The Sword of Good

..frag­ments of a book that would never be writ­ten...

* * *

Cap­tain Se­lena, late of the pirate ship Neme­sis, quietly ex­tended the very tip of her blade around the cor­ner, star­ing at the tiny re­flec­tion on the metal. At once, but still silently, she pul­led back the sword; and with her other hand made a com­plex ges­ture.

The trans­la­tion spell told Hirou that the hand­signs meant: “Orcs. Seven.”

Dolf looked at Hirou. “My Prince,” the wiz­ard signed, “do not waste your­self against mun­dane op­po­nents. Do not draw the Sword of Good as yet. Leave these to Se­lena.”

Hirou’s mouth was very dry. He didn’t know if the trans­la­tion spell could un­der­stand the differ­ence be­tween want­ing to talk and want­ing to make ges­tures; and so Hirou sim­ply nod­ded.

Not for the first time, the thought oc­curred to Hirou that if he’d ac­tu­ally known he was go­ing to be trans­ported into a mag­i­cal uni­verse, in­formed he was the long-lost heir to the Throne of Bronze, handed the leg­endary Sword of Good, and told to fight evil, he would have spent less time read­ing fan­tasy nov­els. Joined the army, maybe. Taken fenc­ing les­sons, at least. If there was one thing that didn’t pre­pare you for fan­tasy real life, it was sit­ting at home read­ing fan­tasy fic­tion.

Dolf and Se­lena were look­ing at Hirou, as if wait­ing for some­thing more.

Oh. That’s right. I’m the prince.

Hirou raised a finger and pointed it around the cor­ner, try­ing to in­di­cate that they should go ahead -

With a sud­den burst of mo­tion Se­lena plunged around the cor­ner, Dolf fol­low­ing hard on her heels, and Hirou, star­tled and hardly think­ing, mov­ing af­ter.

(This story ended up too long for a sin­gle LW post, so I put it on yud­kowsky.net.
Do read the rest of the story there, be­fore con­tin­u­ing to the Ac­knowl­edg­ments be­low.)


Ac­knowl­edg­ments:

I had the idea for this story dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with Nick Bostrom and Robin Han­son about an awful lit­tle facet of hu­man na­ture I call “sus­pen­sion of moral dis­be­lief”. The archety­pal case in my mind will always be the Passover Seder, watch­ing my par­ents and fam­ily and some­times friends recit­ing the Ten Plagues that God is sup­posed to have vis­ited on Egypt. You take drops from the wine glass—or grape juice in my case—and drip them onto the plate, to sym­bol­ize your sad­ness at God slaugh­ter­ing the first-born male chil­dren of the Egyp­ti­ans. So the Seder ac­tu­ally points out the awful­ness, and yet no one says: “This is wrong; God should not have done that to in­no­cent fam­i­lies in re­tal­i­a­tion for the ac­tions of an un­elected Pharaoh.” I for­get when I first re­al­ized how hor­rible that was—the real hor­ror be­ing not the Plagues, of course, since they never hap­pened; the real hor­ror is watch­ing your fam­ily not no­tice that they’re swear­ing alle­giance to an evil God in a happy whole­some fam­ily Cthulhu-wor­shiping cer­e­mony. Ar­bi­trar­ily hideous evils can be wholly con­cealed by a so­cial at­mo­sphere in which no one is ex­pected to point them out and it would seem awk­ward and out-of-place to do so.

In writ­ing it’s even sim­pler—the au­thor gets to cre­ate the whole so­cial uni­verse, and the read­ers are im­mersed in the hero’s own in­ter­nal per­spec­tive. And so any­thing the heroes do, which no char­ac­ter no­tices as wrong, won’t be no­ticed by the read­ers as un­heroic. Geno­cide, mind-rape, eter­nal tor­ture, any­thing.

Ex­plicit in­spira­tion was taken from this XKCD (warn­ing: spoilers for The Princess Bride), this Boat Crime, and this Monty Python, not to men­tion that es­say by David Brin and the en­tire Goblins we­b­comic. This Look­ing For Group helped in­spire the story’s ti­tle, and ev­ery­thing else flowed down­hill from there.