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Author Topic: PC200: In the Stacks  (Read 28302 times)

InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #25 on: March 20, 2012, 03:42:57 AM
Hail, hail, the gang's all here!!! GREAT full cast reading. And I could *almost* identify everyone on hearing them.

Ironically enough I was listening to this while returning books to a library. Though not one quite so ... interesting.

Always like Scott Lynch (ok, that's pretty much only on the impression of "Lies of Locke Lamora", but that's a great impression) and I'm glad he didn't fall into the trap of Librarian stereotypes. I also liked entering the library was made to sound like entering a modern prison. Which is really what it was in a way.



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Reply #26 on: March 20, 2012, 04:13:43 PM
"Tonight we will get drunk! In the human fashion!"

Damn, but I want that on a t-shirt.

This story had everything that makes ElectricPaladins happy: magic that is mysterious and magical and dangerous even though some of the characters have some facility with it, badass librarians, lizardmen, fantasy driven by the characters and their foibles and relationships, stirring confrontations in interesting environments, and compellingly weird and frightening antagonists that don't rely on tired fantasy tropes. Basically, this story was very nearly perfect in every way.

There was one its bitsy teeny weenie purple polka dotted nit-pick (that he wrote on the forums that day): I am getting heartily sick of the "character at a university of magic who can't do magic worth shit." I was only mildly amused by it the first time I saw it, and my amusement drained away precipitously thereafter. Nobody struggles through medical school in order to become, at best, a hilariously incompetent doctor. The very idea of a "hilariously incompetent doctor" is actually kind of horrifying. Why do we assume that magicians are any different? If you aren't any good at something - if you lack the brains, guts, dedication, or talent - why in the name of the Mother of Lizards would you continue to beat your head against it? Why would the teachers, mentors, and administrators of a place of learning allow a person to do that? Or if a character were to actually continue in such a situation, wouldn't that be a choice worthy of emotionally real exploration, rather than a gag?

I suppose that a second, somewhat larger nit (perhaps a one-eyed one-horned giant purple nit?) is that the character of Las doesn't seem to develop much. I would have liked him to actually grow in terms of power, confidence, and style. Instead, Las bore up awesomely against the horrors of the library and continued to self-deprecate and self-doubt his way to the end, at which point his sorry hide was saved by one of the aforementioned badass librarians.

Between Las's "hilarious" magical incompetence and failure to appreciate his own worth, the story had a certain emotional... what's the word I'm looking for? Immaturity? Unreality? Insincerity?

"AAAAAH" *SPLAT!*

Um, anyway. Yeah. So.

Basically a great story. It was full of great stuff. The emotional content was a little flat for me, which is a significant flaw, but it's one that I didn't really note until the story was over, so I suppose it wasn't that bad. Here's to another 200 episodes (and more!) of the weird, the wily, the wondrous, and the... um... listened to on the way to Work. Yeah. That will do.

And while we're at it, here's to me getting a story published on PodCastle.

What? It could happen.

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Reply #27 on: March 20, 2012, 04:37:45 PM
There was one its bitsy teeny weenie purple polka dotted nit-pick (that he wrote on the forums that day): I am getting heartily sick of the "character at a university of magic who can't do magic worth shit." I was only mildly amused by it the first time I saw it, and my amusement drained away precipitously thereafter. Nobody struggles through medical school in order to become, at best, a hilariously incompetent doctor. The very idea of a "hilariously incompetent doctor" is actually kind of horrifying. Why do we assume that magicians are any different? If you aren't any good at something - if you lack the brains, guts, dedication, or talent - why in the name of the Mother of Lizards would you continue to beat your head against it? Why would the teachers, mentors, and administrators of a place of learning allow a person to do that? Or if a character were to actually continue in such a situation, wouldn't that be a choice worthy of emotionally real exploration, rather than a gag?

That didn't bother me, for some reason.  Perhaps because it didn't seem to be intended for humor, but rather to increase the level of challenge for the character to make it through the trials and tribulations without the equivalent of a magical gun.

And as far as comparing to a hilariously incompetent doctor, that's not how I thought of it either.  Magic is all-pervasive in this society by the sound of it.  Sure, there are roles like librarian that are dangerous and where a competent person, but one would hope that those roles would have an extensive interview process and apprenticeship to prove your skills before you have to stand alone.  There are probably many roles which are less critical and which can be performed by a person of lesser skill, and at which a person of greater skill would probably not deign to spend their time doing.

Rather than being equivalent to a doctor, I pictured it as being more equivalent to a computer programming major.  I know some people who graduated with the same computer science degree as I did who really had not enough competence to deserve the degree--somehow always managing to partner with someone who is willing to carry them through development projects.  And I know other people who were repeating the same engineering class for the 4th time and if they ever did pass I doubt they'd really grasp it, they would probably just get it enough to squeak by with a barely-passing grade.  I can't say that I'm very happy that these people got their degrees while coasting on the efforts of others.  At the same time, when they got out into the working world their skill level should've become obvious rather quickly.  There are many applications where bad software would be dangerous such as missile guidance or medical implants, but if the engineering of those kinds of life-critical devices are set up properly then someone who doesn't know what they are doing will be filtered out rather quickly or not hired in the first place.  Instead they might still be able to get other less dangerous jobs.  I see the same being the case here.  I don't think Laslo will ever be a librarian.  He might be more gruntwork to maintain household cleaning spells or some such thing.  But that doesn't mean that he can't find work, and again it didn't seem to me that this was supposed to be funny.  I thought it reflected reality in certain fields relatively well.

And while we're at it, here's to me getting a story published on PodCastle.

What? It could happen.

Hear, hear!  After 28 rejections, none of which made it past Ann Leckie, I can't say I feel much hope for myself.  More luck to you!



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Reply #28 on: March 20, 2012, 05:03:41 PM
Actually, that whole final sequence of the stupidly ambitious student biting off more than he can chew and getting the life sucked out of him was rather redundant. I mean, really, what was the point of that? Listening to it at the time I was all "What is going on now? Why isn't the story over?"
Just cut out Cas's whole mysterious object thingy and stick with his gung-ho enthusiasm of the library. Why couldn't we have ended with everybody covered in vocabuvore goo heading out to get drunk in the human fashion happily confident that they have completed this trial successfully, and celebrate their continued existence on the mortal plane and their newfound camaraderie?
That final scene didn't allow for further character development, was disassociated from the main plot and added nothing at all to the story as a whole.
Not to mention the holes people have been poking in it in this thread.

If the story had ended about 5 minutes early it would have been absolutely perfect. As it is it was still very, very good.

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Reply #29 on: March 20, 2012, 05:10:01 PM
... I forgot to mention:  at the mention of vocabuvores I thought there'd be mention of the subspecies verbivores in there somewhere... 



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Reply #30 on: March 20, 2012, 05:13:13 PM
... I forgot to mention:  at the mention of vocabuvores I thought there'd be mention of the subspecies verbivores in there somewhere... 

And I forgot to mention that the only disappointing thing about the vocabuvores is that the person that said the word still had it once the vocabuvores were done. Imagine how horrifying it would be if they didn't.

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Reply #31 on: March 20, 2012, 05:30:08 PM
Imagine how horrifying it would be if they didn't.

Ooooh. I like that idea. :)

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Reply #32 on: March 20, 2012, 11:59:36 PM
Congratulations on the 200th episode (if  a little belatedly)!
I enjoyed the full cast reading. It was a little bumpy at the beginning, but I got into it fine, once they entered the library.
The story was enjoyable as well - I especially liked the two librarians, they were way cool. (The fact that I loved Master Molnar's voice might have added to that impression.) Lazlo and Casimir were fine, though Lev and especially Yvette stayed a bit flat. I approve of the twist at the end - there was so much foreshadowing about Casimir's character that something had to happen and this 'trap' was a really clever thing to do, quite believable.
As for the labyrinth of books, I kept thinking of "The City of Dreaming Books" by German author Walter Moers, which is a very whimsical fantasy adventure tale playing with all kinds of book, library and literature motives. And yeah, looks like there's an English translation available.
« Last Edit: March 21, 2012, 12:12:25 AM by Reed »



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Reply #33 on: March 21, 2012, 08:38:10 AM
... I forgot to mention:  at the mention of vocabuvores I thought there'd be mention of the subspecies verbivores in there somewhere... 

And I forgot to mention that the only disappointing thing about the vocabuvores is that the person that said the word still had it once the vocabuvores were done. Imagine how horrifying it would be if they didn't.
I'd actually marveled at the elegance of having a food source that can simultaneously be consumed by everyone.

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Reply #34 on: March 21, 2012, 05:44:03 PM
Not much I can add to the praise being heaped on this.  I loved the story, loved the full cast reading, loved just about everything.  Interestingly enough, the most clipped bits were Peter's own lines, and there could have been more spacing with many parts of dialog, but like others have said, it smoothed out once they entered the library. 

Now I really want to start playing Ars Magica again. 

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #35 on: March 21, 2012, 05:59:23 PM
That didn't bother me, for some reason.  Perhaps because it didn't seem to be intended for humor, but rather to increase the level of challenge for the character to make it through the trials and tribulations without the equivalent of a magical gun.

And as far as comparing to a hilariously incompetent doctor, that's not how I thought of it either.  Magic is all-pervasive in this society by the sound of it.  Sure, there are roles like librarian that are dangerous and where a competent person, but one would hope that those roles would have an extensive interview process and apprenticeship to prove your skills before you have to stand alone.  There are probably many roles which are less critical and which can be performed by a person of lesser skill, and at which a person of greater skill would probably not deign to spend their time doing.

Rather than being equivalent to a doctor, I pictured it as being more equivalent to a computer programming major.  I know some people who graduated with the same computer science degree as I did who really had not enough competence to deserve the degree--somehow always managing to partner with someone who is willing to carry them through development projects.  And I know other people who were repeating the same engineering class for the 4th time and if they ever did pass I doubt they'd really grasp it, they would probably just get it enough to squeak by with a barely-passing grade.  I can't say that I'm very happy that these people got their degrees while coasting on the efforts of others.  At the same time, when they got out into the working world their skill level should've become obvious rather quickly.  There are many applications where bad software would be dangerous such as missile guidance or medical implants, but if the engineering of those kinds of life-critical devices are set up properly then someone who doesn't know what they are doing will be filtered out rather quickly or not hired in the first place.  Instead they might still be able to get other less dangerous jobs.  I see the same being the case here.  I don't think Laslo will ever be a librarian.  He might be more gruntwork to maintain household cleaning spells or some such thing.  But that doesn't mean that he can't find work, and again it didn't seem to me that this was supposed to be funny.  I thought it reflected reality in certain fields relatively well.

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.

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.

In my opinion magic suffers from a serious over-abundance of a concept I'll steal from ghost stories: explanation of the machinery (you can find the original concept here: http://novelnovice.com/2011/07/05/the-revenant-elements-of-the-ghost-story-gothic-novel/). In ghost stories, you don't (usually) get extensive explanations of the mechanics of the underworld, the exact powers and abilities of ghosts, and so on. You get people grappling with something they don't - can't - understand, which will never be properly explained to them. Some fantasy stories take the same tactic - I mean, does anyone ever really explain where Gandalf's powers come from?

With modern fantasy has come the custom of the, to kidnap from roleplaying "Player Character" magician. A perspective character who can wield magic. And suddenly the machinery is getting explained left and right. This isn't bad, exactly. I mean, I probably like Brandon Sanderson a lot more than the next guy. But, I do think magic loses something when it's comprehensible.

In this story, the magic - at least, the magic of the library - is never explained. It's magical. It's weird. It just plain is.

It's magic without explanation of the machinery, and I loved it.

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.

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Reply #36 on: March 21, 2012, 06:38:46 PM
Re: Hilariously incompetent wizard/doctor/programmer...

This is a fascinating aspect that never occurred to me until you guys underscored it by shining a light on it using this story. I recently was explaining to a friend of mine why I loved the show Eureka, and the only negative aspect of the show that I couldn't get past--the part that kept yanking me bodily out of the universe of the show--was the incompetence of the Fargo character.

It is exactly what you guys were talking about. Here's a guy who is undeniably a genius. Someone so smart, he can nearly destroy the universe several times in each season. And yet he's dangerously incompetent at the same time.

But everyone puts up with it. Everyone in the world of that show just...ignores his total incompetence. In the "real world," he would have been fired the first time he killed someone or caused a rift in space-time or accidentally created a sub-universe that threatened to take over our own.

I have to wonder how often it shows up and we just...sort of gloss over it.

I wonder if that's on tvtropes, yet... *cautiously approaches tvtropes.com like a proto-human touching the monolith...*

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Reply #37 on: March 21, 2012, 11:51:27 PM
As for 'mediocre magic users': The vibe I get (in this story) is that magic is still special enough that even being mediocre at it  is something you can build a career on. Probably most people in the school aren't better than Lazlo and Lev. Still they have a talent that gives them a definite advantage over people who can't do magic at all and that shouldn't go to waste, so they'll be trained. (And obviously their education contains some other stuff as well - at least fighting.)



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Reply #38 on: March 22, 2012, 07:39:37 AM
The problem there (leaving magic incomprehensible) is that as soon as you have people learning to be magic users, whether by apprenticeship or in a university, you need to make it comprehensible. If it isn't comprehensible then the entire premise of your story falls apart.
That is why I particularly like the programmer analogy.
Programming has rules and concepts and you can break everything down into smaller bits and understand each bit separately and then put it all together in a new way and create something new.
Most programmers don't grok the full comprehensibility of what they are doing, but it works anyway. Some mediocre programmers occasionally churn out magnificent code that works, which they don't fully understand why (has happened to me a few times :P).
To the non-programmer it's all so much gobbledygook, but to the initiated it makes perfect and elegant sense.
Just like magic.

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.

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Reply #39 on: March 22, 2012, 12:13:19 PM
Lots of praise already for this one.  I just want to add my props to Peter Wood's audio work.  That must have been an absolute beast to put together.  Well done, sir.



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Reply #40 on: March 22, 2012, 01:01:15 PM
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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Reply #41 on: March 22, 2012, 01:50:27 PM
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. :) 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, 02:26:58 PM
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.   ;D



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Reply #43 on: March 22, 2012, 03:52:24 PM
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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Reply #44 on: March 22, 2012, 04:53:57 PM
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, 02:54:19 PM
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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Reply #46 on: March 23, 2012, 03:10:33 PM
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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Reply #47 on: March 23, 2012, 04:16:39 PM
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, 04:21:10 PM
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, 04:43:35 PM
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.