Archive for May, 2014

2014/05/25

The Daisy Knitter

Because everyone’s schedule was actually going to be in sync, we had all four of us planned some time back to go down to the Zoo today. We recently realized that it was going to be Memorial Day Weekend, and were a bit worried that the Zoo might be unpleasantly crowded.

We needn’t have worried, because as it turned out the Zoo was completely inaccessible.

(After an hour or so waiting in traffic, we got within shouting distance of a parking lot entrance that was closed with a LOT FULL sign. A topless young man jumped out of the car ahead of us and went over and talked to the people in orange vests near the sign; as he was coming back M called out the window to him “What did they say?”.

“We’re fucked!” was the metaphorically accurate reply.)

So we drove Northward a bit to Peekskill, had coffee and hung out at the Coffee House (I got a tee shirt!), took pictures on our cellular phones, looked at lots and lots of books at The Bruised Apple, had yummy little pizzas, I mean flatbread, at Gleason’s, and (not in this order) wandered through the Flea Market buying random things.

The most notable random thing I bought was this:

artifact

(shown larger than actual size).

When I asked the owner of the case it was in (with various pieces of costume jewelry, old pocket knives, police whistles, compasses) how much it was, he said “Ah, you’ve got a good eye, look at this”, and he showed me that, if you twist the knob in the center, a stubby bit of wire pokes out from the end of each of those ribs you see radiating from the center in the picture. “That’s five dollars.”

A bargain, clearly! So I bought it.

(Here is an image of it with the wires extended, too.)

And, this being the future, I was able to type the patent number into my cellular telephone while standing there at the Flea Market, and determine that my new possession is technically speaking a Former for Artificial Flowers, patented by Antonia Dolia in 1930 or so.

Turning of the disc on completion of the operation varies its position and withdraws the wires 5 within the casing, the formed flower being thus free for removal to leave the device free for further manufacture.

So with that, and having a nice day in the car and in Peekskill, in lovely weather, with the all-four-of-us family, this has been a lovely day, despite the inaccessibility of the Zoo.

Now the little daughter has gone for a quick tango-related jaunt into The City, and the little boy is off somewhere with his chums, and M and I are sitting here typing on computers and watching people hit tennis balls about on the television.

Earlier I was reading Fred Pohl’s “The Annals of the Heechee”, but got really really tired of being told like three times per page about how Robinette Broadhead is a computer program, and how that means he is so much faster and more parallel than meat people, that I put it down to do something less tedious.

You can therefore partly thank Pohl’s bit of Mary-Sue-ism for this weblog entry. :)

Him, and the (patented) Daisy Knitter.

Now I am thinking of taking this plain grey tee shirt that I have and maybe tie dyeing it with bleach or something. Or maybe a nap…

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2014/05/11

Blurbs and Synopses

Tully

When her live-in boyfriend loses his job and starts drinking, Tulia dreads becoming like the battered women in the shelter where she works. Then one night while he is out on the town, a seriously injured woman appears in her apartment, calling herself Tully, which was Tulia’s childhood nickname. She talks incoherently about the Peace Corps, which Tulia almost joined years ago, before losing consciousness. Dealing with the riddle of this other self will set Tulia’s life, and Tully’s, on end.

booksSounds of the Tide

In a series of brief summer meetings over a dozen years, a young man and an older woman invent their own kind of love on a rocky New England beach.

Snack Bar Only

A man whose life is at loose ends takes an introspective cross-country tour of golf-course restaurants, in a covered pickup truck.

The King of Storyville

A fictionalized account of the red-light district of New Orleans in the early XXth Century, loosely centered around the career of jazzman Joe Oliver.

Levels

In a world sharply divided into the wealthy few and the desperate many, a brother and sister from the wrong side of the tracks stumble on a secret that could re-make everything, if they can stay alive long enough to reveal it.

Two Loaves of Bread

Lucia and Maria are children together, baking bread in the community ovens. As they grow up they also grow apart, until decades later they encounter each other on opposite sides of a heated political battle, and the past and present collide.

Whisper through the Flames

With the U.S. and China on a brink of an apocalyptic war, enigmatic messages apparently sent from the future may hold the only hope of survival.

VOZ

The surreal tale of the collapse of a major corporation, as those around it descend into chaos and strange magic.

Usually Night

A collection of poems about humanity’s efforts, national and international, to travel to space and back; illustrated, with accompanying notes from the authors.

2014/05/09

I get snarky on Dan Brown’s “Inferno”

All sorts of many things have been happening, and I have not been weblogifying about them!

(I have been posting pictures of some of the more visual ones, which you can look at and get some vague, or precise, ideas.)

But I did finish (the Kindle edition of) Dan Brown’s Inferno, and I wrote a snarky review of it for Amazon (because it was awful and being snarky is fun), so here ya go!

Mediocre (two stars)

So mostly this is the usual rather awful Dan Brown novel, with one pleasing twist, and one piece of additional awfulness to make up for it.

It’s the usual awful Dan Brown because it is basically an implausible scavenger hunt starring the annoying Robert Langdon, who is even more distracted than usual by historical and architectural trivia while he is supposedly trying to save the world. The female protagonists fall for him because of course they do, and he goes on and on and on and on about things utterly unrelated to the plot (although, to be fair, the travelogue stuff is generally somewhat more interesting than the ostensible plot or the activities of the cardboard characters).

It is awful because (perhaps sensibly) the editors don’t seem to have bothered editing the text (why bother when it’s going to sell a zillion copies anyway), and while words like “unstraddled”, “faceup” and the endlessly-repeated “bloodred” might be amusing if this was an experimental free-verse poem or something, scattered around in the otherwise flat and conventional prose they are just distracting and illiterate (would it have been so hard to type “dismounted”, “face up” and “blood-red”?). He uses “enormity” to refer to a statue being large, just like a high school kid, and no one corrects him. The book even has “telegenic effluvium” for “telogen effluvium”, which is embarrassing just to read, but I’m willing to assume this one is just someone not bothering to double-check a computer spell-checker.

It is awful because he gets his name-dropping quotes of Oppenheimer and Marx freaking _wrong_ (and the correct versions would have worked so much better), which inevitably makes the reader wonder if there are equally sloppy mistakes in the travelogue and art-history sections, which would be a pity.

It is awful for the usual inexplicable references to specific irrelevant brands and people. “Maurizio reversed the boat’s Volvo Penta engine, expertly backing away from the bank.” (Targeted at those readers whose first action on getting onto a Venetian gondola is to check out the make of the engine) “… already skimming across the lagoon in a futuristic black tender — a Dubois SR52 Blackbird…” (because the atmosphere would have been completely different if it were, say, a Windy 8M, a Novurania Launch 600, or heaven forbid some kind of ChrisCraft.) “Monteverdi, Liszt, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and Puccini composed pieces based on Dante’s work, as had one of Langdon’s favorite living recording artists — Loreena McKennitt” (Because of course we are endlessly fascinated with Langdon’s every music preference and clothing habit; don’t get me started on the heavily symbolic-of-nothing Mickey Mouse Watch he wears.)

It is awful for reasons that I could bore you with for quite some time (the ellipses! the completely implausible reactions to things! the dumb things that supposedly hyper-intelligent characters say! the painfully ignorant throwaway statements about what “Darwinists” believe! the more or less unchallenged and far from correct statements about how overpopulation is going to kill us all!).

It is redeemed somewhat by a large twist somewhat more than halfway through, that I admit I didn’t see coming at all, and that gave me that few minutes of delight in thinking “wait, but then…” and “oh, so that’s…” and paging back through the book to see what it actually said in various passages that now have completely different meanings post-reveal. The twist made a couple of things that had seemed weird and wrong on first reading make perfect sense; also a good and pleasant feeling.

But then, the crowning weirdness, that I can imagine feeling right and somewhat satisfying in a different book, but for me utterly deflates this one, is that (_mild spoiler warning_) it turns out at the end that everything all of the characters have done since the first page of the book has been for nothing, has made no difference at all. The world would have been just the same if they’d all woken up to the big serious threat by the Bad Guy, and thought “ah, to heck with it” and turned over and gone back to sleep (aside from the more or less indirect and accidental deaths of a couple of minor innocent characters, and some serious traffic problems in Venice). So, I mean, what? It really doesn’t matter at all that Mary Sue Langdon figured out the faux-clever clues before the bad guy’s deadline? So… why did I read this book, exactly, then?

It’s possible that this is Book One of a series, and that in some sequel it will all turn out to have mattered. But if so that sequel will be yet another awful Dan Brown novel, and really, is it worth it?

The sad thing is that there’s a good chance I will eventually read whatever awful book he writes next, because they are easy to read and fun to feel superior to, and everyone else will also read it so there is the whole Cultural Awareness thing.

And while I am also reading Iris Murdoch’s Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, it is going much more slowly…