Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Those Who Were Taken

I'm a big fan of the concept of the Ten Who Were Taken from Glen Cook's The Black Company series; an epic 10-volume tale of dark, military fantasy and one of the godfather achievements in the sub-genres of dark fantasy and military fantasy alike.  My Heresiarchy of the Twelve is not unconsciously modeled, at least in some respects, off of the Ten.

I've also been a fan of a lot of the Warhammer World fiction.  Nagash, in some ways, who I've referenced here before many times, can be seen as analogous in many ways to the Dominator; a leading sorcerer who created other sorcerers, who's black legacy still haunts the world many centuries or even millennia after his initial time of power. I've been reading Mike Lee's Nagash trilogy lately (about time too; I've owned the books for many years.)  The first of the books, Nagash the Sorcerer I found somewhat difficult; the plot was convoluted, the characters less than compelling, and the time frame and politics made for somewhat stodgy reading.  Because I had been a fan of the "lore" of Nagash for many years (dating back to my picking up a White Dwarf way back in the early to mid 90s that described his "secret history" in textbook style) I was anxious to see this committed to novel form.  The first book was disappointing, though—and I let the series sit fallow for quite some time.

Only recently have I finally picked up the second book, Nagash the Unbroken and quite honestly, it is tons better.  It alternates between far fewer point of view characters; Neferata being one of the main ones, and her drive to essentially create the vampiric race in Lahmia with the aid of a captured Arkhan the Black is fascinating.  Every other chapter then turns to Nagash, who having faced a crippling defeat in Nehekhara, has now wandered over to Cripple Creek and on his way to becoming more than simply a self-made vampire/sorcerer lord, but rather the master sorcerer Nagash the lord of the Undead.

One of the things Warhammer does quite well is to not really explain everything—in spite of the fact that they're turning what was a few pages of textbook style history into a novel trilogy, there are a lot of holes in the setting.  Stuff that doesn't quite add up.  Stuff that contradicts other stuff.  Mythology that refuses to be classified and nailed down.  Stuff like that.  This deliberate uncertainty principle gives it a very verisimilitudinistic feel; as events are removed from the current continuity in time, more uncertainty about what actually happened and what stuff actually means seems to be de rigour.  This is, of course, often the opposite of what many high fantasy fans are used to, where thousands of years of detailed timelines and maintained status quo seem to be common.

I also really like, of course, the notion of digging up the past that should be better off left alone.  This is a very Lovecraftian concept, but it is also one of the main drivers behind some of the Black Company novels (Bomanz, the wizard who "accidentally" unleashed the Ten Who Were Taken back on the world) and I was reminded of it again as Arkhan the Black and Neferata and Lamashizzar and others worked to try and recreate Nagash's experiments on the Elixir of Life—which is really, of course, the elixir of undeath/vampirism, not life.

These powerful memes and conventions have their place in fantasy, especially darker fantasy with a more sword & sorcery and/or horror feel, than they do with a high fantasy feel, but even high fantasy, of course, has characters like the Ringwraiths who fill a similar function, etc.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Horse The Wheel and Language

Last night I swung by the library and picked up David Anthony's The Horse, The Wheel and Language: How Bronze Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.  If there were such a thing as a long-time reader of my blog, my fascination with Indo-European archaeology and linguistics as tools to reconstruct Indo-European pre-history should be readily apparent.  As long ago as twenty years ago, my still teen-aged sisters-in-law thought it was kinda funny that I read (for fun) Indo-European Origins by John Day or In Search of the Indo-Europeans by J. P. Mallory, or that I even liked the latter so much that I bought my own copy as a trade-paperback from the school bookstore (this was as yet in the pre-Amazon age of the internet.)

I was amused to see on the dust jacket the following two claims: "Until now [the identity of the Proto-Indo-Europeans] has remained a tantalizing mystery to linguists, archaeologists, and even Nazis seeking the roots of the Aryan race.  The Horse, The Wheel and Language lifts the veil that has long shrouded these original Indo-European speakers," and, "The Horse, The Wheel and Language solves a puzzle that has vexed scholars for two centuries—the source of the Indo-European languages and English—and recovers this magnificent and influential civilization from the past."

Although I've only read in a couple of hours or so last night about 100 of it's just under 500 pages, it's clear that it's really just a rewrite of Mallory's own book, really, with a summary of what has been learned in the years since (Mallory's book was first published in 1991.)  And for that matter, Mallory's book was really just a summary and update of Marija Gimbutas' kurgan theories which were first published in the 1950s.  The idea that Anthony's book "solves" a mysterious "puzzle" is ludicrous.  What he does is rewrite for a general audience the basic state of Indo-European studies, focusing on the mainstream theory of their origins.  He does make a slight note of the competing theories and explains why they are unsatisfactory (as Anthony says; few archaeologists understand linguistics and vice-versa, making monodisciplinary solutions fail—the biggest single alternative is, of course, Colin Renfrew's Anatolian Neolithic hypothesis, which was already pretty thoroughly discredited by Mallory in his book.  Since then, little has changed that paradigm.)

So... yeah for overly dramatic copy editors trying to shill a book, I guess?

Anyway, now time for me to divert to a bit of a rant.  I haven't finished the book, so I'm not going to review it yet, or even comment on it, other than what I've already said, which is that it clearly offers little that is "new" to the field; it mostly comes across as an update to Mallory's own book.

But Anthony took quite a bit more time, word-count and energy doing something that Mallory only did briefly (and in my opinion, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, almost)—signaling his political correctness with regards to the subject in an attempt to not be called a Nazi by cultural Marxists which have thoroughly invaded academia in the West.

As may be apparent from my own slightly earlier post, linking to and commenting briefly on the physical characteristics of the early Greek aristocracy and the Roman patrician caste, I think this is nonsense.  There clearly was an ethnic element to the spread of Indo-European languages, and denying that requires denying the testimony of almost every classical author, the testimony of a host of newer DNA studies, the testimony of statuary and artistic representations from the past, etc.  Ignoring this vast body of evidence because of a paranoid fear of being tarred a possible neo-Nazi because apparently only a Nazi could possibly think that white people have any value or merit or something is absurd, hateful, cowardly and stupid.

And when you get down to it, being so afraid of the Nazi label is kinda silly anyway.  As current events show an increase in nationalism across the world, the spectre of the Nazis is constantly drummed up by cultural Marxists in the media and academia anymore.  But it's readily apparent that it wasn't the nationalism in national socialism that was problem, it was the socialism.

What?  You may say.  The Nazis weren't really socialists, they were right wing!  Dude; you're not tall enough for this ride if you say that.  Have you read the Nazi party platform?  Have you read the Fascist manifesto?  What about other so-called "right wing" socialist parties?  Franco? Peron?  Have you read reports and journalism from the time when those were current about the obvious similarities between Mussolini, Hitler and Roosevelt and their policies?  It escaped exactly nobody's attention in the 30s and 40s that Roosevelt's administration and Wilson's administration before that, were essentially completely fascist in nature, even though they didn't officially use that label.  In fact, as foreign relations with Hitler and Mussolini soured, Roosevelt had to intervene specifically in the field of journalism to make reporters stop drawing the obvious parallels between Roosevelt and Hitler.

It's leftists who are always the mass murders.  Always.  Hitler was to the left of Roosevelt and Wilson on every policy position that any of the three articulated.  The Nazis and the Communists block voted together in the Reichstag for every Marxist policy that they could think of.  He's responsible for the Holocaust, which murdered "up to" 6 million Jews (nevermind that it's not entirely certain that there were any more than 6 million Jews in all of Europe at the onset of the Holocaust.)  Even a raging over-estimate of the deaths that can, even tangentially with the wispiest and flimsiest of excuses, be laid at Hitler's feet comes to 17 million.  That's, of course, monstrous—but a guy I know of online was trying to make the case to me that we absolutely had to ally with Stalin to stop Hitler because of... Hitler!  Stalin himself, also of course a leftist, is responsible for many more deaths than Hitler.  Solzhenitsyn gives an upper estimate of 60 million, and even the lowest, most pro-Communist report you can find still has to grudgingly put a lowest floor estimate of 23 million deaths at Stalin's feet.  And that's just Stalin himself; if you give the entire Russian communist movement, it grows considerably.

In reality, of course, we should have adopted a version of Kissinger's maxim: "It's a pity that they can't both lose," but you can quite easily make a case that if we really had to back one evil, mass murdering dictator against another, we probably backed the wrong one.  Stalin was considerably worse than Hitler.  And those numbers don't even count the Germans murdered, starved and raped after the surrender and the end of WW2.  Heck, Eisenhower himself can be tagged with the starving death of up to a million Germans in concentration camps in Europe after the war was over.  Soviets embarked on an industrial scale rape and murder of the Germans of East Germany.  The worst Holocaust of WW2 wasn't the Jewish dead, it was the German dead, and it was perpetuated by us and our "allies."

And both of them are chumps compared to Mao, who is responsible for up to 78 million deaths, most of them during the so-called "Great Leap Forward" although his "Agrarian reforms" prior to that still killed millions of nationalist Chinese.

The bottom line?  Leftism leads to mass murder once they get enough power and control to implement it.  It happened in Germany, Russia, China, Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Tibet, Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Spain, and more.  Nationalism has no such stigma.  Signaling your righteousness by rejecting nationalism and tacitly accepting Marxism/leftism is self-defeating.  It has the exact opposite affect on anyone who's actually educated as opposed to being merely shallowly indoctrinated.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Settings galore

I'll have to be honest, since it's my wife's favorite place in the world, my big vacation was to Orlando, where we saw GatorLand, DisneyWorld (including Typhoon Lagoon—a total of 6 days spent in the parks themselves, with another day for Downtown Disney and another for some resort hopping.)  We finished up by spending two days at Universal Studios, where the Diagon Alley area was new to us (we'd already seen Hogsmeade a few times, and the rest of the stuff, minus a few new rides in FantasyLand, we're old hats at.)

This isn't meant to be a travelogue post, though—but rather an indication of some thoughts kicking around in the back of my mind while we were there.

First off, the Magic Kingdom itself has a wonderful group of set themes—TomorrowLand, FrontierLand, FantasyLand, AdventureLand, etc.  Each is a great example of a setting microcosm; or at least, the tone and feel of one.  TomorrowLand is actually the least cohesive in many ways, as it can't quite decide if its a relatively near future harder sci-fi, or a wahoo space opera.

I hardly need more setting projects, after mothballing most of the ones I already had, but if its nothing more than an exercise for this post, because I just felt like it after coming back, here's how I'd do something useful with the ideas:

  • A near future solar system setting where water and mineral mining claims riddle the asteroid belt and distant moons and bodies of the outer solar system.  There's a strong frontier ethos out here, and there has to be, since miners and others are alone in the harshest wilderness known to man and extremely self-reliant by necessity.  Of course, the governments on Earth and even Mars are interested in bringing them into greater control and exploiting their resources to greater profit.  Think The Moon is a Harsh Mistress combined with, I dunno, Silent Running and Outland or something.
  • I'd like to still make a more wild space opera, but I think I've probably got that handled already with AD ASTRA if I ever develop it.
  • This land as a kind of exotic adventure feel; Westerners in southeast Asia and Africa and South America with a kind of Dr. Livingstone or Professor Challenger type feel.  It would be very much like Indiana Jones, the Brendan Frasier Mummy, the old TV shows Bring 'Em Back Alive and Tales of the Gold Monkey, but instead of taking place on our earth, it takes place in an alternative 1920s.  During the Seven Years War, alien technology was discovered that could take people to alternative worlds where entire past ecosystems were "archived" by some mysterious beings.  Modern Westerners weren't the first to go through them, so late surviving Egyptian and other past societies, degenerated into savagery for the most part, make up a burgeoning native population.  Colonies of Prussians, Austrians, British and French travel these foreign worlds, stuffed with dinosaurs and savage, exotic peoples.
  • DARK•HERITAGE is itself kind of a fantasy western more than a Medievalist fantasy or sword & sorcery style fantasy, so I don't think I need a FrontierLand setting per se.  I admit, I did flirt with changing the pseudo-Mediterranean/Latin culture of the Terrasan Empire into something more compatible with typical Westerns, i.e. Anglo-Saxon American-themed, to make it feel more like a Western even, but I doubt that I'll actually go through with that.  And there's no great reason why it'd be necessary anyway.
  • Even though I largely don't work in it much anymore, one of my first great loves is, of course, High Fantasy of the J. R. R. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, William Morris, etc. But of course I need to put a twist on it.  In fact, what I'm thinking of off-hand right now is adapting my so-far not very developed anyway MAMMOTH LORDS setting as a fantasy alternative world.  Rather than High Medieval, what if I set it during the Migration Period, as the Late Antiquity transitioned into the Early Middle Ages.  And what if some geologically unlikely event happened; like Asia breaking off in a rough line more or less from the Indus River Delta to the Yenisey mouth and the far east suddenly lurching farther to the east, the space in between filling with seawater.  Likewise, North America is thrust up nearly to Europe, with distances no greater than that of the Straits of Dover between some of the westernmost shores of Eire and Hispania—maybe they've even completely collided in some areas.  This brings the Iroquois Confederacy, Cahokia, maybe even the Aztec Empire into contact with the failing Roman Empire, lingering Celts on the fringe of the Empire, and vast hordes of Goths, Vandals, Franks, Alamanni, Huns, etc. into contact—along with prehistoric North American megafauna.  Yeah, yeah, it's a big mix of a bunch of weird stuff, but why not?  Throw some Atlantean refugees in there too, why dontcha?

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Greek and Roman physical type

An interesting article.  Go read it, then I'll make some comments:


OK?  A few minor nitpicks to start with.
We know something about the early Hellenes from the Iliad. It was first written down in the late eighth century BC, at the end of the Greek Dark Age, after the Phoenicians taught the Greeks how to write again. It recounts events some four to five hundred years earlier. Although we think of the poem as being about the Greeks, Homer’s warrior heroes belong to the Achaean nobility, which suggests that it was the Achaeans who overthrew Mycenaean civilization, not the Dorians, who would descend upon Greece and displace the Achaeans a hundred years later. Archeology confirms this supposition, for Troy was burned around 1200 BC, and the traditional date for the Trojan War is 1184 BC. The Dorian invasion is dated by various ancient historians at 1149, 1100, or 1049 BC.
He's either never read the Iliad, or doesn't understand it, and he understands little if anything of the scientology and historiagraphy of the Trojan War.  Menelaus and Agamemnon were kings of the Mycenaean civilization; saying that they overthrew it as part of broader picture that saw the sacking of Troy as merely one event in the greater Bronze Age Collapse makes no sense.  Either the Achaeans were an important element of the Mycenaean palace civilization of "Ahhiyawa" already, which makes sense given that it's supposedly a Hittite transliteration of the word that comes to us as Achaea, or you can't take the classical narrative of successive waves of Achaean and then Dorian invasions too literally.

But this is a minor nitpick that doesn't much impact the general thrust of his argument really.

The second nitpick, which is also minor, is that he repeatedly calls the Romans and Greeks "northern Europeans." This is obviously false, since they are attested in southern Europe; Rome and Greece, respectively, although both tended to get around in the Mediterranean region and beyond from time to time.  What he means to say, of course, is that they are of a physical type which is today associated with northern Europe rather than with southern Europe.  There is no convincing model by which the Greeks and Romans are literally from northern Europe—the best model is the so-called Kurgan Theory or its proposed update, the Revised Steppe Theory, which has Indo-European languages and culture spreading from the Pontic-Caspian steppes, mostly during the early Bronze Age, and certainly before writing came to Europe.  Most likely languages ancestral to proto-Greek and proto-Italic were already forming in the Balkans, although models that get us from putative late Proto-Indo-European cultures such as Cucuteni-Triploye to the historically attested Greeks and Romans is a bit hazy, the general story that derives them from the steppe is strong; and it does not derive them from the steppe via northern Europe.

Why those physical types are under-represented in the region today is, of course, the big question.  There are obviously lots of different migration models.  Some proposed for Indo-European expansion include a cultural and linguistic dispersion that had little genetic basis behind it at one extreme.  The other extreme is a nearly complete population replacement—which most archeologists decry as too radical, despite the fact that we have at least three historical models that I can think of off the top of my head for exactly this happening: modern day North America, Australia and New Zealand.

A slightly more nuanced model which is the one that fits best with the scenario described in the article is rather the installation of an invader force which conquered and installed itself as a cultural elite over a larger population of authochthonous natives, but who managed first to impose its civilization, language and material culture to at least some degree on the conquered nation.  A good modern example of this would be Mexico, where Spanish conquistadores claimed the nation and imposed Spanish culture and the Spanish language on a large population of natives.  Although they were successful, naturally, in doing so, the basic physical features of the Mexican nation owe much more to the Aztec and other native populations than they do to the Spanish even today—even though the cultural and administrative elite and upper class is still demonstrably and observably more physically European than the masses.

This is probably the model by which the Greeks and Romans transformed Greece and Rome into the nations we know them today, and yet which turn up repeatedly in ancient texts and art as observably more like the northern European than the present day southern European—because the cultural and administrative elite still got that way as invading conquerors rather than as natives.  Only after many, many generations did the invaders eventually get more or less genetically swamped.

UPDATE: Although what I wrote back then is still completely accurate with regards to the Greeks and Romans, in particular, archaeogenetic studies (i.e., DNA sampling from skeletons found at archaeological dig sites) suggests very strongly that there was actually considerable population replacement and folk movement going on.  The Corded Ware cultural horizon (admittedly, more northern European) shows that 75% of the DNA comes from the steppes—the Yamna horizon which is the Proto-Indo-European homeland.  What this means is that the northern European "stock" is the Indo-European stock to a great degree after all, and it comes from the steppes of Eastern Europe originally.

This means of course, that the Greeks and Romans—or at least the original people who brought the languages that later evolved into Greek and Latin—were also, as the article suggests, built and colored like northern Europeans.  Because the substrate population density in southern Europe was greater than in northern Europe, the steppe physical type remained in northern Europe (which, honestly, probably had a similar physical type already.  Look at the non-Indo-European Finns and Lapplanders relative to the Indo-European Swedes and Norwegians, for example.)  In southern Europe, it was eventually swamped.  But it probably took many generations for this to happen.  Today, many centuries after the Spanish conquest of Nueva España from a variety of Aztec, Toltec, Inca and other empires, the elite classes of Latin America are very visibly and notably different than the lower classes.  The former is very Spanish and European in physical type while the latter is very indio.  In India, the physical distinction between the Brahmins and the lower castes seems to preserve an ethnic distinction described in the Rigveda between aryas and dasyas that has persisted for millennia.  The Rigveda's timing is a bit uncertain but most likely it was written before the fall of Troy.

I haven't read that any archeaogenetic studies have tried to track the spread of steppe elements (i.e. Indo-European languages) into the Balkans or elsewhere in southern Europe, though.  No Baden culture archeogenetics studies that I know of—although I'd be real interested to see one done.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


It hasn't been the best year for me in blogging anyway, but lately I've been away on an extended family vacation, so it's been even more spotty than normal.

I do have a variety of topics to address once I can manage to hit my stride again, though—so stay tuned.