The BFG is a masterly masterwork of masterism, sublime in every way. The prose glides like a lubed-up manatee sliding face-first into a woodchipper. The drama makes my heart race like a 3.9 gHz Ryzen 7 3800x overclocked to 4.0 gHz for faster frame-to-screen time. The plot clicks like a Kalahari Bushman’s tongue pronouncing the word “!Xóõ”. It’s as re-readable as an affidavit when you’re a lawyer and the jury’s packed with half-deaf amnesiacs and you’re billing the client $800 an hour.
Also, it’s the only book that caters to my specific fetish: elderly, 24-foot tall men farting on people.
For a few moments, the Big Friendly Giant stood quite still, and a look of absolute ecstasy began to spread over his long wrinkly face. Then suddenly the heavens opened and he let fly with a series of the loudest and rudest noises Sophie had ever heard in her life. They reverberated around the walls of the cave like thunder and the glass jars rattled on their shelves. But most astonishing of all, the force of the explosions actually lifted the enormous giant clear off his feet, like a rocket.
Sometimes I have this dream, you see. The BFG is climbing through my bedroom window, bearing his horn. There’s a mischievous twinkle in his eye. You can’t tell anyone, the twinkle says. This is our little secret. I hear his stomach gurgling, and it seems to synchronize with my own blood thundering in my ears as he unbuttons his bum-flap, two feet from my face, and…
…I’m oversharing. Sorry. My therapist tells me that I overshare. But how can I not? There’s SO MUCH left to tell…
I hope the BFG doesn’t get cancelled, because he’s one of Roald Dahl’s most politically progressive characters. He’s vegetarian. He’s pacifist. He’s even anti-capitalist (turning down a lucrative zoo gig, because he knows he would be exploited).
Yes, I know he’s had problematic moments – he participates in human trafficking, is party to an imperialist invasion, and says that Greek people taste bad – but cut him a break. Nobody’s perfect, and he’s trying his best. When Trump was elected he would have been out marching in the street, wearing a pussyhat the size of a bumbershoot. He would have #FeltTheBern. He would have put a black square on his Instagram. He would have bullied a problematic YA author to suicide.
I’m curious, why did the BFG become so sensitive and so unlike the other giants?
Maybe it has to do with his height. As I’ve mentioned, he’s 24 feet tall. This is small for a giant – the others are described as being 50 feet tall – and maybe this contributed to the development of a aesthetic sense.
Most of the beautiful things in nature are small, and when you’re large, you tend not to see them. For example, the 24 foot tall BFG would see roses 4x smaller than we do. The 50 foot Bloodbottler would see them 8x smaller. They’d just be tiny specks of color. He’d have to squint to see its petals, and he certainly wouldn’t be able to smell its scent. It’s a sad life, and I rather feel for the Bloodbottler.
It makes you wonder how much we’re missing out on by being as big as we are. Sand is actually quite pretty under a microscope. Due to our size, we just see a gritty, coarse gray, all the colors blending together and cancelling out. But imagine being a 5 millimeter human, wandering through a sea of beautiful jewels. Perhaps there’s a diatom squirming between the grains. You could sling a leash around it, and have a diatom for a pet. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Topic shift: how much food do giants eat?
According to the BFG, they each devour a couple of humans every night.
‘That means,’ said Sophie, ‘that somewhere in the world, every single night, nine wretched people get carried away and eaten alive.’
‘More,’ said the BFG. ‘It is all depending, you see, on how big the human beans is. Japanese beans is very small, so a giant will need to gobble up about six Japanese before he is feeling full up. Others like the Norway people and the Yankee-Doodles is ever so much bigger and usually two or three of those makes a good tuck-in.’
Is this a realistic caloric intake? Assuming the average man is 6ft tall and weighs 200lb, how many people would a 50 foot tall giant need to eat?
First, let’s assume the giants are humans scaled up by 8x. A 6ft/200lb man has a basal metabolic rate of 2226, and eats 2,671 calories a day (if you’re curious, the 20% difference is caused by thermal inefficiency – your stomach doesn’t perfectly convert food into energy, which would break the second law of thermodynamics.)
Klieber’s Law states that the metabolic rate of a endothermic homeotherm (such as a giant) scales as M^3/4, where M is mass. Also, remember that mass increases as a cube of length, meaning an 8x man would weigh 102,400lb (8^3*200), for a 512x increase in overall mass. 512^3/4 = 107.63, so the giants have a BMR of 239584.38 (2226 * 107.63), and need 287,501.256 calories per day (239584.38 * 1.2).
The human body contains 130,000 calories (according to someone on Quora who’s sums I didn’t double-check), meaning the BFG’s estimate of 2-3 large humans per giant is…
…dead on the money. I was surprised. How much did Roald Dahl know of giant eating habits?
But there are sadly some scientific issues with the book. An egregious example: 24 foot men can’t fly by farting. More interesting is the notion that humans taste different depending on where they come from.
‘But do these disgusting giants go to every single country in the world?’ Sophie asked.
‘All countries excepting Greece is getting visited some time or another,’ the BFG answered. ‘The country which a giant visits is depending on how he is feeling. If it is very warm weather and a giant is feeling as hot as a sizzlepan, he will probably go galloping far up to the frisby north to get himself an Esquimo or two to cool him down. A nice fat Esquimo to a giant is like a lovely ice-cream lolly to you.’
‘I’ll take your word for it,’ Sophie said.
‘And then again, if it is a frosty night and the giant is fridging with cold, he will probably point his nose towards the swultering hotlands to guzzle a few Hottentots to warm him up.’
‘How perfectly horrible,’ Sophie said.
‘Nothing hots a cold giant up like a hot Hottentot,’ the BFG said.
Clearly, the giants are falling prey to the placebo effect.
In Frédéric Brochet’s infamous 2001 wine study, wine tasters were unable to distinguish between red wine and white wine that had been dyed to look red. Suggestion is a powerful thing. Eskimos live in a cold place, so the BFG expects them to taste cold. Wales sounds like the word whales, so the BFG expects Welsh people to have a fishy taste. He’s not to blame. He’s a prisoner of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I wonder if the snozzcumbers really do taste bad, or if the BFG has just been primed to assume a bad taste because of their disgusting name.
Lastly, the giants are made of a weirdly light substance.
In Quentin Blake’s illustrations, we see captured giants being airlifted by the British RAF (this brutal and unprovoked attack on a sovereign country would later be condemned by the International Court of Justice, and played an important role in Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party being voted out in the 1990 election. They don’t show you that part in the book.)
From the shape, these helicopters appear to be the Westland Sea King, which has an unloaded weight of 6,387kg and a maximum takeoff weight of 9,707kg. So the giants, incredibly, weigh less than four metric tons, not the 46 tons I calculated above. It’s very odd.
Either that or the British RAF maintains a fleet of mega-sized Sea Kings, just in case such an event occurs. I’m going to bed. Perhaps I’ll have the dream again. I’ll keep you posted. xox
What’s the worst trend in gaming?
I don’t know. But the most inexplicable trend is the game that doesn’t want you to play it.
The player is led by nose down a path, having scripted experiences. Every choice has been made for you in advance. Stray from the path and you’re corralled back in by invisible walls or flashing “RETURN TO THE BATTLEFIELD” messages. Cutscenes are immensely long: you spend half the game with your inputs disabled.
Any “interactivity” is inconsequential: you can choose from two paths in the road, but both lead to the same destination. You can choose from two options in an NPC dialog tree, but the conversation ends the same way every time.
…Doesn’t this defeat the whole purpose of a videogame? Being able to explore and interact and express agency? Games lose a lot when they’re reduced to linear narratives where the player’s “actions” are just fancy ways of turning the page.
This is not a “games were better in my day!” rant. The 800-pound gorillas of non-games were (aside from obvious “interactive movie” stuff where gameplay isn’t the point) the much-mythologized old-school adventure games of the 80s and 90s.
Remember those? Remember how, in the mid 90s, everyone stopped playing them?
“The death of adventure games” was a popular brief in the late 90s: Journalists filled many column inches with opinions on why adventure games suddenly weren’t selling, and why the old guard of developers (Sierra/LucasArts/Trilobyte) were either shifting focus or filing for bankruptcy.
Usually, an outside factor is blamed. Adventure gamers love Lost Cause myths where their beautiful, pure adventures were snatched away by Myst and Doom and snot-nosed kids. Nobody wants to admit that the rot starts from within.
The truth is that most adventure games (aside from a short list of classics) were very bad, full of illogical puzzles, mazes, pixel hunts, fetch quests, and arbitrary deaths. Here’s the average puzzle in an 80s text adventure:
"You are starving! You find a HAM SANDWICH and a
TURKEY SANDWICH. What do you do?
>EAT HAM SANDWICH.
Bad luck! The HAM SANDWICH was poisoned! You are
dead! Should have gone with the turkey, dumbfuck!"
That sounds like a strawman, but only if you’ve never played a classic adventure game. Just because I love you, here’s a real example from Westwood’s critically-acclaimed The Legend of Kyrandia, which had sold a quarter of a million copies by 1996.
The scenario: “You are standing outside a house, looking down into a lake. You see a pair of eyes in the water. If you approach the water’s edge to get a better look, a huge monster rises from the water, snatches you with its tongue, and reels you into its mouth. Crunch.”
Just terrible. A whole Full Sail University class could be taught about this particular puzzle, and how it encapsulates everything not to do when designing a game.
The player isn’t warned of danger, cannot escape, and instantly dies. There’s no skill involved in survival: you just have to know not to follow the eyes. And since you can’t anticipate the next death trap (which there are a lot of), you end up creeping around Kyrandia like a scared mouse, hoping you don’t step on the wrong pixel and cause an asshole developer to slam the “INSTANT, UNAVOIDABLE DEATH” button again.
The Legend of Kyrandia actively penalizes you for playing and having agency. Exploring? Taking risks? That’s not in the plan. Stick to the main path, friendo, and do what the game wants you to.
This design approach is great from the developer’s point of view. You spend less time designing art assets and playtesting puzzles. Your games ship sooner, and have fewer bugs. Open-world games with a lot of options quickly turn into a garden of forking paths. But in the long run, you get a constrained experience.
It’s interesting that the big genre shifts of the past few years have included open-world exploration games like Minecraft, and battle royales like Fortnite and Apex Legends. These are games where every experience is different. It’s not a surprise, in hindsight. Players, by definition, want to play. They don’t want to be conscripted characters in someone else’s story, and that’s exactly what many major games are.
I’ve long felt that the “are videogames art?” debate elides the obvious point that the “art” of videogames is usually just cinema, at best. Playing a Triple-A game is largely indistinguishable from watching a movie. The strongest claim games can make to being an art form are titles like Cosmology of Kyoto and Rez…
…obscure, nice products that nobody’s heard of.
Forums are an unkillable zombie from the old internet, on the edge of complete irrelevance for ten years and counting. Predict the demise of forums and they predict the demise of you; we might never be free from BBCode, and signature lines, and people raping the page’s margins with 20-megapixel photos directly off their cameras.
Webmasters hate forums. They require constant maintenance, weaken your site’s security, and break your heart. They’re notoriously unprofitable: users load and refresh countless pages (wasting bandwidth), but this isn’t considered traffic by Google and won’t help your search engine rankings. Additionally, science has yet to find one example of a forum user clicking a banner ad.
There’s no way to win with forums. A dead forum is an embarrassment to your site, like throwing a birthday party and having nobody come. A successful forum is even worse – an accretion of egomaniacs and Little Emperors, cults and factions and politics, with moderators shamelessly playing favorites. Eventually a gang of jaded, old-school users will buck the rules, get mass-banned, start their OWN forum without any FASCIST JACKBOOTED MODERATORS, and do everything in their power to burn your original forum to the ground.
Many forum users (and owners) manifestly hate the place. They can’t leave. They’re prisoners. They’ve shaped the forum, and it’s shaped them in return. They’ve turned into lifers, and they have no idea how to survive outside the Vbulletin bars, even when the forum has turned toxic.
Which brings me to the latest Thing(tm) to hit the science fiction publishing world: an expose by Jason Sanford of violent rhetoric in the forum known Baen’s Bar.
Baen Books is a science fiction publishing house founded in 1983 by publisher and editor Jim Baen, a man with a talent for developing franchises (and individual authors) into profitable properties. He was also technologically well ahead of the curve: Baen was publishing electronically five years before Stephen King wrote Riding the Bullet. Although not explicitly political, the house is generally seen as a bastion for “old school” Heinlein-style adventure SF, which has a more conservative readership than the fandom as a whole.
It also has (or had) a forum. I’ve never read or posted on it, nor did most of the other people holding opinions on the scandal. Straight away you can tell the dialog’s going to be an open running sewer, with people forming judgments based on out of context quotes and screencaptures, and analogizing the drama to GamerGate or Tiananmen Square or some shit. David Chapman’s essay on Geeks, MOPs, and Sociopaths may be relevant. While you should be aware of outsiders exploiting the controversy (and your ignorance) for their own gain, some facts can be ascertained.
[…] just under 1,100 users have made more than 100 comments on the Bar since December 2011 […] And only 8,000 users have made a single comment since December 2011.
This is interesting from a network theory perspective. Online communities typically follow Zipf’s law (Muchnik et al, 2013), with the top 20% of users contributing 80% of posts. Baen’s Bar appears to a skewed ratio of casuals to super-users, indicating a forum that engenders a lot of loyalty.
Baen’s Bar was a small forum, but an unusually “sticky” one. This is a marketer’s dream. You’ve got a warm-network brand! People who will never leave! But it also has a dark side: when users cross a line, it’s hard to rein them in.
After all, they’re your friends.
As far as I can tell, Baen’s Bar suffered the fate of every forum. It aged, and became a parody of itself. As the forum became more and more Baenish, with everyone who wasn’t a true believer slowly falling away, they lost track of how weird they looked to the outside world. Which was fine…until someone screencaptured their worst excesses and broadcasted it to the outside world.
Recent events have brought this to a head. In 2021, Trump got mad that he lost an election, and told people to march to Capitol Hill, whereupon they broke into congressional offices, and bumbled around smashing things. I won’t express an opinion except “it was funny”. Our elected leaders are too big for their britches, and it’d do them good to clean a homeless man’s shit off their desk every morning. You might disagree with the protestors’ methods, but at least they took a stand.
However, some people (pro and against) think it was more than an amusing and freakish event, and represents an act of cultural revanchism of some kind. Baen’s Bar became venue to some heated talk, and some members said things that could be interpreted as calls to violence. Then, suddenly, it all came spilling out. Baen’s insular forum culture was revealed.
I don’t like the exposé very much. It’s sloppy with facts (“5 people were killed”), misrepresents posts to claim that they’re racist (“all the angry and non angry white males should stop going to work for a month or so” is clearly referring to a NY Time piece describing white males as Trump’s army, and it’s hard to see how the second quote is racist), and generally elevates molehills into mountains. And the most important part of analyzing these screencaps – the context – is absent.
For example, a Baen’s Bar user from India was nicknamed “The Swarthy Menace” on the forum by author Tom Kratman
Was this a racial insult? A joke between friends?
“The militia – again, a _well_armed_ militia – is necessary to present a threat in being to the powers that be such that, should they use extra-, pseudo-, and quasi-legal means to try to suppress the party, the price presented will be far too high.”
This quote (again by Kratman) is too weaselly and unspecific to mean anything. Of course a militia should be capable of resisting tyranny. Otherwise it’s not a militia, it’s a gun club. Who’s threatened by this?
I concede, however, that there are quotes that sound scary. Talk of blowing up buildings, and such.
But part of assessing a threat is understanding the venue. Is Baen known for being used as a staging ground for terrorists? Or is it full exaggerated shit-talk and LARPing? “Does it matter?” Of course it matters, dumbass. Terrorists blow up buildings. Shit-talkers don’t blow up buildings. How could it not matter?
I wish people wouldn’t pretend there’s a difference between real threats and fake ones. On Reddit, it’s very easy to fall down a rabbit hole on that site and end up in a comment thread full of radical leftists/tankies/anarchists posting what most people would regard as murder fantasies. I should have saved some posts when /r/leftwithsharpedge was still on the site, it had some real gems. There’s still threads like this, with the title “[GUILLOTINE SHARPENING NOISES]”, and comments like:
Mao: Not the hero we deserve, but the hero we need.
Guillotine? How about just a bat with nails for this one?
rope is cheap and widely available. lampposts and trees are plentiful.
I disagree. I want a spectacle, let’s get them thrown into volcanoes.
All we need a truck and some strong rope.
Are these comments a credit to the people making them? No. Are they credible threats? Probably not. They’re people letting off steam, in a venue where everyone’s trying to out-edge each other. Would Reddit be justified in removing them? Yes. Is it a human rights crisis that they haven’t? No.
Once again US “democracy” shows itself to be rigged. Time for armed revolt.
This +3800 thread on /r/socialism advocates an armed revolution, but mysteriously hasn’t attracted widespread media attention, condemnation, calls for Reddit’s CEO to get disinvited from SXSW, etc. This isn’t a forgotten thread I’ve picked out of some tiny subreddit. +3800 upvotes means it was pretty close to appearing on the front page of the site.
But nobody cared. And they were right not to. These words were not serious. That’s the main issue under consideration: are these “threats” on Baen’s Bar any more substantial or interesting than symbolic posturing, like a Twitter leftist with a guillotine avatar saying “eat the rich”? I don’t think they are.
So the expose has problems, and avenues of counterattack. But the reaction from the forum’s defenders has largely been to shoot themselves in the foot.
Baen’s publisher Toni Weisskopf had a hard row to hoe. If she deletes the mentioned posts and bans the offenders, her users will perceive this as a craven surrender to a bully’s demands. But if she ignores the expose, it will be spun as a further endorsement of violence.
She tried to have it both ways, temporarily closing the forum pending an investigation while refusing to condemn the violent threats. “We take these allegations seriously, and consequently have put the Bar on hiatus while we investigate. But we will not commit censorship of lawful speech.” She might have hoped that the scandal would blow over in a week, and she could reopen the Bar without doing anything. This approach blew up in her face, and caused her to lose her Guest of Honor spot at the 2021 Worldcon.
As I’ve said, you can’t win with forums. In chess, zugzwang is when you’re forced to make a bad move, because there’s no other way. Jason Sanford put her in zugzwang on February 15. There was no way she could have responded without suffering reputational damage, either from the SF community at large or from her own fans.
The smart thing to do, of course, would have been to never allow posts like that on Baen’s Bar to begin with.
But moderation is tricky, particularly with regards to powerful, respected users who are also personal friends. Forums founded on an ethos of “everything goes!” are generally moderated as little as possible, and this establishes precedent that’s hard to break. Like a roof with a hole in it, “everything goes” only seems fine until it starts raining. Moderation is almost always necessary, regardless of your friends’ feelings.
I’ve seen some attempted defenses of Baen’s Bar, and they’re not impressive.
Eric Flint provides an inspired masterclass in missing the point and arguing about the wrong things. Nobody cares whether Sanford is unfairly characterizing Baen’s Bar as conservative. Nobody cares whether Baen’s Bar is conservative to begin with. The forum could be the online wing of the Neo-Maoist Coalition. The point is that it contains threats of violence.
Nor is it a good idea to dismiss threats just because they’re logistically difficult to carry out, as Flint does. This is like arguing “the plaintiff falsely claims I beat my child with a lead pipe, but actually my child-beating pipe is made of aluminium” – this is the worst ground possible to stake an argument on. Also, the discussion is about Baen’s Bar, the forum, not Baen Books, the publisher. Saying that Baen Books publishes socialist/left wing authors is neither here nor there.
Maybe I’m being too hard on him. People will pretend any rebuttal was written with the intent of “pointing a reactionary hate-mob at Jason Sanford” no matter how good it is, so why even try?
Larry Correia’s response is buzzword-loaded but writes checks it can’t cash. “[…] complaints were filed with the various internet companies Baen uses for services to pressure them into kicking us off the internet.” Is this true? I don’t know. Is it proof of a co-ordinated conspiracy? Simpler explanations are at hand. “I’m not going to talk about the moronic loser or go through all the nonsense in his ridiculous hit piece.” That’s a shame. Why even write the post then? David Weber’s defense on Facebook (“there is no way in hell that the Barflies, as they are affectionately known, are advocating for political violence”) rings hollow in light of the quotes Sanford posted. They need to be specifically addressed. You can’t just pretend they’re not there.
One last note: I’m not a conspiratorial person. But my twin from another dimension is, and he just said “this is how you kill Baen’s Bar”.
Forums don’t always die on their own. Sometimes they’re poisoned by an outside source. Old newsgroupers still talk about Eternal September, when AOL began offering free Usenet access to its subscribers, causing an influx of annoying n00bs that overwhelmed existing newsgroup culture. In 2009, xkcd described how author Stephanie Meyer could nuke 4chan from the internet by mentioning it in her next Twilight book.
And now, the word on Baen’s Bar is that it’s full of right wing lunatics.
“If at any point we get a sensible administration, ICE will be disbanded and its legitimate functions given to a different bureaucracy under a new name… because, since ‘ICE’ now has a reputation as child abusers, mainly Dark Triad types will apply to work there going forward.” So said Eliezer Yudkowsky about a different issue, and I understand his point. Narratives can be self-fulfilling: if everyone talks about a certain place being full of x people, then x people are differentially likely to go there.
It’d be interesting to see Baen’s Bar post-expose. Barring a new moderation strategy, I don’t see it ever getting better. New registrants will be culture warriors and people with a grievance, they’ll drive moderates out, the rhetoric will become more extreme, and eventually they’ll get a person who isn’t a LARPer. Curtains for the forum.
Baen’s Bar might not even be worth bringing back. Even if it wasn’t the far-right rat trap Sanford describes, it will likely become one now.
[Q. Why do forums still exist, given the existence of splendid social media sites like Parler and Voat and Pewtube?
A. Because of gravitational forces. Forums are like planets, you can lightly skim the outer atmosphere and escape, but once you actually land on one it’s very difficult to leave. You make friends, build a “reputation” (a useless one), participate in shared events and collective history (“remember when us brave Tails-Slash-Fanfic.org forumers stood against the Sonic-Anal-Freaks.net invasion of 2003?”), and soon you’re kind of held there by inertia. And if this is how a user feels, think of how much more compelling it must be to be a forum owner.]