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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Juxtaposition

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.
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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.