September 25, 2021

Hills of Silver Ruins (2/30)

Sodou is a daoshi (道士), a Taoist monk or priest.

The different Taoist sects described in this chapter appear analogous to the schools of Mahayana and Vajrayana or Esoteric Buddhism. A similar schism occurred in the early Middle Ages during what I call Japan's "Protestant Reformation." For Nichiren, Japan's Martin Luther,

religious ideals were inseparable from society and had to be realized in society. Salvation could not be achieved only at the level of individual meditation, because, first, no individual exists by himself, and secondly, because a living being can only realize itself through action and not by mere spiritual activity

In Chinese mythology, the Ten Kings of Hell (十王) judge the sins of the dead and determine how they will be reborn in the next life, a "Buddhist concept modified by Taoism and indigenous folk beliefs."

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September 18, 2021

Hills of Silver Ruins (2/29)

I've posted chapter 29 (book 2) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

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September 15, 2021

Reframing the mainframe plot

I've ranted about this before, but the mainframe-as-antagonist (commanding an army of dumb terminal minions) was a well-worn theme fifty years ago. It's so overdone by now you can't stick a fork in it: it's mush. And yet Hollywood keeps serving it up.

Because, well, we keep chomping it down.

Conquering the galaxy since the 1950s.

Even the ending of Edge of Tomorrow (without a computer network in sight) is straight out of The Phantom Menace. And straight out of Oblivion, the previous Tom Cruise SF post-apocalyptic, blow-up-the-alien-mainframe actioner.

Making it an organic mainframe is a slight improvement, but just as dumb. The whole "hive mind" thing needs to go too.

Of course, destroying a single machine in a single place and winning the war everywhere makes for easy denouements. But if the Earth is ever attacked by malevolent aliens who know how to implement autonomous distributed network technology, we are so screwed.

That aside, though, what do the aliens hope to accomplish by attacking the Earth so piecemeal? Or attacking the Earth at all? (Besides giving the director an excuse to restage the Battle of Britain or the Invasion of Normandy.)

If they wanted to wipe out humans along with the infrastructure—the whole objective of the Independence Day aliens—there's no need to get anywhere near the planet's surface, as Heinlein pointed out back in 1966 with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

De-orbiting asteroids does the job nicely. And there are lots of big asteroids out there.

Another reason is: they want our water. But there is plenty of easily-accessible water elsewhere, and not at the bottom of a deep gravity well. Europa, for starters.

Then there's the "To Serve Man" plot device. But homo sapiens is a lousy food/energy source (The Matrix is dumber than dirt in this regard). That's why so few people get eaten by sharks (surprisingly few!).

Besides, a blown-up country is a huge resource sink. Hence the Marshall Plan. By 1950, the U.S. government was already regretting Article 9 in the 1947 Japanese Constitution (forbidding war) and was revving up Japanese industry to support the Korean War.

In The Phantom Menace, George Lucas tosses the politics of trade into the picture, but without demonstrating the slightest comprehension of what was being traded, why or how. The result is a blur of handwaving when it comes to the actual story.

The economic model of the Star Wars universe makes no more sense than the socialist utopianism of Star Trek, which finally gave us the robber baron Ferengi to make things interesting.

Still, Lucas was onto something. The "unequal treaties" imposed on Japan and China by the U.S. and European powers in the mid-19th century led to the Boxer Rebellion in China and propelled Japan into a regional arms race in order to even the scales.

Lots of dramatic conflict there. The thing is, China and Japan had stuff the foreign powers wanted. And at the time, a bad trade deal was a better deal for both sides than smash and grab.

And so we're back to the Lebensraum ("living space") ideology promulgated by Germany in the 1930s. (The Nazi bad guy connection certainly doesn't hurt.) The Japanese equivalent was used to justify the annexation of Korea and Manchuria.

Both Germany and Japan were doing rather well at expanding their territories (employing their own "unequal treaty" tactics) before they started actually invading their neighbors, after which everything went downhill fast.

So we'll assume our invading aliens are smart enough not to turn the whole thing into a scorched-earth shooting war. The problem is how to make that interesting.

A good place to start is Ryomaden, which describes in detail the "opening" of Japan in the mid-19th century, the shock to the system, the unequal treaties, the civil strife, and then a quickly-concluded civil war that launched Japan on a burning quest to surpass the west.

If gunboat melodrama is what you want, (bad) diplomacy seems pretty good at supplying the necessary Sturm und Drang motivations. Kudos to Guardians of the Galaxy on this score (though I hope they dispense with the same-old apocalyptic climax in the sequel).

The problem is the time frame of real politics. Summing up two decades of geopolitics in two hours would be tough. I suppose it really is simpler to just have Tom Cruise blow up the mainframe.

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September 11, 2021

Hills of Silver Ruins (2/28)

Winter weapons (冬器) are so called because they are commissioned by the Ministry of Winter and are often imbued with magical properties that make them especially effective against youma and wizards.

September 04, 2021

Hills of Silver Ruins (2/27)

The role of the Queen Mother of the West (西王母) is discussed in chapter 42 of Shadow of the Moon and chapter 33 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind. Risai meets her in chapter 44 of The Shore in Twilight.

A screen wall or spirit screen (影壁) shielded the entranceway in traditional Chinese architecture. Because evil spirits were believed incapable of moving around corners, a spirit wall blocked them from entering the gate.

A barbican (甕城) is a fortified gateway situated outside the main line of defense and connected to the castle with a walled road or tunnel.

The kyoushu (拱手) gesture should be familiar to anybody who's watched enough wuxia action movies.

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