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Being unable to pass a law against something that the state can’t turn against you doesn’t make that thing not wrong.


In 1964, Nikolai Kardashev, an astrophysicist involved with the Soviet SETI effort, devised the Kardashev scale: a method of measuring, on a cosmic scale, a civilization’s technological advancement based on the amount of usable energy that civilization has at its disposal.

A Kardashev Type I civilization has at its disposal all of the energy that impinges on its home planet. Using an equation suggested by Carl Sagan, humanity could be rated as a Type .7, as of the 1970s.

Not much has changed in forty years. On a cosmic scale.

A Type II civilization is any civilization capable of harnessing the total energy output of its home star. If we were to unravel the clouds of Jupiter, for instance, we could spin a globular shell one astronomical unit in radius that would be five meters thick, and trap every erg the sun beamed forth thereafter.

A rigid sphere that large would require materials far stronger than any currently known, of course. We might, instead, use swarms of orbiting solar panels to sop it up.

A Type III civilization is any civilization in possession of energy on the scale of its home galaxy. —Those civilizations which originate in dwarf galaxies or irregular clusters are at a siginificant advantage, here.

Type IV civilizations arbitrage speculative crises in what are to them immaterial commodities, selling short whole Local Groups. They can be detected by sudden changes in the redshift values of various economic indices.

Type V civilizations subsist entirely on the notional energy of Type I civilizations, scheming to become Type IIs. (Civilizations of Type II or better have mastered the art of radiating notional energies at frequencies too low to be heard.)

Type VI civilizations are indistinguishable from nature, and spend their time dreaming of butterflies, or are themselves butterfly-dreams—or the nearest local equivalent, of course.

(Nothing is known of Type VII civilizations. It is best not to consider them.)

When you finally come to understand dark matter, you will have the merest glimpse of the capabilities of a Type VIII civilization.

A Type IX civilization is any civilization that can successfully conceive of a Type X.

Strong female characters.

So Taran is, of course, named for a certain Assistant Pig-Keeper, from the Lloyd Alexander books that were important to both me and Jenn growing up. —It’s not the only reason she’s named Taran, but it’s the first and foremost.

You should also realize that she’s a huge fan of Batman, mostly because of the Brave and the Bold cartoons she’s seen. —She knows from Spider-Man and Wonder Woman and the Tiny Titans are a perennial fave (“Aw, yeah,” she says feistily, and one’s heart swells), and she’s already mastered certain arcana of these proprietary, persistent large-scale popular fictions that I never knew, but it’s Batman that’s captured her heart more than anyone else; go figure. (Her two imaginary friends currently—entirely imaginary, as opposed to the complex society of ponies and fairies and stuffed animals she oversees from the throne of her bed—the two imaginary friends most likely to show up these days are Batman and Moomintroll, which makes sometimes for interesting arguments in the car.) —Being such a fan of Batman, and dealing as she is with certain intimidating big-person tasks as potty-training and such, she’s come up with an alternate persona: Batmangirl (as distinctly opposed, you must understand, to Batgirl)—whenever she feels called upon to dig deep and do the right thing, she’ll puff up and proclaim: I’m not a little girl! I’m not Taran Jack! I’m Batmangirl!

It is solemnly agreed amongst all of us that Batmangirl would never pee her pants. As a for instance.

Now, Taran is aware of the books from which she got her name; once or twice I’ve read the first chapter to her, but that was back before she was tracking much of anything that didn’t have many or any pictures. But ever since the Moomin books went over as well as they did, she’s been more adventuresome about longish chapter books as read-aloud material at bedtime. (The Very Persistent Gappers of Fripp is another of her favorites.)

So the other night she pulls the Book of Three off the shelf and looks at the cover—

The Book of Three.

—and says, this is about me.

And I (solemnly) agreed: yes, it is. This is the book about Taran.

That’s not Taran, she said, suddenly, pointing at Taran in the ragged tunic, the Prince Valiant bob, brandishing a dagger so bravely against the Horned King. —That’s Batmangirl, she said. She thrust the book at me. —Read it, she said. Read to me about Batmangirl.

So I did.

Batmangirl wanted to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of her education, decided on horseshoes. And so it had been horseshoes all morning long. Batmangirl’s arms ached, soot blackened her face. At last she dropped the hammer and turned to Coll, who was watching her critically…

(I’ve genderflopped books before, like Yolen’s and Teague’s dinosaur picturebooks, where the fact the dinosaur’s always a boy gets slightly in the way of reader-identification for those not so much; this still felt—different. Further bulletins etc.)

Pareidolic purple car.

But I can tell you anyhow

I used to drive back and forth to Seattle a lot more than I do now. And every now and then, I’d see one: a white, late-model sedan, riding low in the back like something’s heavy in the trunk, driven by an elderly couple, both of them wearing those bulky black protective sunglasses that wrap around half your face. Sometimes there’d be another elderly couple in the back seat. The men were always wearing Kangol caps.

One trip, I saw three. Different cars, I remember that. And anyway they’re always driving under the speed limit. I was always passing them.

This was all some time ago. I don’t drive up to Seattle and back nearly so often anymore.

Thinking about it, they were always headed south.

I saw another one today, is the point, between Portland and Salem: white, late-model, riding low in the back. Headed south. I was passing on the right, a couple lanes over, headed for an exit; a semi drifted between us before whoever was in the passenger seat could look over in my direction. So I don’t know if they were wearing the glasses, or the hat.

I’d rather see than be one

An elegantly modest proposal.

First, from the Rolling Stone article everyone is reading:

We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.
Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically aboveground—it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide—those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.
If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst—we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet—but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.

Next, from a Guardian article on James Henry’s study, The Price of Offshore Revisited:

Despite the professed determination of the G20 group of leading economies to tackle tax secrecy, investors in scores of countries—including the US and the UK—are still able to hide some or all of their assets from the taxman.
“This offshore economy is large enough to have a major impact on estimates of inequality of wealth and income; on estimates of national income and debt ratios; and—most importantly—to have very significant negative impacts on the domestic tax bases of ‘source’ countries,” Henry says.
Using the BIS’s measure of “offshore deposits”—cash held outside the depositor’s home country—and scaling it up according to the proportion of their portfolio large investors usually hold in cash, he estimates that between $21tn (£13tn) and $32tn (£20tn) in financial assets has been hidden from the world’s tax authorities.

The math is ineluctable, isn’t it. —Desperate times call for those most basic of government functions.

(Hell, considering how many of the super-rich doubtless depend on the value of the carbon on the books, it’s not even redistribution, per se: penalize Peter to pay Peter to keep Peter from roasting, drowning, starving Paul…)

That mighty crash? The Overton window just fell off the dextral end of the discourse.

All electoral polls in the United States should now begin tracking three sets of numbers: all respondents; likely voters; those likely to be allowed to vote by Republicans.


All mysteries need them; all conspiracies shed them; all intrusions follow them, down and in to the heart of the labyrinth:

Lavie Tidhar’s notes toward a working definition of steampunk, most notably his point that “the underlying theme of all fiction within the Steampunk sphere resorts to that moment whereby technology transcends understanding and becomes, for all intents and purposes, magical.”

That steampunk is the fantasy to urban fantasy’s SF.

This tweet:

The time my mother slapped me.

And the time—roughly contemporary? Let’s say it was—in physics class, when we were doing these basic (very basic) labs on probability, and I had a little handheld pachinko machine? With a bunch of balls, and evenly spaced rods, and stalls at the bottom? And you tilt it down, and all the balls roll to the top, and you tilt it back, and they come cascading down, and hit the rods, and either bounce left or right, and in the end you’ve got this lovely little bell curve of balls at the bottom, because law of averages and such most balls bounce left, then right, then left, or some combination thereof, and end up in the middle? And only a few go left-left-left-left, or right-right-right-right, and end up on either end? —Anyway, it’s my turn, so I tilt it down, then back again, and click-clack-click-clack-click, and wouldn’t you know it, I’ve got an almost perfect reverse bell curve. Towering stacks of balls to the left and right, and almost nothing at all in the middle.

So I go to the teacher running the show and hold it out to him and say, okay, now what, smart guy? (“If it fails to agree, under novel experiments or with refined measuring techniques, it is not said that one should not be happy.”)

And the teacher looks at the little handheld pachinko machine, cocks an eyebrow, tilts it down, tilts it back, clack-click-clack-click-clack. Perfect bell curve.

“There,” he says. “Fixed it for you.”

—And I can’t for the life of me tell you which of those gestures is the argument with the universe, and which the sermon on the way things ought to be, dammit. —And that might just be my problem.

Black hearts and coronets.

Actually as it turns out I quite like rye. Almost as much as bourbon. Let’s say I’m saying this as I pull a small glass bottle with a smaller green label out of the drawer of the desk, and even though the desk is pressboard with chipped veneer like every other desk in the world these days, let’s grant it what little dignity we might, and pretend it’s a well-built thing of solid wood, doing time in anonymously small offices like this for years now.

Are we smoking? Are you smoking? I smoked, back in the day. Not regularly, mind. But every now and then. Cloves, mostly. —I know, I know. Let’s say I’m smoking, anyway. Adds to the atmosphere. Where were we? Rye whiskey, right. I actually like it, I’m saying, as I pour from the bottle into a couple of plain white paper cups that I, uh, pulled out of another desk drawer when we weren’t paying attention. Don’t know how it got such a reputation as rot-gut. Is it really such an acquired taste?

Maybe it’s just hard to make well, and bad rye’s so much worse than bad scotch or bad bourbon.

Anyway. You want some ice? It’s in the bucket on the credenza there. —Chin-chin.

There’s no clear way into this or out of it, as usual: self-organizing emergent structures! Rhizomatic epiphenomena! Of which what’s past is prologue, yes, but the past, man, the past ain’t dead, it ain’t even past! Now is all we have; everything that happens will happen on the Day of Nine Dogs; we are always returning, stately, plump, to begin once more again: never be closing, always be initiate, if you look around the table and you can’t spot the Secret Masters, then they’re you. Congratulations! —Ah, God. Sorry about that. You pull on one damn thing a little too hard and something else squirts out like that and well you see what I mean. No clear way in, no clear way out. It’s all still of a piece with the Great Work, and those turtles that go all the way down.

What I should have said, and this will probably come up in greater detail soon enough, if later, but what I should have said, and this goes back a ways, and I ought to apologize, it’s been hanging out there for a while now, but back when we were tussling over whether noir as an idiom is inimical to SF and fantasy specifically as modes (and it is, it yet is), what I should have said is this:

That noir is essentially a gnostic idiom, and when you’re dealing with secondary worlds as it is you really ought to be inhumanly careful, invoking the Demiurge like that.

Yeah, I dropped the conceit. That’ll happen. Drink up! Keep up!

“Being a fool is more complicated,” [said Belbo.] “It’s a form of social behavior. A fool is one who always talks outside his glass.”

“What do you mean?” [said Casaubon.]

“Like this.” He pointed at the counter near his glass. “He wants to talk about what’s in the glass, but somehow or other he misses. He’s the guy who puts his foot in his mouth. For example, he says how’s your lovely wife to someone whose wife has just left him.”

“Yes, I know a few of those.”

—Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

I can’t remember where I first heard it, or even whether it was first- or second-hand, or rather at one remove, or two, but: when I heard that John M. Ford, who is, you understand, on a very short list along with Samuel Delany and Greer Gilman and Avram Davidson and Ellen Raskin (and some few others), when I first heard that he had a horror of being obvious, I was all over this weird disjointed shiver: no, I said to myself, no, that can’t be right. That’s what people like me are terrified of.

It’s the reason, see, we fools work the metaphoric negative space, and talk about anything at all but what’s inside the glass: we mustn’t be obvious. Which is why you say Hashem instead of Adonai, and write G-d when you mean God: He who pronounces the Name with its own letters has no part in the world to come! Those who know don’t never say, not direct, and them what say ain’t never knowed, and if I tell you direct what it is I’m saying then obviously I don’t know what I’m talking about at all, and the rest thereof one must be silent. —The ineffable ain’t to be effed with. Like the lady says, as soon as you say it out loud they will leave you.

But there, see? Once more I’m talking outside the glass. Or paper cup, I mean. It’s utterly empty, isn’t it. No whiskey there at all.

Did you already drink it down? Want some more?

As simply and as plainly as possible, then, and with as much clarity as I might muster:

Therefore, then, urban fantasy is functionally and structurally inimical to the ineffable, the numinous, to magic, to, well, fantasy; is, in point of fact, that singular vulture Poe mistook for science, glowering at us all from the rim of a bone-dry glass.

Speaking of which—but look! There was less in the bottle than I’d thought. Hang on, I’m sure there’s another in here somewhere… [sound of drawer opening, rattle of lone pencil rolling along the otherwise empty bottom]

“Fools are in great demand, especially on social occasions. They embarrass everyone but provide material for conversation. In their positive form, they become diplomats. Talking outside the glass when someone else blunders helps to change the subject. But fools don’t interest us, either. They’re never creative, their talent is all second-hand, so they don’t submit manuscripts to publishers. Fools don’t claim that cats bark, but they talk about cats when everyone else is talking about dogs. They offend all the rules of conversation, and when they really offend, they’re magnificent. It’s a dying breed, the embodiment of all the bourgeois virtues. What they really need is a Verdurin salon or even a chez Guermantes. Do you students still read such things?”


Homiletic truths hard-won through too much wasted effort:

It is easier to clean the kitchen if you keep the kitchen clean. —There is something deeply unfair about this fact.

Nothing is hidden from you that you cannot see with your own eyes.

24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn nor wives, and they are odorous and vile. Of how much greater value are you than these wretched birds! 25 You should be worried about your appearance, that people do not take you for a raven, lest you are cast out into the fields. 26 If then you are not cast out into the fields with the ravens, you have pleased your Father in Heaven. 27 Consider the lilies! They neither toil nor spin, and so I tell you, their life is but a season, and they have no wives. Solomon had many wives, and in his glory was arrayed in garments finer than any lily of the field! 28 They are but meager grasses, fit only to be thrown into the oven, but you are precious to your Father in Heaven and your prayers have brought you great wealth. 29 In striving for what you will eat and what you will drink, pray steadfastly, and your Father will give you these things.

Last summer, Adam Kotsko went on a bit of a Twitter-tear as he is wont, cheekily parablizing the global financial crisis; his colleague, David Weasley, was then inspired to share Nate Dannison’s “National Gospel of Liberty”:

Parable of the Wealthy Fool

13 One of the wealthy men who had gathered said to him, Sir, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me. 14 But he said to him, Foolish coward! Can you not work for yourself? 15 Do you not see those around you, who have prayed steadfastly and have built up great stores? 16 And he said to them, Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of laziness, for one’s life consists of the abundance of his possessions. 17 Then he told them a parable: The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, What should I do, for I have no more room to store my crops? 18 Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods and my wives. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, for God has blessed you with riches. 20 But God said to him, You fool! This very night you will be blessed with additional riches. And the barns you have prepared, they are not large enough. 21 So it is with those who do not build enough barns to store all the treasures that God has blessed them with.

Of this effort Kotsko said, “I have no doubt that if Nate rewrote the entire Bible along these lines, it would quickly replace the original version in the world’s affection,” but I fear in this expectation he proved to be no less foolish than the wealthy fool, his snugly satisfactory barns nowhere near enough to store the riches laid up for us all:

There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning are, in increasing amount:

  • lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
  • lack of precision in modern language
  • translation bias, mainly of the liberal kind, in converting the original language to the modern one.
Experts in ancient languages are helpful in reducing the first type of error above, which is a vanishing source of error as scholarship advances understanding. English language linguists are helpful in reducing the second type of error, which also decreases due to an increasing vocabulary. But the third—and largest—source of translation error requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate.[3]

As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:[4]

  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias. For example, the Living Bible translation has liberal evolutionary bias;[5] the widely used NIV translation has a pro-abortion bias.[6]
  2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other feminist distortions; preserve many references to the unborn child (the NIV deletes these)
  3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity[7]; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[8]
  4. Utilize Terms which better capture original intent: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent;[9] Defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words that have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.
  5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction[10] by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”;[11] using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census
  6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
  7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
  8. Exclude Later-Inserted Inauthentic Passages: excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, such as the adulteress story
  9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
  10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”
Thus, a project has begun among members of Conservapedia to translate the Bible in accordance with these principles. The translated Bible can be found here.

It could do no harm and it most certainly could do much good.”

Our ceremonial innocence.

“…I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no ‘two evils’ exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say. There is no third party. On the Presidential ballot in a few states (seventeen in ____), a ‘Socialist’ Party will appear. Few will hear its appeal because it will have almost no opportunity to take part in the campaign and explain its platform. If a voter organizes or advocates a real third-party movement, he may be accused of seeking to overthrow this government by ‘force and violence.’ Anything he advocates by way of significant reform will be called ‘Communist’ and will of necessity be Communist in the sense that it must advocate such things as government ownership of the means of production; government in business; the limitation of private profit; social medicine, government housing and federal aid to education; the total abolition of race bias; and the welfare state. These things are on every Communist program; these things are the aim of socialism. Any American who advocates them today, no matter how sincerely, stands in danger of losing his job, surrendering his social status and perhaps landing in jail. The witnesses against him may be liars or insane or criminals. These witnesses need give no proof for their charges and may not even be known or appear in person. They may be in the pay of the United States Government. ADAs and ‘Liberals’ are not third parties; they seek to act as tails to kites. But since the kites are self-propelled and radar-controlled, tails are quite superfluous and rather silly.” —W.E.B. Dubois

You know it when you see it…

This is some of the most beautiful pornography I think I’ve ever seen:

Perfectly SFW, but people will ask questions if they see it on your screen.

Pushing the kettle too far.

Muzzy-headed, bleary-thunked, pre-coffee. Awoken by the yowling feed-me cats from a half-dream, half-Gedankenexperiment: an unknown dignitary (perhaps a FIRE executive) was tweeting snapshots of their 12-course dinner from a trendy SoHo hotspot (Toronto was rather obviously standing in for New York). A free-speech zone had been barricaded off for protests six blocks or so uptown, in the nearest available public open space; anyone caught on the streets around the restaurant by the dignitary’s security cordon was being pre-emptively detained. —Unless, of course, you’d submitted yourself already to background and credit checks (the results keyed to your genome through Xe Monsanto’s patented Trust But Verify® process) and were paying the yearly subscription fee, and so could show the cops your Presumed Innocent® citizen’s ID card—

The tatpuruṣa obverse.

Noted for the commonplace book:

Work without wealth.
Conscience without pleasure.
Character without knowledge.
Morality without commerce.
Humanity without science.
Sacrifice without worship.
Principles without politics.

Against grit.

It’s not the grit, goddammit. It’s the grain.

It was the io9 headline that got to me: “The Unfulfilled Promise of Gritty Space Opera.” It’s not the basic premise of the article, no; there was something special going on in Firefly and the Battlestar reboot that just isn’t anymore—though I’d also include Cowboy Bebop, and Farscape on a good day (both of which are conspicuous in their absence), and not so much Space Cowboys or Solaris; I think the desire to see it as a discrete movement led to some distortion in selecting who was in, and why. I mean the indisputable wellspring of all this stuff for God’s sake is Alien, which is nowhere to seen.

But what was going on and what they have in common isn’t for fuck’s sake grit.

It probably doesn’t help that I’ve been kicking around the edges of the always brewing but lately intensifying backlash against the grimdark school of gritty epic fantasy? But it certainly doesn’t help that I’ve been reading comics ever since everybody with a pen and a whole lot of ink thought the thing that made Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen great was the fuckin’ grit, man. And we had grim ’n’ gritty superheroes and the joycore backlash and the relapses and the espionage crossbleeds and the X-Men in black leather and then back in the goofy costumes again and far too many people thinking that all they had to do to give us good comics (or epics, or science fiction, or procedurals, or, or, or) was to put in some grit or take the grit out again.

Fuck the grit. It isn’t the grit. The grit is nothing but an epiphenomenon.

“I realize there’s a particular type of comic I love that doesn’t come along too often,” said Shænon Garrity, and she said it about Dicebox, yeah, so sue me, “although it should. It’s science fiction or fantasy, preferably the former, with a focus on the ordinary lives of not-quite-ordinary people. There’s world-building, but it’s about society more than technology. The art is filled with interesting details.”

Botswana Beast said, “there was a final sense, to me, of new pathways, new vents in the medium and in the SF genre (which is so often entirely reliant on high-concept, but perhaps given we now live in a world of constant high-concept, it is perhaps time to read more humanised takes on such).” —And yes, he said it about Dicebox, what do you want from me?

There was also this brief Twitter conversation, on the subject of road trips, and car payments and water bills, and how maybe a dose of the latter might help the former.

As, you understand, some recent for instances.

The thing that movies and to a greater extent television and to a much greater extent comics and games can all do that prose can’t is throw in incidental detail, all of them, the best of them stuffing their multitracks with sights and sounds and physical sensations and we’re working I’m sure on smells God help us, while prose plods along laying one word down after another on its single track. —The thing of it is you need details to fill up those multiple tracks. Star Trek comes out swinging in the sixties to imagine the wonderful world of the future and can barely imagine past the walls of a spaceship. You want food? You go to a hole in the wall and ask for whatever you want. You want aliens? Slap some paint on their faces and chalk a moral caption on the sleeves of their jackets, we’ve got shots to set up. —But by virtue of longevity if nothing else details accreted, as fans and writers and producers paid attention to the world and its ragtag, hotchpotch consistency; by the time Next Generation came out, there was something of a there there, though you’re still going to the wall to ask for your tea, and when it comes time to calibrate the framminjammer you’re just typing rapidly on glass screens and saying what you’re doing, out loud, because who has time to figure out what that would really look like, doing something like that? Write down some technobabble and on to the next, there’s models to build.

Contrast that with the opening of Alien, where they’re all waking up from cold sleep, joshing Altmanly with each other over breakfast, settling into their messy workstations on the bridge and going about their business. The actors, legend says, lived and slept on that set during rehearsals, and it shows. They don’t tell us what they’re doing, they just do it, and there’s a wealth of detail, prickly, sticky, finely grained detail to pick up from what they’re doing, and how.

Or think about the very physical actions that had to be performed in concert in a very real place to turn Serenity around and save them all from the Reavers in the Firefly pilot; think about the toll that’s taken bit by agonizing bit on the pilots and the crew in “33,” to get back to our champions of soi disant grit.

An unreal world, however high-concept, that’s really lived in. —This isn’t the Dogme ’07 of mundane SF, though mundane SF was trying to get there, too. Adventures can happen, oh yes, and not-so-ordinary people can go on them. But we see the how, and the why, and the impact it has, and all the little details accumulate into how life is really lived, somewhere utterly else.

It isn’t the grit. It’s the grain. Fine details, closely observed; not irritants that require an oyster to deliver anything of value.

He does not know whether he is suited for finding out about them.

Franzen is 52. I am 54. Two years would not normally suffice to place the older of the two in the class of REALLY OLD fogeys, as opposed to the class of the merely old—but I am a classicist. No classicist can take this view of the sanctity of print; one mark of the serious scholar is, of course, a preference for the printed text that comes with an apparatus criticus, that is, one which publishes important variants from the manuscript at the foot of the page. Which is to say, of course, that we are trained to be aware of the errors that creep in during transmission; we are trained to regard corrupt texts with horror. And when we are confronted with the process through which a modern text comes to print, we see it as a battle: a battle in which those publishing the book do their best to smuggle corruptions into print, against more or less effective opposition from the person who had the misfortune to write it.” —Helen DeWitt


“The model of irony which Wolff uses in understanding Marx is Socratic irony, which he defines as a statement made with two intended audiences, a naïve audience who assume that Marx intends the literal meaning of the statement, and a sophisticated audience who understand that Marx denies the literal meaning of the statement, and also understand why the naïve audience would be fooled. But this underestimates the extent to which irony is a rhetorical effect, taking the two audiences simply as given; what reason do we have to believe that there is such a naïve audience? The only reason we have to believe in the naïve audience is in the ironic writing itself; indeed, the naïve audience is purely imagined in order to produce the desired effect, in order to stage a confrontation between intention and literal meaning.” —Voyou Désœuvré