dendritic arborization • I like that phrase

disordered thought processes

hidden in the seeming chaos is beautiful, elegant order—at least, I hope that's true.

lord of the rings by squaresoft

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I don’t know how I find these random things, but I stumbled upon Chris Hazard and Ky Kimport’s take on what a Tolkien RPG would look like in the hands of Squaresoft.

In response, I would say that:

  • You get your airship from the Shipwright Círdan, who happens to prefer being called Cid. He will also give you Narya, the Ring of Fire, but only if you have Gandalf in your party.
  • The final battle sequence will actually consist of destroying Sauron in the Third Age, who takes the form of the Eye. The Nazgûl back him up. Then you travel back in time to the end of the Second Age to defeat Sauron in the Battle of the Last Alliance. After that, you go back earlier in the Second Age where you have to defeat him in Númenor before it sinks under the ocean (yes there is a time limit!). Finally, you go all the way back to the First Age to defeat Sauron, who is teamed up with Thuringwethil the Vampire and Draugluin the Werewolf. Once Sauron is utterly defeated, you are then faced with fighting Glaurung, the father of dragons, Gothmog the Lord of the Balrogs, and finally, Morgoth, the Dark Lord who has about a trillion hit points, and can only be physically damaged by the swords Ringil, Anglachel (but you want to upgrade it to Gurthang when you get a chance), or Anguirel, and also the knife Angrist (although it has to be reforged) You can also use Radagast’s summoning abilities (only the Eagle summon works) or hopefully you have at least one Silmaril, which, like Materia, can be inset into your weapons and give it Morgoth-damaging capabilities.
  • Depending on whether or not you look in Galadriel’s Mirror while in Lothlórien, you can unlock the Scouring of the Shire final subquest. This will allow you to keep playing even after you defeat Sauron and Morgoth and unlock Elrond, Galadriel, and Círdan as playable characters. Upon completing this mission, you can unlock the best ending.
  • Among the optional characters you can fight (all of whom have maybe at least a quadrillion hit points each) are the twin Blue Wizards who turned evil, Alatar and Pallando, and the penultimate optional battle is Ungoliant who has an octillion hit points, has six different forms, and has the attack “Withering of the Two Trees” which kills all the characters of your party except one, regardless of how many hit points you have, what armor you have equipped, or what magical protection you’ve cast.
  • The ultimate optional battle pits you against Neo-Morgoth, who is partly cybernetic, and who has sexdicillion hit points and will take literally 24 hours to beat (not counting breaks) and who will be far more difficult than the actual final battle of the game. On the upside, you should have the Elven Lords at this point, who can all inflict massive amounts of damage thanks to the Rings of Power
  • Various optional subquests include the reconquest of Moria, the cleansing of the Barrow Downs, the Colosseum in Umbar, lifting Numenór back out of the ocean, lifting Beleriand back out of the ocean, restoring the Two Trees, finding and clearing Angband, and finding and clearing Utumno
  • Valinor becomes accessible if you have a Silmaril
  • Like other Final Fantasy games, you can gather certain talismans to summon Elf Lords, Maiar, and Valar to fight for you temporarily.
  • Limit breaks/ultimate attacks:
    • Samwise: precision apple throw (instantly fatal), elven-lord charge (attacks multiple foes at once)
    • Frodo: the phial of Galadriel (holy damage to all foes)
    • Merry: the horn of Rohan (summons the Rohirrim to deal damage to all your foes)
    • Pippin: Bullroarer’s attack (instant death by decapitation, leading to a hole-in-one)
    • Aragorn: Flame of the West (fire attack to all foes), Wings of Thorongil (wind attack to all foes), The Light of the Elfstone (holy attack to all foes)
    • Gimli: Axes of Khazad (damage to multiple foes), Durin’s Hammer (massive damage to a single foe)
    • Gandalf: The Flame of Anor (massive holy damage), the Lightning of the Maiar (massive electrical damage), the Hand of the Valar (only available for Gandalf the White, dealing incredibly massive amounts of holy damage)

ground zero: the death star

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The problem with conspiracy theories is that you can pretty much twist any piece of data to support your claim, and anyone who disagrees with you clearly is part of the conspiracy as well.

Websurdity publishes an somewhat unhinged theory that the destruction of the first Death Star was actually planned by the Empire. Now, I’ve never trusted Emperor Palpatine or his neoconservative cronies. After all, these jokers had all been part of the upper echelons of the disgraced Trade Federation that had its hand in helping turn our Republic into a police state 30 years ago. (Anyone remember “I am not a crook”?)

But as Robert Heinlein has said, “Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity.” Everyone knows that Palpatine was a C student back at Coruscant University, and that the only reason he actually passed was because of his family legacy. To believe that a government filled with such ineptitude as Palpatine’s administration has shown in the past six years—spiralling budget deficits, the greatest we’ve ever seen, despite the fact that Finis Valorum actually turned over a budget surplus to Palpatine, the enormous tax cuts for the rich, the disdain shown to education and health care, the torture scandal of the Imperial Prisons, the wiretapping scandals, the complete lack of Imperial aid to the survivors of the obliteration of Alderaan, and the worst being their complete failure to plan for continued occupation of Separatist systems—that this sorry bunch of idiots could actually orchestrate everything that was necessary for the terrorist Rebellion to succeed in the Death Star attack is giving them too much credit.

There are intriguing details that we know to be true, to be sure. (1) Lord Vader and Skywalker were both trained by same guy, Obi Wan Kenobi, whom we have long known has had terrorist sympathies, and all these guys have had contact with Yoda, who, for some reason, despite knowing for a fact that he’s on Dagobah, has still not been apprehended. Not that I’m excusing fundamentalist religion, but these guys do have a legitimate axe to grind. We totally used the Jedi during the Clone Wars in our effort to “stave off Communism” in the Peripheral Systems before the Confederacy completely collapsed, and all they got out of it was getting purged (2) Lord Vader, who happens to own a large amount of stock in Sienar Fleet Systems, will stand to make a mint off of Sienar’s new contract to build yet another Death Star, this one even bigger than the last. The list of ways that the Imperial leadership is capitalizing both politically and financially on this tragic event could go on and on.

And, yes, Palpatine has no doubt used the destruction of the Death Star as an excuse for stripping the people of more and more of their Constitutional rights, and as an excuse to escalate the so-called War on Terror in the Peripheral Systems. And nothing would make me happier than throwing Palpatine and his cronies not only out of office, but in prison where they belong. But the fact of the matter is that you don’t need some Death Star conspiracy to indict these bastards. All you need to do is look at the fact that we’re throwing trillions upon trillions of credits away in this failed war against the Rebellion, doing nothing more than fattening the pockets of military contractors and Palpatine’s toadies, all at the expense of basic domestic needs like health care, social security, education, and at the expense of dismantling what has made our Galaxy great—the Constitution upon which it was founded.

the lesser of two evils?

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What my psychiatrist noted is that maybe this whole unrelenting fatigue thing is simply the fact that I’d managed to vanquish most of my anxiety and now lack the impetus of fear to keep me awake and toiling. Seriously, I’m not having any more visceral symptoms of anxiety and my depression is much better controlled.

But instead of feeling unbearably sad and constantly suffering from heartache between episodes of chest tightness and epigastric abdominal pain, now, I just don’t feel a damn thing at all. If I were completely free and really could do anything I wanted to, I would just stay in bed all day, or maybe at least stay in front of the computer all day, and do nothing. I don’t remember at all what used to cheer me up, and I’ve stopped relying on ethanol to while the time away, so when work is done, maybe it’s not so much that I’m tired. I just don’t have anything better to do. I don’t feel compelled to act.

When I still had anxiety, the fear of the future was usually sufficient to either (1) get my ass in gear or (2) paralyze me completely, particularly with the pain of acid boring through my stomach and esophagus.

The visceral feeling of tiredness has lifted now that I’m taking the new meds, but I still don’t really know what to do with myself when I have free time. Oh, sure, there are a million things in the queue that probably need attention, but I’m not sufficiently compelled to work on them now.

I still think my frontal lobe is borked. Any sane person would’ve properly prioritized and sequenced the order by which I should tackle the tasks at hand. Instead I sit here unmoving, unmovable.

This is how schizophrenics act. They just don’t give a damn about anything, and they just sit there smoking cigarettes, unmoved by even impending doom. (Though I’ve learned that very few people are actually moved by impending doom, unless it is literally staring them in the face, breathing down their neck.)


The only consolation is that my compulsion to write drek is still active. In fact, you can probably tell how symptomatic I am from depression and anxiety by the number of posts I write in a month.

I should graph that out sometime.

On the technology side, given my hankering for writing my own blog engine based on XML and XSLT, I am reminded of Syncato, which is basically a CMS solution that allows Apache in combination with Webware to essentially query an XML database through HTTP. All you have to do is feed the query in URL, using XPath syntax, so you can do things like[contains(.,"madness")] to do a search for all blog posts containing the word “madness”

Sure, there are easier ways to do this, but that would generally involve creating yet another non-standardized specification, I’m sure. XPath has been around since at least 1999 and I started learning it in 2000 when I started learning XSL, so it’s not like it’s new and unsupported.

effluvia from my leaking mind

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Lately I’ve been once again been able to remember what I’ve been dreaming. For the longest time I’ve been having dreamless nights, which, while not very interesting, were probably for the best. I remember from clinical neuroscience that most of our dreams are violent and/or depressing, and this one was no exception. For some reason I was really pissed with my brother. I can’t recall the reason in the dream at all, but the sense of hurt and anger was quite vivid.

But I suppose the interesting thing is that my dreams seem to be recycling the scenery lately. While the characters change and the scenarios differ, I often find myself in the same imaginary places that seem to only exist in my dreams. There is, for example, this city which I have since named Todos Santos that reminds me a lot of Pasadena, except that it serves as a hub for this imaginary city’s elevated heavy-rail system. The hub has (naturally) a mall, a theater that shows plays and musicals, a hotel(!), and even a hospital(!!) It also interconnects with a vast railroad station similar to Penn Station in NYC. To the north of here (one stop on the Gold Line) is a huge area of random stores, laid out somewhat like Universal City Walk, except even more sprawling. It doesn’t allow any vehicular traffic, much like the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, and it is frequently crowded.

But back to the Civic Center station: apparently there is also a huge Vegas-style casino nearby, and there are towering apartment complexes as well. For some reason, the caliber of the streets actually remind me of Boston (which I’ve only actually visited twice in my entire life)—very narrow, and not always intuitive as to where they might lead. Chinatown (or probably more appropriately, East Asian Town, since in my dream the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean restaurants and shops were all clustered together) was walking distance as well, and it was comprised of windy, extremely narrow alleys lined with all sorts of shops, with roasted pigs and sometimes entrails displayed in the front windows, and with the illicit massage parlors down even more twisty passages. There is an open park that reminds me of Bryant Park in NYC, except that the one in my dream is never crowded.

Anyway, this is where my dream was set. The transit center mall featured prominently, and the hospital within the mall made a brief cameo. And then there is the massive parking structure that belongs to the Vegas-style casino. I don’t remember why me and my extended family were there. We had taken a sand colored minivan of indeterminate make and model.

And that’s all I really remember.

I’m still struggling mightily with waking up in the morning. Of course it doesn’t help that I’ve only been working in the afternoon for pretty much the entire week, and I haven’t had to take call anymore. I’m hoping that the meds simply need time to kick in, and that I’ll be functional in the next couple of weeks or so.

I’ve been reading the Book of Lost Tales which is a compilation of lots of Tolkien’s abandoned drafts, put together by his son Christopher, and just finished the tale of Túrin Turambar, which is about a man who is cursed so that everything he does goes horribly wrong. The part that always disturbed me was the fact that he ended up impregnating his sister. Túrin had never met her before, except maybe when she was in utero, and his sister had had her brain scrambled by a dragon, and couldn’t even remember her name or where she came from. When the dragon releases the curse as his final act of malice before he dies, the two are horrified and both commit suicide.

I know. What a happy story.

Apparently the story is heavily influenced by a tale from the Finnish epic Kalevala—the tale of Kullervo (Interestingly, wikipedia also mentions the parallel between Kullervo and Anakin Skywalker, which I haven’t considered.)

And what is cool is that Christopher Tolkien has put together a lot of his father’s manuscripts and edited them to create a complete, stand-alone narrative, which will be released on April 17 as a new novel entitled The Children of Hurin

I keep having this internal debate about whether my distrust of using an RDBMS for blogging outweighs my laziness and the simplicity afforded by using an easy-to-install and convenient-to-use solution like Wordpress. [trying something new again][simplicity and blogging][the fate of blosxom and other errata][filesystem vs rdbms][demarcation is futile]

I think my current discontent is fueled by the fact that I find it exceedingly painful to customize Wordpress themes. I don’t have any XHTML tools that I can use for checking well-formedness. It’s painful to have to use my mouse to switch from the code to the CSS stylesheet when I accidentally but them in tabs on the same browser window, and it’s not easy to put two browser windows on the screen at once anyway. The textarea, even on the theme editor, is still cramped and uncomfortable and makes the thought of proofreading unbearable, and I would much rather be using emacs, or even I could save some (although not all) of this by using a dedicated blog editor like MarsEdit or ecto and XML-RPC, but (1) there are no nice, free blog editors for Mac OS X and (2) I’m not going to pay for something if it doesn’t solve all my issues.

Which leads me back to writing my own blog engine, which is likely going to be an exercise in my headbashing and pulling of hair, but I think maybe I should just do it and deal with it. Before I started paying for shared hosting, I was using my ISP, which didn’t even allow server-side-includes or CGI, much less PHP or Java. So I came up with a totally kludged system that used a touch of Perl, a dash of bash, and a little Makefile script to generate static entry pages. Add to that a perl script that I found on the web and some cheap shared hosting, and I had comments (and for some magical reason—probably because the number of users is negligent—the spambots have yet to trouble my legacy blogs) Sure, I didn’t have categories, and my scripts would sometimes fail to update links to new entries, and my URLs were not nice (only timestamps and no slugs) but it worked.

What ruined it was the fact (1) it wasn’t portable at all—if I wanted to post on the road, I had to have my laptop on me. There was no way to do it from another computer unless I wanted to rsync my entire blog to the other computer, and doing this over dial-up is no fun. (2) since I didn’t have near-unlimited space on my ISP’s web server like I have now on my shared host, I didn’t want to upload anything except for the static HTML files. This proved to be my unmaking, because I suck at making backups, and on the occasion that my hard drive would fail, or more likely, I would do something stupid like rm -rf * on the root directory, I would lose my source files for my blog, screwing up my indices and making it impossible to regenerate my blog when I wanted to change the theme or something. (3) it was exceedingly buggy anyway, and I would waste hours of my life wading through nearly incomprehensible, convoluted XSL, or manually writing out my loop iterations to figure out logic because I would fail to comment any of my code, and perl lends itself nicely to a write-once, never-read-it-again style of coding that is the misery of all maintainers, or God help me, I would find myself trying to read the man page of make to understand why my Makefile was not behaving the way I wanted it to.

But, nonetheless, I think I’m ready for some self-torture. I plan on using XPath somehow, and will probably be sticking to Perl since it’s the only language I really know, besides BASIC, Pascal, and assembly for the 6502 family of microprocessors. But I might port it over to Ruby someday.

The best-laid plans of mice, indeed.

on the classification of nerds

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Courtesy of my cousin J™

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Social Nerd

You’re interested in things such as politics, psychology, child care, and peace. I wouldn’t go so far as to call you a hippie, but some of you may be tree-huggers. You’re the type of people who are interested in bettering the world. You’re possible the least nerdy of them all; unless you participate in other activies that paled your nerdiness compared to your involvement in social activities. Whatever the case, we could still use more of you around. ^_^

Literature Nerd
Science/Math Nerd
Gamer/Computer Nerd
Anime Nerd
Artistic Nerd
Drama Nerd
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Quizzes for MySpace
tags: ,

motivation and the lack thereof

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I just can’t seem to get out of bed these days. Luckily I don’t have to be in at work until 1pm, but still. I went to sleep at 11:30pm last night and didn’t wake up until 10am.

Perhaps there is something wrong with me other than a psychiatric disorder, but I can’t seem to work up the motivation to make an appointment with my primary care physician. (Yeah, ain’t I a wonderful patient?)

But seriously though, I still make it to work, and it’s not like I’m passing out or falling on the ground, so it can’t be that serious. (Famous last words.)

Maybe I’m just being a hypochondriac.

The problem is that I don’t really have a good baseline with which to compare things to. I don’t remember the last time ever felt “normal”


one step closer to singularity

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I’m starting to find Myspace increasingly tedious because of the sheer amount of comment spam and the number of fembots constantly requesting me as a friend. That and none of the people on my friend’s list ever respond to any of my messages, but that is another rant entirely.

But what I found somewhat amusing was that on some fembot pages, there are apparently other bots posting comment spam. It’s like cannibalism, or self-organizing behavior, take your pick.

Is it possible that Myspace will become self-aware before Google does?

By various convolutions, I am led to the old, laughable screed by Kim du Toit entitled ”The pussification of the western male” written way back in 2003. I find what he says so ridiculous that I have a hard time believing that this guy is serious.

But, being in the frame of mind that I have been in, namely, because of my current fascination with mythology of all kinds, I find that TPB’s response is particularly apt.

As expounded by Chuck Pahlaniuk through his avatar Tyler Durden, our first image of God is typically based on our fathers. My father is not a good man. He freely admits this, and sometimes expresses regret about this fact, but he is simply human. Shit happens, life goes on. Nonetheless, he is magnitudes of order better than a lot of the sorry pieces of shit that walk the earth who have happened to have the luck to propagate their DNA via the agency of some unsuspecting woman. (Who me, judgemental?) And while he chafes at it, while he sometimes even openly rebels against it, he seems to have always understood what his duties were, as a man, and as a father, and if you push him hard enough, or are patient with him, he tends to always do the right thing, even if he started off by doing the wrong thing first.

Perhaps unintentionally, my father taught me that rules are made to be broken, and only stupid, simpering fools follow the rules to the T. Conformity is the strait-jacket of the moron, and my father is no idiot. He carries this barely suppressed chip on his shoulder that reeks of exceptionalism, and his speech belies the notion that he thinks that he is better than most people, and I suppose it is well earned. Starting out in a rather poor family, he managed to finagle his way into medical school and through some trickery and farce as well as by some old-fashioned sweat and tears, he entered into a profession that was and still is—in his home country—generally limited to the well-to-do, who have the money to bribe the right people and grease the right palms. Despite his social status, he always felt like he was better and smarter than his classmates who had financial backing, and frankly he treated a lot of them with haughty contempt.

My father also unintentionally taught me contempt for the government and for the powers-that-be. When he entered this country, it was at the tail end of the Vietnam War, when the public was well aware that Americans were being sent there to die for no good reason. Because of financial pressure, and because his medical degree was no good in the U.S., he was basically coerced by his half-brother to enlist in the Navy, and he therefore prepared to get shipped out to get shot without even getting to carry a rifle. Because of his medical training, he ended up being a corpsman (who, because of all the extra gear they had to carry around, only got to have a sidearm) He was eventually attached to the marine base at Camp Pendleton, and by that time, the war had finally truly ended.

But, unlike many of his contemporaries who joined the U.S. armed forces, my dad is no patriot. His anti-establishment leanings are perhaps too fierce, and he claims that when he got discharged from the Navy, he burned his uniform and never looked back.

In any case, my dad is not the macho man that du Toit envisions. What my dad taught me about being a man is that intelligence always wins against force, that you should never employ force when treachery will do the trick, and that doing all the things that men are supposed to do like fighting, carrying guns, drinking, smoking, and fucking are good ways to get you and anyone you care about diseased, maimed, or killed, and frankly, that’s just stupid.

Interestingly, the lessons from my dad maps pretty well with Norse mythology. He basically espouses the ways of Loki, and to a degree, those of Odin. The supposed manly man that du Toit illustrates is more like Thor, whom we all know is basically a muscle-bound dumbass who gets played big time by Loki. And I don’t wanna get played like that. I’d rather be a conniving weasel that no one likes than the big lovable lout that everyone makes fun of behind their back because you can only understand things in black-and-white, good-or-evil, with no intelligence to discern the various shades of gray that permeate the world we live in.

Even more amusing, one of the gods of creation in the Visayan myths is an eagle named Manaul, who through trickery and lies, managed to get the god of the sky and the god of the sea fighting with each other, through which process land was created, all because he wanted to have somewhere to land so that he could rest. Treachery and laziness. I dig it.

Now, mind you, this is not all that I believe in.

My other model for manhood is my uncle, my mom’s brother. Like my dad, he also came from a rather poor family. He is old enough to remember the Japanese occupation during WWII and remembers people getting killed by bayonetting. And being the eldest of the family, he taught me everything that I believe about duty and honor.

See, what I learned from my uncle was that being a man was not about simply amusing yourself and picking fights and being violent for no good reason. Being a man means taking responsibility and taking care people who are weaker than you. Being a man means sacrifice, which is what my uncle embodied. Instead of going to college, he went straight to work, and made money so that my mom and her other siblings could go to school. He was the first to make it to the U.S., and he too joined the U.S. armed forces, although he never fought in any wars. And because he was a person-of-color in the 1950’s, he was restricted to only certain positions, but he never made a big deal about that. Because duty always superseded pride, and if you were doing your duty, it didn’t matter if other people looked down at you.

And I’ve taken the lessons about duty and humility to heart, and this is probably what prevents me from being a son-of-a-bitch like my dad. It is perhaps magnified by an even more dramatic mythological story from my mom’s side of the family, which is about my grand-uncle, who happend to be the eldest in his family as well, and who fought in WWII and who died during the Bataan Death March. My uncle feels that this ultimate sacrifice is part of what gave his family the opportunity to leave the provinces and get an education, because of the significant indemnity that the U.S. government eventually paid for his death. So, taken together, given that I too am the eldest, I found myself living under the shadow of this mythology for a long time.

Now mind you, my dad isn’t as irredeemable as I make him out to be. The man, after all, is a physician, meaning that his duty is to the sick. And, probably because of his own upbringing, he has an affinity to the poor and underserved. Most of his patients are immigrants, and for various reasons, they love him. One of the pharmacists that he knows pretty well once told me that his patients really like the fact that he treats everyone equally, and that he clearly isn’t in this game for the money. So it isn’t like everything I learned from my dad was about being a treacherous bastard.

But neither of these mythologies has much to do with the supposed manhood that du Toit envisions. I mean, what this guy is talking about is about being a kid. Being able to do pretty much what you please, without any of the burden of duty, without any of the inherent limitations of honor. Duty and honor is what holds a civilization together, is what makes this country great. It’s the reason why soldiers were willing to storm the beaches of Normandy which he so blithely cites. Those who died sacrificed themselves for the sake of those who couldn’t protect themselves, and they did it mainly, because it was the Right Thing to Do™. Du Toit, on the other hand, just wants to fight, fuck, and be a dumbshit, and the world be damned. And that’s exactly what W’s administration embodies, and is the exact reason why the rest of the world holds us in dire contempt—even our last remaining ally, the British. This kind of recklessness is the exact reason why we owe China billions upon billions of dollars, and is the exact reason why we are stuck in Iraq with no good way of getting out (although I suppose getting out was never really part of the itinerary—can I say, Subic Bay or Clark?) Because no one wants to talk about duty or honor, we get bullshit like W and Al “Torture” Gonzales dodging and ducking behind patsies like Kyle Sampson and Paul McNulty. We get heinous shit like Abu Ghraib, or those bastards who raped a 14 year old Iraqi girl and then killed her and her entire family.

In a nutshell, what du Toit is advocating is anarchy and the destruction of civilization. Myself, I’m a pessimist, and while I hope for the best, I still expect the worst, and I won’t be surprised if the U.S. collapses like the U.S.S.R. did a little less than a decade ago. All empires must come to an end, and we’ve got all the signs and symptoms of a falling empire. If the shit does hit the fan, and we do get the sort of anarchy that du Toit seems to espouse, I wonder if du Toit will be all that happy about.

the color of the sky as far as I can see if coal grey

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Mostly I’m tired. This can, of course, be attributed to the fact that I was on call last night, although it’s not like I did much of anything except maybe sleep.

Then again, there is always something to be said about being able to sleep in your own bed.

The bed in the call room is basically an old hospital bed with a rickety frame, and even the slightest movement will cause really annoying squeaking. Although, I gotta say, since starting residency, I’ve developed the perhaps dubious skill of being to fall asleep anywhere almost on demand. But being in an uncomfortable bed in a room with faulty heating made it difficult to fall asleep, and I ended up watching a little TV before calling it quits. I woke up around 6 am and had to pee, and by this time I was thoroughly awake and unable to countenance the idea of staying in that bed any longer. If only I could get up normally at 6 am.

So this morning I’m definitely more slow-witted than usual. Somehow it’s now 1:20 pm, and I can’t really account for how all that time has elapsed. I’ve been sitting in front of my computer surfing through random blogs, looking for something I can’t at all define. I’ve also been screwing around with Wordpress, HTML, and CSS, tweaking this, that, and the other.

The purpose of my life escapes me at this moment.

I’m also listening to Julie Plug, of whom I’ve written about in the past [flashback (the theory of circular time)][a decade’s worth of bittersweet memories] and find myself getting sucked into the vortex of reminiscensce. It’s bizarre how certain songs that I thought I never paid any attention actually get deeply imprinted into my brain. According to iTunes, since August 2004, I’ve only really listened to “In Every Corner” (my favorite song on “Starmaker”) only four times. Meanwhile, I barely know any of the titles of songs on their album “Whatever You Wonder” and apparently I’ve listened to “But Then Again” ten times since August 2004. I’m listening to it right now, and it takes me back to that Spring of my 3rd year in med school where I was being constantly tortured and humiliated by an OB-GYN resident, and I would listen to the album on my 2G iPod on the drive from Wicker Park to Park Ridge and back again. This also happens to coincide with the time that I foolishly and stupidly began trying to pursue S, and which eventually culminated with a rather deep depressive episode that is taking me a great deal of effort to pull myself out of.

At this point I’ve completely forgotten what I’m writing, or why. All of this navel-gazing. To what end, I ask? Bah.

a decade’s worth of bittersweet memories

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I ended up watching two out of the five bands playing at Lolopop, which featured Filipino American musicians. The one that drew me (and the only one I recognized) was Julie Plug which I blithely described to Andy as a girl-fronted alterna-pop band (which was apparently the fad in the late ‘90’s) I first heard about them in the waning years of my college career, introduced by Manny. Their first CD ”Starmaker” rapidly spread virally amongst my friends and there are quite a few memories attached to some of their songs (in particular ”Sometime in June”) We watched a couple of shows, the last of which was in SF in 1998 after we all graduated.

Since then, a couple of their tracks got played on the erstwhile show “Dawson’s Creek”, they came out with another album entitled ”Whatever You Wonder”, and they continue to do shows mostly in SF.

So mostly it was trip down memory lane, reminding me of how perhaps grotesquely ancient I have become, considering that most everyone there was probably in their early to mid 20’s. I also haven’t been among such a large contigent of Filipinos in a long time, not since Ronel got married and almost all the extended family was out in force.

The other band I watched was Pedro Gil, named after a street (and LRT stop) in Manila (which was in turn named after a famous Filipino who among other things, was an activist and then later a politician during the American Commonwealth Era.) One of their clear influences is Julie Plug themselves. I dig the crazy spelling of the lead singer’s name Czara (which seemed to me to be pronounced like “Sa-ra”.)

I had this conversation with Elaine when she came to SD for an interview. Being in residency, it seems like our lives have contracted utterly and have become hugely devoid of any creative outlets. (We once dreamed of starting our own band in med school, but we could never convince Ysh to jam with us.) I write very little of worth these days, and the little that I do write tends to be the drek that I spew all over this blog. So going to that show reminded me how desperate I am to do something creative and fun. I find my guitar and my keyboard essentially unused, and I rarely find myself in the mood to sing, even if it is only in the car.

I’m hoping that it isn’t always going to be this way, and that one day in the future I will once again become a fully functioning human being, although I’m kind of worried that maybe it will never happen, and that I’m destined to become some sort of heartless zombie. (Already, my heart is dessicated into ash, crumbling, and blowing away in the wind. Ah well.)

the road of dreams

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There was a portentuous sense of destiny this evening, despite the dead part of my soul realizing that it meant nothing. All my aspirations have ended in dust. It makes little sense that this would be any different now.

Zooming past Orange County at 80 mph, I gazed deep into the moonlit sky, traveled back in time and in space to the Midwest, and sang serenades to myself, momentarily hopeful, for once caught up in the moment.

I’m trying to find a theme that I can jive with, but still can’t seem to find the right one. I keep playing around with every night. Ultimately, what I want to do is create my own theme, with a picture of the lighthouse from San Simeon. But this promises to be several hours of work.

I was thinking that I would write something of meaning, something capturing the ennui and alienation deep in my soul. Each day I spend alone I feel myself drifting away from humanity, losing pieces of myself. I’m actually amazed at how much you can lose without dying or ceasing to exist. I feel myself diminishing moment by moment. One day maybe I will be nothing but a ghost, an echo, dissipated and lost, nothing more than a feeling of uneasiness marring the spring breeze.

I’ve got nothing, man. Nothing at all.

still dreaming

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I think it’s just a matter of time before reality decides to bite me in the ass. I’ve been skating by these past few weeks, trying to desperately catch up on some direly needed sleep, and failing to do so. Tomorrow I am once again on call, and I know for a fact that I’m never going to shake this damned cold. And sadly, my next full weekend off isn’t for another week and a half.

Objectively speaking, as far as work goes, and how little free time I have to fuck around, my life sucks.

Relatively speaking, as far as the rest of my life has gone, I guess I really don’t have it bad at all and I don’t understand why I’m bitching and moaning.

(Such is the life of a masochist.)

I continue to hopelessly ponder my rather singular existence. I mean, yeah, I’ve got a few friends, and my parents and my brother are only a 2 hour drive away (when there isn’t any traffic), but I dunno. I just feel lonely for some reason.

No, it’s not because I don’t have a significant other. There are times in which, indeed, I pine, but talking to various people (the latest being E), I’m far from being convinced. Honestly, a romantic relationship seems more of a pain-in-the-ass and a timesuck than it’s worth, at least as far as the parameters of my life are concerned. Bottomline is that I barely have any time to properly take care of myself, much less include someone else deeply into my life. Call it rationalization, call it what you will for the reason that I avoid dating.

(I admit it. I am a chickenshit. But that doesn’t invalidate my point.)

Rather, I think I just miss hanging out with people. The way my life goes, I simply no longer have this luxury. Any free time that I have, I have to take care of various aspects of my life. Paying bills, basic hygiene, sleep. That last one seems to be occupying a lot of my time lately, particularly since I feel like I’ve been sick for a long time now.


So in general, I guess I’m just longing for a life outside of this one. Dreaming of free time, fearing that in the end, there is no such thing, and I’m just going to be bound to this treadmill known as debt-repayment and sometimes also known as the American Dream until I drop dead from a heart attack, never mind my vast, whimsical, and fantastic ambitions.

Why, oh, why, can’t I seem to refuse to run this rat-race, and for once think outside of the box?

I blame it all on subtle brain damage from mild hypoxia when I got my tonsils taken out as a child.

Or some such shit.

It would be nice to know that someone gave a shit, but it’s probably way too much to ask. The only person who seems to worry about my existence is my mom, and this not really all that comforting because she merely harries and harasses me about all the things I haven’t taken care of, and makes me worry even more about the possibility that my life is falling apart and that if I don’t take care of my shit now I may find myself homeless, broke, or possibly dead by Monday. I could use a lot less anxiety in my life. What I crave is sympathy.

No, what I need, really, is another vacation. Despite the fact that I just had one a couple of months ago.

Really, one of these days I may very well lose my mind. I keep hoping uselessly for someone to save me from myself, but salvation is probably way too gargantuan of a task for any mere human being.

What I would like is maybe 15 minutes of tranquility every day, free from the worries of the world, simply being happy with what I am at this moment. I can’t help think that this should be an easy task, and yet I have yet to achieve it.

I feel like I’m being slowly pounded into the ground, one mallet blow at a time.


and everything grows still before the tempest

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Maybe things are not so still, though I wish it were so. I can feel Time swirling all around me, and I’m just trying to keep my head above the water, wanting to just stay still, but knowing that I’m going to keep moving whether I want to or not.

What it is that I’m hoping for, I don’t really know, and I don’t dare try and delve into it. I just want to be able to take a long deep breath and not have to worry about tomorrow or the next day. I just want to be able to revel in the present and enjoy this momentary sensation of freedom. I don’t want to fret about what lies ahead. I just want to bury my head in the sand (waiting for the lions to just come by and bite me in the ass.)

There are weddings coming up, inadvertantly reminding me of my solitary state. It’s been like this for so long I can’t remember what it was like to not be alone. The longer it gets, the more difficult it becomes to want to do anything about it.

And yet there are revelations, and re-awakenings of old hopes that I thought were long buried. I feel like Pandora with my hand on the eponymous box, knowing I shouldn’t open it, and yet also knowing that I probably will anyway. (After all, where would we all be if there wasn’t any hope?)

And then there are the mechanics and logistics of the next few months that lie ahead, filled with more than a little dread and trepidation. I suppose a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

And still I sit, dreaming about other worlds, useless fantasies, pointless myths, pretending that I’ve got all the time in the world.

Even now I cannot name my desire, nor name my fear. Instead, I am reduced to typing in convoluted circumlocutions, trying to find the true name of the things that wrack my weary head.

clarity (like mud)

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It is not entirely clear to me what I had hoped to accomplish tonight, except maybe getting a little tipsy and perhaps even filling my heart with unquenchable longing.

Two beers is clearly not enough to make me maudlin and sad.

But it is beginning to worry me. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt anything besides regret or indifference. (So maybe not that long ago, but it feels like an eternity.)

Better numbness than pain, I suppose.

I’m trying—desperately trying—to maintain a positive outlook. I may not know the way, but I’ll get to wherever I need to get.

That’s the only thing I know.

Although I’m not always that sure.

the battle of thermopylae

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Stacy Taylor, the host of the KLSD morning radio show, broke down the movie ”300” for me. I was all psyched to watch it, having thoroughly enjoyed ”Sin City” but (1) my dad and my brother watched it without me and (2) Taylor’s deconstruction of it kind of took the wind out of my sails.

Some right wing bloggers talk about how it’s about the defense of one’s home (which is true) and also the defense of one’s liberty (which is probably not so true.) After all, Sparta was a militaristic dictatorship. It was Athens that was a rowdy, querolous democracy, and in reality, they were the guys who eventually ended up decisively repulsing the invading Persian Empire in the Battle of Salamis1.

Not to say that fighting to your death in defense of the things you love is not a worthy cause. As long as you know what you’re really doing—that you really are fighting for life, liberty, and justice for all—then I’m all for it, but if you’ve been tricked by a lying piece of shit leader to fight a futile war for oil and profit and you still think this is all in the name of “democracy” or “national security”, then I have to say, not so much.

The ironic thing is that most of the people I’ve talked to in the military—the guys who are in the trenches and actually getting shot at—are disgusted by the War in Iraq. They know what their number is, and no one I know actually signed up to shoot and kill people for kicks and giggles. Most people did it, frankly, for financial reasons. Either they got kicked out of their parents’ house, or one or both their parents were criminals—druggies, pedophiles, rapists, you name it, or they realized that working at the local Wal-mart was an obvious dead-end. I’m all for bettering your station in life, and if your only option is to join the military in time of peace, then go to it and get your GI bill. The world can only be better for having more people who understand the nature of service to something greater, and more importantly, more people who are educated. (And, believe me, there are a lot of ways to do this beside military service, although probably not any that have benefits that are as good.)

Now that we’re embroiled in a imperialistic war for oil and profit, the military is not so attractive, and most people who are sane will admit as much. No one wants to get shot for some old white dude living it up like a Saudi, and no one wants to get blown up by an IED end up a quadraplegic, sequestered in some hell-pit full of rats and other vermin.

But, unlike Bush, who had a rich daddy, or Cheney, who had “other priorities”, most folks who are already embroiled in this thing can’t really easily get out of it, especially not with the demented Colonel Cathcart-style, Catch-22-like upping the number of tours you have to do before you’re done, and frankly, I feel sorry for them. Get home safe, guys.

But I can’t help but wax poetic about defeat. The place names that hang most vividly in my mind are the places where civilizations and cultures ended. Futile battles. For some reason, the Battles of Maldon (ending the dominion of the Anglo-Saxons) and of Hastings (ushering in the era of the Norman French and incidentally the beginning point of Modern English) always come to mind, but I also think of the Battles of Bataan and Corregidor, which mark the end of the American Imperial Era in the Philippines, and heralds the eventually near-complete destruction of Manila. In 1941, Manila was the most modern, Westernized city in Asia. In 1945, Manila was the second most devastated Allied city, superseded only by Warsaw.

I think I have subconsciously taken up Tolkien’s concept of “The Long Defeat.”

Actually, I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic; so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’

Certainly, there is an imperialistic, racist, and innately conservative aspect to this idea (which I don’t know one way or the other that Professor Tolkien ever espoused)—the old days were better, and so-called progress is inherently for the worse. “The Long Defeat” is certainly the conception that, for example, inveterate Confederates, and, in general, antagonists of the American Culture War hold on to. It was supposedly better before the Civil War, before the Civil Rights Movement, before people-of-color were considered human beings, before gays and lesbians were allowed to partake of society and not be considered criminals.

But the part of the Long Defeat that I find strikes true is that Evil seems to always have the upper hand. Good only occurs when small, unlooked-for triumphs manage to spark a revolution. The Civil Rights Movement and the 1960’s in general were the work of the common folk, the very people that Tolkien champions:

Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere. — Gandalf the Grey

But, of course, the Empire Strikes Back, and we end up fighting against the on-rushing tide of reactionary forces once again. I think of Hunter S Thompson’s wistful look back to the 1960’s in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant…. History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened. My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder’s jacket… booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change)… but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that…. There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda…. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…. And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

I also think of Christ’s Passion. I actually find it more meaningful if you ignore the triumph of Resurrection—what is important is not that Christ rose from the dead, but that despite the torture, humiliation, and slaughter of Christ, and despite the suppression of the belief of the One God by the Romans, his followers continue to believe, and by the 4th century CE, Christianity is flourishing.

HST’s exposition is really what I mean by the Long Defeat (and is it any surprise that The Lord of the Rings gained such mainstream cultural significance in the 1960’s?) But the key to preventing despair in the face of defeat is explicated succinctly by Gandhi: “Whatever you do is insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

1I find the Athenian-Spartan alliance against Persia loosely analogous to the US-USSR alliance against the Axis. For example, while the USSR was a totalitarian dictatorship under Stalin, you still had to feel sorry for those guys who had to share rifles and who had to fight tanks hand-to-hand in their attempt to repulse the Germans, and you’d definitely rather have the Soviets win rather than the Nazis. But, while the Soviet resistance against the Axis was certainly necessary in order to defeat the Axis, it was the democratic republic of the United States and the industrial might of our capitalist economy that led to the final downfall of the Axis.

stillness on the move

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shifting, sliding,
caught in indecision
trapped in a winding labyrinth
running round circles
fleeing from fate
this moment laden with uncertainty
a drop of rain falling into an infinite sea
roiling and raging
a faint ripple
erased by the unending restless waves

how many of these moments
stored up in ancient flasks
eldritch bottles of pent-up time
vials filled with wishes
the smoky liquor of possibility
now shattering, as the maelstrom descends
rending and tearing
this false tranquility
this illusory stillness

moments of time stacked up on top of each other
hours become days
days compressed into years
imploding into a vortex where even light cannot escape
memories spilling across the void
like scattered grain
each passing moment like a glittering star
burning briefly then fading like cooling embers

I am spinning out of this story
out of time
no name, no place
the watcher in the wilderness
Void born
dwelling in the darkness between the stars
with sight but without voice

This featureless oblivion,
the velvet cloak of nothingness
cast about my shoulders
no name, no business
I’m lost

Still luxuriating in anonymity
this blank, empty page
longing voicelessly
and still it stirs
for something I cannot name
It ebbs and flows within me
coming to me only in sleep
inspiration perhaps
or maybe hope
like the delicious sweetness of a loving kiss
warm and still and perfect

It drifts and fades
like the fine mist of false dawn
and wispy memories of gloomy June
melting away before the brilliant sunrise
in this seaside town
leaving a faint fragrance
and traces of a memory long forgotten

This vacant emptiness that is my abode
and the ending of things long past
the beginning of things still undreamt of.


more magic

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. —Sir Arthur C. Clarke

This is a fitting epigram to my post about Torque, Dust, and Mist. There is yet another magic system from yet another fantasy epic that I must admit is quite intriguing—Robert Jordan’s system of saidin and saidar from The Wheel of Time. Jordan appropriates the ancient symbol of the yin and yang and devises a magic system that segregates according to gender. Saidin is the magic of men, and after the Breaking of the World, it becomes tainted by Shai’tan (also known as the Dark One, although it is just the Arabic Shaitan with an apostrophe in it, and is clearly related to the Hebrew word Satan, that is, Adversary.) Saidar is the magic of women, and in the post-Breaking world, only women are allowed to practice magic. Instead of wizards, we have the Aes Sedai. (I did like the idea of mage and her knight-warder. I reminds of me of something that I can’t quite remember.)

The problems I have with this system of magic, however, is that (1) there does not seem to be any limits to it (2) too many people use the One Power (3) there are actually discrete Dungeons and Dragons-like spells (teleport gates, balefire, healing, etc.) Jordan makes it worse by multiplying the different kinds of magic—in addition to the One Power made up of saidin and saidar, there is also the True Power, derived from the Dark One.

This is in stark contrast to the non-mechanistic magic used in not only Middle-Earth, but also most fairy-tales and myths the world around.

Furthermore, if you’re going to technologize your version of magic, then I think you should go all the way with it and not stop with a half-baked explanation for why things are the way they are. For example, Le Guin gives a mechanism for magic in the world of Earthsea—it is about speaking True Names, and using the language of Creation. Hickman and Weis describe different runic patterns that have intrinsic power in The Deathgate Cycle. In The Wheel of Time, I find it dissatisfying that while Jordan describes channeling, the source of the One Power is not entirely clear, nor does it make any particular sense how the One Power comes manifest with so-called reality. (If, on the other hand, he said something simple, like everything is made of the One Power, then perhaps I might buy it.)

But the unlimited nature of the One Power tends to make things ridiculous. There are at least a hundred named characters who have magical ability (in contrast to the handful in The Lord of the Rings) and the characters rely far too much on it instead of on their own qualities. (Witness how the War of the Ring is won entirely by Sam and Frodo, characters who have no magical power whatsoever, except for maybe that which is bestowed upon them by artifacts—the One Ring itself, Galadriel’s Phial, the swords of Westernesse, etc.)

Maybe it is simply the bias of Western tradition. The Mage has always been a supporting character, and never the hero. Gandalf is an adviser. Merlin is ultimately a subject of the king. While Schmendrick from The Last Unicorn indeed has a personal quest, his main contribution is in catalyzing the actions of the main protagonist, the Unicorn, and of the book’s explicitly named hero, Prince Lir. The Wizard of Oz turns out to be a red-herring (and actually well epitomizes exactly what Arthur C. Clarke meant.) In The Princess Bride, the only character who performs explicit magic is Miracle Max, a minor character. So maybe it’s just this sensibility of mine that rebels against accepting that almost every single character in The Wheel of Time can channel, and the series’ hero is the most powerful Mage in the entire world.

Even in The Earthsea Cycle, which revolves greatly around magic, Ged doesn’t really become a full person until he abandons magic, and most of the action is performed by characters who have no magical powers like Lebennen and Tenar.

(Hmmm. Maybe this is why I’m not totally into Harry Potter. This series also suffers from magic that has no apparent limits, and from having way too many characters who have magical powers.)

The description of a magic system tends to be the crux of a good fantasy novel, and the ones that do it best are those that manage to preserve what it means for something to be magical. The reason why our technology doesn’t awe us anymore (and sometimes I can pull my head out of my ass and recognize just how magical it is to be able to talk over cel networks to anyone in the world, from anywhere in the world, or even how magical it is to be able to fly across the country in mere hours) is that it’s mostly ubiquitous. This definitely removes any sense of magic and awe, no matter how magical something is.

One of the cardinal rules of writing any kind of speculative fiction—whether science fiction or fantasy—is to create a set of rules, like an internal description of your universe’s laws of thermodynamics. Being able to judiciously violate these rules is where you can work in the wonder and awe of magic. If it’s all over the place, then it ceases being magical.

Catch-22, I know.

magic and faerie

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The evolution of Tolkien’s synthesized mythology of Middle Earth is well documented by his son Christopher Tolkien, who eventually published J.R.R. Tolkien’s notes and various drafts, some of which eventually became incorporated into The Silmarillion

Eventually he broke the explicit linkage between modern history and his newly-wrought mythology, but originally, he had a character of known mythology—Ottor Waefre (also identified with Wihtgils, the father of Hengest and Horsa, the two legendary brothers who led the Anglo-Saxon conquest of England)—enter the realm of faerie, meeting with the Elves of Tol Eress̈̈ëa, the Lonely Island. In The Book of Lost Tales, he is named Eriol by the Elves, and they tell him about the history of Middle Earth from the Creation of the Universe to the War of Wrath against Melkor.

When I was younger, after I had flown through The Hobbit, devoured The Lord of the Rings, and even struggled through The Silmarillion, I found myself longing for more Tolkienesque fantasy. I tried Terry Brooks, and David Eddings, and eventually jumped into Tad Williams and Robert Jordan, but I found the first two quite woeful (despite reading through their various works), and while the last two are definitely interesting and entertaining, they still end up being pale copies of the master. (Memory, Thorn, and Sorrow is a straight-up homage to J.R.R. Tolkien [1][2], with a Middle-Earth-like world and uncanny similarities between the Sithi and the Sindar, the Norns and the Noldor, and the Storm King Ineluki and the King of the Noldor Feänor. And, sure, only The Eye of the World had outright Tolkien allusions, and Robert Jordan eventually moved beyond the master’s shadow, but, frankly, the Old Speech and the various mythologies that he explicates aren’t very deep and imaginative—I will extend this particular critique later.)

I did also partake of the works of Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis—namely The Dragonlance Saga and The Death Gate Cycle. These definitely stray from the Tolkienesque framework, although, nonetheless, Dragonlance is tied closely to Dungeons & Dragons, which is itself derivative of Tolkien. (I never did like the idea of the balance of Good and Evil. It does not feel as natural as the balance of Order and Chaos, nor does it really fit the Taoist dualisms and multiplicities that I dig in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle. However, I do find myself haunted by the idea of the Cataclysm, and found it intriguing that The War of the Souls trilogy contains similar ideas to the last book of the Earthsea Cycle.) And while The Death Gate Cycle has much that is (sometimes nauseatingly) derivative, there are enough imaginative ideas in it that kept me reading through all seven books. The magic system was one of the most inventive I remember that didn’t seem overtly mechanistic and scientified.

But ultimately, I longed to read more Tolkien, and I randomly read Farmer Giles of Ham and (eventually) Roverandom. But in the meantime, there was the whole History of Middle Earth—Christopher Tolkien’s painstaking chronicles of his father’s notes about the creation of an entire mythology, starting with the stories that became The Silmarillion and going through all the multiple drafts and false starts that eventually culminated in the final version of The Lord of the Rings.

When I was younger, I definitely did not have the patience to wade through this vast, sometimes dry, and always exceedingly detailed work of scholarship. I grasped at the few snippets here and there (for example, there is a chapter from an aborted sequel to The Lord of the Rings, and I found myself entertained by the abandoned drafts where, instead of meeting Strider in Bree, they meet a hobbit named Trotter) but really couldn’t handle reading it from cover to cover.

But for some reason, the idea of slogging through the several thousands of pages of Tolkien’s rough drafts, with his son’s editorial comments interspersed throughout, doesn’t seem like a bad way to spend my free time.

Yes, I know it sounds pathetic.

torque, dust, and mist

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In contrast to The Lord of the Rings and Middle Earth, where magic remains mysterious and arcane and it is never explained and dissected, there seems to be a tendency to technologize—or at least scientify—magic in more recent works of fantasy. In various worlds, magic is seen as a substance, a commodity, that can be altered, stored, and redistributed.

Chine Miéville conceptualizes at least one form of magic in his world of Bas-Lag as a chaotic mutating force, somewhat akin to nuclear radiation, except that truly magical (but often horrifying) results arise from it. He calls this “torque,” which transparently symbolizes nuclear weaponry (New Crobuzon’s rival Suroch is annihilated by “torque bombs”) but also exists in “natural” form, depicted wonderfully and chillingly in The Iron Council where he takes his protagonists on a journey through the Torque-ridden wasteland known as the Cacotopic Stain.

Phillip Pullman in His Dark Materials calls the substance of magic Dust, which he ties together with the mysterious real-world substance physicists call Dark Matter. In his trilogy, Dust seems to be the repository of sentience, the essence of the soul, and angels are made up entirely of Dust. There are areas of the world that are Dust-filled, whereas the depletion of Dust begets crisis.

Finally, in Final Fantasy XII (and, I suppose, also existing in the its direct predecessory Final Fantasy Tactics), the world of Ivalice is filled with a substance called Mist, the very basis of magic. There are areas called Jagd that are so filled with Mist that other Mist-based technologies cannot function properly (such as airships and scrying magic.) Mist has a similarly property to Torque in that it can turn otherwise ordinary objects and creatures into weird, mutated, magical things with super powers.

Which leads me to the notion that maybe magic could be technologized in the real-world. The concept that probably comes closest is nanotech and the ubiquitous “grey goo”—nano molecules in an unformed state requiring some sort of programming to become actual objects. (Interestingly, since I used the word ubiquitous, I suddenly recall Phillip K Dick’s story Ubik, which actually describes a similar technologized magical substance that functions a little like grey-goo that he calls simply “ubik.”) Simply put, the practice of “magic” involves transmitting instructions to grey goo. With technological and perhaps even genetic manipulation, this could eventually be accomplished by telepathy and telekinesis. Of course, if grey-goo existed, this could be accomplished by existing technology, namely wireless communications. In a world of ubiquitous computing (ubicomp—again making me think of Dick’s substance “ubik”), this would make everyone capable of practicing so-called magic.