Sunday 28 January 2018


I struggle to read books nowadays without finding things I want to look up online. Miram says that's a good thing. The latest is "Kingsfoil", which occurs at the start of A wizard of Earthsea:

She took him into her hut where she lived alone. She let no child enter there usually, and the children feared the place. It was low and dusky, windowless, fragrant with herbs that hung drying from the crosspole of the roof, mint and moly and thyme, yarrow and rushwash and paramal, kingsfoil, clovenfoot, tansy and bay. There his aunt sat crosslegged by the firepit, and looking sidelong at the boy through the tangles of her black hair she asked him what he had said to the goats, and if he knew what the rhyme was. When she found that he knew nothing, and yet had spellbound the goats to come to him and follow him, then she saw that he must have in him the makings of power.

I didn't notice it before. I don't find it noticed much on the web; there's a brief mention here for example.

On walking down New College lane

27368623_10156031064582350_3242102643643418204_o New College lane is about my favourite part of Oxford; the most Oxfordy bit of it. You can, if you squint, pretend that nothing has changed in hundreds of years - as long as you ignore the tarmac and the double yellow lines. But certainly little has changed in the thirty years since I left.

Today I was fortunate enough to have some warmth and some sunshine, and few people. The frontage here is just gorgeous. Astonishingly the wiki article doesn't even have a pic of it; barbarians. Take careful note of the priest praying on the right and the angel adoring on the left.

You might complain that this isn't the best of photos and you would be correct to note this but not to complain; this is the photo I took today and that is the important bit. What you can't see here is the light on the arches of the bridge just out of sight on the right, where the road turns. Every time I pass here I remember a May Day morning many years ago when I was stumbling along here and happened to pass as some bloke was playing a hand drum and perhaps singing - it is so long ago I cannot recall the details. For the moment and the place it was perfect.

We were in Oxford for the Bebras finals. Sadly E didn't win, but enjoyed it and got a creditable 155, we're not exactly sure out of how many. I bunked off most of the events, since I know what a cellular automaton is. So I spent much of the day sitting in Blackwells (reading Words of Radiance) with an afternoon walk around Christchurch meadow. But I did go to Hertford for lunch (nice Hall; E filded me a Dragon Curve) and the tour - nice college - and the prizegiving - nice chapel.

Friday 12 January 2018

Book review: Artemis

By the author of The Martian but IMO inferior. Partly because it is so much of the same genre: engineering puzzles, but on a moon city. Yes, it has a spunky female heroine and so on, but that only gets you so far. See-also Goodreads.

So what's wrong, apart from the rather derivative must-write-a-second-book feel? The setup is rather more contrived. The entire politics and economics of the situation feel unnatural. There's a city on the moon, but it is the only one, and it is dying - effectively - because... the author can't be bothered to imagine why it might not be dying. People went to all the effort of building it and then... stopped. I think about half way through the book the author realises this, but can't work out how to escape. This is because engineering is his thing; the politics in the Martian didn't really work either, but were much smaller; here they can't help be a largeish part, and they don't work.

Also the setup. In the Martian, the central plot is natural; here it is forced. It all feels so trivial. The engineering behind the plot might work, but who cares?

Reverting to general patterns, another flaw is "why did this happen now?". What happens is that in the largely un-law-protected (but for mysterious reasons rather law-abiding) city of Artemis, gangsters start showing up and killing people and the authorities, such as they are, are powerless. There's a mega-rich guy at the start of the story, and weirdly he has but one - apparently unarmed - part-time bodyguard; he presumably relies on the safety of the city despite the total lack - as it emerges - of any mechanism for that protection. But if all of that were true, the gangsters would have shown up a year earlier. Or before then. And this then swings back to the-politics-is-not-well-thought-out. There are echoes of Heinlein's moon, but what could have been interesting in the hands of a "Plato" interested in constitution building just doesn't work here.