Monday, August 24, 2015

Humor and Pranks: a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary with VIDEO

Hands-down, the Humor and Pranks hangout was the most ill-fated hangout I have ever attempted to this point. I kept having to delay it, and delay it again, and then didn't have time to write it up... it was almost as if the whole thing were in itself a humorous prank!

Mischief and pranks have an important place in human cultures. Locally, we have April 1st, a holiday dedicated to fools and mischief, as well as Halloween, in itself a sort of mischief night (which can border on destructive). Brian mentioned that April 1st in Britain has historically been an occasion for elaborate stories and japes, including by television and newspapers, though he thinks the prevalence of satire sites has diluted the effect of the day itself. In the early 1960's the BBC had a whole report on the spaghetti harvest (from spaghetti trees) in Italy. There was another one in the Guardian in 1977 about the fictional country of San Serriffe. The whole idea was to make it just plausible enough, while at the same time using a semicolon-shaped map, and engaging other print-related jokes.

Che asked if humor was universal. It probably is, but the shape it takes will depend on which culture it appears in. Humor may have arisen as a form of play. Play, we decided, is a great way for young creatures to learn adult skills in a safer environment where it's not literally life or death.

Humor often relies on playing right at the edge of established social rules or taboos. It can lead to discomfort and people will sometimes protect themselves from reprisal by saying "only kidding" and trying to classify their speech as attempted humor (whether or not it actually was!).

Fools and jesters have an important role in mental health. They reduce tension. They play with exploring uncomfortable ideas. A step away from stress is probably also good for physical health. People with chronic pain are often very humorous because they use humor to distract themselves or protect themselves.

There is always the question of who is allowed to tell a joke. My sense was to compare it to the concentric circles of the diagram of tragedy - the innermost circle, the most affected, can joke to others, and it's probably acceptable to joke "outwards" about uncomfortable topics, but not inward. The more common way to talk about it is to say it's not okay to "punch down."

Jesters were also allowed, more than anyone else, to mock the powerful. George II apparently banished his court jester.

We talked about the tradition of roasts, where the guest of honor gets mocked. That guest is still in a position of honor and power, however.

There is a lot of cultural capital and privilege invested in the use of humor.

When you are paid for being funny, there are extra rules... like, "Don't offend the people who are paying you." Humor always walks that fine line.

We discussed some of the historical records of jesters. The earliest names known in Europe generally come from the Renaissance. Henry II had a jester. Apparently in the 5th century, there were people who farted on command. Apparently there was a jester in China called Chin Huang Ti in 207 BCE. Though the stereotype of jesters is medieval European, this is not really true.

Humor gives a degree of safety. Flirtation is a form of humorous play allowing approach while defusing the serious aspects of sexual interest.

What is the lowest form of wit? Puns? Sarcasm? Potty humor? In babies, you see humor around their discoveries about their bodies. It also becomes a way to gain power relative to parents, to explore and seize power.

There is scatological humor, visual humor, slapstick humor, language humor. Non sequiturs can be really funny, as can lack of sense-making.

If you are using humor, consider who tells the joke.

What is the role of profanity? Is it just for shock value? Is it identity politics?

We spoke briefly about the humorous interviews on The Daily Show and why they were humorous. We also talked about how sarcasm is rare in Japan, and not used in the same contexts.

Thank you to everyone who participated. I'm so glad this report is finally out!

This week's hangout will be Wednesday, August 26th at 3pm Pacific and we'll be discussing Modesty. I hope you can join us!


My new SF/F Reading Journal for next year's Hugos

I have been inspired by this year's Hugos.

It's become clear to me, as perhaps it has to many others, that entrusting my opinions of the latest genre works to others to nominate for awards is not enough any more.

One might ask: why haven't I done the active, thorough job I wanted on nominating? Easy: life. The biggest factor in my failure is my faulty, distracted, non-eidetic memory.

Therefore, I'm starting a reading journal.

Essentially, I am a very busy person (as many are), and I can't always call to mind every story I've read in a year, even the good ones. From now on, every time I read a story in the field, or a brilliant article, etc. I'll be writing down title, author, and publication.

That way I can get to the end of the year and remember not just the one or two stories that totally blew me away, but the other ones I loved but read on a day when I had 20 errands and a home play date. Or the ones I loved on a day when I was sick, or when I was in the middle of a crazy vacation.

I'm really excited about this, actually. I love to support stories I have enjoyed. The whole field is better off when we read each other's work, talk about it, and support it.

I hope everyone with a Hugo membership this year will consider doing the same going forward. We need everyone involved.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Stina Leicht and Cold Iron: a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary with VIDEO!

Last week Stina Leicht dropped by to talk to us about her new book, Cold Iron, which is out now! This was a really fun conversation because in Stina's last visit to Dive into Worldbuilding, we got a few hints about her work on this project, and this time we were able to talk about how the novel had come together.

Stina says it's hard to do elevator pitches for epic fantasy, but that she began it with a starter question: What if Tolkien were American? She got the inspiration in part from an essay about how epic fantasy glorified feudalism. So her idea was to take the tropes of Tolkien, and change them. She set the book in a world resembling the late 1700's (technologically and culturally). She did some research on the time period to get inspirations from the history. One thing she picked up was the smallpox epidemic.

In this world, there are humans, and kaenin. Kaenin have magic and pointy ears, and humans don't (Stina finds a lovely backwards way of showing this in the book, too). Kaenin are diverse. People came to their nation, Eledor, from all over the world. Skin tones vary among the Kaenin but they are not the thing that identifies them as Kaenin; possession of magic is. People without power are not considered worthy by them, and thus humans are looked down on. So are Kaenin born without power.

The magic of the Kaenin is "command magic." They can tell you you are seeing things that you are not, as when, for example, they hand you dead leaves and you accept them as money. Different families among the Kaenin have different powers that are handed down. Stina described an inspiration she got at a retreat with her agent, Barry Goldblatt. Magical power is a "footprint in the world" like money. She asked, "How can you treat magic like money?" It doesn't work in every situation, but it leads to some interesting opportunities.

In Cold Iron, the Acrasians are the enemies, the Big Bad. Book 2 starts in Acrasia. The Acrasians come through Rifts; the first Rift occurred in Eledor.

The book notably includes a map. She said that she hadn't wanted to draw a map, because Tolkien did it so well. I noted that the map she included looks a bit like America. She told us she'd agonized over details like "Is this accurate?" "Would mountains really form here?" "How long would it really take to travel from here to here?"

She said she got inspired by an image from Jeff Vandermeer's Wonderbook, which shows a dragon outline made out of layered cloud shapes. She decided to take ghosts and demons and layer them over each other to create her map. The native peoples of the region are Kaenin, while the immigrants are the Acrasians, coming from a culture like ancient Rome.

Despite her protestations that she did a minimum of research, so she could "have fun," I suspect this was simply in contrast with the years of incredible, politically exacting research she did for her novels set in Northern Ireland. Stina says she did quite a bit of reading about the Georgian era in America, and particularly recommends the book Pox Americana.

In her world, the Acrasians have developed the musket. It has been around in their culture for a while, but has not been in Eledor for very long. Rifling is very new to both cultures.

The book is the first of a planned series. Each book will stand alone, but all will be connected. Stina is enjoying playing with the characters, and letting the world breathe and grow. She wants people to be able to pick up Book 3 and not suffer from the lack of knowledge from books 1 and 2.

Che asked whether we will be going to places other than Eledor. Stina said, "Eventually." She told us about the water-born nations, which are clans who live on ships at sea and believe in the Sea Mother. She says she took inspiration here from the East India company. No one outside a clan gets to learn where their home island is. They have magic that works on the water. She loves this group because she has always loved pirate stories like Kidnapped and Treasure Island.

The first book uses three points of view and a mosaic plot structure. The three are Nels, Suvi his twin sister, and Ilta, a powerful seer and healer whose power nearly drives her crazy.

I asked her about the significance of the color black in Eledor. It is used to separate the soldier class from the rest of society because they deal in death. They are therefore considered unclean, and have cleansing rituals they must complete; they must also be careful whom they associate with, or touch. The black means they are marked by death. People in the Kaenin culture are frightened of death and blood. She took inspiration for this from the 1970's and the way soldiers were ostracized when they came back from Vietnam. Deaths in the normal population are ignored, and the word "death" is similarly ignored, always turned into euphemisms.

Stina also remarked that royalty exists in Eledor - that Nels and Suvi's mother wanted a more democratic government but she dies.

Korvas are scouts, thieves, and assassins. They look normal but they have keen hearing and the ability to hide very well. They are employed by nobles and the army. The army, interestingly, is considered a punishment for Eledorians. They choose to go into it to avoid jail, and the family grieves for them. Korva actions are illegal but used anyway; bad korvas are executed, while those who get caught get scarred distinctively.

For language, Stina told us she used a lot of Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish to inspire Eledor. The word korva, for example, means "ear." The title of a seer means "eye of the people," while the names of the months are Finnish. She wanted to emulate the way that the United States has varied place names from different languages.

"Cold Iron" refers to a sward. Water steel is a specialty of the Eledorians, and effective against the Acrasians. There is also a method used against Eledorians that is particularly destructive, and that is also referred to as Cold Iron.

Che asked whether Stina had done research on gunsmithing, to which Stina replied, "Lots." She feels that as an author, you have to know how things work. Gun hobbyists would likely call you out for errors. Some things in a fantasy book can be made up, but others you ahve to do research on. She promises that there will be magical rifles, and a character who is a gunsmith who leaves Acrasia with stolen knowledge. Something to look forward to in Book 2!

Stina says she enjoys character-driven fiction and tries to make her own work character-driven as well. She says she felt her books set in Northern Ireland were very stressful because of the pressure to get every last detail exactly right. This series allows her to play with ideas and what-ifs.

Thank you for joining us for this great conversation, Stina! Everyone keep an eye out for Cold Iron.


Usman T. Malik: a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary with VIDEO!

We had a fantastic discussion with Usman T. Malik, author of "The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn" and "The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family," among other stories.

Usman told us he'd had the idea for "Vaporization" en route to Clarion West. He was thinking about "something science-y" and a new state of matter. He wrote the story while Elizabeth Hand and John Clute were his instructors. It's about what happens to people, nations, and countries under pressure, and how chaos erupts. With horror, he says, you take characters to the point of no return and then squeeze.

He says he doesn't do a lot of secondary worldbuilding. He grew up reading horror fiction, and says that horror usually takes place in a contemporary setting, while dark fantasy usually takes place in a past setting. He feels that real life is the most scary. People often think of worldbuilding as secondary world only, but that is not the case. He mentioned how at one point, someone took Hemingway's work and reconstructed a map of the areas he was describing; it correlated perfectly with reality.

The more research you can do on your setting the better. He describes the setting of "Eucalyptus Jinn" as very critical to the story. He used his memory of the places described, but also requested a delay in the publication of the story until after he took a trip to Pakistan. One thing he said he'd forgotten was the tremendous amount of dust in the streets, which he made sure to include in the story afterward. He urges people to visit if they can.

When writing a story set in the Indus valley, at Mohenjo Daro, he wanted to go there but was told it was not safe to go. He had to rely on books, and was bothered by having to use inauthentic detail.

He expressed admiration for Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings, saying that Ken has done things no one has done before, taking techniques from the epics in Asia, and creating authenticity and reality. Usman said he'd wondered whether Liu memorized "The Art of War."

I asked about his interest in life practices as a subject for fiction. He explained that he has "no background in literature" which I take to mean no academic background, because Usman is exceedingly well read! His academic background is in the health sciences. He said no one had explained to him what setting was, but that he'd been inspired by Chip Delany's approach while at Clarion West. Delany criticized the white room syndrome. People tend to remember visual descriptions.

Usman criticizes the advice often given to new writers, "don't start with the setting," saying it should instead be "don't start with bad writing." He says the avoidance of setting makes things too brisk, too fast-paced, and turns everyone into the same John Grisham. He emphasizes the power of setting in Jeff Vandermeer's Annihilation. Setting does not necessarily have to slow you down. You can describe it distantly, or through character perception. With the former, you can take more authorial control of the description, while with the latter, you can play with the unreliability of memory. Usman said that in The Pauper Prince, he deliberately made the description of the protagonist's memory of his hometown very dreamlike, and also very different from the description of the town when he actually goes there. Memory uses the "lens of longing," while reality will not.

I asked which authors inspire him. He said that he reads all kinds of stories. He read in Urdu until the age of 10 or 11. Since he was at a colonial school in Pakistan, he also read Enid Blyton and other British authors. He mentioned Naiyer Masud, Kelly Link, Thomas Lugotti, Franz Kafka, Ken Liu and Shirley Jackson. He said that in science fiction, Ted Chiang had opened his mind to what the genre could do, when previously he'd thought of it in terms of Star Trek and robots. He says he reads works over and over, trying to break them down and figure out how they work. He also mentioned Don Langan, Laird Barron, Sarah Langan and Thomas Lugotti as standouts in the horror genre.

I asked him about the role of poetry in his his work. He told us about Urdu and Farsi poetry, and about the tradition in Iran and other nations of memorizing large amounts of poetry. Usman says that it's a useful exercise, because it gives you a sense of rhythm and lets you experiment with sentence structure. Usman reads Sufi poetry and translates it into English. Reggie asked him if he has written poetry, and he said yes, but described it as "it's impossible to become a writer without that awkward phase." He said Urdu poetry was his forte for quite a while. In grades 7 and 8 he would be asked to write an essay and use poetry to support his argument... and he would compose his own couplets, simply prefacing them with, "as the poet says..." He said he did it to fool the teachers because he found it hard to link existing poetry with the essay topics, like "the importance of a morning walk" or "a rainy day." "I did not know how to write essays," he said. "My mom would make me memorize them."

I asked him if he has ever worked at novel length, and he said he started writing seriously in 2012 with a novel but found he didn't have the skill to pull it off to his satisfaction. He hopes to return to novel writing eventually, however. He says, with his busy every day life, he might only be able to complete two more stories for the rest of the year.

Christie asked about settings that you can research but not visit, and whether that really bothers him; it bothers her, too, and she feels tied in knots about what she can't find out. She asked, "What is enough?"

Usman replied that not many people know about the details he writes about, so not as many people are likely to call him out. He spoke about Ted Chiang's research for "The Story of Your Life," which involved interviewing 20 women who had raised daughters. Apparently it took Chiang five years to write the story. Usman says, "instead of fictionalizing reality, realify your fiction." Do the best you can, get immersed, and try to be 99.999% accurate. How much time do you have to make every detail count? You can disappear in the research rabbit hole all the time, but the research still shows. "Pauper Prince" started at 27 thousand words, then came down to 21 thousand. He made three editorial passes before Ellen Datlow bought it, and then did his own further revisions after his trip to Pakistan. He was happy to see the research made a difference for people who read the story.

Thank you so much for visiting the show, Usman! This was a great discussion, and there is more detail in the video:


Monday, July 6, 2015

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: a Dive into Worldbuilding! hangout summary

It was wonderful to feature the fantastic Silvia Moreno-Garcia on the show! She came by to talk to us about her novel, Signal to Noise, a story featuring friends in Mexico City who cast spells with vinyl records. Part of the novel takes place in 1988 and part in 2009, with very interesting results.

Silvia told us that she grew up in a Mexico City neighborhood, and had always "wanted to [write] something that had to do with sound." She is a third generation radio person, so her first attempt was writing something to do with a radio station, but it didn't work to her satisfaction, so on her second attempt she decided to do something with vinyl records, focusing on her neighborhood. Most of her research, she says, was fact checking the years of particular songs and music, what was on TV, and what people were wearing.

Brian asked how she went about portraying the emotional content of the music without actually giving people the ability to hear the songs, or being able to use the song lyrics (copyright forbids this). Silvia said that some people might already remember the songs, but others might be curious enough to pursue their questions and research the songs. One of her readers actually put together a playlist of songs from the book! (Here is Silvia's playlist.) She says she wants people to work with her, and go with her on the journey of the book. She asked whether the era of the internet has caused music to lose some of its magic because it can be accessed too easily. She told us she wanted to put four words from a song somewhere in the book, but ended up having to take them out due to copyright issues. Translation from Spanish adds an extra complication to these issues.

For some of her research, she told us she went to her dad, who she calls "the actual music fanatic." He owns hundreds of vinyl records. She spoke to him about the mood of the era, and his favorite bands, especially things from the '60s and '70s. She also looked at old photos of her mom, who she says was post-punk, pre-goth, with black clothes, chains, and big hair. The ability to look back at Polaroid photos, she says, "helped ground me in the moment." She also looked at album covers.

I asked her about keeping distinct voices between the two time periods she used. She said that it wasn't too hard, since the past time period used different points of view, and gives the impression that it is happening in real time, while the present period is a mystery confined to the protagonist Meche's point of view. The novel is built so that the present timeline informs the past and vice versa, even though the two time periods progress chronologically.

I asked her about her tendency to face things like pain and death head-on, without shrinking away from it. She approached the question by talking about how people try to take control of their lives. She said, "I'm not the only one who stared at the soap trying to move it with telekinetic powers." And she said she wanted to hit someone in the head with it. She described the frustration of growing up, especially on the wrong side of the tracks. She says that most people want to think they were better than they were. People have power struggles and crush each other while they are young, but this also happens even among adults. Silvia says, "I think books should be about truth."

I remarked on the fact that some reviews of Signal to Noise have described Meche, the protagonist, as "not likeable," but some have really loved her. Silvia does not think characters have to be likeable, and cites Game of Thrones, Hannibal, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Madame Bovary as examples of highly successful work without likeable protagonists. She remarks that we are more likely to accept unlikeable characters who are men. Women are who they are: difficult, with lots of different facets. I compared Meche to Sei Shonagon, the diarist of Heian Japan, in that part of what makes their stories come alive is the pure attitude that they radiate about the things around them.

When asked about her book's magic system, Silvia said, "There is no magic system," and describes the idea of magic systems as "a very Western way of seeing the world." She wanted magic in her book to be organic, where knowledge is passed on orally and there is no school of magic. She compares it to cooking, or folk magic in a Latin American sense. She didn't want "a magic system." The only rule is, "there are no rules, per se." She says that often people like linear organization, but it's more messy and chaotic in her world. I asked if she would compare it to the Magic Realism of Latin American authors, but she felt that was too restrictive. At this point people have a very strong view of what magic realism is: it takes place in the past, and is very rural. Hers is more modern and urban, but doesn't fall into the category of "urban fantasy" either.  "By naming it, you end up almost kind of killing it." Signal to Noise ended up with 6 or 7 different classifications!

Silvia says she has always struggled with labels, especially when it's a question of putting a book on a particular bookshelf. Getting put on a "Latin American" bookshelf would be too dismissive. Virtual shelves help diversify the placement of books, but browsing becomes very difficult. Bookstores and libraries are much better for that.

Thank you so much for joining us, Silvia! It was a fascinating discussion full of ideas to explore. This coming week we will be joined by Usman Tanveer Malik, who will speak to us on Google+ this Wednesday, July 8th, at 6:30pm Pacific. I hope you will join us!

Here's the video of our discussion:


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Death and Funerals: a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary

We talk about quite a few subjects here at Dive into Worldbuilding that involve cultural taboos. As it turned out, death was a topic that took us a bit of time to warm up to - but became incredibly rich and interesting once we got rolling.

I remarked that before germ theory was widely accepted, death appeared to be something that "just happened," but that afterward, it changed so that death somehow became a kind of surrender, or failure. It changes the way we talk about death, but also contributes to the overtreatment of people who are terminally ill, and to the view of people who accept death as quitters. In Little Women, one of the sisters just seems to fade away and finally die. In The Tale of Genji, a character will be there one day and then will just be gone the next.

Infant mortality used to be far more common than it is today. The idea that parents should not bury their children, while compelling, is relatively modern (unless perhaps you are speaking about adult children). Glenda told us that her mom was born in 1910 and was not given a name because they thought she was not going to live. Morgan told us she'd heard of a culture in which babies are not named before 3 weeks of age because it is seen as making them more likely to die. In Grimm's fairy tales you see people named "No man"/"no name" There were cases when children hadn't yet been named and then the parent had died, so they ended up either nameless or searching for a surviving parent to try to get named.

Morgan brought up the question of rituals to dispose of dead bodies. In New Orleans, bodies are buried in mausolea because if they were buried the water content of the soil would cause the coffins to resurface. The mausolea are also a way to show off family wealth. Pyres are another method, as is cremation in a special location. Sky burial meant hanging up a body to be torn apart by carrion birds and carried off. Funeral cairns are another tradition, as are coffins, or simple burial with or without a marker. Apparently, in China there was a tradition of burying a body for a year and then digging up and keeping the bones. In different places in the world you can also find cities of the dead, or places where bodies are interred in wall alcoves for a period of time, then the bones removed and built into structures. The Sedlec Ossuary of Kutna Hora is a dramatic example of this.
In some traditions, the ashes resulting from cremation are scattered. In Japan, the tradition of removing bones from ashes with special long chopsticks is directly related to the prohibition of handing food directly from one pair of chopsticks to another. Newer approaches include scattering the ashes in a beloved place, compressing them into diamond, burying them in a capsule that will germinate a tree, or even mummifying them.

In Victorian times, you will find portraits of families where one family member is deceased. Because of the novelty of photography, it was the first time you could have a remembrance of the dead person through a photo.

Funerals are important because they gather people together and re-establish social connections after a member of the community has died. Whether these are joyous, acrimonious, or tense events depends on the people involved as well as the culture in which they occur. We spoke about funeral-related films like The Funeral, a dark comedy by Juzo Itami, and Departures (mentioned by Che). In many cultural traditions there are practices intended to keep evil spirits away. In Judaism, there is the kaddish prayer, and the kaddish ritual for preparing the body. In the Inca culture, bodies were often prepared in a seated position and decorated. Caves have sometimes been used for interring bodies. Some weather conditions are more conducive to mummification than others (dry weather conditions in the Andes and in early Egypt certainly were). More elaborate mummification rituals probably were developed over time. Some monks in Tibet self-mummify in a pose of meditation and are viewed as being in a meditative state from which they may eventually wake. Mummies are revered.

What are bodies being prepared for? It's a good question to ask if you are working with a secondary world. Is there another world they are supposedly traveling to? Do they need to lie in state and be viewed by the public?

Do people who prepare the body loot the body? There were instances in Victorian times when people would sell the clothes, rings, etc. of the dead person because they could not count on the deceased's relatives to pay them. Sometimes a body would be sold to medical students.

In some traditions, people would put coins on a body's eyes or tongue to pay the ferryman who took their spirit to the land of the dead. This could also have functioned as a sort of indirect payment to the people who buried them.

In many cultures, people have been buried with grave goods. These can include flowers, beads, weapons, statues of items they will need in the afterlife, and even a terra cotta army! They might be buried with living people who are supposed to accompany them (like their wives). They might be buried with a favorite toy, or with food for their journey. The common idea seems to be that grave goods "go with" the person's spirit.

In Japanese temples and cemeteries you often see statues of the god Jizo adorned with red bibs.

Romans would make death masks of their ancestors.

In Japan, a Buddhist family will often keep an altar somewhere in the house, and will keep pictures of ancestors in this location.

What is the color of death? Is it black, as it is in the US? Is it white (China)?

What do people wear to funerals? How long do they mourn, and what does that mean?

We ended up at the end of our discussion with lots and lots of questions, so we'll be taking this topic up again this week, on Thursday, June 18th at 3:00pm Pacific. I hope you will join us!

Here's the video:


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Natural disasters: a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary with lots of disaster videos!

Natural disasters made for a great hour's chat! We started out talking about how different regions are susceptible to different kinds of disasters. California is known for its earthquakes. Oklahoma is known for tornadoes, and Florida for hurricanes (less well for sinkholes!). Some kinds of disasters can be predicted, and some can't. For some, you only get a very short warning. In regions that are susceptible, children are taught how to respond to keep themselves safe.

Technology has improved the prediction of many kinds of disasters. Tornadoes are somewhat predictable, though their precise path is not. Tsunami can now be predicted by a few minutes. Earthquakes are far harder to predict (I've never actually experienced an earthquake after an earthquake warning).

In earthquakes, you want to stay away from bookshelves (any loaded shelves really) and glass. The strength of the earthquake is measured by the Richter scale, but the effect of the quake depends on your infrastructure preparedness. California has building codes that minimize the effect of earthquakes. Other regions of the world do not, and experience far more destruction and loss of life. Tall buildings can be designed to sway, both in earthquakes and in hurricanes.

Brian noted that in the Netherlands, houses are not built on foundations, but on anchors. Floodwater raises the house with air tanks. The Netherlands also has tide barriers.

On the Gulf coast, houses are often built on stilts, with garage and storage on the ground floor in case of floods.

We made a list of all the types of disasters we could think of (and I'm sure we missed some): earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, volcanic eruption (lava, explosion, ash), sinkhole, blizzard, landslide, mudslide, forest fire, asteroid, explosive sinkhole, lightning or severe thunderstorm, large hail, polar vortex, drought, ice storm, sandstorm, dust storm... We even thought of a fictional disaster: Thread, from the Anne McCaffrey books!

This video, "A Day in Pompeii" is an incredible dramatization of the destruction of Pompeii by the volcano, and I highly recommend it:

A volcanic disaster also features stunningly in the Firebird sequence of the film Fantasia 2000:
Disasters of this kind have an enormous effect on an area, and preparedness for them has an enormous effect on the culture of an area. Anne McCaffrey did an amazing job playing out the cultural consequences of Threadfall in her books, and N. K. Jemisin's book The Fifth Season deals with seismic disasters that befall humans so regularly (in this secondary world) that everything about their life has changed.

There can be different perspectives on disaster. Lava falling into the sea encourages the development of new life forms, fire helps certain types of tree seeds to germinate, and specially adapted organisms survive in calderas and geysers.

Che recommended the disaster movie Reign of Fire. We asked whether The Wizard of Oz could be called a disaster movie (probably not, but it features a tornado rather prominently!).

What is the impact of a disaster? Is it like armageddon? Are there techniques to mitigate it? In a sandstorm, do you have special fabric to keep the sand out of your face (nose and mouth)?

After a disaster, people have an instinct to reach out to their loved ones and friends to check up on them. When I was a kid, the phone lines would get all tied up after an earthquake. These days we have the services of social media, as when Facebook set up a site where people could check on victims of the Nepal earthquake. Often, people are urged to text rather than call.

I also highly recommended the following documentary, by ESPN, called "The Day the Series Stopped" which explores the 1989 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. Please be aware that some of the images are graphic.

One of the interesting things about a disaster that forces you to hide or hunker down is that you can't tell how bad the damage is until you come out and start getting in touch with people.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this discussion. It was a fascinating one.