Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, February 27, 2015

Keep the Change

Hope and change
“Remember that your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. This may leave you an opening to become his friend.”
-- Robert A. Heinlein
Several more years ago than polite society bears naming, the Incomparable Marge attended a workshop in "Basic Problem Solving" sponsored by her then-employer, a/k/a The Bank. It was a seminar similar to the one disseminated by TOF himself, though The Bank hired a lesser firm, alas. Had they hired TOF's firm, it would have been TOF's one chance to teach the Marge a thing or two. Oh well. Bon chance.

One of the topics in basic problem solving is that people often resist the solution, even to problems they themselves wish solved. That is because solutions by their nature change something, and change inevitably creates anxiety.

So on the second day of the class, the Marge comes to the training room and finds that the books and table-tents have all been moved around. "Tsk," says she to herself. "The cleaning people have gotten the seating all messed up." And so she picks up her book and table tent and is proceeding to her original seat when she notices the two instructors watching from the back of the room. People resist change? Even so trivial a change as a seating arrangement. And so she returned whither her materials had been shifted, and she took to watching the others as they arrived. A little more than half the students insisted on moving back to "their" seats -- seats that had been "theirs" for but a single day.

Imagine the sort of resistance you get when the change is to something in which people have invested ego, like a scientific theory!
TOF in his own seminars used a game -- "The Pony" -- in which students were read a story about two farmers selling a pony back and forth and asked to reach an answer off the tops of their heads which farmer made a profit and how much. Grouped according to the answers they had given, each group was told to develop an argument why their answer was right. Then a spokesman for each group presented its argument to the other groups. Seldom were these arguments sufficiently persuasive to induce people to change groups. In astonishing shows of solidarity, once people were in a group, they showed an odd reluctance to leave it. And these were groups that had existed for but minutes. How much stronger are the bonds for groups like "Production" and "Maintenance" or "France" and "Germany" or "Islam" and "Christendom"?

Mwah-ha-ha
THIS IS SOMETHING TO KEEP IN MIND for your stories -- and one aspect to thickening your characters. Stories usually involve change of some sort, and your characters will react to it in various ways. A new strategy, a modified product, an altered organization structure, a fresh idea. It need not be earth-shattering -- though in SF it sometimes is, literally! -- and may even be downright mundane, at least to outsiders. A trap for the writer is to stereotype those whose attitudes toward the change are contrary to the author's own. It is a failure of imagination to suppose that these characters can be motivated by no more than sheer mustache-twirling villainy.

Similarly, it is a mistake to suppose that everyone on the same side of a change is there for the same reasons.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

What is TOF up to these days?

TOF seems to be coming out of his slump. He recently:
  • Sent the long-delayed "The Journeyman: In the Great North Woods" off to Analog, and we will see what its fate shall be.
  • Completed a fact article, "The Autumn of Modern Science," but it is lying doggo awaiting a fresh read to smooth over its infelicities.
  • Resumed work on "Laminated Moose Zombies and Other Problems of Road Maintenance" which he is attempting to write with his esteemed Number One Son, Dennis M. Flynn. It should be a hard SF zombie story with a humorous twist. Don't recall if it was excerpted here.
  • Resumed work on the long-moribund novel The Shipwrecks of Time -- hooray. He is coming up on the March Across the Bridge, which for plot purposes he had moved forward in time before the Milwaukee riot. The Viaduct in Milwaukee was known as the Longest Bridge in the World since it stretched from Africa to Poland. Sometimes it is well to remember that we live in the future in more than the technological-advancement sense.
  • Began work on "Nexus," a very strange stories. Which it may not be possible to excerpt. In any case, an excerpt now would encompass most of the rough draft as it currently exists. Let's just say it involves aliens, a time traveler, an artificial intelligence, a telepath, an immortal, and maybe clones.
  • Thought about "The Journeyman: Among the Great States," but he does not yet have a good sense of what Teodorq will get up to there.


Great Sweet Mother

Another old story is posted on the PREVIEW PAGE: "Great Sweet Mother" from Analog (June 1993). It is a 4100-word short story that sits in the NANOTECH CHRONICLES universe, although it was written after that collection came out. Timewise, it sits after The Washer at the Ford and perhaps roundabout "Remember'd Kisses." Singer is dead and Peeler is running Singer and Peeler.

It is half of a dialogue. The narrator is addressing the reader, who has come across the narrator under odd circumstances. The reader's portion of the dialogue is omitted, and is indicated by "..."  You may have questions or comments at different points in the narration, and it will be amusing to see if any of the narrator's responses align with them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Uncle Francey

Francis Thomas, son of Francis Thomas, son of Daniel Joseph,
son of John Thomas, son of Martin Flynn of Loughrea

My uncle, Pere's brother, died yesterday at the age of 85. He wasn't quite in the middle of the seven brothers and sisters, but he definitely "jumped the line," as my aunt Patsy told me this morning when we drove past her place. "We're supposed to go in order," she said. There is a certain Irish cast of humor there.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Our Fighters and Prettier than Yours

Why the Kurds are likely to defeat ISIS:

Yet there are people over here who wonder why muslims don't stand up to the radicals! Could it be because US media finds other story-lines better fit their paradigm?

President's Day

Found on the Web:


The Wisdom of Einstein


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Grokking the Jive

Our correspondent Joseph provided the following link to xkcd in response to the comment about a movie portraying 5th century Romans wearing 1st century costumes. It is repeated here for the enjoyment of all:


Friday, February 13, 2015

Hypatia Part VIII: The Sources

Continued from Part VII: The Aftermath

This is a summation of the various sources of information on Hypatia with some comments on their provenance.

Sources for Hypatia

The Sources covering Hypatia are listed in their chronological order, starting with Synesius' Letters, which preceded the assassination of Hypatia, followed by the Histories of Socrates Scholasticus and Philostorgius of Cappadocia, who were reasonably contemporary, with the proviso that Philostorgius exists only as a 10th century epitome (or digest).
  1. Synesius. The Letters. Contemporary. The primary source for Hypatia’s teachings. Some interpretation is required because Neoplatonists kept their teachings largely occult. The letters do not cover the events in Alexandria leading up to her murder.

  2. Socrates Scholasticus. Ecclesiastical History. Contemporary. He covers major events preceding and including the murder and provides a context. He was a lawyer in Constantinople, well-informed about goings-on in the Church and Empire. His informants on the character of Hypatia were likely Ammonias and Helladius, who would have known her before they fled after the Serapeum riots. He is somewhat hostile to Cyril because of his treatment of the Novatians.

  3. Philostorgius of Cappadocia. Ecclesiastical History [Contemporary]  Exists only in an epitome compiled by Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, 10th cent.
  4. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
  5. Damascius. Life of Isidore. Two generations later (5th, early 6th century). This is a brief mention in passing and gives few details. Studied in Alexandria and became the last master of the Athenian Academy before it was closed. Deeply hostile to Christianity and only source to claim that Cyril directly engineered the murder. Disagrees with Socrates on the place of the murder and gives no other details. Original lost; reconstructed from fragments quoted by others. Source of the "menstrual rags" story.
  6. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
  7. John Malalas. Chronographia. 6th century. Antioch. Two sentences. Info on her lifespan, fame, popularity. His book is “a curious farrago of fact and fancy.”

  8. Hesychius of Miletus. Onomatologus. 6th century. Short bio. Original lost; survives as fragments quoted by others. Contains info on titles of her works. Reports she was married to Isidore, a fragment repeated in The Suda, but which is in error. Isidore lived in the wrong generation.

  9. John of Nikiu. Chronicle. 7th century. Survives in Ethiopian translation of Arabic translation of Coptic original. Local author (Lower Egypt) born during Arab invasion. May have had access to now-lost records of Alexandrian church. Clearly biased, pro-Cyril. Follows John Malalas and a second, now lost work. Only source that calls Hypatia a pagan and a witch. Celebrates her murder but does not say that Cyril planned or knew.

  10. The Suda. 10th century. Byzantine encyclopedia. Combines fragments of Heysichius and Damascius. The encyclopedia is regarded as unreliable overall.

  11. Other accounts are fully derivative of the above.

On-Line Resources

Listed in story order and including context resources: Alexandria, Serapeum, etc.
  1. List of Roman Emperors
  2. List of the Popes of Alexandria
  3. Tidbits of Neoplatonic philosophy Part III, with links to Parts I and II
  4. The Historia Augusta (a “mockumentary” or satire, not always reliable) on the Egyptian character
  5. Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman Antiquities: On the assassination of Bishop George the Arian
  6. Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book V, ch. 7 and 10: On the assassination of Bishop George the Arian and the murder of the virgins of Heliopolis.
  7. Rufinus of Aquileia: Ecclesiastical History, On the Destruction of the Serapeum
  8. Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book V, ch. 16: On the Destruction of the Serapeum
  9. Synesius, Letters.
  10. Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book VII, ch. 13-15: account of Hypatia and the events leading up to her murder.
  11. John Malalas. Chronographia.
  12. The Suda Lexicon (Contains a fragment on Hypatia from Heysichius of Miletus and a longer fragment from Damascius’ Life of Isidore.)
  13. Photius. Epitome of the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, compiled by Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, cf. Book VIII, ch. 9
  14. John of Nikiu, Chronicles 84.87-103, On the death of Hypatia
  15. Catholic Encyclopedia (1914), Cyril of Alexandria.
  16. Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book 2 ch. V and VIII, on the murder of bishop Proterius.
     

Hypatia Part VII: The Aftermath

Continued from Part VI: Murder Most Foul
AND SO, WITH THE MURDER OF HYPATIA, all learning in Alexandria shut down under the aegis of the learning-hating Christian learning haters, and the Dark Age descended, preventing us from reaching Mars because Hypatia was on the verge of discovering the Copernican system. 
Ho ho! TOF jests. Although he never ceases to marvel at the wacky fables modern skeptics will swallow wholesale. Especially when it comes to the history of their bĂȘte noire.  

Hypatia Part VI: Murder Most Foul

Continued from Part V: The Great Cyrillic Flame War

AD 414/416.  RUMORS FLY IN THE NAKED CITY.  Why is Orestes so obstinate?  Why will he not make kissy-face with Cyril?  My wife's second cousin's brother says that Hypatia is the obstacle!  Her counsel keeps the prefect at odds with the patriarch, and therefore perpetuates unrest in the City. Somebody oughta do something about that dame.

Hypatia Part V: The Great Oresto-Cyrillic Flame War

Continued from Part IV: The Teachings of Hypatia
Arcadius Augustus
Arcadius: would you trust your
Empire to this man?

After Graduation

 AD 395.  AUGUSTUS THEODOSIUS DIES.  He has already appointed his two sons as Augusti to succeed him: Honorius in the West; Arcadius (left) in the East.  No one realizes it yet; but the Empire will never again be united
AD 395/6.  Synesius returns home from Alexandria.  The next year, he is part of the Pentapolitan embassy to Constantinople.  While in the capital, he is baptized.  (This does not mean conversion.  Late baptism was common in those days.)  But in AD 400 an earthquake strikes the capital and the embassy leaves.  Synesius will later write of this:
“…if you remember the circumstances which I left the town.  God shook the earth repeatedly during the day, and most men were on their faces in prayer: for the ground was shaking.  As I thought at the time that the open sea would be safer than the land, I rushed straight to the harbor without speaking to anyone except Photius of blessed memory, but I was content simply to shout to him from afar, and to make signs with my hand that I was going away.”  (Letter 61)
The Visigoths under Alaric go on a rampage through Greece.  Perhaps half of all ancient Greek art is lost.  R.A. Lafferty says, It must have been the worst half.  They were art critics of exquisite taste. (The Fall of Rome)

Hypatia Part IV: The Teachings of Hypatia

Continued from Part III: The Deconstruction of the Serapeum

AD 392-395.  SYNESIUS AND HIS FRIENDS study with Hypatia.  Synesius’ oldest surviving letter is dated to AD 394, two years after the riot and the consequent imperial edict. 

So what did Hypatia teach?  Shh.  It’s a secret.  No, seriously.  It is.  Synesius and the inner circle were privy to it, but not the vulgar masses, not even those who attended the public lectures.  It was hermetic knowledge, to be sealed away from dreary proles who could not possibly understand it.  "It is an old tradition, I think," Synesius writes, "and quite in the manner of Plato, to conceal the profound thoughts of philosophy behind the mask of some lighter treatment, that thereby whatsoever has been acquired with difficulty shall not be again lost to men, nor shall such matters be contaminated by lying exposed to the approach of the profane." (Synesius, On dreams, pref.)

Hypatia Part III: The Deconstruction of the Serapeum

Continued from Part II: When Hypatia Was a Little Girl

Theophilus at the Serapeum
AD 381.  AN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL in Constantinople decides "that the bishop of Constantinople should have the next prerogative of honor after the bishop of Rome, because that city was New Rome." Alexandria is not pleased to get bumped, but what can ya do?

AD 385.  When Hypatia is about thirty years old, Theophilus is elected Pope of Alexandria and begins agitating against the Novatians.  Sure, we know; but it all seemed terribly important at the time.

AD 391 After more than a decade of toleration, the Emperor issues an edict against cult practices, as a result of which many urban temples are abandoned.  Theophilus says, “Kool!”
"Not content with razing the idols' temples to the ground, Theophilus exposed the tricks of the priests to the victims of their wiles. For they had constructed statues of bronze and wood hollow within, and fastened the backs of them to the temple walls, leaving in these walls certain invisible openings. Then coming up from their secret chambers they got inside the statues, and through them gave any order they liked; and the hearers, tricked and cheated, obeyed.  These tricks the wise Theophilus exposed to the people." 
-- Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History Book V, ch. 22
A point to remember: in the pagan Empire, there was no separation of Temple and State. The temples were State property, and the priests were state employees. The Emperor has a sacerdotal role as the bridge-builder among the various cults. As the Emperors became more than nominally Christian, they saw this as a personal affront, and they were entirely within their rights to close temples and stop the salaries of priests, especially in cases of egregious fraud, such as the talking statues. Meanwhile, the populace, especially in the East was going Christian wholesale, and the temples were emptying of worshipers and sacrifices, so many of the temples were abandoned and derelict. One of the benefits, as Pliny wrote to Trajan a couple centuries earlier, and perhaps one of the motivators behind Trajan's persecution was to encourage people to return to the Old Time Religion:
I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. ...

[T]he contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.
-- Pliny, Letters 10.96-97

Hypatia Part II: When Hypatia Was a Little Girl

Continued from Part I: The Mean Streets of Old Alexandria

When Hypatia Was a Little Girl


SOMETIME AROUND AD 355, a year after Augustine of Hippo was born, the well-known mathematician and astrologer, Theon of Alexandria, begat a daughter whom he named Hypatia.  She was to mature into a mathematician and astrologer in her own right, but also into a Neoplatonist philosopher of no small repute, one of a small group of female philosophers that graced that period of history in Alexandria. 

This was the milieu in which she came of age.
At this point even the youngest Christians persecuted by Diocletian would would have been in their fifties.  But their children, now grown to adulthood, might still harbor fear of their pagan neighbors based on the tales their parents had told them.  After all, Diocletian’s persecution had come out of the blue following a period of relative toleration.  
A USEFUL REMINDER: Pretty much everyone in the ancient world was a murderous psychopath, compassion not being a notable virtue. Accounts of executions, riots, and the like describe actions that would make Faithful Reader's head explode faster than the hairs on it would curl. And as fast as one group could be domesticated by those preaching love and compassion, fresh waves of psychopaths would come riding in from the deserts or the steppes, or sailing in from the Northlands.
ALEXANDRIA IS AN IMPORTANT SEAT OF THE CHRISTIANS. Its bishop, the Successor of St. Mark, has traditionally ranked Number Two behind the Pope of Rome. In fact, he too styles himself a "pope." Alexandria butts heads constantly with Number Three, Antioch, over theological matters: Antioch emphasizes the divinity of Christ, Alexandria his humanity.  (Eventually, an ecumenical council will rule: OK, dudes, he was both.  Now stop the bickering.)

Byzantium has been renamed Constantinople for twenty-five years, and her bishop being ipso facto the bishop of the Emperor of the East, has become a dude of considerable mojo.  But Alexandria opposes the elevation of Constantinople to a Patriarchate.  And whenever an Antiochene is appointed to the See of St. Andrew, the See of St. Mark becomes a mite peckish.  None of this bothers the See of St. Peter, out in the Wild West.  The problems there are of a more quotidian nature: few cities and far flung.  The heresies there are fewer and generally different from those that pester the East. And there are an awful lot of barbarians piling up against the Rhine and Danube frontiers.  Something about Huns out on the steppes...  

Hypatia Part I: The Mean Streets of Old Alexandria

A FEW YEARS BACK, on The Aulde Blogge, in the days before TOF was TOF, yr. obt. svt. wrote a series on Hypatia of Alexandria. He has bethought himself to reprint that series here on the TOF Spot as a Blast From the Past, for three reasons:
  • Live Journal has become seriously moribund and seldom stirs even when poked with a stick.
  • The Hypatia series would form a nice companion to the Galileo series, since both are often used as mythological stick-figures by Late Moderns.
  • TOF can put up lots of posts for very little effort, since he has bogged down on the next Psyche episode.
With some efforts to correct typos and grammatical faux pas, a few additions and amendments, the series proceeds as follows:

Just Imagine!

"Just Imagine!" is a movie from 1930 -- all about life in 1980! People will of course have flying cars. (Sigh). And the government will decide who you're allowed to marry. El Brendel was evidently the top comedian of the year, but one might wish to see the Marx Brothers take on this movie!

The whole thing is about an hour and a half:

(h/t Dr. Boli)

Whoa, What's This?