Monday, August 3, 2015

The Interface

Obviously I've been in a sort of transhumanism mindset lately, partially thanks to R. Scott Bakker, partially thanks to Verner Vinge. One of the most interesting elements dealt with by the posthuman is the connection between the substrate of thought and thought itself. I promise, this is leading somewhere fruitful (namely, roleplaying games, perhaps games in general, and the theory thereof). A quick demonstration will clarify any misconceptions about this, namely: A human being thinks in a certain way because of the structure of their thinking organs (brain), while a machine, say, would have to think in a markedly different way due to the differences in construction. This may not be a truism, but its an interesting thought experiment, and one I'm inclined to give credence to for the time being.

The question then is this: When you play a roleplaying game, what is the nature of the interface between the player and the player character. Obviously, the player character is a creation of the player. That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that the interface is automatic, smooth, or even pleasant.

In my experience, playing a character should be akin to wearing a second skin. You want the point of interface between your actual personality and the personality of the character to be smooth and easy. This causes bleedback, of course, making you think and act something more like the version of yourself you've been playing for the last however many hours. I found this most notable when playing patently awful people. It's easy, once you allow your mind to travel down certain paths, to get stuck in them as a rut. Easily aggravated characters can make their players easily aggravated if enough distance is not kept, if the interface is not sufficiently gritty and well defined.

The question comes as to how much "like yourself" your character should be. Obviously, the more you-like, the easier the transition to playing the character. You'll have to abstract less, simply knowing the way the character would behave without thinking overhard on what they would do in any given situation. The less like yourself your character is, the more you'll have to rationalize alternative motives, modes, and ways of thought, slowing down your playing ability and capsizing your immersion in the game.

There's something to be said for stepping out of your comfort zone when playing a character in a game. Hell, that's what most of the games are about! Jocelyn said the other day to me, "I would never go into a dungeon. That's something all of my characters would do."

The key here seems to be a personal balancing act; at what point does the STRANGENESS or ALIENNESS of the character begin to stymie immersion and functionality? Of course, in some games the very point is to immerse yourself in a strange or alien setting. And in all cases, the more you play, the less strange and alien it becomes, until the interface is smooth.

That, it seems to me, is one of the chiefest reasons roleplaying guides include short stories in them. Now, I have, for the longest time, despised short stories in roleplaying supplements. Most of them are shoddily written and I always assumed they were simply present to pad the page count. But the fact of the matter is, not everyone can get the same level of useful information from a "THIS IS HOW PEOPLE BEHAVE" section of a setting book as they can from a short story. Further, the short stories are often integrated into core rulebooks that can lack setting material altogether, or be skimpy when it comes to details. So these short stories are actually serving to make the interface between player and character smoother and easier. The same goes for certain group watching events: before you play Gangbusters, it can get the grit out of the that interface to watch Boardwalk Empire, for example.

The long and short of it is that I'm going to try to be more sensitive to the "interface problem" when composing roleplaying material in the future. I've always approached the guides as an anthropologist would. Perhaps there is more of a benefit to approaching it as an author instead.

Friday, July 31, 2015


Bastardy in Rome and the Middle Ages

I recently read an interesting article concerning the status of bastards, particularly high-ranking ones, in the medieval world. There were a number of words that could be applied to those born out of wedlock, from bastardus, to mamzer, to nothus or spurious. William the Conqueror was a Bastardus in his time, born to a concubine of the Duke of Normandy. What did this mean for inheritance? Well, answering that question requires an examination of different periods.

Classical Roman Bastardy
This is where the Third Empire of Miles falls in the 10th Age. In classical Roman tradition, the paterfamilias had absolute authority on who was a member of his family, who was his heir, etc. The recognition of bastards was a common practice, and once recognized they were essentially legitimized. Divorce was common in late Republican Rome, and Augustus had something approaching a mania about the extinction of ancient noble lines, requiring everyone in Rome to have as many children as possible.

Indeed, there was a long tradition of replenishing the population by relaxed heritance laws going all the way back to Greece where there were certain procedures installed in some city-states to completely nullify marriage laws for certain periods in order to bring the fighting population back to full strength.

Early Medieval Bastardy
This is intimately tied to notions of nobility and character. Legitimacy in the early middle ages was less of a disqualifier than it would be later. Part of this be traced to the Roman tradition, but (and this is without a great deal of research, so take this with a grain of salt) I believe a much larger portion stems from the polygamous marriages of Germanic kings. “Wedlock” was a much looser term throughout the period, with wives easily being put away and extra concubines being taken on. While there would generally be an official Queen named as wife, it was very common for rulers of, say, Frankia, to have a number of concubines producing children as well.

This is where William comes in. According to Sara McDougall’s “How do you say ‘bastard’ in Medieval Latin?,” William was taunted not for being born of someone other than his father’s wife, but rather for his mother’s low birth. The special bastard terms seem to deride someone born of a union that was illegitimate not because the couple weren’t married, but because one member of the couple was servile.

A brief foray into nobility
Roman nobility counted on tracing back one’s ancestry to the original great patrician families. Nobility could technically be granted through adoption, which happened at least once or twice that we know of. Pompeii Magnus and Marcus Tullius Cicero were both new men (novi homini) who rose from the common class. However, nobility generally was not imagined as transferrable. It was a combination of breeding and behavior that marked out patricians as morally superior. Even those non-nobles who made their way into the patrician class could find their humble origins used as political tools against them.

Nobility in early medieval Europe was much more permeable. Before the calcification of the concept in the 16th-18th centuries, one did not have to trace their lineage back to some progenitor to prove nobility. Indeed, nobility was as much a quality of character as it was a result of the blood. Thus lies the entire concept of partible title; being knighted, granted a barony, raised to the rank of comte (companion), made an ealdorman, etc. all display a certain meritocratic virtue. Being noble was as much a result of behavior as it was of station; those who could prove they had never owed servile duties were considered free men by communal courts of Frankish law, for example.

Why, then, does low station imply the birth of a noble man? Because the traits that made up nobilis itself were generally considered heritable. While it was always possible for a common man to show exemplary behavior and be, for example, knighted on the field of battle, as time went on and the appointed nobility of early medieval England and the Frankish empire entrenched themselves as semi-hereditary, the source of being a noble man was, more and more often, considered to be in both the upbringing and the blood.

Thus, deriding someone as a bastard (specifically one with low or servile origins on one side) could indicate a serious character flaw. Hated classes of people, such as tanners (who had to work with urine), actors (who were absolutely despised), or the servile and unfree, were considered especially prone to produce cowards, liars, and cheats. This notion, interestingly, did not rely on a permanent heritability of servility, but rather on an underlying idea of plasticity. Throughout one’s lifetime, traits were considered malleable and plastic, but the choices made would be inherited and set guiding boundaries or signposts for one’s children.

What does this mean?

Bastardy is a social construct, like any other relationship. However, to assume that medieval bastardy (or ancient/classical bastardy) is in any way comparable to the modern construction is to misunderstand the tensions of those worlds. There was no fear of an undermining of the institution of marriage; in the Roman world, marriage made room for bastardy and divorce easily, while in the medieval world the institution itself was weak and anemic for a very long period, mostly something people did voluntarily and, until the middle 12th and early 13th century something that was more or less unregulated by the Church. In fact, as an aside, the involvement of Rome in marriage seemed to be rather a good thing from the perspective of wives since it gave tools by which to annul marriages conducted without the wife’s consent, a tiny smidgen of protection for wives who would be put aside, etc.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Egypt, or the Versatility of the Second Edition Part One: Warrior Kits

Second Edition AD&D can do many things. As I explored earlier this week, I can't seem to get it to do ablative armor, but there are a variety of vastly different settings it can successfully represent. One of the most successful campaign sets was Al Qadim, well known for being a complete conversion of the system, transforming it from a standard medieval setting to a much more cosmopolitan world that would be at home in the stories of Scheherazade. This complete conversion was achieved by means of kits. Long before I came up with the idea of the mundane kit series (see, e.g., Playing Servants Parts One, Two, or Three) I created a kit-based overhaul of the system to model not a medieval Arabian/Islamic but rather classical Egyptian model a-la Al Qadim.

I never completed the work, but it was intended to include an overhaul to the class system much as Al Qadim had done in ages past.

Warrior Kits

Temple Guardian
These warriors are dedicated to the service of a single cult, and often a single temple-site. They may serve as the guardians of the site or as its influence abroad, doing the bidding of the high cleric of that particular temple. They thus often come into conflict with other Temple Warriors during the violence between cults.

Requirements: None; all races and both genders are eligible.

Role: The temple warriors are drafted from the lower classes at a young age to be trained by their respective cult. They are considered to belong to the priesthood (though its outermost branch) and are thus permitted access to certain holy sections of the temples. They can expect to be allowed to stay within the precincts of a temple or within the priests quarters and often an entire platoon of temple guardians will be stationed in one temple.

They are also the arm of their temple’s might, enforcing its will abroad in the world and can be sent out on missions whether on their own, in small units, or accompanying priests of their cult. They are trained in the secret arts of literacy for, unlike slave-soldiers, they are expected to have some participation in cultic acts.

Weapon Proficiencies: Temple guardians must take their first two weapon proficiency slots in the khopesh and the scourge. They learn how to fight with the khopesh from childhood, and they teach other young temple guardians under fear of the scourge.

Nonweapon Proficiencies: Bonus Profs: reading/writing (Desert Khemri), religion (by cult)

Equipment: Temple guardians receive their equipment from the cult, and are never found outfitted otherwise at level 1. They begin play with 15 silver pieces and the following gear: a khopesh, a scourge, a tunic (or calasiris), sandals, shield, bronze scale armor.

Special Benefits: Temple guardians can expect to be given food and shelter in any temple that matches their cultic devotion, they are given extra attention by clerics who share their cult, and can frequent the secret inner portions of a temple. They also share a special status of power amongst the faithful.

Special Hinderances: Members of other cults will be suspicious and feel put-upon by the authority of these warriors. Cults who are directly opposed to the guardian’s cult will not be openly hostile, but may impede them in other ways.

Slave soldiers are people captured from the outland tribes that live beyond the borders of the Kingdom of Black Earth. These make up the majority of levies used by local cults, princes, and sepati.

Requirements: None; all races and both genders are eligible.

Role: Slave soldiers make up the bulk of any fighting force and any slave may be outfitted with gear and turned into a soldier. However, this kit represents specialized slaves who have been dedicated to fighting for their patron. Whether they serve a temple, prince, or other potentate (such as a merchant) they must almost always defer to those of non-slave status who work for the same employer.

Weapon Proficiencies: Slave soldiers are always taught to use a spear. They may not specialize in any one weapon at level 1, though they may do so later.

Nonweapon Proficiencies: Bonus Profs: endurance, one general skill (which they can use to assist their patron when not fighting)

Equipment: Slave soldiers receive 2d6x10 gold pieces at character creation. Anything they don’t spend is returned to their patron. They do not generally keep their own money, but turn everything over to their patrons. They may request better equipment from their masters.

Special Benefits: Slave soldiers are extremely hardy from years of training. They may receive a +1 bonus to constitution (maximum 18) or strength (maximum 18/00).

Special Hinderances: They belong, heart and soul, to their masters. If they raise a hand against their patron or disobey them, all of Khewed society will seek to turn them in or profit from their flight.

Noble Warrior
Noble warriors are members of the Per-ah, or noble houses. They are themselves Khewed nobility, highly trained in the art of war. They fight at the behest of their lieges, the heads of their family, and sometimes their temple. Noble warriors can also be found serving the sepati, or regional leaders.

Requirements: While any race or sex can be a noble warrior, they must be from a noble Per-ah or house.

Role: Noble warriors spend their time furthering the goals of their family, their sepati, or their cult depending on their bent. They often have great resources, though if they chose to lead their lives outside the normal structure of society by adventuring they generally give up their ties to wealth.

Weapon Proficiencies: Noble warriors must take the khopesh, the bow, and charioteering as weapon proficiencies.

Nonweapon Proficiencies: Bonus Profs: reading/writing (Desert Khemri), heraldry

Equipment: Noble warriors begin play with 2d6 x 100 gold. They don’t have to give any of it back, even if they don’t spend it.

Special Benefits: The house of descent from which a noble warrior comes may assist them in times of need. Likewise, they may have many contacts amongst the middle or upper nobility. Noble warriors receive a +2 bonus to all reaction rolls with other nobility.

Special Hinderances: Nobles of opposing houses and many clerics will hinder the goals of noble warriors, as they represent the power base of their own house. Nobles directly opposed to the house of the warrior and all priests take a -2 penalty to reaction rolls (only one or the other of these bonuses can affect a single NPC).

Medjay Warrior
Medjay Warriors are the members of the nomadic tribes that roam the high desert beyond the bounds of Khewed. While many of these nomads may fit into other classes, most of them would be considered medjay warriors.

Requirements: None, other than being of nomadic background.

Role: The medjay is the average citizen of a nomadic tribe. They hunt, gather food, and track the desert wastes. For this reason, medjay are closest to the ranger class (but must be warriors). Most NPC medjay have no level, or are level 1. The medjay may become a tribal leader (though he will always defer to the Speaker-of-Spirits or a Hekau if there is one present).

Weapon Proficiencies: Most medjay are proficient with the khopesh and dagger. All medjay must spend a slot to be proficient in bows.

Nonweapon Proficiencies: Bonus Profs: riding (camel) or riding (horse), tracking, one food-gathering skill

Equipment: Medjay recieve 2d4 x 10 gp to spend on equipment and may keep the rest. They cannot purchase metal armor.

Special Benefits: Medjay may track in the desert exactly as rangers normally do. In addition, medjay may barter or trade for closer to the precise value of their goods within their home tribe, and as long as they do not desert their tribesmen or acculturate to the city they receive a +2 reaction bonus when interacting with their tribe.

Special Hinderances: Medjay (like most desert folk) are uncomfortable in the great cities of Khewed. They have a -2 reaction penalty when interacting with city folk, and find trouble bartering or haggling with them.

Slave Driver
There are certain men who have no qualms about using others to do their dirty work. The easiest way to do this is to purchase and train slaves. Slave drivers send their men into combat to their death for money; they are most frequently employed as mercenaries by nobles or temples.

Requirements: Slave drivers can never be good.

Role: Slave drivers hire out their stables of slaves to complete important work in society. In ancient Khewed all public works were built and repaired by volunteer peasants at the order of the priest-king or Nesut-Bi’it. In modern Khewed, some of this work is taken by the cheap labor of slaves. Additionally, the forces of the cults and the princes are often supplemented by teams of slaves. Slave drivers are private slave-owners who hire out their wares.

Weapon Proficiencies: Slave drivers focus on non-lethal weapons and daggers; their choices include the whip, the scourge, the club, the bronze axe, the dagger, and the net.

Nonweapon Proficiencies: Bonus Profs: heraldry, leadership

Equipment: Slave drivers begin play with regular warrior cash and also a single slave of average quality. 

Special Benefits: Slave drivers get several special benefits. The first is that they may command a number of slaves equal to one half their level in combat; if they do this, they need not share xp equally with the slaves. Instead, their own xp allotment is halved and one half is distributed amongst their slaves who participated in the battle. They may also encourage slaves not to run; if a slave must make a morale check, the slave driver may choose to whip or scourge him to convince him to stay (or merely menace him with the whip). If this occurs, the morale check is rerolled and the slave driver makes an attack against the slave. He may choose to miss, dealing no damage. If he strikes the slave, he deals normal damage and the slave’s morale roll is modified by the amount of damage done. However, if he does more than 2 points of damage, the modifier is negative!

Special Hinderances: The slave driver must feed and house his slaves from his own income. If he maltreats his slaves too badly, he may be executed and his slaves made free men.

In the Old Kingdom, all armies where composed of conscripts called up from the great sepati farmlands to fill army quotas. In the New Kingdom under the Akhemian rule armies are mostly made up of slaves captured from the outland and desert regions. But there are still farmers, herdsmen, and folk of the land living in Khewed, and some of them choose to put down their farmer’s tools and take up the sword.

Requirements: None

Role: Husbandmen and -women are the every-day inhabitants of Khewed. Commoners who generally own some land of their own or work on the great farm-plantations of the sepati or the nobles, they serve as conscript-soldiers when the Ahkemian priesthood determines Khewed needs defense above and beyond her slave armies. Generally, however, they can be found tending to the land. This kit represents the children of a husbandman who decided to evade their father’s fate, or the husbandman who has abandoned his place as a farmer.

Weapon Proficiencies: Husbandmen may only begin play with the following weapon proficiencies, though they may later acquire others: Sickle, flail, scourge/whip, dagger, adze.

Nonweapon Proficiencies: Bonus Profs: any two relating to farming, fishing, papyrus making, or herding.

Equipment: Husbandmen begin play with much less money than normal warriors. They begin with 3d4x10 gold.

Special Benefits: The lower classes believe firmly in the Khewedi society and the truth of the cults and the gods. They receive a +1 bonus to-hit and damage when fighting any enemy of Khewed or outsider. In addition, their generally unshakeable faith lends them a +1 bonus to all saves vs. mind affecting magic or fear when in the presence of a friendly priest of any cult. These benefits may be lost over time if the PC becomes disillusioned with Khewed or the cults.

Special Hinderances: There are fears no acculturation can shake. One of those is the sacrilege of striking a servant of the gods. Husbandmen take a -2 penalty to-hit when attempting to strike a cleric of any Khewedi cult.

Laborers break stone, chop the rare wood of Khewed, transport goods, or otherwise do backbreaking work.

Requirements: Strength 13, Constitution 14

Role: Laborers are the workforce of Khewed. While artisans do work requiring delicate hand-movements, laborers haul stone, work quarries, and pump furnaces. They may be smiths, masons, carpenters, or bricklayers. The one thing they have in common is the difficulty and exertion required for their job.

Weapon Proficiencies: Laborers may take proficiency in any weapon related to their job. These often include axes, picks, hammers, and clubs.

Nonweapon Proficiencies: Bonus Profs: endurance, any one other relating to their job
Equipment: As per a normal warrior.

Special Benefits: Laborers are much more difficult to exhaust in the desert heat than others. They spend most of the day beneath the beating sun, doing work that would cause a lesser man to faint.

Special Hinderances: Laborers may not begin play with a weapon specialization.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Jess and the Ancient Ones

I don't know when I started wanted to write up reviews of music that I was listening to, but I think this is the very first time such a review will appear on this blog.

I started listening to Jess and the Ancient Ones because of Ghost. Spotify somehow, through hook or by crook, led me to this Finnish band. They're a psychedlic rock band with a few EPs and an album out and, from what I can tell, very little recognition. They haven't written music that'll revolutionize the industry or anything, but they're very good at what they do. Their one complete album is worth listening to.

It's self-titled and begins with Prayer for Death and Fire. This is one of their strongest songs, and I can appreciate that they started off the album with it. The instrumentation isn't overly complex, but the lead singer, the eponymous Jess, has a voice reminiscent of Stevie Nix. Its her presence that elevates the music from being rather mundane psychedelic rock-verging-on-metal to something altogether better and different. When she wails the final chorus, the song is perfect.

Twilight Witchcraft is alright. Good driving beat, simple chord progression. I just want to hear Prayer for Death and Fire again, though, until the breakdown when Jess takes over. It's not as bright as Prayer and stays well within a certain range rather than branching up and down the scale. At that point, the song comes into its own. The vocal progression is more interesting than the guitar—intentionally, I'd wager. On repeated listen-throughs, I think this is a good cooldown song to come off of Prayer.

Sulfur Giants is next. It's got a little more going on, with a long instrumental intro that picks up at around two minutes and shifts back into your regular rock chord progression. Vocals start up around 2:45. The instrumental segment returns at seven minutes in for one more flip back. It's all very nicely balanced.

Ghost Riders starts out with a series of broken chords that pay homage to whatever country-western folk roots are going on in this song. I appreciate what they're doing here, with bells and running chords, and low smoky vocals... but I want to hear Prayer for Death and Fire again. I definitely heard "through the gates of the Silver Key," so there's some Lovecraft in here with all the rest of the general occult stuff.

Once the chorus starts up, the song really gets into gear. Jess and the others seem to excel at the choral sections. It's almost enough to get me to forget the aural dynamite of Prayer for Death and Fire's chorus. Almost.

13th Breath of the Zodiac opens strong with Jess high up in her register. Music is doing more interesting stuff now to support her. Once again, the chorus is the best part of the song. Eminently listenable. The breakdown is pretty good, also.

The Devil (in G minor) is a sudden tonal and modal shift from the other songs. It's great, it's nothing like anything else on the rest of the album, and I don't hear the echo of Prayer for Death and Fire while I'm listening to it. It's a dark, folksy, almost southern gothic number. Jess' range is obviously the best thing about it, and its at its best during the chorus. Obviously.

Come Crimson Death is the last song on the album and returns to the heartland of its psychedelic rock roots with some very King Crimson instrumentation as it opens. Mellow and contemplative, with good hooks, it's much more peaceful than the rest of the album as well. Yes, indeed, come crimson death—and then bring me back to death and fire.

The flow of the album is great. Prayer has a sustaining drive that's cooled down by Twilight Witchcraft and even further by the contemplative instrumental section of Sulfur Giants, which itself contains a number of speed-ups and slowdowns.

However good Prayer may be on its own (and it does stand out, markedly, as the best song on the album), the entire album is composed like a well-structured meal: better for the juxtaposition of its elements, more than the sum of its parts.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Facebook, the Facebook

Gentlefolk, I'm gearing up to release Haven's Children, my debut post-apocalyptic sci-fi masterpiece (well, pulp adventure, anyway) and I need your support. Head on over to my Facebook Author page to be appraised of the latest updates on the book's progress!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fiction Friday: Cosmos

“Can’t you see what we’re building?” Lilith asked. She leaned black in the big faux-leather chair.

Harry frowned at the windowpanes. Construction?

“This, this, all of this,” she said. “I mean as a species.” She gestured dramatically indicating everything in the office—the chair, the desk, the plate glass windows, the steel beams hidden in the walls. “All of these buildings, everything we do. The entire world. Don’t you see it?”

He had to confess: he did not.

“It’s a necrocosm. A tomb-world. We’re making our own mortuary, our own moratorium. For as long as there’ve been people we thought we were the top. Nothing could be more spectacular than us! To us, thinking is the same as commanding—right?” She had a wry grin on her face. It made Harry uncomfortable. He wasn’t used to talking this openly, this bluntly, with superiors. There was something wrong about it. “Look, look outside. We’re really just parts in one giant organism. Lovelock had it right. The highways, look at them. Can you see? They’re veins and arteries.”

He looked. They were highways. He saw the people, saw the cars. So what?

“So what? Think about it.” Lilith sounded irritated, maybe even slightly disappointed with him. “We’re just one more step on the road of evolution. Everyone wants to think of themselves as the peak of the mountain, but the mountain keeps going up and up and up. In ten thousand years, archaeologists will come here and look through all our silent buildings and all our crumbling works and say ‘Look how industrious they were! Look how little they understood, yet how much they built!’ They’ll marvel that we could be so self-absorbed and yet seem to have such insight.”

Harry didn’t like where this was going at all.

“We’re not the top of the mountain, that’s the problem. We’re just another step on the way. Not even a very smart step, not even a very creative step. I mean, look; when you’re in the lab what do you study? Eukaryotes and prokaryotes, right? What makes us any different? Oh, sure, we have a culture. Eukaryotes with a culture. There’s a joke in there about petri dishes.” She smirked again, Harry’s uncomprehending stare forgotten.

“But really, nothing more than that. We sweat and we bleed, work, groan, grunt, fuck, and in the end we convince ourselves that it all really means something. We write books and plays and television shows and movies and on and on, for what? To keep our minds off of the truth.

“The truth is that we’re transient, Harry. Do you get it? Easy come, easy go.”

Harry shook his head. “No. I mean, maybe you’re right. Say we are... just building this necrocosm of yours. How are we transient?”

Lilith went back to her desk. She tapped the inbuilt senseboard. “Right here,” she said. Her fingers caressed the wood and brass. The senseboard sprang to life, projecting images of letters across its surface. The monitor hummed. “We’re just a step on the road. Life is information. Right?”

And suddenly he saw it. The highways pumping people through the cities, which were the great organs of a creature as large as the world.

“We have a global consciousness now,” Lilith said. “It took us a long time to develop it—well, actually, not all that long in relative terms. But we’re awake. Finally awake! Yes, it’s diffuse and can only think at the lowest grade. The global thought-patterns are glacially slow and stupider than any one of us, but all you have to do is go online to see that we’re thinking. So what if the thoughts seem fragmented? It’s like a Monet, take a step back. We’re all individual pieces playing our individual roles. Someone produces a germ: a post on a forum or a piece of art, or something. The rest ruminate on it. Before long there’s a whole exegesis about it. If that’s not thinking, I don’t know what is.”

Harry shivered and looked outside again. He didn’t like the glee playing over Lilith’s features. “Maybe,” he admitted. Life is information. But… “Information can’t make life. I mean, information alone.”

“That’s all genetic material is, Harry. A blueprint!” Lilith laughed.

He shook his head. “Yeah, but when I learn something new, I don’t give birth.”

“Maybe you do.” Another laugh, this one nasty. Lilith lording her reproductive might over him? Or lamenting twenty thousand years of repression? “But you’re right. Our biological makeup isn’t well suited to incorporating new information. We can learn things, and that changes us, but we can’t make radical changes to ourselves. There’s always a second-order process. We can learn how physically it is possible to fly, but we can’t make ourselves into birds.”

Then Harry understood. “But machines can.”

“They don’t need to stop, or die, or fade away to become something else. They can change themselves, Harry. They can do more than learn. They can embody new information completely.”

“You think we’re here to pave the way for a race of machines.”

It was Lilith’s turn to shake her head, tersely, in that sharp way she had. “Don’t be stupid, Harry. That’s teleological. We’re not here for anything. We’re just here.”

“I like being myself, Lilith. I don’t want to be a machine.”

She rolled her eyes. “You wouldn’t be. You’re taking this all the wrong way. This is the long view I’m talking about.”

“So what’s the point then?”

“The point?” She cocked her head, like a confused bird. “What’s the point of anything?”

“To reproduce,” Harry said. He knew that would make her laugh. She was a lab rat at heart, even if the Company thought she was useful.

She didn’t, though. Laugh. She nodded at him. Her eyes were scary wide. “Right. To make copies of ourselves.” Harry looked at her. Was she propositioning him? That would be an HR nightmare. But no, she didn't look like she meant sex at all.

Her hands were on the senseboard. Her attention was turned more toward the machine in front of her than to him, regardless of where her eyes were. The whole rest of her body was twisting toward it, ready to leap. It took him a few minutes to understand. He kept looking at her. When he was sure he finally understood, she nodded slowly. Another shiver, this one deeper and more awful, spread from his very core.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Art of Rebellion

So let's talk about all the various types of rebellion that occurred in the medieval world.

We've already examined the types of popular revolution that happen when food prices are shaken, but there are other forms of rebellion and replacement of the political order than merely the overhauling revolution.

There are several things that lead to rebellion, a laundry list of factors as it were. These include but are not limited to:

(a) A sizable intelligentsia unable to access political efficacy.
(b) Insecurity in food supply or income.
(c) In the medieval context of polities that are reliant on personal charisma, personal disagreements or other forms of friction between individuals.
(d) Growing pains after an attempt (successful or not) at centralization.

Several of these can be consolidated into a single element, mainly: weakness of the central authority. The reason for this is, of course, that someone in the kingdom always has a better idea at how things should be run, or a more legitimate claim to the title, or just more ruthlessness. Rebellion and insurrection are in fact native forces that simply wait for the center to fail. They are the entropic principle of a kingdom (or, in modern terms, a state). As wood rots and the arrow of time flies ever forward, the death of the kingdom is already contained within it, waiting for release.

The most common types of rebellion in medieval polities are, of course, those that focus on one of the following issues:
(i) inheritance grievance
(ii) centralization grievance
(iii) religious grievance
(iv) interpersonal tension

All of these issues require an alternative pole to the king to coalesce and take form. This can be the king's paternal uncle, for example, or a brother or son. Paternal uncles were particularly dangerous in the very early middle ages, often killing their brothers' sons in order to take over. Brothers can be equally treacherous—take, for example, the unification of Frankia that relied upon Charles packing his son off to the monastery and fortuitously watching Carloman die.

We can take an archetypical rebellion as a pattern, namely the infamous Anarchy that occurred during the realm of King Stephen. Now, this analysis isn't quite as rigorous as, say, a historical book on the subject. I may miss some of the root causes of the rebellion, but I can at least give the outline.

King Henry, who succeeded William Rufus, who succeeded William the Conqueror, had a son named Henry and a daughter named Matilda (or Maude). Maude was married to the Holy Roman Emperor, who later died, and then remarried to Geoffrey of Anjou. When Henry Adelin, King Henry's son, died in the sinking of the White Ship, King Henry demanded oaths of all his barons that they would crown the so-called Empress Matilda queen after his death.

However, he died fighting in Normandy and his cousin, Stephen of Blois, announced that on his deathbed Henry had named him the heir, following in a long tradition of truths as told by his ancestors, like William the Bastard (that's sarcasm, kid).

Anyway, he rushed to London and got himself proclaimed king. However, Maude still had a number of followers among the barons who grudgingly accepted his kingship. Her half-brother, Robert Earl of Gloucester (also Henry's bastard), began sowing the seeds of rebellion early in Stephen's rule and drawing her loyal followers to him.

When the time was right, Robert went into open revolt, and David, King of Scotland (a perennial thorn in Stephen's side) aided him by invading. David had already invaded once, as he was Matilda's uncle (and was probably using that chance to make a political grab of land in the north of England). Notice this theme: Matilda, the pole of legitimizing succession, gives David a claim to invade. Whether or not he really wanted Matilda to succeed her father is open to debate; though, that would also be wise, as it would create a loyal ally to his south.

Stephen was having troubles with Wales and his coffers were emptied out when Robert rebelled. Whether it was the chance Robert needed or whether Stephen appeared weak and ineffectual, thus driving more lords into Robert's arms, is uncertain. Whatever the reason, as soon as the center was weak enough, the revolt began.

Matilda was its figurehead, but Robert was its heart. He could never be king—his illegitimacy prevented it. Matilda, however, was a convenient figure to rally around.

In the unfolding of the Anarchy, we can see at play the interpersonal relationships of powerful medieval figures leading the road to war. This is a problem of (i) and (iv), triggered by a general weakness in the central polity due to raiding and expenditure of silver.