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?

Saturday, 2013 December 14, 11:15 — cinema, prose

late antiquity

An argument is offered that New Zealand is the wrong place to film Tolkien’s works:

One of Tolkien’s great accomplishments was making Middle-earth seem vividly old. Wherever the reader looks, ruins and crumbling statues poke through the lichen. […]

To do justice to Tolkien—to capture the essence of Middle-earth—a filmmaker needs to convey that sensibility. And the problem with New Zealand is that it is decidedly young—both geologically and as a place inhabited by people. […]

The criticism of tone is valid, but on the other hand: our world is, by definition, older than Bilbo’s; Tolkien had no grasp of geology anyway; Eriador has been depopulated (why?) for a thousand years by Bilbo’s time, and Rhovanion always was relatively empty.

Saturday, 2013 June 15, 15:07 — prose

To your rearranged bodies go

I’m re-reading To Your Scattered Bodies Go and, of course, pondering the arrangements.

The premise is that all humans who ever died (for some convenient definitions of ‘human’ and ‘ever’) are simultaneously resurrected (for purposes unknown to them) on an artificial planet whose surface is one long and twisty river valley. In each neighborhood along the river there’s initially a majority of people from one region (spatial and temporal), but also a large minority of random others. Why?

How would I arrange them? Perhaps by date of birth. Arranging by date of death would be more likely to bring enemies together.

Alternately, having fallen in love with topological coordinates, I’d use a kinship graph: each person is directly linked to parents and children. I’d be interested to see the overall shape of this graph, as embedded in Rn. If enough generations are involved, the longest axis of this embedding is close to the birthdate axis: your parents might have no common ancestors within a thousand years, but they can’t have been born a thousand years apart. But what are the other axes like?

Turning away from mathematical nerdery now — One minor character says he’s especially pleased to regain the leg he lost in a road accident at age 50. That’s consistent with the apparent policy of restoring adults to age ~25 (and children to their age at death). But what is the Revivers’ policy on birth defects, genetic and otherwise? If you grow up with a damaged brain, can your mind be installed in a normal brain? If you live to adulthood without legs and are then revived in an adult body with legs, how easily can you learn to use them? How many limbs do Brittany and Abigail Hensel get?

Sunday, 2009 July 5, 21:04 — prose

Nero Wolfe and the Drones Club

P. G. Wodehouse and Rex Stout were contemporaries and friends, I recently learned.

The opening pages of Stout’s Champagne For One read like a Bertie Wooster story: an acquaintance known as Dinky, feigning laryngitis, rings to beg Archie to take his place at an aunt’s annual dinner party.

Maybe it only seems more wodehousy than usual because I happen to have a Penguin edition, printed in a typeface that’s not used much on this side of the water (Plantin, a favorite of mine).

Tuesday, 2009 April 14, 09:39 — prose


Greg Egan complains about sloppy reviews of his latest novel:

About half the reviews of Incandescence made at least one of the following false assertions:

  • The Splinter orbits a neutron star.
  • Rakesh visits the Splinter.
  • The relationship between the novel’s two threads is never revealed.
  • The reader learns nothing about the Aloof.

The first two errors result from failing to notice that Egan violates a common pattern of First Contact stories: chapters alternate between two sets of characters who would conventionally meet in the end. Odd-numbered chapters of Incandescence are about Rakesh, a human who learns of evidence of DNA life in an unexpected place and follows the trail; even-numbered chapters are about the discovery of general relativity by the inhabitants of the Splinter, an artificial worldlet orbiting a black hole. Rakesh never finds the Splinter; he arrives at another artificial worldlet, with the same origin as the Splinter but orbiting a neutron star. So there is a clear link between the two threads, but it’s at the wrong end.

And unless I missed something the Aloof remain as mysterious as ever, though slightly less aloof than they seemed before.

Two stories in the same universe as Incandescence are online: Riding the Crocodile and Glory (pdf).

Sunday, 2009 March 29, 23:29 — cartoons, prose, security theater

fun with paranoia

I’m reading Cory Doctorow’s novel Little Brother, which has been nominated for a Prometheus Award. In another tab I’m reading an autobiographical comic-strip by a boy of the same age as the novel’s narrator; switching between them is sometimes surreal.

Though he has lived in San Francisco, Doctorow makes occasional errors.

Even if you’ve never been to San Francisco, chances are you know what the Golden Gate looks like: it’s that big orange suspension bridge that swoops dramatically from the old military base called the Presidio to Sausalito, where all the cutesy wine-country towns are with their scented candle shops and art galleries.

Sausalito is indeed the nearest town north of the bridge, but it is only one of the cutesy towns in Marin County (which isn’t usually called part of “wine country”).

“He was going to take the BART over.”
“Don’t you know about the BART?”

Only a tourist says “the BART”.

“. . . But it used to be impossible to fly or go to the moon or get a hard-drive with more than a few kilobytes of storage. . . .”

Hm, given the narrator’s youth I guess I can believe he has the impression that the first HDs were so small.

… one of her favorite Brazilian tecno-brega bands, Carioca Proibidão — the forbidden guy from Rio.

That ‘ã’ looks out of place. Andre, shouldn’t it be –ido?

Mom’s a freelance relocation specialist who helps British people get settled in in San Francisco. The UK High Commission pays her . . . .

Most of the members of the (British) Commonwealth have the same head of state, so they don’t send each other Ambassadors; they have High Commissioners instead. Doctorow, being Canadian, may have forgotten that the UK has an embassy to the US.

Ocean Beach is way out past Golden Gate park, a stark cliff lined with expensive, doomed houses . . . .

The clifftop houses are at China Beach, further north. The area of Ocean Beach (where I lived, 1988–92) is mostly flat.

“Mr Governor” sounds alien. I never thought of that before: why do “President” and (usually) “Mayor” get the prefix, but not “Governor” or “Senator”?

Qaeda is misspelled Quaeda two times out of five.

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