January 21st, 2009

A Birthday

What If They'd Been Invented Earlier

I was in the audience for this Arisia panel. . . .

What if stuff had been invented earlier than it was?

Part of the fun here is that, rather frequently, it has been invented earlier.  And we learn the importance of cultural settings.  Because the Greeks invented a steam engine and used it as a toy.  And many ancient civilizations had the waterwheel, but the medieval Europeans went berserk, thinking of all the ways they could use this wonderful, wonderful, wonderful thing all over the place.  And for all the talk of the breakdown of the Roman Empire, it was where that breakdown was most total that we see them going crazy over the waterwheel.  The Byzantine empire didn't think much of it.

Guns, for instance.  That can be complicated.  Earlier guns were worse weapons than the crossbow.  But the soldiers could be drilled in them more easily.  The first use involved pikeman to protect the musketeers.  Which was inspired by certain Roman legion tactics, so perhaps it could have been used earlier.

Printing press would have been fun in China.  You had too many characters to make it practical.

A Birthday

Making Tropes Interesting

I was a panelist for this one.

The moderator asked us all what tropes we were tired of seeing.  To which my reaction was -- you know, there are very few tropes that I object to that I don't have other grounds to object to.  The elitist magic, where you have it or don't, and not having it is not like being tone-deaf, a rarity.  It's common -- all over the place -- but I can object on the grounds that it's a cheap way of making your character a special little snowflake.

But nothing ever gets to be a cliche without over-use, which means it has to get itself used, a lot.  And it has to have some virtues for that.  Respect your cliches.  They've got something going for them.

But the trick is breaking off the baggage and giving it new baggage, I think.

(More on panels tomorrow.)