Daily Happiness

Jul. 28th, 2017 01:25 am
torachan: nepeta from homestuck (nepeta)
[personal profile] torachan
1. I slept like ten hours and was only interrupted by cats a little bit.

2. Had a nice day off. Got a lot of translation stuff done.

3. I just found out this iOS game I really love, Oceanhorn, is out for the Switch! I've kind of been wanting to play it again, and the Switch controls can't help but be better than the touchscreen ones, so I'm pretty excited about that.

4. Just checked Facebook one last time before bed and saw that the ACA repeal bill didn't pass, thank fuck.

5. Carla managed to snap a shot of Chloe yawning. So cute!

(no subject)

Jul. 28th, 2017 12:46 am
jhameia: ME! (Default)
[personal profile] jhameia
Success! I broke a machine needle, but I finally pried the SIM card slot out of my Xiaomi phone! And transferred my stuff over into the new Samsung. I'm not a fan of the UI--it's too chunky for my liking, but the other alternative were too-small icons. Argh! I'm also not crazy about being forced to have a page specifically for contacts. I've been messing with the arrangements of apps, but there are so many decisions to be made. So I've been working instead on restoring access to my stuff and trying to remember and reset passwords left right center. But! New phone! I bought a bunch of phone cases to celebrate.

I also did a lot of grocery-shopping: bought bone-in chicken and fish. I usually parcel out the chicken into individual ziplock bags, marinating them individually (and with a different mixture of stuff) and freezing them so it's easier to cook just ONE piece of chicken at a time. I decided I'd try to do the same with fish as well. This means leaving the fish to dry for a bit, so now my kitchen smells like raw fish. Hopefully it'll pay off. I bought a bunch of Good Thins and flatbread crackers, apparently Spam now has a BACON flavour, and also some spreadable ham, because I've never seen it before. Also garlic sourdough, which I regret because it's really salty. I made some beef stroganoff and used that to make lasagna (with alfredo sauce, and refried beans, and cheese), so I have meals for the next six days.

There was a bit of stroganoff left, so I put it on two slices of bread. I got weirdly full after eating one piece, though? And I had a cherry. I didn't get hungry again until 4 or 5pm. I don't know, this is weird.

No stomach troubles today. I really do think stomach troubles come when I consume some outright sugary stuff.

I also got 15 (maybe 16, I lost count at some point) laps in. I think I swam faster this time? I'll keep to 15 when I swim this Saturday, and next week I'll up the ante to 18. I need to do a bit more strength training though. Tomorrow I'll pop into the exercise room of my complex and check out the machines that they've brought in since I was last in there (which was something like two years ago). I'm thinking of getting like an arm band or waist band for my phone so I can jog with it, and apparently Pokemon Go Plus can be had now and is not some magic treasure anymore. So, I don't know, I'll look into that, maybe.

This has taken me away from dissertating. I am a bad grad student. But I did manage to get out to the University Village concert and get some writing done. Perhaps that is what I'll do tomorrow; find some outdoors and be there and write. I did also start formatting my dissertation for submission. I only have one section left to write, and got started on it, then it's conclusion, and MAYBE I'll have time to see what my advisor said about the introduction and chapter 2.

politics, argh

Jul. 27th, 2017 10:52 pm
cofax7: climbing on an abbey wall  (Default)
[personal profile] cofax7
OH THANK FUCK. (Re: McCain for once did the right thing and voted down the "skinny repeal" bill which would have resulted in 16 million people losing health insurance within a year.)

In other news, I may be giddy with relief, but this made me laugh like a drain.
klgaffney: a black cat sitting at a window looking out at the street. (from this side of the glass)
[personal profile] klgaffney
I was getting frustrated with my draft, so I impulsively grabbed Shawn Coyne's The Story Grid off the shelf (it was among the books that lived in All The Boxes--I don't remember buying it so it must've been a while back). And I can already hear the groan (a lot of people really hate this thing), but hey, it's working for me right now.

I decided to use it like a workbook and treat it somewhat like the WorldbuildingJune thing. I got through 36 chapters in two days (this is not as crazy as it sounds, it's got 69 chapters, they're not all demanding that you do a thing, and some bits are nicely bite-sized). Then I abandoned it for a few days because the 'unreasonably exhausted' status intensified to 'completely fuckin' miserable' and hasn't budged (no, not due to the writing stuff). I have tried to distract myself a bit; after I did my revamping and resending out of resumes, I painted some trim in the bathroom that needed a second coat. Then I figured I'd try to poke at this again and I'm still okay with my progress thus far.

some stuff abut the story grid. )

The current thing that has got me hung up a bit is lurking at the beginning of this chapter (entitled 'Math,' so it will be fun). It is only two short lines:

...before we dive into it, remember that you are not the problem. The problem is the problem.


I don't have a problem dealing with that when it comes to the story. But all I can think right now is that I wish I could get that thinking to consistently apply to the rest of my life. It might really help.

*especially since I yoinked my prospective story-beats list off of a comment in Quora. It was a movie-based list, which meant it has exactly the elements I wanted. But I'm thinking it could be applied to only one of the two major POV/plotlines, as one can easily be nudged into one subgenre and one could actually be a different but complementary/overlapping subgenre--and THAT is exactly the kind of thing that working through this book sparked for me. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel. But I do like to make things interesting. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work, but I think it's worth trying and the results could be neat.

Weekly Reading

Jul. 27th, 2017 07:30 pm
torachan: arale from dr slump dressed in a penguin suit and smiling (arale penguin)
[personal profile] torachan
What are you currently reading?
I started as in opened the file on my phone, but did not actually read any of Hollow City, the sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

I am also still in progress on The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory, though I don't think I read any this last week at all.

What did you recently finish reading?
I finished the aforementioned Miss Peregrin's Home for Peculiar Children a few days ago. Overall I really liked it.

I also read Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother? As opposed to Fun Home, which is a pretty straightforward memoir about her relationship with her father, this wanders a lot, with probably as much time spent talking about her time in therapy and her readings of various famous psychologists, as well as her wondering how to write this book that she's writing, as there is stuff about her interactions with her mother. But it works really well and I enjoyed it a lot.

I read the first volume of Urasawa Naoki's Billy Bat the night before last. I had been putting off reading it until it was complete, because with this sort of suspenseful story, I knew I didn't want to have to wait between releases. And then the series ended and I loaded it all on my ipad and didn't read it because I don't know why. But now I finally started and it's just as suspenseful as I knew it would be. In fact, I stayed up way too late reading the first volume because I kept telling myself I'd stop with the next chapter and then couldn't!

What do you think you'll read next?
More Billy Bat for sure. Also I definitely plan to get started on A Wrinkle in Time soon, since it is a library book and I can't let it sit forever (though at least as an older book it's four weeks instead of two; but I imagine with people wanting to read it because of the upcoming movie, copies might be more in demand than they normally would be and I can't count on being able to renew it if I don't finish before the due date).

Orbit US turns 10

Jul. 27th, 2017 03:56 pm
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll



Over the last decade, Orbit US, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, has quickly established itself as one of the premiere publishers of science fiction and fantasy, and a reliable source for everything from innovative works of science fiction to blockbuster epic fantasies. To celebrate the milestone, a selection of landmark Orbit titles is currently available on Nook for just $2.99 each, but we wanted to do more than point you toward some great titles, so we asked Orbit’s publisher, Tim Holman, to share a bit of history. Below his comments, you’ll find a timeline of key dates in Orbit’s history.

More here

I am diva, see me strop

Jul. 27th, 2017 07:45 pm
oursin: Photograph of a spiny sea urchin (Spiny sea urchin)
[personal profile] oursin

No, really, if you return to me a copy-edited article for my attention, and mention that you have made changes to the text (as well as changing the title to one that I think is misleading), please to be sending it to me with your changes tracked and marked up.

For if you are going to insult my ability to write English prose, I think I should be able to see how you have 'improved' my text without having to compare it line by line with the text I sent you.

I may possibly have dumped my bibliography on this editor's head...

Kaunas

Jul. 27th, 2017 09:15 pm
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
[personal profile] sabotabby
I meant for this to be two separate posts: one for the fun stuff, one for the Ninth Fort, which is the most harrowing, emotionally devastating place I have visited since Buchenwald. But of course image hosting isn't cooperating, so unfortunately at the moment, if you want to see the fun pictures, you will also have to see the depressing pictures (which I promise aren't actually that bad, as I only really took exterior shots that are only disturbing if you know the context). This said, here is the gallery, and content/trigger warning for some of the photos being of a place where 30,000-50,000 people were murdered.

(Of course, I have no idea if you can even view the photos. I really need to work out my image hosting issues. Flickr is an impossibility at the moment while I'm out of Canada.)

Anyway! I'm sure somewhere in your mind, you were wondering about the fact that I keep posting pictures of pretty buildings and lovely, walkable cities. Admit it--you expected a bit more Soviet brutalist and you were wondering where it was. The answer is that it's all in Kaunas. Kaunas does have a cute Old Town but the stuff we wanted to see wasn't there, and where we're staying is pure 1960s poured cement. I will admit a slight fondness for it, though I wouldn't want to live there.

Our first stop was the Devil's Museum, which is exactly what it says on the tin. It's an excellent collection of devils of all sorts. Our one criticism is that the gift shop was missing some obvious opportunities as it practically didn't exist.

Then we went across the street to the museum of M. K. Ciurlionis, a Symbolist artist and composer. Cool, not the most exciting, but some lovely work.

We also rode a funicular, which is kind of like an amusement ride except not very good. But it's one of my favourite words now.

The main event was going about a half-hour outside town to the Ninth Fort. It's an early 20th century fort that became a hard labour camp, then a transfer point for deportations to Siberia during the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania, then basically a killing field under the Nazis. The second time the Soviets occupied the country, they turned it into a vast and ghastly monument to the victims of fascism, which subsequently was expanded to include evidence of their own crimes after Lithuania's independence.

I can't really describe it to you properly. Unless you've been in the remnants of a concentration camp or similar, you won't be able to get what it's like to stand in a place that is well and truly haunted by the unquiet dead. The museum consists of one building that's an overview of the atrocities committed on the premises, but focusing mainly on the Soviet occupation, several vast, giant sculptures and plaques describing the Nazi massacres, and the fort itself, which shows prison cells, interrogation rooms, a recreation of a Kaunas Ghetto house, and informational rooms with the requisite belongings of the victims. It's cold, and damp, and good luck ever not feeling that bone-deep chill again. Also, this is why we don't fucking compromise with fascists, okay?

Anyway we coped really well after, which is to say I had 1/3 of a bottle of wine and I'm just about shaking history from my head. Tomorrow it's back to Kiev, and then home.

pandapotamus

Jul. 27th, 2017 11:54 am
readinggeek451: (square of the hippopotamus)
[personal profile] readinggeek451
I made a pandapotamus! (Hippopandamus might be better, but I thought of the other name first and can't make the switch.)

hippo in panda colors

It's about 18" long and took a *lot* of stuffing to fill.

NIF: eps 17-19 the hiltless knives

Jul. 27th, 2017 08:55 am
sartorias: Mei Changs (MC)
[personal profile] sartorias
There is plenty of action in these three episodes, but what really strikes me is the emotional complexity. More is revealed about the past, which reverberates deeply in the present day--these are the hiltless knives, memory, regret, emotion made exponentially intense by being hidden. There are confrontations that demonstrate these hiltless knives, beautifully broken up by hilarious episodes: there is no lugubrious all grim all the time.

Altogether the emotional rollercoaster is exhilarating, and it shore doesn’t hurt that everyone, and everything, is so very beautiful.

Read more... )

Like I Said, Not dying

Jul. 27th, 2017 09:10 am
lydy: (Default)
[personal profile] lydy
Well, at least, probably not.  

The doctor confirmed that PVCs are a benign arrhythmia.  I didn't happen to be having any when I saw him.  Blood pressure just fine, heart rate just fine.  12- lead EKG pretty fine.  There's a non-specific abnormality of the T-wave.  These things happen.  He agreed that the tightness in my chest and my shortness of breath were probably respectively muscular and asthma.  On the other hand, he also agreed that 6 to 12 PVCs a minute was a lot, and that maybe we should do some tests.

As expected, they want to do a Holter monitor (only 24 hours), and a stress test.  I am grateful he decided on the Dobutamine stress test, rather than the treadmill one.  He says that it will give a better picture of my heart.  It is also unlikely to give me an asthma attack, unlike the treadmill one.  Both are scheduled for a week from today.   

He also referred me to a tool to help monitor and adjust my drinking.  I know I drink more than I should.  I am also uninterested in becoming a teetotaler.  He said that AA has one model of dealing with problem drinking, but it doesn't really apply to everyone.  We bonded over the issue.  The site he recommends is Drinkaware, which is based in the UK.  They evidently have a nifty app for your phone...which is not available in the US.  WTF?  There's a website, and I'm exploring it now.  I've been bitching for years that I wanted some tools to help me moderate my drinking, but the only things I ever found were total abstinence sites.  So, here's a tool.  I hope it will help.  

Follow-up in two weeks to make sure that I'm really not dying.

All in all, a short, cheerful, useful encounter, with expected outcomes and an actually helpful conversation about one area of my life that I do need to do some work on.  

Oh, and he also doesn't think that Allegra is likely to be causing my PVCs, nor does he think I drink too much coffee.  I suggested, and he concurs, that the reason I'm seeing more PVCs between four and six in the morning is because that's my down time, and I'm just more aware of them.  

So, yay for good stuff.  Yay for being unlikely to drop dead.  
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
[personal profile] jimhines

Doctor to Dragons - CoverI met G. Scott Huggins almost twenty years ago. We were both published in Writers of the Future XV, and we ended up in a writing group together for several years. He was one of the folks who helped me grow and improve as an author. I published one of his stories in Heroes in Training a while back.

In April of this year, his humorous fantasy novelette A Doctor to Dragons [Amazon | B&N] came out.

I love the premise and setup. Dr. James DeGrande is a veterinarian in a land that’s been taken over by a Dark Lord, and the whole thing is written with a kind of tongue-in-cheek humor. The book is made up of several distinct but related stories, showing the growth of James and his partnership with his assistant Harriet (a physically disabled almost-witch).

Here’s part of the publisher’s official description:

Everyone says it was better in the Good Old Days. Before the Dark Lord covered the land in His Second Darkness.

As far as I can tell, it wasn’t that much better. Even then, everyone cheered the heroes who rode unicorns into combat against dragons, but no one ever remembered who treated the unicorns’ phosphine burns afterward. Of course, that was when dragons were something to be killed. Today I have to save one. Know what fewmets are? No? Then make a sacrifice of thanks right now to whatever gods you worship, because today I have to figure a way to get them flowing back out of the Dark Lord’s favorite dragon. Yeah, from the other end. And that’s just my most illustrious client. I’ve got orcs and trolls who might eat me and dark elf barons who might sue me if their bloodhawks and chimeras don’t pull through. And that doesn’t even consider the possibility that the old bag with the basilisk might show up.

The only thing that’s gone right this evening is finding Harriet to be my veterinary assistant. She’s almost a witch, which just might save us both. If we don’t get each other killed first.

I appreciate writers who take traditional fantasy and flip things around to present a different perspective. Just as I enjoy clever protagonists, like James and Harriet. (And while this may come as a shock, I also like fantasy that tries to have fun.)

There’s one bit I need to talk about. About 80% of the way into the book, we meet Countess Elspeth Bathetique, an incredibly neglectful pet owner and generally unpleasant person, and we get this exchange:

“Dammit, my lady, you’re not even a vampire!”

“How… how dare you? I identify as a vampire, you filth! You cannot dream of the tragic destiny which is ours!”

“What? Suffering from vitamin deficiency, malnutrition, keeping out of the sun for no damn reason, and torturing your poor pet basilisk? If I dreamed of that, I’d seek clerical help!”

I don’t believe it was intentional, but seeing language generally used by transgender people played for laughs by a wannabe vampire threw me right out of the story. I emailed and chatted with Scott, who confirmed that wasn’t the intention. The Countess was meant to be a darker take on Terry Pratchett’s Doreen Winkings. But he said he understood how I or others might read it the way I did.

One of my favorite parts of these stories are the veterinary details. Huggins’ wife is a veterinarian, and there’s a sense of real truth to the protagonist’s frustration with neglectful pet owners and the various challenges of keeping all these magical animals healthy. It helps to ground the book and acts as a nice counter to the humor.

I couldn’t find an excerpt online, but there’s a promo video on YouTube.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Not a new thing, and not that easy

Jul. 27th, 2017 01:46 pm
oursin: Illustration from the Kipling story: mongoose on desk with inkwell and papers (mongoose)
[personal profile] oursin

While I was away I noticed on, I think, Twitter, which I was scrolling through while waiting at a bus stop/train station/whatever, somebody getting into a froth over somebody deleting their tweets upon mature reflection, and how this was The Death of History.

To which my own reactions were:

a) Archivists have been thinking about the problems posed by the fragility of the digital record for a good couple of decades plus, this is not something no-one has noticed before. (Wasn't the Library of Congress archiving Twitter, and presumably there are some measures against tampering, if so? - hah, I see that there have been problems of processing and it's not actually accessible, or wasn't as at last year.)

b) Quite apart from the dangers of fire, flood and insect or animal depredation to which records in the more traditional forms have been exposed, there has been a fair amount of deliberate curating of the record over the centuries, by deliberate destruction or just careful concealment (whether it's the Foreign Office secret archive or the concealment of Turner's erotic drawings under a misleading file title).

c) While you can delete or destroy a particular record, you cannot always get rid of the information that it did exist - presumably it was other people commenting on the now-deleted tweets or retweeting them that led to the decision to delete them, but that doesn't eradicate the fact of their existence. This may even draw attention to the deleted record: this is why when I was still being an archivist we used to persuade donors not to ask for closures apart from those mandated by Data Protection, because the idea that something is *CLOSED* causes some people's ears to prick up in a supposition that there will be *HIDDEN SECRETS* (this was very, very, seldom the case).

I might also invoke the case that came up in Prince of Tricksters, where Netley Lucas under one of his identities was communicating with different officials and departments, possibly, it is suggested, as a means to confuse his trail: but, due to the growth of bureaucracy, as well as the social networks they belonged to, could also communicate among one another to discover that this was all the same guy.

There is also the phenomenon that I have mentioned to researchers, that yes [organisations of a certain ideological bent] have been very coy about placing their archives anywhere where people might do research in them; BUT the organisations and people they were against kept tabs on their activities, collected their literature, etc.

Also that if person/organisation's own papers do not survive, you can find out a good deal from the surviving records of those they interacted with.

(no subject)

Jul. 27th, 2017 07:17 am
sheafrotherdon: (Default)
[personal profile] sheafrotherdon
Friends, I'm thinking of starting up a collection on AO3 where we can all write first kisses of our favorite fandom pairings (or threesomes, or more) in much the same vein as [community profile] mcsmooch back in the day. (How I wish journal comms were still a thing, because that would be so much easier!)

I plan to do some hunting around later today to figure this all out, but if anyone knows of a cheat sheet for how to essentially run a comm through AO3 I would be glad to see it!

More news as I get this going . . .

Dog bites man

Jul. 27th, 2017 05:44 am
supergee: (spiral)
[personal profile] supergee
There’s a new bio of Claude Shannon. The authors inform us that there were great unnoticed contributions to his work by a woman.

Thanx to Metafilter

(no subject)

Jul. 27th, 2017 09:23 am
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
[personal profile] oursin
Happy birthday, [personal profile] fjm and [personal profile] wildroot!

Daily Happiness

Jul. 27th, 2017 12:10 am
torachan: (Default)
[personal profile] torachan
1. Today was one of those days where I was constantly running around the store doing one thing or another. It felt so hectic and I even had to be on the register for a while because someone went home sick, so I thought for sure I'd have to be there until after seven at the least, but I ended up getting everything done by six-thirty.

2. I stayed up way too late last night reading, and then Chloe was being a pest and making noise and keeping me up, so I didn't end up getting much sleep last night, but now I'm super tired and it's only midnight, so I'm going to go to bed in a few minutes and am hopeful that I'll be able to get a good night's sleep tonight. (And I can sleep in tomorrow, too.)

3. Looooooook at this sweet Molly on my desk!

(no subject)

Jul. 26th, 2017 11:51 pm
jhameia: ME! (Default)
[personal profile] jhameia
Nothing much new to report aside from my brain's asinine refusal to produce new words and re-reading old ones instead.

I did apply for the Graywolf internship, sent it off this morning.

This morning I went to Coco's to work, had horrible bowel movements, at the tail end of which Jose called to see if I was down to join a Lugia raid, and of course I was. Four raids in, I've got a Lugia and another Articuno.

Latter half of the day, after a two hour nap (WHY) I started outlining the analysis for the final novel, which I'm excited about. I'm gonna sleep with the CPAP tonight and see if I can concentrate better tomorrow. The deadline looms. I'm vaguely terrified.

The walk up and down Blaine Street feels shorter, although I'm sure it is still taking me the same amount of time (I walked out around 8.30 and got back around 10; 1 and a half hours seems pretty normal for me on that stretch). This makes me wonder if I should try to up my game a little and do a little jog instead of brisk walking. It is kind of harder to play Pokemon Go while jogging though.

ETA: OH! My new phone arrived! I still can't get the SIM cards out of my Xiaomi because I don't have a pin strong enough (I don't really have any earring studs I'm willing to sacrifice) but it's here!

The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells

Jul. 26th, 2017 03:06 pm
rushthatspeaks: (vriska: consider your question)
[personal profile] rushthatspeaks
I haven't reviewed anything here in far, far too long, and I certainly didn't think this book would be the thing to push me into wanting to write something. However. At Readercon, I picked up the new collection of Ursula K. Le Guin essays, Words Are My Matter, of which this is not a review because I am nowhere near finishing it, and I noticed that there are three separate essays on H. G. Wells. Three! This is not unique, in the structure of the book-- there are also three separate essays on José Saramago-- but that makes more sense to me, because Saramago, you know, Nobel laureate, relatively recent death, work in an interesting position vis-à-vis speculative fiction as a genre, there are some conversations to be had there that seem very much in Le Guin's chosen critical milieu. But H. G. Wells! Hasn't everything been said already?

Then it occurred to me that I, personally, had not read any Wells since the age of eight or nine, when I'd read The Time Machine and found it pretty and confusing, and then hit The War of the Worlds and found it extremely upsetting and went away again. So I went back. The Time Machine is indeed very pretty, though far less confusing to an older person. The Island of Dr. Moreau turned out to be the most vicious piece of theological criticism I have encountered in years, and an actual novel with things like character dimensionality to boot, as well as such an obvious influence on Lovecraft that I was shocked I hadn't heard that mentioned before. And then I got to The War of the Worlds.

It turns out the reason I found it very upsetting at eight or nine was because it is very upsetting, and at that age I had no context for or capacity to handle the ways in which it is upsetting.

We all know the basic plot: Martians invade, humans are technologically overpowered and defeated, Martians eventually drop dead because of Earth's microbiota. The novel came out in 1898, after having been serialized the year before, and has been dramatized and redramatized and ripped off and remade so often and so thoroughly that it has entered the collective unconscious.

The original novel, however, is notable in intellectual history not just for the archetype of the merciless and advanced alien invaders, but because it is an ice-cold prevision of the nightmares of the twentieth century. The phrase 'concentration camp' had already been coined, c. late 1860s by the Spanish in Cuba, though it would not become widely known by the English-speaking public until the Boer War, which Wells' novel just predates; that phrase is the only part of the vocabulary of future war to which Wells could have had access, and the phrase does not appear in the novel. Here are some of the concepts that do, without, as yet, any names: Genocide. Total war. Gas attack. Blitzkrieg. Extermination camp. Shellshock/PTSD. (Also, on a slightly different note, airplane.)

Wells' vision of war was ruthless, efficiently technological, distanced from the reader of the time only by the fact that the perpetrators were incomprehensible aliens. But he does not let you rely on the comforting myth that it would take an alien to perpetrate these atrocities, as perhaps the book's worst scene, in terms of sheer grueling terror and pain, is the sequence in which six million people attempt to evacuate London on no notice, with no overall organization, no plans, and the train as the most modern form of transportation. The Martians are miles away from that, literally. The only thing Wells spares you is the actual numbers of the death toll... but you can get an informed idea.

And, just in case you happen to believe that people (as opposed to aliens) are too good at heart for this sort of warfare, this novel is also a savage theological takedown*, in which the idea of humanity as the center of a cosmos created by a benevolent God is repeatedly stomped on by the sheer plausibility of the nightmare, the cold hard logistics of enemy approach + insanely destructive new bombing technology = frantic evacuation and a military rout. The priests and churchmen in War of the Worlds generally go insane**; their philosophical framework has left them ill-equipped to handle the new reality. Wells is displaying humanity as a species of animal, no more nor less privileged existentially than other sorts of animal, who may be treated by a sufficiently technological other animal in the way that humans often treat ants. He explicitly uses ants as the comparison.

This is where I noticed something fascinating. War of the Worlds has the most peculiar version of protagonist-centered morality that I have ever encountered: only the protagonist and his nearest and dearest are allowed to perform moral actions that are not shown in aggregate.

Everyone else either does good as a faceless mass, or neutral-to-evil at close proximity. The military, as a force, is allowed to act against the Martians, which is seen by definition as moral, but they are at a distance from the novel's viewpoint such that they don't emerge as people while they are fighting-- we meet an occasional refugee from a destroyed division, but we don't see people giving orders, taking orders, firing weapons. When the ramship Thunder Child attacks two Martians at close range in order to save shipping in the Channel evacuation-- a sequence distressingly like Dunkirk, only in the opposite direction and sixty years early-- it's one of the few acts of heroism and selflessness in the novel that actually works, and it's the ship personified who takes the action. Here's the middle of the fight:

"She was alive still; the steering gear, it seems, was intact and her engines working. She headed straight for a second Martian, and was within a hundred yards of him when the Heat-Ray came to bear. Then with a violent thud, a blinding flash, her decks, her funnels, leaped upward. The Martian staggered with the violence of her explosion, and in another moment the flaming wreckage, still driving forward with the impetus of its pace, had struck him and crumpled him up like a thing of cardboard."***

Notice how there are no humans, individual or otherwise, even mentioned here. And this is the high point of the book as far as moral action taken, a direct self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. Individual people range from the curate who hears the narrator calling for water "for hours" and doesn't bring him any to the men whom the narrator's brother finds in the process of robbing two ladies and has to fight off at gunpoint. Even most mob action is inimical, including things like the looting of shops and the literal trampling underfoot of the weak.

The narrator and his brother, however, mostly behave as one would hope to behave in a catastrophe. They are constantly picking up strays, helping total strangers pack to evacuate, fighting off muggers, attempting to assist the trampled, sharing their provisions with others, etc.. They are the only people in the book who do this sort of thing-- every other individual (except a couple of the strays, who are there to be rescued and get in the way) is out for themselves and can, at very best, be bought with cash on the barrel at a high price.

Now, it's not that the narrator and his brother are saints. They're fully developed, three-dimensional, relatively decent people. The brother participates in the looting of a bike shop, refuses water to a dying man for fear of putting his own people in danger, and fails to rescue anyone from the relentless trample. The narrator may well kill a man to save his own life, and certainly aids and abets the murder if he does not strike the final blow (it's impossible to find out exactly when the man dies or what specifically killed him).

The odd thing is that nobody else has any of their virtues. No one else is picking up strays; no one who isn't under military orders to do it is knocking on doors to begin the evacuation; no one is giving away food and water; no one except the military is attempting to place themselves between those they love and danger. In short, there is none of the kind of everyday, tiny, sometimes futile heroism that the twentieth century has shown us is almost impossible to beat out of humans entirely.

Now, I think this is intentional, as part of Wells's argument: the Martians have broken the human social order as if it were an anthill, and none of the ants has any idea what to do anymore. It's part of the demystification of humanity's place in the cosmos and the insistence on our nature as intelligent animals.

However, I think it skews the thought experiment in two ways: firstly, the narrator (and the only other POV character, the brother) have to be decent enough that we as readers are willing to read a book from their perspectives, and in 1898 that was harder than it is now. "Probably murdered somebody who wasn't a villain or an enemy combatant, and is never punished for it in any way except by vague remorse" is a pretty radical stance for a first-person narrator in an English novel of that period, and Wells has to talk us round into considering this a sympathetic or at least justifiable stance by having the narrator be in most other ways a flat-out hero. I don't think this does too much damage to his argument, as the resemblance of the narrator to other hero-types of the period makes Wells's more radical premises easier to communicate than they would otherwise be. It's not the presence of altruism in the narrator that is the major way the experiment is skewed.

It's the absence of altruism in others, as shown by the work of Rebecca Solnit, the memoirs of Primo Levi, the oral histories of the camp survivors of several cultures: one reason The War of the Worlds is so very upsetting is that its events are more unmitigatedly depressing than the same circumstances would be in real life. One of the wisest men of the twentieth century, Fred Rogers, said that in tough situations you should look for the helpers (and somewhere elsenet I saw the corollary, which I think Mr. Rogers considered implicit but which could use unpacking anyway, that if you cannot find them, the helpers had better be you). In The War of the Worlds there are no helpers at all, except what little the narrator and his brother can manage. We have actual science now about the way people form communities in catastrophe; we have innumerable anecdotes from the worst places and times in the world about those who in small ways, quietly, do what they can for others with what they have. It's not that Wells was wrong about us being animals, about trying to knock us off the pedestal that insists that everything was made for humanity and we are the only important beings. It's that while we are a social animal, we are a social animal on the micro-level as well as on the macro, and we have now seen that the micro-level does not have to be limited to immediate biological family, because the bonds of catastrophe can cause, and in fact seem to produce, some amount, tiny though it may be, of genuinely altruistic behavior.

When I happened to say to [personal profile] nineweaving that I was in the middle of a Wells re/read, she promptly replied with a couplet from a comic verse she had memorized as a child: "H. G. Wells / Creates new hells."

Which is true. His Martian invasion, the twentieth century through a glass darkly, is right up there on the list of the most nihilistic things I've ever read, not because of the Martians, but because none of the humans are outright villains. Some of them are insane, and some are annoying, and many are behaving in ways unconducive to long-term survival, and all of them are terrified; but you believe in them not only as individuals but as a plausible set of people for the narrator to run into in the middle of a war. It's only after thinking about it for quite a while afterwards that I noticed how neatly Wells had removed the capacity for altruism from his secondary characters. The Martians are frightening and cool and interesting (and clearly described as being drawn by H. R. Giger, which has not made it into any of the adaptations I've seen), but I think one reason this particular nightmare has lasted so long and clung so thoroughly in the back of our heads is that it would take recreating these terrible catastrophes in almost every particular to prove him wrong about the essentials of human nature and the ways people would behave in these circumstances. That's part of the book's appalling genius.

The thing is, though-- we did.

And he is.



* albeit not as much of one as Moreau, which is saying something

** that classical nineteenth-century insanity in which they rant and rave and chew the furniture, i.e. nothing you can find in the DSM, and therefore I just use 'insane' as I am not sure there is a less aggravating descriptor for this particular literary trope

*** Via Project Gutenberg's HTML copy

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