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Hm!

So my grand plan for more posts per week this year relied principally on an increased willingness to break up the ones I had into more parts. I wasn’t really going to write much more. Unfortunately now I seem to not be writing any.

I’ve more or less finished putting my head back together after a med interruption; unfortunately, I’m currently looking at 2-50 hours of hunger and a couple of weeks of projected cold snap with no idea if I’ll be able to obtain a heater for that period. Then I’ll be running out of riboflavin and not sure whether I can get more before I start having migraines, after which my visa will be running out and my housing situation will go up in the air. If there is writing time in there, it’ll go into finishing some Chuubo’s-related stuff—I’m using it to test for brain function as well as to hypothetically make money and make my fans happy, so it pretty much has to be first. Likely it’ll be difficult, then if all goes well suddenly both easy and an obsession, and at neither stage will I have energy for Hitherby. I’m not sure what happens after that.

So I think I have to shut this site down for now. Spoilers and excerpts for the remaining ongoing arc, the name of which I can’t remember right now*—oh! Right. Frog and the Thorn—are queued up to appear automatically towards the end of the month in a lame and haphazard fashion; if I can avoid the vague embarrassment of an untidy presentation by presenting them sooner and cleaner I will do so.

Best wishes,

Jenna

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.

Bonus: “Some Thoughts on the Ending of An Unclean Legacy”

I thought I’d share some thoughts on An Unclean Legacy and how it evolved from the original story to the book. This contains medium spoilers: I’m going to avoid spoiling anything crucial to the story, but I will talk about a lot of stuff. Skip this entry if you want to be completely unspoiled! We’ll be back to the letters column on Monday. ^_^

**

So the first version of An Unclean Legacy was basically written live—back then I was posting Hitherby Dragons 6x/week, with nothing even faintly resembling a buffer, and while I had the basic ideas plotted by the first post, when it came to the details I was basically riding the hurricane.

One consequence of this is that the character of Violet got a bit shortchanged.

See, each of the siblings had received one magical gift on their tenth birthday—anything in the world they wanted, really, although Sophie’s first request was arguably denied. And Violet had wanted not to have to worry about suitors, which in practice meant that anyone that got too close to marrying her by force or choice was seized up by magic, cut into extremely fine pieces, and expelled over the local forest in a mist.

Why?

Well, hm.

So, most of the Groeneveldt siblings are fundamentally messed up by what they can do. That isn’t a general statement by me on what it means to have talent; I suspect that where it’s coming from is Montechristien’s guilt. They’re all coming from a household where power is fundamentally held in suspicion, particularly once Yseult dies but even to some extent when she was alive. Giving Violet a power that she could use as a weapon against her siblings, in a story like this one, meant that she would have to turn that weapon against her siblings at some point, as part of the exploration and explanation of what that power meant, and I didn’t want her to do that.

So there are hints throughout the book that Violet has some of the Saraman nature: that she has unnatural tracking abilities, unnatural beauty, is probably a sorceress, and may or may not have a handful of low-end not-quite-human tricks—but that isn’t really allowed to matter. If she were able to turn into a giant land-shark or whatever then we’d have to show her turning into a giant land-shark (or whatever) and fighting with, probably, Elisabet. And that would break my heart.

At the same time, it was important that Violet not be vulnerable, because that isn’t what she’s about either. If there were a relatively powerless marriageable female eldest sibling, it’d be a natural reason for external powers to get involved in the Groeneveldt succession struggle. That would give the other siblings a reason to band together to protect her from those outside forces, and—given that their reasons for hating and fearing one another were only barely stronger than their love for one another as it was—that would have screwed the story up something fierce. Nor could I just ignore the matter—I can handwave Francescu’s suitors disappearing because frankly he was a lot less viable as marriage bait by the time they both got their gifts, but I wanted pseudomedieval pseudoChristian metaphysics and that meant a pseudomedieval pseudoChristian society and that meant that I had to have an actual reason why people weren’t spending all their time trying to influence Montechristien by way of Violet.

At least, I think that’s what was going on in my head. I assume that I conceived the whole story in a single night and for a single night’s post and then only realized slowly how long it was going to be, so it’s quite possible that it was just “OK, Violet needs a way to be able to kill anything,” (subconscious advises: except her siblings), “lol, maybe she didn’t like boys when she was 10 and so has the power to kill any potential fiance.” Or possibly there was some connection between holding things too closely and killing them that was going on there, something like that percolating. It would fit, of course!

But anyway.

So day after day passed, and I didn’t have a good moment to introduce her gift. I was writing An Unclean Legacy mostly in three segments per day, and while I didn’t have to link them together chronologically I did need to link them thematically so that each day had a beginning and an ending. And Violet’s gift wasn’t really thematically connected to any of the stuff that was going on with the siblings, in part for the reasons we just discussed—it’s a hedge against the outside world interfering rather than part of the internal story. Plus, she was interacting almost exclusively with her siblings and her father, which made it a pretty hard thing to bring up.

“As you know, Manfred, anyone who gets too close to marrying me gets threshed by Montechristien’s Magical Suitor-Threshing Machine.”

“Golly! I’m sure glad I’m your brother and not your fiance!”

Manfred would not actually have said golly, however. Instead, he would have looked at her in that way that Manfred, when people give unnecessary exposition in his company, looks.

So by the time Violet’s gift came up at all, it was only barely early enough to not seem like a deus ex machina when it mattered—and possibly even did seem a deus ex machina, and an unnecessary one to boot, since there were plenty of other ways I could have resolved the particular point in question.

I wanted to fix that particular awkwardness when I was writing the expanded version. In fact, I knew as soon as I sat down to start that fixing that was the first step—that the first scene of the new, expanded story would be Violet receiving her gift. That meant that I had to give her a more dramatic motivation—the story isn’t a comedy of manners, so showing her and Francescu fending off various suitors at age ~10 until she got so exasperated that she snapped wasn’t really something I could open with. Fortunately, I knew that she had at least two fairly unpleasant suitors in the story, so I figured that a bit of prognostication could make her choice of gift an obviously wise one as well as illustrating some of the dangers of the world in which she lives.

Here’s the interesting thing: it was a wise choice. It sounds completely stupid, as a magical gift, but she gets much more mileage out of her ten-year-old gift than at least three of her siblings. I did some stuff in the update to make her gift feel more epic, to make it resonate with high heroic fantasy, but even before the update—before Violet and her magic mirror seeing the suitors to come, before the implications that she has broad conceptual and narrative authority over what it means to be her suitor and who and what qualifies for the threshing, before the chance to look in at her personal story’s ending—it was always something that gave her the power to make her own destiny.

Of course, opening with a scene like that means ending with a mirror-scene; a book’s ending, IMO, reflects its beginning, and I wound up organizing Unclean Legacy as cut more or less directly in half by the mirror. (Arguably, anyway. There are really two places you could put the mirror.)

The interesting thing about this, and the reason we’re talking today, was that the best scene I could find to mirror and answer that opening with Violet receiving her gift wasn’t the close to Violet’s story—which, for I think good reason, was mostly a grace note towards the end of Christine & Sophie’s story—but rather her father Montechristien’s proposal to her mother, Yseult.

Now, the very beginning and very end of a book aren’t always the heart of what it’s about. That’s why they’re called prologues, I think, rather than chapters one, sometimes. And epilogues, rather than chapters whatever! Sometimes the very beginning and ending is a structure around the story rather than the beginning and ending of the rawest part of the story itself.

And so if I had to say what the heart of the story is, well, it goes from “the Devil and the Unicorn” to “In a World of Miracles,” from Montechristien and Santrieste’s answers to the Devil to Sophie and Manfred’s answers to the onyx void; that it’s about suicide and salvation and suffering and all that kind of thing.

But the Once Upon a Time opening is still about a girl who doesn’t have to bow to anybody, and who accomplishes this in part by being completely unsuitable for marriage and functionally immune to the threat of sexual assault (as well as by inheriting money and power); and the Happily Ever After ending is still about a woman who accepts a marriage proposal from a guy who objectifies her a bit less than her previous suitors had.

(I’m giving away the ending because it’s a flashback and a digestif; the interest value of the ending isn’t the events but the emotional content and the details.)

I’m not totally sure how I feel about that beginning and ending on feminist grounds. I certainly didn’t expect that to be the moral of one of my stories, ever. I mean, I think Yseult found something priceless but I wouldn’t consider her happy ending something that Violet was ever looking for; nor does it seem to me like I want to say Yseult’s fantasy is more evolved or mature than Violet’s, because it’s not; Yseult is arguably an incomplete Violet, rather than the other way around.

So I don’t know what it means, exactly, only that it’s right. Maybe one day someone will tell me why and I’ll be “oh, of course, it’s because it’s a flashback that that works” or “Violet’s story doesn’t make sense without showing where she’d be without her gift, which is noticeably but not necessarily overwhelmingly different.”

I don’t know. It’s weird. I like romantic happy endings, but I’m critical of the patriarchal structure of marriage, and so I don’t want Yseult’s ending to be something obviously good or something obviously bad, but … well. It is what it is.

We know it pretty early on in the story.

Yseult’s time with Montechristien isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t suck. It’s a happily ever after, more or less.

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.