kind of disease. One where you Ralph things up. But only if you eat them first. BUT it’s bad to feed people to children. Even politicians! So if you’re going to eat a politician make sure you’re old enough first, and please also make sure that you haven’t downloaded any illegal content lately.

Because, otherwise, it would be wrong.

Letters Column in January: “Why Does God Allow Bad Theodicies?”

Your idea of obedience not being good and rebellion being right makes me think about young Vincent idolizing his father, who is almost certainly evil, and the Monster, sitting on the throne of the world as he does, being functionally similar to God (in a less-than-omnibelevolent way).
— Xavid, on And Three Points is the Game

Why, good sir, are you really accusing the monster of not being perfectly benevolent?

What would that even mean?

How would you even define goodness, if the monster hath all of it not?

Er, I mean, haha, yeah. What was I talking about there? That was crazy. I slipped! Bad theodicy, Jenna. Bad theodicy!

The thing I was meaning to say is: the funny thing about “Vincent and the Devil” is that Vincent really is damning himself just fine on his own. The Devil isn’t manipulating him. This isn’t a story of the Devil tricking him. If anything, it’s a story of how and why Vincent is so dedicated to his path that the Devil himself couldn’t sway him from it.

Now, if it were a story about the Devil, and one day when we talk more about the Devil it will retroactively so be, then I’d have to talk about why the Devil bothered trying; what he hoped to get out of this; what he does get out of it, out of tempting or trying to save Vincent, I mean. But this isn’t a story about the Devil. It’s a story about Vincent. Vincent is very, very scared of being damned and doesn’t listen to anybody who suggests that possibly his path might lead that way already.

At least, I guess, not if they’re the Devil. Admittedly, he’s a rough one to listen to; in a lot of stories, you know, listening to the Devil isn’t ever the right thing to do, and Vincent doesn’t know he’s not in one of those.

And, heck, counterfactuals are trouble in general.

Maybe Vincent is in a story like that. Maybe walking away was the right thing to do. Maybe Vincent would have hurt more kids, or wound up dying worse, if he’d gone with the Devil’s offer; though I think I explicitly said late in Vincent’s story that that’s not how things are.

**

“How beautiful!”
— Rand Brittain, on And Three Points is the Game

Hahaha. Yes, exactly. Well spotted!

**

I’m trying to come up with motives for a God who doesn’t give answers, and who allows for and appreciates rebellion, at least in some forms. Perhaps God himself has a question he can’t answer, and the universe is an attempt to create something greater than himself that has the answer. Or God wanted to create something greater than himself out of benevolence (or boredom, if we’re being cynical), and by necessity such a thing has to have answers God doesn’t have. Making God imperfect is the easy way out of theodicy though. Perhaps God was perfect in himself when he was the only thing that existed, but as soon as he created something other, things got complicated. Along the lines of mathematical systems of sufficient complexity lacking some proofs, say any world complex enough to have the subject-object relation by necessity lacks some answers.
— dave.o, on And Three Points is the Game

Infinities are difficult. One theodicy I encountered at some point pointed out that even if the world were not perfect, the capacity of a perfect world to imagine this world, or the possible existence of this world as part of an infinite series converging to the perfect world, would suffice to give this world a certain kind of reality. And how are we to know that that is not exactly as much reality as it actually has?

I think ideas like this are relatively inadequate, though, because they have the feel to me of a transitional theodicy—that they’re a different way of invoking “God,” in this case abstract details of the structure of mathematics, and that a deeper understanding of that invoked God will restore the need for a theodicy. It may be totally legitimate to dodge the problem of suffering in the real world by invoking possible worlds and mathematics and limited knowledge, but if you take that dodge far enough you’ll wind up—

I suspect!—

Right back in a conundrum again.

**

“That’s bad number theory!” Six protests.

And Seven is close in on her now, and with a knife held in her trembling hand, and Seven demands, “Silence!”

And all becomes tableau.

Until finally, Seven withdraws a bit and says, “What you say is true, but like any other problem in mathematics, the difficulty may be resolved using limits.”
Six’s Story

Letters Column in January 2012: “‘The Fashiolanche Has Started,’ Said Posh. ‘It is Too Late for the Little People to Vote.'”

There is a new guest comic up on Chibi-Ex today! Warning! May contain peanuts.

Over here on Hitherby, we’re going to continue posting 3-10x a week for at least a while, so don’t be too put off by the length of this particular letters column. It was like 6000 words of stuff when I started queuing entries up on Wednesday!

**

And on a tangent…

I find it interesting that we have separate tags for “God-Defying Lightbringing Yama King’” and “the Devil.”
— Eric, on Vincent and the Devil

They are distinct characters. Possibly they are the same person. Possibly they are not!

**

“Three things you can ask me, to decide what you’d like to do. And I’ll tell you right now that I’ve got a trick worthy of the Enemy himself, which is to say, I can’t promise you that walking away and turning me down is the right and moral thing to do, much less the way to save your soul.”

Hm. “The Enemy” is the term demons use to refer to God in The Screwtape Letters. (I’ve only read reviews, but one excerpted some of this.) So reversing the situation, since the Devil is referring to God’s trick not his own — does God here not promise that obedience is good? Perhaps that would make things too easy, or make free will vapid. So he’s left the option open that rebellion is the right thing to do. There was a similar idea in the blockquotes in “An Unclean Legacy: Sophie and the Devil”. What do we call that kind of quoted text anyway? Does it parallel the vignettes Jenna is known for in RPGs, or is it something else?
— dave.o, on And Three Points is the Game

In An Unclean Legacy, it was a voiceover. ^_^

In general, I don’t know!

I guess you could call them pull-quotes, legends-in-legends (legend colegends? monogatari comonogatari?), or stock footage.

I think the Devil is not so much claiming to have stolen and mirrored one of “the Enemy’s” tricks so much as boasting about how awesome this particular trick he’s using is. Look, he’s saying. Aren’t I clever? You’d think a person should never listen to anything the Devil says, but it is possible that “walk away and have nothing to do with me” is the thing that will get this damned boy damned.

Whether he’s saying that to the reader, or to God, or to Vincent, or to himself, is not currently clear.

**

Why the heck did I say “we” back up at the top? There’s only me here! I am alone in Taiwan loading up Hitherby into glass bottles and casting it out onto the sea.

I think it is possible that I wanted to be one of those POSH authors with a POSSE. A POSHSE, as it were. I would lounge around in vintage memorabilia and crack a whip with my wineglass hand—for a true author fears no great labors, but rather will put down the wine glass or consider drinking it dry before cracking the whip, and then filling it up again—and my posse would run, lurchingly, dragging the posts forward into the world. Behind me it would be always winter and never Christmas, except when it was spring, summer, fall, or, well, December 25. But even on those occasions I would only reach into my bountiful collection of Christmas cards and throw handfuls of them, laughing, from the posts. The people would be lashed about by these devious well-wishings but they would look up to me nevertheless with faces bright with joy.

I would be welcome at all the greatest parties and all should love me and despair!

P.S. I do not drink wine. That is part of the elegant fantasy. In reality it would be water and would only turn into wine if someone, I’m not going to say who, I’m not naming names here, gets a little too loose and fancy free with the Christmas miracles. If you know what I mean.

Letters Column in January 2012: “Quivering, Lurching Fridays full of Shame”

It’s Friday! HI FRIDAY!

Is it a good friday-widay-woogums? No! It is not! Good Friday comes only once a year! The remainder of the Fridays must cringe and hide from the company of society, like Igors lurching from week to week in an unsatiated quest for normal brains.

“Thank God it’s Friday,” we say, but we really mean to thank the Devil. The Devil, who lives alone and keeps a fire. The Devil, who has given to us idle hands that we may scandalize the ancient Puritans and play extremely well upon the holophonor. Why is Friday’s child loving and giving? Igor stole their brains from the virtuous unliving!

Wait, that’s a rhyme, not a punchline. I mean, why is Friday’s child loving and giving?

Rebellion.

**

Also, Why the Monster Laughs at God (1 of 1)
— Xavid, on Vincent and the Devil

Here’s a bit from “Jack o’Lantern Girl,” which’ll probably be out for Kindle in a few months unless I hear back from a publisher before it reaches the top of my stack:

**

In 2004 the monster will be terrifying. He will come to the Gibbelins’ Tower and he will fly on wings of pain. He will shatter the hero and the angels and hold chaos in his hand. He will be a creature out of legend, then, a terrifying power, worthy of standing against Martin and his crew; and more: if the Lord Himself were to see the monster’s work, in that later day, and rise up in wrath and fury from his throne to send the lightning down, then the monster would only catch that thunderbolt in his hands and cast it back and shout:

The monster laughs at God.

We won’t show you all of that — not this time — but that’s the way that it will be.

In 1973, though —

In 1973 — well, he’s still the monster, then, and you’d be well advised to stay away, but he is also young; and he is ignorant and intemperate; and such a very clumsy man.

**

There are things, in Hitherby, that seem that they do not entirely fit within the paradigm we usually look at, the one of gods and monsters and djinn. Which is an odd world, an occasionally uncertain one, but one that we have come to know.

This is one of those things that seems to come from outside that context.

Here there be dragons.
— Eric, on Vincent and the Devil

Yeah, the Devil’s story is probably a ways off. He’s been around, here and there, in Hitherby, for a long time, but you’re right, he’s a bit outside the usual context.

**

Unclean Legacy had me expecting the Devil to be one of the Kings of the Unforgivable Dominions, but that leaves me with more questions than I started with. If he’s so old, where has he been all this time?

I also feel that the Devil ought to be related to the Serpent Chaos Woman discussed judgment vs. bliss with, since it parallels the Eden myth. But that Serpent was a future version of Chaos Woman, killed by her grandchildren, whereas the Kings are older than the Round Man’s world. So I’m completely lost.

On a tangent, the only serpent I know in Hitherby to have died is Ophion. If Chaos Woman is somehow Uri’s mother, that would make Cronos her grandchild, and he killed Ophion. This leads me further away from any tie-in between the Devil and the Serpent.
— dave.o, on Vincent and the Devil

He’s a bit of a busy man, I think. He isn’t really involved in Jane and Martin’s story right now. He’s got a fire to keep.

I mean, we all think our stories are the most important thing ever, but that doesn’t mean that God and the Devil are lurking around every corner waiting to jump in. What was the Devil going to do in the Island of the Centipede, exactly? Tempt one of the isn’ts? Send Martin into fits of hysterical giggling? Carry Jane to a high place and throw her off? The last is the only one I can really imagine him doing, and frankly, considering how well Ink Catherly handles falling, you can pretty much trust in Jane to handle it. She was the template! I think. Unless it was Emily. But I thought it was probably Jane. Anyway, something would catch her. A rainbow, maybe? Or she’d reconstitute. Or something! Anentropic zombies are awfully tough to kill, even if you’re the Devil, particularly when they work in theater.

Letters Column in January 2012: “The Right-Hand Door”

“The rules are simple,” the monster says. “[Jane] is willing to forgive. Simply come up to this podium, and say, ‘It was wrong. It was vile. I had no right.’ Then turn, and walk through the door on the right, and begin your new life as an employee of a new, brighter, more loving Earth Division. Or walk through the door to the left, and continue your life as normal.”

The rules are displayed on the screen.

A hand raises. The monster points.

This is a Vice-President in Charge of Sales. His name is Miles, for what it matters. “This is a game, right? I mean, you’re not bloody serious. We’re not going to—I mean, it’s fucking crazy.”

The hero kills a Vice-President in Charge of Sales. His name was Miles.

The monster clears his throat.

“It is juvenile,” he says. “In the literal sense. I’ve sold you all out, and that puts each and every one of you at the mercy of a child. She’s about six years old, and each of you has collaborated, directly or ex post facto, in torturing her. If you refuse to play in her little tea party, I won’t save you, because that’s not in my interest. You can repent in jest, treating it as a game, but I imagine that something horrible would come out from under your bed and devour you in the night. It’s up to you. Leave through the left, or leave through the right.”

The monster turns off his laptop. “That’s all.”
The Fable of the Lamb

The monster may think Jane’s not being totes fair to Central, but the crew of Hitherby Dragons has resolved to be nice to you this year!

There should be many more, if shorter, Hitherby Dragons entries per week this year. 3-10x, depending on where my pace settles in.

Starting . . .

Now!

**

a) Yeah, I think I have to give up my insistance on not particularly liking Vincent after this one.
— Xavid, on Vincent and the Devil

That can happen!

Young Vincent is actually pretty sympathetic, anyway. I mean, he was a good kid, and totally salvageable. He could have been saved if he’d gotten out of there. He could have been saved if Iphigenia had been able to see how wrong what was happening to her was. I mean, heck, in general if the kids who were suffering at Central weren’t so monstered-over themselves into believing that it was OK, then the various hangers-on like Vincent might have had a chance.

By the time he was an adult all I can really give him is “he could have turned right. He could have taken the right-hand door.”

I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that he was fundamentally bad. I don’t think he was. I think he deserved more chances to turn away. I think it’s unfair that there are people who could be saved if they let go of their stupid ideas who only get one or two chances to do so before they die. It’s unfair because letting go of stupid ideas isn’t easy. It’s one of the hardest things there is! And I think it’s a damnable shame that some people finish their lives as small and evil and rotten. I think that’s even worse than people having to suffer, although I could be wrong there, that could be my mirror neurons overacting like we talked about yesterday. But still!

It seems like—

One time, see, a friend of mine was really upset at the absence of justice in the world. He was afraid of an ending for things that didn’t include reincarnation or a Hell or anything like that, an ending that was just life stopping, because then there would be people who would live out their lives doing awful things and having a good time and they’d die well-fed, comfortable, accomplished, and even happy, and that’s the end.

And I realized that I wouldn’t want to be one of those people.

I mean, seriously: how small a life is that? How shallow? How poor, to live unable to recognize the wrongness of others’ suffering? How weak and pale the flame that burns in a wicked person’s heart! How pointless, how shallow, how lost! The comforts of their body and their self-righteousness are as the comforts of an ant whose hive is well. Even the guilt and shame of not doing more, even the pain of sometimes being wrong, of knowing that you have sometimes been and done wrong—how much better those things are than being a fucking bastard, because if you’re wrong sometimes, if you’re guilty sometimes, if you’re a screwed-up failure for how you’ve handled other people and their inner worlds sometimes, at least you get to live in a world where other people matter, and that’s the best part of this whole existencing!

It has to suck to be evil. It has to be the worst thing ever. It has to be like . . . like those days when life is just a fog, when I’m so tired and messed up and undercaffeinated or undermedicated (speaking of which, that’s been straightened out! as of yesterday morning.)—

like those days when life is just a fog, when I’m so tired and messed up and undercaffeinated or undermedicated or confused or whatever that I go to think about what something means, what I should do, and I can’t because there’s just a yawning void and a white mist inside my head. Being Stalin must have felt all very well and good to Stalin, but how much better to be a Solzeineitzyn!

Although really you want to have all the pieces of Maslowe’s hierarchy, you understand; what’s ideal is having food and shelter and love and purpose and self-esteem and the ability to value others and take responsibility for your actions and embrace the awareness of your own faults and fallibility.

Is all that stuff on his hierarchy? It probably should be.

But Vincent could have turned right.

He could have!

He really could. It is thing that it is possible for a person in this world to do.

b) My obsessive name cross-referencing requires me to say that the dates work out for Derek the Zoo Keeper to be the Derek that played basketball with Max that one time.
— Xavid, on Vincent and the Devil

Hahaha! Awesome. So mote it be, at least on a tentative basis.

c) Vincent mostly strikes me as very aware of his situation but nevertheless unable to figure out what to do about it.
— Xavid, on Vincent and the Devil

The sad truth is that he was dead as soon as he took the door on the left; I’m not actually sure he could have made things come out any differently at Elm Hill. He is, perhaps, an object lesson to the effect that “try to kill your boss” is not the correct answer to “I am collaborating with wicked folk, and do not know how to escape.”

It’s a common mistake! You understand. You see men doing it with rape culture—some of them handle the awfulness of it by deciding it’s not awful, and then there’s the ones who make Vincent’s mistake there, handling it by vociferously explaining how they’ll totally kill or would totally like to anyway kill anyone they see out there doing all that sexual assault. But that’s not really something you do for the victims. Ineffectual rage at the abusers you’ve found yourself unwillingly collaborating with is something you do to help feel good about yourself.

Vincent doesn’t have any particular right to kill Melanie, and “think really hard about killing Melanie and then realize that that’s not in the cards” is the closest he comes to taking positive action in the siege.

He could probably have just walked away. I don’t know if that would have been good. It would have saved his life, probably, and so on some level I must think that’s what he should have done. I would have been OK with that, you know? If he’d walked away, he could have come back in fifteen years as a sort of hero. Or figured out weeks later that he should tell the hero about what was happening at Elm Hill. Or called the cops, not that that would have helped.

He was too compromised to try to throw in with Liril and Micah without a plan. I mean, it would be a nice fantasy at best: at some point in this long period of collaboration, you’ll throw off your disguise and reveal you’re really on the side of right, and have been all along! That wasn’t collaborating in torturing children, that was lulling suspicions! Dun-dun-DUN!

But the world doesn’t work like that.

I’m sorry for people like Vincent that they don’t get more real chances. It can be hard to spot your chance at salvation when it comes. His came.

He took the door on the left.

Letters Column in January 2012: “Every Controversial Thing”

Last year many controversial things began with R. I couldn’t keep track of them all. There were too many! Often my posts got so full of controversies and words beginning with R that I could barely finish one a week.

Let’s try more, much shorter posts 3-10x/week this year!

That’ll be a controversial thing, but it won’t begin with R. It’ll begin with H! For Hitherby Dragons! Or T! For 2012!

If it doesn’t work I can grab a basketball and jump off of this nearby cliff—

**

OMG CLIFFHANGER.
— coronary, on If I Go Crazy Then Will You Still Call Me Superman?

Oh yeah I went there.

**

I have to say, I feel deeply sorry for Vincent, and I really hate to see him go like this. I think he’s probably the most sympathetic character in this arc; “just a screwed-up guy who never did figure out what to do.” And the suffering he goes through as a result of that– it just doesn’t seem fair D:<
— coronary, on If I Go Crazy Then Will You Still Call Me Superman?

I don’t!

Vincent is not impossibly, horribly bad. But he’s bad. I don’t think random heroes could murder him in clear conscience. He’s not Sauron, where you can sneak into his house and start melting his heirlooms and then his eye will explode and everyone will cheer, The happy End! He’s not Emperor Palpatine, who is basically a professor whose research assistant realized one day, “You know, he’s just an old dude. Instead of trying to recruit more people for this guy’s Force research lab, I could pick him up and throw him into a well. Ha ha! It’s funny because he’s old!” Only it was awesome instead of wicked. Vincent’s not even Voldemort,* whom—

You know, I can’t actually remember the details of Voldemort’s death. It had something to do with wands. I know that much! So I don’t know if it’d be fair to say “whom you can kill freely because he doesn’t have a nose.” Possibly he was Pakistani? We seem pretty much able to just kill Pakistanis whenever and feel pretty good about it. Like they’re Death Eaters or lieutenants of Morgoth or something? Which I guess could be what is actually going on with Pakistan because I have not read the Silmarillion and wouldn’t know. Or he** downloaded illegal music. That was Tom’s Riddle!

. . . actually I think it would be really ironic if Voldemort did die because he was trying to torrent the second part of Deathly Hallows*** and the RIAA called in a strike team. Harry Potter’s all “I killed that dude,” but no, he just pointed a stick at that dude, the actual killing was done by an RIAA drone sniper. Or by Ron Paul!****

But the point is, Vincent isn’t one of those totally safe targets whom you can just walk up to and kill and feel all warm and fuzzy and moral about it. He’s not a Dark Lord.

But he isn’t a good person, either, and I don’t think you can let him off the hook for collaborating in the torture of children the way he kind of lets himself off the hook. He had his chance to take the right door. Melanie didn’t make him not do that. She helped, I’m sure, and maybe he was trying to commit suicide by hero, but suicide by hero is still less reasonable as an answer to having done something wrong than taking the right door.

Everyone who does evil will at some point come up with an excuse. Everyone who does evil will at some point try—quietly, in their heads, and to no effect—to claim redemption. And I can’t say that we who live in this world are hugely different from Vincent, because we are all partially responsible for everyone who is hungry and is not fed, everyone who is sick and is not comforted, everyone who is cold and is not given warmth and everyone who is hot and is not given solace; everyone who is tortured, everyone who is imprisoned, everyone whose bodily sovereignty is taken from them, everyone who is broken, and particularly all the people who are hurt by the policies of our individual communities and societies and the greater world community that surrounds them.

I mean, I can’t even say if some Iraqi kid whose brother got his skin melted off by white phosphorus decides to create a ghoul and have it eat me because I’m an American and I didn’t do enough to stop that kind of thing that he doesn’t have at least some level of moral justification. I’d like to say that, but, really, I’m not sure I can. And even if I could, well, Vincent doesn’t have quite the same distance from the actual decision making in question as did I.

He gets exactly one excuse: he grew up in Central, as we all had to grow up somewhere, and that does kind of count for something.

But still.

He was Vincent. He worked for Central. And when he had the choice between admitting he was wrong and trying to make things better, or risking his life on a self-justification in order to escape responsibility, he figured that escaping responsibility was his job.

The dude got an opportunity to change his course from both Jane and the Devil, and he turned them both down, and, as Principal Snyder might say, “that’s the kind of wishy-washy liberal thinking that gets you eaten.”

That said, I am going to add that it’s not your fault that he’s sympathetic, or that you sympathize with him, or that he’s understandable, or that you understand him. That’s explicitly my bad: I made him so. Bad people are sympathetic. Not all of them are sympathetic, I mean, monsters exist, but a lot of them are. Just because you kind of feel for a guy doesn’t mean he’s not drinking of the mead of human suffering, that he isn’t clothed in the garments of righteousness and self-justification, that he isn’t taking his meat and bread from exploitation of cruelty, or that he isn’t pleased to turn the world around him into those who support him and get cookies and those who oppose him and should suffer (for challenging, arguing with, tainting the image of such a wonderful and caring man.) Sometimes you’ll see someone getting attacked on, I don’t know, the Internet or whatever, for doing awful things, and you’ll want to step in because they have feelings too, you know? Your mirror neurons are lighting up with awareness of the fundamental personhood of the person who is willing to use force and threat and power and cruelty to dominate others, because knowing what they think and sympathizing with them is a lot more useful than knowing what’s going on in the heads of the people they hurt, and, well, the thing is?

Sometimes even Vincents die.

Sometimes their Melanies turn on them in the end, and sometimes their Kaelas are inadequate in the end, and sometimes they’re eaten in the thunder and the storm by a slightly stronger Tainted John.

NOTES

* although both of their names do begin with V

** I’ve veered back to talking about Voldemort. Try to keep up!

*** so as to not die, like many people who are born and live within this world prefer not to do

**** Ron Paul has nothing to do with the RIAA, so far as I know, but seriously, every controversial thing that starts with R is basically the same.

Letters Column in December 2011: Not You, Never You

OK!

So you can now get “Invasion” on Amazon (Invasion) or DriveThruComics! (Invasion) The version on DriveThruComics is strictly superior right now, since it’s the same price and has a PDF and ePubs, but I’d prefer Amazon sales and reviews anyway. ^_^

And of course there is an Unclean Legacy on Amazon (An Unclean Legacy) and Smashwords (An Unclean Legacy).

Note that both of these are radical expansions of the underlying Hitherby entries—Invasion turned into a picture book, and it’s going to be a modern classic if I can get it enough attention to make that possible, I am not kidding here. Unclean Legacy, on the other hand, received moderate edits and a substantial, substantial expansion—it’s like 40%+ new content.

I could really use reviews and marketing help. I’m doing my best but I *know* I have at least 100 fans and I don’t have anywhere near that many sales yet. And that’s *assuming* that 2/3 of the people who bought the Nobilis limited edition instantly only care about RPGs, and that nobody else except the people who bought Nobilis instantly care at all. So getting the word out there appears to be a challenge even before we start talking about getting into new markets or catching a new audience.

**

Life is really scary right now. I’m off ritalin, owing to not having had a chance to see a doctor in Taiwan about it before my supply ran out, so I’m increasingly useless, and I’m a little scared that I won’t be able to get back on it before I drop below some water mark and need six months on it to start functioning again. People who don’t share a language with me randomly burst in and sprayed bug poison all over everything I own, which is down to very little anyway, leading ultimately to my freaking out for three or four miserable days this week. The bug poison doesn’t seem to have been an actual serious problem, although I’m forgiving myself for freaking out, but the lack of dryers in Asia or spare bed linens while they washed and hung meant that I was very cold for a few nights. Eos hasn’t straightened out my visa situation or covered my rent yet and there’s basically two days to do it in and I have no way to do it on my own. Even if I had U.S. dollars I’d have no way to apply them to adjust my situation, and in terms of Taiwan dollars I’m not really in a position to cover anything beyond food and water. There is no actual way you can help me, I believe, I’m just mentioning because it sucks.

**

In other news, some letters!

Hmm, good point, dave.o. I don’t think we’ve yet gotten a definitive answer to what eating Pelops did to Demeter. That could have something to do with why his son was the first of Amiel’s line to become a monster.
— Xavid, on The Incredible Leap of the Sinless Man

The end of human sacrifice was the beginning of time. So logically it stopped time. That’s why grain no longer grows, waves, rises, and falls, it just sits there frozen in the fields! That’s in turn why they call it “ambered waves of grain.”

Actually I think only Zelazny fanatics call it that. Most geologists refer to it as the petrifaction of the fields, while politicians refer to it as the liberal media. (It’s a term of art—it’s not an actual medium. It’s a timelessness in the cornfields! I think it’s from the Greek “μέσω ελευθεροσ χρονοσ ελευθεροσ,” often translated as “liberal media” or “Time.”)

What would one learn from eating human flesh, anyway? Sometimes I nibble on my cuticles so if I am a goddess and if I am also a human which would be a bit of a thing I suppose then I would know it.

It is probably not a very big mystery.

**

Off-topic:

(Maybe I should post this in a letter column instead….)

For the last few years I’ve attended a small SF con in Montreal, organized by a friend of mine. I’m there now. Traditionally, the first panel of Sunday morning is “Joy of Reading” in which people read things aloud. This year, I thought of doing a Hitherby. I really wanted to do “Six’s Story” or “Ragnarok”…but they were too long. I read “Writing Real Life Person Slash About the Pope Day” and it went over really well. It got big laughs in the right places (“…angry at the Internet” “Where is Spock?” “…sick puppy who likes Pope sex…”) and more than a couple of people in the audience said that they would look at the site.
— David Goldfarb, on The Incredible Leap of the Sinless Man

Yay!

It is a pretty good story.

I should probably not expand it to a novel, though. I am thinking that House of Saints is probably next. Although I would love to expand “Writing Real-Life Slash Fiction about the Pope Day” into a novel and see if I can get onto the New York Times bestseller list. I might have to add some secondary characters like a really wise pig and a housewife who believes that there are invisible gnomes haunting her kitchen, though. (And possibly a straight couple living in the same building who can advise the protagonist on, you know, stuff that straight people are stereotypically good at like religion and beer and reckless driving and the tuba. And maybe falconry?) You know. ‘Cause it’s all literary and stuff. Ooh! And a beat poet! A grungy beat poet! He likes to take placebo equivalents of drugs (he adds them to his margaritas) and then go out and lay flat-bellied on the desert rocks and commune with the lizards. But he never seems to learn anything from it, at least, not until near the end, when it either helps him write a better real life person slash fiction about the Pope or leads to his arrest and death-by-taser in a small interrogation cell. Where a drugged lizard pretending to be a beat poet probably talks to him in his dying hallucinations.

It could be SPATTLEFUNK.

Anyway.

**

Hmm, does this start to explain Train’s “Whatever happened to Ink Catherly?”?
— Xavid, on The Sting

Good question!

So, Micah gets banished from world and sound to the domain of Ii Ma. Thematically the iron fence that we cut to then is at the top of the hill that Train Morgan climbs to—I’m not saying that that’s intuitively obvious or anything, it may even be explicitly textually contraindicated, just, I look at that fence and I see that. Because I organize this in my brain!

Micah comes back because the Thorn doesn’t want to be exiled from world and sound. It rejects the notion. And maybe that connects to the spikes on the fence, which stabbed into Tainted John but didn’t kill him?

That said, I’m really just giving you that because there’s obviously no way that you could see that for yourself—it wasn’t in the text.

In practice, Train links to Ink through stuff we mostly haven’t talked about yet. ^_^

**

So the Thorn gave Micah the power to ignore Ii Ma’s question and stay in the world? Or Micah had an answer? (Or both!) Melanie does say “Stupid question. Stupid answer,” so I think he answered. Hitherby is big on forgiveness and enduring hardship, so an answer like “Good point. I won’t let her live,” would be a big deal thematically, if that’s indeed what happened. I don’t know if answering a question would make Ii Ma cry out though; questions have been answered before. Whatever Micah did may have been more.

Also is “That Does Not Choose to Leave the World” an additional title the Thorn acquired, expressing this event dramatically? Or has it changed its nature, and can actually kill now? It doesn’t seem to kill the contemner anymore than it did Liril or Tainted John, so I think the former.
— dave.o, on The Sting

It would make sense if the Thorn gave Micah an answer, because that’s how Hitherby does things; or if it had an answer, which you’d think it must, being a Thorn That Does Not Kill and all. I mean, seriously, you’d have to think that at some point somebody has asked the Thorn, “Hey, about that not killing stuff—what’s up with that?”

And if it had been carried away then to the place without recourse then the world would be a different place than we have known it to be; and if it had not, then I think perhaps the ragged things would be more wary of it.

But the big point of that resolution is that the Thorn is beyond such petty tricks.

I should write formally at some point about what the Thorn is. I know you all already know, there’s even discussion of it quoted below, but somehow I don’t want to just say it, or hint at it, I want to tell it in the story. ^_^

Perhaps the Thorn’s answer is “Let them live? The day’s still young.” or perhaps “Let them live? Who am I to kill the suffering?”

**

Well, killing is a way of taking someone out of the world, so possibly the Thorn That Does Not Kill won’t allow you to leave the world, either.
— Rand Brittain, on The Sting

True! It could chain you to the wheel of samsara, like thorns do; or it could be the power of the heart! As long as there is heart, there is hope. As long as there is hope, we can carry on! As long as we’re carrying on, we can’t die! As long as we can’t die, and fundamentally misunderstand modus tollens, we’ll know how to love! Love is all! All you need is love!

**

It would seem that the reason it will not kill is because it lacks, or cuts away, the property that would allow one to leave the world. And that appears to override the grasp of the place without recourse. Certain truths override, like the monster’s, and the Buddha’s, and evidently the Thorn’s.

I’m somewhat intrigued at what happens to Melanie, though. This is a much more direct entanglement of her own dharma with Micah’s than I’d have expected. Is Vincent’s Kaela involved or is it a coincidence of imagery? Or was it Melanie’s cruelty of kindness, when she gave Liril the wish to “break” herself to create Micah, that has connected them in this odd symmetry?
— Aetheric, on The Sting

It is worth remembering that Melanie had a masterclass in manipulating crucibles and gods before she left Liril’s company. She is hax.

**

It’s interesting to me that Micah is carried away to the Place Without Recourse…and shortly thereafter it’s Melanie who says “how beautiful”.

We see more of the action of the Thorn That Does Not Kill. It seems to subtract from its target those qualities that make the target effective…from Liril her volition, from the contemner its will to hunt and its malevolence — from Ii Ma, the ability to sever from the world? It may be that Micah has just destroyed the Place Without Recourse entirely, though this is far from clear.

Although, from Tainted John it took his eyes and his heart, which seems to be a different sort of thing entirely. Liril was using it then, and perhaps her powers affected things.

(I seem to recall someone saying that the Thorn was a fragment of a spoke of the treasure wheel. Where was that established? It went by me.)
— David Goldfarb, on The Sting

Some of the Thorn’s effects are dependent on where and why you stab. You can’t just take somebody’s volition by stabbing their foot, you know. There’s a medical procedure. Admittedly it is alternative medicine and it is not strictly regulated by the FDA. (I would guess the official FDA stance on torturing children to obtain theological weaponry is “don’t do it, you sicko; also, it may not be medically effective, and creating gods may have side effects. May result in headache, nausea, or death. Do not torture children to obtain theological weaponry if you are pregnant or plan to drive or operate heavy machinery in the near future.”)

This last bit, incidentally, is what Anakopto, Arpazo, and Kyrievo took too lightly, although perhaps they didn’t realize that they were engaging in alternative medicine when they ate Micah’s sandwiches.

Personally I take medicine homeopathically all the time. I can’t hardly move without bumping into air that’s a tincture of the stars.

**

Micah’s question took me by surprise. “Let” Tina live? I wouldn’t have thought he had the power to kill her.
— David Goldfarb, on The Sting

He doesn’t, really, particularly not then, but “I can’t do anything about that” can also put you in Ii Ma’s power unless you’re very careful.

I mean . . . there are things in the world that we can’t do anything about. That fact doesn’t make us isn’ts. But it’s a very dangerous fact to handle. It can cause headaches, nausea, and even death. Talk to your doctor before recognizing that there are things beyond your power to change if you are pregnant or plan to operate heavy machinery in the near future.

**

I’ve also heard it said that the Thorn is a fragment from the spoke the Buddha broke off, but I don’t know to what extent this is established. I’d have an easier time seeing it as the entire spoke, as then we don’t have to explain what happened to the rest of it. There were many wheels within wheels when Maya summoned it, and some could have been small.

That’s a good point with “let”. I get distracted easily by deconstruction. I realized the same problem myself, but immediately turned it into an analysis of whether Uri’s failed attempt at paradise is commentary on how self-defense is an insufficient answer to suffering, and why. And wouldn’t the monsters be boring thematically, if self-defense were a sufficient answer to them? Everyone knows self-defense sometimes works, but the monsters are a case where it doesn’t work and the world is desperately looking for another solution. But I didn’t bother to use this to answer Ii Ma’s question! Perhaps Ia Ma’s job is even easier than it looks.
— dave.o, on The Sting

Heehee. Yeah, technically Ii Ma is like any gulag—you can wind up there even if you have the answers.

Though winding up there because the question is inherently unfair and unanswerable is certainly more common.

**

Maybe the reason that question would trap Micah is not because Micah could kill Tina, but because he can’t admit that he can’t. He seems to consistently ignore his own limitations, with varying levels of success.

I think the argument that the Thorn is a spoke of the treasure wheel is the tags on (Good Friday – Hitherby Annual #1 – I/I) Tre Ore.
— Xavid, on The Sting

He does that! Micah is pretty much the poster boy for “if I accept that there’s nothing I can do here, I break.” If you accept something like that, you’re not Micah Defiant, but just ordinary Micah—and that’s a rough place to be when you’re in a broken-down old Hell of a facility surrounded by Melanie’s army.

Last time he really accepted anything he got tortured. Then his acceptance got cut into pieces by Tainted John.

**

David Goldfarb:

It’s interesting to me that Micah is carried away to the Place Without Recourse…and shortly thereafter it’s Melanie who says “how beautiful”.

Yes. There are some other indications here of a deliberate comparison between them, such as the line about Micah turning like a puppet of his dharma and then Melanie later turning like “a puppet of the dharma she doesn’t have.”

Although they seem to be different people in most respects, perhaps there is a sense in which Micah is sort of filling the dharmic space left by Melanie. Which is to say that if I understand correctly, the only choices that Melanie had in light of Amiel’s promise were to become a monster or to become Liril’s true guardian and protector. So she should be the one standing with her back to the door to Elm Hill, shouldn’t she?
— Greg, on The Sting

Not sure there’s anyone in the world who shouldn’t be standing with their back to the door to Elm Hill, if there’s a kid like Liril inside and an army like Melanie’s outside—I mean, maybe a person’s got other things to be doing, maybe a person doesn’t know it’s going on, maybe a person can’t get there, but I can’t rightly say that that wouldn’t be a fine place for anybody to be, if they cared about what’s right.

But!

That said, yeah. And no. Cherubim face you. The cherub would be behind the army, sweeping through them like a storm. The cherub would be seizing up Liril and flying away with her. Cherubim that stand with their backs to you, keeping the world away and keeping you in the circle of their definitions—they’ve already started to go the monster’s way.

It’s weird, I know, because of Uriel, right? Uriel, the cherub, who stood at the gates of the garden of Eden with his sword flashing this way and that, lest you (yes, you) come in and taste of the fruit of immortality and know eternal life.

But …

Properly, a cherub can’t protect you if they’re looking away from you. That’s just a kinder monster.

**

That’s me talking on instinct, I admit. I haven’t thought that much about the cherubim before they became monsters. It just seems … so, at one point Ink wondered why there aren’t any gods that rescue you. I think they got too busy standing between you and the world.

Maybe that says icky things about Micah, though I think it’s mitigated because of Martin’s defense:

“Do you know what sucks?” Martin says. “What sucks is that Jane needs me. And that’s not because of people like the monster. It’s because of people like you.”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Thumbscrews, that makes so much sense.”

“You have these people,” Martin says, entirely ignoring Sid. “These perfectly useful people. And they have beating inside them like a heart their knowledge of themselves, of who they are. And then someone comes along from outside and proposes an alternative. Cripple them here. Clip the wings there. Mold them like Jell-O and make sure they fit. Take your vision of what they should be and use it to overwrite their own. And then just leave them out there—out in the world—flopping around on their wing-stubs, parroting back the twisted nonsense that you gave them, crawling in circles around their concrete-moored peglegs, and then what am I supposed to do?”

“I didn’t ask you to do anything.”

“No,” Martin says. “That’s the trouble with isn’ts.”

“What?”

“You can’t ask. Not once they’ve broken you. You say, ‘Give me more of that torture’, and maybe it’s you, and maybe it’s the twisting in you. You sit there silently, and maybe you’ve got nothing to say, or maybe they’ve drowned it. You say ‘Let me go’, and maybe that’s reason and maybe that’s panic. You say all kinds of things, and the fundamental crime that made you isn’ts is that sometime, once upon a time, somebody didn’t listen; and that somehow, as a result of that, I can’t listen to you now.”

“That’s bleak,” Sid says.

“The trouble with isn’ts,” Martin says, “is that they don’t want to be real, not really. They can’t, because they’re not. How can something that isn’t even there have desires? How can one dharma, forced into the mold of another, know what it means to express itself?”

“That seems like a dumb question to ask me,” Sid says.

“It’s not a question,” Martin says. “It’s an expression of regret.”

**

I think the reason why I like Melanie’s point of view so much is that it’s cool to see the sort of things you need to be aware of to be competent in this world. We don’t really get to inhabit the PoV of other competent characters, such as Martin, much.

But then again, focusing on the Kryptonite weakpoint instead of the obvious-transferable-protection-item weakpoint is not bringing her A-game in terms of cunning.
— Xavid, on If I Go Crazy Then Will You Still Call Me Superman

It’s like the mandate of Heaven. Nobody can take away your mandate of Heaven! If you have it it’s yours! ^_^

**

So we have confirmation of the parallelism between Melanie and Micah. Quite an interesting parallelism too.

I can make this god, but it won’t be you.

Even as cruel and callous as Melanie has become, I can’t help feeling sorry for her.
— Aetheric, on If I Go Crazy Then Will You Still Call Me Superman

Yeah, seriously, ouch.

Oh, well.

I bet she’s accepted it by now!

**

That’s it for today. It’s almost midnight! I have to … well, OK, it’s 3:40pm here as I write this. I don’t have to turn into a pumpkin. But I do have to edit and then post!

Best wishes,

Jenna