Two Years of Co-Geeking

The Two Towers

Epsiode II: Attack of the Clones

Our two chief weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency…

… and two years of Co-Geeking.

We’ve been at this now for two years since we started on June 1 of 2015 and we’re still having fun. After our first year of figuring out what we want this blog to be about and how we want to do it, in our second year we’ve used our site to do what we can to promote some projects that are important to us, like the publication of Hidden Youth and the upcoming Worldcon 75 in Helsinki.

Here’s a look at what’s been important to us in the past year:

Favorite posts

Eppu: Appropriately, I have a twofer: 20 Fantasy Worlds to Visit and Down with Dull Dystopias. The former lists historical and fantasy novels I’ve liked or would like to try; the latter is a rant-ish opinion on the lack of humanity and empathy in my (then) recent reading.

Erik: Why Hidden Youth Matters to Me. I’m very proud to have a story included in Hidden Youth, but I’m also proud to have been a part of making that collection happen, regardless of my participation in it. In this post I talk about why, and why inclusiveness is important to me as a historian and a professor.

Our two chief weapons

(a favorite geeky thing that happened this year)

Erik: I’ll admit, I’m going to be predictably selfish on this one and say the publication of Hidden Youth. Not only is it a wonderful collection with a tremendous scope in style and setting, it’s my first professionally published fiction. How can I not be excited about that?

Eppu: The release of Arrival. It was doubly welcome because it’s a thoughtful adaptation of a nuanced story (the 1998 “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang) and because it’s regrettably rare to see science fiction movies with actual, full-time female leads who are not defined by motherhood, full-blown badassery (and nothing else), or their relationships with men.

Image: Monty Python’s “Spanish Inquisition” via Giphy

Announcements from your hosts.

3D Video of Flying above Mars

Jan Fröjdman hand-built a short tour of Mars using high-resolution images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Here it is on Vimeo:

A Fictive Flight above Real Mars by Jan Fröjdman

Not only did Fröjdman add color to the original black-and-white photos, he transformed them into 3D. The four-and-a-half-minute video starts with an approach to Mars from beyond the moon Phobos and then moves to several clips of “flying” above the planet, looking down over craters, plains, and other features.

“This film is not scientific. As a space enthusiast I have just tried to visualize the planet my way,” Fröjdman says.

Scientific or not, it looks absolutely beautiful. Being a visual person, I just love being able to glimpse at the scenery. Kudos!

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Heroic Warfare and Mass Warfare

There are many ways to fight a battle, even in worlds without modern weapons and techniques. Two terms that are useful for thinking about pre-modern battles are heroic warfare and mass warfare.

Heroic warfare is centered on a small number of leaders. These leaders are usually the most experienced and best equipped fighters their side of the fight can muster. They rely on their reputation as great warriors, so they need to stand out and be seen by everyone on both sides. In heroic warfare, battle begins not with both sides rushing into the fight but with the leaders stepping forward to identify themselves, boast about their victories, taunt leaders on the other side, and generally try to intimidate the enemy while boosting their own troops’ morale.

Mass warfare relies upon large numbers of soldiers who are all similarly equipped and who fight as a group. Commanders often stand out so that their own troops can identify them and follow their lead on the field, but they fight as part of the group and success does not depend on their individual reputation.

Historically, heroic warfare tended to be practiced in small-scale, culturally homogeneous societies. As societies grow larger and more complex, they tend to shift away from heroic warfare to mass warfare. There are practical reasons for this. The advantage of fighting in heroic style is that it greatly limits the number of casualties. The point of all the showing off and boasting at the beginning of the battle is try to convince the other side that they can’t win and so they’d be better off coming to terms and avoiding the fight altogether. For that to work, though, both sides have to have enough confidence in one another that they can make an agreement and expect the other side to honor it. That kind of confidence usually depends on having a shared set of cultural norms and values. It is much harder to manage across a wide cultural divide.

At the same time, heroic warfare is not all for show. The message that a heroic leader is trying to send is: “If we actually do start fighting, we’re going to beat you.” For that message to be credible, the leader has to be able to back it up, and even the best leader is no good without followers. Heroic warfare depends not just on the leader standing in front but on the soldiers standing behind them ready to fight if the other side doesn’t back down. Heroic warfare works when the number of troops on both sides is small enough that one well-equipped, skilled leader’s participation in battle might actually make a difference. In larger societies that can put thousands of soldiers on the field, the talents of individual leaders are much less relevant to the outcome of a fight.

Thoughts for writers

We like heroes. As storytellers, we tend to focus on the stories of individuals, even in settings where the actions of groups matter more to the outcome. There is nothing new about this. Ancient myths and medieval romances are full of heroic warriors, even though they were told by people who lived in times of mass warfare. The ethos of heroic warfare is undeniably appealing, but if it is going to make sense in our stories we have to think about how to make it work in settings where it doesn’t naturally fit.

There is a place for heroic warriors in settings of mass warfare. Where most of the real fighting is done by mass armies, there are still times when a powerful leader can make a difference—when events that play out on a small scale matter to the larger battle and when threat and intimidation are called for. These are the moments we need to craft as writers.

In other words, even when most of the fighting is done by these guys

you can still find a place for someone like this.

Images: Battle of Issus via Wikimedia (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples; 1st c. BCE; mosaic). Stormtroopers via Giphy. Darth Vader via Giphy.

Hugo Awards 2017 Voter Packet Is out

Since last Wednesday, I’ve been like:

Twitter Adam Holisky Picard Full of Win

And:

Kermit Flail

And:

Lady Fancifull reading-film-gif

As members of Worldcon75, we are participating in this year’s Hugo Awards voting. Last week, the con released a packet of reading and visual works to help voters access materials on the finalists list. (Note to self: We have until July 15, 2017, 2:59 am EST to get our votes in.)

Apparently this year’s packet is larger than ever before in the 10 years it’s existed. While definitely not the reason for our memberships, it’s an invaluable bonus.

In addition to the official packet, JJ at File 770 did a huge favor for readers and collected a comprehensive list of finalist works published free online.

With all of this reading, I definitely will have no problems with how to fill my days in the foreseeable future!

Thank you, various creatives and rightsholders, thank you, Worldcon75 Hugo Awards staff, and thank you, JJ and Mike Glyer / File770.

Images: Kermit flail via Walker—Bait on Tumblr; Captain Picard Full of Win via Adam Holisky on Twitter; Reading film: radicktv via Lady Fancifull

Angels and Pinheads

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? For many of us, this is our go-to example of a pointless question. It is often used to ridicule the Middle Ages as a time of naive religiosity still mired in darkness and ignorance before the coming of the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin is one of the most important and consequential questions in western intellectual history.

The key is that the question isn’t really asking for a number. The number is irrelevant. The answer that matters is: finite or infinite?

Angels, according to the traditions of the western monotheisms—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—are God’s agents in the world. They are how the divine will is enacted in the physical world we live in. For believers in those faiths, therefore, understanding angels is a way of understanding how God acts in the world.

If the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin is some finite number, then two angels cannot occupy the same space. It doesn’t matter what the number is; if there is a point at which you just can’t fit any more angels on that pin, then angels must have volume and mass. If they have volume and mass, they necessarily have other physical properties derive from those qualities like density and velocity. In other words, angels are bound by the same physical laws that operate in the rest of the world and which we humans can observe, study, and understand. On the other hand, if there is no limit to how many angels can dance on a pin, then they must not have these same physical properties and therefore cannot be understood or described by analogy with anything that exists in the material world.

What this all adds up to is: if the number is finite, then we can understand the workings of God’s will through mathematics, physics, and observation of the natural world, but if the number is infinite, then those studies are of no use and we can only comprehend God through the study of revealed texts and the writings of inspired individuals like prophets and saints. To understand those texts, however, we have to understand not just the languages in which they are written but the literary genres in which they were composed and the historical and philosophical references they depend upon to convey their messages.

Or to put it in even more familiar terms: science versus humanities.

As human beings, we often rely on symbols and shorthand to discuss important questions. Those symbols draw on the cultural context that surrounds us and they can seem nonsensical without that context. In a thousand years, people may think 20th-century Americans had an odd obsession with arguing over whether donkeys or elephants are better animals, and their 21st-century descendants were no less ridiculous with their fights over whether red or blue is a better color, but we today know the weight of complicated ideas that lie behind those convenient symbols. In the context of medieval scholastic thought, angels and pins served a similar purpose.

Thoughts for writers

The “angels and pin heads” debate is a fine example of how important cultural context is for both research and worldbuilding.

When doing research, it is crucial to remember that people in past societies had thoughts and arguments that are just as complicated as we have today, but they often expressed those ideas in shorthand references that are not transparent to us. If you’re doing research or reading primary sources and people seem to be hung up on arguments that seem pointless or silly, chances are there’s something much more serious behind it and you need to get a handle on their symbolic vocabulary in order to understand it.

(Of course, sometimes people do have pointless and silly arguments, and that’s just as true in the past as it is today. Looking at you, Star Wars vs. Star Trek folks.)

For worldbuilding, think about the kinds of symbolic shorthand people in your fictional world use for their important debates. Symbolic arguments are useful. When everyone around you already knows what the symbols mean, they save time and energy. If the big question for people in your world is whether hereditary monarchy or military aristocracy is a better basis for government, most people aren’t going to go around talking about “hereditary monarchy” or “military aristocracy” all the time. Those are long and cumbersome words to be throwing around. They’re more likely to argue about crowns and helms, or the hunter and the fawn, or some other metaphor. The arguments will also probably turn around seemingly insignificant questions, such as whether one should eat sitting at a table or on the ground, or what color shoes women should wear. Part of your worldbuilding is understanding how the symbols connect to the serious questions.

Whether you explain things for your audience or not is up to you, but layering in symbolic arguments like pin heads and dancing angels is part of the depth that makes a fictional world feel real.

Image: Five dancing angels, photograph by Jebulon via Wimikedia (Musée Condé, Chantilly; c. 1436; oil and gold on wood; by Giovanni di Paolo)

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

Quotes: First-Name Basis with Your Information Professional

“If you are on a first-name basis with your information professional, you are one of the smartest people in your company.

“If you are on a first-name basis with your information professional, you value your time.

“If you are on a first-name basis with your information professional, you are saving your company money.

“If you are on a first-name basis with your information professional, you value accurate, timely information.

“If you are on a first-name basis with your information professional, you know the importance of information and where to get the most bang for your buck.”

– Gloria Zamora

Gloria Zamora, past President for the Special Libraries Association, counterargues the claim that knowing your librarian by name means spending too much time in the library. Humbug, I say, to that erroneous argument! Not to mention balderdash, baloney, bunk, drivel, hogwash, malarkey, and poppycock. 🙂

Zamora, Gloria. “On a First-Name Basis with Value.” Information Outlook, vol. 13, no. 07 (October/November 2009), p. 3.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

How to Helsinki: Eating in Helsinki

Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.

Erik here. Finnish food isn’t as familiar to most Americans as French or Italian food. Before meeting Eppu and visiting Finland, I couldn’t even have made a guess at what Finnish food is like. For those of you new to Finland, here’s a little taste of what you have to look forward to in Helsinki.

Sauteed reindeer with mashed potatoes, lingonberry, and pickle, photograph by Htm via Wikimedia

About Finnish food

Traditional Finnish food will feel familiar if you grew up in New England or the midwest: fish, beef and pork, many kinds of dairy products, potatoes, seasonal vegetables and berries, and grains (although grains like rye and barley are more common than in the US). Of course, what most Finns eat nowadays is not that different from what most westerners eat, but you’ll still see the influence of traditional foods in many places. There’s still lots of fresh fish and potatoes on Finnish tables and the dairy sections of Finnish grocery stores have an amazing array of products, some of which don’t even have names in English.

For many Finns, breakfast is an open-faced sandwich made of a slice of rye bread or a Karelian pie (see below) topped with cheese, cold cuts, tomato, and cucumbers. If your hotel offers breakfast, expect to see a table of sandwich makings. You’ll also probably find eggs in various forms, sausages and/or bacon, oatmeal porridge, yogurt, and berries. You’ll also find coffee. Finns take their coffee very seriously: Finland has one of the highest per-capita rates of coffee consumption in the world.

Lunch and dinner are much the same as in the U.S. It’s also common for Finns to take coffee breaks in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon. These are seen as treasured moments for relaxation and reflection. Working during a coffee break is a breach of social etiquette and it is rude to interrupt a Finn on their coffee break unless invited to join in. It is less common for Finnish cafés to serve coffee in to-go cups; you are expected to stay there and drink your coffee in peace, not carry it with you as you rush off to your next meeting.

Kebab with rice and salad photograph by Allan Reyes via Flickr

What is true of coffee is true of food in general: Finns see eating as an activity in itself, not something you do while working on something else or on your way somewhere. Even fast food is meant to be eaten sitting down, not on the go. The two most common kinds of fast food in Finland are pizza and kebab. Finnish pizza has a paper-thin crust and is served in whole, uncut pies, not as slices. Eat it with a fork and knife, not folded up in your hand. (But definitely have some—Finnish pizza is superb.) Kebab, which may not be so familiar to Americans (though it is similar to shawarma), is a Turkish import: thin strips of grilled spiced meat often served in a pita bread or on top of rice, with lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickled hot peppers, and sauces. It’s also very well worth sampling, but it tends to make a bit of a mess. Several international fast food chains also have a presence in Finland, in case you feel the need for something familiar.

In general, Finnish tastes tend more sour and less sweet than Americans’. Sour berries like cranberries, lingonberries, currants, and gooseberries are widely grown and often eaten plain or only lightly sweetened. Finnish rye bread (ruisleipä) is a tangy sourdough bread without the molasses and caraway seeds that sweeten American rye breads. Finnish yogurts, juices, desserts, and other foods also tend to be less sweet than typical American versions of the same.

Many Finns are lactose-intolerant, have gluten sensitivities, and/or eat vegetarian or vegan. Food allergies are also very common. Most stores and restaurants offer a variety of alternatives suitable for people with these concerns. Look for “VL” / “vähälaktoosinen” for low lactose or “laktoositon” for lactose-free, “GL” or “gluteeniton” for gluten-free.

Public water fountains are rare in Finland. If you’re going to be out and about for a day, it’s a good idea to carry a water bottle with you.

Salmon soup, photograph by Tuijasal via Wikimedia

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Spot-on Hobbit-Style House in Scotland

Reddit user KahlumG shared photos of an amazing hobbit-style house built by their uncle outside of Tomich, Scotland.

Hobbit House1 EWTn6if
Look completely like it could be from Bree, right?

The inside looks as appropriate as the outside.

Hobbit House2 3n9V7lU

Hobbit House3 eaQp2fD

And—and I almost can’t believe it, it’s so perfect—the house has an outbuilding with its own water wheel!

Hobbit House4 ht4lINL

Kudos! Visit the imgur gallery for many more photos.

Images: kahlum1986 on imgur

Edited to correct an inaccuracy.

In Here is an occasional feature highlighting geeky spaces created by our fellow geeks all over the world.


Lord of the Rings Fridge Poem

Years and years ago we got one of those poetry magnet sets in Finnish. Judging from the words included, it was a “love and romance”-themed set. We had fun playing with it for a while, but there’s only so many poems you can make about “forbidden lips” and “tender roses” before you get bored. So, what to do? How about scrounging through the words you’ve got and coming up with a Lord of the Rings poem instead?

A weak man understands trembling

The ring whispers

An eternal red eye flashes

Must walk towards it

Fiery pain

Night

Precious

The great white woman gives a candle

Noble hope

A brave friend

Close

A high clear moment

My good garden

 

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Ending of Rogue One Seamlessly Connected to A New Hope

This nine-minute video by Barre Fong combines the very ending of Rogue One seamlessly to A New Hope:

“Rogue One” Spliced with “A New Hope” by Barre Fong

Nice job! It was pretty clear from just seeing Rogue One in the theaters how well the team not only wrote but propped, set-dressed, and costumed their movie to match the George Lucas -led original. This merger makes it very explicit, though. A hat-tip to all involved.

In general, I really enjoy comparing originals and recreations (or originals and adaptations), and the pleasure is multiplied when the successor is expertly and thoughtfully made. That’s one reason why Peter Jackson et al.’s making-of documentaries for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies are still the gold standard for movie extras—hearing about the design process is fascinating.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.