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Author Topic: PC200: In the Stacks  (Read 16349 times)
ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #40 on: March 22, 2012, 08:01:15 AM »

Oh sure, you can have some kinds of magic that are inherently incomprehensible, just like I will never understand the coding behind Skynet. But that doesn't detract from the main point: if people are going to learn to use magic, you must somehow impress the idea that it is understandable. And the best way to do that is to (somewhat) explain the machinations.

I maintain that it's possible to find a happy medium. Have you read My Name is Asher Lev? It's a book about art, and it leaves you with no greater understanding of art than you started it with. Perhaps a greater appreciation, perhaps more empathy, but no greater understanding. The artistic urge is still as beautiful, terrible, and incomprehensible as it was before you started. I'd like to see some books about magic that do the same thing.

Not that anything is wrong with instrumentalized magic, mind you. I just want to see a little variety.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #41 on: March 22, 2012, 08:50:27 AM »

I maintain that it's possible to find a happy medium. Have you read My Name is Asher Lev? It's a book about art, and it leaves you with no greater understanding of art than you started it with. Perhaps a greater appreciation, perhaps more empathy, but no greater understanding. The artistic urge is still as beautiful, terrible, and incomprehensible as it was before you started. I'd like to see some books about magic that do the same thing.

Not that anything is wrong with instrumentalized magic, mind you. I just want to see a little variety.

That is one of my all time favorite books. Smiley The sequel (The Gift of Asher Lev) is also good, but in my opinion doesn't approach the original in quality.
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« Reply #42 on: March 22, 2012, 09:26:58 AM »

Here's the thing, though: you wouldn't include a hilariously incompetent computer programmer in a high-tech IT action thriller or New Media posthuman near future sci-fi. I mean, you might include an incompetent programmer - maybe the main character has some asshole foisted on him by politics or whatever - but the guy's incompetence would be taken seriously rather than played for laughs. It would get someone killed, or nearly so, or spell the character's own demise. For some reason, though, stories about magic don't take themselves - or perhaps it's the very premise of magic itself - seriously enough.

Again, I didn't see the usage of his incompetence here as being intended for humor.  Since I don't agree with your distinction, your argument doesn't do much to sway me.  I didn't see it as being played for humor at all, but for tension.  I like tension, so I applaud this.  Any of the librarians, or any of the other students, when faced with an out-of-control vocabuvore would try sorcerous tricks on it.  He couldn't, so he had to find another way.  He's not good at magic, but he's clever, and he used that to save everyone's lives.  If he had been good at magic, and just blasted the thing with some spell or other, it would not have been as appealing to me.  He brought a squirt gun to a Wild West duel, so he had to find another way to win, and he did.  Yay tension!

I also don't really like the comparison of magic to computer science, at least not for this story. Part of the appeal for me was that the author went to so much effort to make at least part of the magic - the library itself - well, magical.

To me it seemed that the author went to effort to make it seem like computer science, but perhaps that's my skewed perspective.  Particularly the gadget that Kas attached to the indexer to try to understand how it worked so that he could adapt it.  That was straight-up reverse-engineering, and the way that Kas and the other experts discussed magic made it sound very computer science-y to me.  It wasn't entirely comprehensible to the reader, but that's because we're seeing it through the eyes of Lazlo who is not much of a magic-user. 

Which isn't to say that the magic here was entirely like code.  There was an element of unpredictability that would not arise in code.  But that just made it seem like a more dangerous more tense kind of coding (yay tension!). 

Now, say what you want about how complicated and magical computers are - and how special it makes you :-P - but that machinery is still pretty explained to me. There are stories where the comparison would have been apt, but I don't feel like it worked for In the Stacks, and that's part of what I liked about it.

The most interesting things about computers is that, at the root of them, they are not complicated at all.  They do exactly what they are told to do, following the exact instructions that they are given.  When a computer has a glitch, except in rare cases of a short circuit or something, the computer is still following its instructions exactly, it's just that it's instructions were bad. 

This isn't the first time that I've thought of magic-using as similar to programming because much of it is predictable in this way.  The analogy falls apart the more the magic is random, but as far as the magic actually harnessed by the magic-users here, I'd say it's pretty accurate.  And if you write a bad spell, then it might be like writing a bad program, the magic does what you tell it to, it's just that you didn't tell it to do what you thought you told it to do.  Only the consequence, instead of a computer crash, might be a fatal accident or a portal to another dimension.  The main difference that sets this apart is that the library is like a jungle of wild code that was never written by a user, and there's no real-life parallel to that.  But that just makes it cooler. 

Again, the comparison still worked for me for this story, mostly because of the way that Kas approached the problem of understanding the indexers.  And hey, if you like the story because it didn't make you think of code, then who am I to try to dissuade you?  But I liked the story partly because it did make me think of code.  Divering opinions of story mechanics lead to united opinions of story quality.   Grin
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Mack46
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« Reply #43 on: March 22, 2012, 10:52:24 AM »

I went to library school— no weapons training, no track to become a warrior librarian. None of my library colleagues have fast cross shoulder sword draws and we are not allowed to have daggers and axes by our desks. Students shelve books without fear. An occasional vocabovour would certainly liven a trip to the stacks. I feel let down by my profession.

I enjoyed this story, a fun bit of fantasy especially if you are a librarian. A great 200th episode.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #44 on: March 22, 2012, 11:53:57 AM »

This isn't the first time that I've thought of magic-using as similar to programming because much of it is predictable in this way. 

Yes; Zauberschrift, for instance.

The main difference that sets this apart is that the library is like a jungle of wild code that was never written by a user, and there's no real-life parallel to that. 

I'm not sure I agree with that. Maybe it's not an exact parallel (but then magic <=> code isn't an perfect parallel either, as you noted yourself), but I would say large open-source projects (e.g. Linux) are (or could be) a lot like The Library: a jungle of wild code written, not by a single user, but by many (in the case of some projects, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of contributors), with the result that while some people have a sense of the over-arching architecture of the thing, no one knows what's lurking in every little corner, or can track every change (where did that Tree of Knives end up?).

The utter (and unutterable) complexity even gives rise to unintended consequences (bugs) arising from the interactions of systems (or sub-systems, or sub-sub-systems), not unlike the weird lifeforms in The Library.

Or for a closer parallel to the wildness, look at the internet itself, though a lot of the wildness there comes from its users, not its programmers. But, in a way, is that really so different, fundamentally...?
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« Reply #45 on: March 23, 2012, 09:54:19 AM »

I'm not sure I agree with that. Maybe it's not an exact parallel (but then magic <=> code isn't an perfect parallel either, as you noted yourself), but I would say large open-source projects (e.g. Linux) are (or could be) a lot like The Library: a jungle of wild code written, not by a single user, but by many (in the case of some projects, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of contributors), with the result that while some people have a sense of the over-arching architecture of the thing, no one knows what's lurking in every little corner, or can track every change (where did that Tree of Knives end up?).

The utter (and unutterable) complexity even gives rise to unintended consequences (bugs) arising from the interactions of systems (or sub-systems, or sub-sub-systems), not unlike the weird lifeforms in The Library.

Or for a closer parallel to the wildness, look at the internet itself, though a lot of the wildness there comes from its users, not its programmers. But, in a way, is that really so different, fundamentally...?

The Internet makes a reasonable parallel, I like that.  Both the library and the Internet are very useful as repositories of information, and because of their great usefulness also generate monsters like trolls and vocabuvores.  The only question to make the analogy complete:  Can one find porn in the library if one is so inclined? 
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Anarquistador
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« Reply #46 on: March 23, 2012, 10:10:33 AM »

One could make the argument that the porn is one of those things that grew wild on the Internet. A wise man I once knew said this: "The only thing the Internet has done is proven that no one is alone in their perversions."

Wise man indeed.
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LaShawn
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« Reply #47 on: March 23, 2012, 11:16:39 AM »

I now want a t-shirt that says MOAR WORDS! MOAR WORDS! FEED THE VOCABUVORE!!!

Fun story, though I do agree the side plot with Casimir was a bit much. But I love the idea of a living library and warrior librarians. Heck, *I* want to be a warrior librarian. Sounds much more fun than being a warrior HR assistant and have to babysit a bunch of snarling files. "No...don't you dare eat that W-4! Aw crap, a new flock of I-9s just flew in and are pooping all over the desks....sighhhh...."

On a side note, I had a chance to meet Scott Lynch at Viable Paradise XV last year. Fun guy. His version of Oberon in the style of Gollum had me dying.
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« Reply #48 on: March 23, 2012, 11:21:10 AM »

Aw, I-9s are easy to tame. They've just got a big ego since they're suddenly oh-so-important after being an afterthought for so many years.

Now, the health insurance forms, THEY'RE the really nasty ones. Like ninjas or those....whatever they are from D&D, those pumas with the tentacles that phase in and out of existence. Slipperly and you can't look at them directly or they explode.
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« Reply #49 on: March 23, 2012, 11:43:35 AM »

Aw, I-9s are easy to tame. They've just got a big ego since they're suddenly oh-so-important after being an afterthought for so many years.

Now, the health insurance forms, THEY'RE the really nasty ones. Like ninjas or those....whatever they are from D&D, those pumas with the tentacles that phase in and out of existence. Slipperly and you can't look at them directly or they explode.

A couerl?  At least that's what I think of when I hear tentacled pumas, though I know them through Final Fantasy games.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #50 on: March 23, 2012, 11:45:03 AM »

Aw, I-9s are easy to tame. They've just got a big ego since they're suddenly oh-so-important after being an afterthought for so many years.

Now, the health insurance forms, THEY'RE the really nasty ones. Like ninjas or those....whatever they are from D&D, those pumas with the tentacles that phase in and out of existence. Slipperly and you can't look at them directly or they explode.

A couerl?  At least that's what I think of when I hear tentacled pumas, though I know them through Final Fantasy games.

Displacer beasts.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #51 on: March 23, 2012, 11:47:48 AM »

Aw, I-9s are easy to tame. They've just got a big ego since they're suddenly oh-so-important after being an afterthought for so many years.

Now, the health insurance forms, THEY'RE the really nasty ones. Like ninjas or those....whatever they are from D&D, those pumas with the tentacles that phase in and out of existence. Slipperly and you can't look at them directly or they explode.

A couerl?  At least that's what I think of when I hear tentacled pumas, though I know them through Final Fantasy games.

Displacer beasts.

That is a weird name for an animal. 
Though it makes enough sense, according to Wikipedia "it is described as a vaguely puma-like beast that always appears to be two feet away from its actual position"

And also according to Wikipedia, it was inspired by the couerl which was first created by A.E. Von Vogt in a 1939 story.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #52 on: March 23, 2012, 11:58:12 AM »

Aw, I-9s are easy to tame. They've just got a big ego since they're suddenly oh-so-important after being an afterthought for so many years.

Now, the health insurance forms, THEY'RE the really nasty ones. Like ninjas or those....whatever they are from D&D, those pumas with the tentacles that phase in and out of existence. Slipperly and you can't look at them directly or they explode.

A couerl?  At least that's what I think of when I hear tentacled pumas, though I know them through Final Fantasy games.

Displacer beasts.

That is a weird name for an animal.  
Though it makes enough sense, according to Wikipedia "it is described as a vaguely puma-like beast that always appears to be two feet away from its actual position"

And also according to Wikipedia, it was inspired by the couerl which was first created by A.E. Von Vogt in a 1939 story.

Displacer beasts are part of a hilarious era of D&D monsters, things that looked EXACTLY like what they said they were and usually had nothing to do with mythology of any kind. Beholders are... giant eyeballs. Displacer beasts are... beasts, that are visually displaced. Lizardmen are men, who are also, you know, lizards. I love it.

I'm even more fascinated by the fact that some of these monsters have entered our collective imagination with basically the same strength as creatures that have basis in mythology! Did you know, for example, that the lich - the iconic undead wizard - has no mythological basis? None, whatsoever. And yet, I challenge you to find a single reader of fantasy who doesn't know what a lich is.

I mean, you could probably find one. But not five. Unless they're all friends, and then it doesn't count.

There are a hundred other examples. Beholder-like monsters, born in the U.S. out of Gary Gygax's imagination, found in Japanese video games alongside other monsters from East, West, North, and South, all of them with serious mythological pedigrees. More serious, literary, mythological roleplaying games like Vampire: the Masquerade using the word "liches" to describe a cabal of vampiric magicians - and again, in one of their new lines, to describe semi-living magicians who must eat souls. This, in a game founded on mythologically sound principles of Gnosticism! It's amazing.

Syncretism is the coolest thing in the world. I want to be a syncretism when I grow up.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2012, 12:01:25 PM by ElectricPaladin » Logged

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« Reply #53 on: March 23, 2012, 01:42:16 PM »

Heh heh. My D&D Nerd Detector is still working. You've all fallen into my clever trap! Bwa ha ha!
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smithmikeg
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« Reply #54 on: March 24, 2012, 02:32:15 PM »

I loved the reading, and I loved the story even more.  This is the first episode that's held my full attention for a while.  I can't help wondering where the stacks in the story connect to the library in the Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork.  They just have to!
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quia ego sic dico
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« Reply #55 on: March 25, 2012, 06:44:35 AM »

I enjoyed it overall (tone and setting and whatnot), but I found the whole Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal to be a little weird.  I mean, he was basically broadcasting Evil Beams through the whole story.  (I swear, if we'd had ONE MORE comment about how mysteriously he was suddenly composed and happy again...)  But I thought that would come up, y'know, in the dramatic final fight.  The way it played out, it felt like a half-unraveled sweater, where it comes to an end abruptly, but kind of keeps on going in a trickle until we get to a final little lump of yarn down on the floor.  And I agree that the whole setup of "Yeah, we leave those security holes open on purpose in order to preemptively kill anyone who might eventually try to take it over," felt a little bit... needlessly cruel and complicated?  A little Grimtooth-esque?
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eytanz
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« Reply #56 on: March 25, 2012, 08:51:32 AM »

I, too, found the handling of the betrayal bit somewhat odd - mostly, because it was so unconnected to everything that actually happened in the library. And the whole concept of a trap designed to capture exactly those people with ulterior motives who are clever enough to hide their intentions until an opportunity arises, but still too arrogant and/or stupid to assume that everyone around them is incompetent. I mean, what happens when a student comes by who is evil, ultra-competent, subtle *and* paranoid, so that she'll assume that everything might be a trap and account for that in her plans?

I was kind of hoping that there will be a true twist in the story; for instance, discovering that Casimir was not actually planning a betrayal, or that his experiences in the library somehow affected his plans. Oh well.

On an moderately unrelated note - has anyone here read both of Lynch's "Gentleman bastard" sequence that have been published so far? I read "The Lies of Locke Lamora" and found the first half great and went and bought the sequel, and then didn't really enjoy the radical tone shift in the middle (especially since so much of what was set up in the first part became irrelevant) and never really started it. Is the second book closer in tone to the first half of Lies, or to the second half?
« Last Edit: March 25, 2012, 08:53:35 AM by eytanz » Logged
WalkinPneumonia
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« Reply #57 on: March 25, 2012, 04:04:38 PM »

Wow, what a great way to celebrate episode 200.  I loved the story, and enjoyed hearing everyone's voices even more.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #58 on: March 26, 2012, 09:44:42 AM »

One could make the argument that the porn is one of those things that grew wild on the Internet. A wise man I once knew said this: "The only thing the Internet has done is proven that no one is alone in their perversions."

Wise man indeed.

I like that.  At the risk of mixing metaphors like Dr. Moreau mixes animals, porn is the Internet's invasive plant species.
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childoftyranny
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« Reply #59 on: March 26, 2012, 05:52:59 PM »

I like that.  At the risk of mixing metaphors like Dr. Moreau mixes animals, porn is the Internet's invasive plant species.

Considering some of the ways that invasive species spread, porn spreading that way is a bit concerning.
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