Friday, January 15, 2021

Pwyll Prince of Dyved — Criticism

Pwyll Prince of Dyved reads like a cautionary tale, especially for the next generation's leaders of the clan or country.

Pwyll is a harsh leader, uncivil. One day hunting he comes across hounds taking down a dear. No one has ever seen hounds like these, with their white coat and red ears. Pwyll is struck by their appearance, but not for long. He soon chases them away for his dogs to eat.

Arawn confronts him about his uncivil behavior. After all, Arawn's dogs had chased down the dear. After some unpleasant talk back and forth, the two agree to exchange place. Arawn had been tricked into allowing Havgan, a rival king, to live after he was defeated in a battle between the two. Arawn now knows how to defeat him, but will have Pwyll go in his stead. If Pwyll follows instruction and controls himself he has a good chance to defeat Havgan. On both counts Pwyll does well, emerging victoriously. In his absence, Arawn has ruled in Pwyll's kingdom; and when Pwyll returns he asks how he has governed in the previous year compared to how he ruled previously. The people are very pleased how matters have gone the previous year, and hope this will continue. His rule had greatly changed, and he promises to maintain a benign course.

With no experience in genteel governance, he fails at his imminent wedding. He has become too civil, and loses Rhiannon to Gwawl. He must learn proper diplomatic procedure. Getting back Rhiannon from Gwawl, however, will not succeed by requesting a favor. Gwawl is too shrewd. Pwyll learns to deceive when all else but brutality will fail. There is sufficient violence to make Gwawl relinquish Rhiannon, but it does not cause his death. Pwyll is also lenient with Rhiannon, allowing her to choose her own punishment. As with his care for her, so too the people seldom, or never, demand she carry them into the castle.

At the the end of Pwyll and Arawn’s change of identity, they exchange gifts. But Pwyll does not seem to understand the nature of gift-giving to others. On the morning after their wedding, Rhiannon appears to have to tell him to give gifts to minstrels and suitors, apparently, servants too. She says: "My lord...arise and begin to give thy gifts unto the minstrels. Refuse no one today that may claim thy bounty." If the lesson needs to be reinforced to the young listeners, years later in the tale Teirnyon's wife remarks on the gifts they could expect to receive for returning Pwyll's son. Though Teirnyon refuses all, Pwyll would have gladly bestowed many gifts on him.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Pwyll Prince of Dyved — Culture/History

 The Mabinogion, as it is titled, or more properly, Mabinogi, is a collection of eleven Welsh Medieval tales that some scholars separate into four branches, with Pwyll Prince of Dyved being the first branch. Other scholars see the tales as independent creations, though some characters are found in more than one text. One or two translators added to the number of tales. The spelling of names is taken from Lady Charlotte Guest, the 19th century translator of the Mabinogion.

Dyved is in southwest Wales. Arawn, who confronts Pwyll over his dogs, is Lord of Annwvyn. Charlotte Guest identifies Annwvyn with Hades. This leads to a misreading of the tale. Annwvyn, as others have identified it, is the Otherworld. In this tale, as others, there is an interaction between humans and gods or spirits. Individuals and events approach a fine line between the two. Rhiannon on horseback outstripping her pursuers though her horse ambles; and Pryderi, who grows up far faster than any child could, are two examples here.

Pwyll Prince of Dyved appears to me to be a text for young aristocrats to learn by. For example, at the first feast Pwyll tells Gwawl, who seeks to have Rhiannon, "What boon soever thou mayest ask of me, as far as I am able, thou shalt have." Pwyll quickly learns that this is an improper answer. At another time, Gwawl, has the correct response: "Welcome be thine errand, and if thou ask of me that which is just, thou shalt have it gladly." More of this will be included in the criticism, next posting.

The horse is a constant feature in the tale: Arawn and Rhiannon ride one; the colt that was going to be snatched is to be broken in for Prydrei; even Rhiannon's punishment makes her horse-like, as she to carry people into the castle on her back. The colt's relationship with the newborn Prydei is part of the otherworldly connection in the tale. The horse seems to have no structural significance in the tale; it likely reflects the value people placed on it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Twilight of the Eridanis (conslusion)


Previous Orchidia fends off an alien attack originating from the Eridani Supervoid, then sets course there.

A chunk of the wrecked alien wedge narrowly missed bouncing off Orchidia's shields. Suddenly the ship wasn't there, having  made one of three hyperjumps bringing it to the coordinates of the dimensional rift. Moast's plan to mine it with a black hole bomb would have to wait: the next attack was in transit.

"It's huge," said Science Officer Kyra. "Over three times our mass."

The two Eridani refugees Doinhu and Vreemid, having come along as advisors, couldn't help. Doinhu watched the main viewer with its data points converging about a cross-hair image. "This is new to us. They only needed the wedges to destroy our system." 

The cross-hair began inward, repeating courses of targeting rings, now colored red. Lights on the bridge dimmed as non-essential units powered down for energy transfer. 

"Primary weapon fully energized," said the AI. "Calculating optimal firing sequence." 

"Say when, Orchidia." Moast turned to the refugees. "She thinks a lot faster than we do."

Vreemid had a nervous hand at her throat. "What is this weapon? Can it stop the aliens?"

"The pulse wave cannon," informed Kyra, "runs the length of the ship. It's capable of smashing small moons." 

Moast was taking no chances. "Deploy the mine. If they somehow survive the pulse gun, that will give them plenty to think about." And hopefully collapse the quantum entanglement of universes. 

A conical, ringed satellite separated from a belly blister and took up position dangerously close to the blast zone. The nose cannon fired as a hazy image was materializing in the rift. Both refugees hugged each other, startled by the roar and vibration. The viewer went mostly white with the blast effect of a small nova. At the eight second mark, the AI recommended detonation of the mine.

The ship rapidly backed away as the black hole bomb added its own mayhem to the mix. The shields presented a sharp edge to the blue shock wave resulting from detonation. Full reverse was required to pull them away from the demonic suction of the vortex. 

Helmsman Chet looked over his readouts. "Looks like we've done it. No trace of the rift."

During a leisurely return to the Builder portal in the Magellanic Cloud, the refugees had a spirited discussion. Doinhu approached Moast with a conflicted expression. "Commander, I've decided where my people go from here. There is a suitable world in the Eridani constellation, one we didn't dare settle on until now. But it saddens me to say that Vreemid will not be with us."

Vreemid looked uneasy in the spotlight. "There are too many memories aboard out ship." It had been their home for 110 years. "I. . . .wish to remain among your kind, to study your science."

"Glad to have you," Moast said, "if you're willing to risk it. Unlike you, we destroyed our own world." He left the bridge to Kyra.

Some time later in Moast's quarters, a familiar avatar appeared, a blue waif who rotated to face him.

Moast set his coffee down. "I've been expecting you, Orchidia, and I know what's on your mind."

"The alien enslavement to their machines." 

"You've analyzed the Apocalypse Wars. How do you see it?"

"I have not been to Earth. Your vantage point is required."

Moast picked up the coffee again. "It all started with censorship. Only one voice was heard, telling people how good it was to be trans-humanized with implants and vaccines. Everything, right down to diapers, had to be wired to the internet. Corrupted DNA made these people feel that all who didn't join the club needed to be rounded up in labor camps. It didn't sit well with the intended victims."

"Then our present symbiosis must be maintained. You do not serve us, and we do not serve you."

"That's surprisingly practical," Moast said. "Don't you find us slow-witted? It wouldn't happen in a machine society."

"Neither are we capable of emotional reasoning. It is that quality which makes you both unpredictable yet trustworthy, as your are easily scanned for corrupting influence."

"In other words. . . ." Moast grinned. "you can't trust a machine." Orchidia permitted no one but Moast access to her core processing vault, which she was always tweaking. 

Not one for social graces, the avatar merely vanished when there was nothing else to say. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Twilight of the Eridanis (2)


Previous Survivors of a nearly exterminated race seek final refuge at Pluto Station.

A week of frenzied preparations saw Orchidia's launch into the portal from which the Eridani ship had arrived. Captain Doinhu and chief scientist Vreemid, uneasy celebrities in the Sol system, gladly went along as advisors. They couldn't answer the key question: why hadn't the aliens, so terrible as to be unnamed, spread to other stars in their quest to end all life? Doinhu was sure they hadn't found the ancient Builder portal in the Large Magellanic Cloud, the refuge that had sheltered the Eridanis for 110 years--until a chance encounter with an alien probe.

Indeed, the vast shell of the portal at the Magellanic terminus was deserted when Orchidia exited the transfer chamber. Floodlights barely picked out detail in the dark. Neither did any threats await outside in the nebula. A series of hyperjumps brought the ship to the Eridani core systems, where the blue elipse of Achenar A illumined an orbiting asteroid field.

Vreemid clasped hands in mournful reverie. "That was once one of our colonies." Both she and Doinhu found no words at the sad homecoming. 

At the science station, First Officer Kyra passed hands over the comlink. "Broadcasting continuous episodes of Star Trek on the emf band. That should overcome interference from the star's coronal ejection field."

Doinhu came to look at her screen. "What are you doing? It was our own space operas that brought the aliens upon us. In their twisted logic, they had to get us before we became that powerful."

"Basic tactics," said Commander Moast. "Let the enemy come to you." He swiveled to face the main viewer. Bearded helmsman Chet flew a lazy course through the debris, while the stocky navigator Berl scanned for anomalies in the Eridani Supervoid, suspected source of extra-dimensional invasion. If this was an entanglement of universes, the passage would have to be small and fixed in position.

"Contact," Berl called out. "Class B pulse just occurred in the void. Coordinates locked." On cue, Chet piloted the ship just inside the star's ejection zone. Anything entering here, no matter how stealthy, would reflect like a Christmas tree. 

"Remember," Doinhu warned. "Don't receive any communications. And their weapons have more than one use."

At hyperlight speed, the aliens needed only six hours to enter the system. Their first act, predictably, was attack. But Orchidia's shielding, unlike the solid wall of scifi, could be modulated to a knife edge. Most of the plasma beam was deflected to either side.

"Warning," the AI said as the ship jolted to the minor impact. "Alien weapon has ionized the hull. Navigation is offline." As the AI found this wholly unacceptable, she flew the ship deeper into the coronal ejection zone to "sandblast" away the effect. 

It jibed with Moast's own strategy. "Let them think we're on the defensive. Helm, back us off fifty kilometers. Take down all sensors except nav." He gave a signal to Kyra. 

"Launching sensor drones," she called out. 

Three dart-like shapes sped out to take up a triangulating position around the intruder. These were picked off by particle beams, though the probes had time to transmit their data. 

"Enemy position locked. Size does not exceed plan parameters."

"Execute," Moast ordered.

Doinhu and Vreemed were disoriented by their first hyperjump experience, taking to their seats with a touch of dizziness. "What happened?" Doinhu asked. "Where did the alien go?"

"Maneuver complete. Force field in place."

"With me," Moast said. Kyra, Vreemid and Doinhu followed him to the main cargo bay. Normally stocked with provisions, it had been cleared out, even to removal of some braces, to create a large empty space. 

Doinhu gaped at the black wedge hovering in a containment field. "How is this possible?"

"We jumped right on top of him," Moast said. "Had we been slightly off, that would have been a much bigger problem for him than for us." 

"The nanite beam." Vreemid wrung hands and got closer to Doinhu. "What's to stop them using it?"

Moast grinned at their abject fear, in an understanding way. "You may not know what a shotgun is, but think of one with the barrel clogged. You don't want to pull the trigger."

"So then!" Doinhu braced fists on hips. "You finally came against someone bigger and smarter!" He glared defiance at the enemy.

Abruptly a hatch opened in the craft's belly. Unable to exit, a figure appeared there, a kind of  naked-looking salamander.

"Translating alien speech: We are not responsible. We serve the machines." The hatch closed, blocking the fearful crewman from view. "Energy buildup to detonation. Preparing to eject."

The ship's shuttle hatch opened, and the alien was hurled down into space. Three drones immediately attached themselves, using a powerful damping field to disrupt the wedge's power system. The AI had tuned them according to scans of the captured ship. As it tumbled out of control, she targeted the port chain gun in case the enemy decided not to commit suicide. The cargo bay vibrated to a stream of glowing plasma shells that stitched into the craft and blew it apart.

Doinhu gasped. "I never thought I would see the day. We could never penetrate their shielding."

"Plasma shells," informed Kyra, "pack a wallop, and fire at a thousand rounds per minute. No static shielding can remodulate fast enough to reinforce the impact area. The only escape is evasive maneuvers."

Moast turned to the amazed Eridanis. "Now the hard part. The Consortium wants me to invade the alien system and destroy their home world."

"You can't!" Vreemid objected. "They must have millions of wedges, not to mention large warships. And they're undoubtedly on the way now!"

"True," Moast allowed. "Which is why I'm going with Plan B. Never leave your solar system without one."