Archive for January 30, 2013

Quotes from Tolkien

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The first six of these quotes, tweeted from @sueannbowling between January 24 and January 30, are from The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Note that the quotes and contexts are from the book, not the movie.

Book Cover, The Hobbit“No dragon can resist the fascination of riddling talk and of wasting time trying to understand it.” Bilbo is trying to avoid answering Smaug’s questions without angering him.

“Never laugh at live dragons.” Bilbo’s thought after he makes a parting joke at Smaug’s expense, and barely escapes with his life.

“It is difficult not to slip in talking to a dragon.” Balin trying to comfort Bilbo.

“The heart is bold that looks on gold.” Part of a dwarvish song. I actually prefer a later verse that lacked twitter-length quotes:

On silver necklaces they strung
The light of stars, on crowns they hung
The dragon-fire, from twisted wire
The melody of harps they wrung.

“Defeat seems very uncomfortable, not to say distressing.” Bilbo’s thought at the Battle of Five Armies, just before he sees the eagles.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” Thorin’s dying words to Bilbo.

“Don’t. I’d have to do something about it, and I can’t get along without you.” Sue Ann Bowling, Homecoming. Lai to Derik, after Derik has muttered that he’s going to kill Zhaim.

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World Building logoThe R’il’nian religion is based on “do no harm to other sentient beings, and cause no pain to non-sentient living beings”–and their definition of “sentient” is “intelligent enough to recognize consciously that some day they will die.”

There is no one religion in the Jarnian Confederation, though there are certainly planets which could only be described as theocracies. Many of the religions are based to some extent on Jarn’s Journal, but the priestly interpretations of that journal vary enormously. A fair percentage of the interplanetary disagreements that the Confederation is called on to mediate are based on religious differences.

For instance, quoting Lai (R’il’nian) in Tourist Trap, when he is asking his R’il’noid son Roi (telepathically) if he wants to go along and observe:

from   Remember the problems we’ve been having with the Kablukolelli cluster?
   Roi had to stop and think for a moment. Kablukolelli was a cluster of stars, four of which had inhabited planets, within a few light years of each other. For some reason he had never fully understood, the cluster had proven a magnet for extremist groups. Each of the four inhabited systems had been settled and entered the Confederation separately, so Lai had the right to force arbitration of their differences—which were considerable.
At least you can do something, he thought. Not like Goodnews, where it’s all internal affairs. What’s the problem this time?
Funeral customs, his father replied wearily.
Like the people on Eversummer eating their dead? Roi asked. Marna said they’re very reverent about it; they just figure that something’s going to eat the body, and the most honorable stomachs are those of the family. Cremation’s next best, but they do not like it. He remembered what Marna had told him of the token funerals for the epidemic victims.
Right, Lai said. The Kailonites do that, too. The J’koan consider that the only reverent way to treat the bodies of the dead is to give them back to the soil of the planet, the Folaanni go for cremation and the Lirrilo feed the flesh to a local water animal, tan the skins, and mount the skins and skeletons to keep in their homes. They all treat the bodies with reverence, and mourn for their departed friends and relatives. But the residents of each planet look at the other three planets and think sacrilege, abomination, and disrespect for the dead. Traders and embassies have been attacked, and it’ll turn into a holy war if it isn’t stopped. So I’m going to have to go out there physically and force a little sense into their heads.”

Star-forming region, s106 (Hubble)(The R’il’nai, by the way, teleported the dead bodies of their people into the local sun.)

Goodnews? That’s a group that entered the Confederation as a single entity, so the Confederation can not force them to accept Confederation arbitration. Religious disagreements are rapidly escalating toward civil war.


Again, there is a great deal of variation from planet to planet, and the variation of cultures (and particularly of sexual mores) provides some of the tension in my fiction. One of the requirements for acceptance into the Confederation is that any free person is free to emigrate. However, planets may set any limits they want on immigration. There are generally several new colonies eager to take immigrants, but the more desirable ones may require substantial premiums. Planets are encouraged to set limits to population, the limit depending on the ecology of the planet. For most planets, the limit is around a billion. They’d consider the Earth’s population totally unsustainable on a time scale of millennia.

V838Central, the administrative capitol of the Confederation, has a society in which slavery is accepted, but slaves are entertainment rather than labor. (Computer extensions provide most of the labor.) Anything goes sexually as long as pregnancy is impossible (and most citizens and all slaves are reversibly sterilized before puberty.) However, before the sterilization can be reversed, the couple planning pregnancy must demonstrate that they can and will care properly for the child. Citizenship is not automatic, but depends on the demonstration of a useful skill, and only citizens can reproduce. Although there is no legal protection for slaves, there is also no prejudice against freed slaves, who can become citizens.

The rules are a little different for R’il’noids (those with more than half of their active genetic material R’il’nian-derived) or those with enough latent genetic material of R’il’nian derivation that they could produce R’il’noid offspring. R’il’noids are relatively rare and desperately needed, and the Genetics Board exists to encourage matings that might produce R’il’noids with the needed traits (primarily conditional precognition and the ability to recognize Maung parasitisation.) Unfortunately they tend to rely on an objective measure, the Çeren index, which measures the raw fraction of active R’il’nian genes, but not what they code for.

At any rate, they can and do encourage matings that they feel are genetically desirable regardless of whether the people involved like each other. Many children of these matings are reared by foster parents, but these are carefully selected and generally have demonstrated ability to rear children successfully. The majority of R’il’noids are sterile or have very low fertility, so there is generally no shortage of foster parents. In other cases one or both parents assist in rearing the child. In any event there is no financial hardship in rearing a R’il’noid child; the costs are assumed by the Confederation.

Hubble1Roi’s friend Coryn is a good example of this. His mother, Vara, really wanted no part of his father, Derik, but the genetics Board insisted. Derik was nearly sterile and is very fond of Coryn, but Coryn rarely gets a chance to see both parents at the same time. In this case he feels loved by both and they are careful not to fight over him, but he wishes they’d get together.

Pure R’il’nian women were generally fertile at a far longer interval than the time necessary to rear a child to adulthood, and actually considered it immoral to have more than one child by the same father. But a couple normally stayed together long enough to rear their child to full independence. Part of the sexual mores of Central are derived from this pattern, and both serial monogamy (the R’il’nian pattern) and group marriage are common, as are short-term liaisons strictly to produce a child and test-tube fertilization.  (At least prior to Marna’s work.)

One peculiarity of Central society may be noted: ideas of modesty revolve around the perception that hiding a part of the body (for reasons other than protection) draws attention to it. Thus they would regard our swimming suits, for instance, as being extremely indecent, while nudity is quite acceptable for swimming unless the water is cold enough that some thermal protection is needed..

Even a relatively small fraction of R’il’nian genes is enough to prohibit slavery, and the abolition of slavery is a hotly debated topic. By the time Roi is grown, the Inner Council for the Jarnian Confederation is generally against slavery, but they have absolutely no authority over the rest of Central. It is the elected representatives of Central who must make that decision.


There are an enormous number of religious holidays, but these vary with religion. There are, however, secular celebrations tied to the calendars.

Both Riya and Central use calendars that start with the northward equinox. The lengths of their years and days were similar but not identical in length to Earth’s or to each other’s. The Central year was slightly more than 364 Central days, and was made up of 12 30-day months plus four days outside the months: Yearday (northward equinox), Northday (northern solstice), Feastday (southward equinox) and Southday (southern solstice.) Of these, only Yearday was tied firmly to the solar calendar, and an intercalary day was inserted as needed at the end of the year to keep Yearday at the longitude of the Confederation administrative complex on the northward equinox (vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere.) All of these days outside the calendar were planetary holidays

Each 30-day month was broken into six fivedays. One day of each fiveday was a rest day, but which day varies widely. Probably the first day of a fiveday was most often used as a rest day, as was the case at Tyndall. The school year started the first day of the fifth month, 1 month after Northday. The two school vacations started with Southday and Northday and ran for a month each.