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Topics - the neurovore of Zur-En-Aargh

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DF Reference Collection / Team UMO: a theory, for reference purposes
« on: March 12, 2014, 08:08:41 PM »
Quantus noted the other day that I hadn't actually put this all in one readily findable place, so I thought it might be worth doing so.



There's a storm coming. Odin mentions this to Harry at the end of CD. At least some Great Powers have access to foresight and/or intellectus.  They can plausibly have known this for some time.

The Great Powers work together.  Sources; WoJ on Uriel and Odin being in very different divisions pointed at the same general end, Bob in GS telling Harry Mab is working with Uriel. At least those three, and possibly others we've not met yet or not seen enough to know about, are in a loose alliance

The Great Powers have to act indirectly. Sources; WoJ and text on it being minimally possible for Great Powers to act directly on Earth without endangering reality, iirc Mother Winter in CD is an example and Ferro in GP makes sense retrospectively as another.  (This appears to have held up for approximately 2000 years and may have something to do with the WG - cf. the bassanid in "Last Call", Harry in PG talking about old gods existing out in the NN.)

Human free will is Significant: According to WoJ and to Uriel.  Also, it is correlated with ability to summon Outsiders.

Given these premises, the central notion is:

Starborn are a Manhattan Project carried out by the alliance of Uriel, Mab and Odin (and possibly others), hence referred to as Team UMO.  The object of the exercise is to concentrate in a free-willed human, preferably one of good moral character, as much as possible of the different kinds of power available in the DV, to have a champion/weapon/Swiss Army chainsaw/supernatural equivalent of Programming in Perl available come the BAT.

Harry is one of several potential candidates (WoJ confirms this) of whom Elaine may be another.

Elements of the plan in more detail:

The original idea comes from Mab via Lea:
- Motive: Winter is, in this age of the Earth at least, the guardian of reality against the Outsiders (CD)
- Means: The folkloric Leanansidhe's thing was providing inspiration to mortals, and we have a WoJ saying this innovation was how DV Lea got to be so high up in the Winter hierarchy.
- Opportunity: Maggie leFay, powerful wizard, on the outs with the Council over what appear according to Luccio in SmF to be serious political differences, willing, according to Eb in BR to break the Laws; a strong female wizard is a good candidate for parent to a strong wizard given that magic is mostly inherited in the female line (Harry in PG) and Maggie's demonstrably an easier sell than many on her own judgement of the right thing to do being something she will put ahead of Council policy (just like Harry).
- Complementary argument; We know the Council go all Fahrenheit 451 on information about how to break the laws (cf, Kemmler's writings, Bob, chapter 3 of DB).  Therefore, information about Outsider-related magic is difficult and dangerous to find.  Yet Maggie (starborn child) and both her known associates, Justin (summoning HWWBh) and Lord Raith (summoning HWWBh, protection against magic which Harry identifies as feeling Outsidery) all visibly have it to some degree.  It seems most Occamian that it came to them from the same source and was shared among them, which would be a necessary element of them managing the breeding of starborn.

Mab always intended to get her hooks into Harry
- Lea was often hanging around when Harry was a child. (WoJ)
- Lea's deal with Maggie requires her to protect Harry (siren noise and grumpy neighbour in SK, primrose garden and alliance at the end of Changes) but not to inform Harry that she is required to protect him. (It's news to him in SK that she's even trying.)
- Logical deduction from these two facts: Lea expects Harry to get into some form of trouble and turn to her for help, and intends to make a bargain that will give Faerie a hold on him. (Why was it Lea that Harry turned to for assistance against Justin, out of all the possible supernatural entities to deal with ?  We don't know, but her having in some way planted the relevant  information where he could get it is what makes sense to me; I'm not seeing Justin as very likely to teach his apprentices "Twenty Entities You Could Call On To Defeat Me In Battle")
- The way we have seen for a Faerie Court to most invest their power in a human is through Knighthood.
- Therefore, the plausible long-term goal of all Winter manipulation of Harry is to put him in a situation where he will take up the offer of Knighthood.  (cf. offers in SK and DB; Winter keeping their Knight on ice despite major handicap of so doing in PG;  actual knighthood in Changes)
- Odin's direct role in this, in Changes; giving Harry the information he needs to make it absolutely clear he needs to look to a major power source beyond what he has available in order to have a chance against the gathered Red Court.
- Uriel's direct role in this, in Changes; showing Harry Maggie, giving his motivation the final push to call on Mab and accept the Knighthood.
- Odin's indirect role, in Changes; as a member of the Grey Council, capable of influencing them by what information he provided with them (or presumably just making suggestions; I doubt any of them fail to take the All-father seriously).
- Uriel's indirect role in Changes; powering up the Swords is a Heaven thing.


(Note: I think any of these might be the case.  I'm not proposing all of them as a unified theory, so if some of them are contradictory to others, that's utterly beside the point.)

- We see several attempts by villains (Nicodemus in DM, Kumori in DB) to subvert Harry to their particular dark side
- Therefore whatever Harry is being built towards, the character he is along the way has potential utility to evil as well as good.

- If the "Swiss army chainsaw" theory is true, Uriel always intended for Harry to have soulfire.
- Therefore (speculative) it may be the case that Nicodemus was in some way serving Heaven's ends by exposing Harry to a coin, thus enabling Harry to fight off (?) Lash and thereby enabling Uriel to give Harry soulfire.  Either unwittingly, or having deniably figured out a way to help Uriel that Uriel does not have to take responsibility for.  (Like Captain Jack in GS; and that might be an explanation for why Nicodemus thinks he could come out of all this a saint.)
- Michael regularly gets missions from On High (we see this on stage in PG)
- Michael met Harry and insisted on a soulgaze when they were both investigating the same missing child (WoJ)
- Therefore it is possible that Michael meeting Harry, and exposing Harry to both his moral influence as a good person and awareness of the Swords, is on Heaven's orders.

The All-Father
- It seems tolerably obvious that anyone in Harry's line of work in DV Chicago will have to be aware of Marcone and will likely cross paths with Marcone sooner or later.
- We don't, IIRC, know when Marcone first became aware of the supernatural world. It is possible (and appealing to me on plot-aesthetic grounds) that his soulgaze with Harry was it.
- Of all the jobbing sorcerers Marcone could have hired, Gard being the one he ends up with suggests the All-Father had an eye on what was going on there.
- Likewise the All-Father being willing to sponsor Marcone as a freeholding lord (WN).
- Gard acquires Harry's professional respect as a sorcerer (the wards of hers that he has to overcome in DM) his personal respect as a warrior and sometime ally (DB, "Heorot") and ultimately serves as the conduit for him to turn to when he contemplates the necessity of looking to the All-Father for help (Changes)
- Given the All-Father's foresight, some or all of this was planned in advance.
- Harry eating in Odin's halls gives, in the original Norse mythos, Odin a claim on him.  Whenever Harry does eventually end up dying for good and facing judgement, whatever he expects, he'll end up in Valhalla being kept handy until Ragnarok.
- Speculative notion; whatever it was that happened about a thousand years ago when Mab last saw Titania is tied into events surrounding the battle of Hastings.  That happened just after the Saxon King Harold had defeated the last great Viking invasion of England at Stamford Bridge, and then marched south to be defeated by the Normans under William the Conqueror.  The Normans (Latin Nortmannii, same root as Northmen/Norsemen) were just Vikings who happened to have lived in northern France for the past century and a half.  Chances of the All-Father not having a hand in there seem low to me.
- Speculative notion 2: Merlin's apprenticeship to the All-Father (cf. Eb in TC) has some connection with the building of Demonreach (CD), likely in acquiring the knowledge of how to do it.
- Speculative notion 3; given Odin's level of foresight, both those prior sets of events are plausibly prep for the coming storm.

Dead Beat
- Incidental observation that feels like it fits in with this model somehow; one thing DB accomplished was to show Harry that necromancy is not inherently evil (Kumori saving the life of random gangster dude) and then give him experience of using it himself in a not inherently evil manner (Sue). One more blade to the Swiss Army chainsaw as needed.

I have a feeling there's one more related point I am forgetting, but I will come back and add it if it comes back to mind.

Author Craft / pacing thrash
« on: September 14, 2012, 08:42:33 PM »
Yet another issue to wrestle with, courtesy of the book that comes next after the one I am currently working on.

This series is from a single first-person POV.  The plot opens with an Event, which my protagonist gets called in to have a look at, and that covers the first two chapters.  Three different sets of consequence then ensue (apparent effects of the Event on local aliens and humans finding out about that, apparent effects of the Event on local humans, and political responses among the local government).  About a third of the way into the book the political stuff takes precedence and I am pretty clear on pacing with the other stuff from there to the end, as my protagonist's ability to do anything about the other two issues becomes pretty tightly constrained by a worsening environment on the streets.  What's making me a bit grumpy is that for chapters 3-10 or so, I have a couple of chapters worth of each of three different threads of consequence, and not yet any clear idea what order they go in. as a whole thing.  I'm happy with my logic for fitting the end of the book together, but I would rather have a natural flow in the first ten chapters; on the one hand, I don't want the failure mode of yanking my protag from the middle of one investigation into another too much (though she has annoying superiors who will do that a couple of times); the way Death Masks does that with Harry going back and forth between the Denarians/Shroud plot and the Red Court plot would be an example that does not quite work for me. On the other hand, I don't want to spend so much continuous time on any one thread that the other threads fade into the background and seem not to be so important.  (it would in some ways be easier if I had more than one viewpoint, but as I have one viewpoint through all the story up until then, and plans for one viewpoint for all the story subsequent, I'm not on for throwing in a couple of disposable viewpoints as a cheap solution here.)

I suspect the answer to this is going to be to just keep going over it until other connections come to mind that give me small-scale plot logic, but right now it is irritating the heck out of me.

Author Craft / Bechdel test observations
« on: June 26, 2012, 06:40:38 PM »
This is probably obvious to anyone with the cognitive capacity of a toasted teacake or higher, but it's been hitting me hard recently how very very much easier it is to pass the Bechdel test with a single female first-person POV character than with a male one.

Also, given a female homicide detective, I am torn between fretting that male murder victims prompt plotlines with an awful lot of that female character talking and thinking about that particular male character, but female murder victims continue to be harder to keep out of the metaphorical refrigerator.  I may just go for one of each in the two volumes where this is an issue.

This refers to a bit of historical background for the next volume in the series of Thing I Want To Be Working On.

I have a human colony planet that is, between a combination of not having the right materials, losing some background knowledge, and having a government that is heavily down on research and progress and generally sort of stagnant, for the most part stuck at just-post-WWII tech levels. They have a fairly significant space presence, but it's been put there by brute force application of late 40s equivalent technology. (Sea Dragons!) They wanted to launch a large chunk of material to their moon for building with; a hundred-thousand-tonne or so total weight solid metal bullet packed with useful ores and things, launched with a suitably large nuclear explosion, and lithobraking on arrival. (Yep, there are bad consequences to setting off that large an explosion on one's planet; postulate a nihilistic imperium that is indifferent to some forms of collateral damage and actively welcomes others as signs of divine favour.)

I'm pretty good with most of what's needed to make this work - it's basically Jules Verne's Baltimore Gun Club writ large, except with realistic physics. My issue is that while smashing this thing into their moon and leaving a large crater with thousands of tonnes of metal buried in it is fine for delivering iron &c. one then intends to mine, I need somebody to hide a Significant Plot Object on the thing for later retrieval after its journey, and the Significant Plot Object has to make it through the journey intact. The Significant Plot Object can have plausible good real-world material strength (you can think of it as made of diamond or jade) but not be made of magic handwavium, and it can be cushioned by any plausible protective casing one could have made in, oh, 1948 (or say by 1960 if the technology to make it is something that works as an offshoot of tech development rather than having half a dozen other implications and obvious uses that mess up the setting) though the smaller and more discreet that protection is the better, and the upper limit would be, say, one standard shipping container; the object itself is small enough to hold in one hand.

So, anyone got recommendations for an engineering solution, or for good references/resources allowing me to figure one out ?

Author Craft / Interesting post about culture-specific story shapes.
« on: September 06, 2011, 05:54:30 PM »

I thought this was worth bringing to people's attentions here; it's about a tendency for certain US-culture-specific takes on what stories are worth telling to slip into being considered as universals, and pointing out directions where there are also stories worth telling that those takes can cause to be overlooked; as a person born and brought up in Ireland and now Canadian by choice, I found myself in sympathy with much of it.  Lots of interesting stuff in comments, too, though some of the tangents go Touchy.

Author Craft / Disorienting experience
« on: July 14, 2011, 11:23:31 PM »
It really is disconcerting when someone points out to you a published book that appears to have an awful lot in common with one of your works in progress.

Fortunately, when I sat down and read the thing*, the similarities do not seem so worrisome after all.  I figure that a plot that opens "person is called back into service to solve the death of former professional colleague in a complex and alien political situation and has conflict between that and staying with much-loved family she has built since retiring" and a plot that opens "person in service is trying to solve some murders in a complex and alien political situation and has conflict arising from having to work with former family with whom she broke up messily and by whom she feels devastatingly betrayed" are sufficiently distinct, even if in both cases the complex and alien political situation is quite a bit like the contemporary West and the protagonist is coming from somewhere very different, so her reactions are illuminating more about her and the place she comes from than about the world she is investigating.  

Also, a couple of things that were Big Twists at the end of the published work are potential issues that my protagonist grasps, worries about and engages with pretty much immediately.  I'm not sure how to feel about that.   It would be nice to be able to think my book is more complex; I like complex.

On its own merits, so far as I can see it independently, the published book in question struck me as neither notably good nor notably bad in any way worth remarking; it's a great relief that it wasn't a brilliant work of genius that's likely to sweep major awards and be the thing to which my WiP, if it ever got published, would be compared by every reviewer by default in the way that epic fantasy gets compared to Tolkien.  The couple of things about it that strongly did not work for my personal tastes are things I was already not doing in my own book.

Has anyone else had an experience like this ?

*Metaphorically. It was short, and I have had a lot of running around to do this past few days, so I read most of it walking along or standing on public transport.

Author Craft / author's timecard redux
« on: June 21, 2011, 02:00:25 AM »
This was an accidental double post because I am stupid and overworked; pray direct followups to meg_evonne's excellent thread.

Author Craft / "there are five things only that can be written about"
« on: August 17, 2010, 03:01:06 AM »
"the fastness of friendship; the treachery of one's nearest; the destruction of good by good. Passion which over-rides reason.  VIOLENT AND PROUD DEATH !"
    -- Myles na gCopaleen

Myself, I have a certain fondness for passion which does not over-ride reason, but otherwise I'm pretty much in line with this; the destruction of good by good, in particular, as it's a sight more affecting, tragic and moving than the destruction of good by evil where the reader just cheers and boos the appropriate sides.

Anyone else got thoughts on this one ?

Author Craft / plot shape balance; would this work for you ?
« on: August 16, 2010, 07:11:13 PM »
Trying to discuss this in general enough terms to not breach the story-ideas policy; if I have erred here, by all means correct me.

I have a plot which in very broad outline looks like the following.

There is an important piece of information that opens a way to a game-changer for a particular balance of power; an artifact which if found and puzzled out could conceivably give nigh-absolute power within the relevant contect.  The antagonists of the piece are taking out people who have leads to this piece of information. (As well as doing a lot of other stuff to camouflage that this is what they are doing.  High collateral damage, the occasional robbery, the occasional assassination disguised as a robbery gone wrong, the occasional robbery disguised as a bungled attempt to make an assassination look like a robbery gone wrong... )

The protagonist starts off investigating all of the above, figures out what the antagonists are really up to, obtains the piece of information, and hence the story moves on to both sides potentitally having access to the game-changer and competing for it, fate of the universe at stake, etc. etc.  and to the resolution of that conflct. The folks who have been doing the assassinations and mindgames etc are much smaller potatoes in the general scheme of things.  The conclusion of the story as currently envisioned is much more about the actual game-changer than about the things the protagonist is looking into to begin with.

The question is: would it work for you for the story to shift in scale from "investigation into odd rash of murders and disappearances and so on" to "fate of the world at stake", and if so, how much of the book would feel reasonable to you to devote to the initial investigation without it feeling like a cheat or a disappointment for it to then become something that different ?

Author Craft / series shape and intermediate points of closure
« on: August 02, 2010, 04:48:37 PM »
I'm thinking in terms of something that's going to be a series, and mulling on the scale of closure a story has to have to feel complete.

I think the DF is an excellent example of individual books having solid book-scale endings while still having lots of ongoing series-scale plot.  But I can't think of anywhere the DF as we have them could have stopped and felt like a complete series.

What I have in mind would be three books, with a solid endpoint there such that if nothing more gets published readers would be happy.  And another layer of stuff going on such that if they did do moderately well there would be four more books and then another solid endpoint. 

I'm aware that I kind of want two contradictory things, in terms of wanting a book 3 that feels like a satisfying last book and at the same time works as a natural flowing middle if I get to write four more; can anyone think of any examples of things doing that that work ? I can think of plenty that don't; the closest I can imagine to what I have in mind is the jump from book 3 of the Black Company to the Books of the South, and I have not found the Books of the South/Glittering Stone to really work all that well for me or to feel really much of one thing with the first trilogy.

Author Craft / story twitches
« on: July 08, 2010, 05:09:54 PM »
No, not twitches of the "the free will argument is up again in the on-topic part of the forum and here I am sitting at work rather than working on the story that talks to that issue directly" kind...

I hate realising there appears to be a message in a story of mine that not only is not what I put there, but is not what I want there.

Example, and I think this is vague enough, and minor enough an element of the work in question, not to cross any lines on story idea posting.

Suppose you have a character who has gone to a strange place to have interesting adventures.  Suppose that one reason that character is the sort of person who goes to strange places to have adventures in the first place is that their family-of-origin did not really work particularly well and was not home to them; not a horrible abusive background but one with persistent incompatibilities which wore people out trying to fix and which those people eventually gave up on.  Suppose that, from time to time while running around having adventures with the other people in the story, this character occasionally feels somewhat wistful about that family not working - not devastated and traumatised, but kind of wishing it could have worked out better.  This is not a huge driving force in the characterisation of this person, just an incidental detail of who they are.

Trying to write the ending of that story as "this person has made some friendships and there is mutual good in them" without it coming across as "this person has Found A New Family and that fixes everything" is really damned hard. Because family is not what this particular story is about.

Author Craft / Pacing of information in a fictional world
« on: June 15, 2010, 03:42:34 PM »
I'm kicking this back and forth for a couple of projects at the moment.  Both are set in (different) far future worlds, one about a thousand years from now, the other closer to two thousand.  Both are settings in which a great deal of complicated history has happened in those timespans, and where the protagonists and the basic social assumptions are about as different from ours, as ours are from people in other cultures a thousand years ago.

I'm finding myself caught between a) the story moving at a reasonable pace, b) getting the necessary bits of information in, and c) having it actually be reasonably plausible for the characters to think about or explain any of this.  (How many times, when getting into your car, do you turn to the other person with you and say "As you know, other person in hypothetical example, the internal combustion engine, powered by burning oil extracted from the ground, allows a carriage to move much faster than anything pulled by horses, and over the last century they have become a dominant form of transportation... ")

On the one hand, stopping for five thousand words of people explaining stuff to each other is not really workable for snappy pacing*; on the other, it's not going to help the book to go racing into a supposedly tense and exciting scene where the reader does not know what is going on, or why.  Anyone got any thoughts on what balance there works for you, and examples you like ?

*It could in theory work for Neal Stephenson-type pacing, but much though I like his work I am not Neal Stephenson nor have I any desire to be.

Author Craft / balance of sympathies
« on: June 04, 2010, 07:42:06 PM »
I'm kicking some stuff around for a rather complex setting, and I am wrestling with where the reader sympathy lies.

Ideally, I would want characters on either side of the central conflict, as close to equally sympathetic as possible.  I am not particularly interested in the story having a hero or a villain, let alone a hero defeating a villain; it's a complex issue where I want to explore questions rather than throw out simple answers.

Anyone got any thoughts on how best to balance the sympathy so the reader does not immediately jump to taking one side or the other ?  I'm aware there are some readers who would gravitate to one side or the other instantly and absolutely on principle in ways that are external to anything that can go in the text, and not thinking of those as an audience here; more interested in, if this could in theory work for you at all, what would make it work better ?

Any more general notions of what has worked well for you as a situation with a balance of sympathy on both sides of a question that avoiided collapsing into having simplistic goodies and baddies would also be appreciated here.

I have noticed, a couple of times in the past few weeks, that in the case where the title of a thread is changed, and it is the most recent thread posted to in its forum, the "Last post by user X in thread Y" message on the forum main page looks like it is still picking up the original thread title.  I can see this possibly being bothersome in cases where people slip up on appropriate level of non-spoilery thread titles even if they correct them as soon as made aware of the issue. 

Author Craft / started a new project today
« on: February 07, 2010, 01:04:59 AM »
2700 words written this afternoon.

Which given that since just before Christmas when I finished the through draft of something that is looming over me wanting a major and complex through edit, the only fiction-writing-type work I have managed to do is a through pass on a different project and sending it to a specific beta-reader*, because I've been too tired from work panic to get anything done, is a huge relief.

It's SF, far future, large interstellar setting, starting off as a fairly small-scale mystery but with threads leading in all directions, it's also a big and weird universe where it's going to be an interesting challenge to get all the necessary information across to the reader to get what's going on, without breaking the discipline of a tight first-person POV.

*Unlike Jim's usage, I have for many years been talking about the people who read my stuff chapter by chapter as alpha readers, and the people who read complete manuscripts when done as betas.

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