[blows off dust]

You know, I have no idea if anyone even uses the various live journal clones for anything other than RPGs. But I need a place to keep reminders to myself, and I still have this, so hooray.

So, yeah. Expect to see snippets of whatever creative I'm working on, or essays on fictional stuff. I don't know if I'll write about any non-science real life things. (Science is a given.)

Hi. I bet I have a bunch of old icons that I can't use because I stopped paying for time.


Humans are silly (and I mean this in the best, possible way: I'm glad we are silly).

It's not that we build machines (and, before that, train animals) to do things and go places that we can't. That is sensible.

But we give them names. Real names, not 'Mars Exploration Rover' or 'Mars Science Laboratory', but Opportunity and Spirit and Curiosity. Even the ones that do get names that sound all sciency are constructed around sounding like a thing: MESSENGER or OSIRIS-REX. We tell stories about them, and do things like have birthday parties and figure out that if you tell the rover to turn this motor this fast it will sound like it is singing 'Happy Birthday'.

We even argue about the stories we tell: whether or not Opportunity 'wants' to go back to Earth because she is lonely, or stay on Mars because Mars is her home.

They become something like people, even if only in our minds, so we mourn them when they stop.

Thinking about themes of technology

So, one of the notes about SF as genre is it explores humans' relationship to technology. I saw a post recently about how Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series has the effects of reproductive technology (especially the uterine replicator, an artificial womb) woven through most of her Vorkosigan Saga. With the exception of the early Miles books (The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game), usually that plays some role, even if it is minor (like in Komarr, where Ekatarin notes that some of her family's current predicament may have been avoided if they had opted to use the modern uterine replicator with genetic screening for disease, rather than the old-fashioned way). Which actually works well in what amounts to a family drama that went from two nice 30-40-somethings from different cultures when their respective homeworlds both wanted to colonize the same planet, to their son having a family of his own and the eldest kids starting to figure out their own identities.

The other big example I keep thinking about is the webcomic Schlock Mercenary. The first few story arcs as the artist/writer, Howard Tayler, switches from just a gag-a-day webcomic to serious continuity, involve a change up in faster than light travel from a network of wormholes run by a single organization to a drive that can let a starship jump from anywhere to anywhere (and the resultant technological scramble to deal with the defensive implications). The more recent arcs have been about a technology that essentially uses nanites and biotech to allow for backups to be grown if you die, and what that means now that it is very, very hard to have anyone stay dead.

(Also now I want to dig out my Schlock Mercenary books and do a reread.)

Two Things I Like In Books

So, I've dome some reading. I finished the Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan, and got into The Alpennia series by Heather Rose Jones, and I'm rereading Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys. So, between them they pinpoint thing I like in fiction.

The first two series have a common theme of female scholarship in sexist societies. Lady Trent's books were all about how she became a famous dragon naturalist (she lives in a no-magic fantasy world where dragons evolved, and while analogs to many cultures and religions exist, Christianity doesn't (though religions like Judaism and Islam do)). After the first book, a big deal is made about how Isabella (our protagonist, she who becomes Lady Trent) does do a lot of interaction with other female scholars, even those in fields she doesn't care about or know much about, because of how many times her own career could have been stillborn due to what society expected of her as a married upper-class woman.

The Jones books are also historical fantasy (paired with lesbian romance), though set in a fictional country in Europe and with magic rooted in real-world beliefs (the first book involves 'miracles' that come through religious veneration of the saints, and the second book involves alchemy). The plot of the first book is propelled when Margerit, a young woman, gains a giant amount of money from the death of her godfather, and sits down with his financial planner and says 'I want to go to the university, how do I do that', and he spells out the only three ways women can audit lectures without dooming their reputation: be a rich widow who can pull off 'eccentric', be in the right social class that you can aim for a job as a clerk or tutor, or be an unmarried bored rich girl who isn't taking it seriously. By the third book, Margerit is sponsoring lectures specifically to advance female scholars' careers, and is opening a school for women. Even if one sets aside that to write lesbian romance is to require a cast of female characters, the books come off as profoundly homosocial. I'm reminded of a phrase from The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, when Vedero is talking to her brother, Maia, about the community of upper-class female scholars who couldn't get family permission to university because it might damage their hopes of a good marriage. Vedero talks about her friends' varied interests, then explains that when she means friends, she means 'members of the community of female scholars, regardless of whether I like them or know them all that well', because Vedero considers the community Important. (Maia then says that he would be happy to meet all her friends, both the ones she likes and the one she doesn't, with the implication since he is Emperor now, and one of Vedero's friends is engaged to him, that maybe the three of them can slowly break down the stigma of well-educated daughters of the nobility.)

Anyway, so communities of scholars is a thing I like, especially when in concert with beating down stupid sexism. The other book I read was Winter Tide, which a cover blurb describes as "Wicked for the Cthulhu Mythos": basically it assumes "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" had an unreliable narrator, and led to the US government rounding up the town and throwing them in an internment camp that would be later used for the Japanese during WWII. The protagonist, Aphra Marsh is one of the few survivors and is trying to rebuild her life with her found family, since all of her other family (besides a younger brother) are dead, or living in an underwater city off the Atlantic coast. The book keeps the sense of 'the universe is an uncaring place full of things that can swallow you up without even noticing' that influenced Lovecraft, but unlike a writer who seemed to be profoundly afraid of everything (partially manifesting as racism, sexism, anti-semetism, etc.), Winter Tide seems to be patterned after the Carl Sagan quote: "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."

(Come to think about it, you do get a bit of the first theme, as we meet Misatonic University's first female professor, and find out a lot about Hall, the university's sister school (as this is before all-male universities were disallowed in the US).)

So, basically taking the 'you are a tiny speck in terms of space and time, and your good fortune or bad fortune can come from things way beyond your control' part of Loftcraftian horror, but then focusing on how people cope with that. (And that even if you are likely to spend your middle age metamorphosing into an unaging amphibious fish-person, you still are human.)


I dreamt I was in this fantasy world with two groups of people. Mine were having a spat of poor luck, and we discovered our neighbors had this ritual thing performed on a certain date at an unknown place, and we thought maybe if we did it instead we'd get better or something. So first we were sneaking through a university, but misjudged when everyone would be asleep and got into a giant fight. things got disjointed for a bit (since I think we surrendered after realizing how many people we'd need to kill to escape), when me and another person were wandering through the wastes and happen upon a really high tech science station. The two scientists who run it are happy to help us get where we need to get going... only then we run into monsters that petrify people and it turns out my fantasy species can shrug that off and the other ones can't. So, my companion and I try to continue on, only she gets caught in collapsing woodwork and tells me to leave her. I do, and stumble upon the person who is doing the ritual who is surprisingly reasonable about letting it benefit both groups. I take home a lot of seeds for next year's harvest, and discover that my companion (who was family or something) did survive.

My brain is remarkably good at piecing together a narrative out of dreams. I never do much with them, but I like thinking that I could (with a lot more work to make this make sense in terms of motivations).

GM Thoughts

So, someone posted a meme that involved a D&D party crossing a mountain pass in a blizzard, and the dwarf critically failed his climb check. When the GM asked the player what he was doing, the player responded 'my character is going to flap his arms and pray', and two critical successes later the GM was all '... you see your dwarf somehow staying level by flapping his arms'. Which is a hilarious example of luck, but the first bit was probably in the examples of 'how NOT to handle failure'. (Well, to be fair, the GM was probably expecting the dwarf to try to catch himself or something.)

Basically, in gaming, you generally want character deaths to be proactive and cause some kind of emotion at the table (either feel meaningful or hilarious). Dying after one bad dice roll on a climb check isn't meaningful. Dying after you fall onto a narrow ledge, and the party's attempts to save you fails is slightly more because it means you chose it. Heck, dying because you found something important on that ledge and needed to make sure your friends got the thing, even at the cost of your own life is the sort of thing that makes the GM bust out the roleplaying rewards (transferred over to your next character).

I just think of the last game session I was in. My character, Rowan was bit by a were-spider and her dreams were turning from anxiety dreams to 'I suspect the next full moon is going to start with me growing extra legs'. Another character (Bri) was hit by mummy rot (a curse carried by mummies) on the way to getting my character (and various other victims) back to civilization. (The GM had to fudge the rules a bit for the mummy rot, as a D&D edition change made it a tad more lethal than he'd assumed.) This meant that not only did we have to race back to civilization before Bri died (Rowan had a slightly longer timetable), but we now owed the local cleric a favor for curing the party, and we had to make a trip for him. So, even if we had bad luck on saving throws, it was less about death and more about the risk of death and furthering the plot.

Being Social

So, yesterday we had both the award luncheon for students, and a faculty-only reception at the department chair's house. I actually attended both! (Well, for the former, my TA was getting an award that I nominated him for, and I was recognized as new faculty. Plus, lunch was delicious: enchiladas brought in from a Mexican restaurant in town.) The good thing was that for the latter, I stayed the whole time and only left because I was tired enough that I didn't want to drive home if I stayed later. I always feel awkward at large parties, but it helps that a lot of the senior faculty seemed to make it their job to help me meet people. And I actually spoke to some of the junior faculty (aka the people who didn't have me as a student).

I have this undercurrent of fear about my job because it requires renewal every few years, so I do feel obligated to go to events, and then I go and remember that most of the people here want me to succeed (mostly because they like me and understand that new professors are still learning to teach, partially because no one wants to go through the hiring process again*).

* No one likes faculty job searches. The existing faculty find that it disrupts their schedules for several weeks even if they aren't on the hiring committee (who has to go through hundreds of apps, a good percentage of whom would do just fine). Everyone applying is nervous as all hell, and then the lucky few selected for second-round interviews have to carve out days at a time for that. (Seriously, my interview was a day and a half long, and you maybe get snatches of five or ten minutes to collect yourself during the day.) And the business office and various admins aren't happy because they need to carve out funds to fly people in, and pay for meals and hotels. And someone has to deal with flight delays. (Over my interviewing career, I've had at least two. One was the interview for my current job, made worse as I was coming into the airport an hour away and renting a car.)

A Nice Bit of Writing

So, I kickstarted a tabletop RPG book based on the Schlock Mercenary webcomic, a comedy space-opera about a group of mercenaries that has been running since 2000 (and it turns out you can do a lot of worldbuilding in 17 years, even with a newspaper-strip format and a goal to be funny). The book is written under the conceit that is was released in-world by an arms dealer to help mercenary companies with training their infantry> That's cool, but the Dresden Files RPG also did that.

The neat thing is that the Game Chief (GM) section has a section on "Player Accessibility", and it does two things. The first is that out of game, it suggests tips both for accommodating visual, audio and mobility issues, as well as social anxiety/shyness, poor improvisation skills, inability to read social cues, and triggers. Like, acknowledging 'hey, if you have a deaf/hard of hearing player, make sure information is also conveyed visually' as well as 'triggers are no fun, so talk to a player experiencing discomfort and see if knowing the plot twist ahead of time helps'. Generally acknowledging that it is hard for everyone to have fun if they have to deal with difficulties in parsing what is going on or contributing to it.

The other thing is, since the book is an in-world document, is to convey the idea that the 31st century Milky Way Galaxy is a place where multi-species gathering places find accessibility concerns normal. While some of the aliens and various uplifted species in setting are bipedal, roughly 1.5-2 m tall and have all the same senses as humans, many are not. And some require accommodations to exist in human-dominated space (or just don't bother and telecommute from somewhere that is not a hostile alien environment). One can easily set a tone for how cosmopolitan some place is by noting what species have trouble (if any). (Individual setting descriptions do comment on places large species, or even larger species might have trouble.)

So it's writing that is both useful out of game and in-game. Which is another reason to celebrate it.

Melanchony in the Sunlight (Geno the Cat 1996-2107)

My mother's cat, Geno, died today. He was about 2 months out from turning 21, and arthritic and had kidney problems, and quite possibly mostly blind and losing his hearing. But we'd had him since I was a teenager. (We got him in summer of 1996, right before I entered high school. Mom called him her 'divorce cat', since Dad didn't want more than one cat in the house.)

This is the first time my mother hasn't had a cat since the early 1990s, when we first moved to Nebraska. She's said she wouldn't get another one, but that changed when my nephew came along and loves cats so much (but my brother-in-law isn't fond of cats).

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In less serious news, I am probably going to stop crossposting to LJ due to their recent decisions. One can find me on Dreamwidth and Insanejournal, under the same name.

Open House

Last Friday, we opened up the old observatory for an open house. Despite the clouds, we had a few busses of high school students to entertain. The physics undergrads did a large amount of entertaining. I gave one talk, then we went to see if anyone wanted a second round of it an hour later, and the physics students were showing some high schoolers momentum and energy transfer. With a hammer.

The downside was that I was back nearly at midnight. It's a good 45 minute drive to the old observatory, the last 2 miles on dirt roads across fields and pastures. At least I arrived at twilight, when you can see the signs. And the roads had dried out enough from the rain we've been getting.