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I first read Outskirter as Upskirter and thought "Is James reviewing an SF saga centered on creepshot photographers?"

Then I read Outskirter as euphemism for clothed only heavy petting and thought, "Is this some sort of Steampunk Chaste Erotica series?"

I was quite disappointed to discover that it wasn't about Victorian interstellar adventurers who frequently engage in dry humping, but nothing more.

Edited at 2014-04-29 04:21 pm (UTC)

Thanks for reviewing this series; the books are really good and deserve a much wider audience.

There are not words for how much I like and admire that series.

It was only on rereading the first one that I realized goblins (or, at least, the wood goblin she interacts with via sign language) are chimpanzees.

(face palm) of course they are.

That occurred to me when I read the first book recently. To be fair, I'd been primed by hearing so much about the series; I was on the lookout for science-y explanations. But the wood goblin had a pretty well-defined grasp of syntax for a chimpanzee, I thought. It seemed like either some bonus evolution has happened, or they're extraterrestrial chimp analogues.

I figured they had been genetically modified at some point.

It might be that at the time it was written the chimps' ability to use syntax was over-estimated or at least overhyped in pop-sci articles.

It's obvious that this is a lost human colony from David Brin's Uplift universe.


She's done that a lot: the dragons are robots, so that's what the demons are (I kept picturing Dalek-like robots). Only they're not.

Therefore the gnomes are native! Only, at least one kind is not. (There are multiple kinds, and I don't think they're all apes.)

Did this review show up on usenet?

Edited at 2014-04-30 11:45 am (UTC)

Did this review show up on usenet?

Um. Yyyyyyyyyes. Don't look at rasfw for a bit.

I think the GOBLINS are a native hexapod-based species. I think it's the GNOMES that are chimpanzees.

There's a point where Rowan is basically categorizing different kinds of animals, with, I think, the goblins, the silkworms, the "LITTLE SNAILS?!?" from Janus's map, some other bugs, and stuff being one type; humans, wood gnomes, cattle, goats, outskirter goats, Inner Lands birds, as a second type; and demons being a third type entirely.

I may be getting a lot of that wrong, of course.

Ah, gnomes vs goblins would explain my confusion, wouldn't it?

I'd ask her for a list of what we've learned about the native ecology so far, but... well. She has much more important things to do, and I want her to work on the next books after that. :)

Yeah, the same thing happened to me the first ... three or four ... times I read it. Somehow, my brain just sort of goes "fantasy humanoid critter starting with G" and stops there. It wasn't until it was so clear that the thing which hung around the Archive was completely unlike the heavily armored things that swarm around and kill people that I flipped back and forth until I realized that they were two different words.

I think the GOBLINS are a native hexapod-based species.

ITYM "quadrapod" there. Although hexapodia is a key insight.

Uh gnomes. The critters that hang around the archives are called wood gnomes by the steerswomen. The goblins are a purely native species.

They could be, but they kept seeming smaller than that in the descriptive passages at the Archives?

I love this series so much.

Gonna argue about one thing: "everything that a steerswoman did know was true" I think is true, for a specifically scientific value of true, which is, a steerswoman can point to how she knows it! Which is exactly how science works: which is exactly why we talk about the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution etc., because we have no revealed truth, but we have things that we can explain exactly how and why our observations lead us to believe that they are true. And yes, the steerswomen can be wrong, in exactly the same way that current scientific understanding is imperfect and can be overturned. It is still the closest approach we have to "true" - if you call that not true, there's not a whole lot of use for the word "true". Outside of mathematical proofs, of course.

Not that Slado is an angel, but I can see no way for this not to end in tears. As you note, it's either further gentrification or the end of humanity here.

I'm thinking the gods sound like galaxy-seeding type aliens here, but I hope not, because that sounds pretty weak.

Is the alien ecology that toxic to humans? (I need to re-read, and will, soon).
I remember they are incompatible, i.e. neither can digest the other (except for that one notable exception), and that buried terran carcasses/bodies will poison the surrounding alien flora, but I don't remember that merely touching an alien lifeform causes burns (assuming you meant a burning sensation and not actually going up in flames).

Well, a HECK of a lot of the Outskirts is corrosive to humans: demon flesh is highly corrosive, and they apparently evolved in a water body filled with some sort of toxic-to-humans salts; tangletrees will rip your skin off if you fall in them, because they've got a vicious barbed-wire-like internal structure, and so forth.

tangletrees will rip your skin off if you fall in them

You're thinking of the lichen towers here. IIRC, tanglebushes are just alien tumbleweeds (maybe with thorns).

I need to reread the series...

The fluid in demon eggs is corrosive and you can, I believe, get a rash just from brushing up against black grass.

I think blackgrass may be exploiting a broader spectrum of light than greengrass and that may be why it can outcompete greengrass.

The alien and human ecologies are mutually toxic, yes (and we find that out fairly early so it's not really a spoiler)

I feel mildly embarrassed that your rot-13'ed speculation never even occurred to me. I don't know that it's what's actually going on, but it makes sense. It would explain Slado's actions. And, of course, wizards have more abilities at their disposal, but aren't otherwise any smarter than any other people: Slado may have no idea about the culturally-enforced population pressure. It might well be possible to stop Routine Bioform Clearance where it is, and leave the demon culture intact, with the Inner Lands going smack up against blackgrass, but only by destroying the entire redgrass Outskirter culture -- even if Slado thought about that, he may have never even considered that the Outskirters would raid the Inner Lands to survive.

Or he may have thought of that, but considered it an acceptable price, figuring that, after a generation or two, it would all shake out: even if the Outskirters are individually much better fighters than Inner Landers, nomadic cultures never actually successfully conquer and hold cities in the long run (Except The Mongols).

Actually, I think the wizards know full well about population pressure. The "wars" they arrange are pretty clearly designed to cull the herd, so to speak.

I meant to mention: either Someone is maintaining and replacing the Guidestars, which I don't think the text supports, or Someone built orbiters that have lasted 60+ generations and seem intended to last many more.

Edited at 2014-04-30 03:28 pm (UTC)

Assuming that this universe doesn't have FTL (unknown), they need to have the ability to build durable tech just to have gotten here in the first place.

They don't have the problem our earth has of "lots of man-made space junk in effectively random orbits". Presumably, they could have cleared out any naturally-occurring space junk in nearby orbits.

I'm thinking the Guidestars are leftover starship engines. Casimir handwavium microwave photon drives, perhaps. Not sure why such a thing would need PV cells, though.

In The Language of Power there's much more evidence for what Slado is doing and why, and it seems to me fairly clear that Gur Xehr jrer gur perj bs n fgnefuvc naq gur Bhgfxvegref jrer fbzr bs gur cnffratref naq gur naprfgbef bs gur Vaare Ynaqf crbcyr jrer creuncf n qvssrerag pynff bs cnffratref. Naq Xvrena fnj guebhtu gur gryrfpbcr ba T4, gur thvqrfgne Fynqb yngre oebhtug qbja, gung arj fuvcf ner pbzvat, naq ur vzzrqvngryl fgnegrq gb gerng gur ybpnyf orggre fb gung jura gur arj fuvcf tbg urer (nal obbx abj) guvatf jbhyqa'g ybbx dhvgr fb njshy, orpnhfr gur Xehr ner ybfvat gurve tevc ba grpu naq gur arj fuvcf jvyy unir nyy bs vg naq or noyr gb synggra gurz rnfvyl vs gurl guvax gurl arrq gb. Ohg Fynqb xvyyrq Xvrena naq oebhtug qbja gur thvqrfgne naq cebonoyl guvaxf ur pna qrny jvgu gur arj neevinyf jvgu ebhgvar ovbsbez pyrnenapr, be ol sbepvat gur jne orgjrra gur Bhgfxvegref naq gur Vaare Ynaqf sbe gurve neeviny, fb gung ur pna fnl "Ybbx, gurfr oneonevnaf, nyjnlf svtugvat, fb njshy, bs pbhefr jr pbhyqa'g yrg gurz unir yvtugf naq zhfvp, uryc zr jvgu gurz!" naq trg gurz ba uvf fvqr.

Just my theory.

... oooh. Now that's an idea.

I really need to do another complete reread of these.

I'm of the opinion that the Inner Landers were colonists, and the Outskirters were security/scouts. Note that the Krue and the Outskirters use SI measurements and 24 hour time while the Inner Landers use Imperial measurements and 12 hour time. The Outskirters also use a 12 point relative system for describing orientation which just screams "military" to me.

I also suspect that redgrass was bioengineered as an intermediary between blackgrass and greengrass for terraforming purposes. The Outskirts goats probably have some very interesting bioengineered bacteria in their guts that enable them to extract nutrition from redgrass. Said bacteria are inadequate to the task of extracting anything useful from blackgrass.

And consider the title given to the head of an Outskirter tribe.

Actually, I had noticed that; it was AFAIC, one of the earliest tipoffs. I just forgot to mention it in my previous comment.

I'm probably not the only one who had flashback to the Tesh and the Sevateem.

I was just noting that. "'seyoh' sounds kind of Native American. Wait, or like CEO. Or no, even simply, CO. Oh-ho."

Yes, that makes sense. Entirely agree about the goats and the redgrass. And certainly the way the Outskirters use civilized units while the Inner Landers use barbarous ones is a clue, as with Einar's song, a link, a lock etc.


I think Slado was experimenting:

Fynqb qvqa'g oevat qbja gur thvqrfgne orpnhfr ur pnerq nobhg gur thvqrfgne vgfrys. Engure, ur jnf grfgvat bhe jungrire qrsrafrf gur cynarg unq. Fynqb vagraqf gb qrfgebl gur vapbzvat fgnefuvc jura vg neevirf. Ur jvyy hfr jungrire zrpunavfz ur hfrq gb qrfgebl gur thvqrfgne.

That's an interesting thought.

My recent pet theory (which I posted on RASFW and am repasting here):

There's some emphasis on the poem about the legendary starship captain and (what seems to be) the ship's AI. It seems to be a tragedy, which implies that the ship crashed or was wrecked and this entire terraforming plan is a desperate survival gambit.

My idea: Gur pheerag Fgrrefjbzra guvax gurve anzr ribyirq sebz n thvyq bs zncznxref, ohg V org gurl'er jebat. Gur fgnefuvc negvsvpvny vagryyvtrapr jnf gur bevtvany "fgrrefjbzna" (n ploreargvp vagryyvtrapr genafyngrq sebz Terrx guebhtu n srzvavar fuvc cebabha).

Some google-scanning indicates that I'm not the first person to think of this idea, but there hasn't been much discussion of it.

Oh awesome!

I am absolutely certain your speculation is correct because it fits in every way and makes me happy, and yet I had never thought of it before, and I think about those books a lot. Thank you.

Rowan's dream in this book might support that.

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