Letters Column in November 2011: Martingales Convert Pounds to Ozzes

Posted on November 30, 2011 by Jenna

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It would be easier to endure the construction noise—it’s only filled today and yesterday, and yesterday had some good things happen too!—if it didn’t bring this dizzying sense of deja vu to me as I sit here, unable to finish the stuff I wanted to finish before tackling Hitherby for the day, and completely unsure how I’m going to concentrate enough to do a letters column. BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG. Pause. BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG. BANG. BANG BANG!

I have scarcely recovered from noise overwhelm! I wouldn’t say I’ve come all the way back to sanity yet! I am overly sensitive!

Still, today, I will totally give you what I can. And, heck, a sneak preview from a project I am working on on the side:


“Come,” whispers the onyx void. “Let us make the elder races in our image, and send them forth onto the earth.”

It roils in itself. It divides itself, from itself.

It gives birth to Cedric Saraman. His eyes are black and his blood is black and his fingers are webbed and his skin is pale. It gives birth to Jeanne Sarai to be his wife; but Cedric strangles her and the void becomes perplexed.

“Man and woman I created you,” explains the void.

“I’ll have none of it,” Cedric says.

The void consumes the flesh of Jeanne Sarai. It recycles her into the faerie kind, which are wicked beyond the ken of men; and makes a few scraps into frogs. It conjures dragons and ogres and malevolent shapeless things. It breeds black-blooded evil bees. It crafts the manticore and the hippogriff, all wild things, and the unicorn Santrieste.

Cedric watches impassively. Fairies knot and pull upon his hair. He frowns.

“The void has grown loud,” he says.

The earth splits. It wells forth its black blood in wounds. The elder things climb up the ichorous wells and make sport upon the earth. They build temples to decadence and play games of blood. The fairies make their courts and breed and spread boggans and pixie kinds across the continents of the world. Cedric roams the primeval forests and he sleeps. Then finally he turns his eye to Heaven.

“Come on, then,” he says.

The angels come down and sport with him. Some leave him bloody upon the ground. Others, he kills. He catches the eye of one angel and in his gaze are all forbidden things; and the angel slips into his arms.

“I am the wickedness named Saraman,” he says.

“Amezyarak,” the angel answers.

They twine about and make love to one another, the white flame and the pale man, and their love was a thing without distinctions; and as their climax came, he whispered to the angel, “Know that you are giving yourself unto the darkest and most terrible of fates, and make no protest when it comes.”

Then they are sundered, cloven apart and cloven together, riven as by the storms of the empyrean, and from them came the daughters and the sons that were the house of Saraman, in those heady days before the Garden of Eden and the birth and fall of man.

They birth a hundred children, like a rain of stars, to fall upon the earth; and thirteen years go by.


I’m not totally sold on it yet. The strangling bit really irritates me! But there we are. When I finish the arc I will probably know whether it has a legitimate artistic purpose or if my brain is just spitting up culture-shards.


Well, [Tainted John] can do anything he wants when his year’s up, you know. He’d fit right in with the other undead, after all.
— Xavid, on “Travel Kind of Throws Me”

That’s true! I think we even know that the tower goes past 2004, although I’d have to check just when the performance in memory of Ink was.


Hmm, I hadn’t originally noticed that Persephone’s motivation here is established in Tantalus (I/IV). Makes me wonder what she’s up to these days.

Good question!


Is he actually going to remain ghouled after his year is up? Because if so that kind of alters my perception of the deal. Remind me, do we know what the dharma of a ghoul is?
— Rand Brittain, on “Travel Kind of Throws Me”

I don’t think I’ve ever specified the dharma of a ghoul. Probably something to do with eating the bodies of the dead or something, I’d suppose.


… Is that a Monster at the End of This Book reference I see?… I officially love you forever.
— durroth, on “The Great Firewall, and Beyond”

Yes! Yay! I am lovéd!


//When I compare this:> 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.

and this:> 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.

it reminds me of the old debate in comments, which I recall went on for some time and I don’t think ever was resolved, about what kind of god, if any known type, Martin was. In some respects he seems rather close to being a faithful cherub. And the fact that he wears a suit heightens the resemblance.

I suspect that this is more of a functional resemblance than anything else, though, since his insistence on being self-created (unless he’s somehow wrong about that) means that he lacks the key qualifying characteristic for being a cherub — that is, being descended from Amiel.//
— Greg, on “The Great Firewall and Beyond”

Strictly speaking I imagine that you could get a cherub that isn’t Amiel’s get—I mean, I’d probably avoid calling them a cherub just in case I’d said otherwise at some point, I’d probably call them a lammasu or something, but I imagine that the term is probably somewhat generic. (Conversely, I almost called the monster’s line lammasu because cherubim sounds so twee. But not tweed! That would be like the Professor who keeps the house of the sun and the moon. In the end I decided that a more accurate term was better than a more impressive one.)


Jenna said at some point that Martin is what comes after an angel. So, like an angel, but not.
— David Goldfarb, on “The Great Firewall and Beyond”

That totally sounds like something I would say!


I checked an internet dictionary, and it told me that “angenesis” comes after “angel”, assuming you ignore all the angel-based words and food-cakes. So, I guess Martin is the regeneration of tissues.
— Rand Brittain, on “The Great Firewall and Beyond”

That seems pretty likely. I mean, how are you going to fix the world if you can’t at least regenerate its tissues? Plus, there’s a clear tie to all the dentistry.


Angels answer emptiness with hope. Perhaps Martin answers hope with something. And if Martin was born in response to hope rather than emptiness, he may not be a god at all, or at least a very different type of god.
— dave.o, on “The Great Firewall and Beyond”

Martingales answer hope with cynicism! Angenesi regenerate tissues and are native outsiders with elemental blood! Doc Martens are useful for their emptiness!

Ignore the bit about pounds to ozzes. That is probably a misreading of balloons.


My impression is that it’s more like “Martin answers emptiness with positive action, rather than just hope”.
— David Goldfarb, on “The Great Firewall and Beyond”

In fairness, his actions appear to be somewhat narrower, and also broader, than just the “positive.” He’s promised to make sure that suffering transforms, but we’ve also seen him put on plays and at least claim to be the kind of guy who uses thumbscrews. Also I think that it’s a monster-centric perspective to call drowning the monster in angels positive; I mean, think of those poor angels! Would you want to drown the monster in a sea of you?


//I think that’s unfair to the angels. Angels don’t just give you a hopeful feeling; they give you a reason to hope. Magic A’s power is legitimately capable of solving people’s problems, albeit only sometimes.

I think it would be more like “Martin answers hope with adequate directions to your goal.”//
— Rand Brittain, on “The Great Firewall and Beyond”

Seriously, now you’re just making him blush and squirm. You talk like he doesn’t even want to push the End-of-Everything Button. ^_^


//Yeah, I think Martin is something that can make people able to answer their own emptiness.

And come to think of it, “I can make myself from nothing” is a pretty convincing answer to emptiness. As well as one of my favorite lines EVER.//
— cariset, on “The Great Firewall and Beyond”

It’s good to remember if you’re ever made nothing, too; because he wasn’t anyone special, he didn’t do anything that you couldn’t do, he almost screwed it up twice. He was just a firewood boy! You could make yourself again from nothing too.


> if there were a Bob around in Hitherby I could totally have characters be saying “as you know, Bob” and “Bob’s your uncle” all the freaking time.

//This made me laugh out loud (a hard thing to do with cold print).

(Though for that latter, would you have to introduce a hitherto-unknown child of Sebastien’s?)

In re The Acts of the Apostles and The Bacchae, something not many people seem to know is that the bit where Jesus says to Saul of Tarsus, “It is hard on thee to kick against the pricks” is almost word-for-word something Dionysos says to Pentheus. (That much I’ve verified for myself — I think I’ve read that the phrase was not idiomatic in Koine, and so had to have been borrowed, but I’m less sure of that.) Saul of course was an educated man and so would have been familiar with The Bacchae in the same way that educated people today are familiar with Hamlet or Macbeth.//
— David Goldfarb, on Vrm VRRRRRRM etc.

That is totally fascinating!

The last bit I mean. The question is actually pretty easy: Thess has children, and others might have as well. But the Bacchae stuff is neat. I remember reading it back when you wrote this lo these many months ago and flailing around trying to figure out what to actually do with it. In the end it just went into the vault in my head, whence things like Cedric’s strangulation of Jeanne Sarai emerge, and one day I’ll be tracking down some escaped horror and I’ll realize, “Oh! That’s not a bit of something icky that I absorbed somewhere. That’s a useful lesson about parallels between Jesus and Dionysus! That’s art. Rock on!”


So, have you read any of the “Science of Discworld” books? Because the concept of lies-to-children there seems relevant to this.
— Rand Brittain, on Vrm VRRRRRRM etc.

I have not! I probably should have, what with having spent months in the house of Seattle’s greatest Discworld fan, author Chrysoula Tzavelas of Nightlights, but for some reason I am pretty sure that somehow I have not.

Though at least it gave me a shot at Unseen Academicals and Thud!

Thud!, by the way, is a practically perfect book.


The Science of Discworld books are insert-impressive-superlative-here.// I liked them enough I managed to sneak a citation of the book into my philosophy thesis (on the subject of ‘lies-to-humans’, coincidentally enough).

I’m big ol’ nerd.

(Edit: I tell a lie. The second book was included in the bibliography but not directly cited, in my thesis. I cited the first book directly in a term paper though. Still a big ol’ nerd.)//
— philomory, on Vrm VRRRRRRM etc.

Into every philosophy thesis a few untruths must fall. For without them, surely, it would become such a potent vessel of the empyrean as to blind the committee, leaving them peevish and unwilling to award degrees.


I’m not actually sure creating Micah would be a bad spot of work regardless. Most speculative fiction stories where you create someone to suffer on your behalf, there’s an additional unethical factor, like:

you start the process with an existing person; or
you are personally responsible for the suffering afterwards.

There’s something definitely questionable about creating someone to stand between you and the monster, but I’m not sure—is the questionable element your evil, or just the monster’s?

//I don’t know.

I think that making someone to suffer in your place is intrinsically wrong, at least without mitigating factors like consent or extreme duress. Not only are you making a person to perform a specific function, which is already in lets-tread-lightly-here moral territory, but it’s something that helps you at their expense.

And I think that’s a little too much like treating other people as means to an end.

Now, given Liril’s situation, I don’t think she was blameworthy. But if she’d went into it deliberately and intentionally, I think it probably would be.

(On a tangent, it’s interesting thinking about how consent even works when creating a person, if you can specify their tendencies and so forth when doing so. Making someone who you know wouldn’t consent to being created seems problematic… but what about making someone who only consents to being created because you decided when making them that they would be the sort of person who’d be okay with that? Is that morally better, because they’re a willing participant from the moment at which they exist, or morally worse because of preemptively pre-brainwashing a purely hypothetical person?)

— Eric, on Vrm VRRRRRRM etc.

Consent is not what is said by the mouth, for the mouth can be terrified into consenting. Consent is not what is offered by the eyes or body, for the eyes and body can be terrified into consenting. Consent is not even what is offered by the mind, though that treads close to the matter, for the mind can be broken into consenting. Consent is an offshoot and a branching off of joy, off of desire, off of nature, off of will—it is a thing that comes of wholesome desires rising from the structure of the self. Consent is not knowingly disharmonious with the dharma of the consenting thing, and is best mistrusted when that disharmony is in ignorance. We say we consent when we take to a thing with a will, when it is the convergence of two flows, one from one self and one from the other. We say we consent when constrained to flow in certain strictures, to the extent of those strictures’ legitimacy—if we are forbidden to walk in one place, and so walk in another, that is our consenting if the forbidding is legitimate, and our duress if it is not. Consent is a mode of joy and passion. To create that which loves its life and loves its love, in honest love, is to give rise to a thing that consents to be created; to create that which is in disarray and in disorder relative to the nature that is its own is to create a thing in despite of its failure to consent. So you could say: that which is born to be given over to the woglies is born in defiance of its consent; it bears a burden in its birth; it bears the weight of your contradictions and not its own. But that which is whole and pure to the extent of your understanding is probably OK.

I think that Micah is not in contradiction with himself, and he would not be, quite, even if to stand between the monster and Liril had been his destiny. He was shattered by the idea but he was shattered by it in the way that a person is shattered, mostly, and I think even shattered people have their native truths. But I think that creating him to suffer in her place, if that were the most precise description of the deed, would in fact have been wrong and non-consensual, because in Hitherby suffering is a manifestation of the same contradictions that, in the pre-creation of a thing, would deny consent.

And wow! I wasn’t expecting to get that much out of that thought when I started. ^_^


It’s an open question, I suppose, whether the issues of the isn’ts are the fault of their creators, thus, or of the Buddha; or, I suppose, of something else.

Casts a whit of a nasty light on Anatman, that does; or on Jane and Liril; and I can’t say which.


By the way, I’ve been meaning to mention for a while now that my local food store is featuring this Portuguese Vinho Verde. I bought a bottle and liked it enough to buy another.
— David Goldfarb, on Vrm VRRRRRRM etc.

Hahaha get DRUNK on NOBILIS


//My sincere sympathy with respect to the noise.It is only during the day, and not interfering with your sleep, right?

On the morality of creating Micah, I think we can all agree that it’s not wrong to create something *other* than a person to suffer in your place – If a diorama gets carried off to the place without recourse, for example.

On the other hand, if you set forth to create a person, I think you’re conceding that what you create has some freedom of choice. You *can’t* create a person who must suffer in your place, because you can’t go around dictating “the purpose of your life is to suffer” unless your trying to create a tool, instead of a person.

You can try to create a tool that suffers for you, and accidently create a person, or you can create a person, who happens to suffer in a circumstance where you would have suffered instead. But deliberately creating a person to suffer doesn’t seem a coherent goal.

Besides, the statement that Micah has to suffer in Liril’s place comes from the monster. If you accept it as a true statement, you’re implicitly conceding that there’s some kind of conservation of suffering, and if Liril isn’t suffering, it’s because somebody else suffers for her.

I think the process is more “Micah is created. The monster declares that his purpose is to suffer”. And that’s clearly the monster’s fault.//
— Michael, on Vrm VRRRRRRM etc.

I don’t recall how much interrupted sleep I wound up with, but the current noise is in fact only during the day, and really only today and yesterday so I’m just freaking out from accumulated recent freakout buildup, so all’s well that ends well!

Honestly the monster is probably responsible for practically any action that Liril takes at that point, having successfully taken her volition and convinced her that she’s not a person.

But yeah.

There’s a thing that I think is important, which is that fundamentally, any terrorist is going to try to get everyone around them to believe that the terrorists’ actions are the fault of those who don’t give in to their demands. Any monster is going to twist up all their victims to find ways for them to blame themselves and—

I was going to say one another, but honestly, really, monsters mostly just twist up victims to blame themselves. Blaming another person is an act of power, even if it’s an awfully weak one; monsters can’t allow it. I mean, it’s weak, weak weak weak, blaming other victims, it’s not an act of strength as human acts are measured, but it’s still more strength than a crucible would be allowed to keep.

But anyway!

A terrorist or monster or torturer is going to find ways to have you hold others responsible for the torturer’s own actions. But that’s not right. In the end, the monster isn’t obligated to hurt Micah or Liril, and the only way that she could be responsible for his doing so even with malice aforethought is when the divvied up responsibility starts exceeding 100%. Which it can, you understand—I’m OK with things having multiple reasons, and with people taking responsibility with a reach that exceeds their grasp—but there’s also a fundamental truth that the one who chooses to hurt others is the one to blame.

I don’t have good language for the reconciliation of the two visions of responsibility, so I’ll leave this there.


I was originally going to try to come up with something clever about the breakfast cereal theme with the underworld here and in Priyanka (I/II) and Persephone’s mom, Ceres, but the latter has enough non-cereal-related mascots that I really have no idea.
— Xavid, on The Toucan Clock

Every time I see Ceres’ name I want to make some sort of Ceres-face pun, but it never looks good in text.

It *sounds* good, in my head! It’s a very lolcat image. SERIOUS-FACE. Only, well.

I really like the goddess Ceres, actually, so I also don’t want to be too mean to her. I mean, there are some symbols that ought to be respected. Hitherby may not be the most respectful of environments overall, but, you know.


There’s actually a reference to Ceres in Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine—it’s one of the celestial bodies that is actually located in the sky above Town, rather than off somewhere in the cosmos, and so it is colonized by the bird-faced spirits that there dwell. They have an orrery with sympathetic links to the planets that the titans use to push the various solar system bodies about and an astronomical college. It’s really a cool planetoid!


//Hey! I run a podcast called The Walking Eye, and we often make mention of Weapons of the Gods. We’re about to publish a recording of our Actual Play of the game, and we’d love a chance to pick your brain about the game as well. Would you like to do a roughly 1-hour interview over skype?

Sorry to get ahold of you this way, I couldn’t find an email address or contact info.//
— Kevin Weiser, on Vrm VRRRRRRM etc.

I am no longer in China! Well, if you do not count Taiwan, which more or less one should not. And almost I am available. I am just trying to get a good microphone out of Eos. ^_^


It’s interesting how the narrative depersonalizes the monster, leading to the odd construction “1968’s monster”, when you’d normally expect the monster to be the one depersonalizing others.
— Xavid, on “The Great Firewall, and Beyond”

Well, you know how it is. You’ve been tortured by one cherub, you’ve been tortured by them all!


//Thank you so much for the links. I notice! I must figure out how to lure potential commenters into becoming actual commenters.

Oh, and it’s okay to say ‘volume’ or ‘chapter’. :-) ‘Illumination’ comes from my blatant theft of some manga/anime styling– I’m always impressed when they refer to episodes/chapters as ‘levels’ or ‘stage’ or ‘layer’ or ‘period’ or something that is, you know, relevant to both storytelling/words AND the subject of the story.//
— Nightlights authoress Chrysoula Tzavelas, on “Light, in the Bastion of Darkness, with the Candlestick”

I almost never wind up commenting myself! It’s really sad considering how much comments make me happy. I blame society.


//“Even more interestingly, Saul isn’t currently in Hell.”

Yeah. I figure that has something to do with Martin. Neither Saul nor Martin strike me as being purely good or beloved of the one who sits on the throne of the world. Saul does have the “child of a god” thing going, but that apparently wasn’t enough for a few thousand years, and Martin doesn’t have that proptery as far as I’m aware. And there’s the question of whether Saul met with Persephone before leaving Hell…

Hm, and Anatman sounds an awful like what Martin did when he said “you’re just a firewood dharma” and decided to be something else…

So many more stories! I’m glad that they might get written! :)//
— cariset, on “Light, in the Bastion of Darkness, with the Candlestick”


Yeah, it’s kind of amusing that Saul, who is explicitly and directly the child of a god, had so much trouble getting out. But I can’t be blamed for it! The list of criteria for escaping the underworld was taken directly from Carlos Parada’s Greek Mythology Link:

Now, it is said that those who descend to the Underworld and come back to the light, can do so either on account of Zeus’ love, or on account of their own goodness, or because they are born from gods… .


Well, I suppose you could blame me. I mean, I did choose to stick to it. ^_^ But blaming me for anything would probably be cosmically wrong and unnecessary, not because I desire to deflect it, but on account of my naturally curly hair.

Best wishes,