Religion In The Nameless World

29 Sep

Another expository post, for SIM 12.

The Nameless World is quite definitely pagan in how it approaches religion. Instead of a monotheistic religion, it is generally believed that there are entire multitudes of gods and godly families. Indeed, it is agreed that certain gods are actually the same god, but called by different names. (Like Mars and Ares, both Gods of War.) Therefore, despite the vast number of religions and sects, there is actually surprisingly little religious conflict.

Gods are generally divided into three different categories. The Great Gods represent aspects of the physical and spiritual worlds, such as health, war and farming. The Loci Gods represent particular locations and are rarely worshipped outside it. The Household Gods represent a specific household. It is generally considered polite, when entering a city or a home, to visit the temple and pay your respects to the city’s god, even if you are not staying.

(There is some debate over the exact nature of the Household Gods. Some people believe they’re the souls of the family’s ancestors, while others believe they’re actually newborn gods.)

It is important to realise that the vast majority of worshippers believe in the gods, even if they don’t worship them. One is not expected to worship any god – or worship at all, if one chooses – but it is generally considered unwise to deliberately insult a god. Another person’s rites or rituals may seem odd, yet that doesn’t make them invalid. Tolerating other rites is considered good manners.

The vast majority of people will pay their respects to a multitude of gods throughout their lives. However, a number choose to dedicate themselves to one particular god – almost always one of the Great Gods – and never worship any other. These people are devotees (dedicated followers), initiates (junior cultists) and priests (senior cultists).

Unsurprisingly, the majority of religions are effectively cults and operate accordingly. Most of them try to find something unique, something exclusive – and often secret – to draw in new and significant worshippers. A small cult may be quite sincere; a larger cult, which may draw in thousands of worshippers, may be run more as a racket than anything else. Devotees are expected to make contributions, for example; initiates often turn over their possessions to the cult. (A number of cults are really astonishingly rich.) Cults also find ways to fleece outsiders – a number of cults operate a sacred prostitution service disguised as a fertility rite, for example; others sell prayers and blessings to those who are prepared to pay.

The general attitudes of outsiders towards specific cults can vary widely. Some cults – the Harvest Goddess followers – are regarded as largely harmless. Others, including the Blood Worshippers or the Crone’s followers, are regarded with considerable suspicion. There are no shortage of rumours surrounding their innermost mysteries and rituals, most of which are exaggerated. Parents tend to get annoyed when their adolescent children rebel by joining some of the more harmful cults. They feel that the rites and rituals serve as an excuse to engage in forbidden practices. They are not wrong.

It is unusual for a government to interfere in religious matters, provided that religious teachings do not threaten public order. Most religious cults don’t attempt to encourage their worshippers to question authority, let alone stand up to their rulers. Those that do are targeted for extermination. Rumours of their presence can unleash a – sometimes literal – witch-hunt.

The Military In The Nameless World – A Very Brief Overview

28 Sep

Just an expository post for SIM 11.

There is no unified military service in the Allied Lands. The White Council does attempt to appoint leaders to joint military campaigns – Mediators or Knights of the Allied Lands – but the various kingdoms are reluctant to place their military contributions under someone else’s control. Very few personages have the fame necessary to issue orders to a multinational force, ensuring that personal grudges and dislikes can affect the course of military operations. This tends to ensure that most military forces deployed by the Allied Lands appear somewhat ramshackle. Indeed, even ‘regiment’ and other military terms can mean different things to different kingdoms.

Generally, military units are raised by kings or trusted noblemen, with the latter often commanding their regiments in person. (City-states sometimes raise additional City Guard units, but it’s very rare for them to serve outside their cities.) During peacetime, the kings often maintain small armies, but tend to frown on noblemen having more than a handful of men under their banners. Sellswords (mercenaries) are fairly common, yet they are often frowned upon outside wartime.

The non-magical military in the Nameless World is generally divided into the following categories: infantry, cavalry, archers and (now) firearms.

The infantry is normally raised through conscription, with the soldiers given a choice between joining the army or facing punishment. (It isn’t uncommon for criminals to be offered a chance to serve instead of jail or execution.) Training is harsh and discipline is brutal, but a skilled soldier who gains notice can rise in the ranks. It is quite uncommon for a commoner soldier to reach commissioned status, yet a decent commanding officer knows to pay attention to his sergeants. The infantry serves to take and hold ground.

By contrast, the vast majority of the cavalry consists of lesser nobility, who can afford their own horse and supplies. They are often considered flamboyant show-offs by the infantry as they often prance around the battlefield in colourful armour. The cavalry is generally used to scout out enemy positions, carry messages around the battlefield and, on rare occasions, charge enemy forces. (This is considered grossly unwise.)

Archers (a term which includes field artillery) are normally drawn from freeholders who are supposed to practice weekly with a longbow and arrows. Their task is to rain arrows down on enemy forces and, when attacking a castle, to bombard it into submission with catapults and other bombardment weapons.

Firearms, a relatively new innovation on the Nameless World, consist of muskets and makeshift cannons. In theory, only kings are allowed to possess and use gunpowder; in practice, the secret is out and spreading. No one is quite sure how to use a firearms unit in combat, but they’re experimenting to find out what works. Most firearms soldiers are drawn from the middle classes.

There is no overall commissary for logistics, communications or healthcare, despite the best efforts of the White Council. Commanding officers are normally responsible for taking care of their men, with the authority and funds to purchase supplies from merchants and distribute them to the soldiers. (Or steal the money, which has been known to happen.) Nor is there any logistics chain in the modern sense. Blacksmiths and other workers are often attached to military units as camp-followers (along with washerwomen and prostitutes), but this happens on an ad hoc basis.

Medical care is often hit-or-miss. While Healers are normally attached to the army, the average infantryman is rarely able to pay their fees. They are normally dependent on chirurgeons (doctors) who are rarely able to save badly-wounded men. An injured soldier might simply be pensioned off and told to make his own way home.

Unsurprisingly, military units within the Nameless World are often a mixed bag. Units that have good commanding officers (almost always a nobleman) and a working staff tend to do very well; units that have poor or corrupt officers rarely survive their first challenge. Mutiny is relatively rare – it is punished by decimation, when crushed – but desertion is alarmingly common. Indeed, the vast majority of sellswords consist of soldiers who were either paid off by their commanders or simply deserted.

A Plea For Maturity

27 Sep

Many years ago, maybe not quite when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, I threw a tantrum over something. If I recall the details correctly, there was a good chance I’d be fed something I couldn’t eat (and, for various reasons, this wasn’t something I could share). I still cringe at the memory of emotions welling up inside me, to the point where I couldn’t think clearly, let alone rationally.

I was, in short, an immature brat.

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The point, or at least part of the point, is that I would probably have gotten what I wanted without throwing a tantrum, if I had managed to explain the problem. But I recall thinking that there was no point in explaining the problem. Either it wouldn’t be taken seriously (a valid concern) or it would be used against me (another valid concern). And so I disgraced myself.

I find, as I grow older, that I have less and less patience for ‘silliness.’ I have never been the sort of person who is amused by constant pratfalls. Indeed, I have learned to loathe characters whose entire lives consist of nothing, but pratfalls. The Black Adder (only the first series), Mr. Bean, early Mickey Smith (although he got much better) and that geeky guy from Supergirl … you know, the characters whose sole role is to either make someone else look better or provide comic relief.

Now, having read this far, you may be wondering about my point.

When you are a child, the smallest thing may seem like the end of the world. You have an ice lolly – the boy next to you has a chocolate ice cream. It’s not fair! It’s the end of the world! And when you are a teenager, you wail and moan and write bad poetry because you think being rejected by the hot girl/boy is the end of the world. Most teenage romance novels are appallingly cringe-worthy for the very simple reason that most teenage romance is cringe-worthy. It’s pretty much the equivalent to taking a pratfall with every second step.

Maturity is learning that not everything is the end of the world.

A mature person can recognise that accidents happen. Of course they do. And sometimes, no one is genuinely at fault. Or that someone had a slip of the tongue. Or someone merely expressed something badly. And someone may not mean to be offensive when they seem offensive.

The thing is, making a big song and dance – or throwing a tantrum – about some perceived ‘microaggression’ just smacks of silliness. A ‘microaggression’ is something so small, so tiny, that it can pass unnoticed, unless someone makes a fuss about it. But the mere act of making a fuss makes them seem like immature little brats. If Bob asks Li Han for her help with his math problems, is he recognising that she’s the brightest person in math class, trying to find an excuse to be with a pretty girl … or jumping to the conclusion that Han is good at math because she’s Asian? (As opposed to, say, her having spent time actually doing her work instead of goofing off.) What do you honestly think the answer actually is?

My name has been mispronounced (and made fun of) more times than I care to admit. It’s something I’ve learned to live with, simply because most people who mispronounce it do so accidentally. I can correct them if they do and then move on. But apparently, mispronouncing someone’s name is now considered a microaggression.

Silliness.

A mature person would recognise that not everyone can parse out the correct pronunciation from a written word. And anyone who came to me whining about how their college professor had mispronounced their name would get short shrift.

Apparently, writing a character from a different culture is now considered ‘cultural appropriation.’ What utter nonsense! I am not a Space Marine, any more than I am a teenage sorceress or an alien. There are no space marines, teenage sorceresses or aliens. Does that mean I shouldn’t write about them? Coming to think of it, should JK Rowling not write about teenage boys because she’s a woman? And writing a character from a genuine culture, done properly, is telling the world about that culture (for better or worse.)

The silliness in the recent ‘tempest in a teacup’ is astonishing. A white man writing about a black girl from Nigeria does not prevent a black girl from Nigeria writing about her own life and times. And if that white man is prevented from writing about that girl, it does not automatically follow that the black girl will have her own shot at getting published. The idea that it does shows a lack of understanding of the publishing world.

A mature person could read the book, then address the character. Someone could say, quite easily, that the character isn’t remotely genuine. Someone could even try to do a better job themselves. But that requires actual maturity.

Here’s a question. My wife, son and I were in Malaysia a few months. During one of the days following Ramadan, my Malaysian wife insisted that we all wore Malaysian clothes.

So tell me. Am I committing cultural appropriation by wearing Malaysian clothes? Or is my wife committing cultural imperialism by insisting that we wear them? And my son … being mixed-race, should he wear British trousers and Malaysian shirts? Or vice versa?

A mature person wouldn’t even try to raise the question. And realistically, I wouldn’t be impressed by anyone who did.

There is a strong difference between reasoned criticism and throwing a tantrum if you don’t get your way. And I find it impossible to respect someone who feels more inclined to do the former than the latter, just as I find it impossible to respect someone who made a habit of complaining about tiny little ‘microaggressions.’

And every time some special snowflake throws a fit about someone so minor it doesn’t even register, genuine issues get buried beneath a mountain of silliness. And everyone they target grows to hate them. And everyone else decides to ignore the silly little cry-bullies. No one takes them seriously.  And why should they?

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Our society doesn’t need trigger warnings or microaggressions or invented academic terms that serve to confuse people. What it needs is maturity. It needs adults.

HONORCON Updates

26 Sep

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Hi, everyone.

First, this is my (very rough) schedule for HONORCON. There may be small changes as we approach the flight to the US, but this is solid as far as I know.

Friday:

3-3.50PM – Handling critical remarks about your writing

4-4.50PM – Publicity for Newbies

8-9PM – Evening with Claudia

9-10ish – Author’s Alley, book-signings (see below)

Saturday:

9-9.50AM – Building An Alternate History World

4-4.50PM – Breaking the Mold – Female Heroes in Modern Sci – Fi

Sunday:

9-9.50 – More Than Swords, the military and fantasy

(I’m supposed to be on the ‘ouch, my spleen’ panel and perhaps one more, but I don’t have a solid time yet.)

Second, book copies.

As I’m sure you can appreciate, I live in the UK. It isn’t easy to ship a vast number of books to the US on spec, although I’m hoping to make arrangements with my US publishers.

If you are coming to the convention and you want to purchase books from me (probably around $15 a book), please could you let me know ASAP. I will be bringing a handful or having them forwarded to the convention, but I do need some idea of how many I’ll sell. You can get a (probably) complete list here – I’ll do a better page for this after I finish The Hammer of God.

I’ll be in the Author’s Alley on Friday and I’ll definitely be around later <grin>.

Hope to see you all there!

Chris

New Paperbacks!

21 Sep

Just a quick note – six books are now available in paperback from CreateSpace, through Amazon:

-No Worse Enemy (The Empire’s Corps II)

-When The Bough Breaks (The Empire’s Corps III)

-Ragnarok (Twilight of the Gods III)

-Outside Context Problem (Outside Context Problem I)

-Under Foot (Outside Context Problem II)

-The Slightest Hope of Victory (Outside Context Problem III)

I’m currently waiting to see how the first three Empire’s Corps books do before I put up the remaining nine.

Happy reading!

Chris

Movie Review: Captain America Civil War

18 Sep

Having (finally) watched Captain America: Civil War, I find myself with some pretty mixed feelings.

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I should try to put this into some perspective. The Marvel Comics Civil War was a great idea destroyed by horrible execution. Basically, the US Government decided to pass a law demanding that superheroes register and train – if, of course, they wanted to be superheroes. Iron Man supported the SRA; Captain America flatly refused to support it. Both sides had some very good points, all of which were lost in the rush to actual combat. The pro-registration side ran around looking like jackbooted thugs; the anti-registration side acted like gadflies, rather than trying to put together a coherent response.

Part of the problem, of course, was that the writers were never clear on what the SRA actually said. Was it just superheroes who had to register? Or was it all superhumans? And what procedure were the superheroes to follow? As Law and the Multiverse points out, Luke Cage could have asked – quite reasonably – how he was supposed to register? If all superheroes were supposed to register, that’s one thing; if all superhumans, that’s quite another.

In the real world (yes, I know) policemen hate vigilantes. A man who decides to take the law into his own hands may not follow the law. Gaining a conviction of someone Spiderman drops off at the police station or Batman leaves hanging from a drain may be impossible in any reasonable court of law. Policemen are trained to do everything from tackle criminals to gather evidence that proves their guilt. Breaching procedure can cause all sorts of problems for later. Even Sherlock can cause problems for the police.

In short, if the basic idea is to regulate and train superheroes, I support it. Training may make the difference between life and death. But if the basic idea is to register superhumans merely for being superhumans, I am against it.

The movie rests on a rather shaky foundation. Wanda – the Scarlet Witch – accidentally causes a disaster during an attempt to stop a supervillain plot. The various world governments decide to put a collar on the Avengers, insisting that they submit to global oversight. Tony Stark supports it; Steve Rogers does not. At that point, matters become muddied by a bombing apparently carried out by Bucky Barns, aka The Winter Soldier. With a manhunt underway for Barns, Captain America is forced to choose between his friends and the accords. It isn’t a surprise that he chooses his friends.

As a movie, Civil War looks great. But it does have problems. The whole dispute that leads to the first major battle, dragging in almost every MCU hero (Thor and Hulk are the only major exceptions) could have been handled with a proper conversation between Stark and Rogers. And while it’s hard to blame Tony “I have daddy issues” Stark for being pissed at the Winter Soldier, it’s possible the whole tragedy could have been averted if everyone had just taken a breath and calmed down. The villain’s plot rested on correctly predicting how Captain America would react to his friend being framed.

Civil War also introduces two new characters; Spiderman and Black Panther. Spiderman is younger than I expected, but the actor makes the character work. His role in the film is smaller than the comic, for better or worse. I disliked the first set of Spiderman movies, so this is a definite improvement. On the downside, Spiderman doesn’t get as much screen time as I would have liked.

The jury is still out on Black Panther. I freely admit that I loathe the comic character with a passion. Unlike War Machine, Luke Cage (or Green Lantern John Stewart), Black Panther is not a well-rounded character, but a shameless piece of racial pandering that is, in many ways, strikingly racist. And sometimes not always in the way you’d expect. (The less said about the Storm miniseries the better.) The movie version is much better than the comic book version, but – again – we just don’t see enough of Black Panther to make any definite judgements. His flaws are not yet manifest.

People may ask why this is a Captain America movie, rather than Avengers III. I think, at heart, it is because the story revolves around Captain America. Having learned harsh lessons about being a good (and unquestioning) soldier in his previous movie, Cap is less inclined to bow the knee to any sort of government oversight. (And realistically, who would expect the UN, even with the best will in the world, to do a good job.) It is Steve Rogers who decides to resist the accords, then save Bucky even though he knows it will put him on the wrong side of the law.

But the movie also explores Steve’s flaws. Wanda was not under arrest in Stark Tower, merely grounded. What would have happened if Wanda, blamed for the first disaster, was seen on the streets? But Steve decides to break her out without thinking, allowing his emotions to steer his path. Rallying the troops to fight, despite the potential consequences, was a mistake. And then choosing to conceal the truth behind Howard Stark’s death until it was too late.

In this perspective, Iron Man serves as the foil to Captain America. Tony is not as cold and emotionless as his armour suggests, but he has strong reasons to support the Accords. (I don’t think it was mentioned, but Tony is the only one of the Avengers who can genuinely be blamed for causing a problem – Ultron.) Tony is fighting desperately to keep his sole remaining family together, while Captain America is breaking it up. He supports the Accords because he feels that accountability is important, but also because he worries that something worse will be on the way.

And, as in the comics, both sides have a point.

One can easily accuse Tony of crossing the line, well before War Machine’s near-death. I’m not sure how old Spiderman is in the MCU, but I’d put him at somewhere between 15-17 – a child-soldier, by any reasonable definition. And yet, the same could be said for Wanda. She isn’t much older than Peter Parker, with marginally more experience in the field. But she is treated as a front-line Avenger.

The lesser characters get some moments too, although they’re not always to their advantage. Wanda comes across as a petulant teenager at times, smarting under being grounded and unwilling to admit that it’s for her own safety. Vision, who clearly has feelings for Wanda, is making clumsy attempts to court her. Their relationship suffers before it truly begins when they wind up on opposing sides. Ant-Man (and Spiderman) fan-boy over Captain America, Falcon and Black Widow make hard choices (although Widow seems to get away with her decision to betray Iron Man.)

I was surprised to see General Ross return, let alone be the driving force behind the Accords. I thought he was the villain at first. But thinking about it, his attitude makes sense. Ross probably got into deep shit after The Incredible Hulk. He’s not going to be too happy at the Avengers seemingly getting away with far worse.

Overall, there are some great moments in the film. The confrontation between the two sides at the airport looks fantastic, with superpowers used to their best advantage. Anyone who thinks that Tony holds all the cards will be shocked by the battle. But, at the same time, the movie doesn’t make quite as much sense as the comic book.

But that’s just my inner critic. Overall, I liked the movie.

Wedding Hells: Randor and Alicia

10 Sep

A couple of people asked about this, so I thought I’d address it in a post.

The problem facing Alicia is that she wasn’t ‘confirmed’ by the time her father and brothers were beheaded, as punishment for their role in the failed coup against King Randor (Lessons in Etiquette). A confirmation ceremony marks a parental acknowledgement that a child has become an adult and confirms their place in the line of succession. It also grants certain rights, such as the right to refuse a marriage, which tends to ensure that parents are reluctant to confirm their younger (and female) children before they’re married off or otherwise put in place to support the family, specifically the one who will succeed his father as patriarch.

Alassa’s ceremony in Lessons was important because it ensures that she can take the throne at once, after her father dies. Without it, her uncle would rule as regent – and, because she was a princess, he’d have plenty of opportunity to organise matters to suit himself before he finally stepped aside. (You can see why the plotters wanted to strike before the ceremony, as they already had the Duke of Iron under their control.)

What this meant, in practical terms, was that Alicia, the sole survivor of her family, was legally a minor child (at 24!) when her father and brother died.

Randor’s solution to this problem was to take Alicia as his ward, install her as a ‘guest’ within his castle and appoint agents to run the Barony until he saw fit to allow her to return. This gave him great power over her, up to and including arranging her marriage to suit himself. The prospect of Alicia’s hand in marriage was enough to keep a number of minor nobles dancing on his strings for a couple of years. Indeed, Alicia was far more helpless than Alassa. She wouldn’t be inheriting the throne, nor did she have any powerful friends. Alicia was never courted for her support because all the power rested in Randor’s hands.

Randor, who had grown increasingly paranoid and sadistic since his betrayal and near-death in Lessons, eventually seduced Alicia himself. This was not a healthy relationship. The part of him that wanted to make his enemies suffer loved watching Alicia make the decision to degrade herself, in the hopes that he would eventually give her back her birthright. Randor assumed, with very good reason, that there would be no long-term consequences. He had plenty of time to choose Alicia’s husband, organise the Barony to ensure Alicia’s hands would be tied and generally keep his dominant position within the kingdom.

At this point, two months prior to the opening of Wedding Hells, Alicia realised she was pregnant. And Randor was the father.

Randor had assumed, based on the simple fact that he’d only sired one child (legitimate or otherwise), that Alicia wouldn’t get pregnant. He certainly didn’t bother to take any precautions! Indeed, he was only vaguely aware of the pregnancy – he didn’t believe the signs the maids noticed – until the truth accidentally came out, plunging him into a dangerous crisis.

He wanted a son, wanted one very much. It wouldn’t be hard to fiddle the politics so Alicia became his wife, giving her unborn child legitimacy. But this ran the risk of a clash with his daughter. Alassa, a confirmed Crown Princess, was a formidable magician in her own right, engaged to a fully-trained combat sorcerer, best friends with the most terrifying person on the Nameless World … and very well-placed to serve as the focus for all the anti-Randor feeling that had re-emerged since the failed coup. The prospect of a male child palled compared to the danger of a civil war he might well lose, one that would plunge the kingdom into chaos.

And even if he won, even if he managed to give the unborn child some semblance of legitimacy, it would be at least sixteen years before the child could take the throne. A lot could happen in sixteen years. There was a very strong possibility that someone would bump him off in the intervening years.

At this point, Randor folded his cards and arranged a reasonably decent match for Alicia.

He had good reason to be mad at Emily for forcing his hand. The prospect of a civil war forced him to cut all ties with the unborn child; ensuring that Alicia’s husband would accept the child meant that he wouldn’t have complete control over the Barony or Alicia after her match. Randor had no strong feelings for Alicia, but it galled him to let her go in a manner he didn’t choose. It hardened his determination to bring Emily firmly under his control, which led to ultimate disaster in Wedding Hells.

Obviously, this situation will cast a long shadow over the future of Zangaria.

Historically, this has happened more than once. Henry II, the first true Plantagenet King, was reputed to have seduced his son’s intended bride, who was living with him at the time. This was, of course, more unlucky for the girl than her seducer (although she did have a happy ending of sorts, well away from the Demon’s Brood.)