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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Greg Morrow's LiveJournal:

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Saturday, January 28th, 2012
10:55 pm
Sentences the copy-editor should have caught, a series: From "The Wild Ways", by Tanya Huff.

Before I get to the sentence, I will repeat an establishing sentence from page one: "Nothing in the room screamed money, but everything said it quietly, well aware -- given the quality of the furnishings -- that shouting wasn't necessary to make the point."

So you are aware of the environment of the scene as we head to page three, and this sentence: "She could feel the edges of her very expensive manicure cutting half moons into the equally expensive wood of the desk." I suppose, it could be an Ikea desk. That might explain why it's soft enough to be readily gouged by fingernails and cheap enough to be as expensive as a very expensive manicure. But you really wouldn't expect an Ikea desk to quietly say money.

Some further discussion: Lexicographers gloss expensive in absolute terms -- "having a high price". Nonetheless, it's abundantly clear that a thing is expensive in at least partially relative terms -- a high price compared to the ordinary or expected price. So what the author must have intended what that the manicure's price was much higher than the ordinary or expected price to the same degree that the desk's price was higher than the ordinary or expected price of a desk. But that's not what "equally expensive" means -- it means "having the same, numerically equal, high price". See, e.g. Romanian Tourism Minister Defends Pricey Dress. The equally part kicks it over to the absolute scale (one suspects that this sort of behavior of expensive is why lexicographers give it an absolute rather than relative definition). 

Now, some people (greeneyes_rpi) will immediately throw back at me my characterization of language as being defined by the purpose of communication (language succeeds if communication is successful) and that the correctness conditions of a language are determined by the standards of how it is actually used, not by external standards, so I must be being hypocritical to say that equally expensive should have been corrected by the copy-editor. This is sophistry, and I sneer at it. Primarily, the characterization of language is an aggregate function. I can omit the copula and will understood by everyone, succeeding in communication, but that doesn't mean the language has zero or optional copula unless a substantial part of the speech population does the same thing. And everyone reading this will agree: You would expect Mitt Romney to have expensive suits and expensive haircuts, but you would be surprised if they were equally expensive. 

The fact of the matter is that, for the most part, we only use "equally expensive" for closely related things (web examples include equally expensive television ads, equally expensive foreign and domestic versions of similar products, equally expensive hobbies), presumably precisely to avoid confusion over numeric equality versus relative equality.
Thursday, July 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
A Fragment
 There are three mountains that reach for the sky around us. One, the largest, is to the south. It is from this direction that the barbarians come, and so the mountain is called Wintergate. Once every century or two, they come and kill us all. One or a few manage to survive. They go to the outside world and do great deeds, returning to the city with their followers when they are too old to do great deeds any more, and so the city is restored.

I will not leave the city during my entire life.

The mountain to the west is old and gentle, with many valleys where deer and nimble antelope live in misty forests. This is where the griffons hunt, and twice a century or so the wyrm-snake Aleph, who comes to the city to talk philosophy with the masters when it has eaten. No one else ever comes from the west, so the mountain is called Friend.

The top of Friend is hidden behind clouds. I will not see it once during my entire life.

The mountain to the north is a volcano, whose red glow lets the young-eyed travel the streets of the city at night. Though the rim of the crater is open to us, the lava flows always find a path away from us, down to the sea, where at least once a century but not more than once a decade, great steam clouds lit from below by glowing rock warn sailors away from the shore. The volcano has no common name, for Death is too on the point, and Earthpimple too crude, and all other attempts have been discarded as too pretentious in their intent to use, so it is simply the volcano.

After I am dead, the volcano will still be there, and its glow will still light the city.

This, then, is how I was assassinated, and how I thereafter came to leave the city and its three mountains. I will never return to the city after my death.

I would rather have not walked through a night unlit by the volcano, nor seen the top of Friend, nor left the city at all.

Sometimes we have choices. Sometimes we do not. If that is a theme, well, it is a poor one, to be so nakedly avowed. But I am no philospher.

That is why the conversation with Aleph came as a surprise.
Friday, June 17th, 2011
3:46 pm
Treadmill Thoughts
 If I were doing a Game of Thrones-type series:

King dies (of testicular cancer) leaving no heir of the body. Under the succession law, the next king must be a male heir of the body of (Q, ruler several generations ago)* and king was the last one; the only remaining heir of the body is a second cousin girl child. Dynastic crisis. "Regency council" has tenuous legality, cannot agree on new succession law.

*Based on the existing English succession law -- has to be a descendant of Queen such and so, one of the Marys, I think.

Epistolary chapters interspersed with narrative.

Main characters:

Faction 1 (the noble house distant from the capital): Grand Duke A, wife B, son C. Son C has been representing the family's interests at court, but returns to his father's gathering army when the regency council begins to break apart.

Faction 2 (the politicos): Ambitious mother D, erratic son E (models from imperial Rome, imperial China)

Faction 1 and Faction 2 both have "claims" on the throne via relatives -- but not heirs -- of Q.
The second cousin girl child is a pawn -- conceivably, her male offspring will be legitimate heirs under the existing succession law. So controlling her is a critical tactic, until she gets killed. Or dies of whooping cough or something.

Spoilers: Elder sage L, a legal stickler, a keen manipulator of politics; a great many secrets. Appears to initially favor faction 1, but is key in a stunning betrayal. Adventurer K: A Sir Francis Drake-type, whose allegiance will help tip the balance, but who has secrets from his explorations that will change the character of his involvement. Cousin U: The Claudius of Faction 2, a cousin of E who is discounted by most everyone; we play up his obvious analogousness early, and move in the direction of making him Claudius, but there's another shocking twist.

A makes an alliance with overseas forces -- Danes or Geats -- by marrying C to chief's daughter V, and promising half of the territory conquered before being crowned to the chief. 

V turns out to be a firebrand hellion. When B and C are killed, she becomes a Boudicca figure. And to go for our quota of skeeve -- when C is killed, she goes to A, says, I do not have a child by your son, but you can give me one. A little Lot's daughters sort of thing.

Etc., etc. Pile on the complications, pile on the characters, a reversal every third chapter. Heel face turns, and face heel turns. Invite disaster in, and be surprised when disaster ensues. Shrink the size of the pot so that the victory looks less worth the cost all the while. Reveal hidden magics. Wave distractedly at external threats that fail to materialize until the dry well sequels; above all, do not permit unity in the face of external threats.

Cash checks. Retire to islands. Die before having to write a conclusion.
Friday, June 3rd, 2011
3:31 pm
Sudden Verbosity
 Four Howling Curmudgeons posts in three days. It's like, weird.
Thursday, April 21st, 2011
9:47 am
The Prehistory of Oz
 So driving to the game last week, I started putting together an Oz story in my head, in which the story main characters get zapped back into Oz's far distant past, before it was a fairyland. Probably Dorothy and the Glass Cat, because the one is a great heroine and the other is my favorite Oz character.

So dinosaurs in prehistoric Oz aren't called dinosaurs, of course, because <em>deinos</em> means terrible, and that's not appropriate. These would be, oh, <em>thaumasaurs</em>, "marvellous lizards".

Prehistoric Oz is divided into four regions, one each more-or-less Permian, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Tertiary in character. It is an island continent, surrounded by ocean -- the deadly deserts are the residue of those dried-up oceans.

The most important new character from the prehistoric time period is the Happy Smilodon (parallel to the Hungry Tiger and Cowardly Lion).

Dorothy sees a giant vertebrae being exposed by a farmer's plow, asks the Wizard about its resemblance to dinosaur bones, he explains (being the all-purpose know-it-all of Oz, but not an asshole like that Wogglebug jerk) about Oz having thaumasaurs instead. Then an accident; Dorothy et al. get catapulted back in time. Ozma's magic picture can't find them, so the wishing belt can't bring them back. Stranded in a magic land that's not a fairyland, they have to find a way home, when they're not even sure there's a way home. Ozian adventure ensues.

Another possible character would be inspired by Dinosaur Comics' Professor Science.
Thursday, April 7th, 2011
8:55 pm
Tiassa, or a Digression Upon Literary Style and the Objective Knowledge of Events
I am reading Tiassa, the new Steven Brust book. And it illustrates quite thoroughly a dominant theme of his books, which I have only slowly and lately become aware. [There are, I believe, no more than trivial spoilers for Tiassa herein.]

I can put it two ways, one of which sounds tautologically trivial: Everything looks different from everyone else's perspective. But a more literate way to put it may be this: Brust thinks there is no such thing as an omniscient viewpoint. And, possibly, that there is no objective reality.

We see this repeatedly, in the way different narrators cast the same events -- Between Brokedown Palace and The Phoenix Guard, the confrontation on the pepperfields; The Phoenix Guard again and Jhereg, in Aliera's and Paarfi's versions of Adron's Disaster. Did Morrolan accompany Zerika to Deathsgate Falls? Paresh and Paarfi tell us about the same events. Vlad meets Kiera when Sethra is confined to Dzur Mountain. Morrolan and Vlad hold separate conversations simultaneously with Verra.

In Tiassa, this was made overt to me when we accompany Cawti to see Norathar. When it is Vlad's viewpoint, in Yendi, she is nearly a nullity, because he is distracted by Cawti. We also get hints of Aliera's view of Norathar; from the eyes of a quintessential Dragon, Norathar is a pure Dragon. But here, when Cawti marches into the Dragon Wing to see her, Norathar is a girlfriend, lively and game to get up to something -- and far more on Vlad's side than Vlad would have believed possible.

Everything looks different when you see it through someone else's eyes. It's a strong signature for a writer; omniscient third and reliable first and their kin are such defaults for fiction that anything else stands out as a clear choice of style. But this goes beyond the unreliable narrator. Brust's characters aren't lying to the reader (much); they're not mistaken, or at least not in any way that's correctable. Brust's body of work asserts that viewpoint can't be reliable because reliability itself is an illusion.

Paarfi may be the clearest example of this. His Dumas style apery overwhelms the narrative. We know that the story cannot have occurred as Paarfi tells it; it is too artificial to be real. But, again, the default reader response is to believe that there is some reality underneath, that if you subtract off the style, you get to what happened. It is only in Brust's whole body of work that we realize that no, that's not at all what he intends. Vlad's more naturalistic narration is no closer to what happened than Paarfi's. Or, rather, narration -- or the nature of reality -- prevents anyone from saying what happened with objective authority.

It is a theme that demands a great deal of craft from the author. In each scene, Brust must not only give us one or more characters to follow through the scene, but must also determine how their viewpoint changes the scene itself. This is at the core of Teckla, of all things (and continues in Phoenix). Vlad and Cawti break up because their worlds are literally different. Not that they disagree, or that they no longer get along; they perceive different realities.

It has been a long time since I've read Brust's body of work outside Dragaera. But To Reign in Hell? What surprise is it that Brust would be drawn to a Miltonesque tale, where Lucifer's viewpoint so utterly denies God's -- that is, the definitively omniscient viewpoint.

There is no graspable reality in Brust's stories; there is only the truth that what happened depends on who's seeing it.
Saturday, March 5th, 2011
5:48 pm
Back Catalogs
Konrath and his cohorts are claiming Kindle gold with their back catalog and new work at low price points.

But there's another school, and that's people like Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake, who are putting their back catalog out for like-new prices -- $8.99 and up. One suspects bad agents, onerous contracts, or lack of rights reversion causing publisher interference.

Betcha their ebook sales experiences are not producing similar revenue.
Sunday, December 12th, 2010
8:40 am
Frazz and 9 Chickweed Lane are right next to each other on my comics.com comics page. Today, both feature tyrannosaurs. It's a little added amusing coincidence.
Tuesday, August 24th, 2010
2:32 pm
A Dangerous Amount of Knowledge
Heh. Knowing only the tiniest amounts of information about Semitic morphology still opens huge portals for comprehension.

Semitic languages have (canonically) roots made up of three consonants, fleshed out into words by the application of a template. Islam, muslim, and salaam all have the same triconsonantal root s-l-m (approximately "peace"), with different templates applied.

So when checking out the Amalekites, I become primed to look for a triconsonantal root, ?m-l-k. Later, there's a reference to Arabic imlaq, "giant".

Say. I know what that is.

That's m-l-q (k being a perfectly unsurprising Anglicized transliteration of the voiceless velar fricative q), plus the i__a_ template from Islam.

Hmm. The article transliterates it as an a-macron, actually. Cross-check: Yes; in Arabic, the a in Islam is also long.

So probably m-l-q means something along the lines of "large", and there's probably a template which looks something like a_a_e_, of meaning to be determined. And probably a Hebrew place name along the lines of "Ashalem" (since Ar. s-l-m is ModH sh-l-m). Hmm.

That's pretty cool, I think. Once you know to look for triconsonantal roots and templates, they're easy to spot even when there's a paucity of input data.

... I should look for a Semitic language that uses the Roman alphabet. I could learn that sucker in no time.
Monday, August 23rd, 2010
9:02 am
Late Adopter
I have a twitter account at gpmorrow.

Your lives have now been infinitesimally improved.
Sunday, August 22nd, 2010
11:20 am
Critical Failure
I honestly have no idea what I think of the Luna Bros.' Sword.

I don't think there's a case that it's good. I think it probably achieved quite close to what it was trying to achieve, so it's not bad in the sense of incompetent. I think there is probably a case that what it was trying to achieve is unattractive, if not as reprehensible as Girls appeared to be.*

Maybe it was just full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

*Disclosure: I did not finish Girls.
Monday, August 9th, 2010
6:31 pm
This May Be Harder Than I Thought
In the real world, the Dolomites are a part of the Italian Alps.

I am running an RPG set in a Greco-Roman world, and fantasy worlds always need mountains for various monsters to live in.

Dolomite, of course, makes one think of the blaxploitation character.

Therefore, clearly, the chunk of mountains in my Greco-Roman world should have a name derived from a blaxploitation character. Because that's how my mind works.

However, characters like Shaft, Truck Turner, TNT Jackson, Foxy Brown, etc., do not obviously lend themselves to pseudo-Greek or pseudo-Latin names. I suppose Willie Dynamite could lead to the Dynamites, but that's a little transparent; I'd like something that isn't English per se.
Saturday, July 31st, 2010
8:40 pm
Things the Internet Does Not Appear to Know
When watching Doctor Who with CC enabled, there is a very common notation: " 'Next Stop Everything' plays". This is the sting when the Doctor's doing something dramatically Doctorish. So what is it? Who's it by? When's it from?

Other than sites that purport to offer free downloads of "Doctor Who Unreleased Music - Next Stop Everything" and similarly unauthoritative mentions in dark alleys, there does not appear to be any description or discussion of this work on the web.

One rather tentatively infers that it's by series music guy Murray Gold, that it's new this season, and that it may or may not also be known as "Every Star Every Planet".

I am really not used to the Internet not having an instant answer for a modern pop culture question.
Sunday, July 11th, 2010
12:02 pm
On Doctor Who, "Vincent", which I have not yet finished watching on account of working.

1. Vincent Van Gogh was in no way the greatest artist or even painter ever, and your sycophantic plumping up is sad, desperate fanboyism.

2. Musee d'Orsay? With a veddy British explanator? Well, maybe it's got a better collection or something. But dude's got his own whole museum a short train ride* away in Amsterdam. You could give him even more props while you're jerking him off.

3. Van "Goff", srsly? That's how you pronounce it? I'll grant you, the traditional American "Van Go" isn't exactly better, but it's the frickin 21st century, the era of let's all be multicultural and shit, it's not like it's hard to learn how to pronounce his name as he would pronounce it.

*Yes, I am aware of the "In Europe, a hundred miles is a long way" thing. But srsly, it's 21C, it's all the Eurozone, Paris to Amsterdam is NYC to Boston, or maybe DC.
Monday, June 21st, 2010
8:04 am
Bad Machinery
So, Archibald the "dog". Isn't that how John Allison draws, like, wendigos? Is Archibald a wendigo?

A propos, why are there wendigos in England?
Saturday, June 5th, 2010
7:23 pm
The Doctor Finds Trouble
One of these days, I'm going to need to write a Doctor Who fanfic in which the Doctor goes somewhen and absolutely nothing hinky is going on. He goes somewhen else and nothing's still going on. Bored, he goes on again. He lands, only to find out that Sarah Jane Smith has just routed the weird aliens. Landing site number four, nothing. Bored and frustrated, he heads for Skaro, only to land shortly after one of his previous selves has exterminated the Daleks one of the many previous times he's done so.

It's a big universe, and it's not all full of interesting bits.
Saturday, May 8th, 2010
5:33 pm
Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 comfortably exceeded my expectations.

It is funny, full of genuinely witty banter, and that helps push it through the pathologies of sequel superheroes.

SpoilersCollapse )
Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
12:45 pm
On Terry Who
So, making the rounds is Terry Pratchett on Doctor Who, which much like his remarks on J.K. Rowling were taken to try to suggest some sort of feud, are being taken to suggest some sort of five-minute hate on one British institution by another.

It ain't.

Mostly because it isn't anything, really. In the course of a few hundred words, Terry complains about the storytelling, calls it funny, claims that only people who don't know what SF is call it SF, is scared by it enough to hide behind the sofa, and watches it every week. There's not a point there, not an essay with a thesis or a proclamation. It's just a comment on Terry liking the show despite being a bit hung up on its irreality.

(And Terry's wrong about it being SF -- SF includes, and always has, more than the merely plausible. Yes, at the Doctor Who end of things, the only difference between SF and fantasy is whether you're calling it a magic wand or a sonic screwdriver, but the trappings do matter.)
Thursday, April 22nd, 2010
7:00 am
A Brief Diversion
Is which's (?whiches) a word, like whose?


The mixed group of dogs rushed about, vocalizing in a most distressed manner. Which's bark, or howl or moan, was the most disturbing?

Or, if you think that even generic dogs are human enough to require who, then:

The scientists had set up a display with half a dozen species of cockroaches. You could even put on a glove, stick your hand in the box, and let them crawl all over you. Which's touch was the most disgusting?

Note that while you could rephrase the question to avoid the word, that's not necessarily appropriate. For example, which was the most disgusting brings in questions of appearance, behavior, and even sound; if I want to focus on a particular characteristic like touch, the form in the example is better.

(I have bronchitis; in lieu of sleeping soundly, I get to think about things like this.)
Sunday, April 11th, 2010
8:03 pm
A Bold Prediction
I have yet to see an "I didn't like it" remark about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, both in my immediate circles (at least two enthusiastic readers from my recommendation) and in SF fandom at large. It seems like a significant candidate for the Hugo and Campbell next year.
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