Tuesday, September 3, 2013

RAQ 2013: The Rarely Asked Questions

It's my birthday! And that means it's time for the R.A.Q. – the Rarely Asked Questions. Here, I celebrate my birthday by collecting and answering questions that readers normally never ask anyone. They can be as serious or as absurd as they liked. Here we go…

1. Nicholas Sabin asked: If Jesus Christ played Dynasty Warriors, who would he play as? Follow-up: Could he defeat Lu Bu at Hu Lao Gate?
Nick Sabin, going for blasphemy out of the gate.

I suspect Christ would play as one of the Qiaos, as he was about empowerment of the least of us, and they are the youngest, the least consequential, most disenfranchised and most underpowered characters. He might co-op with his Dad as the other Qiao.

And by Dynasty Warriors 7, anyone can beat Lu Bu at Hu Lao Gate. Christ, however, wouldn't need to abuse the save feature and by the end Lu Bu would be renamed "Paul".

2. Tony Noland asked: If using normal baryonic matter accelerated to 0.2C, how hard would I have to hit Mars to initiate a self-stabilizing magnetic field?
Understand that if you've already fixed your matter and your speed for impact, then adjusting the "hardness" of the blow is quite difficult. Moreso the Moh's hardness for pentaquarks. Given that you're hoping to initiate a field, which must mean rebooting or hijacking Mars's own, I'll hazard that you'll have to hit it quite hard indeed.

3. Chaz asked: The Greek description of the sky is 'bronze' for it shone as bronze. If there were no color adjectives or understanding how would you describe the sky? Blood? The ocean after a storm?
Chaz here is clearly playing to my deep and abiding love of Homer. God bless you, atheist.

I suspect my system would be based on decoration and opacity. Here night and day are irrelevant, as during both there is some illumination that defines by degree of presence. We'll describe the sky by how many clouds and how thick they are; partially cloudy, overcast, mild and diffused haze, or the super-cast as when you can't even make out the contours of the cloud system taking up the sky. Storm lighting utterly differs, and so it stands out. This also allows for days and nights of particularly light-intensity. Cloudlessness would be "full sky," whereas a super-cast time would be "absent sky." When the sky is full of birds, "birdy sky." Full of locusts, "pestilent sky."

By not actually describing the sky itself here, but rather degrees of interference with its visibility, we will supply young artists the ability to feel clever at the expense of the vernacular for generations to come.

4. Danielle La Paglia asked: I know everyone likes to ask funny questions, but I'm not a very funny person, so...what book has had the biggest emotional impact on you? Whether it made you actually cry or laugh or love (despite your granite heart) or whether it changed you in some profound way or gave you hope or spurred you on...whatever your definition of "emotional impact" is, I'll take it.
You're right that it's difficult for fiction to have significant effects on me. I know Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Roger Zelazny's "Divine Madness" both got me to gasp and take a few minutes to collect my mind at their conclusions – maybe the only thing the two stories have in common are absolutely crystalline final paragraphs. Zelazny's Lord of Light did that to me at least four times over the course of the novel, so that would be a leader in the category. Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the only poem to suck me in deeply for its poetry.

But as far as writing, let me hazard that it's the junction between two authors: J.R.R. Tolkien and Akira Toriyama. The former wrote The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, so classic, so immersive, so brilliantly escapist that two generations of writers ripped him off to disgusting degrees. But very shortly after I read these books, I read Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball (not the later Dragon Ball Z – though I happily read that later).

Tolkien gave me kings and wizards on horse back with staves and swords and magic rings out to fight armies of orcs and braving into a volcano.

Toriyama, abruptly, gave me a monkey-boy who thought a magic ball was his grandfather, cars fleeing from dinosaurs, a perverted martial arts god in a Hawaiian shirt and clouds you can only ride in you're innocent.

If I'd gone from Tolkien to Wheel of Time or Lyonesse or Sword of Truth, I might have gotten mired in the Medievalist mindset forever, but because I had these two wildly different visions of the Fantastic, it left me always thinking about how much fit in Fantasy's boundaries. It's why, today, I'm stunned by how little apparently fits into what's supposed to be "Epic Fantasy."

That's certainly why you got Puddle out of me.

5. Katherine Hajer asked: When do you sleep?
Answer: Optimally, from midnight to nine in the morning. It's been off lately since visiting Texas's timezone and WorldCon's insane anti-sleep schedule. You are now amply educated to rob me.

6. Helen Howell asked: How do you stop your worm from slipping down the plughole when you wash it in the sink? (worms are covered in dirt!)
While I have limited experience with worm-cleansing, I would always stop the plughole up with a drain cover before cleansing began. This prevents aquatic descent.

7. Larry Kollar asked: You're in your writing spot. You look out the window (if you don't have one, pretend). What do you see?
I'm fortunate enough to have a real writing spot – my desk, by my window, in my room. I have a privileged view of the top of the woods descending toward the lake, and while I cannot see any water, the other half of my view is raw sky. For more on that view, see Chaz's question.

In Winter it snows over; other seasons I get to watch the life span of leaves. I cherish working to it.

8. Valerie Valdes asked: If you could have written any story or novel by someone else, which would it be?
Ooo, there have been very few works that struck me with serious writing envy, but they definitely exist. Most commonly I find a work fascinating and am grateful for the creator, thinking about their process, rather than imagining emulation. Jo Walton's Among Others, Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, Guy Gavriel Kay's River of Stars – I wish I had the time write like that too while also writing the works I already do, I wish I'd done something in that neighborhood, but really, I'm just inspired by their existence. I don't envy or desire to swipe destiny.

The second Lupin the 3rd television series was one envy-project – so funny, such character, and when my Trio novels see the light of day, you'll see the obvious influences. Similarly, I'd write the heck out of Gail Simone's Agent X and was unduly influenced by her.

The movie Stranger Than Fiction explored and even executed several meta-fictional ideas I'd been playing with for years. That's a case of someone beating me to the public. I envied them insofar as I wanted to get my take on something so defined by ideas that I couldn't write it and stand apart after they got to it. Jerks. Smart, talented jerks.

9. Medeia Sharif asked: Think about your skills, talents, quirks...everything. If you were a computer software, what would be your function in someone's computer?
Firefox browser. Dozens of tabs open, studying several topics and participating in too many conversations for my own good until I trip over my own re-hashed coding and crash.

10. Scribbler asked: How important is the reader?
Important enough that I'm answering any questions they have!

The slightly more serious point is that they're vital to the career of any good writer. I had the pleasure of boarding a plane Monday with Mary Robinette Kowal, who played down that she'd succeeded because of talent or hard work. To her it was the readers who supported her career and gave her this status.

11. Elephant's Child asked: Is life random, or is there meaning?
Both suppositions are exceedingly true. Complexity Theory demonstrates for us that many systems in which life exists or is comprised have chaotic and random sets of particles and outcomes. However, elements of randomness can only be identified because they are meaningful. If anything were meaningless, we wouldn't be able to recognize it. Finding, creating and encouraging positive meaning has been much of my best experiences of God.

12. Peter Newman asked: How would you define yourself as a D&D character? I'm talking class (or multi-class), race, alignment, stats.
Did Peter ask this because he knows I hate the false reductionism of D&D? That's a question I don't normally ask.

The first time friends goaded me into playing D&D, I defined myself as a midget orc. Thus I had lower than average intelligence and appearance, but none of the physical benefits of being monstrous. True to myself, his religion was ALL, and he believed himself to be chaotic-something-or-other. For the sake of the experiment, let's say I'm Chaotic Good because I mean well but don't know what I'm doing as often as I ought and that takes me down many ethical alleys.

And that wraps up everyone who asked me rare things this year! I'm off to find birthday cake. Did you enjoy the Q&A?


  1. Roger Zelazny - cool choice.
    Happy birthday, John!

  2. Loved the questions and answers - and a happy, happy cake filled (both real and metaphorical cake) day and year to you.

  3. Those questions and answers are WAY too complicated for this old brain... you keep having birthdays and you'll see what I mean. Pretty soon all your answers will be "Wha?"


  4. Happy birthday! Nice view. Eat some of that red velvet cake at the window.

  5. Happy Birthday! Best wishes for many, many more!

  6. Happy Birthday, John! And thanks for sharing your RAQ with us again. I'm grateful for anything that brought me Puddle and Stranger Than Fiction is one of my all time favorite movies and concepts.

  7. I enjoyed. Wonderful question and some really great answers. Enjoy the cake!

  8. Cheers to the Birthday Boy from Disney World!!!

  9. Happy Birthday! This was fun to read. I'm struck by how many bloggers I could have met had I gone to WorldCon. A friend tried to convince me, but I needed to avoid spending the money. Little sad that I didn't get out there to meet everyone.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  10. Happy belated birthday. I couldn't think of any rarely asked questions (as I'm introverted enough that my rarely asked questions are also my 'never-asked-questions' so it's hard to come up with any... as I never ask them... LOL) I did enjoy reading your answers, though.

  11. Happy belated! Follow-up question: what kind of cake did you have?


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