May 2015

Looks like a hammer to me...

Our executive admin came by asking if there was anything she could use to convert some photos from color to black-and-white. Assorted people have Photoshop, but she didn’t want to take up anyone else’s time, she just needed something quick to paste into a slide/report/whatever.

Trivial with on a Mac (in fact, hard to avoid, since the misnamed app autosaves even accidental changes made to any image or PDF you view…), but she couldn’t find anything in a stock Windows 7 install that would do it. I vaguely remembered having tripped over some image-modifying tools in Microsoft Word, so I pasted a work-safe sample photo into a new document, right-clicked, selected the obvious-looking “Format Picture…” item, and found tools for cropping, resizing, and recoloring. Ten seconds later, I right-clicked the photo again, selected “Save as Picture…”, and we were done.

Outsider, page 103

Here, posted a week ago. The comment includes “see you next week”, but it’s a bit early to get your hopes up…

Fear The Cute Ones, Dungeon Edition


Race: prum (halfling).
Height: 100cm.
Age: 15.
Ethics: situational.
Occupation: lifts and separates.
Kemonomimi: at-will.

Episode 6 of DanMachi finishes off the second light novel’s worth of story, focusing on the tiny, cheerful, mendacious Lili, who hides not only her motives, but a smoking-hot body. Sadly, every potential screenshot showing her without her snug-yet-concealing robe involves her being beaten up by large ugly male adventurers (seriously; you get lingering cheesecake shots of her as she’s smacked around, which is Not My Thing). This has somewhat soured her outlook on life, leading to the point of episodes 4-6: what happens when a genuinely nice person pets a whipped puppy.

Since Bell is Our Hero, and this is a harem comedy, it’s no great spoiler to say that things work out in the end, or that the next arc focuses on Bell’s primary fixation, the flat-affect blonde sword princess (who, by the way, apparently has her own spinoff novels now).

A better-than-expected translation of the first two light novels is available on Amazon (1, 2). That is, you can still see the Japanese grammar peeking through, but it’s not filled with the clumsy constructs common to fan translations on Baka-tsuki, etc. It succeeds in telling the story, and fills in a lot of details that make for some puzzling moments in the anime.

One thing of note is that the novels are very light on description, apart from breast size and hairstyles, so Hestia’s famous ribbon was definitely the work of the cover artist. Lili’s figure goes entirely unmentioned, largely because her dog-ear disguise convinced Bell that she was a beastman child rather than a halfling teen. I’m sure this attitude will survive the truth for a while, leading to a future Compromising Position that makes her an official haremette.

Or maybe if she wants him to notice, she’ll have to upgrade her wardrobe to one of the classics:


East meets West, slices off thumb

While skimming through previous episodes of DanMachi, I happened to notice an amusing bit of animation in episode 3. At 11:34, Our Hero’s Dream Girl finishes dispatching a monster that’s escaped into the city, and as the crowd cheers, she performs a crisp, precise chiburi-nōtō to put away her sword. Her slim, double-edged rapier.

It’s an overhead crowd shot, and you only see her at a distance, but after flicking the blade clean, she very clearly grasps the mouth of the scabbard with her left hand and slides the full length of the blade along it before guiding it in.

It’s the classic technique for safely sheathing a katana, gliding the thick spine along the web of your thumb until the tip drops neatly into the mouth, so that you know without looking that the blade will go into the scabbard and not, say, your thigh.

This does not work for double-edged blades (or for that other famous anime blade, Rurouni Kenshin’s “reverse katana”). Attempting a standard nōtō will simply slice open your hand.

Amusingly, all of the close-up scenes I found of Aiz sheathing her blade show her just poking the tip into the scabbard; it’s only in this one very public slaying that the animators added the extra dramatic motion.

…and of course the usual ridiculous metallic noises that accompany waving a blade in the air and sliding it into a leather scabbard. After a while you sort of stop noticing that nonsense, unless it’s something as over-the-top absurd as the magical kitchen knife in the pilot episode of Gotham.

Dear Apple,

Why does attaching the Thunderbolt-to-Firewire adapter reset the USB3 bus on my MacBook Pro, unmounting the external drives?

...and the Trigger you rode in on

Greek and Roman Mythology now too upsetting for students at Columbia, as the “trigger warning” game jumps a dozen flaming sharks.

The next person who attempts the “trigger warning” game in my presence will receive a heaping helping of verbal macroaggressions. Their abuse of psychological jargon had already gone way too far, but they’ve gotten away with it because the rest of us were socialized into Western Civilization. No more for me.

The difference between real triggers and “shutting up anyone you disagree with” is that real triggers are specific, as any therapist will tell you. I know, because for several years after my apartment building burned down in the middle of the night, and I had to run toward the fire to safety, the smell of burning wood sent my heart-rate through the roof. But only at night, only when it was unexpected, only when I was home.

There’s still a faint twitch when it happens, well over 20 years later, so whenever I fire up the smoker, I’m careful to throw the clothes in the washer and take a shower before bedtime. And I always pay attention to the sound of fire trucks and the smell of neighborhood grilling.

But I love to grill and smoke, and I love to watch a fireplace. You can’t trigger me by talking about fire or showing me pictures of a house burning. Or by making me read about Prometheus.

Or as we like to call it...

“a day at the range”.

New Jersey Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman wants to ban online ammo dealers, and send the feds after anyone who buys by the case. Apparently because she gets off watching “shocking images of unspeakable gun violence”:

"The bill would also require ammunition vendors to report any sales of more than 1,000 rounds within five consecutive days to the U.S. attorney general if the person purchasing ammunition is not a licensed dealer."

More evidence that she has an active fantasy life:

"The bill aims, she said, to help prevent malicious attacks like the July 2012 shooting in the Aurora, Colo. movie theater that left 12 dead and 70 wounded."

Yup, that’d sure stop the next guy who walked into a movie theater with a shotgun, rifle with drum magazine, pistol, and smoke grenades, wearing body armor. He’d never manage to acquire enough ammo for the 76 shots he fired, and would have had to bring the 30 homemade grenades and 10 gallons of gasoline that the cops found in his home. I feel safer already!

Hugo voting packet now available

I just downloaded the voting packet for this year’s Hugo Awards, and unlike the folks who’ve sworn to vote in lockstep against anything that was nominated by wrongfans, I intend to read the whole thing before casting my votes.

Updates as I read them.

Graphic Story
I've read the four Graphic Story entries in the packet (The Zombie Nation Book #2 was not included). None of them are even half as good as any Astro City collection, but it wasn't nominated, and they were, so I'm tentatively going with Ms Marvel. It starts off with a whiff of pre-emptive outrage, as if the creators are daring Hatey McWhiteHate to jump on the Haternet and start ranting about brown people and evil mooslims stealin our white blonde superchicks, but fortunately they get over it, and go on to tell a half-decent origin story that's saved from mediocrity by an excellent heroine and a well-drawn 2.5-dimensional family. If they keep the focus on heroine and family, it will be pretty good. I plan to buy a physical copy.

Saga is imaginative and has nice art, but all I knew about it before reading volume 3 was a vague memory of controversy over the graphic depiction of childbirth in an earlier issue; the story didn't grab me, but it's well-done. Rat Queens is straightforward RPG grrl-power fantasy; meh. Sex Criminals feels like it was written 20 years ago and drawn today, and it's not as titillating as the creators think; also meh.

The Zombie Nation is a webcomic, but I suppose I'll have to poke around to find out what's included in book 2, to evaluate it properly.
Skin Game has an early lead, on the grounds that I've already read it at least five times. People unfamiliar with The Dresden Files may have difficulty getting into book 15, but while there's a crapton of context, I think it actually does a pretty good job of establishing the universe and characters for a new reader.

I'm just starting Ancillary Sword, and between the terrible blurb on Amazon, the clunky exposition on the first few pages, the fact that it's book 2, and the names that were generated with a set of Boggle dice, it's not grabbing me. The publisher supplied a hundred-page excerpt, and I'll give it a fair shot, but I'd have already put it back on the shelf if I'd found it in a book store. (Update: finished the excerpt, managed to adjust to the awkward prose style, not really interested in any of the characters or what happens to them)

Nominally the first book in a trilogy, The Dark Between The Stars is completely impenetrable unless you've read the previous seven books and kept detailed notes. There are at least a dozen vaguely-connected point-of-view characters (9 in the first 10 chapters!), and I'd already forgotten the first three when I reached chapter four. I see no reason to continue. The editor should be smacked for not insisting on an intro, given that even for a loyal reader, it's been six years since the previous book set in this universe.

The Goblin Emperor is a court intrigue drama set in a lightly-sketched fantasy world. That is, the protagonist goes through a series of experiences that happen to take place in a world that has races called elves and goblins, a world that you learn very little about. It is slow and well-mannered, and the protagonist faces no serious challenges or setbacks; he merely accepts his place in the world and performs his duty, while surrounded by characters whose personalities remain as unexplored as his world. It is neither exciting nor boring, and yet I managed to finish it, setting it above Ancillary and Dark. I would not give it an award, and had I been its editor, I would have told the author to use it as the backstory for an actual fantasy novel about the priest-detective who solves the murder mystery that put the protagonist on the throne. He at least gets to live in the world that the emperor rules.

I'm now 58% (Kindle) of the way through The Three-Body Problem, and I am completely baffled by Theresa Nielsen Hayden's claim that "If they're participating because they love the genre, and they're into old-fashioned SF virtues, then surely they'll have nominated The Three-Body Problem", because I've yet to encounter anything resembling SF in the book (oh, wait; there's the thing with the timestamp that's forgotten almost immediately in favor of playing the dullest online game in history). In fact, it reads as if the author was told that SF consists of making frequent references to science and scientists in a contemporary novel. Browsing spoilers, it appears that there is actual significant SFnal content coming up, but if true, the only award this novel deserves so far is The Buried Lede. Seriously, in promoting this (on their web site and apparently nowhere else), promised: "A covert military project. A secret war revealed as the worst fight that humanity has ever faced. Baffling mysteries. A series of ultra-science weapons, each more powerful and fantastic than the last, including one technology described as more important than nuclear bombs. Aliens that may be saviors, or invaders, or both." At 58% I've got a military project and baffling mysteries, and none of the rest; some guy in a bar has claimed that there are aliens, but he's an idiot. I can't recall any classic SF that took this long to get to the point, but perhaps TNH can enlighten me. (update: I just read chapter 30; this book is horseshit)
The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale is a breath of fresh air after slogging through TBP. It's not just a good yarn filled with crunchy SF tropes, it's unapologetically optimistic about humanity.
Short Story
Totaled isn't bad. I didn't find it particularly compelling, and it's a bit rushed, but not bad. I'm not terribly optimistic about any of the others, so while it would set a pretty low bar for "award-winning", I won't No-Award it; I'll just leave it off my ballot. Actually, I refuse to No-Award anything this year, because it's become a weapon to shout down Wrongfans.

A Single Samurai suffers from lengthy as-you-know-Bob exposition delivered in an affected style that might work for people who only know samurai from subtitled movies. I lost interest fast.

The stupid, it burns us...

I really hope this is not representative of The Three-Body Problem, the last of the Hugo-nominated novels I’m reading:

"...he had successfully predicted the birth defects associated with long-term consumption of genetically modified foods. He had also predicted the ecological disasters that would come with cultivation of genetically modified crops."

This part of the book is set in the more-or-less present day, and our allegedly-reliable narrator treats these statements as simple fact. Fortunately, it’s soon followed with:

"He believed that technological progress was a disease in human society. The explosive development of technology was analogous to the growth of cancer cells, and the results would be identical: the exhaustion of all sources of nourishment, the destruction of organs, and the final death of the host body."

With any luck, this batshit-crazy luddite will be one of the villains. Or a spear-carrier soon to depart from the plot. Fingers crossed, because there’s a page and a half of this nonsense before he ever utters a word.

Update and SPOILER! after the jump:


Swim with your dinner!

Real or “wacky Japan”? A town known for its annual dolphin hunt is building a theme park where you can swim with dolphins, then eat whale and dolphin meat. Take that, PETA.

Sensible Japan: free wifi for tourists. In the Kanto region, anyway.

The Pork Princess of Taiwan. Nothing to do with Japan, but I’m sure there are a few Sushi Queens willing to take her on.

The Three-Body Problem Problem

This Chinese SF novel is being praised as good old-fashioned hard science fiction, filled with powerful and fantastic ultra-science and a gripping plot that uncovers a secret war against humanity that opens Earth up to alien conquest.

Yeah, not so much. The only two on-camera technologies that exceed present-day capabilities are:

  1. The bad guys remotely project a countdown timer into Our Hero's field of vision. At the end of the book, they use this technology again to project a short insult to the eyes of a small group of people.
  2. The good guys use Our Hero's experimental nanomaterial to construct monomolecular garrotes that slice an oil tanker into ribbons as it passes through the Panama Canal.

You have a well-funded secret society that sincerely believes in an upcoming alien invasion, but despite the complete lack of hard evidence, a room full of generals (and one suspicious old cop) are convinced that they desperately need to destroy that tanker in a way that kills everyone on board before they can delete their files (which are believed to contain additional messages from the aliens). Why a tanker? Because it was in fact a sea-faring radio telescope, used to carry out decades of two-way communication with the invaders.

But let’s assume for the moment that all of the third-hand evidence collected from the conspirators and the tanker is true, and aliens really are on their way to conquer Earth. What is their powerful and fantastic ultra-science weapon (singular, despite the blurbs)?


R.I.P Tanith Lee

SF/F writer Tanith Lee died last week. Bummer.

DanMachi accelerates

Episodes 1-3 covered book 1, 4-6 book 2, and 7-8 book 3. Episode 9 is starting book 4. Book 7 was released just over a month ago, and book 8 comes out in a few weeks, so it’s a race between the animators and the author.

If it’s a single-cour series, they’ll finish book 5 at the current pace, and won’t have enough material to adapt again until at least the Fall season. If they try for 26 episodes now, they’ll have to pull in the spinoff series about Aiz and company, which has 5 books as of last week.Or go with original stories, in which case it was a mistake to rush through the books; 2 episodes for a light novel leaves out a lot of material. Three episodes was already pretty tight, and risks turning an anime into a highlight reel (like DaiMaou), but it’s been working pretty well so far.

I see special editions of book 8 on Amazon, which suggests the anime is helping sales, and the pre-order for the first disc is at #68 in anime Blurays, so my guess is that they’ll do a second series in the Fall or Winter season.

It continues to be entertaining, but I’m hoping that Bell’s new skill doesn’t turn into an all-purpose “I Win” button, which is unfortunately implied in Hestia’s description of it.

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”