Saturday, 3 October 2020

Punth: A Primer - Appendix N

Some of the below have been referenced in Chapters of the Primer and other blog posts. Other inspirations have not been hitherto mentioned. 

Genesis, Ch. 11 Verses 1-9 will provide you with the story of the Tower of Babel.

[The Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, or similar works of the ancient world, are not a specific inspiration, but are useful reading. The portions of the Codes in the Primer are not written on this model - Punth is atheistic - but it is still in the DNA of the Primer; see below.]

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

The discussions of Babel, language and Sumerian culture are more relevant to Punth than corporate warfare, hacking and the metaverse. 

Dune, Frank Herbert

The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe

The chapters of Citadel of the Autarch devoted to the Ascian language (if you click on any link in this post, make it the second of these) are obviously vital, but the image of a collapsed space-faring civilisation is also arresting. The Azoth of The Book of the Long Sun is of interest as an artefact of a space-faring civilisation; I have discussed that here

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

The element of Newspeak is most relevant. 

A Princess of Mars and the Barsoom series, Eric Rice Burroughs

Various interpretations of which are discussed here.

The Saga of Recluce, L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Most notably Fall of Angels, Magi'i of Cyador, Scion of Cyador. Discussed here.

Declare, Tim Powers

The djinn of the desert owe a great deal to Declare.

Seeing Like a State, James C. Scott

The following reviews may be of use: A), B), C).

Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke

Red Plenty, Francis Spufford

Warhammer 40,000

Star Trek

I cannot claim to have been thinking of any given part of Star Trek when writing on the origins of the Qryth, but as an image of space exploration advanced enough to invoke Clarke's Third Law as well as vigorous enough to produce the Qryth, it serves nicely. 

Chariots of the Gods?, Erich Von Daniken

I have not read Chariots of the Gods, but it serves as synecdoche for the whole of the 'Ancient civilisations were built by aliens' school of thought. 

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence

More for the atmosphere of the desert than the events of the Arab Revolt.

The Pillow Book, Sei Shonagon


  1. I should probably add to this list (for the sake of wider reading rather than specific inspiration) David Foster Wallace's 1999 essay 'Authority and American Usage', collected in the 2005 book Consider the Lobster.

  2. Have you read Ted Chiang's Stories of your Life? The first story - "Tower of Babylon" - is required reading for all Mesopotamian fantasists.

    1. I have, though it would have been between conception and completion. Perhaps 'Tower of Babylon' seemed so perfectly historical a fantasy that folding it into Punth & Terrae Vertebrae would have seemed wrong to me.
      'Seventy-Two Letters' is probably also relevant for the combination of language, magic and hierarchy.

  3. I'm glad to find new works that are mixed in among ones I recognize and respect, thanks for the list Solomon

    1. You see, now you've got me wondering which of the above are which......

    2. Haha, well the first five obviously. Always meant to get into Burroughs but haven’t yet. So The Saga of Recluce, Declare and Reflections are new to me, as are Chariots and the Pillow book. I read your rundown of the Saga of Recluce and I was pleased by your conceptualization of this:
      “The magicians of the tale nearly all possess some skill or handicraft that supports them when they aren't doing magic (no Hogwarts for these folk - mostly). It's quite prominent, really - and I should argue that it is part of the charm. (A bit like literary third-person Minecraft - a similar set of joys, I mean to say.)”

      The idea of manipulating chaos at a cost to oneself is fairly familiar; mutations etc; but the idea of manipulating order magic at a cost to oneself was intriguing in its own way. What effect would that take? It made me think of chaos dwarfs slowly turning to stone from their use of magic
      It’s an interesting idea that in an order based society they might try and make men and women be the same; try to put everything of a similar category (in this case humans) into one box

      It’s interesting how we see culture in various times and places; for the paragraph that begins with “not only this”, I would have accepted that as a description of a 19th century eastern English town without too much skepticism. I do see what you’re saying about the American version; perhaps that’s the Puritan influence? Obviously there was some extremely Wild West in that period but I think what you’re describing held true from the Midwest through Deseret, and was probably a common enough mode further west even if it was periodically interrupted by revivalists, bandits and civil war demobs. Just like you, I’m working off of cultural hand-me-downs.
      I’ve read that socially conservative outlooks track with pathogen load in an environment; if true, that might be one factor leading to that kind of simple, sturdy and polite conduct among frontier communities when somebody isn’t raising hell due to the weak law enforcement

      Pleased to see that you also read SSC

    3. The Pillow Book is interesting, if you can twist yourself into the customs of Japanese court life.
      I'm quite a fan of Tim Powers: Declare is a good place to start, though The Stress of Her Regard and On Stranger Tides are also worth a look.
      An earlier blog post referenced Burke. He's not an 'artistic' influence here (no guillotines or sans-culottes), but the ideas of an organic state versus the artificial one is powerful - and this almost maps onto Descriptivist against Prescriptivist debates in linguistics.

      The Recluce books have a lot of skilled labour, that's true. There's also mages who put in time as scriveners and clerks. Later books are more willing to portray mages in the profession of arms or as agents of government.
      Order mages tend to be healthier than Chaos-wielders, and less prone to taking on too much power and exploding - but they struggle with violence or causing harm (even surgery). It's a less obvious set of strains.
      I wouldn't quite say that the Order-based societies quite put everything of the same category into one box. There are, certainly, no pretty floral dresses, but a distinction between the sexes is drawn. It's also worth noting that there are no Gods of Chaos or Order to whisper in anyone's ear - the model for Order societies did not have to look quite this.
      I see what you mean about the 'Not only this' paragraph. The Puritan influence will be part of that, no doubt. Independence is another part - the characters in the Recluce books don't attend a Church (let alone a state religion) and don't have to deal with the local Squire. Taxes, at least in Order-based societies, seem few. There's also a sense of different proportions - not that this is ever spelt out - that these are not low-celinged cottages, but tall, neat, square farmsteads. The comparison with 19th century America manners becomes that much more distinct when the tech level is so largely medieval.
      "I’ve read that socially conservative outlooks track with pathogen load in an environment" - that's an interesting thought when applied to Recluce.

    4. Thanks for the recommendations, Solomon