Letters Column for May 2005

Posted on June 2, 2005 by Jenna

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Hello everyone!

It is now June. Ask anybody! (Except possibly Heribert Illig. Never ask Heribert Illig for the time.)

I am quite exhausted of late. You will still benefit from daily Hitherby but sometimes an entry might stop in the middle and be replaced by the cat-tracks of my face hitting the keyboard. This I will explain away suavely as an interjection by Mrs. Schiff.

Thank you all for your donations in May. In addition to $112.46 of targeted donations (pushed over the $150 target by early contributions from friends), there were $30 of miscellaneous donations. I also received the first payment for the Primal Chaos sales; all together, it made it possible to eat.

(Or, rather, to be somewhat less of a drain on local friends while waiting for Weapons of the Gods to hit the shelves and pay me the on-publication fee. I would probably have eaten anyway, but with much more stress as an extra spice.)

I’d also like to thank you all for your kind comments, and for buying the first monthbook if you did, and for putting up with my dear friends’ absence on their honeymoon and the accordant delay in the release of the second monthbook. ^_^

I am thinking about bugging Hitherby_Admin for reader review pages. These would be pages, one for each person who wants one, giving links to and descriptions of entries you think are cool. It seems like a reasonable thing to do so that people who wander in from elsewhere aren’t completely lost—there’s a lot of stuff here these days, and practically speaking the best thing for newcomers to do is to read a random selection of the best legends rather than jumping right into the canon. What do y’all think?


I’m going to have to start refering to Rebecca as “Dr. Borgstrom” now, because that’s classic// mad scientist name right there.//
— Ben

I’m not mad. I’m differently paradigmed! That’s my point of deviation.


I’m busy preparing for finals week! oh woe is me.
— GoldenH

I hope they went well! And that they were not as final for you as your ominous phrasing suggests.


We usually call you “the goddess Rebecca” (when we talk about you)
— Tiger Spot

I’d endorse this, but I’m just too fallible! I think a goddess should have about 5% fallibility on general matters and .01% fallibility on matters of her expertise or of life and death. I exceed all of these margins of error substantially, rendering my other qualifications moot.


The distinction between pain and suffering, the place where pain becomes// suffering, is when it doesn’t stop.//
— Juke Moran

That’s a decent definition. When I’m trying to write a technical definition of suffering—

(Something I attempt surprisingly often)—

I usually wind up defining it as the pain caused by the awareness of pain.

Today, though, I have a new theory. I’m going to go a bit Buddhist and speculate that suffering is the pain brought on by contradictions in one’s worldview, most notably the belief that you “should” experience something that you aren’t or “shouldn’t” experience something you are.

There is a Mr. Moran in Hitherby, too! I’m not sure when that tidbit will show up, though.


I don’t have much interest in saying what I// think Martin is, because the best that I can do is half-baked speculation. Nor do I think I understand the Hitherby world well enough to explore “what-ifs”. That’s why I’ve been agitating for an// ex cathedra// pronouncement.//
— David Goldfarb

There are many problems in fiction and in life, and some of them can be solved with angels.

Some of them are best solved by angels.

As you move through life, though, the kinds of problems you face change. Sometimes because you change and sometimes because you’ve already solved the old kinds of problems. (Or, at least, passed them by.)

Martin is something that comes after the time of angels.


Perhaps scientists answer the emptiness with quantification, which makes me think of Martin trying to remake the world to his specifications. Scientists seem like people who would be able to kill woglies, because they strive towards theories without internal contradictions.
— HedgeMouse

This is pretty sound.

I don’t like the kind of story where it turns out that magical creatures give way to magicized scientists. It’s too meta and, since I’m something of a scientist, it’s too self-congratulatory.

So I don’t think Hitherby is ever going to go in that direction.

But it’s really very sound, and pretty cool, too.


What if Martin is simply a person? He clearly has magical powers, but maybe he’s not categorizeable in some simple fashion because he’s a complete person, with all of the complexity that entails, and with no single purpose.
— rpuchalsky

I thought about just calling him a person, actually, earlier tonight, but that’s not how zoology works—as marvelous and strange as the platypus is, it’s still an Orthinorhyncus Anatinus. ^_^


(Pain) helps people express (their beauty), or drives// them to express it?//
— Metal Fatigue

I don’t know.

Honestly, it might just be like that thing where if you go deaf your other senses get sharper and sharper until you can see the little vibrations where sound waves bump into photons and make them jiggle. (That’s how famous deaf people like Mr. T. and Robert Novak get by.)


This… is so amazing, it’s unbearable.
— koldun

Yay! Thank you for your kind words.


I’d like to say a word in her behalf
Earth’s destruction makes me laugh

— rpuchalsky



Poor Tom. Why is he so guilt-stricken?
— Archangel Beth

It’s much more regret and sorrow than guilt. He’s not fooled by the light tone of the story—he knows what that ending really means!


So is this a literal lamb, or one of those metaphorical ones?
— DSPaul

The lamb in “Having Missed the Dragonflies Entirely” is more the kind of lamb that gambols and philosophizes than the kind of lamb that washes people clean of sins. Mind, I can’t say for sure what’d happen to your sins if it licked you. But, then, I can’t say what happens to people’s sins when ordinary lambs lick them!

Experimental theology is so nerfed.


There is a terrible beauty in the lamb. I hope it someday finds an entity worthy of its love.
— cappadocius

That’s the spirit!


2. Why can’t the lamb become its own caretaker?
— TedPro

It’s against the law for lambs to have pets!


Making brownies is degenerate? What about strawberry jam, pumpkin or banana bread, jello cake and cheesecakes?
— BethL

When Martha Stewart makes a delicious apple pastry out of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil—

For Eden is, as every savant knows, located not in the musty past but in the days to come—

She doomed us all to original sin.

It’s because of Martha and Emeril that you have such wicked thoughts. If she’d just gotten the death penalty, we wouldn’t be in this mess!

So let me put it bluntly: your obsession with fruity doughy products suggests that you’re a swirling vortex of pure evil, and in the end, the wobbly sea monsters beyond the world will probably judge you with great harshness.

I’m sorry.


//“Ow! Ow! Ow! Shuffle-civic guppy-badgering three-eyed son of a hobo! Fudge! Fudge me upside-down cake with a trowel!”

Is there an art to writing this sort of stuff? Or is it just “write down a random list of adjectives and nouns, then arrange them around the structure of an imprecation”?//
— Ilanin

I ran over a sailor’s foot with my Segway and then took dictation.*

  • It was an imaginary Segway, and I’m really bad at shorthand.


I must say I found this piece rather sexist. Where are the gingerbread women?
— Graeme

If I knew that I wouldn’t need the invisible fence.


I’ve been back to read this one at least a dozen times. I have nothing intelligent to say about it, but I love it.
— MariaK

Yay! Thank you for your kind words.


There is no author byline on the Girl’s Own Paper piece (on what to do if one is on fire). It wasn’t you, was it?
— James Wallis, all-around cool guy

Huh! I don’t know. I wrote most of the surviving records from the 1890s but I don’t remember that particular piece. It might have been Ken Hite’s.


Alluding to Moore’s Law AGAIN, are we?
— Lebob

It’s getting consistently funnier!


Isn’t it the Starndard Operating Procedure, after nuclear weaponry fails, to send out the mecha?
— Tremir

I pretty much used up the special effects budget for this month around the time of the cornbread episode. I couldn’t afford mecha. :(


“Dragons help you map the emptiness”. I wonder if that’s going to become part of “What Is Hitherby Dragons” later, or if it is only legend-true?
— rpuchalsky

Ink stuff is usually pretty canon-tight. ^_^


And isn’t a human who accepts the Shark’s Covenant doing something that goes beyond mere “good?”
— SquidLord

Strictly speaking, by the terms of the story, you’d have to be both a human and a shark to have the capacity to answer that question.


Good story. But the concept of original sin just doesn’t work for me. If the world is in an undifferentiated state of sin, and if there is any metaphysical reality, then the one at fault for the sin is the creator of the world, not the people living in it. To attempt to heal the world is then a form of rebellion, and to do evil is just to cooperate with what the creator has set you up to do.
— rpuchalsky

This assumes an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator, and that Creation is finished.

The Covenant of the Sharks is more a speculation on what alternate covenants look like than about the details of their moral justification—it’s soft moral fiction, not hard moral fiction. That’s why, instead of an exposition of serious metaphysics, it explains its conceit with some flippant ethicobabble.

That said, if I poke around at my underlying assumptions, the story makes the most sense in a world that’s still a work in progress—a world that takes more than the seven traditional days to build, and which therefore has vestiges within it, in its equivalent to the modern day, of a chaotic unsainly pre-Creation state.


//Thank you, Emily.

It matters that you popped all those demons.//
— Scott Lutz

Yay! I’m very pleased that someone said that.


I actually became a bit teary when reading the description of the things that dwell within the ship. Rebecca, either your writing is becoming more powerful for me, or the withdrawal effects of my anti-depressant are responsible…
— Graeme

Thank you! Although I’m confused! Was that part sad?

Does the Pacific Ocean exist in Jane’s world? Is it the Chaotic Ocean instead?
— Graeme

More on this this chapter. ^_^


Well! Now I’m wondering whether corn bread is NP-complete or not.
— nemryn

You can reduce 3SAT to cornbread by using cookiecutters in the shape of letters and logical symbols.

(I’m sorry. That was probably opaque to some members of my audience. What it means, in sum, is that if you could generate cornbread through pure computation, you could then employ that cornbread as a sort of precognitive engine for a computer, cracking essentially any code and rendering certain intractable problems trivial. It would function as a magical oracle that would simply know the answers to any problem you pose to it, as long as you had some means of testing the answer—but when you came to rely too thoroughly on the cornbread, and asked it questions whose answers you could not or would not test, it would betray you, causing your computer to crash and losing all of your work. Such are the strange and crumbly reaches of modern complexity theory.)

That’s it for now! Thanks again, and see you next month.

Be well.