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From Ada’s AMA: Minutiae Ignota

On 11th January 2018, Ada did a marathon “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. This last post collects the questions and answers that are about the Terra Ignota world and don’t fit anywhere else. There may be minor spoilers, but I’m not reproducing the specific spoilers that were marked as such (partly because they’re impossible to cut and paste…) I’ve done some rearranging to put the questions into related topics just to make it more coherent to read.

Misc

Injygo: In Terra Ignota, it seems that the Great Men and Women dictate a lot of the course of history. The events that are the responsibility of collectives or of nonhuman forces seem to be minimized or put aside. Mycroft praises the nobility and exceptional nature of the Great Men characters, and seems to dislike the concept of popular revolution. Is this point of view Mycroft’s doing or yours? Do you think that history is driven by individual Great People?

Ada: While Mycroft’s discussion of Thomas Carlyle, and his focus on depicting great leaders, certainly focus on the sort of people we’d think of as Great Men and Women, if you look a little deeper the story substantially, and intentionally, undermines that, since, as the crisis unfolds, what we’re seeing isn’t the big leaders having their way, it’s the big leaders being overwhelmed and dragged by vast public forces: outrage, fear, demand for change. Not one of the Great Men and Women of the book wants the war to come, not even those most responsible for it. Not one of them wants the war to take the shape it does. I am depicting Great Men and Women, and their comparative powerlessness within the great forces of history. Much as I discuss in my essay on Progress and Historical Change, individuals have the power to try to channel the great forces of society, to try to push them toward desired outcomes like building channels when a dam is about to break and cause a flood, but they absolutely can’t control them, and I think it’s refreshing writing a book where ultimately the leaders are caught up in a massive social change, instead of having the unrealistic ability to create and shape it.

Factitious: How well supported does a guess that someone’s the Anonymous have to be for it to count for the succession? Are public figures constantly getting “You’re the Anonymous!” letters?

Ada: Yes, people who seem likely to be the Anonymous do get letters from time to time, though this is the first time in history the Anonymous has been such a prominent person, it’s usually someone comparatively unknown, thus people don’t expect it to be a major world figure. As for how well-supported the guess needs to be, it needs to satisfy the Anonymous as being well-reasoned enough to prove someone a worthy successor.

Infovorematt: What are your thoughts on opening up contemporary Olympic Games to include things like tennis, pole-dancing, skateboarding, surfing, etc?

Ada: I think having more Olympic sports would be great. You’ll note in Terra Ignota there is Olympic debate, and Olympic mathematics, among other things.

Madscientistninja: More of an observation than a question – what’s up with all the similes? They’re amazing! I was bothering my friends with pictures of the book every now and then the whole time I was reading TWTB

Ada: Glad you enjoy the similes! I work hard on them. They are usually modeled on Homer, and results of how many times I re-listened to Fagles’ Homer translation on audiobook as a kid.

MakoConstruct: Is JEDD’s other world both complex and orderly enough to be applied to evaluating complex mathematical functions?

Ada: Yes, and sometimes those interested in understanding His nature pose complex mathematical questions to Him to evaluate how, and how quickly, He can do things like factor huge prime numbers etc.

MakoConstruct: Ganymede was sickened by tapwater, his skin would rash under anything other than silk. I laughed a lot during that scene. Was I supposed to laugh? It was too outlandish to me, it read as if it was saying “of course this didn’t really happen, Mycroft is embellishing Ganymede’s inability to survive in normal, middle-class living conditions to present a clarifying caricature of Madame’s strange children. It is hyper-real. It is fiction but it conveys more truth than the real truth.”- but… If I’d known that nobles really could be locked in gilded cages, like that, I probably wouldn’t have laughed. It occurs to me, esteemed historian, that this scene may have been based on some real precedent, among royalty, in history? Was it? If so, would you consider clarifying the scene to make sure the reader knows this is real?

Ada: I know there’s been polarization in reader reactions to Ganymede in The Will to Battle, some finding it funny, others moving and tragic. I like that, and many parts of the book are intended to cultivate disparate reactions. In Ganymede’s case, this is based on my knowledge that when dukes and princes were imprisoned in the past it was often in a palace, with servants and finery and their usual food, and that when they were imprisoned in harsher circumstances it was often as an extra-vicious punishment, and considered surprising, even tyranical. To us the idea of going to prison with your servants is very alien, to Ganymede it’s as expected as there being toilet paper, or clean water, and the deprivation is as shocking. The scene is meant to bring to the fore how powerful Madame’s manipulative child-rearing is, how real and crippling Ganymede’s mind-out-of-time state is, and why people would compare what Madame has done to the rearing of set-sets. And to make us more nervous about just how alien a psyche J.E.D.D. Mason has, if Ganymede is far closer to normal.

Delduthling: Are there any actors who would be ideal fantasy-casting for Mycroft, JEDD Mason, Sniper, or any of the other major characters? I honestly can’t really envision what an adaptation would even be like (or whether it could possibly work), but it’s fun to speculate.

Ada: For Mycroft, Derek Jacobi if he were still young enough, or Jamie Wilkes

For J.E.D.D. Mason, I keep imagining him voiced by the Japanese anime voice actor Seki Toshihiko, who did such an amazing Alexander the Great in Alexander Senki, and plays some of my favorite characters in other series too.

For Sniper I’ve never found anyone quite right, same with others. I enjoy trying to find one male and one female person to play each character, so I can imagine them both ways, which I think is how casting would be in Terra Ignota’s future, genderblind. Imagine John Hurt as Madame, for example, or Helen Mirren as Papadelias!

MayColvin: At one point toward the end of TLTL it’s mentioned that suicide is the most common cause of death in 2454. Is this just because other causes of death (diseases, accidents, murder) have become rarer, or has the suicide rate actually gone up? How do people in the 25th century think about suicide – as a symptom of mental illness, a rational choice, an immoral act, a social problem, something else?

Ada: On suicide, yes exactly, all other causes are now rare. The way people talk about suicide varies a lot Hive by Hive: as a rational choice but tragic waste among Humanists, a social problem among Cousins, a fascinating but tragic phenomenon among Brillists, a tragic failure among Utopians, a betrayal of the Empire among Masons, with lots of diversity among the Mitsubishi and Europeans.

SotoX3: Was there an historical event you drew from for the set-set debate\riots idea?

Ada: It’s based on Protestants and Catholics kidnapping each others’ children during the Reformation wars of religion, justifying it that raising kids in the wrong faith was equivalent to murder.

Infovorematt: If Athena popped down and offered you the chance to try and make The Republic a la Jo Waltons novels (and you didn’t get to ask questions about who would be there, where or when it’d be) would you go?

Ada: If Athena popped down I’d be very torn because I’m doing important work here, but I’d say yes not because I wanted to help make the republic, but because I’m confident that, with access to Athena, I could convince her to use her power to help me do even more amazing things than I can here. So I’d go to the Republic but then spend my time in philosophical dialog with her trying to convince her to help me do a more important project.

Delduthling: Were there any other points in your future history that you considered writing about instead of the one you selected?

Ada: I didn’t consider setting it at any other point, though I’ve sometimes imagined a spinoff in another medium (a game, a TV show) set during the Great Renunciation, or during the Mardi murders.

Delduthling: The potential disaster that keeps me up at night is not the possibility of nuclear apocalypse or world war, it’s climate catastrophe. How has climate change played out in your future timeline? It’s not something we hear about a lot in the books, beyond some hints in the First Law about harming Nature.

Ada: Climate got worse, but then humanity worked hard at it and it got better. It’s now a solved problem, so much so that they don’t talk about it. I try to communicate this through how obviously eco-conscious much of their city design is, the kitchens, the gardens, the many birds, and how powerful Greenpeace is. As with the Church War, it was bad, but then after it was bad there was recovery. So it isn’t a world where there was no eco-disaster, it’s a world where we put in the hard work and it succeeded.

Wisegreen: Am I wrong in seeing a lot of Machiavelli in Terra Ignota? Despite Enlightment figures and Hobbes being sort of “philosophical figureheads” in the books, a lot of what the characters do or don’t, specially OS and Hive Leaders, also look & feel like exploring how far powerful figures would go for the world they believe is the better one…

Ada: Machiavelli certainly permeates a lot of my thought, but I have a very specific reading on him, very united with patriotism and the desire to protect one’s people. So while most would associate the power-hungry powerbroker characters with him, the characters that most remind me of Machiavelli are probably Ancelet, Sniper, Kosala, Huxley in a way, Ando, people protecting their groups, their nations. But that’s not what most people think of with Machiavelli.

My blog series may help.

Delduthling: What does Vancouver, British Columbia look like in 2454? I am imagining a split between Europeans, Humanists, and Mitsubishi with perhaps a Utopian enclave, but given the general absence of description of a lot of North America I’m worried it could as-easily be a glowing crater.

Ada: Vancouver specifically is actually mostly Greenpeace Mitsubishi, they own a lot of land in North America, and are extra eager to have the areas near mountains and forests, areas where there’s lots of Nature. There are also lots of European members of the Canadian nation-strat in the area, and some Humanists. But yes, I’m being intentionally cagey with info about North America, intending to cultivate exactly the anxiety that makes you imagine a glowing crater. After all, most of the scifi fans in other countries in the world have read 100s of books where they never found out what happened to their countries, so I wanted to create the opposite, where Poland and New Zealand and Korea and Banglidesh know but Americans don’t. And more will come.

A_500: You’ve mentioned that you sometimes play a game where you “imagine sending a message back in time to some historical figure to tell him/her one thing you really, really wish they could have known.” Do you ever imagine sending messages from the imagined future of Terra Ignota, rather than from the present? What’s something you would want to tell someone from our past (or present!) if you lived in the 25th century?

Ada: I haven’t thought about that. Certainly Utopians would write to current people working on the space program to tell them that they’re still at it, and that the work is not in vain. They would likely also write to people working to battle climate change to thank them for their efforts and tell them that, in the end, it worked and we survived. Many people from 2454 would probably want to try to tell people not to have the Church War, or recommend the Hive system early, but that kind of interventionist letter is less interesting to me than just what you would say. Mycroft would certainly write to Voltaire and Diderot, and Alexander the Great, and Homer.

AREalRedWagon: JEDD Mason’s upbringing reminds me a lot of the education of the english philosopher John Stuart Mill. Both of them were raised to speak several languages and with the intent to foster some sort of society changing genius. Is this a coincidence or are the parallels intentional?

Ada: Yes, Mill was one inspiration, but even more so Montaigne whose father experimented by raising his son speaking only Latin throughout childhood, hoping to sculpt a more ideal scholar/philsopoher/statesman. Experimental upbringing, especially doing strange things with languages, has been tried by those with a philosophical interest from time to time, often with fascinating results, so I was interested in examining it.

 

Food

A_S00: Given your attention to details like staple grains of historical societies, and your correspondence with Steve Brust (mentioned in the acknowledgments of The Will to Battle), you must have given some thought to the foods of the 25th century. Most of what we’ve seen so far, however, is what we eat today (e.g., the sushi provided to Mycroft by Danae in Too Like the Lightning). Can you describe an exciting or unfamiliar food commonly enjoyed by the characters of Terra Ignota?

Ada: And best for last, food…

So they have programmable kitchen trees, and cloned meat.

I talk about the kitchen tree a bit on Fran’s Cooking the Books podcast, but it’s a major ecological innovation which allows produce to be custom-grown in the home, so it doesn’t spoil on transit and can be picked fully ripe, making for better fruit without preservatives, and less spoilage. The tree has bits of many plants grafted onto it and you program it to release the sugars and hormones that trigger each individual part of it to fruit. The trees can’t photosynthesize enough naturally to produce all the fruit a family needs, so they’re fed extra sugars from a kind of feed which goes into a tube, and is partly bought in sacks, produced from industrial farming, and partly from the algae tank which grows sugars for the home.

The cloned meat means that most of them never eat a formerly-live animal, though it’s legal for Humanists to eat whatever they like, for Mitsubishi to eat non-endangered seafood, and for Europeans and Mitsubishi to continue to prepare traditional ethnic dishes that will only work with a real dead animal and can’t be approximated with cloned meat. The cloned meat gets its protein and sugars much as the kitchen tree gets its extra stuff.

The cloned meat also means they can eat, in huge volumes, meat of creatures you would never normally get to eat for practical reasons, like panda, or chinchilla. Scientists have worked out what the most delicious animals in the world are and they clone those, so people don’t often eat beef or chicken or pork anymore because they can eat more delicious things. I never managed to make it fit in the text (it broke the mood) but Dominic’s carnivore roll is actually made of a huge steak of cloned hummingbird meat, lined with cloned wild boar bacon, larded with goat butter and cloned fat from something (I’m waffling about what) and rolled up in a big roll with spices and then glazed with a prune and persimmon based fruit glaze at several points in the baking so it has a crunchy sweet skin – hopefully I’ll fit at least the hummingbird detail fact into book 4.

As for restaurants, since you can go to any restaurant on earth with practically no effort, all restaurants have to be really good, or at least a minimum of good, so the general food quality is way above ours. One happy part of a mostly happy world!

From Ada’s AMA: Terra Ignota, Bash’es & Hives

On 11th January 2018, Ada did a marathon “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. This post collects the questions and answers that are about Hives and bash’es in the Terra Ignota world. There may be minor spoilers, but I’m not reproducing the specific spoilers that were marked as such (partly because they’re impossible to cut and paste…) I’ve done some rearranging to put the questions into related topics just to make it more coherent to read.

Hives

Infovorematt: I get that Hives are non-geographic but how does that work in practise? If my Hive lets me smoke cannabis what if I’m in a Mason-majority city (no way they are ok with weed!) can I still light up? What if I’m visiting my humanist friends ‘bash? Is all private property (houses, malls, shops, etc) aligned to a Hive and subject to their rules and laws? There must be a bit of tension and culture clashes in public places. Strict Masons being weirded out by hippy-dippy Cousins. Cousins being uncomfortable when a Mason spanks their kids etc

Ada: Cities and some areas have individual geographic regulations passed in that area, as the cars cheerfully tell us every time we land. If you were a Humanist and smoked cannabis in a town in an area that banned it, like Lagos, Cambodia, or Myanmar (regions with a Cousin majority), then you’d be guilty of breaking local laws and could be charged by the city. Your Hive would pay a fine to the city and then impose on you whatever punishment the Hive considered appropriate, which is often an equally sized fine, but sometimes something different. It’s similar if you commit murder—your Hive pays a fine to the other Hive and then your Hive punishes you, unless your Hive has made a special deal as all the Hives have with the Utopians who reduce the fine the other Hive pays if the other Hive enforces Modo Mundo (other political favors were also promised by Utopia in return for this concession.) Private property like houses is restricted by city regulations and by Hive regulations IF it’s a one-Hive bash’, but only city regulations if it’s mixed. There can be culture clashes in public places, which is why most cities have major districts dominated by particular Hives, like the Utopian districts we see.

Infovorematt: How easy is it to create a hive? Is the small number a likely outcome or just easier from a narrative point of view

Early in the process, in the 2200s when the Hive system was new, it was comparatively easy to found a Hive and people expected there to be lots and lots, so there were dozens. Now it’s very hard, since with the megahives that have formed from mergers no one takes a new tiny one seriously. So we’re seeing a last man standing stage of a slow development.

Delduthling: Did you have ideas for Hives that got scrapped during the world-building process?Are there any historic Hives we haven’t heard of yet?

Ada: Yes I have some clear ideas of Hives that existed at the beginning but didn’t last. One of the main ones is OBP, “One Big Party” which merged with the Olympians to form the Humanists. The Olympians started as a transit network to take sports fans to games, and OBP was the same for concerts and theater and art and museums, so people could zip around the world to see singers, or Shakespeare, or visit a gallery. They shared their excitement about excellence, and figures like Ganymede more embody OBP than the Humanists. Others may or may not get mentions in book 4, we’ll see.

Factitious: How does having exclusive Hive languages work with mobility between Hives being so important? Do ex-Mason Humanists just politely pretend not to understand Latin?

Ada: Yes, when you switch Hive you are expected to stop speaking that language, and to politely refrain from eavesdropping on conversations in that language. The hope is that it will wither in time. Similarly for kids who haven’t yet joined a Hive, they inevitably hear the Hive language being spoken at home by their parents, i.e. young Martin Guildbreaker hears people speaking Latin all the time and learns to understand it easily as kids do, but kids are discouraged from speaking the Hive language until adulthood. Unless it’s a strat language too, i.e. a young French kid would speak French at home in addition to English despite not yet being a member of the European Hive, and a young Spaniard Spanish etc. becuase it’s a strat language, as with Mycroft speaking Greek.

Subbak: So is it frowned upon for someone (outside of professional translators and interpreters) to learn a language that is not the language of their Hive or nation-strat?

Ada: Yes, it’s considered uncomfortable, breaking a taboo. We see this in Mycroft’s guilt about using his Japanese in chapter 3.

Factitious: Did the Hive demographic chart in TLTL, which was described as being of world population, count Minors? If so, how? Did it count people on reservations?

The Hive demography doesn’t count anyone who has not yet taken the Adulthood Competency Exam, nor does it count people on reservations. So we don’t know how large the population of Reservations is.

Adult Competency Exam

MayColvin: What kinds of things are tested on the Adulthood Competency Exam? Has this changed over time since the exam was instituted as the marker of legal majority?

Ada: The Adulthood Competency Exam has a lot of moral reasoning questions, the point being to make sure you can do complex adult decision-making. So things like more elaborate versions of the Trolly Problem, with no correct answer, just asking you to articulate an answer to make sure it’s a sophisticated one that demonstrates you can make intelligent political decisions, and are mature enough not to be taken advantage of. There are also lots of versions. While Romanova’s office administers a basic one, as the Charter specifies any organization can offer one if the Alliance office confirms its equivalency, so every Hive has a version, and some strats have versions in their own languages, and there are also lots of options for format to make it easier for people with different disabiltiies. All versions involve an oral exam, and many have only an oral exam while others have an oral and written component; only the EU offers a written-only option. The Brillest one is really strange and you’re not really fully aware it’s going on most of the time.

Factitious: What options do Deaf people have for the Adulthood Competency Exam? Is there a Deaf strat that offers a version in sign language?

Ada: Deafness is less common do to medical advances, and sign is uncommon since voice-to-text is so good that you can program your tracker put simultaneous subtitles in your lenses as people are talking. The system struggles with homonyms so is imperfect, and sign is still used in some places, but the voice-to-text system is more ubiquitous. If you wanted a sign language ACE it would be offered by Romanova, the Cousins, and the Europeans.

Clothes

Subbak: How enforced is the “Clothing as Communication” thing? Would it be illegal for a Humanist to wear a Utopian coat in public because they thought it was cool? Or an armband of a nation-strat you don’t belong in?

Ada: It’s enforced by cultural pressure rather than law, so people don’t do it much just as today people don’t go into the office dressed in a bathrobe much. It makes everyone uncomfortable. In a few circumstances you can get in legal trouble if you’ve masqueraded as a Member of another Hive for purposes of taking advantage of people, such as a journalist masquerading as one Hive to interview someone in bad faith by tricking them into thinking it’s a fellow Hive Member, or someone dressing as a Hive to go to a Hive Member only event. But when it’s for innocent purposes it’s done, certainly for dress-up parties, for acting on stage, and Sniper dresses as all the Hives sometimes for play.

Subbak: Can you describe how Mason and European suits differ?

Ada: European suits have more elements we associate with the pre-modern world, so more elaborate tailoring, long rows of buttons, waistcoats sometimes, tails or flared parts in the back, etc. They’re also a bit more wide-ranging, objects of fashion, while Mason suits are more standardized.

Factitious: Do Brillists who just plain don’t like wearing sweaters have a good alternative?

Yes! Sometimes they’ll have a suit or jacket made to have subtle textural stuff in the weave that communicates the same info the sweater would — we see Felix Faust in one of these at one point. Alternately, for when it’s too hot out for a sweater etc., you can communicate the same using a coded knot bracelet. A lot of the communication things, including strat and Hive, have bracelet options for when you’re dressed differently, or at the swimming pool.

Masons

Factitious: How many Masons are there? From TLTL p.153: “Cornel MASON is the unquestioned master of more than three billion voluntary subjects…” But from TWTB p.251: “…my Empire, two billion people of the ten…”

Ada: Ah, good spotting on that contradiction! There are 3.1 billion Masons, but in 2454 it just recently crossed the 3 billion mark, so people are used to it being in the high 2 billions. On p. 251, Cornel MASON is being modest, reflexively using the old number rather than acknowledging the change.

Aretti: The Masons’ Roman theme seems to be very Western Roman Empire in everything they do. With that in mind, why is it that the title for children of the current Emperor, Porphyrogenne, is not Latin but rather Greek, and refers to a naming custom that existed in the Eastern Roman Empire and not the Western? Is this just a solitary exception, or do the Masons also draw from the imagery and symbolism of the Eastern Empire in other places? (And if the latter, are there other polities that have identified themselves with Rome that they draw on, or would Muscovy/the Ottomans/the Holy Roman Empire be bridges too far?)

Ada: Good spotting! There are some tiny byzantine things here and there with the Masons, and Egyptian too (Alexandria, the ziggurats and lighthouse in the Masonic capital), but Western Rome has indeed won out in the rhetoric. This is partly since Western Rome is more dominant in our cultural imagination now. It’s also because Byzantium is so deeply intertwined with Christianity, and the world of Terra Ignota is so hyper-afraid of Christianity, more so than of things like ancient Greek religion which isn’t considered dangerous the way the faiths that caused the Church War are. So there are small Byzantine and Ottoman edges to the Masonic empire, but they’re very subtle and usually unspoken. One of the biggest nods in that direction, though, is that most of the major Masons we see are ancestrally Middle Eastern. Mycroft doesn’t mention it much (because the vein of Greek nationalism in Mycroft’s upbringing makes him uncomfortable with Turkey and the Middle East) but if you look carefully at the descriptions when they’re introduced, Martin is described as “Persian” and Cornel MASON is also signaled as Middle Eastern in descent. So while the Masons are very international and very mixed in race, there is a concentration of the Eastern Mediterranean in there among the rest.

Aretti: This is extremely surprising, given that Saladin is the name of a famous Middle-Eastern sultan! I had been working from the assumption that the “Greek” ethno-strat had kind of Megali Idea-d and picked up portions of Anatolia to explain Saladin, but if that’s not the case, then his origin is substantially more confusing.

Ada: Yes, Mycroft has a very complicated love-and-awe-and-fear weirdness about Turkey and the Middle East. I don’t bring it to the fore very often because even Mycroft is uncomfortable with it. Remember that part of what Mycroft loves about Saladin is his strangeness and fearsomeness.

Brillists

makoConstruct: Set-sets and the brillists: Imagine that there were a society built by and for cartesian set-sets, and it developed its own ten number profiling system, each variable having high predictive power over interpersonal dynamics cartesian set-sets care about. Now say we inserted a neurotypical person raised naturally in one of the major hives into this cartesian society. The cartesians’ profiling system would assign them an extreme, abnormal profile. The cartesian set-sets would find it very difficult to ‘restore’ this person’s profile to their society’s normal. They’d find it hard to change it much at all without extensive, painful therapy. Their profiling system would inevitably be attuned to the dynamics of their society- none of which could the visitor participate in, however brilliant they may have been in their birth society- and it would mostly ignore others. The cartesians, seeing this, might say to the Brillists, “No, YOU are set-sets!” (It would be facetious, because no cartesian set-set would take a profiling system that confined itself to a mere 10 variables seriously, but they would have a right ot say that and the Brillists would get harshly burned.) Has this test transpired, or has the thought experiment been posed? How did the Brillists respond to it? It seems to me that the Brillists’ theory is sort of inevitably thoroughly laced with status-quoist prejudice, designed only to do good in our cognitive domain, it finds it can’t function in another. Instead of humility, the Brillists stomp their feet and try to argue that those other worlds are degenerate cases, that they’re barren of human value, and who would want to understand them properly anyway. Am I being arrogant, judging them so? What would the Headmaster say to me?

Ada: I’m not going to tip my hand about this sort of thing since much is still to come in book 4, but this is a great direction to be thinking in terms of the Brillists.

Utopians

MakoConstruct: If a culture like the Utopians reached critical mass, I don’t think it would ever stop eating. It would infect us all with its akrasia-guilt, its power and its glamour, and its hope. Once we put on their visors, even just for a day, we would be snared. Whatever system they use to coordinate, it would never let us go. We would come to crave approval that only the Utopian process could provide, we would aspire only to Utopian virtues, we would buy deeply into the ideology of consequentialism, growth, perfectionism, and we would inevitably come to blame outsiders for the duration of Mortality’s reign, we might call anyone not a voker a “deathist” for being so abominably lazy while people are still dying, while humanity is still at risk. Having seen how many of your readers would have been pulled beyond their event horizon, do you still believe that the Utopians would be so much smaller than the other hives? Have you surveyed the general population, outside of your readership, and found that they really are that bad?

Ada: This question reminds me of the section in Freud’s “Civilization and its Discontents” where he talks about the different paths to happiness that people have tried throughout history, listing the ambition to advance human progress coequally with love, art, religion, and vegging out on cocaine as paths people have tried to lead to happiness. I think Freud is right that there are real paths to happiness down all these paths, and that the progress path is not one of the most satisfying because of the sacrifices it requires, (1) hours of toil, and (2) recognizing that the golden age you work for will be enjoyed by your descendants, not yourself. So I think many people would be excited by it, but also that many others would be intimidated by it, and drawn by other paths, such as the Humanist excitement about developing personal excellence, or the Cousins’ drive to help the present rather than driving toward a distant future. Thus I think the Utopians are numerous but not a majority. I think among my readers the majority do prefer Utopia but science fiction readers are a very specific sample, and even among us there are those who have read the Oath and felt it asked too much, and others who have found other Hives — Cousins, Brillists — more appealing. Because really all these Hives have powerful philosophies worthy of respect. The Utopian is the most powerful in some senses, with its mission to disarm death and touch the stars, but the most frightening in others, a potent mix.

MakoConstruct: Are the Utopians controlling their U-Beasts telepathically? The U-beasts’ sensitivity and synchronicity could suggest nothing else. How spectacular the U-beasts are, and the fact that the puppeteers clothe themselves in nowheres as if to say, “ignore the human. Keep your eyes on the puppet”, it makes me wonder if many utopians have come to project their identity into their U-beasts. I think if I could see and interact with the world through the body of a flying dragon I might well like to forget my human body, leave it behind, fit it with an exoskeleton that would walk it for me, let it trail along after me.

Ada: U-beast interface is indeed deeply mysterious, intentionally on the Utopians’ part.

MakoConstruct: Are the Utopians angry like I am angry? Do they quietly curse us every time we waste a day on entertainment or recreational drugs? Are they bitter, jealous of the power granted to those who sacrifice pieces of the future for temporary dominance in the present?

Ada: Angry about some things, yes. Not wasting days on entertainment or even on recreational drugs: the human animal needs rest and play to regenerate and stimulate the brain, so board games and mind-stimulating TV and all that is not only good but mandatory. But it does anger them (and many of us) when a big social policy stifles progress, when schools are throttled from spreading knowledge to the next generation, and when resources are wasted. An evening playing board games is an evening spent honing a mind that will reach for the stars — an evening filling out paperwork is a tragic victory for Entropy.

The Hiveless

Fthagnar: We see about the Blacklaws and their merry lives in the latest book — how they love and thrive in the inconvenience of it, but how inconvenient is Hivelessness for the Greylaws and Whitelaws?

Ada: Graylaw isn’t really inconvenient at all, it’s very simple and ubiquitous and no one dislikes you, whereas some of the Hives sort of dislikes certain other Hives. Whitelaws I’m looking forward to showing another glimpse of in book 2, but Whitelaws tend to get lumped in with Cousins somewhat, though they’re actually very different. Cousin law focuses on mandating things that are good for the collective, things like requiring vaccinations or requiring educational stages that tend toward the broad social good. Whitelaw is much more about personal strictness, forbidding yourself from doing things in order to encourage the formation of strict moral character. So, for example, paid sex is illegal for both, but Carlyle could effortlessly get an exemption to go into a brothel to help someone else, but a Whitelaw absolutely couldn’t.

Bash’es

Praecipitantur: I’m curious about bash’ romances. I think Martin refers to the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash’ as “Open”, presumably meaning people date outside of it. What other implications does that carry? Are there other kinds of classifications for how bash’ handle romance? And, related–Is it considered taboo for ba’sibs to sleep together?

Ada: Yes, an “open” bash’ means at least one person dates outside, as opposed to a “closed” bash’ where no one is interested in further external relationships. Within a bash’, some bash’es have only two-person couples, while others involve polyamory, but people don’t tend to discuss that much because it’s considered to be prying into other people’s lives intrusively. Romance between ba’sibs (i.e. people with the same birth bash’) is common and acceptable, so long as it isn’t actual blood-incest. There is some Hive variance here, and the more permissive Hives (Humanists, Mitsubishi) have more comfort with ba’sib relationships and romances among cousins etc. than more cautious Hives like the Cousins. The Brillists have complicated and confusing guidelines about bash’-romance structures which make sense only to them.

Injygo: So blood relations are still important, even though the bash’ has replaced the traditional family. Is that also why the dynasty of Spain is only passed down through male heirs?

Ada: Yes. Remember that the isolated nuclear family we think of as “traditional” is itself, historically speaking, very young, predated by greater focus on extended families, and multi-family cohabitation in which a higher status family and lower status families in a patron/client or master/servant relationship formed the basis of the household. The world of Terra Ignota is yet another transformation in which the household is different, but some of the ideas about lineage and blood are the same.

RERoberson: I’m also super curious about the whole Bash structure, including how they are formed.

Ada: Bash-formation is expected to happen in the transition from youth to adulthood, when young people are at a Campus. A Campus isn’t quite a university, it’s an area with common spaces, dorms, and several different schools, some of which might be universities or colleges, others technical training spaces that teach you carpentry, programming, medicine, plumbing, etc. Different campuses have different focuses while having broad opportunities, so Romanova’s campus has lots of political opportunities, Lisbon’s has lots of marine opportunities from research to surfing, etc. People choose a Campus for its strengths and attend but might be studying things even more disparate than the disparate things at current colleges and universities, and you usually stay at a campus more than 4 years, since you’re doing technical training as well as undergrad-type things. There young people mix and mingle and meet each other and live together in dorms and form friend groups, and eventually come together into bash’es.

Some bash’es are hereditary, some new. In a hereditary bash’ like the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash, some of the children will go together to the same Campus and seek out just a few friends or romantic partners who would like to join their bash’, figures like Sidney Koons, or Martin Guildbreaker’s spouse Xiaolu. But the majority of bash’es form newly from the friend groups that develp at a Campus.

Dragonbeartdtiger: One of my favorite parts of your utopian/dystopian future vision is the bash’ system. In TLTL, it’s mentioned that bash’es were developed by Regan Makoto Cullen, but sometime after the flying cars and Hive systems were put in place. Were there proto-bash’es already existing, and Cullen just codified/formalized/promoted them, or did the bash’ system have to be rolled out officially over the course of a generation after the initial success? Are there still alternative household structures in the world?

Ada: There are alternative structures, mainly in Reservations where lots of other ways of living still thrive. The bash’ system was developed from observing groups of adults who cohabitated in productive communes, which has been a phenomenon for centuries and is today, but it was Cullen (Brill’s apprentice) who described them formally, argued that they were better for society, and whose huge influence popularized them and made them become ubiquitous within a generation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Ada’a AMA: Terra Ignota, Language, Gender & Music

On 11th January 2018, Ada did a marathon “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. This post collects the questions and answers that are about language, gender, and music in the Terra Ignota world. There may be minor spoilers, but I’m not reproducing the specific spoilers that were marked as such (partly because they’re impossible to cut and paste…) I’ve done some rearranging to put the questions into related topics just to make it more coherent to read.

Languages

Partoffuturehivemind: I’d like to know about translations of Terra Ignota into other languages. What translations are planned? It seems particularly challenging to translate, doesn’t it?

Ada: Yes, very hard. French, Spanish, Polish and Hungarian versions are underway. All of them make me very excited. For the French and Spanish I’ve offered to write special in-world afterwords from Mycroft addressing the “European” and “Humanist” editions but I don’t know if they’ll take me up on the offer.

There are lots of reasons to make it difficult to translate. It’ll be hard to figure out how to work out the gender in French and Spanish where even tables and chairs have gender. But there are also subtleties of the political end.

I had a great conversation recently with my Polish editor about a gender challenge I hadn’t anticipated. In the English-speaking world at the moment, using gender neutral language is associated with the progressive end of the political spectrum, so whether it’s the singular they, or saying “flight attendant” instead of “steward/stewardess” and “server” instead of “waitor/waitress”, when you encounter that kind of language it invokes the liberal/progressive side in gender politics. But in Poland at the moment the political associations of gendered language are the reverse. In Poland it’s the progressive and feminist side that’s pushing for always using gendered language for everything, always having a male and female form (i.e. professor/professoress, driver/driveress or the equivalent) to make the presence of women hyper visible. So translating the gender word for word would make the future of Terra Ignota seem, in Polish, to be a future in which where the reactionary side of gender debates was victorious, rather than what I intend in the English which is to make it seem that the progressive side of gender debates was victorious. So fascinating to see the meaning of the language and the politics of the language produce such an amazing challenge with localization.

Subbak: I wanted to ask a question about language. Mycroft, Sniper, Martin and 9A all write in something very close to modern English (which is good, otherwise we probably wouldn’t understand it). However you state that Masonic Latin has little resemblance to classical or medieval Latin, and from the few snippets of French we get (either from EU officials or from Madame’s) it looks like its grammar has evolved quite a bit (which would be necessary anyway to accommodate for a genderless society, as French is horribly gendered). I don’t speak Spanish so I can’t tell if the same is true with the Spanish peppered through the book.

Did you try to imagine as well how Mycroft and others “really” speak English? What are the most prominent changes to the grammar (besides obviously the generalization of the singular they)? Are there dialects among Hive languages? Is the Cousin English significantly different from the one used for inter-Hive communication, or inter-strat among the Mitsubishi?

Ada: I made the conscious choice to keep the English standard because the books are already so challenging that adding one more layer of difficulty (which I did experiment with) was just too much. Realistically Mycroft should either be writing in 18th century English or in 25th century English but I just didn’t want to do that to the reader. I didn’t let myself think heavily about it because I knew if I did I would be tempted to use it!

U-speak is the only major dialect. Everyone else, including the Cousins who are the other Hive that has no unique language, speaks a fairly homogeneous English. But every bash’ on Earth develops its own customs, and often a few words from other languages will enter a bash’es English if the bash’ has lots of members who speak another lanugage, just as polyglot households sometimes borrow a word that doesn’t have an equivalent, like prego from Italian.

Injygo: The Utopian Hive is your love letter to the sff fandom of today. Is the Utopian jargon related to or inspired by in-jokes you have with your friends today? Could you tell us more details of Utopian speech and customs?

Ada: It’s a bit related to in-jokes, or at least to how terms from fiction or other languages enter conversation within friend groups. Most of my close friends don’t speak Japanese but a few Japanese words are heavily in our vocabulary that fill niches English just doesn’t. So U-speak is a development of that forward. And a big function of it in the narrative is to distance them from the other Hives, showing how, unlike all the others who speak a standardized version of English, the Utopians are more culturally isolated, setting up Mycroft’s observation that one majority in this majority-less world is that the majority are not Utopians.

Injygo: That sounds interesting — can you give examples of specific Japanese words?

Ada: The one we most use is “Saa” which is a fabulous generic answer word that sort of means “I politely decline to answer this question.” It’s often translated as “I don’t know” or “who knows” but it’s really a question closer.

“Do you think he meant to do that terrible thing?” “Saa.” i.e. I decline to answer

“That’s so stupid! What were the writers thinking?!” “Saa.”

“Are you going to give Terra Ignota a happy ending?” “Saa.”

(Proviso: that is not how it’s usually spelled but that’s the easiest way to get the sound across.)

We also use “dozo” a fair bit, equivalent of the Italian “prego”

Injygo: Do you speak all the languages that Mycroft does?

Ada: I speak French, read Latin, read a little German and ancient Greek (though not modern Greek), and understand spoken Japanese a bit and have studied Japanese linguistics a lot but can’t read it. I don’t speak Spanish, so for that one I have to ask for help from friends, and I often do for German or Japanese too, to make sure I have the nuances right. When I’m writing Mycroft’s narration I sometimes intentionally flip back and forth between iambic meter (comfortable in English) and more dactyllic meter which is comfortable in Greek, to suggest when he’s thinking in which language. But the most language work I do is writing J.E.D.D. Mason’s dialog, since there I try to think through how He’d structure the sentence in all his languages before rendering the English but making it awkward in just the right way. It means it sometimes takes me a whole day to do a couple sentences of his dialog, but it’s worth-it!

Kmar81: Do you speak any other language to any degree of proficiency or fluency?

Ada: I speak French and Italian, read Latin well, and read German and ancient Greek and Gothic, plus I’ve studied some Japanese linguistics and picked up a lot of spoken Japanese from exposure, and I am a linguistics geek and read up on the tricks of lots of languages.

Gender

Madscientistninja: I’m a huge fan of Terra Ignota and I’m so happy I found this series. I have a couple of questions. Do you have specific genders (born or chosen by themselves) in mind for characters? Or do you play around with it even in your mind, so as to be in a Mycroft-adjacent mindframe?

Ada: I do have sexes and genders (not the same) in mind (also Mycroft’s pronoun choice is separate from both) but I also make sure to play around with it. Usually when a new character develops in my mind the character develops with a sex and a gender in my head, but then part way through development I always try imaging the other sexes and genders (the opposites and nonbinary) to see how it makes the character feel different, and how it affects the way the story flows in my mind. I also think hard about how Mycroft’s pronoun choice will affect the reader. Then I often decide to change the sex and/or gender and/or pronoun because I like what I find when I try it a different way, or I keep it the same but feel more confident that I like what it does to the story. So I do have a bodily sex in mind for them, and a gender identity in mind for those who would have strong gender identities. For some I have planned in advance whether the sex will be revealed to the reader at some point or whether it won’t, and for others I leave it and let it be revealed if I feel it comes up naturally in prose and remain ambiguous if it doesn’t. I’ve had some readers start keeping careful track and make charts of which characters we do and don’t know for certain what the character’s bodily/biological sex is. I find it fascinating that people care that much, and one of my goals in the book was to give readers the opportunity to notice when a revelation about sex or gender makes them reevaluate a character and when it doesn’t, giving readers the opportunity to learn more about their own responses to gender.

Injygo: It seems like gender haunts the world of Terra Ignota. Is this just Mycroft’s bias? Do you think it’s possible or desirable to abolish gender?

Ada: In Terra Ignota I’m depicting a future that tried to abolish gender but did it badly. I don’t think it can’t be done, I just think it’s really hard since it’s ingrained very deeply in our culture, so there are lots of ways that an effort to do so could fail. I talk more about this in my essay on  queership about what I’m doing with gender in the series.

Music

Haverholm: Do you listen to music while working on your books? And do you use music actively, choosing it depending on what you’re writing (achademic or fiction) or what mood you need for a specific passage?

Ada: I find music very immersive so I can’t work while listening to music, except when I’m doing a copy edit for which I sometimes listen to Renaissance instrumental music to keep me relaxed.

But to get myself into the mood for writing, I have a “Bridger” playlist with songs that remind me of the story, or characters from it. I find it very intense and often cry listening (I listen while on an exercise machine, to get myself ready for writing and relaxed through exercise at once). It’s a mix, and not the sort of music I listen to for pleasure (I like Renaissance music for that) but it’s songs that resonate for me. The main one is Pat Benatar’s “Invincible” (which I first heard via a Gundam Wing AMV) and I have a whole imaginary music video of the four books worked out that plays through my head as I listen. A lot of the others are anime songs. The Stellvia opening which is the Utopian theme, the FLCL ending which is Sniper’s theme, the first Gundam Seed ending theme (Anna ni Isshodattanoni) which is Apollo Mojave’s conflict with Mycroft, the 3rd Gundam Seed opening for the war themes of the first two books and the 4th opening for the second two books.

MayColvin: As both a writer and a musician, have you thought at all about what music is like in the world of Terra Ignota? (Is “Somebody Will” an actual Utopian song in-universe?)

Ada: I speculate about Cannerbeat a bit but haven’t worked out music in huge detail. Somebody Will I play with as a Utopian thing and it certainly captures their values, so I think of it as their anthem in my head, but it’s too sad to be an anthem really. It’s something else.

From Ada’s AMA: Life

Ada, wearing the jacket she borrowed from Sniper

On January 11th 2018, Ada did an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit, and I’m extracting the most interesting questions and answers and preserving them here. The ones in this post are about life, work, work-life balance, imposter syndrome etc.

A Space-X engineer: I’ve been at SpaceX for about two years now. My actual, real-life experience since graduating school has been voking 50-60 hours a week for the Great Project. I don’t really have a question; I just wanted to say thank you, thank you so much for the Utopians, and for the world that created them <3

Ada: Thank you. A friend mentioned to me that he’d seen a SpaceX engineer post online with great enthusiasm for Terra Ignota, and I was so happy it made me bounce in my chair and tear up. The Great Project is a profound act of love giving such a gift to the future, and also a profound act of teamwork with so many parts. For some of us the challenge is that our contributions feel so distant, that (as my song Somebody Will says) we are contributing to the civilizational path to the stars but at such a distance that the connection between our efforts–running a store, marketing a device, standing in a classroom–can be dishearteningly invisible. But at the same time I know that friends on the other face have a different kind of disheartening experience, the slowness of it all, as you work on improving rockets, or mapping Mars, understanding fully how huge the task is, how long, how certain it is that what we’re working for is not for our generation. So thank you so much for keeping at it, that wonderful, invaluable, difficult work, and also thank you for telling me you found Utopia and Terra Ignota so powerful. A world where the project and its interconnections are no longer invisible. A world where we, and the fact that we are a we, is no longer invisible.

logomaniac reviews: As someone with a literary bent entering academia, I’m interested in how you balance your careers day to day. I imagine it’s a lot of writing, for one. And it’s clear that your research influences your fiction – in what ways does the influence go the other way (has your fiction work changed the way you teach/write for academia)?

Ada: Career balance is really hard and I’m really struggling to balance academic obligations with writing time with disability, but I feel I’m getting better at it all the time (the Utopian oath printed on my desk helps! So does taking lots of breaks to rest and mentally refresh by watching anime or playing Pandemic Legacy with friends). The history work absolutely transformed how I think about the change and development of worlds over time and is a huge part of how I world build, the questions I ask about how institutions got to be the way they would be. I’m so incredibly fortunate to be at a university where colleagues are supportive of my fiction and don’t see it as taking time away from my other work.

Logomaniac: What’s your favorite course you’ve ever taken or taught?

Favorite course Alan Kors’ intro to the Enlightenment, which is now immortal on DVD so you can enjoy it too!

Logomaniac: I’d also love to hear a little more about your project on censorship throughout history, what inspired you to do that, what your goals are, etc.

Ada: On Censorship I just managed to upload these videos of my GoH talk at Chessiecon where I talk about it. Very exciting!

Injygo: You’re the Ur-Fan, the Alpha Nerd, filker, historian, novelist, and sff fan. Can it be that you, like us mere mortals, have been frustrated or demotivated? How have you managed to become as cool as you are, and do you have advice for aspiring Alpha Nerds?

Ada: Yes, I absolutely struggle with frustration, demoralization, impostor syndrome, all of it. I talk about it a bit in my author’s note at he end of “Too Like the Lightning” and also in my blog post about how I sold it: (also has a lot of my advice, the big one being to keep doing and making and writing more and more things, not getting stuck on one attempt)

A lot of people don’t believe I could feel impostor syndrome with how much success I’ve had, but I absolutely do, despite the books’ success, despite awards, despite getting tenure here at the University of Chicago. But impostor syndrome isn’t rational so it doesn’t go away no matter how much counter-evidence you have. It still stuns me sometimes how one negative from someone who doesn’t like the novels can make me gloomy for days even if there are fifty sparklingly positive ones in the same time. So one big piece of advice is to remember that everyone struggles with motivation and frustration, and that struggling with it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.

I also self-monitor very carefully, which helps a lot. There is a history of depression in my family so from early childhood I learned about it and learned to watch myself carefully for symptoms, to talk to friends about it and ask them to keep an eye out, etc. I learned to observe my mood and listen to my body, to notice what small environmental changes can help me concentrate better, work better, feel better (I concentrate better when slightly chilly, for example, which is why I usually wear sleeveless shirts , and I feel happier when I exercise semi-regularly and when I’ve washed my hair recently. Why? Who knows, but now that I know that I can use it to keep my spirits up.) Fortunately I’ve never had bad depression the way my family has, despite being at great risk and extra risk because chronic pain, which I do have, so often brings depression with it. But I think learning about it young and watching myself carefully, and surrounding myself with supportive friends, has done wonders for giving me healthy work habits. I make sure to have meals with friends often, to take breaks for board games or interactive fun often (studies show that interactive fun like a conversation or watching a show together is more emotionally restorative than passive fun like vegging out with the TV). It’s not for nothing that the Utopian oath mentions taking the rest and leisure you need to be your most productive, which can be a lot! The oath really means that working is your default, rest/play your mandatory assignment, rather than the other way around.

This got rather rambly, sorry. But above all I recommend going forward and doing and making and writing more and more, always having a next project in mind, never stopping to dwell on one. As Jo put it in her poem “Go away and be more awesome.

 

 

From Ada’s AMA: Writing

On 11th January 2018, Ada did an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit. I’m preserving the most interesting parts of it here. In this post, questions about reading and writing.

quite_vague: It’s amazing to me that Terra Ignota is your fiction debut; it’s so ambitious and accomplishes so much.

How did you manage to write Terra Ignota as your first published work? What other writing have you done along the way? Do you have any thoughts or observations on a debut that’s managed to be ambitious, unusual, and popular as well?

Ada: First, yes, it’s unusually polished and ambitious for a first novel. One fact that helps is that it isn’t the first series I planned or the first novel draft that I finished. In fact this was the fourth series I planned, and I’d already written complete drafts of three earlier novels, each the first of a different series. So, unlike people whose first published novel was their first full novel-length project, I’d already had the experience several times of planning a world, creating an outline, following it from beginning to end, giving it to beta readers, polishing it up etc. That experience helped a ton, and is definitely a big part of why these books came out so well. I may someday go back and (now that I’m a better writer) write better versions of those story worlds; something for my long to-do list.

This is also why, whenever I talk to an aspiring novelist who has written a first novel and is stuck in the frustrating phase of sending it off and getting rejection letters, I always encourage the person to go write novel #2. I have a big fat folder of rejection letters for my first, second, and third novels/series, many generic, some encouraging which, as I look at them now, I can tell meant that the drafts were already pretty good and that the editors who rejected them saw potential in me, enough for them to send personalized, encouraging rejections instead of form letters. Though I got my share of form letters too. But what I’m infinitely glad of is that I didn’t get discouraged with the rejection of the first one, nor did I get obsessed with selling that one project and stuck in a rut polishing it over and over, or getting angry that people wouldn’t take it. I always held on to the conviction that the next one would be better, the next one better than that, and that eventually one would be good enough.

My academic writing also definitely helped. Academic writing often has strict length limits, which require me to communicate complicated ideas in limited words, and forced me to learn the art of concision. The Terra Ignota books are pretty long, so most people wouldn’t associate them with concision, but I do think a lot about being concise in every line and paragraph, since the more information you pack into fewer words the more powerful prose becomes. That doesn’t mean I don’t take plenty of time off for little touches, descriptions, Mycroft tangents etc., but when I do so it’s because I’ve thought hard about the content I’m trying to convey there, and determined that it’s valuable, not just for that sentence, but for the mood, the character development, the reader’s emotional arc. Whether it’s a “she sighed” or a description of the glittering water outside a harbor, I really have read over every line carefully to make sure every word matters. Learning to do that helps so much.

One time in my third year of grad school I had to cut a 16,000 word paper down to an 8,000 word presentation, so I paused my then-current novel project for a while and worked and worked until I got the paper short. And then when I went back to writing the novel draft it’s amazing there’s this line, what I’d written before I did that and what I wrote after, and suddenly BOOM the prose is better. IT’s the only kind of exercise I’ve ever found that really improves writing quickly. That’s why I always recommend the “Half and Half Again” exercise to people: take an old thing you wrote (an academic paper, a chapter, a letter, anything) and make yourself cut it down to half the word count without removing any content. It’s agony but it’s so good for learning where the slack is in your writing, how you can make it more powerful. After you do it, put it in a drawer for six months, then get it out and make yourself do it again. It can do wonders for your prose. Of course it can go too far, and you don’t want to cut all descriptions or all adverbs or something crazy like that, but it teaches you to think through every word, what it achieves, and whether another tighter way of putting it might give you more power.

Other writing: academic articles and books, historical notes for the Hetalia TV series DVD release and the Mythical Detective Loki DVD release (those sure required concision since they have to fit on a screen!), and blogging on ExUrbe.com and Tor.com

Scottynuttz: After Terra Ignota, do you have other science fiction ambitions?

Ada: Yes, first a more fantasy series with Viking Mythology, and then a couple SF things planned for after that. It’ll be a few years, because I worldbuild slowly, but they’re coming!

Book Recs

Madscientistninja: What other books (fiction and nonfiction) would you suggest for someone who has completely fallen in love with the French Renaissance period because of the way you have portrayed it in Terra Ignota?

Ada: Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist is always my top pick. This won’t sound flattering, but it’s like Terra Ignota with no plot. It’s like Mycroft’s narration but with no story, just pure narration. It’s gorgeous. I also can’t overrecommend Alan Kors’ lectures on the 17th and 18th centuries.

Praecipitantur: Given the content of Apollo’s Iliad, I have to ask: What are your favorite mecha animes?

Ada: Gundam is my favorite Mecha, and I have a whole bookcase of Gundam in my anime room. I really love how it comments on war and whether individuals can make a difference in war, and I love comparing the series to each other, looking at how the same archetypes and events are re-framed in parallel narratives in original MS, Zeta, Wing, Seed etc. My single favorite is probably Gundam Seed, which was new as I was finishing writing Too Like the Lightning, so the parallels kept making me extra happy. I also love the moral and theological parts of Evangelion (I have a big collection of figures of Nagisa Kaworu), and I absolutely love the original Gunbuster, not quite a normal Mecha but in the space. And I like Nadeshiko, Escaflowne, Gasaraki, Shingu… I have RahXephon and Gurren Lagann in my to-watch stack but have been sidetracked doing a fresh pass through Double Zeta and am excited to finally watch Turn-A, so those are backburner for a while.

Also does anyone know if the new rerelease of Gundam Wing is a better translation? I want to show it to a friend but only have the horrible dubtitled old US release and am desperately hoping the new deluxe one has a new translation. I phoned Right Stuf but they said they weren’t sure.

Also, if there’s one other anime that was a big influence it was Reign: Obsession of Alexander. Especially the relationship between Alexander and Olympias for the relationship between J.E.D.D. Mason and Madame.

And Kenshin had a non-negligible influence on my concept for Mycroft Canner, especially the domesticity, and the sudden switching to the old dormant personality.

Chtorr: What were your favourite books as a kid?

Ada: When I was little I read a lot of Brian Jacques novels, a lot of Sherlock Holmes, and Tolkien. Also, through my father’s recommendations, Heinlein, Bester, and Asimov. I also had the Derek Jacobi audiobook of Homer’s Iliad (Fagles translation) and listened to it over and over.

Injygo: What’s the most recent book you’ve fallen in love with?

Ada: The manga Ooku, by Fumi Yoshinaga. BRILLIANT. Such exquisite storytelling, use of history, characters, art, gender stuff, just so good!

From Ada’s AMA: What’s the most effective way for someone today to encourage space exploration?

On 11th January 2018, Ada did a Reddit “Ask Me Anything”. I’m going to be extracting the most interesting of her answers and posting them here. Most of them I’ll be grouping thematically, but this one stands alone.

Injygo: What’s the most effective way for someone today to encourage space exploration and colonization of other planets?

Ada: Probably by passing on aspiration. Our world is saturated with messages telling people to give up, to settle, to take whatever path will make ends meet, to expect to face a grim job market when we reach adulthood, to expect the hours from 9 to 5 to be sacrificed to drudgery, to expect closed doors. When kids are in kindergarten they’re encouraged to say they want to be an astronaut, or a race car driver, or a president when they grow up, but by the time young people reach High School the negative messages have usually won out, that the world is unfair and against them, that dreams are unrealistic, that aspiration is naive, that optimism should be mocked, that cynicism, criticism, and the realism of a pessimistic norm are the smart path. I think the best thing we can do to brighten the future is to stop telling people that it can’t be brightened, that they can’t brighten it. We can all lay down stepping stones in the long road to the stars, but we can lay down exponentially more by telling other people that they can do it too, that they don’t have to waste themselves for the present, that there are a hundred thousand paths open to all of us that let us lay the vital stepping stones.

I spoke recently with a couple of reps from Oxford and Cambridge universities who work for the programs designed to offer scholarships to underprivelaged students, to help kids raised in poverty have a shot at being anything the want to be. They told me their biggest problem is lack of applicants, that young people in that situation don’t apply. Their worlds are full of messages that telling them that all the doors are already closed, that there’s no path forward, no way out. As one rep put it “The level of aspiration is appalling.” So if we can combat those messages, the messages that kill aspiration, I think that can unlock so many paths forward.

But, and this is important, I don’t mean just giving empty encouragement. Recently on the phone with my Dad I mentioned that a former undergraduate friend of mine called Angel is now a veterinarian. He cried out in astonishment, “I can’t believe it!” “What?” “When you were undergrads you wanted to be a novelist and she wanted to be a vet and you both just did it!” And it’s true, we did, out of so many people who want to be a XXX when they grow up, we really did it. Because we kept that aspiration. And because those around us took that aspiration seriously, and when we told teachers and friends and parents, I want to be an XXX when I grow up, they didn’t say we couldn’t, but they also didn’t just blithely say “Great, go for it!” They helped us plan. They helped us see the steps. You want to be a writer? Okay, you need to do writing exercises, and give hours of training this. You want to be a vet? Okay, you need to take these classes, and look into these schools, and take these steps. You want to be a Renaissance historian? Okay, you need Greek so you need to transfer to a school that has it even though you really like the school you’re at. That’s what kept the door open for me. I think that’s the key, that we need to turn encouragement into a path with concrete steps, whether it’s a path we make for ourselves by looking into what we want, what we need to do to get there, and making a plan, or whether its a path we help make for others. Because all doors are open when we’re little, but as we grow up they close. That’s hard to understand. They close more and faster for some people than others, depending on poverty, race, gender etc., but for everybody some doors stay open and some close. I don’t think we’re very good at teaching young people to understand that. When I was seventeen advisers told me that, if I wanted to be the kind of historian I wanted to be, I had to make a hard choice, leave my college, give up my friend group, to get the Latin and Greek and training I needed to get into a grad school. And because I knew that was a step on the path, I did it. And it hurt, but I’m so glad. And every year I see several dozen applications from students who want to become historians who can’t because they don’t have the languages and background they need to do it well, they didn’t take the right steps at the right time. That door is closed to them. That’s something no one tells you when you’re ten and you want to be an XXX when you grow up. Sometimes people say “Go for it!” and sometimes people say “You’ll never be an XXX, you should be a computer science major so you have a secure job.” But very rarely do people say “That door is open, but it will close if you aren’t careful, so let’s sit down together and work out the steps to get you there.” So I think we need to do that more.

This is mostly advice for how to treat others more than advice for one’s self, because the self is difficult, but no matter what path you’ve ended up on generally you have a few hours you can give to the stars, whether it’s through work or through hobby time, or just through encouraging people. And sometimes, as I say in my song “Somebody Will” we’re already laying those stones, in ways we can’t quite see.

So I think the best thing we can do to lay down stepping stones in the long road to the stars is to tell ourselves and others that we don’t have to waste ourselves toiling for the present, that we are laying the stepping stones. Sometimes we can make that be our work, our vocations, our 9-5, our 40+ hours. Sometimes we can’t do that so it’s an avocation, something we do on the side. Sometimes practicalities of life mean it can’t be more than an attitude, an idea. But it’s all one project, real and succeeding. And Utopia is real already, so long as we keep aspiring to disarm death and touch the stars.

The Will to Battle is out today!

The Will to Battle, volume three of the Terra Ignota series, is released today in the US and UK simultaneously. The audiobook also comes out today. I’m putting up this quick post to let Ex Urbe readers know that it’s out, and rush to get hold of it, and as a place to put links to both reviews and to interviews and guest posts with Ada that might be of interest.

Excerpt from The Will to Battle

Seven Surrenders is Out: New Links Post

Ada’s second novel, book two of the Terra Ignota quartet, Seven Surrenders, is published today, so at last people who have been waiting since reading Too Like the Lightning last May can read it.

If anyone hates cliffhangers so much that they have been waiting to read Too Like The Lightning until Seven Surrenders came out, you can safely now read both, because there’s a proper pause at the end of Seven Surrenders before the other two volumes. You’ll still really want the other volumes, but it has satisfying volume completion.

The series will be complete in four books. The third book, The Will to Battle, is currently scheduled for December, and Ada is presently writing the fourth and final book.

Seven Surrenders is available in hardcover and e-book form, and is also now available as an audio-book, narrated by T. Ryder Smith.

Links to interesting and worthwhile reviews, interviews, and blog posts Ada has written about the book will be added to this post —  so more links will appear here as time goes on.

There was a Crooked Timber seminar on the books.

 

 

Promoted Comment: The Scary Atrocious Thomas Hobbes

330px-thomas_hobbes_portraitIn the comments to the Progress post, a reader asked for clarification on what was so awful about Hobbes, and this was Ada’s response, which I am reposting as a post so that it doesn’t stay buried down there:

Ah, yes, that was probably to brief an abbreviation. To be clear, I LOVE Hobbes, and I both teach him and read him for pleasure all the time. In fact the title quote for the 3rd volume in “Terra Ignota” comes from Leviathan.

The Hobbes reference referred, not to my opinion of him or modern opinions on him, but contemporary opinions of him, how hated and feared he was by his peers in the mid-17th century. I’ll treat him more in the next iteration(s) of my skepticism series, but in brief Hobbes was a student of Bacon (he was actually Bacon’s amanuensis for a while) and used Bacon’s new techniques of observation and methodical reasoning with absolute mastery, BUT used them to come to conclusions that were absolutely terrifying to his peers, attacking the dignity of the human race, the foundations of government, the pillars of morality of his day, in ways whose true terror are hard for us to feel when we read Leviathan in retrospect, having accepted many of Hobbes’s ideas and being armored against the others by John Locke. But among his contemporaries, “The Beast of Malmsbury” as he was called, held an unmatched status as the intellectual terror of his day. In fact there are few thinkers ever in history who were so universally feared and hated–it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that for the two decades after the publication of Leviathan, the sole goal of western European philosophy was to find some way to refute Thomas Hobbes WITHOUT (here’s the tricky part) undermining Bacon. Because Bacon was light, hope, progress, the promise of a better future, and Hobbes was THE BEST wielder of Bacon’s techniques. So they couldn’t just DISMISS Hobbes without undermining Bacon, they had to find a way to take Hobbes on in his own terms and Bacon better than Hobbes did. It took 20 years and John Locke to achieve that, but in the meantime Hobbes so terrified his peers that they literally rewrote the laws of England more than once to extend censorship enough to silence Hobbes.

Also the man Just. Wouldn’t. Die. They wanted him dead and gone so they could forget him and move on but he lived to be 91, a constant reminder of the intellectual terror whose shadow had loomed so long over all of Europe. To give a sample of a contemporary articulation of the fear and amazement Hobbes caused in his peers, here is a satirical broadside published to celebrate his death:

isize-reduced

My favorite verse from it is:

“Leviathan the Great is dead! But see
The small Behemoths of his progeny
Survive to battle all divinity!”

So I chose Hobbes as an example because he’s really the first “backfire” of Bacon, the first unexpected, unintended consequence of the new method. Hobbes’s book didn’t cause any atrocities, didn’t result in wars or massacres, but it did spread terror through the entire intellectual world, and was the first sniff of the scarier places that thought would go once Bacon’s call to examine EVERYTHING genuinely did examine everything… even things people did NOT want anyone to doubt. So while Hobbes is wonderful, from the perspective of his contemporaries he was the first warning sign that progress cannot be controlled, and that, while it will change parts of society we think are bad, it will change the parts we value too.

Hope that helps clear it up? I’ll discuss Hobbes more in later works.

Spot the Saint: More Dominicani

So many Dominican saints!
So many Dominican saints!

Hello, all.  Deadlines, page proofs, preparing for tenure, and an extra heavy autumn teaching load with classrooms full of enthusiastic-and-therefore-time-consuming students have continued to keep me too busy for another skepticism essay, but here for your enjoyment (and with some help from the excellent Jo Walton who’s wonderful at hunting down saint pictures for me) is a new addition to my Spot the Saint Series, on how to recognize saints in art (click here to start the series from the beginning).

Today: more Dominicans.

As we all recall, the key to recognizing Dominicans in art is that they look like penguins.  (Black mantle over white robe – black wings, white belly.)  Dominicans are generally scholar monks, dedicated to the idea that the best way to reach Heaven is through knowledge, reason and study.  They are associated with Spain, through their founder Saint Dominic, and were particularly prominent at the University of Paris. For many years the primary theological adviser to the pope (called the Master of the Sacred Palace) was always a Dominican, and when the Roman Inquisition started kicking into high gear in response to the printing press and the Reformation, the Dominicans were in charge of it.  If you are familiar with the Jesuits, the Dominicans did a lot of the things the Jesuits would start to do in later periods.

In addition to Dominic, Thomas Aquinas and Peter Martyr, there are three other Dominican saints who show up frequently in Renaissance art, or at least in Florentine art. They are St. Antoninus, St Catherine and Siena, and St Vincent Ferrer.

dolci_santa_caterina_da_siena
Carlo Dolci, St Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena

  • Common attributes: Nun in Dominican robes, crown of thorns, lily
  • Occasional attributes: stigmata, book, model church, rose(s)
  • Patron saint of: Nurses, the sick, women tempted by lust, people mocked for their faith
  • Patron of places: Italy, Europe (yeah, she’s a big deal…)
  • Feast days: April 29-30
  • Most often depicted: Looking otherworldly & contemplative, marrying Christ, giving alms to the poor
  • Relics: body in Santa Maria sopra Miernva in Rome, head in Siena

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) is one of the two patron saints of Italy, along with St Francis. In 1970 she was one of the first two woman ever to be named a Doctor of the Church (along with Saint Teresa of Ávila).

catherine-vanniCatherine was born immediately before the Black Death, the twenty-third child in her family.  It was a poor family, and she received no education, and did not learn to read until quite late. Growing, up she had every attribute of a classic un-learned female mystic.  As a girl she had visions, and conversations with Christ, St Dominic, and the Virgin Mary. She refused to marry, but also refused to retreat into a cloistered life within a monastery, since she wanted to preach and travel, as male Dominicans did.  At the age of twenty-one, she went through a mystic marriage with Christ, where he gave her his foreskin as a wedding ring — it was invisible to other people. Much like Francis of Assisi, she fasted almost constantly, and performed other extreme mortification of the flesh including drinking pus from the sick in hospitals. She also developed stigmata like Saint Francis, though some reports say they were invisible.  Given how hard Catherine was on her body, it is no surprise that she only lived to be thirty-three.

catherinestainedglassWhat made Catherine an ecclesiastical superstar, differentiating her from scores of similar female mystics who were popular in their day but remained only minor local figures,  was that in the later part of her (not very long) life she began to transition from a mystic to a theologian.  Mysticism was one of few paths to respect and authority that were open to women within Medieval Christianity. A religious vocation for a woman would traditionally have led to a cloistered life (as Saint Francis prescribed for Claire of Assisi) but Catherine rejected this.  She chose instead to join the Dominican Tertiaries, an order of lay nuns created for widows who wanted to have a spiritual life while continuing to live with their families to care for children and family fortunes.  Catherine was the first non-widow to join the order (over much protest), and thus granted a unique new status as a nun without a convent, and a spiritual woman without a place or superior to anchor her.  This let Catherine wander widely to do good works and preach. Her mysticism and reports of visions, and her frequent transports into dramatic ecstasy, earned her great fame, so people crowded to see her wherever she went, even when her words began to sound less like mysticism and more like serious scholarly theology.  Her ideas were very different and substantially more penetrable than the learned, Thomist, Aristotelian content of many sermons.  She was taught to read by the Tertiaries when she became one, and the Dominicans assigned a scribe to follow her around and write down everything she said.  At first this simply produced accounts of her ecstatic visions, but over time she began to dictate more polished and serious works, and letters to people in many corners of politics.  She even served as Florence’s ambassador to the Avignon papacy for a time.  When she turned thirty, she learned to write, and helped to edit and polish her corpus, which includes nearly four hundred letters, a dialogue, and some prayers.  This constituted the first substantial body of theological writing by a woman of the Renaissance (though there had certainly been Medieval female theologians such as Hildegard of Bingen), and the first written theology ever by a woman from such a poor background who would not normally have had access to education.

giovanni-di-paolo-mystic-marriage-of-saint-catherine-of-siena
Catherine of Siena’s mystic marriage with Christ
Catherine resists temptation by demons, a very classic thing for both mystics AND male monk saints.
Catherine resists temptation by demons, a very classic thing for both mystics AND male monk saints.

Before this starts to sound too progressive, Catherine of Siena never stopped being a traditional mystic, having visions, ecstasy etc., and it was absolutely because of her status as a mystic that everyone (the Dominicans, Florence, Rome) started to care about her.  Mysticism was a traditional path which Catherine never left, though she did add something new to it, which women generally had not done before, through her preaching and written works.  It is really in the posthumous reception of her work that the transition becomes more significant.  Over the centuries since Catherine’s life, people in the Catholic Church and in the West in general have come to care more and more about education and especially education for women, and less and less about mysticism.  Society’s taste in saints has changed, and as it changed the many dozens of female mystics came to fit it less and less, while Catherine-the-groundbreaking-theologian came to fit it more and more.  Hence the expansion of her cult over the past centuries while many other saints’ cults have diminished, and her elevation to the prestigious positions of Patroness of Europe, Patroness of Italy alongside Francis whose life hers modeled so much, and in 1970 Doctor of the Church.

Piero della Francesca, St Catherine's Visions of Christ
Piero della Francesca, St Catherine’s Visions of Christ
Catherine having a vision, while at the right her scribes write down what she says.
Catherine having a vision, while at the right her scribes write down what she says.

Catherine died in Rome at the age of thirty-three, after a stroke probably caused by what would now be called anorexia.  Her body was immediately put on display in the Dominican headquarters church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and began to be venerated there even though she would not be canonized for another 80 years.

This kind of sudden veneration of a non-canonized body was really not allowed, and happened a lot in more peripheral towns where Rome had little control, so the fact that it happened in Rome itself was quite remarkable.

Catherine's tomb has been moved to the front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva; here you see it with the tombs of the Medici popes Leo X & Clement VII behind it.
Catherine’s tomb has been moved to the front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva; here you see it with the tombs of the Medici popes Leo X & Clement VII behind it.

Her head was stolen almost immediately, and smuggled back to Siena, where it was encased in a bronze bust, which was honored in a parade which Catherine’s (very tired) mother attended.

Catherine was canonized in 1461 by Pius II, who was himself from Siena, so he had strong personal reasons to encourage the veneration of this great celebrity who would bring honor and pilgrims to his hometown.  He was also a scholar and theologian himself, so his enthusiasm for Catherine was certainly motivated by sincerity as well as hometown pride.

head-of-catherineSiena’s excitement about Catherine is overwhelming to this day.

One time I was visiting Siena to see a manuscript, and got to chatting with the taxi driver, who told me I should visit Catherine’s head while I was in town. I told him I had just visited her body in Rome. He became very quiet for a moment, and then said very seriously, “The head is the important part.”

In art Catherine can most easily be spotted as a female Dominican, sometimes balancing a female Franciscan, who will be St Clare. (If there’s a female Benedictine, it’s usually St Scholastica.)  She often has a lily, representing her chastity and connecting her to Saint Dominic who also holds one.  In later art, 17th century and on, she pretty consistently has a crown of thorns.  In some early art she was depicted with stigmata, but the Franciscans protested, and got the Church to rule that only Francis may be depicted with stigmata, so any images of Catherine with stigmata are technically heretical. Sometimes Catherine wears a starry headscarf (especially in paintings by Fra Angelico), which can lead her to be confused with the Virgin Mary. There are paintings of her visions, and of her mystical marriage. She is sometimes depicted holding a rose, reflecting a miracle that happened when her head was being smuggled out of Rome to Siena, and guards inspected the mysterious package as the thieves were leaving the gates of Rome, but when they looked in the bag they just saw a pile of roses instead of the head, so the head made it safely to Siena.

IMPORTANT: DO NOT confuse CATHERINE OF SIENA with CATHERINE OF ALEXANDRIA.

They have a lot in common, and are often depicted together, so the names can make it easy to mix them up.  Both are virgin saints, and both had a mystic marriage with Christ, but Catherine of Alexandria is depicted having a mystic marriage with the INFANT Christ, while Catherine of Siena is usually depicted as marrying the ADULT Christ. In addition, Catherine of Alexandria has a wheel, a crown, a martyr’s palm, and Roman clothes, while Catherine of Siena has a nun’s habit, and a lily, and if she has a crown it’s thorns, rather than a queenly crown. Here they are together:

catherines-together

Though before you get too comfortable, they do sometimes reverse which Catherine marries the adult Christ and which marries the baby:

barna_da_siena-_mystic_marriage_of_st_catherine-_boston_mfa
Here Catherine of Alexandria (with crown and martyr’s palm) marries the adult Christ, while small in the middle Catherine of Siena, in her nun’s outfit, interacts with the baby. And at the bottom left a demon is getting whacked with a hammer.

 

catherineconfusingmarriage
Note the many prominent Dominicans around Catherine of Siena here. The man in the bottom right without a halo, with the conspicuously detailed face, is a portrait of the man who commissioned the painting.

antonino-andrea-del-verrocchioSt. Antoninus of Florence

  • Common attributes: Dominican robe with white T-shaped sash with crosses on it across his shoulders (indicating that he is a bishop)
  • Occasional attributes: Bishop’s hat, bishop’s robes over Dominican habit
  • Patron saint of: Florentine Dominicans
  • Patron of places: The town of Moncalvo near Turin, + Florence
  • Feast days: May 2nd and 10th
  • Most often depicted: In Florence
  • Relics: Florence, San Marco

St Antoninus (1389-1459) is Florence’s own saint, the first Florentine to actually be made a saint since Saint Zenobius (d. 417 AD) which is a long time for Florence to wait, while their neighbors kept accumulating more and more: Saints Francis & Claire of Assisi, Saint Peter Martyr of Verona, Saint Antony of Padua, Saint Dominic buried in Bologna, Saints Bernardino and Catherine of Siena, etc.

Antoninus, from the fresco cycle in San Marco
Antoninus, from the fresco cycle in San Marco

Antoninus was the son of a Florentine notary.  In 1405 he became a Dominican and joined a monastery in the small hill town of Fiesole, just outside Florence.  At that time, there was only one large Dominican monastery in Florence, the one attached to Santa Maria Novella (now by the train station).  The Dominican brotherhood at Santa Maria Novella had been founded in 1221 to celebrate a peace settlement between the Guelphs & Ghibellines (which lasted all of 30 seconds before civil war resumed…), but it was a somewhat peripheral location Franciscans at Santa Croce and the Benedictins at the Badia.  Thus Antoninus aspired to found a larger Dominican congregation, somewhere within the heart of the city. Even though monastic life is supposed to be cloistered and separate, a central location would bring prestige and influence.  His attention focused on a small 12th century monastery in the north end of the city, built originally for Vallombrosan monks but occupied at the time by a small community of Benedictines, who were content to sell the property for the right price.

antoninuswithoutrobe
Antoninus dressed as a bishop, but still with the white sash with crosses on it, and the black over-cape of a Dominican

To muster the funds to buy the property and replace the cramped 12th century complex with a grand Renaissance one, Antoninus turned to his good friend Cosimo de Medici, who, in the first decades of the 1400s, was in the process of advancing from simply having a lot of money to controlling all of Florence with his money. Cosimo was very willing to spend on public works projects in general–both because it won the good will of the people and because he was worried about going to Hell for usury–and he was especially happy to spend on humanist and scholarly projects such as libraries, and setting up a community of scholar-monks to use said libraries. Antoninus extracted a lot of money from Cosimo over the years, not just for rebuilding and decorating San Marco, but for feeding and clothing the poor. Cosimo joked that it didn’t matter how much he gave, he could never close the books, he’d always be in God’s debt.

When Cosimo de’ Medici rebuilt the monastery for the Dominicans in 1433, Antoninus became the first prior of San Marco, and then became Archbishop of Florence in 1446. All archbishops of Florence in this period went through a mystical marriage with the Abbess of S. Pier Maggiore, which included a full wedding ceremony in the Duomo and spending a night in a special bed in the convent. Oddly enough, this incident, which is on record, does not appear in the great fresco cycle of Saint Antoninus’s life and miracles that decorates one of the courtyards in San Marco.

Antoninus, dressed as a bishop, with his umbrella, with some Dominican brothers, giving last rites to a Black Death sufferer
Antoninus, dressed as a bishop, with his umbrella, with some Dominican brothers, giving last rites to a Black Death sufferer

As well as feeding the poor, Antoninus went among them to give them last rites when they had the plague, which was a big deal.  So many priests had refused to put their own lives at risk doing this in the Great Plague of 1348 that the pope at the time (Clement VI, one of the Avignon popes) granted an indulgence to everyone who died of it, meaning they’d go straight to heaven, which was probably the largest indulgence ever granted, as that plague killed a third of Europe.

This is an enlargement of the armpit of the plague victim.
This is an enlargement of the armpit of the plague victim, showing the “bubo” or swollen lymph node which gave the “bubonic” form of the plague its name.

While we tend to think of the Black Death sweeping through in 1348 and then leaving again, it was actually endemic in Europe until the 18th century, and fresh outbreaks were frequent in Italy throughout the Renaissance.  There was a bad outbreak in Antoninus’s time, not as deadly since everyone alive in the 1420s was the child of somone who had resisted the 1348 outbreak so many had stronger immune systems (yay natural selection), but most people including priests still preferred not to have contact with the sufferers, so his ministration was exceptional.

Antoninus disapproved of gambling, cheating and usury. He didn’t have a dramatic life or dramatic miracles, but he was famous for living a simple and austere life even after he became famous and influential. He was also a great scholar and advocate of Church reform (which made his works popular during the Reformation and Counterreformation), not to mention incredibly popular with ordinary Florentines. As soon as Pope Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici i.e. Cosimo de Medici’s great grandson) was firmly seated on the Throne of St. Peter, he began the process of pushing for Antoninus’s canonization, but it was not completed until the (very brief) reign of Leo’s successor Adrian VI.

courtyard4tweakedcourtyard2tweakedThere’s an entire fresco-cycle running around the top of the first courtyard of San Marco devoted to Antoninus’s life of genuinely impressive public works and fairly unimpressive miracles. The most fun miracle is the time they had lost the key to a chest, and then he had a fish for dinner and the key miraculously turned up in the fish. He also performed some exciting exorcisms.

You very seldom see Saint Antoninus represented outside Florence — or even very far from San Marco, so he is usually recognizable by context.  Are you in Florence, or looking at Florentine art?  If so, that Dominican with a bishop’s white T-shaped sash is pretty certainly Antoninus.  In general he is differentiated from other major Dominican saints by the white sash.

 

St. Vincent Ferrer

St Vincent Ferrer by Fra Angelico
St Vincent Ferrer by Fra Angelico
  • Common attributes: Dominican robes, flame.
  • Occasional attributes: Book, wings or winged cherubs, trumpet.
  • Patron saint of: plumbers, construction workers
  • Patron of places: Vannes (in Brittany), Valencia somewhat
  • Feast days: April 5
  • Most often depicted: With other Dominicans
  • Relics: Vannes Cathedral

St Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419) was born in Valencia in Spain. He became a Dominican very young, and spent his life travelling around Europe preaching and converting Cathars and Jews. He was canonized by Pope Calixtus III (Alfons de Borja i.e. Rodrigo Borgia’s uncle), who himself came from Valencia — yes another hometown canonization.

723Vincent Ferrer was a contemporary of Catherine of Siena, and the two of them ended up on opposite sides of the Western Schism.  For those who need a refresher, in 1305, after a big fight between Pope Boniface VIII and the King of France over who got to appoint French bishops, a rough and frightened papal conclave elected a French pope, Clement V, who stayed in Avignon, and for the next several popes the papacy remained in Avignon, under the control of France.  This ended when Pope Gregory XI returned from Avignon to Rome in 1377 and then died in 1378, but upon his death Rome elected one new pope (Urban VI) and Avignon elected another (Clement VII), and when these died yet more rival popes were appointed, until the whole mess was finally solved by the Council of Constance in 1416 (a long time to wait to know who’s pope!)  During the controversy, Vincent Ferrer was a strong and loyal supporter of the Avignon popes (note that Avignon is quite close to Valencia), while Catherine of Siena supported the Roman popes, and was sent to argue for them as Florence’s ambassador (unsuccessfully but her work probably helped set the stage for later embassies).  Thus the fact that both Vincent and Catherine were eventually canonized shows how spread out and complex the Dominican order was, and how it was often part of many different Church movements at once, even contradictory ones: pro-Spanish/French v. pro-Italian, pro-scholarly v. pro-mystic, and of course how, later on, it could at the same time be a great promoter of intellectual study and innovation and also run the Inquisition.

tumblr_mw3yfy7srn1sknvnko1_1280In art, at least outside Valencia and Vannes, Vinecnt Ferrer is generally just an extra Dominican.  His most common attribute is a tongue of flame, either on his head or in his hand, though Antony of Padua sometimes has the same, as do apostles and evangelists, so make sure to look for the penguin robes before reaching for Vincent Ferrer as an identification.  If Dominic and Thomas Aquinas and Peter Martyr are accounted for and there’s an extra one, even without attributes, it usually turns out to be Vinecnt Ferrer. So if you’re looking at a painting and there’s another male penguin monk who doesn’t he have a lily and a star, isn’t chubby, doesn’t have the ability to interpret Aristotle blazing from his chest like the son, and doesn’t he have a knife in his head or gore dripping down his shoulders, then he’s probably Vincent Ferrer. There’s a slight possibility he may be St Raymond of Penafort or St Hyacinth of Poland, higher if the picture is from Spain or Poland. Albertus Magnus is another possibility, but he is depicted rarely enough that he generally seems to get labelled.

saint-vincent-ferrer-01

Spot the Saint Mini-Quiz

And now, for the first time in a long time, your spot-the-saint review quiz.  If you review earlier Spot the Saint posts, you should be able to identify all these figures except the man all the way on the right, with a harp and a crown (though those of you with biblical knowledge can hopefully recognize him. Hint: he’s not a saint):

clementedetorres