Life, Carbon, and the Tao

My essai for the first anniversary of L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Superversive blog is now up in full:

Part One: What’s so special about carbon?

Part Two: What’s so special about the Tao?

Reposted on SuperversiveSF in one piece.

Go, read, and I hope you enjoy.

In other news, I shall not be writing this week, as I have finally enlisted some help to do a top-to-bottom cleaning of my flat, which is many months overdue. The accumulation of books and papers was making it impossible for me to hoover up the dust, and the dust was making it difficult to do anything else. I have been living largely on a diet of antihistamines and facial tissue. Enough of that!


  1. They say cleanliness is next to godliness – good for you in getting help. The amount of dust that has gathered around my ‘stuff’ since it has been hard to move – and all my time has been consumed with getting my first novel ready for market – is impressive.

    I need to find a someone to help, as you did.

    You will literally rest easier.

    And you may find that the process also clears out cobwebs from your brain, the ones concerned with ‘I should really do something about this dust.’

    Be of good cheer – you will gain more than you lose by this sidetrip.

  2. The reference in the second article to “wolves vs. sheepdogs” made me think of this:

  3. It is interesting that one of the few justifications Martin can scrape together for the evil in his world, the Borgias, are open to question. The Life of Cesare Borgia (free on Kindle), by Rafael Sabatini, paints a very different picture of those murderous, poisoning bastards. In fact, it is Sabatini’s contention (backed up with sound reasoning and an impressive array of source documents) that it is unlikely the Borgias ever assassinated anyone and that all the modern legends about them were slanders invented by their enemies and latched upon by sensationalist historians who like a good story.

    • I’m automatically suspicious of revisionist histories. One can approach Sabatini’s work in either of two ways:

      (a) All the tales about the evildoing of the Borgias are modern slanders invented by their enemies and latched upon by sensationalist historians; which makes all non-revisionist historians (indeed, all who are non-revisionist upon this particular point) sensationalists and liars.

      (b) Sabatini himself is a sensationalist historian who is whitewashing historical villains so that people will notice him for his originality.

      It is no part of a historian‘s job to be original. The historian’s job is to discern the truth and tell it. One notes that both Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia were (and this is beyond dispute) the acknowledged illegitimate children of a priest who ascended to the papacy, and who was one of the most notoriously self-serving and worldly popes in history. Indeed, his papacy encouraged and bred every one of the abuses to which the Reformation was originally intended as a response. In the face of this, one cannot make out that all the stories told against the Borgias are slanders. The position is not tenable – unless you think that it’s perfectly OK for a priest sworn to celibacy to use his high ecclesiastical office to procure wealth and favours for his bastard children.

      • Stephen J. says

        Actually, it’s not beyond dispute at all. G.J. Meyer wrote a book called The Borgias: The Hidden History which advanced, to me, the very plausible case that Cesare and Lucrezia were not in fact Rodrigo Borgia’s children at all, by virtue of the fact that — thanks to a painstaking reconstruction of Rodrigo’s historically documented movements while he was a Cardinal — he could not possibly have been in Valencia at the times required to father either child on the woman named as their mother. Meyer’s thesis is that Cesare and Lucrezia were grand-nephew and grand-niece of Rodrigo, rather than son and daughter.

        The book also does, to me, a more than adequate job of demolishing most of the Borgia Legend, and it should be borne in mind that much of that legend was contributed to very strongly both by Alexander VI’s immediate successors and political enemies and by the general anti-Catholicism of the 19th century. The popes of the Renaissance had their fair share of sins and decadence — nepotism for relatives both legitimate and illegitimate was near-universal above a certain level, and hardly unique to the Borgias; they simply got called on it far more because they were Spanish interlopers rather than one of the old Italian clans used to indulging themselves with it — but much of this was almost endemic to the necessarily political role the Vatican of the time had taken in order to survive in 15th and 16th century Europe.

        You do not need to believe all historians are sensationalists and liars to consider revisionist histories worth reading; you only need to believe that historians are perfectly capable of being wrong in how they assess the credibility of their consulted sources, and which to give more weight when they contradict one another. All history is “revisionist” to some degree — much of the current and considerably more accurate Crusades scholarship was probably called “revisionist” when it first came out.

  4. 60guilders says

    If I may speak in Martin’s defense (much as it pains me to do so), I would point out that the same book that gave us the Red Wedding also gave us the deaths of Joffrey Lannister and Balon Greyjoy, while the next passed us the death of Tywin Lannister.
    Yeah, ASOIAF is ludicrously over-the-top grimdark, but evil doesn’t get its way all of the time.

  5. Joe Katzman says

    Tom… does it matter any to your finances whether people buy the paperback or Kindle versions of your book? I’m absolutely going to buy it, and would do whatever works best for you.

    • Not all of my books are available in paperback at the moment. For those that are, I get slightly more money for a paperback sale than an ebook, but not enough to worry about. However, if you buy the paperback directly from CreateSpace, I make significantly more money. (I really should put up direct links for that, but I’m not sure if my WordPress widget thingy supports CreateSpace.)

  6. sdorman2014 says

    Reading here on the TCBS fellowship in John Garth’s book on JRRT and the Great War. Three of its members were able to meet without Tolkien (they dearly wanted his presence), in which get-together they discuss what was happening to the culture, blaming Shaw and Ibsen for upending Victorian prudery “but putting nothing in its place to prevent moral freefall.” The TCBS was dedicated to working at sub-creativity to counter this.

  7. I would note one thing about Frank Miller’s Sin City and certain Quentin Tarantino movies: they are rather moral.

    In Miller’s film adaptation, we follow several heroes. Bruce Willis, a hard-bitten but honest cop, protects an innocent young girl, finally sacrificing himself to avoid betraying her location. Mickey Rourke is a bruiser, but has a good relationship with his parole officer; he is sickened by his failure to protect a prostitute (in spite of having no idea she was in danger) and goes to superhuman lengths to avenge her. Clive Owen roughs up an abusive ex-boyfriend, and later joins the Old Town prostitutes to protect them from that fallout. The prostitutes are engaged in an immoral trade, yes, but they protect their own: they follow a moral code.

    In Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, pretty much all the characters are bad guys, but some are much worse than others. Marvin the uniformed cop may be the only non-villain with a speaking role. The undercover cop is sickened when he lashes out during the getaway. He is a weak protagonist, yes, but we watch this movie to see the bad guys get theirs.

    Pulp Fiction has another cast of villains, but again we have heroes swimming against all this crime. Willis makes a crooked deal, and tries to scam his way out of it, but eventually feels compelled not to leave the man he cheated in a fate worse than death. Samuel Jackson is so unnerved by what he sees as the hand of God he feels compelled to turn his back on his criminal life and start anew. Travolta refuses this opportunity, but he does go above and beyond to save Uma Thurman, forging a kind of connection with her. And let’s not forget the four women who help Ving Rhames to his feet after the car accident, only to run screaming (and sensibly) when he spots his quarry again and pulls his gun.

    In Jackie Brown, Robert Forster goes to great lengths to help Pam Grier escape her connection to the criminal world. In Death Proof, two groups of innocent (mostly, heh) women are targeted by a thrill killer who is finally defeated. In From Dusk Till Dawn, Harvey Keitel gets to play a former pastor as the film’s moral center.

    Finally, in Kill Bill, we have a hardened, mercenary assassin, the Bride, who decides to leave the criminal life, not because she is sick of it (her redemption does not go so far), but because she cannot bear the thought of her child being brought up in that life. The final conversation between Bill and the Bride is amazing: neither are moral people, but they do know they live in a world with a moral code.

    Neither True Romance nor Natural Born Killers, two early Tarantino scripts, are as concerned with morality. And Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained are comparatively unhinged and morally incoherent compared to the five films preceding them.

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