alexxkay: (Default)
2017-08-23 09:39 pm
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Alexx’s August Patreon Update

Accomplished over July and August:

  • Helped annotate issue #11 of Cinema Purgatorio, featuring “My Fair Dahlia”, a musical treatment of an infamous Hollywood murder. Also, enough hints have accumulated that I was able to make some informed guesses as to what the heck has been going on in the frame story!
  • Annotated the first two sections of the Jerusalem chapter “Round the Bend”. As mentioned before, I’m starting with the by-far hardest chapter, as that’s the one that most needs annotation. This is probably the densest material I will ever tackle, as the average number of interpretations per word seems to be about 3. Here's an example word, on the high side, but not extremely so:
  • “pharsycal” – “Physical”, “farcical” (ridiculous), “Pharaohs” (Egyptian monarchs who not infrequently married incestuously, leading to genetic problems from inbreeding) “sick all”. Possibly “sycamore” (type of tree).

    • Section 1 – Breakfast
      In which Lucia Joyce begins her day with breakfast, then wanders the grounds of St Andrews Infirmary. She recalls her life in its broad outlines.
    • Section 2 – Illusionary Giorgio Joyce
      In which Lucia recalls her childhood relationships with her family, especially her incestuous relationship with her brother Giorgio, whom she seems to see an image of.

I’ve also done a bit of forward planning, and it looks like “Round the Bend” will probably take about a year to do the basic annotation pass. There are 13 sections in all, though a couple of them are comparatively brief. After that, of course, there are still the other 34 chapters of Jerusalem, though my collaborators have done some work there already. And, of course, I’ll be continuing to work on Cinema Purgatorio.

Even more than usually, I welcome comments and suggestions from other readers. I’m catching a lot of stuff, but I am certainly missing a great deal as well.

alexxkay: (Default)
2017-06-16 06:24 pm

Alexx’s June Patreon update

It’s been three months, as suspected. The finale of Providence wasn’t as time-consuming as feared, but on the other hand, the last chapter of Voice of the Fire is proving to be quite dense. Plus, gardening season started, and, sadly, weeding still pays better than scholarship. That said, plenty has been annotated.

I’ve also gotten a good start on the final chapter of Voice of the Fire, featuring Moore himself. Next update should feature that, another issue or two of Cinema Purgatorio, and the first few sections of “Round the Bend”. Be seeing you!

[My Patreon]

alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2017-03-26 08:04 pm
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Alexx’s March Patreon Update

Well, my prediction of managing a Patreon update every other month seems to be holding true. Since last time, I have:Looking forward, the next update should include another Cinema Purgatorio, the conclusion of Providence, and possibly the last few chapters of VotF, depending on how much effort Providence #12 turns out to be. After that, on to Jerusalem!
alexxkay: (Default)
2017-02-22 08:51 pm
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Kestrell's latest literary project

Kestrell is, at long last, starting to write up some of her vast accumulated knowledge (and opinion) about Umberto Eco's wonderful _The Name of the Rose_. Recommended to all bibliophiles.

(And there's a Patreon attached, so consider that, if you want to encourage more such writing.)
alexxkay: (Default)
2017-02-14 02:34 pm

The Secret History of Twin Peaks

I finally got around to reading this, some months after its release, but at least before the new season of Twin Peaks itself. Short review: mixed, but indispensable for the serious T P fan.
At more length:Read more... )
alexxkay: (Default)
2017-01-31 06:44 pm

Alexx’s January Patreon Update

I spent most of December with a cold, and thus got very little work accomplished. I did watch a large amount of Western movies, leading to significant additional annotations for Cinema Purgatorio number seven (see earlier comments about Art never being finished, only abandoned).

January, thankfully, has been significantly more productive. Notable accomplishments since last time:
• Annotated chapters two through five of Voice of the Fire.
• Helped annotate issue 11 of Providence.

Plus a lot of miscellaneous bits here and there. Still lots more to do, and a new issue of Cinema Purgatorio is due out tomorrow. Thanks for your support!
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2016-10-09 06:18 pm
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Jerusalem: The Lucia Joyce Chapter

So, I have reached the infamous “Lucia Joyce” chapter of Alan Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem. It’s written as a pastiche of James Joyce’s Finnegan‘s Wake, with nearly every word misspelled punally, or mangled in some crossword way. Moore says that writing this chapter broke his brain, and he had to take 18 months off from writing the novel to recover. Even just reading it is doing odd things to my use and perception of language.

It’s a difficult read, but not without its rewards. I have laughed out loud more often during this chapter than any other; not merely because of funny events (though there certainly are some), but a rare sort of revelatory laughter, as I realize another layer of meaning snaking around the surface level of the plot.

But I really started writing this post to express my joy and amazement at one particular scene in this chapter. Reading and Alan Moore novel, one expects a great deal of intertextuality, and guest appearances by all manner of obscurely famous people. What I did NOT see coming, was an extended conversation between Lucia Joyce and Herbie Popnecker, a.k.a. The Fat Fury! Okay, TECHNICALLY, it was artist Ogden Whitney, but as portrayed by Moore, that’s a distinction without a difference.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2016-04-17 11:21 am
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_Ritual_, by David Pinner (1967)

I came to this novel via one of my favorite films. I heard that it was the basis for “The Wicker Man”. That turns out to be only vaguely true; some aspects of the novel are reflected in the film, but the novel is entirely its own thing. Indeed, given how subjective and even hallucinatory the prose is, I suspect the book is not actually filmable – though I’d like to see David Lynch give it a go.

Speaking of Lynch, I was reminded somewhat of Twin Peaks, in an odd way. Twin Peaks uses the device of a girl’s murder to investigate the secrets underpinning a small town society, all the secret loves and hidden hates, and the past that is not past. _Ritual_ has a strangely looking glass reflection of that structure. It opens just after the death of a young girl. The reader is strongly led to believe that this death was truly accidental. But the town is so full-to-bursting with secrets and tensions, that it seems to NEED a murder investigation to release the pressure, even in the absence of an actual murderer. Something of a witch hunt is organized – by the local witch!

It’s not a great novel. I found the ending unsatisfying, in an M. Night Shyamalan sort of way. That is to say, it was a clever twist, and properly set up plot-wise, yet not emotionally fulfilling (for me). The prose is often both beautiful and clever, but not as often as the author thinks, with some notable clunkers. As might be expected from a British horror novel of this era, the racial and sexual politics on display are often… regrettable. And none of the characters are particularly likable, which can be a serious problem.

I did find it interesting enough to get through, largely for the prose. I will end with a few quotes that I extracted for my quote file, to give some of the flavor of the better bits:

She was one of those women who have no delta of calm. She was all ice storms and thunder mountains. A rose, to her, was not a natural sculpture in silence, but a beautiful terror on fire.

… the sun is lusting for the sea. Squirting his liquid amber, he hears the submarine call of the mermen and the Kraken. The upper air vibrates like a sheet of crystal as the sun lunges into the water. One long hiss of pain and the water devours the fire. There is only the perfection of the darkness.

‘Yes, well, Inspector, I know it is a bad Elizabethan joke, but I always feel that bad Elizabethan is better than good Modern. At least, there’s entrails behind it. And imagery. Always important when you’re avoiding reality.’
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2015-11-13 05:46 pm

Masquerade Metaphysics

Talking with [ profile] rickthefightguy recently, he mentioned why he had stopped playing Vampire: The Masquerade LARPs. It was after the second time that he had built up a character with a great deal of power, both in terms of combat and politics, had started arguing that The Masquerade was a stupid idea which be abandoned, and had that character summarily killed by an extremely powerful NPC. Sensing the pattern, he declined to go through it again.

Now, on one level, it’s obvious why that happened. When a player attempts to undermine one of the very foundations of the game world, the GMs HAVE to stop that from succeeding. And The Masquerade IS one of the foundational points of the game; its presence in the title is no accident. It marks a genre distinction, between Secret History and Alternate History. In a Secret History setting, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief enough, you can just barely believe that the details of the setting might actually be true. By contrast, an Alternate History setting is obviously and irrevocably not the world we are living in. A Secret History can become an Alternate History, but it’s a very significant one-way change. An author might be willing to make that change for a setting of his (Charles Stross has done so twice so far), but GMs who are running a licensed setting are going to be understandably reluctant to make such a large and fundamental change to that setting. Even if they were willing in theory, making such a change is a LOT of work, for both GMs AND players.

Of course, all that is a Doyle-ist explanation, and I far prefer Watsonian ones whenever possible. So I started considering possible solutions from that angle.

The Masquerade IS, on the face of it, a pretty stupid political idea. It carries very high costs for very arguable benefits. But what if it WASN’T a political idea at all, what if it was an existential one? Not prescriptive, but descriptive? Posit a world where the Rules of Reality (a superset of the laws of physics) prevent vampires, werewolves, etc. from being acknowledged by society.

I have read a number of time travel stories where, when you try to change history, you can make small local changes, but the timestream “cancels them out” with a series of what would normally be considered low probability events. This is just a science-fiction gloss on one of the classic conceptions of Fate, or how one has to pay the appropriate “price” in a magical bargain. Technically, you can avoid fated outcome X, but that will just result in outcome Y, which is much worse. A really skilled sorcerer, who has anticipated many of the possible outcomes, might avoid X, Y, and even Z – but that just leads to an Omega which is nigh-apocalyptic.

So, imagine that that is what The Masquerade is designed to avoid. Before it was established, there may have been incidents where powerful vampire clans attempted to reach some sort of stable political arrangement with humanity at large, only to have those clans entirely wiped out by mysterious accidents. Maybe not just clans, but one or more entire mythological SPECIES. As soon as this pattern is understood, there is a strong incentive to create political structures that will prevent anything like it from happening again. The rank-and-file wouldn’t even have to understand the true reasons for The Masquerade, as long as they scrupulously followed the rules. (It occurs to me, I’ve just invented a Secret History of a Secret History. Yay, recursion!)

In a world like this, when a character like Rick’s started getting too powerful and threatening The Masquerade, instead of killing him outright, some of the clan elders would quietly take him aside and tell him what was really going on. In most such cases, the troublemaker would cease to cause trouble. (I’ve been rereading H.P. Lovecraft, and a very similar situation occurs in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. When the US military does a lot of violent, top-secret stuff in the vicinity of Innsmouth, at first, a bunch of newspaper reporters are very inquisitive about it. They are quietly told at least a piece of what’s really going on, and why they shouldn’t write about it, and they mostly shut up.)

As a further thought experiment, how might the Rules of Reality have come to exist in such a way? I’ve come up with one model, though doubtless there are others possible. Consider a universe that begins much like many primitive creation myths: at first there is formless chaos, but eventually gods coalesce out of it. The first generation of gods don’t do much except (perhaps accidentally) create the second generation of gods, which promptly overthrow and/or kill the first generation, and start building the physical universe out of their remains. This early version of the universe contains mankind, but is still pretty chaotic and “magical”. One God can declare something about reality and make it true, but another God can easily come along and declare something else, or even the opposite.

Eventually, more generations of gods happen, getting more sophisticated over time. As these gods gradually form more complex and stable societies among themselves, they begin to realize that a universe where the nature of reality is in constant flux is “bad for business”. The majority faction of the gods decide to impose a consistent Physics on the universe (possibly some time during the Roman Empire). But, though they are a majority, there exists enough powerful dissent that compromises must be made. Certain entities (e.g. vampires) which do not actually obey the laws of Physics are allowed to be “grandfathered” in – with restrictions. They are only allowed to exist on the fringes; if their presence became known, it would be a threat to Physics, which is not permitted.

Maybe what happens to a sufficiently determined vampire who avoids the vampire legal system and attempts to go public, is that he discovers, much to his surprise, that he is NOT a vampire, but an ordinary human being except for some broken brain chemistry that has driven him insane…
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2015-11-12 10:55 am
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Dream Snippet, Steven Brust edition

Vlad Taltos was arguing with Verra. As a result, he decided to go hide out in his highschool bookstore, largely on the theory that at least it should take someone interesting to find him there.

He's not there long before he's sent out front to organize some books ("Out of all the possible orders, you want just 'alphabetical'? Boring, but OK...") He'd only been at it a short time when a group of Men In Black come in, claiming to be some sort of Interdimensional Book Police. But Vlad sees something wrong with their IDs, so he realizes that these are actually here illegally, making them Rogue Interdimensional Book Police...
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2015-11-01 09:41 pm
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Further Findings on Mysterious SF Porn Novel

So I eventually finished Burning Desires, by “Fred Sparkrock”, which I mentioned a while ago might possibly have been an early work by Eric Flint, but was definitely written by someone familiar with SF tropes and fandom. Possible clues as to authorship:
• Multiple references to “Yngvi is a louse”.
• Detailed knowledge of karate, with lots of specific jargon used.
• Some place names that feel like Tuckerizations, especially “Lindakar”.
• A bit that feels like it has to be an in-joke of some sort: a bird called an “ottuff-jay” that makes repeated calls of “jooooo deeee”.

Later: I think I’ve found out what that last thing was in reference to, as well as another possibility for who the real author is. Andrew J. Offutt was a science fiction author from the 1950s to the early 80s. He had a wife whose name was Jodie. AND, most significantly, the author of hundreds of porn novels. I don’t know if Offutt was the kind of person who would self insert as a silly bird, but I’m willing to bet that the author of this book at least knew him.

If you’re interested in reading it yourself, the text can be found online here.

ETA: Over on Facebook, Jack Haringa found two clear references to Fred Sparkrock as a pseudonym of Robert Vardeman.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2015-09-27 11:45 pm
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Re-recommendation: Doc Future and Flicker

A while ago, I recommended the web serial "The Fall of Doc Future". It's prose about superheroes, with much harder SF than is typically found in proximity to superheroes.

At the time, I was mostly aware of it as a single novel. Since then, however, the author has finished serializing the second novel, and is well into the third. Each one is a complete story, though the later ones are naturally full of spoilers for the earlier ones. There are also a number of associated short stories and essays. Here's the master list. This body of work gets my highest recommendation.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2015-09-24 12:33 am
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Eric Flint's early work in porn?

Any Eric Flint fans among my Friends? I've just come across a pornographic SF novel from approximately the late 1980s, credited to one "Fred Sparkrock". The last name is semantically equivalent to Flint, and the first names each have four letters. It's not a slamdunk, but it is highly suggestive. Flint's first published work wasn't until 1993 (and nothing else until his first novel in 1997). A presumably starving writer might feel proud enough of having a book published at all to not hide his true name very securely.

Whoever wrote it is quite familiar with SF tropes, and even SF fandom, as evidenced by the repeated references to a character named Yngvi, who is clearly a louse. If any of you have read a bunch of Flint, and are interested in reading this to see if there are any typical markers of his style, I'd be happy to get you a copy.

I haven't finished reading it myself yet. It's certainly no great classic in either of its genres, but the mix is intriguing enough to keep me reading…
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2014-04-23 10:42 am
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PSA: Steerswoman back in print

If you're a newcomer to this LJ, you might have missed my rave review of Rosemary Kirstein's _Steerswoman_ books. I am informed by James Nicoll that they are coming back into print.

If you like SF, go buy them. If you've already bought them and have some disposable income, buy them *again*! I want Kirstein to earn enough money that she can quit her day job and write more of these.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2014-04-22 04:10 pm
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New Ted Chiang story

Just found out that one of my favorite (if, sadly, somewhat slow) writers had a new story out last year. Highly recommended.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2013-12-09 10:26 am
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My "Ma Mignonne"

I am now not-quite-finished with Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language, by Douglas Hofstadter. The core of this book is the notion of translating a short French poem written by Clement Marot in 1537. It's a get-well note to a little girl he knows who is sick in bed.

A une Damoyselle malade

Ma mignonne,
Je vous donne
Le bon jour;
Le séjour
C’est prison.
Puis ouvrez
Votre porte
Et qu’on sorte
Car Clément
Le vous mande.
Va, friande
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
En danger
Pour manger
Si tu dures
Trop malade,
Couleur fade
Tu prendras,
Et perdras
Dieu te doint
Santé bonne,
Ma mignonne.

To quote someone I stumbled across while googling, Hofstadter uses this notion to "discuss the (im-)possibilities of translation from one language (mental frame, context, moment in time) to another". Early in the book, Hofstadter challenges the reader to make their own translation. He makes the following formal observations about the original, though notes that you don't necessarily need to replicate all of them:

1. It is made up of 28 lines.
2. Each line has 3 syllables.
3. The stress falls on the last of these syllables.
4. It is a series of rhyming couplets (AA BB CC DD…)
5. The semantic couplets are out of phase with the rhyming couplets: A, AB, BC,
6. After line 14 the formal "vous" is replaced by the more colloquial "tu".
7. The last line echoes the first.
8. The poet slips his own name into the poem.

I gave it a little thought, but found the prospect too daunting to make a serious attempt. As I continued through the book, however, and saw just how many ways that the poem could be translated, and how many lenses it could be seen through, my subconscious must have loosened up. Half-awake in bed this morning, I was ambushed by poetry. A first line leapt into my head, followed by several others in quick succession, and a set of images that seemed promising to fill in the rest. An hour of polishing produced this:Read more... )
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2013-11-24 09:58 am
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The Dream of Telepathy

I have been reading (in bits and pieces, because the richness of ideas takes time to digest) Douglas Hofstadter's _Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language_". The general topic of this book is how one translates verse from one language to another. This being Hofstadter, it spirals out into all sorts of related topics. It is, incidentally, highly recommended, as even partway through it, it has already given my brain lots to think about.

In recently-read chapters, he's been discussing the notion of whether it is actually possible to "translate" at all, verse or not. There are certainly arguments to be made that no translation can be perfect. One of the convincing ones is that no two languages share the exact same associational halos of meaning for any pair of words.

Naturally, Hofstadter spots the obvious reductio ad absurdum of that argument. Even within a single language, a given word does not call up identical associations with any two different *readers* of that language. So this argument would seem to imply that, not just translation, but *communication* is impossible!

The crux of the matter, of course, is "perfection". Communication and translation are akin to The Halting problem in computing. One can easily demonstrate that these things cannot possibly be perfect, in theory. In actual practice, however, one can *approach* perfection arbitrarily close. With care, you can usually get "close enough".

My insight today, is that this lack of perfection is why the concept of telepathy (as typically portrayed in SF) is so attractive. Telepathy allows *perfect* communication, unlike the clumsy tool of language. The Universal Translator is similarly appealing. Sadly, like FTL, neither of them actually hold up to logical scrutiny.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2013-09-28 02:58 pm
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_NOS4A2_, by Joe Hill

Short review: This is the first time in years I've stayed up until 2 AM to finish a book.

_NOS4A2_ is the latest horror novel by Hill, I've been a fan of his _Locke & Key_ comic book for some time, but hadn't previously picked up any of his prose. Shall have to rectify that, as this book was damn good. Yes, it's full of horror, but even more full of humanity. And magic. And pop culture. Like Daryl Gregory, Hill is very much a 21st century author, very comfortable with the concepts of remix and mashup. You could tell that from the title alone, taking a seminal media vampire name from the early 20th century, and recasting it in l33t-speak.

That title, by the way, is in some ways misleading. The character it refers to is, in some sense, an ugly vampire, but is really something far more unique. He doesn't drink blood, and is part of no pre-existing mythology (though the book as a whole is full of intertextual references, on many levels).

One of those references is an early plot thread about a girl who stumbles upon magic involving a bicycle and a bridge. Hill clearly grew up reading many of the same books in the "kids discover magic" subgenre as I did, as he is *so* in tune with my learned intuitions as to how magic and children work (in both this and L&K).

This book also exhibits many of my (and [ profile] kestrell's) favorite horror tropes: Loser protagonists, adults being either actively evil or just too feckless for children to depend upon, an incredibly strong sense of *place*... Also, it kept me guessing right up until the last chapter whether this was going to be the kind of horror story where the good guys restore the social order in the end, or the kind in which the horror remains undefeatable. Naturally, I'm not gonna tell you which it was :-)

While this novel borrows from many genres and media, it is correctly labeled as a horror novel. Awful things will happen to many nice characters who don't deserve it. If you can't handle that in your fiction, stay away. Also be warned, this novel makes the entire idea of Christmas into something scary.

But if you *like* horror, this gets Very Highly Recommended.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2013-09-27 11:45 am
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_The Incrementalists_, by Steven Brust and Skyler White

A secret society makes the world better... a little bit. Modern-day Sf (or F, depending where you draw your boundaries). It was OK.

Good: This avoids many of the problems of the first generation of Illuminati power fantasies. The group's abilities are (mostly) reasonably plausible, and limited in scope. More significantly, they spend a lot of time arguing over what "better" actually *means*, and how to accomplish it, acknowledging that they don't always get it right.

Bad: Two protagonists that fall in love so quickly and completely that I was reminded of late Heinlein. I am by no means opposed to romance, but when the love story is actually less plausible to me than the overtly fantastic elements, I have a problem with that.

Good: Powerful wordsmithing and imagery throughout. Not just repeated motifs, but repeated with significant variations, to good effect.

Good for [ profile] herooftheage: The story is set in Vegas during the WSOP, and poker suffuses the book in many ways.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
2013-06-14 12:47 pm
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Dead Greeks: Surprisingly Modern

Not long ago, [ profile] kestrell scanned a book of ancient greek poetry (_Seven Greeks_ translated by Guy Davenport). I had to do some serious proofing help on that, because most of it consists of stuff that only exists now as fragments, and the OCR program tended to make poor choices about what piece went where. So I ended up reading the book, in some depth, myself. Kes has already shared excerpts from two of her favorites: Archilochos, the warrior-poet, and Diogenes, philosopher, curmudgeon, and professional beggar.

My favorite was a playwright named Herondas from 3rd century BC. He wrote little 10-minute-long satirical skits for a single performer playing multiple roles (presumably using props and accents). And if you modernized the names, these could have been written yesterday.

There's one making fun of pretentious people trying to outdo each other in art appreciation. There's one with a mother asking a schoolmaster to discipline her no-good son. There's one with a small businessman acting as his own lawyer in court, far less impressively than he thinks. There's one about an older woman trying to convince a young married woman to have an affair since her husband is away on business.

There's even one about women spending all day in the shoe store, trying things on, but not actually buying anything! I never suspected that *that* trope went back over two millenia!

My favorite bit, though, might be considered NSFW, so have a cut:Read more... )