Podcast Saturday

The SuperversiveSF Monthly Roundtable Live Chat is coming up this Saturday, November 19, at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (20:00 GMT). Your Obedient Servant has been invited to participate, and the invitation has been accepted. Watch this page, or the SuperversiveSF blog, for links to the live event.

As I understand it, recordings of previous episodes are available in podcast form. I shall ask the Persons in Charge for links.

If Yr. Obt. Svt. is unable to attend, I still urge you to listen in, as you will be hearing words of wit and wisdom from such superversive figures as John C. Wright, L. Jagi Lamplighter, and Jason Rennie of SciPhi Journal. The topic for this month: Gratitude in fiction, characters, and daily life.


So far, I have described my thoughts about ozamataz up to the point where I asked whether one could attract that kind of self-sustaining fan participation, and if so, how. This is also the point at which the Muse, or the Guardian Angel, or the Collective Subconscious, or Something, stepped in. Perhaps it was the Great Oz himself.

Having worked out something of the nature of ozamataz, I asked my brain: ‘OK, brain, what is it that makes some things have ozamataz when others don’t?’

And my brain, without missing a beat, obligingly answered: ‘Legosity.’

I was duly annoyed, for I then had to figure out what legosity was. My brain is cryptic and has no manners, and seldom troubles to explain itself.

The one thing my brain did deign to tell me is that legosity has something to do with Lego. This made sense on the face of it. Lego toys have an ozamataz of their own. They have inspired movies, games, theme parks, and of course, the imaginations of millions of children the world over. The manufacturer’s recent habit of producing specific single-purpose Lego sets like model kits, which hardly fit together with other Lego and are hardly intended to, is most regrettable. These kits tend to take up shelf space at the toy shops and displace the kind of Lego that you can really play with. But the original bricks and doors and windows, Lego people and Lego cars and Lego trees, and so on – those are still available, and you can do anything with them. Nowadays, you can even buy Lego with moving parts and electric motors, and build Lego machines that can be controlled via computer. There are Lego robots in the world, and serious men with doctorates in the hard sciences have been known to play with them.

As the unfortunate history of the kit-model kind of Lego shows, it is not so much the brand name, or even the mechanical ingenuity of Lego that gives the toys their unique quality. It is the concept. At bottom, Lego consists of a whole range of bits and pieces, all designed to fit together easily and without fuss, so that they can be used to build anything the imagination can conceive. You do not have to be a skilled carpenter, or a watchmaker, or know how to build ships in bottles, to build houses and cities and fairy castles out of Lego. The skill in your fingers (especially a child’s fingers) ceases to be a limit on what you can achieve, and the mind is set free to soar.

Even the name Lego is well chosen, and means, I think, more than its inventor intended. We are assured that it comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, ‘Play well’. But it is also Latin and Greek, and in those languages the word has a wide and subtle range of meanings that reach right down into the guts of the human psyche. [Read more…]

Huzzahs and bemusements

I must say, that fellow John C. Wright knows how to throw a party. He has just finished the fair draft of his latest book, The Vindication of Man, and this is how he announces the blessed event:

Unlimber the big guns, ring the church bells, release the kraken, remit all executions, free the gladiators, gather the greenskinned Orion dancing girls, decree a clone parade of endless twins, and have the Death Star blow up the peaceful and unarmed planet Alderaan in joyful celebration! Two firkins of water shall be distributed to every Fremen!

Read the rest.

In other news:

Earlier today, I received from CreateSpace my printed copy of Sci Phi Journal #2, in which Yr. Obt. Svt. has the honour to be published. It makes a lovely product on paper, with a single caveat: Somewhere in the production process, an extra blank page got added at the beginning, so that all the odd-numbered pages are on the left and even numbers on the right. I am hoping this oversight will be corrected for future printings (if that is the cromulent word for the single-copy print runs of print-on-demand books).

On her Superversive blog, L. Jagi Lamplighter conducts an excellent interview with my Honourable Number One Boss, the publisher/editor of Abyss & Apex, Wendy S. Delmater.

And over on the SuperversiveSF site (my, how that word is getting around!), Jason Rennie (who is also the publisher/editor of Sci Phi Journal) takes a well-aimed shot at the racist and sexist claptrap of K. Tempest Bradford. Yr. obt. svt. is mentioned therein, to his nearly infinite surprise.

On a personal note, tomorrow I am due to see my G.P. for the results of the tests, pictures, pokings, proddings, and siphonings that have been performed on me over the past couple of weeks, in the interest of diagnosing more accurately what is wrong with me and why I cannot concentrate well enough to get any damned work done. My apologies to those among my 3.6 Loyal Readers who have been expecting blog posts and/or fiction from me.

Shooting blanks

A champion of reason uses fact, and the logical deductions from facts, as the basis for his beliefs. He does not use falsehood. Why bother? No man shoots blanks at a foe when he has bullets.

John C. Wright

Distinguo: There are two kinds of men who may shoot blanks when they have bullets. One is the man who is so ignorant of firearms that he cannot tell the difference, and loads his gun with both indiscriminately. The other is the man who is such a bad shot that he knows he cannot hit anything, and only wants to make a lot of noise.

I note, however, that extending the analogy in this way does not make it any more flattering to the liar who pretends to be a champion of reason.

‘The War of Ignorance versus Faith’

Yet another ignoramus announces his belief, founded upon nothing but prejudice and public education (but I repeat myself), that the Catholic Church is the mortal enemy of science; and John C. Wright boils over with justified dudgeon. In his response, he lists well over 200 Catholic scientists, and not merely Catholics, but Catholic clergymen every one, new and old, living and dead, who have made important (dare I say cardinal?) contributions to the sciences, from José de Acosta to Giovanni Battista Zupi. (I confess my own ignorance: I myself had never heard of quite half of these persons.)

Hmph. I just came across another antieducated sophophobe who declared there to be a war between science and faith, especially the Roman Catholic Church.

I asked him to name the Papal Bull or Encyclical, or any other official document of the Church prohibiting or condemning the practice of scientific inquiry. He did not know what a ‘bull’ was.

I asked him if he knew anything about science and the history of science, and he said yes. I asked him for the evidence of any Catholic interference, or even lack of enthusiastic support, for any scientific inquiry of any kind, in any time or place?

He mentioned Galileo. I asked him if he knew the circumstances of Galileo’s trial, or what Galileo was accused of? He said no. I asked him if he knew who Cardinal Bellarmine was. He said no.

I asked him if he had read Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences? He did not even know what the book was, much less who the characters in it were, or what positions in the contemporary debates they represented.…

Calibrating my questions to the level of someone without a Saint John’s College level of education,  I asked him if he knew who Albertus Magnus, William of Ockham, Roger Bacon, Nicholas Steno were. He said no.

I asked him who invented the mechanical escapement used in clockwork. Or when. He did not know what mechanical escapement was. (Villard de Honnecourt circa 1237, in case you are wondering.)

Recalibrating my question to the high school level, I asked him if he knew who Pascal was, Copernicus, Descartes. He said no. Mendel. No. Still no.

He then told me that all the European inventions in mathematics and medicine came from the Muslim world. I asked him if he knew where Andalusia was, or when the Reconquista happened. Did not recognize those terms. I asked him what religion the people were in the lands conquered by the Muslims in the Seven, Eighth, and Ninth Centuries, et cetera? He guessed that they were some sort of pagans.

I did not bother to ask him if he knew who Abu Hamid al-Ghazali was.

He did not even know enough to raise and throw into my face the old, tired, and oft-refuted slander about Hypatia the neoplatonic philosopher (always described as a female scientist) being flayed to death by a Christian mob wielding sharpened clamshells.

In other words, I could have argued in favor of the War between Science and the Church better than he. He had not even memorized his side’s own talking points.

He was a disgrace to the forces of evil.

Go and read the whole thing; or better yet, bookmark it for permanent reference. Links are included to information about nearly every scientist in the list. (At the moment, there is no link for Fr. Benito Viñes, who does not have his own page on Wikipedia, though he is mentioned in other articles there. Fr. Viñes was a Jesuit priest who invented the first system for forecasting hurricanes.)

The definition of faith

The word faith means trust. It means remaining true to your oaths, true to your beliefs. It means remaining true to what reason has shown you, even during moments of deep and irrational emotion that threaten to introduce doubt where doubt is not logical.

John C. Wright

John C. Wright: Humans and animals

The preference among biologists is to emphasize the similarities of man to other animals, and downplay their immense and categorical differences. This is not science or religion: is it merely a slant. The glass is half empty rather than half full.

Anyone can see the similarities between humans and apes. Apes are just like humans, as both human scientists and ape scientists agree. Ape cathedrals and human cathedrals both use flying buttresses. Ape operas and human operas both use four-point harmony. Apes crap in the woods and so do humans when we cannot find a toilet, and have not taken the time to dig a latrine. The Ape-Pharaoh of Ape City wears a pshent just like Ramses II of Heliopolis.

—John C. Wright, ‘Losing Religion II

John C. Wright on being a famous writer

. . . my name is known everywhere my books are read. I mean everywhere, as far away as my basement and occasionally in my living room. My fame is such that there are members of my family who recognize my name after only a few reminders.

John C. Wright


John C. Wright on moral valence

John C. Wright is interviewed in Raygun Revival. Here, as a taste of the gig, is Mr. Wright on moral valence in popular fiction:

If you wish to argue that there is no such thing as clearly defined good and evil in real life, all I can say in reply is that your notion of real life is missing an essential dimension. This does not mean, of course, that our stalwart hero cannot be caught in a moral paradox, but it does mean that the moral paradox must be a real one, with white and black as sharply defined as squares on a chessboard. It does not mean that our characters need always to be Bishops, always ending on the same color where they began.

I heartily endorse this view of the matter, and I will add this on my own account:

People who extol the so-called virtues of moral ambivalence are, in my experience, generally lazy thinkers. They have not the patience to solve difficult problems (and most of the moral problems that actually engage our attention are difficult); so they pretend that the problems are insoluble and that one answer is no better than another.

If someone says there is no black or white in moral matters, you should carefully consider the possibility that he cannot see them because he is looking with his eyes tightly shut.

John C. Wright on writing fiction

John C. Wright has recently reposted an excellent introductory essay on the mechanics of fiction-writing. In his survey of the subject, he blows the gaff on one of our more undeservedly disreputable techniques:

This, by the way, is why writers use stereotypes. Far from being the evil thing all the rest of the world regards them as being, writers cannot write without stereotypes of people, places and things, and this is because our entire art consists of creating the illusion of a complete picture or a complete world out of a splinter or fragment of description, with the reader’s imagination filling in the majority of the details. One cannot do this without knowing what pictures the reader is likely to have in his imagination beforehand.

What the writer wants not to do is to be asked by the writer to use the stereotype in his head in a tired, trite, shopworn, or expected way, because then the reader notices, and is rightly put off, by the trick being pulled on him.

Incidentally, I still want to see someone write Old Men Shall Dream Dreams. Go and read, if only to appreciate the opening scene he offers as an example for dissection.