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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?

Wednesday, 2015 March 11, 09:34 — prose

adrift in a sea of time

In Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (1992), the narrator says or implies that the events happened many years ago; so I’ve been watching for details that date it. Oprah Winfrey, whose show premiered in 1986, is mentioned; I think that’s the terminus post quem. More than anything else I’ve been struck by names of cigarettes: Silva-Thin, Vantage, Kool. Maybe these seem dated to me because I’ve been less exposed to tobacco advertising since ~1981.

Monday, 2014 June 2, 10:46 — prose

about that sex thing

I recently read the uncut Stranger in a Strange Land (having read the shorter version long long ago, probably before puberty). It contains the phrase “she’s as female as a cat in heat,” which also appears in the same author’s later Time Enough for Love; in each case it appears to be intended as a compliment.

Now that I know a bit about cat sexuality, I think: what, she’s ruled by her gonads even more than a 17yo boy, and miserable until she gets a rather unpleasant chore done?

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