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If you've read my blog for any length of time, or for that matter been on the Internet for any length of time, you've probably encountered the phrase "motte and bailey argument" or "motte and bailey doctrine" before.

A motte and bailey argument is an argument in which you believe something, but you don't really have a good justification for it. So when you're attacked, you retreat into a different, much more specific belief, for which you do have a good argument. When the attack is over, you come back out to your original, more general belief, the one that's harder to justify.

An example of a motte and bailey argument I hear in polyamory circles all the damn time is this one:

"You need to have a veto in your relationship if you want your primary relationships to stay healthy."

"Veto doesn't necessarily keep relationships healthy. In fact, using a veto on someone your partner loves can break your partner's heart, and if you break your partner's hert then you are going to damage your relationship."

"But a veto just means you can discuss your concerns with your partner! It means you can talk about problems you see in their other relationships! You favor open communication in your relationships, right?"

"Yes."

"So you agree, all poly relationships need veto."


In this argument, the bailey is a need for veto, usualy understood to mean the unilateral and unquestioned ability to end a lover's other relationship. This is a difficult position to defend, so when called, a person may retreat into the motte ("When I say 'veto,' I'm only talking about open communication!"), then, when the argument is over, go back to advocating for unilateral and unquestioned ability to end a lover's other relationship.

The Motte and Bailey argument comes from a style of fortification called a "motte and bailey," which is a place where an area of land that's difficult to defend (the bailey) is overlooked by an easily defensible structure (the motte). If raiders or an enemy army or whatever show up, you evacuate the bailey, bringing all the people into the motte. The he motte can be defended from attack. When the attached tack is over, everyone goes back out into the bailey.

Okay, so now that you're up to speed...

The town of Lincoln in northern Britain is home to a motte and bailey castle, called, appropriately enough, Lincoln Castle. Naturally, I had to visit.




Lincoln Castle was built somewhere around 1068 or so, and has been in use continuously ever since. It's an unusual motte and bailey structure in that it actually has two baileys. The motte is a smooth, round valley between two hills. Naturally, since if one is good, two must be better, William the Conquerer built two baileys, one on each hill, and there you have it.

Originally, the motte was completely enclosed by a wood fence, and both baileys were built of wood. It was replaced over the years centuries with beefier fortifications of stone. Today, nothing remains of the original wood structures.

Lincoln Castle is still in use today--the castle is now the courthouse and, from what I gather, capitol building for Lincoln. The rest is an open-air museum. We had a blast running around the place.



Here's a view from one of the two mottes, looking down into the bailey. The round structure on the left is the fortified gate through the outer wall. The red brick structure to the right is an old Victorian-era prison. The round tower in the background is the second motte, because you know what they say about mottes: you can never stop at just one.



Here's what's left of the second motte, seen from the middle of the bailey.

As soon as I found out that Lincoln Castle has two mottes, I immediately, on that very spot, registered the domain name twomottesonebailey.com -- though I have absolutely no idea what I will use it for. Suggestions?



The second motte, which is in much better shape than the first. The tower still exists, though most of the rest of it is now a broken, hollowed-out shell in which it would be tremendous fun to film a cheesy low-budget movie.



See what I mean? This place is just screaming for orcs or spectral knights or some sort of special effect where mist flows through the windows before congealing into an undead sorceror or something.



The fortification has two gates, one on each side. Breaking in through one of these gates would be a nontrivial undertaking for sure. In the background, between the two trees, is a place where the wall widens into a large round structure that contains cells where prisoners due to be executed were chained up prior to being hanged--more on that in a minute.





Here's the actual "castle" bit of Lincoln castle. It has been the administrative center and courthouse for Lincoln for...oh, for longer than the country I live in has been a country, honestly. It's still used today, which is why I have no photos of the inside. Tourists aren't allowed in, being that it's a functional courthouse and all.



The Victorian prison. Touring this was interesting. Whenever I see something like this, I always wonder how many innocent people were sentenced here, and how many people ended up here for political rather than criminal justice reasons.

The inside had rather more windows than I expected, though I suppose in an age without electric lights, that makes sense.





Prisoners were kept in cells lining both sides of the stacked corridors. The building is divided into two halves, one for male and one for female prisoners. More on that in a minute, too.

Some of the cells were used by the prisoners to do tasks like washing laundry, making bedrolls, or stamping license plates.



This left fewer cells for actual housing of prisoners, so they were stacked in like cordwood.



Though to be fair, I have stayed in a hostel whose accommodations were roughly similar.

This being Victorian times, God was kind of a big deal (those Victorians were quite the bunch of God-botherers, even as they did the most ungodly of things), so of course the prison had a chapel, and of course, attendance was mandatory.



Each pew was a separate room, divided from its neighbors by a little door, presumably to make it more difficult for the prisoners to shank each other during services, that being considered rather uncouth and all. The prisoners could not see each other, but the person delivering the sermon could see all the prisoners, cleverly combining the functions of a chapel and a panopticon into one (a Chapelopticon? Panchapelcon? I don't know). Thus do we see religion reflected in architecture. God sees you, so stop doing that thing you do with your private parts ands that feather duster, you pervert.

I was, while we toured the prison, engaging in cybersex with a lovely woman who lives in Waterloo, Ontario, which was a bit freaky. I have now imprinted on Victorian prisons as arousal triggers. There's no way that can go wrong.

So yeah, executions. The Victorians were big on 'em. They'd kill you just as soon as look at you. Steal something? Say something bad about the king? Poke a badger with a spoon? You're a dead man walking.

Or women. They were remarkably egalitarian in the judicial application of death.

They had special cells in that bulge in the wall I mentioned earlier. They look like this:



Each one had a steel ring set in the wall, to which they would literally chain the condemned.



On the appointed day, after the crowds had gathered, they'd unchain the people, lead them out into the bailey, and kill them for the entertainment of the guests justice and peace of the land.

And yes, there were crowds. Big ones. People who lived in houses near the walls would rent out second-story rooms with a view at exorbitant rates to folks who wanted a good view. Apparently, there was a full-on riot on execution day when the star of the show had ruined everyone's entertainment by committing suicide earlier on--the people demanded to see someone be killed, but the prison didn't have anyone else to kill that day, and it was all a hell of a mess.

I guess that's what happens before the age of Marvel superhero movies.

So anyway, one of the Victorian prison wardens was a man of Science, who installed a telescope in one of the mottes so he could look at the stars. Err, yeah, that's right, the stars. To look at. In the sky. Stars.

Remember how I said the prison was divided into a male and a female wing? Female prisoners were kept in the back, and allowed into an outdoor courtyard behind the motte.



Here's a view from the observatory the warden built for his telescope.



...yeah. Apparently, from what our tour guide said, he had sevral illegitimate children with several different female prisoners.

Those whacky Victorians, amirite?




There is one other bit I don't have photos of, because photos aren't allowed in the super special room where it's kept: the Magna Carta.

Yes, the Magna Carta, one of the original handwritten copies. It's here, in a climate controlled room with the text of the thing up on the wall.

And there, right at eye level smack dab in the middle of this enormous wall of text, is Clause 54:

No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband.


Even back then, women's voices were never taken seriously.


Fragments of SquiggleCon: Writing Erotica

The various evil things spearheaded by my crush notwithstanding, being able to spend time with her in Europe was fantastic fun.

For the past several months, we've been talking about collaborating on a writing project. She has built a fascinating world—a quasi-steampunk, high-tech, post-scarcity society with advanced biomedical technology ruled over by more or less benevolent AIs, worshipped as gods, who are fascinated by human sexuality, and so have bent the entire society toward the intersection of sex and religion.

It's a fun (and hot!) place to visit. We want to create a book of erotic short stories set in that world.

While we were all in Europe, she and I officially started that project...using her body as a canvas. She brought a collection of fountain pens with her. I spent a couple of hours in the orgy room, beginning the writing of the book..on her back.



This his is, I think, probably the most unusual way I have ever started writing a book.

I have no idea when it will be finished; there are a number of writing projects ahead of it, and I'm still shopping for a publisher. (I am considering pitching it to Cleis and Circlet.) Still, I'm really excited about this book!

As a side note, writing on human skin with a fountain pen is remarkably difficult. Also, remarkably fun.


A short while ago, someone on Quora asked the question, What is the kinkiest sex toy you have ever used? It's a tricky question, but not for the reasons you might think. And I'm afraid the answer involves math.

And prime numbers. Hang on, I'll get to that.

I own three violet wands. I sometimes use one of them with a body contract probe while I hold a giant Medieval battle axe. Touching someone with the axe causes all these lovely blue sparks to jump from the axe to the person I’m touching. There are folks who think that’s kinky, and folks who are like “Violet wand? Ho hum.”

I have a set of poi-handled floggers. I can spin them the same way I spin fire, flogging the holy hell out of a partner while looking stylish doing it. I recently did so to my wife in front of a small audience. But at the end of the day, no matter how flashy your technique, floggers are still floggers—they're pretty much entry-level kink toys.

I have a straitjacket I’m quite fond of. I’ve been placed in that straitjacket by my partner Zaiah while she pegs me with a custom-modified strapon.

I have a sound. I got it on my wedding trip; it was used on me by my wife and my girlfriend at one of the wedding orgies. Actually, I now have two sounds, one of which I got recently in Boston—that will be the subject of a future episode of this series. (It involves churches and my crush. It's a good story.)



The sound almost got me in trouble, in fact. I was flying back from the wedding when the TSA agent ran my carry-on bag through the security X-ray multiple times, then finally tore it apart and found the sound, which was tucked (naturally) in my toiletries kit.

"What's this?" he asked. "Is this a weapon?"

"No, it's a sex toy," I said, and explained how it was used. He tucked it hurriedly back in my bag and waved me on my way.

But I digress.

Even a lot of hardcore kinksters wince and cover their nethers at the notion of sounding, but that doesn’t necessarily make a sound a kinky toy; the first time Maxine ever sounded me, she used a smooth aluminum chopstick. Are chopsticks kinky?

That's the problem with asking "what's the kinkiest sex toy you've ever used?" Kink is in the person using it, not in the thing itself.




So let's talk kink. And math. And probability. And prime numbers.

Right now, the kinkiest thing in my repertoire is probably this:



It's a six-sided die, unremarkable except that it's made of aluminum rather than plastic, because metal dice are cool.

Before I headed out to Europe for SquiggleCon, my wife, my partners, and my crush started a private Facebook group to discuss what to do with me. Or, more accurately, to me.

It was generally agreed that if I was to be in Europe at an extended orgiastic gathering in rural England, I should be in the proper...err, frame of mind for the event.

So the women in my life schemed and plotted, and hatched a Plan.

For the six weeks prior to flying to Europe, I would, each day, roll one six sided die. The day's roll would be multiplied by the previous day's roll, producing a number between one and thirty-six. That number would be the number of times I would edge myself that day.

Orgasm, however, was strictly forbidden.

For six weeks.

This had, as you might well imagine, Gentle Reader, the effect of focusing my mind to a laser-like sharpness, oh yes it did. You don't know what "horny" is until you've spent six weeks in mandatory compulsory edging without gratification.

The idea was to do far more than keep me horny, though of course having one be horny at an orgy has benefits self-evident to the most casual of observers.

No, they wanted me horny and malleable. It was hoped that the lengthy period of frustration might put me in a psychological state where I was more suggestible and more given over to doing whatever I was told.

When I was lying in bed one night after a particularly long session of self-non-gratification, my mind went, as it often does, to mathematics. I tried to figure out what the probability distribution for multiplied dice rolls was.

This is not easy to figure out.

If you add dice rolls, you get a perfect Gaussian distribution, as any player of pen and paper role-playing games well knows. The distribution of two six-sided dice added together looks just like you'd expect it to.



Look at that symmetry! Look at that perfectly even distribution! You know what you're getting, when you roll 2d6.

But what happens if you multiply the numbers instead of adding them?

Well, then the situation goes all cattywumpus. There is no beautiful symmetry, no lovely, lovely Gaussian distribution. The probability graph is disconnected and helter-skelter.

One thing you might immediately recognize is that when you multiply the results of two six-sided dice together, you can never get a result that's a prime number greater than 5.

What's less intuitively obvious, until you think about it just a bit more, is you can also never get a number that has a prime factor greater than 5. 14, for example, is right out.

The probability graph looks like this:



Just...just look at that abomination!The most probable numbers are 6 and 12, with about an 11% chance of either. There's a great void between 25 and 30, and another between 30 and 36. You can get a 1....and it's exactly as probable as getting a 9.

It's very untidy.

It's a bit more useful to look at the probabilities as a matrix rather than a graph. When you do, you see that this matrix has interesting properties along every row, column, and diagonal.



This mathematical construct shaped my experience every day for more than six weeks. This seething, chaotic mess had me a seething, chaotic mess by the time I arrived in Europe. With the poi-handled floggers and the sound and the other kinky toys I own (lesson learned, by the way: put your sounds in checked luggage!).

Kink is always in the people. Using dice to change someone's psychological state so as to make them more obedient and open to suggestion? I'd say that's...relatively kinky.

The sound did end up getting used (several times, once while I was wearing the straitjacket), but is that the kinkiest toy I've used?

For right now, I'm going to go with no, the kinkiest toy I've used is...the humble six-sided die.

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In my last blog post, I mentioned that Lincoln Cathedral has become my favorite of all the various houses of worship I've visited.

Of course, this honor is conditional; I have not yet seen the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona--a place that's been on my bucket list for decades--so there's no telling how long Lincoln Cathedral will retain its heavyweight title.

It may be a tough challenge, though. Lincoln Cathedral is gorgeous. I spent a day there prior to the Black Iron photo shoot, taking (literally) hundreds of photos. During the shoot, we went up on the roof, which let us see some parts of the cathedral not normally visible to guests, and man, there's not a nook or cranny that is not magnificent.

Which is remarkable, considering how many nooks and crannies there are. You could say the whole place is made of nooks and crannies.

So without further ado, check it!























Yes, I am an atheist. I still love cuurches and cathedrals. They are among the finest examples of awesome architecture, and I use the word "awesome" in its original, literal meaning--architecture intended to inspire awe.

If you were a peasant living in a tiny thatched-roof shack with a dirt floor, this place must seem almost incomprehensibly grand to you. How else but through the grace of a supernatural entity could such a thing ever come to exist?

Someone needs to write a book about the use of architecture to evoke emotional response. I would read the hell out of that book.

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I'm now back in the US after spending a week in Europe with the extended poly network, in which we rented a manor in the English countryside for debauchery and mayhem (an event we called "SquiggleCon 2"), followed by a week in Boston with my crush, who is now my "um, something something relationship," as we're calling it.

Now, a week in the rural English countryside with more than a dozen sex-positive, kinky people might seem invitation to nonstop orgiastic bliss, and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong to think so.

But having reached A Certain Age, namely, that age where orgies and similar sexual shenanigans are not exactly a rare event, but being in the English countryside is, joreth and I took a couple of days off to explore the nearby towns.




As regular readers may already know, my first professionally published novel, Black Iron, comes out this October. It's a Discworld-style romp through an alternate 19th-century England, one where Queen Victoria doesn't exist, the Protestant Reformation never happened, the Colonies are still Colonies, and the British don't drink tea. It features a princess and a ruffian and an overworked police constable and undead things made of other things.

Inspired by one of the scenes in the book, in which the Lady Alÿs, the aforementioned princess, is attending a formal dance aboard Queen Margaret's airship when she witnesses a strange little man Peter Pan over the edge in the wake of an Unfortunate Discovery, joreth decided to make a dress modeled after the one the character wore to the dance. And since there's no cosplay like cosplay in an 800-year-old Gothic cathedral built atop a 1,000-year-old Norman church, we packed up, headed into Lincoln, and did an all-day photo shoot in a magnificent cathedral.

Lincoln Cathedral is magnificent indeed. I've been to some amazing houses of worship—I've seen Mass at St. Peter's in Rome and at Notre Dame; I've visited the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (Церковь Спаса на Крови) in St. Petersburg, Russia; I've looked out over Reykjavík from atop the peak of Hallgrímskirkja in Iceland; and I've climbed the 409 steps to the top of St. Mary's Church in Gdańsk, Poland—but Lincoln Cathedral may be my favorite. It's immense and beautiful and grand and awe-inspiring, and I spent two days of my seven days in England there.




joreth and I literally spent a solid day running about Lincoln Cathedral, camera in hand, and I think some of the images we got are quite grand. Take a look!



























Sex toy review: Lovense Hush

I met her at a castle in France. Twenty-two people or so all came together to celebrate the birthday of my partner Maxine in the best way kinky poly people know how: by spending a week having kinky group sex in a castle.

I found myself with a bit of a crush on her almost immediately. We had a lovely time snogging.

I talked about that crush in an answer on Quora, in fact.

Fast forward about eight years. I invited her to my wedding. We're all sitting there at dinner: me, my wife-to-be, Maxine (who graciously agreed to be the best man at the wedding), my other partners, the bridal party, mutual friends, when Maxine says "Hey Eunice, did you know Franklin has a crush on you? Check out what he wrote about you on Quora!"

Because that's just the kind of troublemaker Maxine is.


Maxine, me, Eunice, arranged in order of height but not in order of evil


Now, Eunice lives in London, and I do not. She also doesn't do long-distance relationships. So we're in a...well, let's just call our situation a "situationship" and leave it at that.

A long-distance situationship requires a fair bit of creativity, to overcome the logistical incompatibility inherent of being a very small creature living on a very large world.

Fortunately, we live in an era of technology. And the last half-decade has seen a renaissance in high-tech sex toys.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the culmination of thousands of years of relentless technological progress, stretching in an unbroken line from the first stone tools to the Information Age: the Lovense Hush.


So much better than flint knapping!


When you buy a sex toy that comes with a 40-page instruction booklet, you know you're in for a treat. (Granted part of the reason it's that long is it's written in several languages, but still.)

Remote-controlled sex toys are the greatest gift to long-distance relationships since the invention of writing.

They're not everything, of course. Part of the creativity we've had to exercise as part of this situationship has involved installing new server infrastructure in the house and brushing up on open-source streaming video server software. I now have a streaming camera in the bedroom that any of my partners can log in to so as to make sure I'm properly behaving myself, which, given the sorts of folks I like to date, generally means behaving very improperly indeed.

It was nice to find a turnkey gadget that allowed her to reach out and touch me without the need for fussing with Darwin Streaming Server or dynamic DNS configuration. The current state of the art in open source software is why we can't have nice things...but I digress.

This is a lovely device. It's absolutely fantastic fun. The smartphone software is easy to use, though you need to register an account with Lovense to make use of it...such is the nature of our modern, interconnected world. (And, as we recently discovered, it won't work long distance if the vendor's authentication servers are down. This, too, is the nature of our modern, interconnected world.)

While the Amazon description doesn't mention this, the control app included an alarm clock function.

Let me say that again to let the magnificence sink in: The app includes an alarm clock function! I anticipate that making waking up in the morning a whole lot more interesting.

The plug itself is quite well-designed and definitely stays put even when you're out and about. It's not silent, but it's a lot quieter than many other wearable toys I've used. In a normal environment like a restaurant, the sound it makes is not likely to be noticeable.

It offers powerful vibrations, of a deep, raspy sort. I quite prefer this to the high buzzing of some other vibrating toys.

From an engineering perspective, it's covered in silicone, but it is not solid silicone all the way through; the electronic gubbins are inside a hard plastic shell beneath the silicone. For that reason, it's a lot harder than pure silicone plugs. I was debating whether to get the small or large size. I'm glad I went with the small. (If you're contemplating getting one of these but on the fence as to size, I'd recommend going with the smaller size, simply because if you're accustomed to other toys the hardness of this one makes it feel a bit bigger than it is.)

The description advertises 1.5 to 2 hours of use. We get 2 or more, but that might be because my crush is a tease and likes to run it at low levels just to frustrate me. If it's not running at all, expect about a full day of standby power on one battery charge, which means if you're in, say, hypothetically speaking, just as a random example, the Pacific time zone, and your significant other is in London, and you wear it to bed, you might expect to be jolted out of your sleep at 4AM when your London partner is waking up for the morning. Just, you know, hypothetically speaking.

All in all, this thing is quite lovely. Definitely worth the price. We've talked about getting one for her.


My new book!

I was out on the porch enjoying the lovely Portland weather this morning when the postman came by with the advance review copies of my new novel, Black Iron,, straight from the publisher.



No, it's not about polyamory. Not at all.

So what's it about? Well, that's kinda hard to say. It’s a bit steampunk, if you interpret "steampunk" very loosely. It’s about a heist, kind of. Well, it’s really a murder mystery, sort of. No, wait, that’s not quite it. It’s a story of political intrigue, in a manner of speaking.

Think Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books or Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, only set in an alternate 19th-century London where there’s no British empire and the British don’t drink tea. (Joreth read the first draft and described it this way: "Imagine if Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman had a love child who grew up on a steady diet of George RR Martin.")

It’s the same kind of loopy, over-the-top humor that you see in books like Night Watch or Hitchhiker’s Guide, the sort of absurdist comedy that’s really social commentary.

There’s a petty thief and a princess, of course, because if you have a 19th-century heist political intrigue steampunk murder mystery, you have to have a petty thief and a princess—it’s required by law. There are undead things, after a fashion. There’s a cameo by Doctor Frankenstein; in this world, his experiments worked, but not quiiiiiiiite the way he expected them to.

There are airships. The New World colonies are still colonies. Oh, and people die, because we now live in a world where Game of Thrones is a thing, so gone are the assumptions that sympathetic characters are immune to being killed.

It's also available for preorder on Amazon (pub date is October 1).

Oh, and if you know anyone who would like an advance review copy, let me know!


Series review: Altered Carbon

Note: This post started out as an answer on Quora, but I thought it deserved its own space.

Very minor spoilers below.


If you haven't heard of it yet, Altered Carbon is a dystopian science fiction series on Netflix. It's based on the novel of the same name, a particularly bleak look into the future by Richard K. Morgan.



Now, I know what you're thinking. Dystopian scifi? Again? Hasn't that been done to death already?

No. Not like this.

First of all, this is a very dark show. I don’t mean dark like Blade Runner or Pan’s Labyrinth. I mean black. Black as midnight, black as pitch, blacker than the foulest witch. This show makes Silence of the Lambs look like Happy Fun Times with Rainbows and Unicorns. I know folks who got 2–3 episodes in and couldn’t keep watching it.

The show’s central tenet is that shortly after birth, everyone is fitted with a “stack,” a device that constantly backs up your memories and consciousness. If you’re ever killed, your stack can be removed from your body and placed in a new body. You can travel to other places by copying your stack into a new stack somewhere else, like transferring a file over the Internet...no need to get in an airplane (or spaceship!) and haul heavy, fragile bodies around.

Instantaneous travel! Death has been conquered! The show takes those Utopian premises and uses them to build a society that is almost unbelievably twisted, cruel, and bleak.

Imagine a society where people like a young Bill Gates—not the current mellow, charitable Bill Gates, but the greedy, paranoid, Machiavellian Bill Gates of the 90s, the guy who was one part robber baron and one part Lex Luthor—never age and never die.



In this society, the wealthiest people don’t own 99% of humanity’s resources, they own all of them. They’re hundreds of years old, they’re redundantly backed up, and they own everything.

Which means they control...everything. A small group of the uber-wealthy control all the lawmakers, all the laws, all the police, all the justice system...it’s Citizens United taken to its gruesomely logical end. There is not one single aspect of human society that does not bend, in a kind of grotesque fiduciary tropism, to the will of a tiny handful of the most greedy, amoral, wealthy sociopaths all of humanity can produce.

Now, combine that with the idea that the death of your body means you don’t really die, and what do you get? Brothels where you can kill the sex workers. No big deal, if she dies you just resleeve her in a new body! (“Oh, he’s one of the good ones,” a sex worker says of a rich client who likes beating women to death with his bare hands, “if he breaks it, he buys it.”)

The return of gladiator combat! After all, if death is only a minor inconvenience, why not have entertainment where people fight each other to the death? In bodies with enhanced strength and reflexes, just to make it interesting? One character stages death matches at his parties—using a husband and wife team as gladiators, because he loves watching people who genuinely love each other kill each other with fists and knives. (Winner gets an upgraded combat body. Loser gets a downgraded body. They go home to their kids after the match and their kids don’t recognize them.)

Or hey, you want information? You can torture someone to death over and over and over again and still keep asking them questions!



Buckle up, that’s what you’re in for when you get on this ride.

If that sounds like the sort of entertainment you’re looking for, Altered Carbon is your bag.

It’s a brilliant show, brilliantly done. Everything about it, from the writing to the acting (at one point, we see a huge LA biker who has first an elderly Spanish grandmother and then a Russian professional assassin transferred into him—it’s some of the best acting I’ve ever seen) to the set design is just astonishingly well-done.





I’m serious about the set design, by the way. I’ve watched the entire show twice, and the level of attention to detail borders on obsession. There’s a lot of interesting background stuff you only notice the second time through.



The world of Altered Carbon is incredibly misogynist (there’s a scene in a cloning lab for the uber-rich where we see a custom-designed naked female body with the advertising slogan “Put your wife in me!”), but unlike Blade Runner 2049—another movie set in an incredibly misogynist society—it gives us female characters who aren’t victims or MacGuffins.



Yes, the characters are tropes, written in broad, bold strokes. They have to be. The show, for its dystopian technological setting, is noir. That’s one of the defining characteristics of noir.

And within those broad strokes, the show does some really interesting things. The sidekick is a brooding and occasionally homicidal AI obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe (he even calls himself “Poe”).

If there’s an overarching theme to the show, it’s the tedious banality of evil. Power corrupts; power accumulated over centuries corrupts in dark and horrifying ways. The most awful parts of the human psyche rise to the surface, where they’re polished to a high sheen.

Even when they’re not human. There’s a very minor character who’s an AI. It loathes and detests humanity. But not in a Skynet, “I’m going to exterminate humanity in a nuclear cataclysm and then build an unstoppable robot army” kind of way, oh no.

It runs a VR brothel, where people with a tendency toward sadism can beat and murder women without actually having to do it to real women. Unknown to its customers, it records the VR scenes using real women, “because,” it explains, “they scream better.”

That’s the world you’re getting into: a world where the most grandiose acts of evil are directed at the grubbiest, most tawdry ends.

Classic works of cyberpunk like Neuromancer are set in societies where the greediest people are struggling to control the fate of human society.

In Altered Carbon, they’ve won. They control society absolutely, and now have century after century to look for novel atrocities with which to entertain themselves.

10/10, highly recommend.


I have written before on a couple of occasions about the Fermi paradox. To recap, the idea is: if life is plentiful throughout the universe and there are many sapient, industrial species, where is the evidence? The sky should be filled with radio waves and other telltale evidence.

Not necessarily because they're trying to talk to us, but because a civilization that develops tools and high technology will eventually discover radio, and radio is massively useful. We are broadcasting our existence to the universe right now--not from an attempt to be chatty with any extraterrestrial neighbors, but simply by virtue of the fact that we broadcast all kinds of noise just by virtue of being a technological species.

There are three common answers to the Fermi Paradox, which can be summed up as:

1. We're first.
2. We're rare.
3. We're fucked.

The "we're first" and "we're rare" answers suggest we don't see the evidence of technological civilizations filling the skies because technological civilizations are very, very thin on the ground in the cosmos...err, that's a jumbled metaphor, but you get what I mean.

Life may be common, but technological life might not. And there could be things--Great Filters, they're called--that aren't necessarily obvious to us, but that conspire to keep technological life rare.

Maybe it's the distribution of planets in a solar system. People who believe life is common like to point to the fact that we are an unremarkable star in an unremarkable galaxy--one of quadrillions in the observable universe.

But it turns out that while our star is unremarkable, our solar system is very weird indeed, and we still don't know why. The other solar systems we've discovered so far tend to have planets all of about the same size. Ours decidedly does not. Our planet is really very small indeed, it seems.

So whatever caused our solar system to be so weird might be a Great Filter. It may be that it's hard to get sapient life that uses technology and builds cities on a huge planet or a gas giant.

So that might be a Great Filter.

The third solution, "we're fucked," proposes that there is a great filter, but it's ahead of us, not behind us. This solution suggests that the things a new sapient species needs to survive when it's young--things like aggressiveness, tribalism, xenophobia, aggression, and violence--work against that species when it reaches the point of globe-spanning civilizations. The reason we don't see the skies filled with traces of advanced sapient species is advanced sapient species tend to destroy themselves, simply by virtue of the fact that the traits they need to survive when they're young inevitably act against survival when they're mature.

Okay, so that's the backstory.

Let's talk about the James Webb Space Telescope.




The James Webb Space Telescope is due to launch next year. When it does, one of its primary missions is to examine the atmosphere of known exoplanets, looking for traces of oxygen.

Oxygen in the air is rather a big deal. Planets don't have free oxygen without life. This planet started out with a reducing atmosphere, not an oxygenating one. It didn't get oxygen in the air until the advent of cyanobacteria and oxygenic photosynthesis.

Oxygenic photosynthesis is a complex, fiddly process that may have evolved only once. When it did, everything changed. Oxygen is poison to anaerobic life. The coming of cyanobacteria started the Great Oxygen Catastrophe--that's actually what it's called--that wiped out almost every species on earth. And paved the way for us.

Oxygen might be necessary for sapience, simply because cellular metabolism in the absence of oxygen is necessarily limited and sluggish. Active metabolisms require oxygen, at least so far as we can tell.

And brains require highly active metabolisms indeed. Information processing is horrendously energy-intensive. Your brain consumes a substantial fraction of your body's total energy capacity. No Oxygen Catastrophe probably means no animals with central nervous systems and almost certainly means no sapience.

Oxygen can't stay put. It's too reactive. If every photosynthetic organism died, our atmosphere would return to non-oxygenating, as the oxygen in the air reacted and combined with things.

So if you see oxygen in a planet's atmosphere, that means something's continually putting it there. Like photosynthesis or some similar process. And that probably means life.




When James Webb is online, it will either see oxygen on exoplanets or it won't.

If it doesn't, that points to oxygenic photosynthesis as a rare innovation. Which means we might owe our existence to cyanobacteria, and that means at least one Great Filter is behind us.

It also means complex life with energetic metabolisms--animals--is probably incredibly rare in the universe.

On the other hand, if we see oxygen everywhere, that probably means that oxygenic photosynthesis is a common innovation, which suggests a universe not only teeming with life but possibly complex life.

It also means that at least one potential Great Filter behind us isn't a Great Filter, which raises the odds of a Great Filter ahead of us.

I'm not sure which result I'm hoping for: a lonely universe with greater odds of our survival, or a teeming universe with lower.




For 12 hours today, my partner Eve and I are writing one blog post for every contribution we get to the crowdfunding campaign for our novel, Black Iron. We call it Write Like a Motherfucker. Want to make us dance? Send people to the campaign page! You can follow along via the #WLAMF hashtag on Twitter, or in the Facebook event. For the origin of the #WLAMF hashtag, see my first WLAMF first post from 2014.


Eve and I have finished our first novel, Black Iron.

No, it's not a novel about polyamory. It's part heist caper, part political intrigue, set in an alternate 1855 London in a world where Queen Victoria doesn't exist, the Protestant Reformation didn't happen, and the British don't drink tea. (But there's still a war in Afghanistan, because there's always war in Afghanistan.)

We're really excited about this book. To get a sense of what it's like, think of Terry Pratchett had read too much George RR Martin as a child and you'll have a general idea.

We've launched a Web site about it. We're also really excited about the cover concept art by the phenomenally talented Julie Dillon.



And you can get an early copy, before it's on the shelves! Just support our crowdfunding here. There's all sorts of cool stuff you can get besides just the book!


London calling!

Eve and I have a new book coming out soon, and you, O readers of this blog, will soon be able to get it earlier than it arrives in book stores!

Watch this space!



An update to the Map of Non-Monogamy

Way, waaaaaay back in 2010, I created a Venn diagram (well, if you can still call something a Venn diagram when it has dozens of bits that intersect in some pretty mind-bending ways) of the variations of non-monogamy I've observed.

The Map of Non-Monogamy ended up all over the Internet. I've seen it in Fetlife, presented at academic lectures, and I know of at least one Masters thesis that includes it.

Now, after seven long years, I've finally done an update, significantly redesigning it and adding relationship anarchy and solo polyamory. Here, in all its glory, is the newly redesigned Map of Non-Monogamy. The preview here is teensy, so you can click on it to embiggen.



I've redesigned the new map as a (big!) 24x36-inch poster. So what say you, O Internet? If I spend a lot of money to have them printed (printing posters that big ain't cheap!), would you buy one?

[edited to add] You can now pre-order the poster! It will ship in late January or early February. Preorders are $15 for one poster or $100 for ten. Pre-order a poster here!