Lord Valentine’s Castle: some thoughts

Recently I felt like it was time to re-read Robert Silverberg’s 1980 book Lord Valentine’s Castle. It’s mostly an excuse for a travelogue of his fictional world of Majipoor – a huge, low-gravity world somewhere in an unfashionable corner of the galaxy, ruled by a succession of humans, inhabited by a half-dozen different alien races who have ended up there, including the mysterious shape-shifting natives. I think it might have been the first book I ever read with that sort of setup but it certainly wasn’t the last, and I doubt it was the first one to do that kind of setting, either.

It is an oddly relaxing book. Silverberg’s focus is much more on wandering across this place than the intricacies of plot or character; the titular Valentine changes, and goes through the odd bit of danger, but once the first of its five sections is over and he’s become unequivocally convinced that he is, indeed, the Lord Valentine of the title, the Coronal of the entire planet (“king”, basically, though it’s not entirely hereditary), mind-swapped into an amnesiac body as far from his castle as it’s possible to get, pretty much every obstacle is solved by Valentine thinking really, really hard at someone and convincing them that he is the Coronal, which almost invariably results in them immediately going to their knees and accepting his complete authority. The only people he can’t sway like this are the shape-shifting natives of the planet, and since that encounter takes place midway through the book, it’s pretty obvious that he’s going to find a way out.

Those almost invariable results of “I was wrong to ever deny you anything, o great and powerful Lord Valentine!” bring me to something I’m not entirely certain Silverberg intended: this story is wholly built around the assumption that Valentine’s office is divinely ordained. There is nobody who questions whether or not he is fit to rule once they have been convinced that he is really who he says he is. He is the Coronal, and everyone across Majipoor venerates the Coronal. It’s a curiously traditional attitude for a book advertising itself as SF to take (though this is the softest of soft SF, really it’s just an excuse for a fantasy land with occasional lasers and an assortment of critters who aren’t straight out of Tolkien).

There are a couple of bits where this is vaguely touched on. Characters talk about how the false Coronal is poisoning the entire world with his succession of selfish decrees designed to enrich himself and his cronies, and to fight against his fears. Which, well, those sure resonated with the end of 2020 in the United States, where we have a con man who stumbled into being the President and ended up making the country literally sick with his botched, selfish response to a pandemic that sprung up just before the last year of the first term. Though I think Trump is more a symptom of a sickness that’s been growing in this country for my entire life, if not for its entire history.

And if you care about spoilers for a forty year old book, do not click through to read more… Continue reading

long day

Today I went to the park with Nick and read a while, and also sat there listening to a distant band playing and watched the tiny trains now fitted out with plexiglass shields between the seats pass by, and felt like the place I’d moved back to was just about as magical as all the phantasmagorical cities described in the book I was reading (Lord Valentine’s Castle, by Robert Silverberg).

And then we went home and I hopped on the bike and went down to the hardware store where I got a new shower head and a long strip of edging; I was mostly there for the latter, which I intend to nail onto the bottom of the doors to deal with the fact that there is a gap between them and the floor that’s probably big enough for a tiny kitten to squirm under, not a thing you want when one of the cats who lives under the house came inside and said “hi I don’t know what’s happening” and ejected two tiny kittens into our lives. (Said cat is currently living in a box in Nick’s room, nursing those two kittens.) Cycling home with an eight foot piece of wood strapped to the side of my bicycle was awkward but surprisingly easier than I feared it might be.

And then I went out to pick up some barbecue for dinner and when I got back it was just in time to see the mama cat trying to cover up after pooping on the yoga mats in front of my standing desk, because we had changed the litter to something theoretically more suitable for tiny kittens than expanding clay bits, and she no longer registered it as a place to poop and had been holding it all day.

So after cleaning that up I hopped on my bike again and went out to grab some litter than I hope she will find more acceptable and we refilled the litter box and we very pointedly refrained from screaming at this poor little kitty who is probably already weirded out by the change from outdoors cat to indoors cat.

And then after some video games to de-stress I put in the new shower head and took a shower and that was really really really good.

Also goddamnit I upgraded my site’s WordPress installation the other day and now the Classic Editor is broken and I have to use the new editor and I really hate it. I accidentally hit return in the middle of the previous paragraph and I could not reconnect the resulting two paragraphs by hitting delete, it is really annoying.

forget it, peg, it’s halloweentown

So there I was sitting in Bean Gallery thinking “I should try to do a Halloween costume doodle of my fursona that’s not a witch”. Because “witch” is totally the default costume for my fursona.

I tried a couple of things and then I was like, hey, she is completely pitch black, and it is eighty two degrees farenheit at the beginning of October down here in New Orleans, “nothing but some bone body paint” is an option. And some panties because we do have public nudity laws down here.

Since moving back down here after experiencing a decade and a half of Actual Winter, I find it kind of amazing that I never really thought about how different Halloween is down here from the version presented in most American media, which is pretty much always set in a New England fall where it’s actually getting chilly. Same with Christmas, really – all that snow is so foreign to what “winter” is like down here where we start whining about how cold it is around the mid-sixties.

The Dance Of The Fourth Veil

Around a month ago, I was lying in bed, just kind of zoning out. And I had this image float into my head, of a decadent ruler’s court, with a heap of half-naked people around their feet, a dancer swishing away in the foreground, and shafts of light passing through it.

I decided I wanted to draw it. So I got up and roughed something out. Added some quick flat color to distinguish the characters fro each other, and grabbed some cloud styles from a previous piece to let me quickly paint a nice tropical sunset sky. And some numbers on it so I could post it as what the furry scene refers to as a “group YCH” – that stands for Your Character Here, a kind of commission where the general pose is set, and the client gets to have it finished as their character, with varying amounts of input onto costuming and backgrounds.

I posted it on Furaffinity and it ended up having a few slots get bid up a lot. Including the “pet” slot in the front, which I’d kind of added as a joke – there was a new furry art site making the rounds at the time that was having a very loud debate on whether or not it was going to ban horny art of “feral” characters, which is to say “animals who talk but are still clearly animals, rather than animal-head people”.

I collected references, and spent about a month working on it. It probably would have taken half the time if I hadn’t been fighting a laptop whose battery life had dropped to a half hour, though September was a crazy month all around even without that…

Here’s a thread on Mastodon with a bunch of WIP shots, if you are curious how I go about something like this. It’s definitely an organizational challenge to orchestrate reference art for ten different characters, all the parts of the sketches, and the actual finished art.

also here is a naked version, click for embiggenation.

test post, please ignore

just trying the LJ-XP plugin to see if it’ll work with Dreamwidth again (nope: “Could not connect to www.dreamwidth.org. This post has not been crossposted. (-32300 : transport error – HTTP status code was not 200)”

and resetting JournalPress (the one that used to work) results in me not even being able to enter my account here (“Could not connect to user egypturnash at www.dreamwidth.org!”)

very helpful guys, it’d be nice to know what the http error actually WAS

 

anyway I have made a reply to the last Dreamwidth news post, which is about them dealing with a Livejournal password breach, and fits quite nicely into the gap between the last post that showed up over there and the next one I made…

coruscation

I just put together a little Automatic Kirby Krackle style that I’m pretty happy with. It could be better and maybe it will be by the time I’m done with the drawing I’m doing it for, but it’s more than good enough right now.

The top is the lines I drew, the bottom is what Illustrator turns it into when I use the following Appearance stack:

The magic here is in setting the “coruscation” scatter brush stroke to 0% opacity, and turning on Knockout Group for the whole path. This makes the brush’s clearness punch through everything applied to the path, instead of overlaying it on top of whatever other strokes and fills are applied below it.

And to give you a start on this, here’s the current brush settings. If I really wanted a serious Kirby Krackle I’d probably have two or three copies of the brush, one for big balls closer to the edge of the shape, one for smaller balls that go further in, and maybe one somewhere in between.

 

(Why has this been sitting in my drafts for a month and a half, this looks perfectly postable…)

repair

October. The month of Halloween. The month when artists argue about whether or not #inktober is a valid lists of prompts to use if you’re not doing work in real, actual ink. Or now the month when artists do a zillion other hashtag-something-tober set of daily drawings from a zillion prompt lists because it turns out that the guy behind Inktober is a butt who put together a book on ink drawing under the Inktober brand and straight-up swiped some exercises from another artist. I could perhaps defend some of this, most art manuals are full of stuff swiped from the manuals that influenced the people who wrote them, but honestly I am just fucking sick of Inktober and the way it seems to have stopped being a fun thing artists do and turned into a thing you have to do to help Promote Your Brand On The Internet; seeing various friends doing prompt lists spawned by smaller communities feels a lot better.

But for me it’s been #waitformycomputertoberepairtober. The battery on my Macbook Pro has been failing. Again. About a year and a half after I got it, it started constantly saying “Service Battery” and giving me about a half hour of life; I took it in to the Seattle Apple Store and got them to take it in for repair on the second trip (“yes, I reset the fucking SMC and tried the battery recondition process, it is still fucked, okay?”).

They replaced a significant chunk of the computer along with the battery because unwinding it from the keyboard, trackpad, and whatnot is a major hassle. It was under warranty so it was free and that was nice.

And then a year and a half later it started doing the same shit. There is a design flaw with this particular model (2017 13″ laptop, no touchbar) where it just fucks its batteries up. And annoyingly this coincided with the beginning of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (aka COVID-19, aka The ‘Rona) hitting the USA. Apple closed down their New Orleans store, and so did the one Authorized Repair Shop in the city, so getting it repaired became much more of a hassle. I got an external battery and made do for a while. It was a bit better when the computer actually figured out that 3/4 of its battery capacity was gone, and started performing emergency hibernations again instead of just shutting down and losing work. But it was still a giant hassle.

My extended warranty expired. It was gonna cost money now. So I kept on putting it off until one day near the end of September it decided not to charge from one of its two USBC ports. Yeah. Time to deal with this despite being afraid that Turmp’s attempts to fuck with the forthcoming election by ruining the USPS would mean I’d be without a computer wayyyy too long. Luckily it ended up being shipped FedEx, and went well around the hurricane hitting the coast between New Orleans and Houston in the week I ended up shipping the damn thing. Apple sent me a box with some very clever foam inserts to keep it cushioned, and a list of stuff to do that included “BACK YO SHIT UP, WE DON’T WANT TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR LIFE’S WORK FFS” and “also we do not want to know a goddamn thing about what you keep on your computer so turn on full disk encryption and save everyone a lot of potential trouble”.

So now here I am with a new keyboard that displays none of the history of which keys I hit the most (slightly off from the usual ETAOIN SHRLDU frequency due to Illustrator hotkey choice, and of course cmd-z to undo), new ports, new trackpad, and most importantly a new battery. And the expectation that I will be doing this again around the spring of 2022. Which is also close to when the third generation of Airs running on the new ARM architecture will be out, and perhaps I will just switch back to those – I miss the all-day battery life that Airs tend to have! I need a lot of CPU for Illustrator to do its thing but I suspect by then the Airs will be leaving this Pro in the dust. But at least for now I’ve been sitting here doing web browsing for about two hours since getting it back, and it still has about 20% of the battery left. Freedom!


Also we now have a box full of one mother cat and two kittens in Nick’s room.

Sugarfoot does not officially live here. She lives under this house and the neighboring house with her mother Shadow, her younger (half?)brother Shemp, and her even younger (half?)siblings Arthur, Peebles, and CJ/potato. She and her mama and three siblings who have since left were here when we got here, thanks in no small part to the lady who lived in the other half of this shotgun double providing a place for Shadow to have litters. But now she has moved elsewhere and we have been giving serious thought to getting all these cats fixed, because we really do not want to help raise a couple of litters every year. Thankfully Sugarfoot has provided us with a smaller litter than her mom. Who we really hope is not currently also pregnant.

standardization was nice until it interfered with profits

Twitter decided a ton of people were bots today, including me. Turns out that when Twitter decides you’re a bot, it completely flushes your following list. I’m now following absolutely nobody. There’s still people following me and they seem to be seeing my tweets, so I guess that is vaguely good.

And I guess I could try and rebuild the list of who I’m following from scratch – go back through my replies and look at who I was actually talking to, stuff like that – but honestly, that’s more effort than I want to put into Fucking Twitter.

So rather than try to rebuild that on Twitter I decided to see if I could go oldschool and get an RSS reader going. Poke all the people I want to follow and ask if they have accounts elsewhere, plug those into the reader and be free of any one particular site to maintain contact with anyone. And, wow, I sure do miss the days when every social networky site generated an RSS feed (or its descendants) for every account, because nothing does that any more, because why would they ever want to let you see the stuff you’re actually visiting the site to see without interleaving it with as much Highly-Engaging Content and advertisements as possible? Gotta sell those targeted market sectors to anyone with some ad dollars to spare.

There are sites out there that will scrape these advertising spigot hellsites and create feeds, and I guess I’m gonna have to get some of that going – maybe there’s an RSS reader that knows how to do this natively for some sites, who knows, maybe there’s one that talks to a scraping service transparently whenever you paste in a CorporateHellsite.com/interesting_person URL, I gotta do some research – but ugh, fuck this whole industry that’s sprung up around letting people share news of what they’re doing without having to set up a website from scratch.

Anyway, if I was following you on Twitter and you feel like your life will be made sadder without me occasionally commenting on the snippets you shared online, then drop a comment here with a bunch of accounts. Or a link to one place where all your accounts are listed – that place for me is is the front of my website.

I Am Not Milton Glaser

But I think if I wanted to, I could ape this definitively-seventies style of his pretty well; this is about twenty minutes of idle doodling and playing with Live Paint. It’s a very different workflow from my normal one.

parental politics

I am sitting here on a cloudy day and I am listening to Enya and I am contemplating how lucky I was to have two parents who were liberal urbanites. So many of my friends were fleeing conservative, rural upbringings, and here I was with a mother who completely supported my transition.

I can’t be sure that my parents would 100% agree with all of my current political views, the Silent Generation just has a different reflexive reaction to the word “socialism” than a GenXer who’s spent her whole life with everything that remotely smacks of “what if society gave something to everyone instead there being seven middlemen taking a cut in every aspect of everyone’s lives” as “socialism”. But they were left-leaning for the entire length of their lives that overlapped with mine, with careers and passions that kept them a good way out of the Fox News spiral. It’s really hard to imagine a world where they are both still alive and voting Republican, it feels much more likely to imagine my mom dragging herself to the local DSA meetings if she hadn’t died a few years back, to be honest.

And it is kind of depressing to realize that this is so not the norm across all of America. I wish all of my friends could have hippie lefty parents like I did.