osmie: (Default)
Perdido Street Station by China Miéville is freakin' brilliant. I started reading it several years ago, on the urgent recommendation of anonymaus and eggdropsoap and fimmtiu, who pressed a copy into my hands—and for the next several weeks it was my constant companion.

Like an Umberto Eco novel, its first twenty pages are quite difficult going. Persevere. It is worth the early effort. Know this.

Then I left it behind on the counter at an open mic. The next day I went back, but nobody had seen it. I scoured new bookstores—always new, when one is replacing a friend's lost book—for years, but could never find a copy. (I'm sure White Dwarf would've had one, but I'm simply never in that neighbourhood anymore.)

Finally in Minneapolis last fall, [personal profile] scotia_girl brought me to Uncle Hugo's, where I bought a replacement for anonymaus—and to a lovely used bookstore where I bought a copy for myself. At last I could finish it!

And finish it I did. Wow. It kept gut-punching me right through the last ten pages. I'm just not going to say anything about its dense, meandering plot, its vivid characters, or its rich extraordinary cityscape, because there's too much joy in the discovery.

'Tain't a perfect novel. Two or three of its characters, who might as well be visitors from a neighbouring (and far more conventional) fantasy novel, actually fall flat. The title is lovely and evocative, but doesn't have much to do with the book itself. Um, and those first twenty pages are hard going.

Otherwise it's pretty darned close.




Dæmonomania by John Crowley is the third novel in his huge Ægypt sequence, following Ægypt itself and Love and Sleep, preceding Endless Things (which I hope I shall be starting soon).

The series took him more than 20 years to write, and in the richness and depth of his sentences, you can tell why. Each one is perfectly lilted, and few are shorter than fifty words long. You want to roll every one of them around on your tongue for half a minute before going on to the next.

In this volume, circa 1979, Pierce Moffett and Rose Ryder engage in tumultuous BDSM until she follows her ex Mike Mucho into a Christian cult. Mike is involved in a custody battle with his other ex (and Pierce's employer), Rosie Rasmussen, over their five-year-old daughter Samantha, who's developed an undiagnosed form of epilepsy. Rosie wants to give her the latest medicines; Mike believes the medicine is making her sick and wants to cure her with prayer. Meanwhile, circa 1600, John Dee has fled England for Prague, where he continues his alchemical researches; Giordano Bruno is likewise wandering central Europe as an itinerant heretic; and the angel in Dr. Dee's crystal ball is starting to bear an uncanny resemblance to Samantha, who will happen upon possession of the same crystal ball four centuries later.

Everyone—whether they confront them, converse with them or run from them—is seeing dæmons.

I've been reading this series since 1990, another book each decade. They're slow but luscious. We'll see whether Endless Things takes me as long. I can't wait.
osmie: (Default)
For a couple of years there, I almost completely stopped reading fiction. I don't entirely know why. Non-fiction, especially political analysis, grabbed me; I had no trouble with scientific treatises on probability theory or general relativity. But I crawled and stopped halfway through any work of fiction I picked up.

Apparently I'm back.

Someday soon I may start posting long reviews once again, but for now I'll content myself with a capsule list.

In late October, I read Lois McMaster Bujold's Cryoburn, her first Miles Vorkosigan book in some years. Miles seems to be keeping up with my age: it's been about ten years in both story and real time since his last adventure. I missed Ekatarina, who spent most of the book far offstage, but enjoyed the story: 'twas a clever exploration of how cryonics might affect both voting and insurance law.

Then I moved on to Steven Brust's Jhegaala. Some interesting similarities between these series: Minneapolis writers, wisecracking protagonists, enough temporal leaps that you're never sure, at the start of a novel, when it fits in the series' timeline. And between these books: protagonist and familiar travel to a foreign land, become haplessly enmeshed in local politics, and blow the whole local political scene to pieces while figuring out the plot. But I found that Jhegaala fell flat. Too many characters were holding the <TV Tropes warning>Idiot Ball</TV Tropes warning> far too often. "Maybe not asking reasonable questions is part of their social upbringing," said a friend to whom I confided this opinion, but honestly a society with that many Idiot Balls in the air wouldn't have lasted long enough for Vlad to find it. Pity, because Brust's writing is always enjoyable; I just couldn't suspend my disbelief for this one.

Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind came with splendid reviews from many sources. Despite this, for more than 600 pages, it almost completely failed the Bechdel Test. Of its very few female characters, none has a personality of her own. They're walking adjectives, except for the romantic lead, who specializes in being whatever the main character projects onto her. And only twice do two women ever appear in the same scene. The first time, one of them just glares at the other, over (you guessed it) a man, and then flees without asking any questions. The second time…ah, well, the second time, I'm still not sure about. They don't communicate directly; a man has to intercede before one of them has enough trust to approach. But when they do communicate (via a man), it isn't about a man. —This is, in other words, a world completely free of female relationships. And so despite its strong plot, its good ear for language, its interesting magic system, and its devoted fan following, I couldn't quite believe that its narrator was a tenth as observant and brilliant as he makes himself out to be.

I reread Gregory Maguire's Wicked, ten or more years later, and enjoyed it at least as much the second time. Knowing more of what was coming, I noticed his beautiful, subtle foreshadowing; I also thrilled at his tender depiction of a never-quite-explicit poly triad. Wicked is still one of the best fantasy works of the past fifty years.

Don DeBrandt's—er, that is, D.D. Barant's—Dying Bites didn't catch my excitement as well as most of Don's books. I think the difference was stylistic; somehow for me the present tense didn't mesh as well with the hard-boiled detective language, and I hiccoughed over the writing many times. But that's not a flaw in the book; it's just a feature. 'Twas a delightful conceit, a world of vampires & golems & lycanthropes in which "original recipe" humans are an endangered species, with a great couple of twists at the end which I didn't see coming. One slightly earlier plot reveal, though—a variation on a theme he'd used in Angel: Shakedown—I remember talking with Don about, somewhere around 1997. I'm sure our conversation was the smallest part of his idea generation, but I'm glad he found a place to use it.

15 books

Jun. 12th, 2009 02:28 pm
osmie: (Default)
--I have read which will always stay with me. The meme directs me to record the first 15 books I think of, rather than taking my time to get the list right. In parentheses I've also noted my age when I first read each one.

(23) Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
(23) S/Z by Roland Barthes
(10) Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov
(28?) Quarantine by Greg Egan
(26) Rynosseros by Terry Dowling
(22) Views from the Oldest House by Richard Grant
(22) The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
(6) The House on the Cliff by Leslie MacFarlane (as Franklin W. Dixon)
(24) Secular Love by Michael Ondaatje
(3) In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
(26) "The Martian Child" by David Gerrold
(31) The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
(9) A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine l'Engle
(5) The Happy Planet by Joan Clarke
(33?) A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel de Landa

It's a bit startling to see zero books on this list which I first read between 11 and 22. I know I could come up with plenty if I narrowed my focus, but to do so would rather miss the point of the meme. I didn't think of any right away, and so they are not listed. That there's nothing from the past few years either has, I think, more to do with how long it takes before I'm ready to concede the term "always."

15 books

Jun. 12th, 2009 02:28 pm
osmie: (Default)
--I have read which will always stay with me. The meme directs me to record the first 15 books I think of, rather than taking my time to get the list right. In parentheses I've also noted my age when I first read each one.

(23) Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
(23) S/Z by Roland Barthes
(10) Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov
(28?) Quarantine by Greg Egan
(26) Rynosseros by Terry Dowling
(22) Views from the Oldest House by Richard Grant
(22) The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
(6) The House on the Cliff by Leslie MacFarlane (as Franklin W. Dixon)
(24) Secular Love by Michael Ondaatje
(3) In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
(26) "The Martian Child" by David Gerrold
(31) The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
(9) A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine l'Engle
(5) The Happy Planet by Joan Clarke
(33?) A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel de Landa

It's a bit startling to see zero books on this list which I first read between 11 and 22. I know I could come up with plenty if I narrowed my focus, but to do so would rather miss the point of the meme. I didn't think of any right away, and so they are not listed. That there's nothing from the past few years either has, I think, more to do with how long it takes before I'm ready to concede the term "always."
osmie: (Default)
(Gosh. It seems odd to think that for two years, I had time to update this blog at least a few times each week. For many months I've been growing new habits which involve a lot less writing and a lot less public performance, and to be honest, I don't much like them. Today is probably not the day for a dramatic change -- indeed, I'm not convinced that dramatic changes in habit are ever sustainable -- but I think it may be the right time to shift slowly back the other way.)

Today I'd like to write down some iconoclastic ideas I developed, twenty years ago, about quantum physics and mortality, and which I was surprised and somewhat mindblown to see developed in Neal Stephenson's novel Anathem. (One sentence book review, which de facto cannot quote a complete sentence from page 119: I loved it, even though one scene near the climax seemed to be ripped off -- probably unconsciously, but also quite faithfully -- from Greg Egan's Quarantine.) There will be some minor spoilers to the ideas in the novel, but I promise to steer clear of the characters & plot.

So once upon a time, I began to wonder about the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Hmm. I suppose this means I'm going to have to digress briefly into what quantum mechanics actually says.

Okay, I'm game. )

I'm going to repeat and paraphrase that last sentence, which is a fairly important concept called the Copenhagen Interpretation. The act of bumping two particles together creates an "event," and localizes both of them in a particular place and time. Before and after they bumped into each other, they both filled the entire universe, but bumping into each other was a specific event at a specific point in spacetime.1

The Many Worlds Interpretation is slightly weirder. What if both particles filled the entire universe, not just before and after the event, but also during the event ... but for some reason we can only see it happen in one place and time? In this interpretation, the universe is constantly splitting into an infinite number of paths, one for each place and time the event might have occurred.

When you consider how many events are constantly occurring in one cubic centimetre of air, let alone the entire universe, the number of paths quickly becomes mindboggling, and it's tempting to throw the whole many-worlds interpretation at Occam's Razor just to watch it die screaming.2 But in fact it makes the math much easier to work with, and physicists are suckers for easier math. If two equations predict the same experimental result, you can make a pretty good argument to throw the difficult math at Occam's Razor instead, and no one will be too upset. Heck, they'll even quote Copernicus vs. Ptolemy at you: "Yeah, your math is easier, but it doesn't make any sense unless the earth moves, which is so obviously ridiculous I can't believe I'm even talking to you. No way! I'll stick with my really complicated math, thanks."

I can usually get more of a handle on the multiple-universes thing by multiplying some really big numbers together. )

So once upon a time, I began to wonder how the many-worlds interpretation interacts with the idea of consciousness. And I came up with three major possibilities.

In options (1) and (2), consciousness is unique. The universe may constantly fracture into many worlds, but consciousness picks a single path through time. Since there are a lot of conscious beings out there, this raises the question of whether every consciousness picks the same path: and so option (1) constrains all conscious beings to experience the same universe, while option (2) doesn't.

In option (3), consciousness keeps on splitting just as the rest of the cosmos does, and every conscious being in the universe continues to be conscious in every universe where they exist.

Each of these three options carries with it a slightly terrifying implication. )

All of this is a sequence of speculation I first followed almost twenty years ago. The new insight which Mr. Stephenson recently brought me is a way of merging options (1) and (3).

In option (1) I identified the need for a force which operates on consciousness, and deduced that the cause of this force was outside & between cosmi. But this is a false deduction. Two electric charges can operate on each other without any charge in the space between, and two masses can interact without any intervening mass. There's no reason to invoke an external conscious entity to operate on consciousness, and in fact the math is much simpler if we don't. In short, we either become our own gods, or else we laugh at my 20-year-old self for imagining that "gods" was an appropriate term for something as simple as a universe-spanning consciousness.

Meanwhile, in option (3) I supposed that consciousness always bifurcates. But what if, instead, consciousness actually spans multiple universes? In particular, what if consciousness -- the ability to consider & decide among many possible outcomes, both in an abstract sense and in everyday life -- is the particular physical manifestation of a quantum computer? Then all our conscious minds, by definition, already span all of the universes in which we exist. It's not a matter of perceiving one particular universe among a googol of possibilities, but of perceiving all of them, and identifying as real the most common elements -- which would reinforce each other as constructive interference.

We can remain aware of a myriad (or even a googol) of possible outcomes, while concentrating our perception on the likeliest outcome. We do it all the time, like swirling red and blue watercolour paint until we get purple instead of paisley. It's pretty basic second-law-of-thermodynamics stuff. But every possible outcome is contained within one of those universes, and therefore part of our perception as quantum computers. If we collectively and intuitively choose to inhabit the universe with the greatest number of common elements -- the one at the centre of the bell curve -- then entropy itself becomes an emergent phenomenon of how consciousness progresses through multiple worlds.



1Heisenberg proved that you can't measure a particle's momentum at a specific place, and that you can't measure its energy at a specific time, but he never ruled out measuring its place at a specific time. In fact, you have to be able to measure its position in 4-dimensional spacetime for Heisenberg's equations to make any sense!
2I like to imagine Occam's Razor being wielded by Sweeney Todd.
3Except Alan Thicke, who is apparently immortal in this timeline.
osmie: (Default)
(Gosh. It seems odd to think that for two years, I had time to update this blog at least a few times each week. For many months I've been growing new habits which involve a lot less writing and a lot less public performance, and to be honest, I don't much like them. Today is probably not the day for a dramatic change -- indeed, I'm not convinced that dramatic changes in habit are ever sustainable -- but I think it may be the right time to shift slowly back the other way.)

Today I'd like to write down some iconoclastic ideas I developed, twenty years ago, about quantum physics and mortality, and which I was surprised and somewhat mindblown to see developed in Neal Stephenson's novel Anathem. (One sentence book review, which de facto cannot quote a complete sentence from page 119: I loved it, even though one scene near the climax seemed to be ripped off -- probably unconsciously, but also quite faithfully -- from Greg Egan's Quarantine.) There will be some minor spoilers to the ideas in the novel, but I promise to steer clear of the characters & plot.

So once upon a time, I began to wonder about the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Hmm. I suppose this means I'm going to have to digress briefly into what quantum mechanics actually says.

Okay, I'm game. )

I'm going to repeat and paraphrase that last sentence, which is a fairly important concept called the Copenhagen Interpretation. The act of bumping two particles together creates an "event," and localizes both of them in a particular place and time. Before and after they bumped into each other, they both filled the entire universe, but bumping into each other was a specific event at a specific point in spacetime.1

The Many Worlds Interpretation is slightly weirder. What if both particles filled the entire universe, not just before and after the event, but also during the event ... but for some reason we can only see it happen in one place and time? In this interpretation, the universe is constantly splitting into an infinite number of paths, one for each place and time the event might have occurred.

When you consider how many events are constantly occurring in one cubic centimetre of air, let alone the entire universe, the number of paths quickly becomes mindboggling, and it's tempting to throw the whole many-worlds interpretation at Occam's Razor just to watch it die screaming.2 But in fact it makes the math much easier to work with, and physicists are suckers for easier math. If two equations predict the same experimental result, you can make a pretty good argument to throw the difficult math at Occam's Razor instead, and no one will be too upset. Heck, they'll even quote Copernicus vs. Ptolemy at you: "Yeah, your math is easier, but it doesn't make any sense unless the earth moves, which is so obviously ridiculous I can't believe I'm even talking to you. No way! I'll stick with my really complicated math, thanks."

I can usually get more of a handle on the multiple-universes thing by multiplying some really big numbers together. )

So once upon a time, I began to wonder how the many-worlds interpretation interacts with the idea of consciousness. And I came up with three major possibilities.

In options (1) and (2), consciousness is unique. The universe may constantly fracture into many worlds, but consciousness picks a single path through time. Since there are a lot of conscious beings out there, this raises the question of whether every consciousness picks the same path: and so option (1) constrains all conscious beings to experience the same universe, while option (2) doesn't.

In option (3), consciousness keeps on splitting just as the rest of the cosmos does, and every conscious being in the universe continues to be conscious in every universe where they exist.

Each of these three options carries with it a slightly terrifying implication. )

All of this is a sequence of speculation I first followed almost twenty years ago. The new insight which Mr. Stephenson recently brought me is a way of merging options (1) and (3).

In option (1) I identified the need for a force which operates on consciousness, and deduced that the cause of this force was outside & between cosmi. But this is a false deduction. Two electric charges can operate on each other without any charge in the space between, and two masses can interact without any intervening mass. There's no reason to invoke an external conscious entity to operate on consciousness, and in fact the math is much simpler if we don't. In short, we either become our own gods, or else we laugh at my 20-year-old self for imagining that "gods" was an appropriate term for something as simple as a universe-spanning consciousness.

Meanwhile, in option (3) I supposed that consciousness always bifurcates. But what if, instead, consciousness actually spans multiple universes? In particular, what if consciousness -- the ability to consider & decide among many possible outcomes, both in an abstract sense and in everyday life -- is the particular physical manifestation of a quantum computer? Then all our conscious minds, by definition, already span all of the universes in which we exist. It's not a matter of perceiving one particular universe among a googol of possibilities, but of perceiving all of them, and identifying as real the most common elements -- which would reinforce each other as constructive interference.

We can remain aware of a myriad (or even a googol) of possible outcomes, while concentrating our perception on the likeliest outcome. We do it all the time, like swirling red and blue watercolour paint until we get purple instead of paisley. It's pretty basic second-law-of-thermodynamics stuff. But every possible outcome is contained within one of those universes, and therefore part of our perception as quantum computers. If we collectively and intuitively choose to inhabit the universe with the greatest number of common elements -- the one at the centre of the bell curve -- then entropy itself becomes an emergent phenomenon of how consciousness progresses through multiple worlds.



1Heisenberg proved that you can't measure a particle's momentum at a specific place, and that you can't measure its energy at a specific time, but he never ruled out measuring its place at a specific time. In fact, you have to be able to measure its position in 4-dimensional spacetime for Heisenberg's equations to make any sense!
2I like to imagine Occam's Razor being wielded by Sweeney Todd.
3Except Alan Thicke, who is apparently immortal in this timeline.
osmie: (Default)
Because it's been forever since I've posted any book reviews, and to be honest I've read fewer books in the past year than ever before in my life. Which is oddly liberating, actually.

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware )

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis )

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card )

Nine Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny )

Adventurers in Oz, by Eric Shanower )

Palomar, by Gilbert Hernandez )

Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Sixty Days and Counting, by Kim Stanley Robinson )

Son of a Witch, by Gregory Maguire )

The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood )

Lots of books by Jack Whyte )

That'll do for now. I'm off to bed.
osmie: (Default)
Because it's been forever since I've posted any book reviews, and to be honest I've read fewer books in the past year than ever before in my life. Which is oddly liberating, actually.

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware )

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis )

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card )

Nine Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny )

Adventurers in Oz, by Eric Shanower )

Palomar, by Gilbert Hernandez )

Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Sixty Days and Counting, by Kim Stanley Robinson )

Son of a Witch, by Gregory Maguire )

The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood )

Lots of books by Jack Whyte )

That'll do for now. I'm off to bed.
osmie: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] scotia_girl referenced a "100 books" meme which hasn't been on my friends list yet, so I scanned hers to grab a copy. Gnarr.

Typically, it's a bold what you've read, underline what you loved, strike out what you hated sort of meme. It also includes instructions for things you do or do not plan to read, which seems like a silly concept to me; I have no idea what I might read in the future. And so I'll italicize those which I've read only in translation, and viridize those authors by whom I've read other work, not on the list.

I dislike the fact that some of these items are short stories (e.g. "A Christmas Carol") and some are vast compilations (e.g. The Complete Works of Shakespeare), and so I've opted to narrow things down slightly by replacing each collection with its own first, or most famous, item. This leads, however, to a second annoyance: for two items on the list (Hamlet and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) are already the appropriate representatives of two such compilations (ibid, The Chronicles of Narnia). And so I have replaced these latter compilations with The Canterbury Tales and Gulliver's Travels, both of them coherent works of which many people read only about half.

I've also given all these books back their original titles. Not only is it careless to refer to Winnie-the-Pooh and Moby-Dick without the hyphens, but in a list so dominated by English-language literature, it also seems dismissive to hide the foreign works under translated names.

To be honest, I'm impressed by the representation of 19th, 20th and 21st-century literature, and of English, Irish, American and Canadian authors. There's greater breadth here than one normally sees in such lists. But surely Jane Austen didn't need to make the list four times in order to bring the gender imbalance down to a measly 3:1 -- and there could be a good deal more African, Caribbean, Australian and New Zealand literature: where is Doris Lessing? Janet Frame? Wole Soyinka? J.M. Coetzee? Derek Walcott? Zadie Smith? And among contemporary bestselling American populists, why choose Dan Brown over Stephen King?

Cave umbilicum. )
osmie: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] scotia_girl referenced a "100 books" meme which hasn't been on my friends list yet, so I scanned hers to grab a copy. Gnarr.

Typically, it's a bold what you've read, underline what you loved, strike out what you hated sort of meme. It also includes instructions for things you do or do not plan to read, which seems like a silly concept to me; I have no idea what I might read in the future. And so I'll italicize those which I've read only in translation, and viridize those authors by whom I've read other work, not on the list.

I dislike the fact that some of these items are short stories (e.g. "A Christmas Carol") and some are vast compilations (e.g. The Complete Works of Shakespeare), and so I've opted to narrow things down slightly by replacing each collection with its own first, or most famous, item. This leads, however, to a second annoyance: for two items on the list (Hamlet and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) are already the appropriate representatives of two such compilations (ibid, The Chronicles of Narnia). And so I have replaced these latter compilations with The Canterbury Tales and Gulliver's Travels, both of them coherent works of which many people read only about half.

I've also given all these books back their original titles. Not only is it careless to refer to Winnie-the-Pooh and Moby-Dick without the hyphens, but in a list so dominated by English-language literature, it also seems dismissive to hide the foreign works under translated names.

To be honest, I'm impressed by the representation of 19th, 20th and 21st-century literature, and of English, Irish, American and Canadian authors. There's greater breadth here than one normally sees in such lists. But surely Jane Austen didn't need to make the list four times in order to bring the gender imbalance down to a measly 3:1 -- and there could be a good deal more African, Caribbean, Australian and New Zealand literature: where is Doris Lessing? Janet Frame? Wole Soyinka? J.M. Coetzee? Derek Walcott? Zadie Smith? And among contemporary bestselling American populists, why choose Dan Brown over Stephen King?

Cave umbilicum. )
osmie: (Default)
Good book.  Page 119 does indeed contain at least one sentence.
osmie: (Default)
Good book.  Page 119 does indeed contain at least one sentence.
osmie: (Default)
The first sentence on page 119 of Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity has, alas, returned to the library before I wrote it down.

Isaac Asimov was my introduction to SF. My uncle gave me a pair of his science essay collections for my tenth birthday, and I loved them—so when I saw another book of his at my favourite used bookstore, I bought it immediately. Foundation, it was called. And I read it and its sequels over and over, secretly and desperately wanting to be Arcadia Darrell, while slowly discovering that there was a whole genre of similar work out there.

My favourite of Asimov's novels was The End of Eternity, so while on a rereading kick in June (yes, I'm that far behind on book reviews), I picked it up to see what I thought, 25 years after first reading it.

You know what? It's still good. It's a well-thought-out, intricately plotted time travel story with lots of duplicity and believable characters. (At his best, Asimov never drew his characters with more lines than he absolutely had to. They're the literary equivalent of the kids from Peanuts, and I believe absolutely in the kids from Peanuts.) I think it's still my favourite of his novels.

The 1950s sexism which I feared I'd run into was surprisingly absent…which is to say, it's all over the place, up until the moment when it turns out to have been a plot point. In a novel about the cultural differences one observes, if not engineers, from millennium to millennium along the timeline, Asimov does a remarkably good job of deconstructing his own culture—without letting this deconstruction take over the plot.

What was new to me was a narratological awareness of the way Asimov advances his plot. Sure, I'd read countless essays about his writing methods—usually some combination of the tropes, "Have enough things on the go that if you hit a block on one, you can shrug your shoulders and move on to the next without missing a beat," and, "Decide on an ending first; then decide on a beginning and start writing, taking as many digressions as you like without losing sight of that ending." But I'd never thought more deeply about his actual plot mechanics than to acknowledge that he wrote an awful lot of talking heads.

Asimov was a scientist first. One of my favourite quotes of his, which I am too lazy to look up and so I shall cite imprecisely, is that the most exciting sound in science, the one which heralds new discoveries and new paradigms, is not, "Eureka!" but, "That's funny." He fell in love with the scientific method, and loved to tell the history of science because of all its many opportunities to narrate the idea, "That's funny. That doesn't make sense." And he kept it up in his fiction:
  • Something happens within the plot, something which doesn't quite fit the dominant paradigm which predates the start of the story.
  • Character A comes up with a new hypothesis, and over the course of a dozen conversations, refines it to the point where it's almost certainly true.
  • Character A predicts the results of some final tests, and the hypothesis succeeds…
  • …except that there's one data point left over, one plot point which doesn't quite make sense…
  • …at which point character B realizes that character A has been wrong all along, and the real answer is something else entirely.
  • Character B's hypothesis explains everything character A's did, including that stray data point, and a few other plot points which nobody had noticed before, or at any rate nobody had thought could possibly tie into the same theory…
  • …and the cycle repeats, usually once in a short story of novelette, two to three times in a novella or novel.


On one level this is kind of disappointing, like the moment in the third volume when I realized that the entire Golden Compass trilogy had been a roman a clé and not nearly so imaginative as I had originally thought. But at the same time I'm deeply impressed with Dr. Asimov. The notion of revealing new details about the plot was certainly not new with him; it had been at the core of mystery fiction for a hundred years, and of Greek tragedy for more than two thousand. What may be original to him is the rigour with which he adhered to the scientific method in revealing these details. No oracles here, who appear from nowhere and tell the underlying inexorable truth; nor detectives, who gather the available clues to deduce what must have happened. Asimov's heroes really are scientists, who make their best guesses about the nature of the plot (and the universe), refine their theories in collaboration, and finally make and test predictions to see whether they were right.

Small wonder there are so many talking heads, with such a narrative need for collaboration…but what a great pedagogical tool! I'm sure that I assimilated the entire scientific process from Dr. Asimov's books, just as someone raised on another literary diet might assimilate its own subliminal dogma. Of course, knowing how much Asimov I read as a teenager, I'm now feeling slightly nervous of my belief in science…which doesn't help, because I also know that reflexively questioning dogma is a hallmark of the very rationalism I'm trying to question. I may be a hopeless case.
osmie: (Default)
The first sentence on page 119 of Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity has, alas, returned to the library before I wrote it down.

Isaac Asimov was my introduction to SF. My uncle gave me a pair of his science essay collections for my tenth birthday, and I loved them—so when I saw another book of his at my favourite used bookstore, I bought it immediately. Foundation, it was called. And I read it and its sequels over and over, secretly and desperately wanting to be Arcadia Darrell, while slowly discovering that there was a whole genre of similar work out there.

My favourite of Asimov's novels was The End of Eternity, so while on a rereading kick in June (yes, I'm that far behind on book reviews), I picked it up to see what I thought, 25 years after first reading it.

You know what? It's still good. It's a well-thought-out, intricately plotted time travel story with lots of duplicity and believable characters. (At his best, Asimov never drew his characters with more lines than he absolutely had to. They're the literary equivalent of the kids from Peanuts, and I believe absolutely in the kids from Peanuts.) I think it's still my favourite of his novels.

The 1950s sexism which I feared I'd run into was surprisingly absent…which is to say, it's all over the place, up until the moment when it turns out to have been a plot point. In a novel about the cultural differences one observes, if not engineers, from millennium to millennium along the timeline, Asimov does a remarkably good job of deconstructing his own culture—without letting this deconstruction take over the plot.

What was new to me was a narratological awareness of the way Asimov advances his plot. Sure, I'd read countless essays about his writing methods—usually some combination of the tropes, "Have enough things on the go that if you hit a block on one, you can shrug your shoulders and move on to the next without missing a beat," and, "Decide on an ending first; then decide on a beginning and start writing, taking as many digressions as you like without losing sight of that ending." But I'd never thought more deeply about his actual plot mechanics than to acknowledge that he wrote an awful lot of talking heads.

Asimov was a scientist first. One of my favourite quotes of his, which I am too lazy to look up and so I shall cite imprecisely, is that the most exciting sound in science, the one which heralds new discoveries and new paradigms, is not, "Eureka!" but, "That's funny." He fell in love with the scientific method, and loved to tell the history of science because of all its many opportunities to narrate the idea, "That's funny. That doesn't make sense." And he kept it up in his fiction:
  • Something happens within the plot, something which doesn't quite fit the dominant paradigm which predates the start of the story.
  • Character A comes up with a new hypothesis, and over the course of a dozen conversations, refines it to the point where it's almost certainly true.
  • Character A predicts the results of some final tests, and the hypothesis succeeds…
  • …except that there's one data point left over, one plot point which doesn't quite make sense…
  • …at which point character B realizes that character A has been wrong all along, and the real answer is something else entirely.
  • Character B's hypothesis explains everything character A's did, including that stray data point, and a few other plot points which nobody had noticed before, or at any rate nobody had thought could possibly tie into the same theory…
  • …and the cycle repeats, usually once in a short story of novelette, two to three times in a novella or novel.


On one level this is kind of disappointing, like the moment in the third volume when I realized that the entire Golden Compass trilogy had been a roman a clé and not nearly so imaginative as I had originally thought. But at the same time I'm deeply impressed with Dr. Asimov. The notion of revealing new details about the plot was certainly not new with him; it had been at the core of mystery fiction for a hundred years, and of Greek tragedy for more than two thousand. What may be original to him is the rigour with which he adhered to the scientific method in revealing these details. No oracles here, who appear from nowhere and tell the underlying inexorable truth; nor detectives, who gather the available clues to deduce what must have happened. Asimov's heroes really are scientists, who make their best guesses about the nature of the plot (and the universe), refine their theories in collaboration, and finally make and test predictions to see whether they were right.

Small wonder there are so many talking heads, with such a narrative need for collaboration…but what a great pedagogical tool! I'm sure that I assimilated the entire scientific process from Dr. Asimov's books, just as someone raised on another literary diet might assimilate its own subliminal dogma. Of course, knowing how much Asimov I read as a teenager, I'm now feeling slightly nervous of my belief in science…which doesn't help, because I also know that reflexively questioning dogma is a hallmark of the very rationalism I'm trying to question. I may be a hopeless case.
osmie: (Default)
The first sentence on page 119 of Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End is, "The inside of the fabric was stitched with thousands of tiny cameras."

For once statistical bibliomancy works: this is completely typical of the novel, which takes place in a future less than 20 years away, yet in which everything imaginable has been wired to an immersive, ultra-high-bandwidth descendant of the Internet. Landscapes are alive, or at any rate seeded with so many mutually aware, wireless network nodes that most people never take out their Internet-savvy contact lenses to see what's really there. They don't have to. Their contacts superimpose enough of the real world to get by, along with any applications they might be running and a constant stream of avatar-based communicaton protocols. Oh, and the descendants of desktop skins, which now reinterpret the whole universe in realtime to match one's favourite fanciful universe.

(Discworld is one of the more popular skins, and Terry Pratchett is now worth "[m]ore than Hacek. Not as much as Rowling. But the micro-royalties add up. Pratchett owns a rather large part of Scotland." In fact I was quite impressed at the chutzpah of referring to a novel Pratchett hasn't yet written, The Fiery Crow. If you're going to name real authors in the near future, it's only sensible to suppose that they'll have continued writing in the interim, but I think this is the first time I've seen it supposed so blatantly.)

I began Rainbows End on the Internet, where the full text has been published for free to improve the novel's Hugo chances at next month's WorldCon. I picked it at random from the five novel nominees, and loved the first nineteen pages enough to seek out and buy the book.

And then on page 19 the novel takes an abrupt left turn. Chapter One is really part of the prologue, serving only to set up a couple more Macguffins around which the plot can circle. The main character doesn't show up until Chapter Two, nor does any of the main plot begin for another chapter or two after that. Robert Gu is a Nobel Prize-winning poet who succumbed to Alzheimer's in our own era, but who never quite died before the cure was found. In 2025 he wakes up, giving us a convenient 2007-eye view of the wonders of this new world as he becomes enmeshed in everybody else's plot. More miracle technology gives him the body of an eighteen-year-old, but alas! nothing can restore his poetic genius.

Um.

Robert Gu is a thoroughly unbelievable character.

I don't know how to put it more plainly. He's a bizarre amalgam of SF tropes, all thrown together in hopes of creating a credible human being, and it just doesn't work. He's physically 18, but the only effect this has on the plot is to make him capable of a few action-movie calisthenics near the end of the book. He's a brilliant poet in search of his lost poetry—but even though this tragedy drives his role in the plot, he's too busy exploring a sudden newfound ability with physics & technology to spend any time fretting about it. And where'd that ability come from, anyway? It turns him into a cookie-cutter young-adult Campbellian scientist-as-hero, who just happens to have been magically transported from our universe where he worked as … um, let's pull something out of the Occupations Hat … a famous poet! Yeah!

I've read about too many cookie-cutter Campbellian heroes. I thought that Isaac Asimov's Prelude to Foundation was a travesty; Asimov never led authorities on an action-packed chase through the zoos of New York Trantor, and neither did Hari Seldon, dammit. I loved the sequence in Kim Stanley Robinson's Green Mars where Saxifrage Russell finds himself in a situation where he sees no choice but to play the action hero, and fails deplorably. The SF hero doesn't always have to be portrayed by Bruce Willis or Keanu Reeves. Have we learned nothing from Patrick Stewart or Tom Baker?

Vinge also makes a lot of noise about the re-education of seniors who haven't been able to adapt to the new technologies, but never acknowledges that there must be some seniors who have adapted. Why should the powers that be pay any attention to the losers? Well, because they're easier to manipulate. But they haven't any power either? Well, the powers that be can arrange a media spectacle to give them inadvertent power at the crucial moment. But if the powers that be can arrange arbitrary media spectacles of that magnitude, what do they need these seniors for anyway? The plot seems arbitrary. It bounces along very energetically while you read, but in retrospect it doesn't make a lot of sense.

Nobody beats Vernor Vinge for assimilating and fearlessly projecting the upward curve of technology, not William Gibson, not Neal Stephenson. Every time I started to doubt the market penetration (not to mention real-world penetration) of the Epiphany operating system and the Secure Hardware Environment, I thought back twenty years and debated whether, in 1987, I would have believed in a future where everyone had e-mail, video-camera cell phones lived in most people's pockets, flash memory could be worn as jewellery, and we still hadn't gone back to the moon. I don't think I would have. It behooves me to learn from this, and Vernor Vinge's predictions are probably not that far off. Rainbows End may be as seminal a text to the next generation of Internet interfaces as Snow Crash was to Second Life.

So read it for the ideas. Marvel, for they're worth marvelling at while you still have a chance, while they still haven't become commonplace. But don't expect great characters, or a great plot, or the kind of soaring prose which distracts you from both. (I'm thinking particularly of R.A. Lafferty's Annals of Klepsis for some reason, but it does make a good example: its characters are flatter than Vinge's, its setting equally bizarre, its plot far more incoherent, its practical predictions virtually nonexistent—but its language, my god, its sheer brilliance of style makes up for all these flaws and more.)

I will not have time to read all five Hugo-nominated novels in time to vote this year, and I would not defame the ballot by voting in a category where I haven't read all the nominees.1 But even though Rainbows End may be the most influential SF novel of 2006, I doubt very much that it's the best one.

1Not to mention that the mail-in voting deadline was last week.
osmie: (Default)
The first sentence on page 119 of Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End is, "The inside of the fabric was stitched with thousands of tiny cameras."

For once statistical bibliomancy works: this is completely typical of the novel, which takes place in a future less than 20 years away, yet in which everything imaginable has been wired to an immersive, ultra-high-bandwidth descendant of the Internet. Landscapes are alive, or at any rate seeded with so many mutually aware, wireless network nodes that most people never take out their Internet-savvy contact lenses to see what's really there. They don't have to. Their contacts superimpose enough of the real world to get by, along with any applications they might be running and a constant stream of avatar-based communicaton protocols. Oh, and the descendants of desktop skins, which now reinterpret the whole universe in realtime to match one's favourite fanciful universe.

(Discworld is one of the more popular skins, and Terry Pratchett is now worth "[m]ore than Hacek. Not as much as Rowling. But the micro-royalties add up. Pratchett owns a rather large part of Scotland." In fact I was quite impressed at the chutzpah of referring to a novel Pratchett hasn't yet written, The Fiery Crow. If you're going to name real authors in the near future, it's only sensible to suppose that they'll have continued writing in the interim, but I think this is the first time I've seen it supposed so blatantly.)

I began Rainbows End on the Internet, where the full text has been published for free to improve the novel's Hugo chances at next month's WorldCon. I picked it at random from the five novel nominees, and loved the first nineteen pages enough to seek out and buy the book.

And then on page 19 the novel takes an abrupt left turn. Chapter One is really part of the prologue, serving only to set up a couple more Macguffins around which the plot can circle. The main character doesn't show up until Chapter Two, nor does any of the main plot begin for another chapter or two after that. Robert Gu is a Nobel Prize-winning poet who succumbed to Alzheimer's in our own era, but who never quite died before the cure was found. In 2025 he wakes up, giving us a convenient 2007-eye view of the wonders of this new world as he becomes enmeshed in everybody else's plot. More miracle technology gives him the body of an eighteen-year-old, but alas! nothing can restore his poetic genius.

Um.

Robert Gu is a thoroughly unbelievable character.

I don't know how to put it more plainly. He's a bizarre amalgam of SF tropes, all thrown together in hopes of creating a credible human being, and it just doesn't work. He's physically 18, but the only effect this has on the plot is to make him capable of a few action-movie calisthenics near the end of the book. He's a brilliant poet in search of his lost poetry—but even though this tragedy drives his role in the plot, he's too busy exploring a sudden newfound ability with physics & technology to spend any time fretting about it. And where'd that ability come from, anyway? It turns him into a cookie-cutter young-adult Campbellian scientist-as-hero, who just happens to have been magically transported from our universe where he worked as … um, let's pull something out of the Occupations Hat … a famous poet! Yeah!

I've read about too many cookie-cutter Campbellian heroes. I thought that Isaac Asimov's Prelude to Foundation was a travesty; Asimov never led authorities on an action-packed chase through the zoos of New York Trantor, and neither did Hari Seldon, dammit. I loved the sequence in Kim Stanley Robinson's Green Mars where Saxifrage Russell finds himself in a situation where he sees no choice but to play the action hero, and fails deplorably. The SF hero doesn't always have to be portrayed by Bruce Willis or Keanu Reeves. Have we learned nothing from Patrick Stewart or Tom Baker?

Vinge also makes a lot of noise about the re-education of seniors who haven't been able to adapt to the new technologies, but never acknowledges that there must be some seniors who have adapted. Why should the powers that be pay any attention to the losers? Well, because they're easier to manipulate. But they haven't any power either? Well, the powers that be can arrange a media spectacle to give them inadvertent power at the crucial moment. But if the powers that be can arrange arbitrary media spectacles of that magnitude, what do they need these seniors for anyway? The plot seems arbitrary. It bounces along very energetically while you read, but in retrospect it doesn't make a lot of sense.

Nobody beats Vernor Vinge for assimilating and fearlessly projecting the upward curve of technology, not William Gibson, not Neal Stephenson. Every time I started to doubt the market penetration (not to mention real-world penetration) of the Epiphany operating system and the Secure Hardware Environment, I thought back twenty years and debated whether, in 1987, I would have believed in a future where everyone had e-mail, video-camera cell phones lived in most people's pockets, flash memory could be worn as jewellery, and we still hadn't gone back to the moon. I don't think I would have. It behooves me to learn from this, and Vernor Vinge's predictions are probably not that far off. Rainbows End may be as seminal a text to the next generation of Internet interfaces as Snow Crash was to Second Life.

So read it for the ideas. Marvel, for they're worth marvelling at while you still have a chance, while they still haven't become commonplace. But don't expect great characters, or a great plot, or the kind of soaring prose which distracts you from both. (I'm thinking particularly of R.A. Lafferty's Annals of Klepsis for some reason, but it does make a good example: its characters are flatter than Vinge's, its setting equally bizarre, its plot far more incoherent, its practical predictions virtually nonexistent—but its language, my god, its sheer brilliance of style makes up for all these flaws and more.)

I will not have time to read all five Hugo-nominated novels in time to vote this year, and I would not defame the ballot by voting in a category where I haven't read all the nominees.1 But even though Rainbows End may be the most influential SF novel of 2006, I doubt very much that it's the best one.

1Not to mention that the mail-in voting deadline was last week.
osmie: (Default)
The first sentence on page 119 of Gordon Korman's Our Man Weston is, "'But, Dick!'"

Part of the theory which goes into my careful nonadecacentobibliomancy is that, statistically, if any given book contains such a thing as a typical sentence, then a consistently chosen random sentence is likelier to reflect that typicality than ... well ... than any other typicality. Once in a while it succeeds spectacularly. Once in a while, as with this book, it succeeds so well as to look completely ordinary.

"'But, Dick!'" may be the most common individual sentence in the book. It's one of the verbal tics by which ye shall know Bert Cobber, one of the dozen or so delightfully one-dimensional hotel guests at the centre of this story -- and more broadly, it's an excellent example of the sort of tic by which any of them might be known. Though it's primarily character-driven, a work of deep characterization this ain't.

Our Man Weston was one of my favourite books ever when I first read it in the seventh grade, and for the last couple of weeks I've been reading it with my son at bedtime. It's definitely as good as I remembered; it's definitely the book I remembered. And yet it's full of thin characterizations, clumsy prose, anticlimax ... what interests me here is not the fact that I didn't pick up on these failings at the age of 12, but that the very ideas of "style" and "setup/payoff" were completely absent from my memory of the novel. I didn't make any assumptions, as my reading grew more sophisticated, that its style must have been as good as its plot; I just left the whole idea alone, as though the book existed in some neutral state where style didn't exist.

I'm not articulating that idea as clearly as I would like. I think it bears more thought. Doubtless it will turn out to be very profound, at which point I may or may not blog about it.1

For those who don't know of Gordon Korman, it's important to be aware that he's only a few years older than I am. I first read this book when I was 12; he wrote it when he was about 18; it was his seventh published novel. A quarter century later, he's still writing, and I'm sure that his ability to produce a clear style has ably kept pace with my ability to discern it -- but everything I know of his œuvre he wrote as a teenager. I'm afraid I stopped reading his work after this novel, perversely because I thought he could never possibly write anything so good again, and I didn't want to be disappointed.

As a teenager, and no doubt to this day, Gordon Korman was a master of farce. Give him two characters and they'd already be working at amusing cross purposes; give him three, and even the different sets of cross purposes would be working at cross purposes. Usually this tended to manifest in plots where character A spent a lot of time just doing their thing; character B spent a lot of time trying to keep character A's exploits under the radar, but only partially succeeding; suddenly a mad cast of authority figures began chasing character A without really knowing who character A might be. Beware the Fish, Go Jump in the Pool, and (memorably) Who Is Bugs Potter? all used variations on this basic setup.

With Our Man Weston, for the first time, he pulled out all the stops. This time all of the characters are working at cross purposes, and the plot emerges entirely out of their interactions. They may be one-dimensional, but they drive the novel, elevating it from a tall tale into Korman's first grand farce. A plot summary, of sorts. )

Like any good farce, the plot spirals over the same ground on many levels, and it's the characters themselves who manage to spin each new plot element into another piece of their various conspiracy theories. But really, the novel is a bit slow to get going. Introducing the first few main characters, and giving the spiral its first little push, could have been handled with far more skill in far fewer pages. Several long scenes of Tom and Sidney arguing could stand to have been dropped -- or at least replaced with foreshadowing of a couple of the later plot twists.

I'm afraid that the end is also something of a cop-out. A major plot element appears just when it's needed, with no foreshadowing, and settles neatly into everyone's plans without getting spun into any conspiracy theories at all. Then, a chapter or so later, one of the real spies miraculously walks into a trap set for one of the mistaken spies, again with no particular prompting. It's very much as though Korman, realizing that his story was just 30 pages from a complete fugue state, chickened out and opted to simplify everything.

I can't really complain about the result. It's genuinely funny. I loved it when I was 12, and my son loved it at 11. And for contrast, I recently unearthed an early draft of the novel I started writing when I was 18, revealing some of the worst prose ever committed to paper by woman or man.



1I once spent hours chasing an obscure relationship among half a dozen numbers, generalizing and expanding and generalizing some more, reducing it to its most basic theoretical expression, until finally, breathless with excitement, I managed to cancel several uncooperative terms out of my equation to discover that "ax + bx = (a+b)x". Profound? Yes. Worth blogging about? No.
osmie: (Default)
The first sentence on page 119 of Gordon Korman's Our Man Weston is, "'But, Dick!'"

Part of the theory which goes into my careful nonadecacentobibliomancy is that, statistically, if any given book contains such a thing as a typical sentence, then a consistently chosen random sentence is likelier to reflect that typicality than ... well ... than any other typicality. Once in a while it succeeds spectacularly. Once in a while, as with this book, it succeeds so well as to look completely ordinary.

"'But, Dick!'" may be the most common individual sentence in the book. It's one of the verbal tics by which ye shall know Bert Cobber, one of the dozen or so delightfully one-dimensional hotel guests at the centre of this story -- and more broadly, it's an excellent example of the sort of tic by which any of them might be known. Though it's primarily character-driven, a work of deep characterization this ain't.

Our Man Weston was one of my favourite books ever when I first read it in the seventh grade, and for the last couple of weeks I've been reading it with my son at bedtime. It's definitely as good as I remembered; it's definitely the book I remembered. And yet it's full of thin characterizations, clumsy prose, anticlimax ... what interests me here is not the fact that I didn't pick up on these failings at the age of 12, but that the very ideas of "style" and "setup/payoff" were completely absent from my memory of the novel. I didn't make any assumptions, as my reading grew more sophisticated, that its style must have been as good as its plot; I just left the whole idea alone, as though the book existed in some neutral state where style didn't exist.

I'm not articulating that idea as clearly as I would like. I think it bears more thought. Doubtless it will turn out to be very profound, at which point I may or may not blog about it.1

For those who don't know of Gordon Korman, it's important to be aware that he's only a few years older than I am. I first read this book when I was 12; he wrote it when he was about 18; it was his seventh published novel. A quarter century later, he's still writing, and I'm sure that his ability to produce a clear style has ably kept pace with my ability to discern it -- but everything I know of his œuvre he wrote as a teenager. I'm afraid I stopped reading his work after this novel, perversely because I thought he could never possibly write anything so good again, and I didn't want to be disappointed.

As a teenager, and no doubt to this day, Gordon Korman was a master of farce. Give him two characters and they'd already be working at amusing cross purposes; give him three, and even the different sets of cross purposes would be working at cross purposes. Usually this tended to manifest in plots where character A spent a lot of time just doing their thing; character B spent a lot of time trying to keep character A's exploits under the radar, but only partially succeeding; suddenly a mad cast of authority figures began chasing character A without really knowing who character A might be. Beware the Fish, Go Jump in the Pool, and (memorably) Who Is Bugs Potter? all used variations on this basic setup.

With Our Man Weston, for the first time, he pulled out all the stops. This time all of the characters are working at cross purposes, and the plot emerges entirely out of their interactions. They may be one-dimensional, but they drive the novel, elevating it from a tall tale into Korman's first grand farce. A plot summary, of sorts. )

Like any good farce, the plot spirals over the same ground on many levels, and it's the characters themselves who manage to spin each new plot element into another piece of their various conspiracy theories. But really, the novel is a bit slow to get going. Introducing the first few main characters, and giving the spiral its first little push, could have been handled with far more skill in far fewer pages. Several long scenes of Tom and Sidney arguing could stand to have been dropped -- or at least replaced with foreshadowing of a couple of the later plot twists.

I'm afraid that the end is also something of a cop-out. A major plot element appears just when it's needed, with no foreshadowing, and settles neatly into everyone's plans without getting spun into any conspiracy theories at all. Then, a chapter or so later, one of the real spies miraculously walks into a trap set for one of the mistaken spies, again with no particular prompting. It's very much as though Korman, realizing that his story was just 30 pages from a complete fugue state, chickened out and opted to simplify everything.

I can't really complain about the result. It's genuinely funny. I loved it when I was 12, and my son loved it at 11. And for contrast, I recently unearthed an early draft of the novel I started writing when I was 18, revealing some of the worst prose ever committed to paper by woman or man.



1I once spent hours chasing an obscure relationship among half a dozen numbers, generalizing and expanding and generalizing some more, reducing it to its most basic theoretical expression, until finally, breathless with excitement, I managed to cancel several uncooperative terms out of my equation to discover that "ax + bx = (a+b)x". Profound? Yes. Worth blogging about? No.

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