Letters Column for Early 2011: The Great Firewall, and Beyond

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The Miller-Urey experiment is one of my favorite[s]
— philomory, on Ink, Ascending

That is a neat experiment! And in fact very relevant to Ink in the underworld. Minister Jof would be pleased.

And that’s saying something!


Dang it, stupid italics. A comment editing feature would be highly appreciated. Ah, well.
— philomory

I’ve got at least one comment with a malformed tag with a similar problem, so I sympathize. Editing, or at least preview.//
— David Goldfarb

Your wish is my command! At least in this respect. I’ve installed Ajax Edit Comments or somesuch. It is a little ugly and that bugs me but if it does not bug you I will leave it. ^_^

I tried to get facebook comments but I needed to link a mobile phone or credit card to my facebook account to get that and, well.


By the way, remember that you have to be reading Nightlights!

Let’s say that you want to donate to me. But you’re broke. Or you have money, but not so much that donating to me makes sense today. Or you don’t want me to get all rich and forget the common people who are my roots. Or you are OK with my forgetting them but you are afraid that I will put on tight shoes over my roots and dance around, crushing the common people to faceless smudge.

Then instead you can spend that energy on going and reading Nightlights, and then telling people about Nightlights!

That’s just great!


You can also post about Hitherby or review Nobilis on DTRPG or Amazon or something, I mean, there’s lots of nice stuff you could be doing.

But the thing is, not only do I love Soula’s work, but if it weren’t for Soula there would be no Hitherby. Period. All my other projects, maybe, if I had different friends—I mean, Soula’s been great to me, but maybe someone else would have been great, instead.

But there would be no Hitherby without her and exactly her. So, you know, go read her awesome serial, Nightlights.


Also, Chibi-Ex!


Wait, so, all this time, he was actually a metaphor for United Refrigeration, Inc.?// I// knew// that company was sketchy! I mean seriously, who unites// refrigerators// except an out-of-touch sky god?//
— Nyren, on Ink, Ascending

If there is love, even refrigerators may be united.

Even their cold hearts may be ignited. Even their clunky bodies may run together in a sunny field.

—Until they are yanked up short by their power cords. And even then!

And even then, if the world is blessed, if this is all not just a vale of frozen tears, if there is that in providence that may let us hope for a miracle, then the extension cords shall untangle and loosen of themselves, and the refrigerators open wide their doors and the light that is inside them shine out beautiful and brilliant in the day

and they unite in that gleaming, blinding radiance as one.

An out-of-touch sky god? He who first dreamed of inappropriate things?

Even Uri can be redeemed, I think, if there is love.


//Menin aeide thea…

I’m not extremely fond of the original (probably due to the circumstances surrounding my reading of it), but I tend to adore people riffing on it.

Liked the thing with Threnody’s hair, and I *love* the way this series keeps doing more and more to make Melanie a fully fledged character.

Felt bad for the Grangler.//
— philomory, on The No-Good Bird

Thank you for your kind words!

The grangler is a bad ghost, I think, but it’s OK to feel bad for anything that’s at its end.


//Here of course it’s “Melaneian aeide thea”, although that doesn’t scan properly. (All three of those words start with short syllables, and you need a long one…)

Now I’ve been trying to compose a first line for that epic but my Greek just isn’t up to it. Maybe you could do something with Μηχαν- for “cunning”.

Is Liril afraid? Last we saw of her, the answer was “no”.//
— David Goldfarb, on The No-Good Bird

I recommend engaging in daring pseudo-Greek. It’s what I’d do if I knew Greek! And everybody should be like me if they can possibly manage it.

//Tina is following Liril and Micah. It occurs to me to wonder whether she knows about recent goings-on at Central. What will happen when she joins up with this army?

And of course Truth Daniels and his companions are the big X-factor here.

(I happened to notice that “Truth Is Not Lost” is tagged “The Lady”, just as is that most enigmatic of entries, “The Stage”. Then again, so is “The Unsubstantiated Assertions Fairy”, for no readily-apparent reason.)

It’s going to be a long week! The joy of having new Hitherby at all is beginning to wear off, and I find myself wanting entries more frequently. Ungrateful of me, I know.//
— David Goldfarb, on The No-Good Bird

I really want to move the story faster but this has been a turbulent year. And this is a difficult story—it’s not like I can just budget an hour or two somewhere and get ahead by an entry. It takes a good block of five days to make serious canon progress, and if I only get four and then a pause and then one you get small loose ends like a harpy wound that doesn’t really do anything. ^_^

Huh, harpies are a kind of no-good bird. That’s funny. Wings that people despise. Just noticed that myself, but it’s totally correct.

Ah, I have just come across an attested word meaning “beloved of the gods”: θεοφιλής…which word, alas, cannot possibly fit into a dactylic line.
— David Goldfarb, on The No-Good Bird

Squeeze harder!

//Actually, now that I think about it, there is precedent for letting the first syllable of a dactyl be short occasionally. With that in mind:

Μηχανοπλεον᾽ ἄειδε θεὰ Μελάνειαν θεοφίλητην

…it’s making up a word (“Μηχανοπλεως”, “full of devices”, for “cunning”), and is twice taking a liberty with the meter as described above, but darn if it isn’t a dactylic hexameter!//
— David Goldfarb, on The No-Good Bird

See? See? That’s David Goldfarb TOTALLY following my wise advice from a few paragraphs back. That’s my acausal beneficent methodology at work!


It occurs to me that this is yet another example of an effective //answer to a question being one that essentially denies the question’s premises, renders it irrelevant.

By effective, I mean that the answer does what the person with the question needs it to do: “Huh?” kept Max out of the Place Without Recourse; “Walk in like you own the place” got him out of it; “That’s not important to me” got Martin out of the Underworld. “It is the elephant” killed the soot-spider and got Melanie out of its web.

It’s interesting, how many of the histories revolve around being stuck, and seemingly how few of the legends do.

(Also it seems a little odd that all the examples above involve people whose names start with M.)//
— David Goldfarb, on What’s Gray and Hurts More Than You Can Imagine?

It’s kind of a Superman and L thing, maybe!

Also I like the letter M. Mmmm, M. M is for merins, myths, and monopoles! M is also the national letter of the Munited States of Mamerica, Zen’s chosen mation, the shining city on a mill. And you know, as much as I like to criticize Mamerican Mexceptionalism, I’ve gotta say, I love me some of my country, mmk?

I think that you’re noticing a real pattern in the questions and answers. I don’t know if it’s the whole story, but it does only make sense—

If you can’t deny the grounds of the question, then you’re stuck in the space of answers it creates. If there’s an answer there, then you can take it, but that answer is easier and less … important than the answers Hitherby tends to care about; a lot of the time, you won’t even notice that there was a meaningful question, struggle, and answer at all.

Some of that is general. Like, Persephone asks the oracle: “How may I be free?”

And the oracle says, “Drink the blood of a man with the secret of the gods.”

And you’re not like, “Oh, wow, there’s an answer that accepts the premises of the question.”

You’re like, “OK, I’d better read on and find out what the heck is going on.”

And if I’m lucky, you’re also going, “That sounds cool!”

Some of it is specific. Like, the woglies are asking Martin: “do you have the right?

And if Martin decides to say, “Sure, whatever” —

Well, you know, then Martin wouldn’t be Martin, and Hitherby wouldn’t be Hitherby. But in Earth-3, or whatever, where Martin says that, then I couldn’t have ended the story there. Me, personally. I mean:

“It’s not the monster who’s hurting Jane,” Martin says. “I won’t claim that. I won’t be a passive observer. If I’m going to shape the world through suffering, I’m going to be the one who shapes it; and the monster’s responsibility won’t ever negate mine. It’s my job to make sure that suffering transforms.”

There are fewer woglies now. They are skating off through the water, like toroidal tropical fish or evil aquatic froot loops that have been startled by a splash.

But one remains.

“Do you have the right?” it asks.

“Sure,” Martin says. “Whatever.”

—well, that’s dramatic, and all, but I personally couldn’t end it there. There’d need to be at least one more beat. Because the premises weren’t challenged. I’d have to at least watch the wogly fly up and anchor itself to his heart.

Or something like that!


(Apparently I am so excited by NEW! HITHERBY! CANON! that I am feeling slightly less shy.) Well, Sid’s answer (“Because I’d rather.”) also does what he wants it to do and denies the question’s premises. And Sid’s name totally begins with an “S!”
— Vierran, on What’s Gray and Hurts More Than You Can Imagine?

He’s an essy Sid! If he were an emmy Sid he’d have more awards but also less sigmas.

Sigmas, by the way, are an ancient Greek portmanteau of Sid and Max. They knew this was coming long before you and me.

Oh yes.

They slashed them, Sid and Max, back and forth and up and down and that’s how they got Sigmas.

“They’re at the far ends of the curve,” the ancient Greeks explained, in the fluent ancient Greek in which Hallelujah Valentine had instructed them. “That’s why they’re not verminous MIDs!”

Protect yourself from MIDs! Use Midgard! Strong enough for a man but pH balanced for a siggort!


Huh. That doesn’t sound much like the monster as I remember him. He always seemed to shrug the idea of his being wicked, as though he didn’t care, rather than to dehumanize his victim. Or maybe that’s just his tactic with Liril, because he only had so many Thorns That Do Not Kill.
— Rand Brittain, on Anthropomorphizing the Crucible

But he’s not dehumanizing Liril as a way of making what he does be okay. He’s dehumanizing her because it’s a method of turning her into the sort of tool he wanted to turn her into. It’s not a justification, it’s a tool.

//Sure, it’s not the same method he used on Jenna. But taking djinn and emptying them to make them express gods… it seems more an art than a science. And Jenna’s relation to her volition was… different.

(On a side note, it feels vaguely awkward to be talking about Jenna back before she was Jane, given that Jenna is also now the name of the author!)//
— Eric, on Anthropomorphizing the Crucible

Yeah, I think I may regret that decision at some point, particularly given that I’m busily establishing different fictional Jennas.

(It’s er

I guess I could say that it is an evolutionary defense mechanism against the death of the author. Yeah. That’s the ticket! The characters are alive! after all! Well, some of them!

Nobilis!Jenna isn’t an anentropic zombie! Or whatever Martin turned an anentropic zombie into! (Hint: a different kind of anentropic zombie. Martin is parsimonious.) She’s just … I mean, she isn’t one yet … she is at least 99% alive.

… I am pretty sure.

It’s the logical conclusion to the way I approach fiction, anyway, which means that I’m going to have to engage in some serious assumption-denying before it stops being the RIGHT thing to do.

It is not like Stephen Colbert is bad company to be in, though.

I mean, the real Stephen Colbert, not the fictional Stephen Colbert. He is not bad company to be in. Not like the fictional Stephen Colbert who has his own Wikipedia page, may the elephants forever multiply, and with great bounty, thereupon, with whom I am not sure I would entirely desire to be grouped. For one thing, he can’t see color, so what if he thinks I’m wearing a red shirt when I am in fact wearing a green one and sends me off to fight a monster alone or guard something and die in order to increase the tension on his show?)

But I digress. We were talking about the monster, not Stephen Colbert! (Also, that paranthetical to main sentence segue) just totally broke the fifth and sixth walls.


It’s almost as if I don’t want to see the monster at the end of this section! Even though it turns out that it’s Grover, or … wait, no, this isn’t about Grover. Not even Grover Norquist.

… I hope I didn’t just spoil that book for you. ;_;

It’s about the monster.

The monster doesn’t dehumanize his victims in order to justify his actions, although I think it is almost certainly part of his internal justification. He doesn’t do it as a tool, though I think that’s closer, and it certainly is a tool.

The monster teaches his victims that they are automata because it’s fun.


In re: Realistic A, note that The Flower is tagged “Realistic A.” Also note that The Miracle isn’t. I am mainly pointing this out right now because it supports a conclusion that profoundly satisfies me on both the emotional and intellectual levels.
— Vierran, on Stupid Words and their Stupid Power Anyway

Thank you for your kind words. ^_^

I really, really, really want to believe that Maya is Realistic A. I want to believe this emotionally because Maya is my second-favorite character, and if she is Realistic A, that means that we definitely know that she is still around and playing an influential role in the present day. I want to believe this intellectually because it fits in perfectly with my philosophy and a lot of my favorite works of art and even stuff I wrote myself before I even started reading Hitherby// for the demon of illusion to be the angel of realism.

If you look at all the entries tagged “Maya,” most of them are tagged “Realistic A,” also, and most of the ones that aren’t are ones where people are talking about Maya but she doesn’t actually show up.//
— Vierran, on Stupid Words and their Stupid Power Anyway

I remember wondering if people would catch that when I tagged those things a year and a half ago. ^_^

Hmmm. That’s extremely interesting. I don’t quite understand how the demon of illusion becomes the angel of realism, however.
— David Goldfarb, on Stupid Words and their Stupid Power Anyway

We have not seen Realistic A’s origin, pretty much period. Hasn’t happened. Not covered. The tags are just a hint of things you might see in the future.

I will note that Realistic A does have smokier wings than the other angels and a many-spoked wheel symbol burned into her right palm.


Because I might have forgotten to get a shot of that while I was busy lovingly filming robot butlers, apple cheesecake, and Sid inside a box. *^_^*;;


That… is the most fantastic loophole ever.
— philomory, on Eliza and the Frog

I was bowmaid of the competitive avoidance team at Oxford! (Bowmaids are the lead girls for gavottes or grandams of flighty loopholiers. I displaced the forward second when I came up with the idea of giving Frodo our bow and allowing him to carry it into Cambridge—the canonical “Frodoian slip!”)


Well, if Maya’s the illusion of material existence, which those of us who aren’t enlightened normally call reality, [her being Realistic A] makes reasonable sense. But there does seem to be a acceptance/hope transition necessary somewhere.
— Xavid, on Stupid Words and their Stupid Power Anyway



I rather like the idea that the Buddha’s answer transformed Maya, from a demon who represented acceptance of reality, into an angel who brings hope that we can eliminate suffering by penetrating illusions.
— cariset, on Stupid Words and their Stupid Power Anyway

The theory that the Buddha’s answer transformed Maya is known as “Mayahana Buddhism.” Its adherents point out “hana” means flower. It all makes sense! Conversely, Ken Akamatsu’s theory that the Buddha’s answer created a separate “magical world” which relied on the energy of the mundane Earth to survive, and that Maya later became a half-demon gunslinging exorcist and guardian of the Tatsumiya shrine, is known as “Love Hinayana Buddhism.” It makes sense too! I am not convinced I have the theological chops to decide the matter—

But I’d argue that the Buddha wouldn’t inflict angel-ness on somebody, even so.

Not because he couldn’t. He could. Not because it’s something you have to choose for yourself. You don’t. People have been making other people into their angels (by the most basic Hitherby definition) for millennia.

But the Buddha wouldn’t inflict angel-ness on somebody, particularly not his Mom, because that’s not how he rolled.


David Goldfarb, you’re welcome! Now I’m going to be verbiose about acceptance and hope – I think it’s okay because I do think it’s relevant to Hitherby. But it’s amusing to me that you should bring up a [Diana Wynne Jones] quotation in this thread, because it’s actually another DWJ quotation that inspired much of my thinking on acceptance and hope – in her answers to fan’s questions here, she’s writing an answer to “Janet” about the theme of The Homeward Bounders// (to all those reading this: don’t read the question if you haven’t read// The Homeward Bounders,// but, those of you who know you like both// Hitherby// and DWJ, you really ought to read// The Homeward Bounders!),// and she writes: “Hope inspires you, but it also makes you sit back and accept a bad situation.” And I could talk a lot more about this in the context of// The Homeward Bounders// and// The Wild Duck// and Shelley (err, I mean Percy Bysshe, not the Gibbelins’ Tower cast member, although going by the tags apparently the Gibbelins’ Tower cast member is the actress for Susan in my favorite legend, so I have abruptly developed a huge interest in her), but that seems kind of inappropriate in this setting. Luckily, I think the same thing has actually come up in Hitherby before, when Jenna was talking about the classification of gods – this is on Lisa – Jenna says she classifies Lisa as an angel, if a bad one, because her important character trait is that she sees things in terms of hope, but that Ben’s interpretation of Lisa as a demon because “you think that she is an argument for leaving things as they are” is also “valid.” So I think it’s fair to say that Jenna also clearly sees a link between acceptance and hope – at least certain types of hope have the tendency to look like acceptance. This same letters column does talk a bit about why Maya is a demon, though, suggesting that at least at that point in the story Jenna sees her more as a demon. But I think, like Lisa, she’s a bit borderline. I’m willing to go with the theory that Maya’s hope looked more like acceptance, placing her in the demonic category, and then that something changed at some point (maybe in 539 BCE or whenever) to make her acceptance look more like hope, moving her into the angelic category?//
— Vierran, on Stupid Words and their Stupid Power Anyway

Yup, IIRC Susan was played by Shelley. ^_^

I don’t have much to say on the rest. I just figured that if you wanted to recommend books to Hitherby readers then I should at least quote that recommendation in the letters column!


Anyway, I don’t know about the rest of you all, but the reason why I absolutely ADORE the Thus-It-Happened of Maya is that I find both sides of the argument between Maya and Siddhartha immensely compelling (and, in fact, I adore the way that this is encouraged by the narrative in that, despite their completely irreconcilable worldviews and commitment to defeating each other, there’s a strong emphasis on their genuine and powerful love for each other) – it sounds like the kind of argument I have with myself all the time. The ways in which Maya is demonic (in the Hitherby// sense) and teaching acceptance are obvious – but I think there is some hope in her arguments as well – the hope that we can keep the good things about the world of illusion and still get rid of the suffering. She hopes against hope that Siddhartha will be a Wheel-turning King who will answer suffering. If she is merely illusion – if there is a deeper, truer reality, then this hope is merely acceptance of a bad situation. But if you take the viewpoint that the illusion of Maya is the only reality (and, rather oddly, in one sense doesn’t this seem to be what happened after 539 BCE? “The desert, and the desert wind, and the sky, and the sea, and life, and death, and the beating of your heart… the perfume of a spring morning… the abattoir stench… everything in this world” – those aren’t the things that ended in 539 BCE), then her hope is a hope for a genuine change in the way of things. (And, again, even if Maya isn’t Realistic A, I think the “Maya” tag on “Angels” suggests that this is not a completely insane line of thought).//
— Vierran, on Stupid Words and their Stupid Power Anyway

In fairness, tags can do many things but they can’t differentiate between sanity and insanity. ^_^

I still don’t get why “The Corpse” isn’t labelled “Realistic A,” though – it seems like a major wogly in my theory. For that matter, does anyone have any theory (even if Realistic A isn’t Maya) as to why this particular entry in the Thus-It-Happened isn’t labelled that way when so many of the others are?
— Vierran, on Stupid Words and their Stupid Power Anyway

Total non-answer: because that entry is a Maundy Thursday entry. ^_^

The actual answer is that if Maya becomes Realistic A, or if Realistic A arises in some fashion from Maya, or if Realistic A was interfering with Maya’s thus-it-happened, or if the Buddha created Realistic A, or anything like that—

It didn’t happen because of anything in The Corpse and it wasn’t manifest therein.

That’s a fine distinction, and someday I may change my mind on making it. For one thing, it means there’s a hole in the Thus-It-Happened when reading the Realistic A tag page, which may bug anyone who is someday doing so.

But it is a distinction that I made.

I like the idea of forebodings of things to come! We do get characters speaking to themselves from the future in Hitherby – Anatman did it recently, and it also happened to Chaos Woman. So why not Maya? Which reminds me that at some point long ago I thought there was some kind of association between Chaos Woman and Maya, but I have no idea why, and it may just be because a serpent and Maya are both religious antagonistic figures who are antagonistic in a situation involving trees?
— Vierran, on Stupid Words and their Stupid Power Anyway

I don’t know what association you’d be thinking of, although Maya is one of the few Hitherby characters old enough that there could actually be a connection.


Huh. “The Corpse” is also the only entry with the “maya-call” tag. And that’s when I’d place Maya’s transformation to Realistic A, if that’s what happened…

— cariset, on Stupid Words and their Stupid Power Anyway

Well, “The Corpse” features Maya saying that there are words that cause the illusion of material existence to become a localized phenomenon — compare the Dukkha Call, and I seem to recall that there’s also a Buddha Call as well. (I’m pretty sure that the pun of “Dukkha Call” comes first, and the others follow on.)
— David Goldfarb, on Stupid Words and their Stupid Power Anyway

I love the calls. ^_^

One reason for that tag is just so I can find the Maya Call if I ever need it. I have the Buddha Call memorized but the Dukkha and Maya Calls are harder!


Oh! N.B.:

I didn’t actually forget to show you Realistic A’s palm or wings. That was just a little jest. Nor, on the other hand, did I actually plan on telling you guys about them yet, back when.

It’s just …

I’m just telling you because you were … actually supposed to have seen a graphic novel version of Realistic A by now, like, long before now, and it’s not by my choice that you haven’t. So I’m less inclined to be secretive about anything, like, you know, visible, any longer, even if it hasn’t shown up in the story as of yet. You should have seen it! It’s just that you …

did not!

So that’s one reason why I’m being more forthcoming, sometimes. The other is an experiment in not being secretive. ^_^


or rather —

Liril will hasten to clarify, lest anyone misinterpret her most private thoughts —

I do that quite a lot, actually.
— philomory, on Formica

So that was you!


Now the next question is just what is Melanie playing at? Is it simply that she still likes Liril from their childhood friendship, and wants to give her back some power? Or is there some stranger agenda?
— David Goldfarb, on And the Birds Fall Dead

I never know if I should answer stuff like this! I think you’re hypothesizing for the rest of the readership. ^_^

//And I notice that the description of grown-up Melanie has some things in common with the description of the soot-spider and its web.

And I notice that there are still some very noticeable gaps in Melanie’s history.//
— David Goldfarb, on And the Birds Fall Dead

Oh yes. ^_^


And I wonder if one of the dead birds here became the dead bird in the time capsule?
— David Goldfarb, on And the Birds Fall Dead

Oh! No. I don’t think so. The dead bird in the time capsule was a god. I guess it’s possible, if Liril had a god-bird in the tree outside, though. It’s not like I have an exact time that she made that god and it was killed, so that’s possible.


There are definitely some downsides to making people pliable, yeah.
— Rand Brittain, on And the Birds Fall Dead

Oh, oh, so very yes.

Part of the problem with making other people obedient is that they become force multipliers for the flaws and weaknesses in yourself. The monster is inclined naturally to make his own Hell, because that’s one thing that people with power do, and while there are certain benefits to being the monster and on the throne of the world and all that that are acting against that, most of the time, he is definitely partially causally responsible for everything that’s gone wrong for him.

This isn’t surprising, because the more control you exert, the more that’s necessarily going to be true; and also, the more control you exert, the less room there is for anybody else to be responsible for what’s gone wrong for you.

Some of you may question my bringing this up in the context of Melanie totally intervening or maybe interfering with the Liril-monster relationship. I mean, she is sort of like somebody else being responsible for things going wrong for the monster, right?

But the truth is, the monster bought every ounce of the trouble that Melanie’s going to make for him. He bought it with silver, with gold, with power, and with pain, and everything that’s exploding in his face right then is like an exploding sandwich that he made himself.

(Not that sandwich! Don’t be silly. Only the //tomato// of that sandwich exploded, and it exploded before he made the sandwich in the first place. No. I mean, an exploding sandwich with a delicious exploding salami, ordered from ACME, after the fashion of Wile E.!)


…and I can no longer contain myself from observing that the last sentence of this entry is grammatically incorrect, because it uses a singular verb form with a plural subject. Sorry.
— David Goldfarb, on And the Birds Fall Dead

What subject is not singular?
What bird is not sad?
Have pity on the author
And her magnificent mass driver pointed at the Earth


The title made me laugh.
— David Goldfarb, on Exposition Answers Emptiness with Digressions

Thank you for your kind words. ^_^

//So Bob was a god that the monster deliberately evoked, rather than one that Jenna made herself? That explains why he calls her “Jane” in “Bob (III/IV)”. We know that Bob was a fetch; I guess the monster was trying to create an imprisoning god, but it didn’t quite work out.

We also see that some of the parallels between Liril & Micah and Jane & Martin are not just coincidence, but the effect of influence.

And…oh, hey, that date just hit me. March 18, 1995? Wasn’t that the day Martin was born? Hm — no, it’s 4 days early, Martin was born on the 22nd. But the two of them coming into being so close together, there’s gotta be something going on there.//
— David Goldfarb, on Exposition Answers Emptiness with Digressions

There is in fact a direct causal relationship. There may be prevailing conditions involved as well.


//We also have confirmation (insofar as Liril is or is not a reliable narrator) that Jane is, in terms of physics relative to the monster, physically, dead. I wonder if this is a “Last Battle” type of dead, or something slightly stranger?

In any case, Melanie is well and truly caught, but I kind of wonder if, somehow, Liril might reach the means to set them both free. She did it before, when she lived with Micah and her mom. Or is that the future, from here?

Beautiful and terrible, as I’ve come [to] expect. Bravo.//
— Aetheric, on Exposition Answers Emptiness with Digressions

Thank you for your kind words!

Death is so difficult to define in the context of fantasy. I think it’s fair to say that Liril is not actually a cracked doll, and Jane is more than just a dead girl, but Jane is pretty seriously dead. Dead like disco. Dead like an elder beast. Dead like the credibility of Standard & Poor’s. Like, you can’t bury her mostly because the anentropic thing might precipitate an unfortunate series of events in the nearby graves.


Hmm…perhaps the connection between Martin and Micah is as simple as the monster deciding that Liril is no good as a crucible of gods any more, and deciding therefore to reclaim Jenna?
— David Goldfarb, on And Break

Well, I mean the connection between Micah’s birth and Martin’s birth, two things that happened at close to the same time. We know that Martin’s birth corresponds to the Monster sending a letter to Jenna in her firewood world — see “Martin and Thess (II/III)”. I speculate that the monster may have done that because he could no longer get satisfactory results out of Liril.
— David Goldfarb, on And Break

That’s about right, yeah. Recovering Jane became more of a priority when Liril slipped the noose!


// I don’t think that’s it… Micah, to Liril, is the part of herself that can resist the monster, the part that can choose, the part that is free. It’s also said multiple times that we “cannot know” the outcome of a fight when Micah faces one of the monster’s gods. To the extent that Liril had regained her free will, she was able to keep it in Micah — to keep it away from herself, the girl not used to volition. Keep her faculty of choice in someone else so she does not risk losing it.//
— Aetheric, on And Break

Heh, yeah, Micah’s fights are often invisible. I hadn’t realized how much of a trend that was.

Liril and Micah think of Micah as a simulation of her volition. Not so much an externalization of the volition that she didn’t have, as a model of what it would look like.

It’s not clear how much this matters. How much does a model of free will differ from the actual thing? If it does differ, does that difference still matter once it’s embodied in a god?

Even if Liril and Micah are right, it doesn’t mean that Micah’s own free will is inherently false. It’s just … complicated.

I’m not going to claim that Liril and Micah are right, here. If I thought they were right, or if I thought they were wrong for that matter, I’d need to prove it with story. It’s too difficult a matter for a naked assertion. But I thought that I would mention what they think. ^_^

Martin is something different. He says he created himself and is “the maker, the smith and the test.” He apparently was born out of a wogly and replaced Bob as Jane’s big brother, by killing the wogly and Bob. Now that it sounds like Bob is the spider, I am really curious to know how Melanie’s escape attempt might have affected Jane. Martin, though, is different — he does not express Jane’s preferences and his desires are often incompatible with Jane’s. (It may be relevant how he is relieved and startled when the monster appears to think him to be one of Jane’s gods.)
— Aetheric, on And Break

Firewood has spiders. It’s a … big deal, if you grow up as an arachnophobe in California. (I try to have a quasi-sympathetic portrayal of spiders because I know I’m irrationally biased against them, and for some other reasons—mostly, there’s a spider enthusiast I know whose connection to them I want to honor.)

That said, Bob isn’t the spider in the sky over Santa Ynez. He may be a similar movement of the soul, emerging from similar eduction, and I can even imagine deciding one day that there’s a continuum of things (that live in the sky and have mazes or webs) between Bob and the spider. But Bob fled to the sky over shadow country, not over Santa Ynez.

I think you’re reasoning in the right way, but possibly mirror-reversed from my premises… .

Jane “tied her safety to the safety of the world,” and in one comment, Jenna said that she is unable to grow up in a quite specific way: Jane cannot learn the kind of maturity that lets one realize ones preferences. Liril is almost the mirror image — by creating Micah and letting him grow, she is eventually able to flee for freedom even without retaining her own volition.
— Aetheric, on And Break

… and then you turn about and observe that Liril and Jane are mirror images. Something to think about!

I can’t help but feel sorry for Melanie… Her ironic smile, and wish that Liril would break, being the best she can do to make amends for hurting Liril, and making them both less free. Liril may have an uncertain future, but it’s hard for me to picture anything but more and more entrapment in the monsters’ own webs, for Melanie.
— Aetheric, on And Break

Melanie totally deserves pity. All the monsters’ line do unless and until they decide to become monsters, IMHO. Cherubim are in a position almost as awkward as Persephone’s, when she had to decide between letting Hades take her or destroying the world—no middle ground.

Amiel’s children can endure every burden of their fate, or they can become monsters.

Those choices suck.

Even Liril couldn’t do anything about them, and Liril’s downright amazing as genies go.


// “Ultimately his own nature betrayed him. Quite unwillingly he found himself freeing her from Central, extracting her from our reach, and marooning her in the sky. If I believed she had planned it, I would say it was brilliantly done. Since she did not, I must admire her good fortune.”

The key point here is: This is relevant to Melanie, relevant enough that she feels compelled to mention it to Liril when her compassion draws her back, and she is searching for words that will not hurt either of them more. It makes sense that the details Melanie mentions pertain to events she witnessed, and caused, but has no rational way of explaining.to Liril or to herself.//
— Aetheric, on And Break

Melanie isn’t actually searching for words that won’t hurt either of them more.

Here’s a bit of a scene between Martin and Sid.

“Why?” [Sid asks.]

“Do you know what sucks?” Martin says. “What sucks is that Jane needs me. And that’s not because of people like the monster. It’s because of people like you.”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Thumbscrews, that makes so much sense.”

“You have these people,” Martin says, entirely ignoring Sid. “These perfectly useful people. And they have beating inside them like a heart their knowledge of themselves, of who they are. And then someone comes along from outside and proposes an alternative. Cripple them here. Clip the wings there. Mold them like Jell-O and make sure they fit. Take your vision of what they should be and use it to overwrite their own. And then just leave them out there—out in the world—flopping around on their wing-stubs, parroting back the twisted nonsense that you gave them, crawling in circles around their concrete-moored peglegs, and then what am I supposed to do?”

“I didn’t ask you to do anything.”

“No,” Martin says. “That’s the trouble with isn’ts.”


“You can’t ask. Not once they’ve broken you. You say, ‘Give me more of that torture’, and maybe it’s you, and maybe it’s the twisting in you. You sit there silently, and maybe you’ve got nothing to say, or maybe they’ve drowned it. You say ‘Let me go’, and maybe that’s reason and maybe that’s panic. You say all kinds of things, and the fundamental crime that made you isn’ts is that sometime, once upon a time, somebody didn’t listen; and that somehow, as a result of that, I can’t listen to you now.”
— from The Uncanny Valley

And here’s a bit of a scene between Priyanka and the monster of 1968:

“I’ve been dreaming of Tantalus.”

1968’s monster doesn’t look up. He’s like and unlike the monster of today: a spectacled man, with a striped suit and gray hair. He’s not paying attention to Priyanka, at least, not obviously. He’s playing, instead, with a spider in a box. It has its legs curled up tightly against its body. He tugs gently on one with his left hand. Slowly, the spider’s legs splay. He lets go. The legs quickly retract. “The Incans used to use this as divination,” he says. “Lock a spider in a box, and then look at what its legs are like when you open the box. I’m taking it one step further—by training the spider, I can control the future!”

Priyanka looks up. “Is it going well?”
The Unsubstantiated Assertions Fairy

And just for fun, Sebastien and the cynosure:

The cynosure looks up at them. She whispers, “Help me.”

“I can’t,” Sebastien says. “The best I can do is ask you your name, and regret your passing.”

“I shone down on a girl,” the cynosure says, “and said that everything would be okay. But then it wasn’t. And I fell.”

“That’s a good name,” Sebastien agrees.
— from The Chorus of Definition

Melanie is quite willing to hurt Liril.

The only question is whether she’s doing it because she’s like Martin or because she’s like the monster.


“Eduction” does not act as a cause in linear time (what Nobilis calls prosaic reality.) It does not provide motivations for action, although the monsters try to use it for just about everything they can imagine doing by means of gods. Like Jane’s scanner, it seems to draw conclusions, but conclusions that have already been put in place by some other force. (Martin being the wildcard of Jane’s situation, and possibly of the whole tale.) Time will tell if this is right, but it’s the only explanation that fits.
— Aetheric, on And Break

Time will tell!

“I buried it,” Liril says. “I declared the box a time capsule and I buried it. So that it would get younger and younger until it wasn’t dead any more. But I think I did not understand how time capsules worked.”

“Oh,” says Micah.

He looks at the bird again.

“I remember that,” he says. “Sort of.”

The bird is sticky and smelly but it’s really pretty amazing that it’s still around at all.

“The problem isn’t with you,” rasps Tainted John. “[The problem is] with time.”
The Growing God


// The firewood world has some things in common with a web, but most webs aren’t made of firewood.//
— David Goldfarb, on And Break

And may I say thank God!

I mean, seriously, think of all those people driving their jeeps through the Amazon rainforest and then the camera pans to a spiderweb and then THUNK as the jeep crashes into the web and there is firewood all over the place. Or like, you go into an old house, and you brush past the old spiderwebs, only you can’t because CLONK and your head hurts and there is firewood raining down all around you and you realize horribly that the spiders spinning in the emptiness have completely disassembled this old house and that now that you’ve brushed that old spiderweb out of the way the whole place is coming down around your ears.

And it doesn’t stop there!

The whole world falls in around you! It is turning into a black hole! You are stretching, stretching, your legs ever so much longer than they were, like Wile E.! Then there is only darkness, a spot of dwindling darkness, and the white.

Also think of the poor spiders. They are not very strong and their legs would hurt a lot after moving all that firewood about and also maybe using their spinnerets would get splinters OW OW OW and also they would die in the same black hole as everybody else.

That’s not any good for anybody.


//Being a dork, I mapped out the timing. It could match up. Bob was born at a point after Alan’s birth/death, which was in 1980. Melanie and Liril saw the spider in the sky in 1982, which was working for the Monster. Bob defied the monster and built the Firewood World in 1989. Martin was born in 1995, and shortly later killed Bob.

So, there’s no contradiction that I can see to say that Bob is the spider that Melanie and Liril saw spinning a web over Santa Ynez. Bob is a Labyrinthine God, after all, and spiders are certainly an appropriate form for that.//
— Nyren, on And Break

Thank you for your diligence in analysis! I appreciate such things. It’s not that there’s necessarily enough answers there yet to reward people for doing things like that, but it pleases me that you like the story enough to bother. ^_^


And as for Jenna (since she was ‘Jane’ to the monster, but wasn’t yet the person that the narrative refers to as Jane, for at least four days) having died, we’ve known that for ages, ever since The Tunnels, and it’s been confirmed a couple of times since.
— Eric, on Exposition Answers Emptiness with Digressions

That is in fact the correct time of death. Er, well, you know what I mean. The entries to which you refer are in fact the reasons why the narration, hewing close to Liril’s thought process, considers Jane a dead girl, in contrast to Liril’s “broken doll.”


And like Martin in the Underworld, Micah has to let go of the idea of opposing and defeating the monster.
— David Goldfarb, on Little Faces

Monsters are really hard to beat.


Stupid monsters.


Micah shouldn’t be so hard on himself. It took Jenna over a dozen tries to even manage Bob, and while impressive in many ways, Bob still wasn’t enough of an answer to the Problem of Monsters.
— Eric, on Little Faces



Oh, hey, I just noticed the mention of footsoldiers. So they were something that came from Liril but went wrong? (They weren’t mentioned in part VI.)
— David Goldfarb, on Little Faces

That’s accurate.

Although “went wrong” is probably an overstatement. I blame the monster for the footsoldiers, not Liril or the footsoldiers themselves. He tried to educe gods that didn’t actually make sense, gods that were based on faulty thinking on his part, gods whose dharma was functionally dead on arrival. They enact that futility in addition to their nature. Their actions perform the same muddled thinking as that of the underlying will that brought them forth.

In other words, he tried to cheat, and got gods that only partially do what he wanted them to do.

That said, you know, achieving peace isn’t all that bad!


The line about Jane making Bob in the image of her brother isn’t even a contradiction, since it is established that Jane doesn’t know what people are supposed to look like. (from: [[[jane-s-father|[Jane’s Father]]]])
— Nyren, on And Break

… huh.

Your second link there is a legend, not a history, so I don’t think it definitely establishes anything except that Jane is whimsical — which we knew already. (And all the stuff in there about hooks and feathers makes me think about siggorts, suggesting that that one has something to do with Sid and Max.)
— David Goldfarb, on And Break

I’m trying to remember what Jane was talking about there. It’s been a while. ^_^

The hooks and feathers are in fact a definite siggort reference. The web of human tendons is not; that’s … dang. Elusive. It’s not Bob, I don’t think, but it might be connected. It’s somebody. It’s almost certainly either a fetch or a titan, anyway; most gods don’t do that kind of thing.


What other gods are mentioned as having been made by one of [Liril and Jane]?
— Nyren, on Little Faces

Sad, true story:

At one point Soula (of //Nightlights!//) made me a Hitherby wiki. I immediately started filling it up with stuff to organize my own thoughts, and pretty soon realized I had no good way to have it both do that and have public access to it. I also didn’t really have enough time to get it all laid out and organized back then—heck, even in China, I haven’t had time for all of that, though I made some strides on tags and categories last year—so the wiki died.


Hmm…so is Harold the human sacrifice that begins the end of time?
— David Goldfarb, on Oh, Harold Dear

Nope! Sebastien strangled Harold in self-defense, which …

I mean, OK, that could count as a sacrifice, technically, in theory, I guess, but …

//Melanie knows about Micah. But she doesn’t know about John. Still, one ghoul versus a dozen god-makers and dozens of gods….

(And how does Melanie expect to rule the world with isn’ts, any more than Central did? Her “rule this rotten world” sounds about as mature as Liril’s “we’ll run off to the hills and live richly forever” — but with far less excuse.)

This is all quite suspenseful.//
— David Goldfarb, on Oh, Harold Dear

Melanie’s expectations are not always congruent with reality.

That said, in this case, I think she’s playing to the crowd. She’ll take the world if it happens to fall into her hands, but it wouldn’t do her that much good, would it?

Even if you’re the monster you can die.


// Re-reading these after getting the actual Nobilis book has me looking at the Excrucians in a much more sympathetic [light] than the book does on its own. Which is probably good.//
— Xavid, on the Nobilis write-ups I did for some Hitherby characters last year


It enriches a story remarkably when the antagonists have a point. That doesn’t necessarily mean antagonists always should, or that that point should always be adequate to justify their actions, but it is a truth.


Oh, here’s a pingback! I don’t have a good format for replying to these. Anyway, over here, Jim Henley reads Projects: A Manual of Ambition.

Thank you for your kind words! ^_^


I don’t know, if being suckled by a sheepdog gives you preternatural knowledge of kindergarden, then being suckled by an unnatural horror could give you preternatural knowledge of beings suckled by sheepdogs.
— Xavid, on The Shepherdess

That’s your preternatural logic at work!


(I do note that whatever power allowed Micah’s mouth to fill with seawater, it is officially and canonically a lesser talent than surprisingly relevant historical trivia.)
— David Goldfarb, on The Shepherdess

This is SO TRUE.


According to Micah in http://imago.hitherby.com/?p=390, Kuras had a startlingly accurate simulation of kindergarden’s life lessons as well. How this could be without the word kindergarden existing at the time is left as an exercise for the reader.
— Xavid, on The Shepherdess

Interestingly, 9 out of 10 kindergardens do not teach children the world kindergarden. Instead they teach the children the words “glutenfauner,” a rejected Volkswagen salesword giving power over the natural world, and “booger” (a simplified, strongly emotive term for consolidated snot capsules.) This state of affairs did not, of course, hold true in ancient Greece, where Hallelujah Valentine’s kindergarden was a principal source of what we know today as Greek culture, Volkswagen was almost entirely unknown, and fauns with very large spears and magical pipes rejected the word glutenfauner as offensive.




Now imagine that I didn’t have access to surprisingly relevant historical trivia. Instead, when I tried to answer Xavid’s comment, my mouth filled with seawater. It spilled on my laptop, shorting it out. The laptop caught fire. The fire spread. The entire Beng Zhan, famous warrior building of Jinjihu road, turned instantly into a raging inferno. The entire team responsible for the snail game—a famous Chinese snail game—fled towards the exit. But how fast can a snail team go? Their own trails ignite and burn them down. Suzhou becomes a sea of flames. I claw my way upwards towards the surface. It doesn’t work. I can’t swim on fire. I can’t even maintain past tense!

They’re related talents.

Desperately I try to burble out seawater to stop the flames. But what can one writer’s seawater do against such a great wall of flame?

That’s just how it would be.


Iä! Iä!
— cariset, on Later (Ia/VII)

So you had the vowels!


I’m not entirely sure we can trust Micah on this point.
— David Goldfarb, on The Shepherdess

//Micah is rather precise in his language. I’m not sure that inferring such a thing would be fair to Micah at all. Whether it is fair for Proteus, or for an imaginary cardboard “Michael,” is left for an exercise for the reader.

I’m not going to be responsible if someone asks, “What is fair for Liril?” Just so that’s clear. <..>//
— Aetheric, on The Shepherdess

My readers get a lot of exercise!



Actually, that was meant to be two pairs of shifty-eyes,
— Aetheric, on The Shepherdess

Every time I think of Wile E. I find myself thinking of somebody else. *^_^*;;


but it works better as “less than dot dot greater than,” and somehow has more dramatic sense too. So I thank my lucky stars that Hitherby has no “edit” function.

The price for these happy coincidences, we may never be able to know.
— Aetheric, on The Shepherdess

  • shifty eyes *

Best wishes, all of you, and may love give your universe wings; and I’ll be back next week;

read nightlights!

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