Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Adventure of the Black Heart, Part 4

Word filtered down that a body had been discovered in Port Babbage, floating face-down in the water, and I hastened to the site. All too quickly it became clear that this was the body of Mr. Blindside, the missing archaeologist. Battered and bruised, the body had fallen - or been dropped - from a great height. Clutched in his hand was a hand-lettered scrap of paper, torn from a larger piece, reading "The last ingredient that would bring the homunculi to life was a tear from a virgin. This is where I had gone wrong, and if I had more time, perhaps I could correct this mistake..."

I pondered this for a moment, but could make no sense of the note. Instead, I turned to considering where Mr. Blindside could have been shortly before his death. The port, of course, had no tall buildings nearby; only docks surrounded the Vernian Sea. Nearby were some tall buildings, but none seemed tall enough - or near enough - to the location of the body to have been involved in the gruesome business. Out of thoroughness, I checked each one, but could find no trace that Blindside had been there. High above the port was a moored fuel ship. Again, I scoured the airship but could find no evidence of recent human activity, much less a struggle.

I gazed into the distance. Past the port, past Doctor Obolensky's observatory, past even Tinny Tim stood the great wall that protected New Babbage from the ravages of the sea. The section of the wall visible from where I stood was in Clockhaven. The tides seemed to flow toward me and, more importantly, toward where the body still bobbed gently. I filed that idea away.

I was disturbed from my reverie by two burly men who had arrived to carry Mr. Blindside into a carriage and from there take the body to the morgue where presumably a doctor would examine the corpse carefully. I made my way to the morgue as well. Though I did not learn anything new about the body, there was a curious incident. Shortly after I arrived at the morgue, I was met by a Mr. Slooth Mosswood. [editrix's note: this is absolutely true, and shows what a gullible sap I really am. - RJ] Believing Mr. Mosswood to be on the trail of the killer just as I was, we had an amiable chat for several moments. I thought to lay out my theory regarding where the archaeologist had been killed and asked Mosswood whether he thought the prevailing tides could carry a body from the Clockhaven wall back to the port. He replied that he thought it might, then excused himself. "I must return to my researches on the human brain," he said. A cold feeling passed through me. Before I could react, he was gone.

Visiting the morgue turned out to have one very important consequence for me. Here I need to back up a little. Earlier in my explorations I had sought shelter from the cold and wind by stepping into the absinthe shop across the canal from the coffins of the Malkuth guardians. As I sipped a deliciously intoxicating glass of absinthe, I wandered about the shop, peering at the pictures on the wall, when I noticed a familiar mark on one of the paintings. The picture depicted two young lovers, Helen and Sebastian, and a tiny plaque attached to the painting said the picture was based on the ancient Babbage legend about the pair, as written on the Clockhaven fountain. When I was in Clockhaven, I visited the fountain and found that it was indeed inscribed with words about Helen and Sebastian - the two were (as young lovers often are) separated and Helen still waits for her Sebastian "under two stones between two trees." I was still puzzling over the meaning of this, as New Babbage was woefully short of trees, when I heard an old woman crying out something having to do with "the lovers Helen and Sebastian." Rushing toward the voice, I saw an elderly homeless woman in a tattered dress, stumbling about with a huge pack on her back, no doubt containing all her possessions. This was none other than Margo Steamweaver, Sir Willard's widow, whom I had met during the previous year's adventure! [Or so I inferred. Sometimes it's hard to keep the players straight without a scorecard. - RJ] Knowing that the woman's mental state was fragile, I spoke to her calmly and gently asked what she knew about Helen's grave. Though Margo's response was somewhat cryptic, I understood her to say that the grave site was located in the Palisades, outside the wall, in a meadow where sheep grazed. I thanked her and pressed some cash into her hands, urging her to find a room for the night, even as I knew she would not. I left her chasing a squirrel in the park adjacent to the Town Hall.

Armed with that clue, I found Helen's grave with little difficulty - and with it, an ancient scroll in the same language as I discovered earlier. As I clutched my prize to my chest, I looked up, only to see the robed figure I had observed earlier, again watching me. "Who are you?" I yelled, but he disappeared.

The Translatograph was once again helpful, and revealed much of the history of this foul business. Sebastian Verwood was a young knight of the Malkuth order. He fell in love with a girl named Helen Salador, whose father was a powerful alchemist (and clearly the Salador of the riddle I had solved earlier). Salador pere believed he had discovered the secret of immortality: that within each of us was an essence, our homunculus, and that this, along with a virgin's tears, could be used to create an immortal being. Salador used his daughter's tears to create a creature, only to find that his creation was a raging beast; naturally, as young people in love have not changed across the centuries, Helen had succumbed to her swain's importunations. The creature - clearly our present-day Beast - went on a rampage, killing a number of children before it was cornered, captured, and imprisoned in a sarcophagus for eternity. Helen was killed, but Sebastian was spared to become one of the three guardians of the creature, though one might consider his to be the worse fate.

I now understood the historical context, but was still at a loss as to who was trying to replicate Salador's methods...or why he would have released the Beast from the trap in which it was imprisoned. That would have to wait for another day.

Little did I know that my time was running out...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Stroll Through Santa's Ghetto

Here's a little Christmas treat, courtesy of Mr. Denver Hax. He calls it Santa's Ghetto. There's a little assault and battery...
...and a little meat roasting (you just knew that with Rudolph at the helm, one of those other reindeer were surplus; I can only assume the remainder were highly motivated to keep in top shape).
Sleigh ride, mister? I'll take you around the world. (Appropriately enough, wearing BlakOpal's "Naughty or Nice" outfit.)
Drinking too much is no problem. Just collapse where you are.
And, of course, there's always time to sit on Santa's lap. Hey, big boy, get your mitts off the merchandise!

Santa will offer you a tasty candy cane and ask if you've been naughty or nice. Santa does not like naughty girls!

While in the Ghetto, do visit Lapland...but perhaps avoid the Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Adventure of the Black Heart, Part 3

I walked to Clockhaven, to the town square, and consulted the hand-drawn map to search for the old dig. "Look for the hidden door," I read, "next to the stairs."

I find the hidden door - and a deep snowdrift

Before I knew it, I found myself chest-deep in snow, as the winds must have pushed the snowfall into this corner, and merchants shoveling their sidewalks added to the pile. Cursing Bernard Blindside for having the poor taste to be abducted during the winter, I struggled ahead to the wall and triggered the latch of the hidden door.

Once inside, several feet below the cellars of the buildings above, I followed the map into the drainage system. Already soaking wet from the snow, I decided that the additional moisture from walking through the ankle-deep water would not appreciably increase the odds of contracting pneumonia.

Soon I found myself confronted with a panel containing writing in an ancient language. I assumed there was a chamber behind the panel, but I could find no way of creating an opening. More out of desperation than anything, I made a rubbing of the panel, hoping someone at the Academy could decipher the text. Clutching my rubbing to keep it above the water, I made my way back outside. My next step was clear: find some clean, dry clothes!

A runic message.

As I made my way across Port Babbage, I noticed another flier for "The Amazing Translatograph" located in the Town Hall. Perhaps I needn't consult an academic after all, though it was beyond me how a machine could translate an unknown language.

The Translatograph was indeed in the Town Hall, on the ground floor. The machine itself resembled a giant microscope with dozens of pistons and gears. I laid down the rubbing on the machine, pressed the start button, and waited as the Translatograph warmed up, the pistons moving faster and faster until they became no more than blurs. Relays clicked from somewhere inside the mechanism...

The Amazing Translatograph.

...until the engine displayed an English translation of the text of the rubbing. A truly wondrous piece of New Babbage engineering!

The translation!

I read:
I am the mortal god Salador;
If you seek my legacy then speak the answer to this riddle:

Sheared close by a shaping blade,
Honed smooth by a fierce file
Sometimes I swallow my tempered foe.
When bound by rings I heave from behind,
Trust a long limb through a hard hole.
Catch hard the keeper of the heart's pleasure,
Twist with my tongue and turn back
The midnight guardian of my lord's treasure.
When the conquering warrior comes to hold
The gift of slaughter, the joy of gold.
I pondered the riddle. "Sheared close...honed smooth." Hmm, this conjured up an image, but what? "Thrust a long limb through a hard hole." Should a maiden really be reading such things? " of...treasure." The light bulb went on.

I realized that warm, dry clothes were still in my distant future as I rapidly returned to Clockhaven, the hidden door, the drainage system, and the panel. I spoke the answer to the riddle...and was rewarded when the panel slid up, revealing a small chamber within. A small basket, empty, lay inside, its lid sitting off to the side. A piece of parchment showed that I had indeed found this Salador's hiding place, but that I was too late: someone had found it before me and taken away his papers. I sighed heavily.

Returning to the surface and once again determined to find dry clothing, I trudged wearily to my rooms in the Hotel Excelsior. I looked up at one point, only to see a hooded man, wearing medieval garb, standing on the roof of one of the buildings. He appeared to be looking directly at me, though he did not acknowledge my presence. When I stared back, he retreated into the shadows and disappeared. I thought I saw him on other rooftops along my route but I could never be quite certain.

Back in Babbage Square, the urchins had redoubled their efforts to capture the Beast. If the Mark III trap was impressive, the Mark IV trap left nothing to chance, its iron walls forming a cage, the barbed wire ensuring that nothing ensnared could escape. The operator sat atop the cage and activated the mechanism, which involved a series of pulleys and ropes. The scamps were prepared for a long siege, as the operator's area included bedding.

A trap for the Beast - Mark IV

These preparations ultimately paid off. After a few false alarms, the Beast did return to the area, and the iron gates fell with a loud clang, trapping the creature inside! Brave - or foolhardy - townspeople rushed to see what the trap contained. Before they arrived, however, a large explosion echoed off the iron inside the confined space. When someone unlocked and raised the gate, they saw a gaping hole in the bottom of the cage - and no sign of the Beast.

The Beast escapes!

The hole went through the pavement and led directly into the drainage system. Armed with pistols and torches, several people went through the hole to search for the creature. They saw nothing other than the debris from the explosion and some discolored splotches in the ice, which were later determined to be some sort of chemical residue. Despite an extensive search, neither the Beast nor its liberator - for there could no longer be any doubt that someone was actively aiding the creature - could be found.

[And with that, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a happy Solstice, or a joyous celebratory day of your choice!]

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Adventure of the Black Heart, Part 2

The excavation was in Babbage Square, not far from the mortuary - an odd but fitting coincidence, as I will relate later. Mr. Blindside, prior to his disappearance, had placed the sarcophagus in a standing position and roped off the area to prevent passers-by from contaminating the site. This proved to be helpful for the police, who were able to keep the crime scene - if that is what it was - roped off. This did not prevent hordes of curious onlookers from tromping through the soil, touching the sarcophagus, feeling the seam where someone - something - erupted from the solid container, pawing through any clues that may have been left behind.

The excavation site

Although the site itself was of little help to me, I arranged to see copies of the documents that were found on the excavation site, on or near Mr. Blindside's tool bag. The first was a reference to an earlier dig, and the finding of an artifact there. The artifact now resided in the R.F. Burton library in New Babbage. At the old dig was a stone wall, inscribed in an ancient, unknown language. The second document was a hand-drawn map indicating the location of the earlier dig, beneath the old city of Clockhaven. I made some notes and reproduced the map. A third document was apparently a letter to Blindside, and the fourth was a map of New Babbage with certain spots marked by hand, suggesting these were areas Blindside had visited or intended to visit. A curious collection.

The urchins try to trap the Beast - with no success

Because the library was nearby, I first headed there. The artifact, when a busy librarian could spare the time to show me to the small room where it was kept, resembled a large nut - not the edible kind, but the sort that Babbage engineers would use to construct their tall iron buildings. The nut (for that is how I thought of it) contained the mark of Malkuth, the ancient deity that was believed to rule over our world. I had encountered the mark of Malkuth before, investigating the Secret of the Thirteen. Could this be related to the guardians of Malkuth in the crypt below Babbage Square? I borrowed the artifact with a solemn promise to return it. "In good condition, Miss Jameson!" the librarian called after me.

Passing by the town hall, I noticed a series of fliers touting the wonders of something called a Translatograph, supposedly able to render in English a translation of any language, using the strength of an enormous Babbage Engine. What will those engineers devise next? I marveled. The wind swirled around me and I pulled my coat closer. I was glad to get out of the wind and into a sheltered alleyway where I once again found the mark of Malkuth, the entrance to the secret crypt. Descending carefully into the crypt, I made my way to the sealed tomb. On the top of the tomb was a small indentation that appeared to be about the size of... From my bag, I pulled out the "nut" I had retrieved from the library. It fit perfectly! As though the crypt had been set into place only yesterday, and not centuries before, the top of the tomb rotated smoothly, revealing the disintegrating remains of a skeleton...and an ancient scroll.

I discover the relic of the old dig

The scroll revealed the resident of the tomb to be one of the Guardians of Malkuth, dedicated to ensuring that the ancient god would not return to our time stream. The other two tombs were empty. What could that mean?

This matter was becoming increasingly perplexing. The archaeologist may have unearthed an ancient evil, whether intentionally or by accident. This evil was almost surely related to the cult of Malkuth. But Mr. Blindside had no reason to disappear, and it seemed unlikely that the Beast - which has thus far attacked children only - would have attacked the archaeologist, nor would the Beast have so neatly disposed of the body. Something more modern was at work here.

I had three potential lines of inquiry: look for Mr. Blindside, look for the Beast, or try to understand the nature of the threat. I had no idea how to go about the first; the urchins and, seemingly, half of New Babbage, was on the trail of the second; so that left the third avenue to pursue. Fortunately, I had a map. I set out for Clockhaven to search for the old dig.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Adventure of the Black Heart, Part 1

I often have the occasion to think about the nature of evil, particularly the evil that men do to one another. I do not think men of the Steamlands are particularly vile - humankind is fairly consistent, it seems to me - but there is no denying that we have our fair share of mischief and wrongdoing. And perhaps the Steamlands, existing in a strange location in the time stream and subject to influences from other places and times, are susceptible to ancient evils, including those not of our own sphere.

These thoughts were not far from my mind when I read the dispatch from New Babbage: an archaeologist by the name of Bernard Blindside had gone missing. One might think that unremarkable, as the residents of New Babbage are in constant flux, and even an archaeologist might find it desirable to disappear, whether from creditors, an angry mistress, or merely a yearning to wake up to a different view. Yet Mr. Blindside had recently made a remarkable discovery on a site in Babbage Square, near the abandoned Imperial Theatre. He had unearthed a sarcophagus of ancient vintage and was in the process of examining the find when he vanished - and the sarcophagus showed signs of something bursting from within, leaving a thin trail of blood along the edges. This piqued my interest, but what moved me to pack my bags and ask that my airship be readied were the reports of a horrible creature, inhuman in form, having attacked several youngsters. One had vanished and was presumed dead, as no one could have survived that loss of blood (though he was later found alive, and the blood had a different explanation entirely). A young lady, reputed to be Miss Myrtil Igaly, had suffered a gash to her leg, though she was expected to make a full recovery. A third, Master Nat Merit, had also suffered a leg injury, this one so severe that the surgeons were forced to amputate. Babbage's street urchins, legendarily independent, street-savvy, and clever, had devised traps of increasing size and ingenuity with which to trap the creature, but had thus far met no success.

Were the three incidents - the discovery, Mr. Blindside's disappearance, and the creature's attacks - linked? Logic dictated that the answer was yes. I sensed the possibility of a story, one that might transcend the humdrum crimes I had been reporting of late. I left a note for Kathy to tell her where I was going and set out for New Babbage.


Winter had come early to the Steamlands and had hit New Babbage particularly hard. From the air, the city's normal sooty color had changed to white. True, it was a dingy, dirty white as the residue from the city's coal-fired power plants continued to rain on the streets and buildings, but it gave the impression of a soothing, peaceful place. How wrong initial impressions can be!

As I maneuvered the Hangover Two to the mooring tower, I could feel the wind buffet the airship. I managed to reach the grappling hook at the same time a large gust hit the ship and blew her sideways, and the ship shuddered to a halt on the hook after rocking against the tower. I exited the ship and sneaked a glance at the crew in the mooring tower, who were shaking their heads and no doubt complaining about female pilots from the safety of their heated control room. Why don't you boys try docking a ship in a gale, I fumed silently before making my way to the streets below.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Standby is the final chapter in Bryn Oh's Rabbicorn trilogy. Part 1, The Daughter of Gears, in which a mother takes an unusual step to savings her dying daughter. In Miss Oh's words:

There once was a young girl who was very sick. She grew progressively worse as her mother helplessly watched. The idea of losing her daughter drove her to a drastic experiment. As her daughter lay dying she transferred her soul into a vessel to create a now living machine. A machine with the scared mind of a young child. What she had done could not remain a secret, and there were many who felt the Daughter was an abomination. A slight against nature. Fearing the worst, the mother creates a land of traps and obstacles to protect them, and brings her Daughter of Gears to the top of a tower. A mob builds and in their perceived righteousness they come to the tower to take the Daughter.

They eventually reach the top to find the mother waiting. She will never let them take her Daughter and fights them with a great fury. She defeats them all, but is wounded mortally in doing so. As she lay dying she looks to her Daughter and realizes that she will now live alone in this tower. A child robot who doesn't age, therefore living eternally in loneliness. An outcast who can not fit in. After her mother dies the Daughter goes into Standby mode much like a computer does. In her Standby she relives all the memories of her mother and dreams new ones. One hundred years go by as she stands rooted to the top of the tower. Vines grow around her feet while the tower slowly deteriorates, but she hides within her standby and dreams.
Part 2, The Rabbicorn, involves a scientist who creates a robotic companion for himself, part rabbit, part unicorn. Again, in Miss Oh's words:
A scientist works within the government creating machines of war. Each day he tried to find new weapons and programs each for hunting and killing. When alone at home he begins to build a robot companion for himself. One which can love and think, something unique and unnecessary in the realm of war. He creates the Rabbicorn. Part Rabbit part unicorn. Something both living and extinct or perhaps a myth.

Once the Rabbicorn was completed and he saw what was created, he realized that if the Government ever discovered her she would be removed to be studied or taken apart. They would see her as property with an interesting ability to love. They would dispassionately study her like they would a bug under a microscope. So the Scientist takes a great gamble and gives her to a man who in passing mentions it is his sons birthday. The man gladly accepts and doesn't realize what the Rabbbicorn is, he sees her as a big toy robot. This is the first separation for the Rabbicorn, and her heart, which is the music box on her back, slows and ceases to turn.

She is brought to the mans home and placed in a wrapped giftbox. In the morning the boy finds her and the Rabbicorn imprints on the boy. They become great friends and the gentle Rabbicorn will do anything for him except fight, she understands the concept yet it is not in her programming.

For 90 years they were together, with the Rabbicorn never changing while the boy aged to an old man. One day Scientists arrive at their door hearing rumours of the fabled Rabbicorn. When they see her enter the room one tags her with a GPS gun. The old boy pushes them aside and tells his Rabbicorn to flee and never come back. The Rabbicorn does and easily escapes all the guards into a world she knows nothing about, and again her heart stops its turning as she leaves the only life she knew.

After a few days she comes to a large abandoned tower, and at the top she finds the Daughter of Gears shutdown and in standby for a hundred years. The Rabbicorn connects to the Daughter of Gears with a cable and joins her in the white of her dreams. Again her heart begins to turn as she finds a companion who doesn't age and who also has the capacity to love. An outcast like her who doesn't fit inside this world they are forced to live in.
Part 3 opened Nov. 1 in IBM Exhibit A. The Rabbicorn and the Daughter of Gears encounter the outside world after many years.

The poems that tell the story are not terribly good (to my ignorant eyes, at least), but the story is a moving one, and Miss Oh has a unique visual style.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Geeky Cat

Found in my travels: the geekiest cat in the world. He reads quantum physics.

Heck, he thinks about quantum physics.
I named him Richard Felineman.

One would think cats would enjoy a little light reading, but apparently not.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Now We are Three, and a Visit to InWorldz

My third rezday passed without my noticing (back at the end of November). I don't feel older, and I certainly don't feel wiser. I'll take that back: I do notice that an increasing number of profiles show later rezdays than mine, so I guess I'm getting older relative to the population.

In more interesting news, I finally paid a visit to InWorldz. I had created an account months back but never got around to logging in. The bad news was that I was never able to appear as more than a cloud, despite logging in several times, clearing the cache, and all manner of tricks learned from wrestling with Second Life clients.

And that's the good news, as any Second Life client can also be an InWorldz client. I think I used the Phoenix client, which is already configured to log into InWorldz through a drop-down menu on the start page. I rezzed in a welcome area, looked around, and found two warehouse-like stores with free clothing and accessories for men and women. (The two are separate, so if your virtual faith requires women to shop separately from men, InWorldz has you covered.) The freebies appeared to be the same type of mix as in Second Life: some good stuff, some adequate stuff that will suffice until one obtains money and can shop for something better, and some stuff that is best buried deeply and then sealed with concrete. Although, honestly, everything looks good on a cloud.

I'll try again some day and see if an actual avatar appears, duck walk and all. But the transition from SL to InWorldz seems to be fairly seamless, beyond the big downside of losing years of carefully-accumulated inventory. (A second downside: as Miss Emilly Orr says, "I just can't register for a company who decided to end their corporate name in 'Z'. I just can't." I haven't gone that far, but I feel her language-mangling pain. It's a terrible name.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

All Clear

I had earlier discussed Connie Willis's Blackout, the first part of a two-part novel published under separate titles. I finished the continuation of Blackout, dubbed All Clear, and have a few additional observations.

To refresh everyone's memories of the plot, three main characters - Polly, Merope/Eileen, and Michael/Mike - are time-traveling historians from Oxford in 2060 who are each researching parts of World War II. They find themselves unable to activate the return portals - "drops," in the parlance of the novel and are stranded in England. Michael is wounded in the evacuation of Dunkirk and eventually makes his way to London during the Blitz to look for Polly, who is posing as a department store shop clerk in London. Merope posed as a maid at a country estate in order to interact with children who had been evacuated from London. She also makes her way to London with two of her young wards in tow - Alf and Binnie, the most ill-behaved children one could imagine. Michael, Polly, and Merope eventually meet and try to think of ways to return to the future, first by finding fellow time-travelers in the hopes that their drops would work, then by attempting to signal a rescue team by providing clues to their location that would survive the 120 years until 2060. The action switches from 1940-41 and the Blitz to 1944-45 and the V-1/V-2 attacks - the latter of which is actually Polly's first assignment during the war, where she worked as a volunteer ambulance driver for a women's auxiliary unit, and where she sees Merope in Trafalgar Square celebrating the war's end. They try to interpret this event, worrying that it means they never returned to 2060. As they try to stay alive and not change history, they also attempt to understand the reason that they are unable to return home. The first book simply ended without a resolution, as Connie Willis had originally conceived of the story as a single book and her publisher turned it into a pair of books.

I won't say much about the plot of All Clear in order to avoid spoilers. The book opens right where Blackout ended, and the three main characters engage in a series of near-misses in their quest to return home. Eventually, the point of view switches to that of Colin Templar, the 17-year-old student (who also appeared in Willis' related time-travel novels Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog), hopelessly in love with the older Polly. Colin is doing everything he can to find out what happened to the missing historians.

The book could have benefited from a ruthless editor. I lost count of the number of times a character said, "But this is time travel!" or explained the same point to the reader. (However long it takes for the rescue team to locate these stranded souls, presumably the rescuers can show up whenever in time they choose, so that, from the standpoint of the stranded characters, the rescue will seem to be fairly instantaneous.) Of course, because rescue is not instantaneous - otherwise, the book would be far shorter than its thousand-plus pages spread across two sets of bindings - much of the discussion, both internal and external dialogue, involves speculation as to why rescue has not occurred or why the drops will not operate properly and whether historians can actually change history. (Their biggest fear is that one of their actions, however small, has somehow altered the course of the war and allowed the Axis powers to win.)

Despite the wordiness of the book, I found it very moving in places. Some of the twists were predictable, but others came as a complete surprise to me, though they were entirely logical within the framework of the story. The characters were all vividly drawn, from Merope, the older but seemingly less-mature of the two women, to Polly, the younger but more practical of the two, to Michael, the man of action, to Sir Godfrey, the Shakespearean actor whom Polly meets in an Underground shelter, and to Mr. Goode, the vicar in the village where Merope first works. We see both the heroic actions and everyday kindness that allowed Londoners to survive the dark days of the war, and are reminded that humans, however imperfect, can occasionally rise to seemingly impossible challenges.

To bring this back a little to Steampunk, in some regards, a time-travel novel has to be framed in a way that reminds me of nearly any undertaking in New Babbage. The motto of the time-traveler must surely be, "What could possibly go wrong?" (for who would attempt time travel otherwise?), yet the narrative insists that something go horribly wrong, or there would be no conflict (or the story would be a historical piece, not a time-travel piece). The fun is in seeing how things go horribly awry, and what the protagonists do to set things right. Although the focus of Blackout and All Clear is more on the characters, the Oxford historians zip through time with a carefree "What could possibly go wrong?" attitude and Polly, Merope, and Michael do what they can do set things right.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Held Hostage - Send Cookies

Alas, I've been unable to schedule a post for today as my typist has been held hostage by an international cabal known as the Workforce. Who these people are and why they feel compelled to take hostages is beyond me, but rest assured I'll get to the bottom of it. (What I take to be an offshoot conspiracy, code-named Payday, also seems to be involved.)

I've been working on the latest New Babbage mystery from Master Loki Eliot, dubbed the Black Heart, and will be reporting on that in further detail shortly. Amusingly, this mystery has been profiled on the "Destinations" guide, leading to a large number of very young avatars in interesting clothing descending on the Steampunk nation of New Babbage. Hilarity ensues.

And please, send cookies. Or cake. Or possibly pie. Our hostages need to keep up their strength.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Winter has Arrived in Caledon

The snows have come early and hard in Caledon Downs. Not all of the leaves have gone from the trees, and yet we have piles of the white stuff already. One might think we were in Europe!

In my view, this is when the Steamlands are at their most beautiful.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Petrovsky Flux

A more elaborate follow-on to the Bogon Flux, the Petrovsky Flux, the brainstorm of Mr. Blotto Epsilon and Miss Cutea Benelli, is a self-replicating (and self-destroying) set of pipes and other building materials.

From the landing area, one sees that parts of the construct are constantly falling. Couches may be directed at one. As a consequence, the creators have thoughtfully made available a protective head covering; I am wearing this device in the picture below.

What is a Petrovsky Flux? I'm glad you asked:
In 1945, I. Petrovsky published work[1] on the lacunae that occur in the region where the solution of a hyperbolic partial differential equation vanishes. Decades later, we observed the so-called Petrovsky flux, the effluent that results from squishing a Petrovsky lacuna (a findng involving pliers, single malt scotch, and kitten sausage); the visible residue is a sort of topological gristle[2].

The solid remains of this aggressively fecund process are brittle and failure-prone, so we recommend (and provide) protective headgear. Legitimate reasons for ignoring this precaution include preexisting brain damage and general stupidity (however, please note that in case of the latter, the helmet will make you look smarter).
(From the notecard, obtained with the protective headgear; internal footnotes omitted.)

Whatever a Petrovsky Flux may happen to be, it is great fun to watch as it unfolds, expands, and falls apart.

There are even creatures under the water!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Winter Comes to Kintyre

Winter is no doubt coming to the rest of Caledon soon, but it has already come to the Duchy of Kintyre. Snow is on the ground, the lake has frozen over, and... the polar bears come out to ice skate? Well, the poor beasts need the exercise before their long hibernation.
Also to be found is the elusive Jackelope. This must be the Winter variety, as he has a red, shiny nose. If you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Women, Violence, SL, and Nonsense (Slightly NSFW)

(Two NSFW images below. Well, they're both avatars - does that really count?)

Some things just give feminism a bad name.

Let me start by giving the obvious disclaimer: actual violence against actual women (or men) is abhorrent. Is cartoon violence - avatar-on-avatar violence - similarly abhorrent? At least one person says yes, and has created an exhibit in Second Life to argue her point. Entitled "Is This Turning You On?", Miss Scylla Rhiandra uses graphic images of violence, often sexual violence, against (principally) female avatars to illustrate the widespread culture of sexually-charged violence within SL.

Illustrations such as the one below, entitled "Gutted," with accompanying text describing the act in intimate detail, show various poseballs and animations. One panel describes the John Norman books about Gor, and the philosophy that "the 'happiest' [women] are those who have been 'collared,' as are slaves, 'kajirae,' because they have achieved their 'natural' place as submissives."

I'll say that this type of roleplay is not my cup of tea. I'd even be willing to speculate, with no evidence whatsoever to support the speculation, that much of the roleplay that falls under the broad category of BDSM involves individuals who are acting out in SL impulses that they repress in real life, and that some of these impulses, if acted on, would be reprehensible. I certainly hope that no typists log off from SL and impale, gut, gore, or crucify a romantic partner, much less roast and eat him or her. Because I don't mind being judgmental, I'm happy to classify as weird anyone who gets sexual gratification from imagining such acts.

However, I'd raise two points. First, roleplaying is not reality. Some sims specialize in other forms of violence, from war games to dark RP, involving gang activity and murder. I'd guess that most of the participants are well-adjusted people who enjoy playing against type. Is this okay because the violence is not directed against women specifically? I find the distinction to be a weak one. Second, the implication is that all sexual activity outside of some generally-accepted boundaries is abhorrent. Would a heterosexual couple who enjoy spanking, or handcuffs play, or anything else that, if done in a non-consensual environment, would be a crime, be similarly condemned as promoting violence against women? Would it matter if it were the man who enjoyed being handcuffed? What if the two were same-sex partners?

Oddly, the first panels that one sees in the exhibit involve kissing (see below) and dancing. I wasn't clear whether this was to be viewed as a contrast to all the yucky, blood-letting behavior of the rest of the exhibit - good sex, not bad sex - or just another form of violence against women (though the kiss involves two women).

Another oddity is that, while the implication of the exhibit is that the violence is always man-on-woman, there is nothing that prevents other gender combinations from engaging in the same behavior. Indeed, on panel acknowledges as much: the poor gent below is being castrated by a lady. (One would think that, the human instinct for self-preservation being what it is, imminent castration is not the kind of event that would lead a man to be sexually excited, though I acknowledge the act itself might be easier were that to be the case.) It may be true that the bulk of these violent acts are, in fact, male against female, but it's hardly a universal truth.

So what to make of all this? Real violence, bad - whether it's man-on-woman, woman-on-man, man-on-man, woman-on-woman, or anything else. Cartoon violence? I'll observe that much of the U.S. prime-time TV schedule consists of crime dramas, most of the crimes are violent, and a high percentage of the crimes are against women. Are these shows bad? Should women avoid them? Or is the evil only if the crimes involve role-playing?

Stuff and nonsense - or, perhaps more appropriately in this context, stuffing nonsense.