May. 18th, 2006

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The Toronto neighbourhood of Rosedale is famous for its wealth, and indeed, walking last night with the boyfriend through this neighbourhood of multi-million dollar homes (and at least one multi-million dollar lawn), I was indeed impressed. The property taxes paid annually on some of these homes has to be at least equivalent to my father's annual salary. Interestingly enough it was a bright night, so far as I could tell not because of the Moon's location in the sky but rather because of the city lights reflecting off of the thick cloud cover.
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I went in to see Friends with Money expecting not to like the film very much, but NOW's recent review was entirely correct in its rating of the film as an entertaining mid-range entry. I can't fault the actors: Jennifer Aniston's quirky single routine might be old, true, but she pulls it off well, as does Catherine Keener her character of an unhappily married screenwriter and Frances McDormand's her clothes designer trapped in a nervous breakdown. Simon McBurney, who plays McDormand's ambiguous husband (I'm now inclining towards the theory that he's closeted, not metrosexual), deserves special mention for his paradoxically precise protrayal of his character's unvoiced uncertainties. If there is a problem with the film, it's that the entertaining hostility that pervades the film's circle of Los Angeleno friends is resolved too quickly and too easily. These friends might have a lot of money indeed, but it can't make problems like their fundamental discontent go away as easily as the film claims.
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Until recently, one of the biggest flaws in the history of the vast, sprawlling Traveller roleplaying game universe lay in the unlikely nature of Terra's introduction to galactic society. In the late 2090s, an American deep-space exploration ship using the newly-developed faster-than-light jump drive travelled to Barnard's Star. There, to the immense surprise of everyone back on Earth, the Americans encountered an outpost of the Ziru Sirka, a vast and ancient empire of ten thousand planetary systems dominated by the Vilani, a verifiably human culture that had developed since prehistory on the distant world of Vland and had developed to the point that, as a RPGnet reviewer notes, were "setting up interstellar colonies at the same time earth's civilizations were running around building the ancient pyramids." In the two centuries after Terran-Vilani contact, Traveller canon has it that the Terrans not only managed to united to form the Terran Confederation, but that this Confederation managed to conquer the Ziru Sirka. This success seems a bit much for a single planet pitted against ten thousand, even excluding the fact that, at the moment of first contact, Terra was rather more backwards than any of the major worlds of the Ziru Sirka. I like my world, I really do, but on its face this history is just a bit too rah-rah Terracentric.

Fortunately, good writers have been able to give this unlikely outcome a reasonably plausible history. Ziegler outlined this series of events in his GURPS Traveller: Rim of Fire, the Traveller sourcebook detailing the sector of inhabited space around Earth. Now, joining with Drye and Wiseman, we have the GURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars to give a much fuller description of this history that has the added virtue of being plausible. The structure of the Ziru Sirka and the nature of Vilani society is described in detail for perhaps the first time, for instance. It turns out that the failure of the Vilani to conquer Terra in the First Interstellar War can be explained by Vilani conservatism, by a principled devotion to a constantly regulated steady-state empire that simply couldn't adjust quickly enough to the threat posed by the dynamic Terrans. The easy assimilation of Terra's early conquests is explained by the presence of the kimashargur, a dissident Vilani culture resentful of its lost independence and eager to ally with its Terran liberators. The apparent unity of Terran civilization under the Confederation is explained, in the chapter devoted to the Terrans, to be a mere fa├žade covering great power alliances and nationalist resentments. Going on from this needed clarifications, Interstellar Wars goes on to provide all the information that anyone could want for a complete set of adventures in this milieu. Known space is described in detail, for instance, though I'm bit disappointed that, as the book's Wikipedia entry suggests, hints of a map showing all of known space circa the mid-22nd century weren't followed up. Systems are provided for the generation of trade routes and subsectors of space, descriptions and blueprints of spacecraft given, and adventure seeds provided.

In the space of Interstellar Wars' 240 pages, the authors manage to create an impressively complete and reasonably plausible near-future science fiction setting, capable of standing separately from the Traveller canon on its own merits. I rather like this book, and see no reason why other people interested in settings like this one would disagree.
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It's a well-known fact that the maple tree--specifically, the stylized maple leaf--is a national symbol of Canada. There are some maple trees on Prince Edward Island, but they don't form an overwhelmingly prominent portion of my home province's native flora. Outside of their southern Canadian heartland, maple trees can be quite scarce. I remember one friend from Alberta who was amused by the profusion of maple trees in Kingston, telling me that now he understood why the maple tree was a Canadian symbol that maple trees tended to sicken and die in the climate of the Prairies. (I leave to the reader, as an exercise, the possibility of this being a metaphorical description of Canada's future.)

Here in my neighbourhood, in the heartland of the largest city of Canada and in the maple's home turf, maple trees are everywhere. Right now, the sidewalks are littered with their hard green winged seeds. A week ago, the sidewalks and the pavement and lawns were covered with yellow maple flowers. The flowers were impressive in the trees, but on the ground that they often blanketed several centimetres deep they were definitely worthy of a slower, more appreciative, walk. It didn't take long before they were mulched, by vehicle passages and by footfalls, but for the brief time that they remained intact the banks were nice to look at.

My allergic sneezing fits started just a couple of days later. They aren't bad fits, mind, but they're definitely aggravating. The only thing about spring that I dislike are my allergies. Why can't my appreciation of reviving nature by limited to aesthetic and intellectual contexts? My body can remain quite neutral on the issue, thank you very much.
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