Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gilded Pennoncel

My most recent flag project was a silk pennoncel, with three gold sandglasses on a blue field. Modern fabric paint was the lowest layer of the sandglasses,  with gold leaf burnished atop that with gum arabic.

Flags, coat armor and caparisons were often painted in the Middle Ages, and Cennino Cennini had much useful advice on painting cloth. Both silk and linen was used for surviving flags, and the Earl of Wawick owned standards of worsted. Cennini also described how to paint velvet, and woolen cloth for jousts or tournaments.  Cennini generally sized the cloth where it would be painted, which is essential to protect the cloth if oil based paint or mordant for gilding is used.

I sewed the silk to a peripheral piece of cloth, shaped so it could be stretched over a modern canvas stretcher just like a canvas for easel painting.

Modern acrylic fabric paint can be applied to cloth directly, but has a gloss that is somewhat different from oil paint over size or tempera.

Note that medieval flag makers seem to have been more flexible in arranging charges than their modern emulators, as long as the number was correct. The crowns on Arthur’s pennoncel in the Nine Worthies Tapestry are arranged similarly to here, but those on his shield are two and one.

Using resist and dyes to paint silk seems to have been unknown in Europe before the 19th century.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Medieval Hunting Seasons

Hart (red deer stag)
June 24 (Midsummer Day)-September 14 (Holy Rood Day) Forest LawsBSA
May 3-September 14 Modus
Best around July 22 (Feast of the Magdalene) Modus, Phoebus

Hind (red deer doe)
September 14 (Holy Rood Day)-February 2 (Candlemas) Forest Laws
September 14 (Holy Rood Day)-Lent Phoebus

Fallow deer buck
June 24 (Midsummer Day)-September 14 (Holy Rood Day) Modus, Forest Laws

Fallow deer doe
September 14 (Holy Rood Day)-February 2 (Candlemas) Forest Laws

Roebuck (roe deer buck)
Easter-September 29 (Michaelmas) BSA
All year Phoebus, MG

Roe (roe deer doe)
September 29 (Michaelmas)-February 2 (Candlemas) BSA

September 29 (Michaelmas)-June 24 (Midsummer Day) Forest LawsBSA
All year: Twiti, Phoebus

September 8 (Nativity of Our Lady)-February 2 (Candlemas) BSA

September 8 (Nativity of Our Lady)-March 25 (Annunciation) BSA
Christmas-March 25 (Lady Day) Forest Laws

September 8 (Nativity of Our Lady)-March 25 (Annunciation) BSA
Christmas-March 25 (Lady Day) Forest Laws

February 22-June 24 (Midsummer Day) MG

Martin, badger and rabbit
All Year MG

Outside of the royal forests these were customary rather than statutory. There seem to have been two primary motives. A closed season let does fawn undisturbed, and the Boke of St. Albans had a similar closed season for hares. Other seasons seem to have defined optimal hunting, such as when harts were fat and well nourished.

BSA: Berners, Juliana, and William Blades. 1899. The Boke of Saint Albans. London: E. Stock.

Forest Laws: Manwood, John, and William Nelson. 1717. Manwood's treatise of the forest laws: shewing not only the laws now in force, but the original of forests, what they are, and how they differ from chases, parks, and warrens with all such things as are incident to either. In the Savoy [London]: Printed by E. Nutt for B. Lintott.

MG: Edward, William A. Baillie-Grohman, Florence Nickalls Baillie-Grohman, and Gaston. 1909. The master of game: the oldest English book on hunting. New York: Duffield.

Modus: Henri, and Elzéar Blaze. 1839. Le Livre du roy Modus et de la royne Racio: Conforme aux manuscrits de la bibliothèque royale, ornée de gravures faites d'après les vignettes de ces manuscrits fidèlement reproduites.

Twiti: Dryden, Alice, Henry Edward Leigh Dryden, and William Twiti. 1908. The art of hunting, or, Three hunting mss. Northampton: W. Mark.

Almond, Richard. 2011. Medieval Hunting. New York: The History Press

Cummins, John. 2001. The hound and the hawk: the art of medieval hunting. London: Phoenix.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The 2015 Hugos

“The important thing is that we increased participation” said the arsonist as the last volunteer fire company pulled away from the extinguished fire.

Some observations on the vote:

The Hard Rabid Puppy Vote
By this I mean the number of people who will reliably vote as Vox Day wishes. At the nomination stage it ranged from 196-100, but of course VD has boasted that he has recruited more since. During the final vote we can look at categories that VD promoted on his final ballot that were not part of the Sad Puppy slate for a maximum value: this ranged from 585 for Best Editor Short Form to 450 for Best Fan Writer on the first pass. And it only provides a maximum, not a minimum. We know that 525 people put Turncoat as their first choice, but we don’t know how many were minions and how many were Sad Puppies or swing voters that happened to vote for their own reasons. This has important consequences for how badly he can game next year’s nominations.

The Hard Sad Puppy Vote
This is harder to judge, since few of the nominees that were only on the Sad Puppy slate survived to the short list, and some of them picked up a VD endorsement after the nominations closed. At the nomination stage, nominations for the first four categories that were just on one slate were fairly similar: 172 votes average for the Sads and 165 for the Rabids. For those endorsed by both slates, they ranged from 323 votes for the novels to 220 for the short stories, averaging about 281. This is only about 83% of the sum of the two when voting for different nominees, so there is some overlap in the two pools of nominators: you can’t just add them together to get total influence.

The Hard Anti-Slate Vote
How many people voted anything on a slate below No Award regardless of merit? The Dramatic Presentations offer some guidance. The puppy nominated Guardians of the Galaxy only got 1038 No Awards, and some of them were probably a reaction to the movie itself rather than its presence on a slate.  Even a popular, Hugo-winning movie can be judged unworthy by some voters.  The previous year, the winning Gravity got 315 No Award votes: the equivalent of about 700 proportionate to the far larger 2015 total vote. In 2013, the winning avengers got 96 voters placing no award higher, proportionate to 341 in 2015. This implies a net pure and hard anti-slate vote of about 500.

In Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, the top Puppy nominee, a Game of Thrones episode, won third place against 1414 No Award votes. This compares to the second place unslated Doctor Who episode that won second place against 520 No Awards. This suggests that the net No Award penalty purely for being on a slate in that category, regardless of quality, was probably something under 900 votes. So 500-900 is reasonable estimate of the hard anti-slate vote.

The editor categories had a lot of No Awards as first choice, but much of that was probably peculiar to those categories. Judging the editors is really hard, especially long form, unless you’re one of their authors, or someone that knows their authors.

I think that some deliberately put everything on a slate below No Award in the Editor categories, but no more than in the dramatic presentations. What hurt the non-Vox editors was this:

VD made it very feasible for the ordinary fan to judge his own work at Castalia, by forcing so much of his product onto the ballot. And a lot of people voted No Award just so he could be below it. And then they abstained on some or all of the rest of the slate from lack of information, which meant that those editors weren’t above No Award either.  Or people that would have abstained from the entire category in a normal year felt that they had to vote because of VD.

I know that some people No Awarded the entire Editor Long Form category because they thought they couldn’t judge it properly, not because of the slates. 140 voters voted No Award first in the category in 2014 when there was no slate sweep, proportionate to over 440 in 2015’s larger vote.

It didn’t help Weisskopf that she had very diffuse responsibility at Baen, a house with a reputation for light editing. Or that she had called a fair chunk of the genre “fuggheads.” But I think all the editors suffered because of challenges peculiar to the editor categories.

What Scalzi said.

Slate nominations are a poisoned chalice. The only ones strong enough to survive them don’t need them. The sensible Puppy strategy next year is to come back with an actual recommendation list, with  no less than ten suggestions per category, and once again become useful members fandom.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tent Toggles

At top is one of the toggles on my pavilion. They started as commercial 1.5” toggles, with a central groove for the tie that attaches them to the canvas added on a lathe by the tentmaker, Robert MacPherson. They both attach the walls to the roof and close the door openings, a solution that is both authentic and quicker and easier than fabric ties.

The next to photos are toggles from a surviving 17th century tent from the armory at Graz.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mallomar SF

Mallomar SF has a superficial shell of crunchy hard science, but when you bite into it’s full of fluffy, gooey magical science and bad science.

Take Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which I loved when I was twelve. Heinlein lovingly calculates the kinetic energy of the lunar bombardment, while completely omitting the amount of energy lost as the projectiles go through the atmosphere. Or the glaringly obvious heat signature of the second catapult’s radiator.

Or the economic absurdity of growing wheat in lunar caves with fossil ice for export to Earth. That’s pretty silly even before the ice starts running out.

Given the presumption of competitive fusion power, that would would be hopelessly more expensive than, for example, growing wheat underneath Antartica.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Tables: Ludus Anglicorum, Imperial and Provincial

A clearer image of the illustration is reproduced here.

The English Game
There are many games of tables with dice, the first being the long game, which is the English Game. It is common here, and is played as follows: he who sits on .am. side has 15 men on .&. point, and he who sits on the .n&. side has 15 men on .a. point. They play with three dice or with two, the third throw being always counted as a 6. He who sits on .am. side moves all his men placed on .&. through the pages .&t., .sn., .mg. and into the page .fa. and then bears them off.

He who sits on .n&. side moves all his men placed on .a. through the pages .af., .gm., .ns. and into the page .t&. and then bears them off. And he who first bears off all his men wins.

And note that he who sits on .am. side can secure any point from .mg. and .fa., except the .a. point, that is occupied by two or more opposing men, and when there is only one, he can take it. If an opposing man is undoubled, he can take it by moving with one or two dice, then the captured man has to return in .t&., and reenter with a 6 in .t., or with a 5 in .u., or with a 4 in .x., or with a 3 in .y, or with a 2 in .z., or with a 1 in .&., if these points are not occupied by his own men nor doubled by his opponent ones. And his opponent cannot play until he has reentered the captured man.

And note that in this play it is good to secure the .g. and .f. points. With three dice, the third one being always a 6 ; securing the .g. point prevents the opponent from crossing the bar with a 6. Also note that you can bring all the men you want on doubled points; from these doubled points, you can also hit the undoubled, and make them return in the table where they were placed at the beginning of the game.

Thus he who sits on .n&. side can secure any point in .ns. and .t&. except the .&. point that is occupied by two or more opposing men and when there will be only one, he can hit it. And, if an opposing man is undoubled, then he can hit it by moving with one or two dice. And then this captured man returns in .fa., and reenter with a 6 in .f., with a 5 in .e., with a 4 in .d., with a 3 in .c., with a 2 in .b., with a 1 in .a., if these points are not occupied by his own men nor doubled by the opponent ones. And the opponent cannot play until he has reentered the captured man.

Also note that in this play it is good to secure the .s. and .t. points, for the same reason mentioned above. And as soon as he who sits on .n&. side brings all his men in .t&., he bears them off as follows: if some men are on .t., they are born off with a 6 or an equivalent combination i.e 4-2, 3-3, 5-1, the points on .u. are born off with a 5 or its equivalent 4-1, 3-2, or with a 6 if there is no men on .t.; the points on .x. are born off with a 4 or its equivalent i.e 3-1, 2-2 or with a 6 or a 5 if there is no man in .t. nor in .u.; and if these men are in .y., they are born off with a 3 or its equivalent 2-1 or with a 6, 5 or 4 if there is no men in .t. nor in .u. nor in .x.; and if some men are in .z., there are born off with a 2 or with 1-1 or with 6, 5, 4, 3 if there is no man in .t. nor in .u. nor in .x. nor in .y.; and if some men are in .&., they are born off with a 1 or with 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 if there is no man in .u. nor in .x. nor in .y. nor in .z. Thus he who sits on .am. side bears his men in .fa., and he who bears his men off first wins.

He who sits on .n&. side has a great mastery of the game if he manages to secure .n. .o. .p. .q. .r. points, the .s. point being open, and if he forces his opponent to bring up eight men to .a., and to have one man on .t., another on .u., another on .x., another on .y., another on .z., another on .&. and also a seventh man not reentered yet ; and this victory is called lympoldyng.

Moreover if his opponent fills the whole .t&. page and also the .s. point, this victory is not called limpolding but lurching. He who sits on .n&. side must be careful to secure .n. .o. .p. .q. .r. points, the .s. point being opened, to allow the opponent to go into .mg. By moving one or even two of his own, he secures the .s. point and his opponent cannot cross all his men, which must be brought into .mg. and placed in .a. Then the .t. .v. .x. .y. .z. points are occupied by his opponent. The .s. point being opened, as his opponent can go into .mg., his opponent brings up to eight men in .a. Closing the .s. point forces his opponent to fill with his men the points .t. .u. .x. .y. .z, and two opposing men stay in .&. By releasing the .s. point, you take the opposing man in .t. and he takes you back with a 6, which always is the third assumed throw. You come back to .fa., .ns., until his opponent is forced to evacuate his second man from the .&. point, thus there is only one man in .&. and the remaining points .t. .u. .x. .y. .z. are occupied by one man, and then you take his seventh undoubled man and the opponent is limpolded.

There is a method of playing without dice where throws are chosen at will. But he who has the advantage of starting wins if he plays well, he first choses 6-6-5 to make two men cross outside the table where they are; at first move, he always can secure a point and take an opposing man that must come back and his opponent will lose the second die.

There is a third method of playing where one choses two dice and his opponent gives him 6 for the third throw, or, if he throws his dice, his opponent gives him a third throw.

There is another game of tables called Imperial, and is played as follows. He who sits on the .n&. side has his men in three piles, i.e five on .p., the other third on .s. and the other third on .t. And he who sits on the .am. side has in the same way his men on .k. .g. .f. And he who sits on the .n&. side brings all his men on .&. then he wins. And his opponent wins if he brings them on .a. And this game is played with three dice.

There is another game of tables called Provincial similar to Imperial except the starting position where all the men of one side are on .g. and .f.

BL Royal 13 A XVIII, ff 158r-160r. Transcribed in Fiske, Willard, and Horatio S. White. 1905. Chess in Iceland and in Icelandic literature, with historical notes on other table-games. Florence: Florentine Typographical Society. Transcription reproduced here. Translation copyright Will McLean 2015.

Thursday, August 06, 2015


In Neal Stephenson’s 2015 novel, the Human Race does its best to deal with an oncoming planetary catastrophe, a 5,000 year bombardment of Earth. Most of the page count is spent on a desperate effort to preserve a fraction of humanity off the Earth’s surface in space. We are repeatedly forced to follow the Gimli Philosophy of Risk Management: "Certainty of death, small chance of success... What are we waiting for?” Because when those are the options, the answer is obvious. You play the cards you are dealt as well as you can, and if you lose you go down fighting.

Stephenson does a pretty good job of sticking to known science, with, he admits, a few places where he wrote himself into a corner. It follows that settling space with today’s technology is shown as the kind of desperate enterprise that is only attempted because an unknown Agent destroys the fricking Moon. And the settlers barely survive by the skin of their teeth, passing through the narrowest of genetic bottlenecks after terrible casualties.

Early on, the alert reader will notice Stephenson introducing Checkov’s Survival Plans B and C. 5,000 years later he takes them down off the wall. Because, even for this planetary catastrophe settling space isn’t the only option, or necessarily the best one.

It isn’t explicitly stated, but is logical to assume that there were other iterations of Plan B, and Sonar Taxlaw’s people are just the one that we meet before the end of the book.

Also, Sonar Taxlaw is the best character name since Leelo Dallas Multipass.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Heinlein’s Double Star Could Not Win a Hugo Today

Because the science is rubbish, and we know it. This is a real problem for contemporary hard SF: the universe is not nearly as hospitable to space travel as we once thought, and it’s a lot harder to write about robust human settlement beyond Earth without cheating on the science than we thought in the 1950s.


In the Company's records this oath occurs immediately after a curious calendar, written in 15th century hand, and before a list of "Brethren received and incorporated in the time of Rici Attynchin and John Cutlere wardens" in 3 Henry VI., (1424-5).

I shall trewe man be to God o'r Lady Seynt Marie Seynt Mychell th'archangell patrone of the Gylde and to the Fraternite of the Mercers Yremongers and Goldsmythes & Cappers w'in the Towne and Fraunches of Shrowesbury I shall also Trewe man be to the king our liege lorde and to his heyres kyngys and his lawes and mynystars of the same Truly obs've and obey And ov' this I shall be obedyent to my wardens and their sumpneys obey and kepe I shall be trewe and ffeythfull to the Combrethern of the Gylde aforeseyd and ther co'ncell kepe All lawdable and lefull actes and composic'ons made or to be made w*in the Seide Gylde truly obeye p'forme and kepe aft' my reason and power I shall be contributare bere yelde and paye all man' ordynare charges cestes and contribucons aftur my power as any other master occupyer or combrother of the seid Gylde shall happen to doe and bere: Soe helpe me God and halidame and by the Boke.

Hibbert, Francis Aidan. 1891. The influence and development of English gilds: as illustrated by the history of the craft gilds of Shrewsbury. Cambridge: University Press.

Here are two adaptations of the oath to the creation of a Companion of the Order of the Laurel within the Society for Creative Anachronism

I shall true man be to God, our Lady Saint Mary, Saint Michael the archangel patron of the Order and to the Fraternity of the Laurel. I shall also True man be to the king our liege lord and to his heirs kings and his laws and ministers of the same Truly observe and obey. I shall be true and faithful to the Companions of the Order aforesaid and their council keep, All laudable and lawful acts and compositions made or to be made within the Said Order truly obey perform and keep after my reason and power. I shall perform all manner of obligations of the Order after my power as any other master occupier or companion of the Order shall happen to do and bear: So help me God and halidom and by the Book.

 I shall true man be to God, our Lady Saint Mary, Saint Michael the archangel patron of the Order and to the Fraternity of the Laurel. I shall also True man be to the Crown of the East and to their heirs and their laws and ministers of the same Truly observe and obey. I shall be true and faithful to the Companions of the Order aforesaid and their council keep, All laudable and lawful acts and compositions made or to be made within the Said Order truly obey perform and keep after my reason and power. I shall perform all manner of obligations of the Order after my power as any other master occupier or companion of the Order shall happen to do and bear: So help me God and halidom and by the Book

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Cut of Henry VIII's Tents.

Inventories of Henry VIII's tents reveal some of the details of their construction. In the 1547 inventory descriptions of "round houses" or pavilions note the number of gores in the roof and bredes or breadths in the wall. For the round tents there are regularly twice as many gores in the roof as breadths in the walls. The same construction survives on a 17th c. pavilion preserved at Basel.

Using less than the full width of the fabric for the gores would bring the diagonal edge of the gores closer to the straight angle of the warp threads, and make the gores less likely to stretch. On the Basel pavilion the difference in width between  the wall segments and roof gores was disguised by false seams dividing the wall segments. Design drawings of Henry's pavilions, pieced from contrasting fabrics,  similarly disguised the difference in width between wall segments and roof gores, presumably by matching  a wall segment with a pair of roof gores in the same color.

Tresauntes, straight covered passageways to connect tents, were without gores, with two breadths of fabric in the walls for each breadth in the roof. This is consistent with each breadth of roof fabric covering both sides of the roof without requiring a seam at the ridge line. Tresaunte roofs could be two to 16 breadths long.

Hales and kitchens had straight sides and gores forming semicircular ends to the roof at each ends, with the number of roof breadths and gores enumerated for each tent.

Cross houses, dormyes, and galleries with a half round had straight sides and a semicircular roof of gores at one end, and connected to another tent at the other end. Again, the number of gores and and roof breadths was enumerated for each tent.

"The kinges bigger Lodginge of Canvas garnyshed with small braunches of blew bokeram" was  complex with a great hall, six round houses, five tresauntes, and four galleries all with walls 7.5 feet deep (presumably the slant height) as well as two timber houses.

The kings lesser lodgings of canvas garnished with great branch of blue buckram consisted of three halls, three round houses, 13 tresauntes and a porch, also all with walls 7.5 feet deep.

Some of the smaller tents:

From the king's lesser lodgings:

Three halls of 8 breadths apiece in the roof, 17 gores every end (possibly an error, a similar hall from the same lodgings lent to the Earl of Warwick the same year had 16 gores per end) 4 yards deep, 32 depths in the walls 2.5 yards deep.

Two round houses of 50 gores apiece 6 3/4 yards deep in the roof, 25 breadths in the walls of every of them, 2.5 yards deep. with roses of red saie in the top inside and outside.

Two tresauntes of two breadths apiece in the roof 2 1/4 yards deep, 4 breadths in the walls every of them of 2.5 yards deep.

Listed elsewhere: a kitchen of Vitry canvas 5 breadths in the roof 14 points in every end 3.5 yards deep 24 breadths in the walls two yards deep.

Based on the roof slopes shown in the design drawings, these dimensions are consistent with canvas breadths about a yard wide.

Other necessaries associated with the tents included 66 vanes of ironwork painted and gilded with the kings arms and badges, sacks of leather lined with canvas for the dry and safe keeping of the rich hangings, two fire hearths, 1,000 wood buttons for tents, 40 ridge plates, 80 plain plates and 15 joints for ridge trees with their bolts and rivets.

The Inventory of King Henry VIII: The Transcript (Vol. 1), ed. David Starkey (London, 1998)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Just City, by Jo Walton

Athena, Apollo, time travel, Socrates, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino and robot ethics.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Size of New Horizons

New Horizons is often described as the size of a grand piano. Somehow it pleases me to come from a culture that calibrates the size of spacecraft in musical instruments.

Friday, July 10, 2015

On Pluto's Doorstep

New Horizons has entered Pluto's Hill Sphere, the space where Pluto's gravity dominates that of the Sun. Pluto and Charon are starting to look like actual places rather than discs covered with low resolution blotches. And it gets better. The closest approach will be July 14th.

New Horizons will streak through Pluto space at 13.8 km/sec. It left Earth faster than any other spacecraft, and it took almost 9 1/2 years to get there. Next stop, deeper into the Kuiper Belt.

These are the days of miracle and wonder.

What to expect when you're expecting a flyby.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Filking the 2015 Hugo Slates

Three pups for the Genius Club, no one knows why
Seven for John C. Wright and his Saudi prose
Nine for the Brad that calls you a CHORF
One for the Vox with a grudge he owns
In the noisy kennel where the puppies lie.
Two slates to rule them all, two slates to find them
Two slates to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the noisy kennel where the puppies lie.

At last we bared our fangs to bay
Our noisy yapping made an awful din
But with one quick snark John Scalzi stove us in
God damn them all!
I was told we’d cruise the con and have rockets to hold
Be our peers
But I’m house-broken now with no Hugos to cheer
The last of Puppy Privateers

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Live. Die. Repeat.: Edge of Tomorrow

She's young Victoria in powered armor. He's a smarmy rear-echelon coward. Together they fight aliens! Time traveling aliens on a Groundhog Day time loop!

Emily Blunt is Rita, worn down by multiple trips through the the temporal wringer but fighting on without sentimentality or wasted energy. Also, with the kind of honking big sword that only makes sense of you are wearing powered armor.  Tom Cruise as Bill Cage is forged in the crucible of battle into something better than he was.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Brief Review of Puppygate

Two small groups, calling themselves Rabid Puppies and Sad Puppies, used disciplined slate voting to dominate the 2015 Hugo final ballot. After some people refused or withdrew nominations, the Puppies gained 59 out of 85 slots: 45 from both slates, 10 purely from the Rabid slate and 4 from the Sads. Black Gate, a Fanzine nominated by the Rabids, also withdrew after the ballots were finalized. Less than 14% of the ballots cast in the novella category was enough to win the last of the slots, and the most popular Puppy novella got only 32% of the ballots in that category, so small minorities willing to use slates could dominate everyone else.

Many objected that the slate tactics, although legal, were mean, unsporting, pernicious, unethical and wicked.

Particularly after the voter packets came out, many complained that poorly written slate nominees kept better choices of the ballot. I would say that the slated writing nominees ranged from competent pieces by Butcher and English that didn’t quite rise to Hugo quality, to flawed or mediocre, to actively bad, and in the case of Williamson, unrelated to SF/F. And I’m seeing a ballot that’s slants more male than the prior year or the field and readership as a whole. Even if some Puppy motives were sincere, they had bad consequences.

On May 11 Irene Gallo, Creative Director in Tor’s art department, posted a comment on her personal Facebook page that, as she later admitted, painted the beliefs of the Puppies and the quality of the slate nominees with “too broad a brush”. This received little comment until Vox Day, born Theodore Beale, leader of the Rabid Puppies, released a screencap that he had been holding for several weeks for maximum effect, on the weekend of the 2015 Nebula Awards. Tor was also closed for the weekend. Of course, someone who genuinely cared about harm to the Puppies criticized would have simply sought an immediate correction.

Although Gallo rightly apologized for her statement on June 8, and Tom Doherty of Tor issued a statement that Gallo’s views in the comment were hers alone, and was if anything diplomatically deferential to Puppy views, enraged Puppies have continued to demand that Gallo be fired, as well as any other Tor executives that have said unfavorable things about puppies. This is in spite of the fact that judging by their nominations, the Puppies weren’t big fans of Tor books to begin with.

Like nominee Jim Butcher, I think Gallo’s apology is sufficient: Tor should not sacrifice a valued and talented employee to opportunistic Puppy baying.

Nonetheless, Vox Day is trying to whip up the threat of a Tor boycott. Of course, it makes perfect sense for him, since his tiny publishing house competes with Tor. But it won't be doing Tor's authors any favors.

Next year, I would love to see the Sad Puppies express their desire for more stuff they like on the ballot with an actual recommendation list: ten works or more in each written category. And they could improve their selection process: although they solicited recommendations, the final slate seems to have been chosen by the self proclaimed Evil League of Evil, apparently consisting of Correia, Hoyt, Torgersen and Wright. Details are murky for a process that aspired to be open and democratic*. That’s a small group that seems to have had a lot of overlap in their tastes. A committee that can only come up with a single choice for Best Graphic Story, and that a poorly drawn and unfunny zombie comic by one of Torgersen's neighbors, really needs more breadth.

*I welcome correction.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie, is a worthy successor to last years Hugo Awards best novel, Ancillary Justice. Breq, the protagonist, is a former starship A.I., a creation of the Radch, a sophisticated but cruel empire that doesn't use gender pronouns.

The Radch have found it expedient to use former humans as ancillaries, remote extensions of the minds that run their starships, convenient when they need to be in more than one place at a time. Did I mention the Radch were cruel?

When Justice of Toren is destroyed with malice aforethought, the person calling herself Breq of the Gerentate is all that survive's of Justice of Toren's intellect, a single ancillary pretending to be human.

Some of the kind of people that fear the feminists lurking under their bed see the Radch lack of gender pronouns as a weird culture war stunt, but as world building goes it isn't that much of a stretch. Estonian, Finnish and Hungarian all lack gender pronouns, and that's just the European languages.

Indeed, you could read the stories as a clever subversion of feminist tropes: the Radch have imperialism, oppression and sexual exploitation, but they don't even have a word for patriarchy.

It requires the usual suspension of disbelief required for interstellar empires, FTL, artificial gravity and decanting extensions of machine intellects into human bodies; in short, what is normally required for space operas.

Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Sword and another review by Lis Carey.

Night's Slow Poison is a 2012 short story set earlier in the same setting.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Introducing ScapeBook™!

Has this happened to you? You're reading a new book, and you have a sudden desire to introduce Mr. Book to Mr. Wall. At high velocity. Is it the cardboard characters? The intrusive message? The pathetic world building? The wordy but unspecific setting? Perhaps it's the plot hole big enough to sail interstellar dreadnoughts though in line abreast. Perhaps the eight deadly words "I don't care what happens to these people" have come unbidden to your lips. Maybe it's just pompous verbosity or excessive weapons porn.

Traditionally, this is followed by the consoling thump of the book hitting the wall and a moment of healthy catharsis. But what if you are using an e-reader or, worse yet, your computer?

Now, ScapeBook™ offers the answer. Handy, sacrificial ScapeBook™ sits within easy reach when you read digitally. Available in hardback, trade and mass-market paperback and Neal Stephenson doorstop, ScapeBook™ mimics the look and feel of a traditional book. Interior text is lorem ipsum filler and the back cover is equipped with the usual non-specific and deceptively edited blurbs. The generic cover can be customized with self-adhesive stickers printable on your home printer to more closely match the work you are currently reading digitally.

ScapeBook™. Your e-reader will thank you, and you'll just plain feel better.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Nutty Nuggets

"What are we looking for again?" said Liu, the technician from Mars Spacefleet.

"Ejecta from Perdita, of course.You saw the images we got from Alaunt. One of what hit Perdita shredded the cargo module and blew debris on a diverging course. The hydrogen tanks were holed too, but we're not going to waste time looking for hydrogen in space. You have the cargo manifest." Church, agent for Tranjovian and its insurance agency, was a stubby, thick-lipped, stocky man with heavy eyebrows. Perdita had gone silent on an unmanned low-energy trip to the Jovian moons and Alaunt had found what was left of her hull after a tedious search of her extrapolated course.

"Right." said Liu,  as a document came up on his screen. "Spare parts and luxury goods: fine wine, single-malt scotch, Napoleon brandy, macadamia nuts and cashews."

"The liquids will have frozen that far out, so we'll be looking for nutty nuggets. A pretty unique spectral signature beyond Ceres."

"Another 20 minutes until the next data from Baskerville. The time lag...."

"Your people willing to pay for a manned mission?"

"Hell no!"

"Mine neither. We'll live with the time lag"

"That rock pile tore up Perdita pretty bad" said Liu as they waited for the next data feed. "Tough luck!"

"Luck! You know, you ought to take a look at the statistics on loss of mission beyond LEO some time. You might learn a little something about the insurance business. We probably have ten volumes: manufacturing defect, processing error, design fault, system failure, programming error. Even inputting the wrong measurement units. You know what we don't have actuarial data for on loss of interplanetary missions?"

"Asteroid impact?"

"Bingo. Space is big."

Three weeks later, Church was back in the control room.

"Eight confirmed tracks of, uh, nutty nuggets" said Roberts

"Good. That will give us a sense of the limits of the debris field. Now we switch our search filter: aluminum, plastic, semiconductors"

"Mr. Church?"

"What's left of the bus, Liu. You don't think the Belters hit Perdita with unguided rocks do you?"

"The Belters? You think the Belters looted Perdita?"

"Hell no! You read too much classic SF. Do you have any idea how much delta-v they'd need to match courses from inside the belt and get away afterwards? How long a manned mission would take? Go ahead and look it up. God knows we've got plenty of time before we hear anything from Baskerville. But putting a few hundred kilograms of rocks on a collision course with Perdita? Piece of cake"

Several minutes later, Liu looked up from the screen. "Ok. Looting doesn't make sense. What's their game?"

"Well, you know the Belters have been trying to sell us navigation hazard warnings for the smaller asteroids, for a lot more than we think they're worth. We could read this as a bid to convince us that that threat is bigger than we think. Or just as 'Nice shipping line you got there, sure would be a pity if something were to happen to it accidental like'. But we think they were playing an even bigger game."
Oh?" said Liu.

"Somebody shorted Transjovian shares before Perdita was lost. To prove who was behind it we need to show the courts that it wasn't an accident. Alaunt needs to find some bit of manmade hardware in the debris cloud that isn't from Perdita. Fortunately, the debris from the places that were hit on Perdita won't look much like part of a midcourse  and terminal guidance multiple kinetic weapon bus. But now we will need some luck."

Five weeks later, they had it.

Monday, June 01, 2015

The Medieval Longsword, by Guy Windsor

Mastering the Art of Arms, Volume 2: The Medieval Longsword Guy Windsor, 2014 The School Of European Swordsmanship.

This teaches the early 15th century Italian style of Fiore dei Liberi, with more general advice on sources, swords, clothing, protection, footgear, general principles of time, measure, structure and flow. debatable issues, drills, freeplay and its limitations, and warming up exercises.

Windsor promises to cover the German school in Volume 3.

Volume 2 is reviewed here and here.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Arms & Armour Fechterspiel Sword

This is a well made and nicely proportioned training sword, eminently suitable for the purpose. The slim specialized blade broadening conspicuously at the ricasso combines flexibility with the weight and balance of a fighting sword. Like its surviving prototypes, it shows a 16th century esthetic. Early fechtschwerts or fechtschwert ancestors are discussed here. Here is a a detailed review of the Fechterspiel.

Chinstraps on Medieval Helmets

On some sallets the chinstraps have survived, and there are images showing chin straps or laces on kettle hats in the Morgan Bible and on helms in the Manesse Codex.

No chinstraps have survived on medieval bascinets, and for bascinets with mail aventails they would be invisible in contemporary images.

It is well to know that it is quite rare for chin straps to survive on medieval helmets of any kind. There must be thousands of surviving morions, but very few still have their chin straps, although they are well attested in contemporary iconography. And many barbutes and Italian sallets have rivets to attach chinstraps, but no straps.

However, in Christ before Caiphas in The Très Belles Heures of Jean de Berry we see a chinstrap on a small, round skulled bascinet worn without a mail aventail, as well as on a similar, somewhat more pointed helmet covered with scales.

Note how the straps widen to where they attach to the helmet. Surviving sallet straps often split to attach to the helmet at two points on each side, or attach to a shorter strap attached at two points on each side.

There is a reference in Froissart, Vol. III, chapter cxv. to a deed of arms between Sir Thomas Hapurgan, and Sir John des Barres.
It was then the usage (or at least, it seemed to me that it was) that one laced on their bascinet with a mere thong (une seule laniere), so that the point of the lance wouldn't set itself.
Froissart records a similar tactic was used by Sir Reginald de Roye against Sir John Holland in a combat before the duke of Lancaster, although in that case the helmets were heaumes.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Governance in the Elflands

Original world building is one of the virtues of The Goblin Emperor. The elvish government is one facet of this. A key example is the Corazhas, which might be described as an independent privy council with teeth. Evidently, the emperor needs support from at least half of them for important actions like building a major bridge or appointing his own chancellor.

As far as I can tell it is an original invention of the author, without any actual historical prototype, but it seems workable enough.

There are seven witnesses. The parliament, magicians, clergy and universities each appoint one. One comes from the treasury, one, The Witness for the Foreigners, from what seems to be the equivalent of the State Department or Foreign Office, and one from the judiciary. Apparently, the last four aren't simply appointed by the current emperor, but chosen by senior civil servants and judges that were, in the case of a new emperor, appointed by previous administrations.

Not a democracy, but an interesting set of checks and balances. One can see how it might have evolved from a more purely advisory council.

More on The Hot Equations

Another objection to Ken Burnside's The Hot Equations is that he spends a lot of time on the performance of electric propulsion (at current performance levels) and nuclear thermal rockets (tested experimentally, but not yet ready for operational missions.) While this technology will support a great deal of interesting exploration, I don't think it will support interplanetary commerce worth fighting a space war over. That will probably require something with higher performance, like a VASIMIR engine or a fusion pulse drive.

Pastiche and Fanfic

Pastiche has been described as a work that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists. It follows, then that fanfic is a subset of pastiche, mostly distinguished by the author not expecting to get paid.

Professionally written pastiche at its best includes a lot of interesting work; I would argue that almost everything in the Arthurian Mythos after Chrétien de Troyes qualifies, as well as Shoggoths in Bloom, Slaves of Silver, Stross's Laundry novels and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Scalzi's Redshirts starts out as a snarky Star Trek parody, but quickly goes metafiction as the titular redshirts figure out about the ridiculously high attrition rate among everyone on the away teams who isn't the Captain, Science Officer, Chief Engineer or Lieutenant Kerensky. They struggle to find a way to escape their fate before the narrative kills them.

Besides Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I am reminded of Stranger Than Fiction.

Monday, May 25, 2015

About The Hot Equations

Ken Burnside makes a brave attempt to discuss the actual implications of thermodynamics in space warfare. It is on the 2015 Hugo ballot for Best Related Work. Unfortunately, he gets a lot wrong.
In space, the horizon assumption is almost always wrong. The one exception is Low Earth Orbit (LEO), where the limb of the earth can temporarily obscure something for roughly an eighth of an orbital period; this is about a 15-minute window, tops. Detection range is never limited by terrain for militarily significant increments of time. 
Not true for sufficiently distant observers. For an observer on Mars or Ceres, a ship in LEO is going to be eclipsed almost half an orbital period. In a hostile environment, this is exactly when the Earth ship would choose to make major delta-v changes.
With an emissions spectrum on your drive flare, plus distance and proper motion, they can determine the mass pushed by that drive flare. Making your spacebattleship look like a space rowboat doesn't work, and neither do decoys, which need the same drive signature, apparent motion, and mass as the ship they're duplicating. 
You can’t make a battleship look like a rowboat, but you can make a rowboat look like a battleship. A rocket engine is designed to convert as much of the energy used as possible into accelerating propellant. A mechanism designed to simply produce the same amount of heat and lighter will be lighter, simpler, cheaper and use less energy. Compare, for example a welding torch to a rocket engine with the same thermal output. Similarly, a craft with electric propulsion could route electricity directly to radiators to simulate the heat signature of a much more massive craft.
The usual counter-argument made is "I'll just drift in, with engines cold and go undetected." Your life support system and power plant will be a detectable signal once your engine turns off, and they'll know where to look. 
Again, a decoy can have a heat source to simulate a manned ship running without thrust. And unmanned ships can hibernate while not under thrust, with very low power output. We’ve already shown that unmanned craft can be lethal weapons platforms, even when operating in the unpredictable environment of an atmosphere with weather.
The ion thrusters used by NASA's probes to Pluto have ISPs of around 10,000 seconds with a thrust of around 4milligees. 
NASA’s one probe to Pluto, New Horizons, does not use ion thrusters. The author is evidently thinking of Deep Space 1 and Dawn, both asteroid missions.
The combat actions won't be naval in nature, at least in the conventional Battleof Jutland sense. They'll be closer to anti-piracy actions in the Sea of Cebu or the Gulf of Aden; a pirate will lay in wait at a point where a ship must make a course correction – and where missing that correction by a few hours can result in everyone aboard dying of starvation – and capture the ship to hold for ransom.  
This shows a profound misunderstanding of orbital mechanics. First, most cargo missions won’t need a crew and won’t have one. Second, capturing a ship at interplanetary speeds is much easier said than done.

Consider a specific scenario: the asteroid pirates in Poul Anderson’s 1966 The Moonrakers. Robot freighters travel on Hohmann Orbits between Mars and the Jovian Moons, and space pirates from the asteroids match courses and loot them as they pass through the asteroid belt. There are several problems with this concept.

Simply matching courses takes a lot of delta-v, even if the most efficient course is chosen, and the most efficient course is a very long haul for the pirate crew. Getting away with the loot requires still more delta-v, and another long haul for the pirate crew. For most goods, it’s probably cheaper to buy honestly in Mars orbit and ship to the belt on a robot freighter.

Second, if Burnside is correct that plausible space drives are visible at great distances, it will be quite difficult for the pirates to either achieve surprise or get away without being tracked and targeted. 

Third, reliably disabling enough of the freighter’s systems to make it safe to board without damaging the cargo will be tricky, even if the pirates can achieve surprise. And I can imagine a lot of ways a bloody-minded owner could booby trap a ship so that unauthorized boarding becomes too risky for any rational pirate.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Goblin Emperor

Just finished The Goblin Emperor. The 2015 Hugo novel category is going to be just fine. There’s at least one novel with likable and sympathetic characters, good plot, and good world building. The punctilious steampunk elves with gaslight and pocket watches are definitely not Tolkein, but language notes at the back would have totally warmed the cockles of Tolkein's heart, with  a detailed discussion of elvish forms of address explicitly noting gender, marital status and social rank.

You will probably find it helpful to read that part first.

The author succeeded in making me care about the protagonist and his allies and friends. Also, elvish airships are cool. And the Elvish government is an interesting and novel piece of word building.

Monday, May 04, 2015

The Quality of Puppies

I haven't read all of them yet, but in the short fiction Hugo categories dominated by puppies, most of the nominees don't seem to be worthy of a Hugo. Why?

I think there are two main reasons. The simplest is that, for the nominations exclusive to the Rabid Puppies, Vox Day is not a good judge of writing quality, in my opinion. He can't tell when he himself is writing badly, and he is inordinately fond of works published by his own tiny Castalia House, which publishes works that are passed over by larger publishers with better distribution and marketing.

The Sad Puppies are a bit different. I believe that the were honest in their desire to pick worthy writing, but they handicapped themselves in several ways.

The first was their stated goal to support works that wouldn't get on the ballot without their boost. That means that writers who have shown the ability to get nominated without puppy support were off the table, in theory. That's a lot of good writers.

In practice, the Sad Puppies made some exceptions for editors and dramatic presentations. Because I'm pretty sure that most of them would have been on the ballot without their help.  But putting Resnick and Weiskopf on the ballot was such a wonderful opportunity to stick it to the SJWs that it couldn't be passed up.

I have no idea why they picked Sheila Gilbert. She seems like a good person. But if you are picking a slate to show you are not sexist, you must include some females.

The second is that they ruled out writers tainted as Social Justice Warriors, as defined by them. This also narrows the field. I realize that they have tried to spin this as wanting authors who put good storytelling ahead of message, but this is quite subjective. The reader's tolerance for message increases when the message is congenial.  Indeed, if the author's view of the world matches the reader's, the message may be invisible to the reader.

I found their two John C. Wright nominations to have quite a lot of message, but I'm not a conservative Catholic.  For calibration, I think the Narnia books were a bit heavy on the message, but Gene Wolfe is fine.

The third is that the Sad slate was ultimately constructed by just four authors: Correlia, Torgersen and  two anonymous authors. Their ability to capture the best of the best was limited by how widely they read. Based on the slate, it seems that they were mostly fond of MilSF, Urban Fantasy and C. S. Lewis homages.  Which doesn't seem to adequately capture the full spectrum of the SF/F genre.

Also, I don't think their subjective view of the best SF/F writing of 2014 is quite the same as the median Hugo voter. I know it isn't mine.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Tom Kratman as one of the group creating the Sap Puppy slate.

Consider Puppies

In his aptly titled blog post Rant: Sad Puppies vs. Anti-Puppies, as the Kilostreisands Pile Up, Jeff Duntemann argues

My conclusion is this: The opponents of Sad Puppies of Sad Puppies 3 put them on the map, and probably took them from a fluke to a viable long-term institution.

I’ve seen a few comments that go something like this: “I’d never heard of the Sad Puppies before. I’ve been trying to figure out which side is right, but the sheer nastiness of the Sad Puppies’ critics makes me think they’re just sore losers. I’m more or less with the Puppies now.”

I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Jeff.  What put the Sad and Rabid Puppies on the map was their effective but unsporting gaming of the Hugo nominations that let them dominate the ballot. Before that they were getting very little attention outside the readership of their own blogs.

And someone new to the controversy would have to be pretty selectively tone deaf not to notice the sheer nastiness among the puppies themselves.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bolos and Hugos

Back when I was in High School, in the early 1970s, I loved Keith Laumer's Bolo stories about gigantic cybertanks. I later designed a war game featuring early model Bolos (MK I-III) and I did illustrations for Steve Jackson's Ogre war games, which were basically Bolos with the serial numbers filed off.

What I learned creating the war game is that gigantic supertanks are very hard to make work at all. If anti-tank missiles become much more effective than APDS, and a supertank can carry an effective point defense system against anti-tank missiles, then maybe a supertank works. But neither has happened in our timeline. In the Laumerverse MK II Bolos were already a thing by 2015. But clearly, not in our universe.

So Laumer's Cold War Bolo era stories involved a lot of handwaving away of engineering issues. Even with exactly the right technological advances, roads, bridges and airlift remain as major roadblocks. And that doesn't begin to deal with tactical nukes being consumed like popcorn. The idea of firing a nuke beneath the Bolo and leaving it inverted at the bottom of an enormous crater was never addressed to my satisfaction.

In the wargame, it turned out that the Bolos worked best as only one part of a combined arms team, and needed to be used with great caution. Optimal tactics involved shoot and scoot plinking at long range far behind the front while the mobile infantry went in advance identifying targets, with artillery support from even further back, not gleefully surging forward to grind the enemy beneath your treads.

So the near future Bolo stories have not aged well. The interstellar Bolo stories, in addition,  required a level of handwavium technology that made interstellar wars of conquest fought on the planet surface economically rational and common.

Because you need some seriously improbable magical technology to make that work, if you think about it.

Imagine the energy required to boost the Normandy Invasion to, say, .9 c and brake at the destination. Now imagine what it would take to send it on a FTL mission.

Compare that with what it would take to send a swarm of .9 c kill vehicles sufficient to sterilize one side of a planet without braking, and another half a planetary rotation later.

Orders of magnitude less, yes?

So the interstellar Bolo stories have not aged well for me, either. Too much suspension of disbelief required.

On this year's Hugo ballot there's a novella by Tom Kratman: Big Boys Don't Cry, that is essentially a Bolo pastiche with the serial numbers filed off. There was an earlier version that was much more explicitly derivative, with Bolos and Hellbores  and Infinite Repeaters. These references have been removed in the current version, but it's still derivative, and I am still currently bouncing off the original Laumerverse, so no Hugo vote from me.

To his credit, Kratman has a few interesting things to say about the ethics of treating self-aware AI as slaves, but his meatsacks are remarkably morally obtuse about the self-aware war machines they employ. Which was a problem with Laumer as well.

However, Kratman does make his meatsack villains so thoroughly stupid, corrupt and evil that they come across as cardboard black hats, leaving the feeling that Kratman has stacked his narrative deck.

Also, if I'm reading the story correctly, the black hats have a gigantic war machine with brain damage, which they decide to provide with enough power to break a weld,  power a gauss rifle and lift its 14,000 ton hull into firing position in the course of doing system diagnostics, and they also neglect to unload all of its ammunition before dragging it away to be scrapped.

Which puts them in the Hogan's Heroes zone of villains who are simultaneously very evil and very incompetent.

Also, I don't know which is sillier: the idea of giving a gigantic cybertank orgasms while it role-plays an SS tank commander as a training exercise, or gigantic cybertanks feeling uncomfortable around one of their number because it won't assume a clear male or female gender role.

Update: A previous version described the novella as Bolo fanfic rather than pastiche.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Keep Calm and Carry On

The fight for the Hugos continues

I was going to title this Keep Calm and Swat a Puppy, but that would be mean, and nobody wants to be mean, even to puppies that have widdled on the Hugo nomination carpet and richly deserve a swat with a rolled up newspaper.

So, who is coming out ahead? I say Mike Glyer, who is providing balanced coverage at File 770, with  an amusing SF/F puppy-related title every single day. Props to him. And his readers, who are clearly having fun suggesting puppy-related titles.

Team Puppies are not, in my opinion, covering themselves with glory at this time. The Sad Puppies are in the awkward position that their slate got a lot of mutual votes from the Rabid Puppies. So they must dance an awkward dance between "We have no association with the Rabids, although we have obviously benefited from their nominations" and "We refuse to disavow the Rabids in any way, because you can't make us and we don't want to, and we're not saying we don't approve of them, but we won't say we do approve of them either." I think they fall between two stools.

The File 770 readers are mostly having fun and being funny. The puppies, not so much.

The Rabids are Rabid. That is all.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

SpaceX Crashes and Burns, Again

If your stated goal is to land the first stage of your rocket on a barge in a condition suitable for reuse, then landing on the barge in such a way that the stage topples over and explodes is not actually a success.

I''m sure they learned valuable lessons about how to do it better next time. But spectacular success?  I don't see it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Some People in Fandom Are Very Generous

For those of you who care about the Hugo awards, Mary Robinette Kowal and some anonymous donors have made a very generous offer. It is particularly generous of Ms. Kowal since she feels it will require her to decline any Hugo nominations next year.  I praise them.

Monday, April 13, 2015

1965 Heinlein Couldn't Win a Hugo Today

Of course, he couldn't win one then, either. Because Farnham's Freehold.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

"Social Justice Warriors"

The only reason this isn't quite as devoid of meaning in ordinary use as "fascist" is that the people that use it as a pejorative are loudly signaling which tribal clique they affiliate with. I know I probably shouldn't interrupt them when making a mistake, but they probably won't listen to me in any case.

So, here's the thing. The people that think Social Justice Warrior is actually an objective term complain that SJWs are forcing "Political Correctness" upon them.

For them, those that criticize those that call same sex affection a "sexual aberration" are intolerant, but calling it a sexual aberration is just free speech.


"Homosexuals are deviants" is an actual political view. It's free country, and I will defend to the death your right to say it, but you are wrong. And if you start flailing about with "Help, help, I'm being oppressed by the SJWs", you are just doubling down on your wrong.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The 2015 Hugos

People that share the literary tastes of Theodore Beale (AKA Vox Day) and Brad Torgersen, in that order, have managed by disciplined voting for similar slates to vote an inordinate number of their preferred choices onto the final ballot for the 2015 Hugo. The mostly overlapping slates bill themselves  as the Rabid Puppies (Vox Day) and the Sad Puppies (Torgerson), in order of effectiveness.

Well played. Six nominations for John C. Wright is a powerful triumph for diversity.  Because just one wouldn't be diverse enough.

Also, nine nominations from an obscure Finnish publisher that, by complete coincidence, was reportedly founded by and is edited by Vox Day.

This of course, crowded some reportedly pretty good works off the ballot.

As usual, I think John Scalzi has the right of it.

Some people have taken the position that the block votes have crowded several works that most deserved the Hugo off the ballot entirely, and where that happened all slate nominees should be rated below No Award.

If you have good reason to believe that a work that was significantly better than any of the nominees never got on the ballot because of strategic puppy voting, I am not sure you would be wrong to do so.

Also, the nominees that I know had full knowledge of and approved of the shenanigans will be so far below No Award on my ballot that they will be off the ballot. By my current reckoning that's Beale, Kratman and Wright, although Beale would earn the same position on his merits as an editor.

The Rabid Slate is informed by Beale's explicit preference for racist, anti-sufragette Christians without charity, especially if he publishes them, but he's willing to make exceptions if he can keep Scalzi or other people he loathes off the ballot.

The Sad Slate is more complex.

1) They heartily disapprove of "Social Justice Warriors", which apparently means people whose views on race,  gender and homosexuality that they do not share are noticeable in their fiction. Straight White Males have no advantages at all in the 21st. c. United States, and it is a total buzzkill to suggest that they do, when we should just be enjoying the pwewpewpew of blasters and the woosh of the rockets. Also, for some of them writing a lesbian into the the story is SJW pandering, unless she's hot.

2) They believa recent Hugo nominees are too literary and elitist. We need to nominate more people with a lot of readers. Except Scalzi, because 1).

And 2) is rubbish. Yes, a lot of people liked Twilight and Outlander. Nothing wrong with that. How many transitioned to reading a lot of SF outside of the Sparkly Vampire and Time Travel Romance genres?

And using "best read" as a proxy for best is flawed. A writer who has spent 20 years nurturing his fan base will sell more, all other things being equal. And likewise, better marketing support yields better sales, mutas mutandis.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Military Minstrels

The earl of Derby took six minstrels with him on his two expeditions to Prussia in 1390-93: two trumpeters, three pipers and a nakerer in the first expedition, three trumpeters and three pipers in the second. The three kinds of instruments are typical of those shown used by musicians accompanying soldiers in manuscript illustrations of the 13th to 15th centuries.  Several pictures from Le chroniche di Giovanni Sercambi ASL MS.107,  1368-1424, show a musician at the head of a column of infantry playing a pipe and tabor.

Froissart reports trumpets being used to signal alarm, command attention for orders, and command attack and retreat. By this time civilian huntsmen like William Twyti knew at least six different horn calls, each with a different meaning, and military trumpeters may have had at least as complete a vocabulary.

Machiavelli wrote in 1521 about commands also being given by pipe and drum as common practice in his time, and later fife and drum were used to deliver a rich vocabulary of battlefield and camp commands. I don't know how long before 1521 the practice began.

There is a lot we don't know.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Properly Fitted Hose

Properly fitted medieval hose should not bag significantly at the knees. If it is so long that it can't be laced high enough, there is a quick solution for hose that laces at one point for each leg: pin a ring brooch on each leg low enough to allow you to lace to the brooch and pull the hose taut, and tuck the excess material at the top of the hose inside.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Waxed Arrows and Glued Arrows.

L’Art d’archerie divides arrows into two types, waxed and glued. The arrows from the Mary Rose seem to be examples of the first type. At the shaftment, where the fletchings would be attached, archaeologists have identified traces of wax, tallow, copper, and the imprints of thread wound in a spiral around the shaft that they believe to be silk. The copper was probably in the form of verdigris.

The Westminster Abbey arrow, from sometime after 1420, also shows the traces of spiral wound thread. In both cases the thread has almost entirely perished, but enough survives to identify the color as dark red.

Wax, red silk and "verdegresse" were mentioned for the making and repair of arrows for the king of Scotland in 1456.

Speaking of waxed arrows, L’Art d’archerie says: "The harder the silk is on the wax, the better the arrow will fly and the stiffer it will be." (Plus est dure la soye sur la cyre et plus est le trait errant et plus dure.) Submerging the thread in a coating of wax would both help lock it in place and protect it from wear as it shot down the bow.

L’Art d’archerie identifies a different approach, the glued arrow. Animal glue can provide an acceptable bond without thread. Surviving arrows made by Turks and Romans seem to have relied entirely on glue, and at some point before modern adhesives the English longbow tradition came to do so as well. Hugh Soar reports that an English fletcher was still being taught to fletch with hoof glue in the early 20th c.

Some fairly detailed medieval paintings show no sign of spiral bindings:

Above: Portrait of Antoine, 'Grand Bâtard' of Burgundy,  c. 1460 Rogier van der Weyden, Portrait of a Man with an Arrow c. 1470 Hans Memling, Portrait of a Youth Holding an Arrow, c. 1500-10 Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio,

While the Mary Rose arrows were almost certainly waxed, and the Westminster Abbey arrow probably was,  L’Art d’archerie tells us: "There are two sorts of glued arrows, sheaf (tacle) and flight. The sheaf arrows are usually thick, with high swan feathers, cut large, in the same shape as those of flight arrows, and have round iron heads. They are the regular arrows which the English use for butt and target shooting (au chapperons i.e. clout shooting), for they find them, as they are, truer than any waxed arrow.

We find further evidence that the even the English didn't always use the waterproof Mary Rose style waxed arrow with spiral thread winding in this report from Ireland by Sir William Skeffington in 1535.

"...there did fall suche a rayne as hath not been seene in thes parties; so that the fotemen wadid by the way to the middels in waters, which was pite to see,....the sayd fotemen that coulde not have defended themselfes with ther bowes, for ther stringes wer so weate, and moost of the fethers of ther arrowes fallen of."

Robert MacPherson has kindly provided me to a reference to an incident in 1594 when a serving-man  in Yldre managed to burn down a farmhouse while fletching bolts with his gluepot. This was probably a good example of fletching with hot animal glue.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Seven Samurai: an Anarcho-Capitalist Parable.

Anarcho-Capitalism is the belief that it is practical to replace government coercion with voluntary private agreements.

This idea has several failure modes. The most obvious is portrayed in Kurosawa's great Seven Samurai.  If you haven't seen it, I beg you to do so a soon as possible. It is a great piece of cinema.

If you have, you will recall that during the 16th century, a time of civil war, a Japanese village discovers that they are on the do list of about 40 marauding bandits, who decide to postpone looting until the harvest is in. After consultation with the local matriarch and crone, the villagers agree that their best course of action is to hire a small group of samurai for protection. Hungry samurai, since the village can only afford to pay room and board.

Fortunately, the villagers delegated to hire security encounter Kambei Shimada, an aging, altruistic samurai played by the great Takashi Shimura. He concludes that the village defense requires no less than seven samurai, more than the delegates were authorized to hire, and eventually assembles a team, many of whom follow him for reasons beyond the meagre room and board offered by the village.

After Kambei arrives at the village, he begins planning a defensive perimeter that will leave several farms undefended because they are indefensible. The outlying farmers attempt to opt out of the defense agreement and defect. They are quickly coerced back into the ranks by the samurai. Because the protection agency that the village voluntarily hired can coerce, and it will coerce if that's the only way to win, and it was. And these are the good guys.

Italian history is full of condotieri who concluded 'Nice city-state you've got there. I'll take it.'

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Die Zauberflöte (2003)

This is very much a filmed record of a stage production, so we don't experience the cinematic freedom of the Queen of the Night singing while riding atop a tank by moonlight or smoking beneath the No Smoking sign during intermission as we do in the Branagh and Bergman films.

But it is an excellent stage performance, with sets that draw the link between Sarastro's temple and the Enlightenment with robed savants, books, blackboards, an astronomical globe and an homage to Joseph Wright's A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery. Scenes of magic make apt use of masks and puppetry. And Diana Damrau was a wonderful Queen of the Night, her naturally sweet face made frightening by artful makeup and a Eddie Munster widow's peak. Her voice and acting in the role were splendid. When she winds up one of the queen's Teutonic rants I start worrying that she's about to invade Czechoslovakia.

The mallard decorations on Papageno's sweater were a nice touch, as was his duck hat.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Reproduction Crossbow Bolts

These were made by Robert MacPherson. The heads were ground from 3 Rivers Archery Short Bodkin Points. The point before grinding is on the left below, and after grinding at top with the point upwards to show the reshaped diamond section. The shafts are ash.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Arbalest

Of all the bowmen quite the best
Are those that span the arbalest
Strong and brave, upright and moral
And not in haste to pick a quarrel

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How Islamic is ISIL?

Suppose there was a group doing a remake of the Albigensian Crusade, justified by medieval Catholic doctrine, seizing territory, murdering civilians and burning people they considered heretics. Would it be useful for Netanyahu and Modi to describe them as Christian terrrorists?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why History Should Be Studied More

Clark had an interesting blog post at Popehat that make some good points about tribalism in politics, but it argues from a pretty defective understanding of history.
For at least a thousand years there have been two factions in The West. The magnetic poles drift slowly, and no one compass points with perfect precision, but there is no denying the reality of the poles. 
One pole tends (and note that word "tends") to be Protestant, centralized, "scientific", pushing for "the greater good", and "Blue" (as we say in the American language). 
The other pole other tends (second disclaimer, same as the first) to be Catholic, decentralized, "traditional", tolerant of inequality, and "Red" (again, in Americanese).
Now, it is true that political conflicts in the Anglosphere in the past thousand years have been between rival coalitions, and there is good reason for the coalition leaders to make whatever compromises are needed in their alliances to reach rough parity with the other side or better, but the idea that the bipolar coalitions can be meaningfully described as "Red" or "Blue" before the recent past is absurd.

A thousand years ago, one of the culture war coalitions was about immigration, speaking Norse, and practicing paganism. In 1640, one was composed of opponents to absolute monarchy, (not to centralization as such, the issue was who ran the central government) and those opposed to more tolerance for Catholics, maypoles, or theater. In the antebellum United States, one coalition was in favor of slavery, lower tariffs, slavery, state's rights, slavery, slavery and slavery. The New Deal coalition for "the greater good" had strong support from Catholics and Southern Democrats. In the civil rights era, white Southern Democrats allied with conservative Republicans.

I can and do deny that there has been some meaningful polar division in Western politics for the past thousand years that can usefully defined for the entire period, and probably not the last 50 years either.

It's not just that the political poles drift. It's that the entire political compass wanders over the map, as some political bones of contention slip out of the Overton Window entirely, and others are warmly embraced by both sides.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Before Ascham: Early Works on Archery

Livre du roy Modus et de la royne Racioa mid 14th century book on hunting, contains a brief section on archery. The advice is specific to hunting: the author advises "his bow should be very weak and gentle, so that he may hold it drawn a reasonable space".

Le livre de la chasse was written by Gaston Phoebus, count of Foix, between 1387 and 1388. It discusses archery briefly, closely following Modus.  George Agar Hansard offered a translation in his The book of archery.

"The sportsman's bow should be of yew, and measure twenty palms (five feet) from one notch to the other, and, when braced, have a hand's breadth between string and wood. The string must ever be of silk. The bow should be weak, because an archer over-bowed cannot take aim freely and with address; besides, such a bow may be held half-drawn a long time without fatigue, whilst the hunter stands in wait for the deer.

"The wood of a well-formed arrow measures eight handsful in length from the end of the nock to the barbs of the head, which will be exactly four fingers broad, from the point of one barb to the point of the other. It must be duly proportioned in every part, well filed and sharpened, and five fingers in length. 
"When a deer is discovered approaching the archers, as soon as they hear the hounds are slipped, they ought to set their arrows on their bows, bringing the two arms into such a position as to be prepared to shoot. For, should the animal espy the men in motion whilst nocking their shafts, he will assuredly escape in another direction. Thus, a keen sportsman is ever cautiously on the alert, ready to let his arrow fly without the slightest motion, except that of drawing with the arms." 
He then goes on to describe the different modes of shooting at game in every possible position, somewhat after the fashion of the text; and gives a remarkable reason why an archer should point his shaft in a rather slanting direction when the aim is at the stag's broadside, in preference to straight forwards. He says,-- "There is peril to him who shoots directly at the side, independently of great uncertainty of killing when the arrow does prove fatal, it sometimes passes through and through the beast, and may thus wound a companion on the opposite side. Such an accident I did myself see once happen to Messire Godfrey de Harcourt, who was pierced through one of his arms."
L’Art d’archerie was printed around 1515. In 1901 Henri Gallice published the text of a manuscript of the work in his possession that he believed dated somewhat earlier, to the end of the 15th century. Henry Walrond published an English translation in 1903.

Walrond''s translation contains several errors. What Walrond translates as "target shooting" is some variant of "au chapperon" in the original French, and shot at ranges of 300 or even 400 paces (about 240 or 330 yards). It is better translated as clout shooting in English. "Arrows are likewise made hollow, like balista arrows" should be "Arrows are likewise made hollow, like crossbow bolts".

He explains waxed arrows, trait cyre in the original, as where the feathers are "fastened with waxed silk". This probably an oversimplification.

Our best candidates for waxed arrows are the many arrows recovered from the Mary Rose, sunk in 1545. At the shaftment, where the fletchings would be attached, archaeologists have identified traces of wax, tallow, copper, and the imprints of thread that they believe to be silk.

I think that that a plausible reconstruction is that the fletchings were first tacked down with hot wax and then secured more permanently with thread wound first about the trimmed spine of the feather, spiral wound for the rest of the untrimmed fletching, and then wound about the trimmed spine at the rear of of the fletching.

A final application of hot wax and tallow to the shaftment would have further secured the thread and ensured that the thread was not disturbed as it slid down the bow. Copper acetate would have discouraged vermin from eating the tallow.

Walrond translates tacles in the original as sheaf arrows, but it seems more likely that he is simply using takel, a Middle English word for arrows as well as archery equipment more generally.

L’Art d’archerie gives us insight into European archery at least a generation before Ascham, and it shows how the author thought three different sorts of sports archery, butts, clout and flight, had different optimal gear, which were in turn distinguished from what was best for war. And the earlier texts show that optimal hunting gear differed from all of these.

Interestingly, the author of L’Art d’archerie claims the the English found glued fletchings truer than waxed. Perhaps eagerness to base all reconstructions of longbow arrows entirely on the Mary Rose is misplaced.

Friday, February 06, 2015

An Archery Peerage

The London Archers continued to hold their yearly contests in. the month of September, in spite of the fact that henceforth there would be no use for the longbow in warfare. They formed a very fine corps, had they been of any use; meantime, the City has always loved a show, and a very fine show the Archers provided. Their captain was called the Duke of Shoreditch; the captains of the different Companies were called the Marquesses of Clerkenwell, Islington, Hoxton, and the Earl of Pancras, etc.; in the year 1583 they assembled at Merchant Taylors Hall to the number of 3000 all sumptuously apparelled, “nine hundred and forty-two having chains of gold about their necks.” They were escorted by whifflers and bowmen to the number of 4000, besides pages and footmen; and so marching through Broad Street, where the Duke of Shoreditch lived, they proceeded by Moorfields and Finsbury to Smithfield, where, after performing their evolutions, they shot at the target for glory.

Besant, Walter. 1904. London in the time of the Tudors. London: A. & C. Black p. 355

Here is a fuller account of the 1583 event from a contemporary. Besant has erred in describing the escorts as bowmen rather than bill-men.

I read this as the Elizabethan equivalent of a 21st century Superbowl halftime show. Behold the gaudy expensive excess, which we can well afford. The fact that we can afford it is part of the point. Are you not entertained?

Monday, February 02, 2015

A Chaucerian Bookshelf

The following works were written by authors who were adults when Chaucer was alive.

Boccaccio, Giovanni. Decameron. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972. Shares Chaucer’s diversity; indeed, Chaucer retells many of Boccaccio’s tales.

Bonet, Honoré. The Tree of Battles of Honoré Bonet. Transl. G. W. Coopland. Liverpool: University Press of Liverpool 1949. A learned clerk writes about law, justice, morality and violence, legitimate and otherwise.

Charny, Geoffroi de. The Book of Chivalry. Transl. Richard W. Kaeuper and Elspeth Kennedy. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996. A knight writes about the ideals and obligations of knighthood.

Charny, Geoffroi de and Muhlberger, Steven. Charny's Men-at-Arms: Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments, and War. , Wheaton; Freelance Academy Press, 2014. Revealing questions from the famous knight about what does and does not conform to the law of arms, as seen by contemporary men at arms.

Froissart, Jean. Chronicles. Transl. Geoffrey Brereton. New York: Penguin 1978. A vivid and detailed contemporary chronicle; Froissart writes like an eyewitness even when he wasn’t, providing details that may not always be accurate but are always true to the author’s view of chivalric culture.

Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe. Transl. Barry Windeatt. New York: Penguin 1988. Written after Chaucer’s lifetime by a woman who grew up during the late 1300s—this account of the author’s lifetime of spiritual exploration is one of few substantial medieval works to come from us from an English laywoman.

Langland, William. Piers the Plowman. Transl. J. F. Goodridge. New York: Penguin 1987. An allegorical exploration of contemporary society and morals, this was one of the most popular works in English during Chaucer’s lifetime.

Mandeville, John. Travels. Trans, C. W. R. D. Moseley. New York: Penguin 1983. Purporting to be the account of a fourteenth-century Englishman’s journeys, this book was also very popular in Chaucer’s day; it incorporates both fact and fantasy, and reflects popular ideas about the nature of the world.

Pizan, Christine de. The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry. Ed. and transl. Sumner and Charity Cannon Willard. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press 1999. Christine updates the late Roman military manual of Vegetius and Bonet’s Tree of Battles with a great deal of practical contemporary advice such as the number of bowstrings and wheelbarrows to bring to a siege.
Christine de Pizan was probably the first woman to make her living as a professional writer.

Pizan, Christine de and Rosalind Brown-Grant. 2005. The book of the city of ladies. Penguin Books. 2005. Christine gives advice on good conduct to women of all ranks, from women of high rank to prostitutes and the wives of laborers.

Pizan, Christine de. The Book of the Duke of True Lovers Transl.Thelma S Feinster and Nadia Margolis New York, Persea Books 1991  A profoundly unromantic and subversive romance presenting the argument that most of what male courtly lovers say about serving their ladies is self serving "since the honor and profit remains with them and not at all with the lady!"

Power, Eileen, transl. The Goodman of Paris. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1928. A wealthy and aged Parisian writes moral and practical advice to his young wife regarding the management of her household.

Tolkien, J. R. R., transl. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. New York: Ballantine Books, 1975. Dating to the late fourteenth century, Sir Gawain is one of the finest examples of Middle English romance; it offers both chivalric adventure and sophisticated humor.

Wright, Thomas, transl. The Book of the Knight of La Tour-Landry. New York: Greenwood Press, 1969. A late fourteenth-century knight dispenses moral advice to his daughters illustrated by many anecdotes, some learned and classical, some lively and contemporary.

A shorter version of this list appears in:

Forgeng, Jeffrey L, and Will McLean. Daily Life in Chaucer's England. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2009. Print.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Nine Men's and Thee Men's Morris

On how nine men's morris is played without dice

This nine men's morris is played in another way, without dice by skill. The players take all their pieces in their hands and they roll to determine who plays first. And he that is to play first has an advantage because in placing the pieces he always takes the first space he likes, the quicker to make a mill as we said and take one piece from his opponent each time or prepare how to trap him so that he does not have anywhere to go with any of his pieces.

And if perchance the first player should err in placing his pieces well, he is defeated because one piece remains to the other player and puts it wherever he can cause hindrance to the other and line up his pieces just as we said and thereby wins the game

And this game they call nine men's morris because the pieces with which it is played with are nine of each color. And this is the diagram of the millboard and of its pieces, and this is its explanation.

This is another alquerque of three

There is another alquerque game and they call it that of the three and they call it thus because it is played with six pieces, three of one color and three of another. In this one dice do not have a part and he who plays first wins if he should know how to play it well.

And the play of it is this: he who should more quickly place his pieces in a row wins.

And since the one who plays first should place his piece in the center of the millboard, and the other player will place his wherever he should wish.

And he who played first should place his second piece in such a manner that the other player is perforce to place his in a row he has placed. Then the first to play will have to play perforce lined up with those two enemy pieces and all his pieces will be placed. And if in this way he should have placed them so that wherever the other player puts his remaining piece he loses. And if the one how  (sic) plays first should not play it like this, the other will be able to tie the game or defeat him.

And because of the tie and the markings where the pieces are placed tables and chess have a part there, because of the pieces with which it is played that resemble its pawns. And this is the diagram of the board and of the pieces.

Musser Golladay, Sonja. 2007. Los libros de acedrex dados e tablas: historical, artistic and metaphysical dimensions of Alfonso X's Book of Games. Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA: UMI Dissertation Services, from ProQuest Co. 

Alphonso's alquerque of three differs from Three Men's Morris  in that in the latter game players may continue to move pieces after all have been played.

"This document combines Sonja Musser Golladay's translation of the original text and Charles Knutson's facsimile copies of the original images. I originally prepared it as a teaching document to help me write a class on medieval games, but I have now posted it online for any and all who are interested to peruse and study as they wish."