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Saturday, 2021 August 14, 12:41 — prose

escapism within escapism

I recently read the Long Earth saga by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. The story begins in the near future when an eccentric engineer anonymously publishes plans for a “stepper box” which takes the user to a parallel world, adjacent in a chain of millions.

It soon emerges that a few humans have the talent of Stepping without a box. In one episode, two of these (including an ancestor of a main character) help the Underground Railroad, provoking in me a question they did not ask: Rather than sneaking the escapees to Canada, what if we leave them in a side-world? They’d have to learn to live Paleolithic-style (metallic iron cannot be transported), but that life evidently was not so bad.

Wednesday, 2020 February 12, 16:57 — prose

a sense of place?

I read Jack Vance’s memoir, of which many pages say “We went to Ireland / Tahiti / Kashmir . . . found a pleasant cottage and stayed there for a couple of months, cranking out stories.” It would be pleasant to know what was written where! Perhaps Jack himself did not remember. But it is impossible not to imagine that “The Moon Moth” was conceived on the houseboat in Kashmir.

Saturday, 2017 May 27, 17:30 — heraldry, language, prose

less than fifty years later

I’ve read Heinlein’s Red Planet three times, starting at age seven or eight, and each time I soon forgot most of the plot. One thing that stuck with me was that the school’s new head signaled his evil by ordering the boys (at their own expense) to paint their space-helmets a uniform brown, in place of tiger stripes and other fanciful personalizations; I think that helped trigger my early interest in heraldry!

Another random bit that stuck with me is the place-name Charax, which I took to be a crude approximation to the Martian name, said to be very hard for humans to pronounce with its “triple gutturals”. Today I learned that Charax was a Roman camp in Crimea.

Friday, 2017 March 17, 21:31 — language, prose

a sort of conlang

I’m re-reading Strugatsky‘s Hard to Be a God. (I read it thirty-odd years ago and forgot nearly everything.) This is a newer translation, by Olena Bormashenko. At one point the protagonist eavesdrops on conspirators, who say:

“The chonted will shlake, and they’ll unbiggedly shump the margays with a hollow blackery. That’s twenty long heapers already. It’d be marky to knork the motleners. But the heapers are bedegging redderly. This is how we’ll heaten the rasten. That’s our struntle.”

“That’s tooky jelly.”

“This is our struntle. Denooting with us isn’t rastenly for your grawpers. It’s revided?”

Though I know only a few words of Russian, I would like to see the original of this passage!

Saturday, 2016 December 17, 13:40 — cinema, prose

Use of Symbols

In Marvel/Netflix Daredevil episode 11 “The Path of the Righteous”, [spoiler] drugs [spoiler] and takes her to a secret place. When she wakes up, he sits facing her and puts a large pistol on the table between them, “to get [her] undivided attention.” After he has made his demands and threats, his phone rings: a call that he cannot ignore. She takes advantage of his momentary distraction to grab the gun. He scoffs: “Do you think I’d put a loaded weapon within your reach?”

I thought of a scene in Randall Garrett’s “Lord Darcy” stories. Someone asks the forensic magician Sean O Lochlainn, “If you’re not going to cut anything, why are you sharpening that knife?” Master Sean replies, “The best symbol for a thing is the thing itself. This knife represents a sharp knife. I have another one that represents a dull knife.”

What, then, would be the symbolism of putting an empty gun on the table?

Monday, 2016 January 4, 12:55 — prose

Neptune’s Gulch

In Atlas Shrugged, John Galt invented a radical new engine and (according to folklore) emigrated to Atlantis to keep his invention out of the hands of parasites.

Charles Stross’s novel Neptune’s Brood is about uncovering the true history of the Atlantis colony, which gathered an unusual concentration of talent before suddenly going silent. Some say that Atlantis was working on a FTL drive, which happens to be a motif in a perennial scam. Was Atlantis never more than a Potemkin village, bait for investors? Or, on the other extreme, was it destroyed because the FTL project succeeded?

Once or twice before, I’ve asked Charlie whether he intended an allusion and he said ha, no, I didn’t notice that, so I won’t assume that the name “Atlantis” (which is unrelated to the Neptune of the title) is a poke at Rand. It’s funny either way.

Monday, 2015 November 9, 23:54 — fandom, language, prose

pseudohistorical linguistics

I can’t remember how much I knew of Elvish languages before The Silmarillion, with a glossary, appeared in 1978. Can you tell from the text of The Lord of the Rings (not counting the Appendices) that Quenya and Sindarin are related? Are any words explicitly given in both?

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