Sunday 10 December 2023

Book review: Involution Ocean

PXL_20231210_140957726~2 By Bruce Sterling. Wiki says "The premise is influenced by Moby Dick by Herman Melville" which is right; there is a distinct tang of mad sea captain in the air, and a semi-observerish narrator, and something approaching a Whale. But none of the detail fits MD.

There is musing - in the storyline context, sane people get an extended life - about yearning for death. There are perhaps could have been more explored hints about the Elder Cultures. And the mystery of what lives down in the dust. And then there's the plot, which in some ways is less interesting.

I first read this oh most of forty years ago; and it has stayed unread on my bookshelf ever since, tagged in my mind as "interesting", and has survived numerous culls since then. But I had long forgotten in what way it was unusual, and now I find to my dismay that while a little unusual it is well within genre: strange things happening on a distant planet.

Saturday 9 December 2023

Book review: the Mystery of the Blue Train

PXL_20231203_152035794 Another Christie. Not too bad, though (for me) rather broken up; I read it over about a month with gaps; so I was even less than usually encouraged to guess the solution. Another with "Americans" as the source of money and hence action; the Europeans are predators mostly. The driver of the story, fabulous rubies and a divorce, seems rather dull now.

Quibbles: that Ava Mason should be a male impersonator seems an over-clue. She doesn't need to be. She just walks off the train dressed as a man, FFS, she could do that just as any old female actor. I also feel that the two-unreliable-narrators means that a lot of the story / description - who was the man on the train? - is effectively nulled out, which is dissatisfying. Had I been paying more attention, I'd have felt cheated.

Book review: the Memory of Earth

PXL_20231209_164115278~2 By Orson Scott Card. Book one of a 5-book series but I doubt I go further; either I'm getting rather curmudgeonly in my old age or this book is a bit pale. Goodreads doesn't seem impressed either.

The world: Harmony, a distant (100 light years, it emerges) world settled 40 million years ago after the Earth suffers what sounds like a nuclear war. Immeadiately you, but not the book, will think: what, we had starships but only sent them out after a war? Why did we only settle one planet? And so on. But we must cast those aside.

The idea is that the world is stable, because a computer-in-orbit aka the Oversoul keeps people from advancing tech far enough to kill themselves too badly: so, for example, no wheels-for-transport. But 40 million years is a very very long time; unimaginably long. Compare (from Ashmolean: Egypt) the picture I've inlined below. And that's only 3,000 years ago; there's even stranger stuff from 2,000 years before that. We see nothing like that; never do the characters come across say an obelisk even 100,000 years old. Or even 10,000 years, worn unintelligible, and say to themselves: the older stuff has just worn away. Instead, we might be in say Constantinople 1,000 years ago, but with limited use of computers.

By which I mean, the 40 million years idea is cute, but he does nothing with it. As a contrast, an image I recall from another book: we're inside a generations starship, where barbarism has occurred, as the makers predicted, and civilisation is gradually re-establishing itself; scattered across the interior are vast pillars, inscribed with knowledge, simple at the bottom and more exotic higher up, and as tech advances people can read higher (ladders, telescopes, balloons). Somewhere across the plain, one of the pillars has fallen and forbidden tech can be read by anyone... That kind of image is totally absent from this book.

Since this isn't really thought out at all, it seems a shame to waste complaints on it, but the total failure to develope in 40 million years would suggest to me giving up, rather than continuing to fight. The people, as described in the book, have essentially lost all that history: they must, there is too much of it. By contrast, there's a lot of human history, but "we" (the West) haven't lost it, because it is embodied in our society. But since their society is quasi-static (like the weather: always slightly different, but the same patterns recur) they have lost most of those 40 million years.

Side note: apparently the story in some way parallels the Book of Mormon (close enough to spoil the plot, according to this review), which Book at a quick glance seems like totally wacky maaan.


Tuesday 5 December 2023

Ashmolean: Egypt

I didn't realise the old place had so much Egypt in it. See set: Ashmolean, Oxford 2023/12. This post created in the hope I might fund these pictures again one day. There's also an Assyrian protective spirit, but I didn't find that.


Superb stuff. I like to imagine - it would be what my novel was about, if I ever wrote one - that these beasts and gods really used to walk amongst men, and the sculpters simply drew what they saw; but over the millennia we have forgotten what once was, and assume the images are merely fabulous.


Stepping back a little to around 3300 BC, we have a colossol statue of the fertility god Min (see-also).


3300 BC is an unfathomable amount of time away. Quasi-randomly, a vulture's head.


And then, suddenly, the Greeks took a completely different turn.


Wednesday 15 November 2023

The Coton Pavillion Rebuild of 2005/6

DSCN4695-ross-on-sofa The Coton pavillion rebuild was a thing in... 2005/6, gosh that was a long time ago. At the time I (I think I...) started a blog about it, called Run by an account called "sofaman". And so it sat, for many years. I wonder if it is now owned by Ross? Google tells me it may soon be disappeared as no-use-for-ages.

So I made an archive of it, and this post to link to it. My pix on Flickr.


Congratulations to Ross Chandler.

Monday 13 November 2023

Book review: Murder on the Orient Express

PXL_20231112_132325906~2 A classic, of course. See wiki for tedious details of the plot and so on, that I won't trouble myself too much with.

I enjoyed reading this; it is an interesting story well enough told. It is pleasant to be drawn back to ye olde dayes when pipe-smoking colonels came back from India via Stamboul abord the Orient Express. I think that AC doesn't dwell on that too much, it perhaps being sufficiently obvious; but only (I think) a modern film adaption we are not drowned in opulence, it's just there1.

From here: caution, spoilers.

Towards the end, as Poirot unwinds the event, a thing become clear that in a way should have been much earlier: that the train is improbably full, and this itself is a Klew. This has been introduced earlier, rather nicely, well before we think we should be looking out for clues. And another, that to some extent smooths over some awkwardnesses: because the snowdrift has upset plans, but nonetheless the event goes ahead according to script: there are so many people involved, who cannot be seen to plot with each other,  it cannot be replanned.

Set against that, we have the improbability of both Poirot and the director of the line (conveniently there to allow Poirot authority) being on the train. Ah well, unavoidable perhaps. I feel that the plot being driven by Americans Yet Again is lazy of her. Oh, and having Mr Evil speak French is odd, since he so obviously can't. I think the Poirot sometimes speaks English-as-French, and this is sweet, but sometimes is swept into idiomatic English, and this is careless.


1. But then again, as time goes by, the main interest in these stories is as reflections on bygone times. People travelling from "Mesopotamia" and so on. So a little dwelling on the physical infrastructure would be good.

Thursday 9 November 2023

Book review: the Forever War

PXL_20231108_205142378~2 A nice little blast from the old days. Goodreads likes it, as it should (my recollection is that the rest of the series is duff, though). Its kinda hardish scifi, overlaid on Vietnam-type US soldierly thinking (e.g. to improve morale, the army has mandated that the soldiers say "fuck you sir" when dismissed).

The hardish element largely works, as long as you don't peer too closely (finding planets around a collapsar would be pretty tricky, why would you build a base on one anyway when you could more conveniently operate in space; I think he's a bit casual about quite what accelerations are in place; I never even tried to check if his mooted accelerations matched the distances / times required. Oh, and while his spaceships have engines capable of generating n gravities thrust, those are the main engines, and wouldn't be capable of manoevering at anything like that thrust).

The fighting described is a sort of sketch of how such fighting might go; it is a fairly short book so the details are thin, but this is OK; you can supply your own.

The final twist is nice, and adds to the pointlessness of the whole thing, which is so to speak the point.

Oh yeah the title: due to time dilation on the way to the jumps, much objective-so-to-speak time passes. This gets him a bit of social commentary on how-things-change. His guesses now don't look so good (general homosexuality to avoid overpopulation is fun, but doesn't now look plausible), but again this is not real problem. The idea of collapsing down to just one clone now doesn't seem like a very good idea from any perspective, particularly genetic diversity but also diversity of thought.