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Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

When a colleague showed me the first minutes of what was then “a new HBO TV series”, I was hooked: I had to see “Game of Thrones“. The first few episodes that we watched on TV also made it clear that I would have to read the books by George R.R. Martin. if only because I could get to the end (?) of the story faster by reading than by waiting a week for the next episode on TV ;-)

I loved the books very much: the story is compelling and full of surprises, as we all know by now. Equally impressive is the world that George Martin created, and which you discover through reading the story, not because it is explicitly explained. I hadn’t read anything so intense since my discovery of the Dune universe, in the words of Frank Herbert (the more recent additions by his son Brian and Kevin Anderson are not at the same level).

Image credits: HBO

So like many others all around the world we waited for the final season of the TV series… and were a bit disappointed with what we saw in the first three episodes. Many scenes seemed to be stretched out just for the sake of making the episode sufficiently long. Some scenes are so different from what we are used to expect from previous seasons that they are hard to fit into the narrative we know.

Then by accident I stumbled up “The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones“.

Even if the new season had managed to minimize plot holes and avoid clunky coincidences and a clumsy Arya ex machina as a storytelling device, they couldn’t persist in the narrative lane of the past seasons. For Benioff and Weiss, trying to continue what Game of Thrones had set out to do, tell a compelling sociological story, would be like trying to eat melting ice cream with a fork. Hollywood mostly knows how to tell psychological, individualized stories. They do not have the right tools for sociological stories, nor do they even seem to understand the job.

If I understand the article correctly, this is what the author means by “sociological stories”: the story itself is the essence of what’s going on, not the major characters populating the story. That is why GoT gets away with literally killing off so many major characters without losing its pace and attractiveness.

That tension between internal stories and desires, psychology and external pressures, institutions, norms and events was exactly what Game of Thrones showed us for many of its characters, creating rich tapestries of psychology but also behavior that was neither saintly nor fully evil at any one point. It was something more than that: you could understand why even the characters undertaking evil acts were doing what they did, how their good intentions got subverted, and how incentives structured behavior. The complexity made it much richer than a simplistic morality tale, where unadulterated good fights with evil.

Curse you, George R.R. Martin, for not finishing the story yourself in your books!

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I know I’m six weeks late with this information, and I know SF fans will already be aware of the Hugo Award winners for 2018. I still haven’t finished reading the complete Broken Earth trilogy, but hearing Nora Jemisin’s acceptance speech certainly upped my motivation to so ASAP! So thank you, Cory Doctorow and BoingBoing, for sharing it!

I’ll also have to take some time to get to know some of the other winners.

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Perhaps there is not enough fiction in it… Just read it, I insist, even if you’re not an SF fan: “Noon in the antilibrary“.

Thank you, MIT Technology Review!

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BoingBoing alerted me to the existence of The Pulp Magazine Archive, stored at archive.org.

What a treasure! I’m not referring to the cheap paper these magazines were printed on. The real treasure for SF fans is, of course, that many SF writers had not many alternatives to these ‘zines in the days when science fiction was still growing up as a literary genre. So in this collection of magazines I immediately spotted the names of many of the SF writers whose books I have been reading since my days at university: Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Leiber, Niven, Pohl, Van Vogt, and many others.

I won’t be able to read all those stories, but I may well return there from time to time, just to remember the pleasure and amazement I felt when discovering these authors.

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If you read this blog more or less regularly, then I assume that you have at least a bit of nerdiness in you.

So if you need a Christmas stocking filler for yourself or, say, a web developer, you might want to look into Tim O’Reilly’s “WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us” (here’s a link to the hardcover version on Amazon, but I’m sure you can find your own supplier ). If you don’t believe me, just read what Cory Doctorow has to say on the subject:

Tim O’Reilly’s history with computers and the internet pre-dates the rise of these grotesqueries, the financialization of the tech sector. He writes beautifully about the passion, the excitement, and the tremendous progress that technologists (from every walk of life) have brought to the tech sector, and cleanly cleaves the technology from its economic and political context. He dares to assert that we can love the sin and hate the sinner. That the reason tech went toxic was because unethical people made unethical choices, but those choices weren’t inevitable or irreversible.

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Imagine my surprise when I started up Gnucash in order to update my books:

Do bookkeepers and accountants really need advice such as this?

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I have been a fan of science fiction literature since my youth. It started with a few books in Dutch when I was a teenager, with books from Paul van Herck and Carl Lans. I currently own 300+ titles, almost exclusively in English – going to the source seemed the best way to enjoy the genre.

So after talking about 1984, allow me to introduce another literary classic (which I haven’t yet read in its entirety, alas), commented by Cory Doctorow in a Slate article titled “I’ve Created a Monster! And so can you.“:

Frankenstein warns of a world where technology controls people instead of the other way around. Victor has choices to make about what he does with technology, and he gets those choices wrong again and again. But technology doesn’t control people: People wield technology to control other people.

People wield technology to control other people” – how true. Machines, be they constructued in hard- or software, don’t do anything, unitl guided by people. But is Cory Doctorow talking about the Facebooks and Twitters of this world, or about the NSA and other hackers? Both, probably. It remains remarkable how this insight was captured in a book more than 100 years ago.

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Gods Galore On Netflix?

I have just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods‘ – what a great book! Turns out that Netflix has turned the book into a tv series (although one could argue that the term ‘tv series’ does not apply to Netflix). One Sam Machkovech is quite enthousiast about the first episode, as he writes in “American Gods may have finally nailed the modern-fantasy formula on TV“:

Between the solid acting and the incredible cinematography, complete with gorgeously framed interiors and sweeping open-road shots of Moon crossing the United States, this episode puts Starz in an unfamiliar position. The company has an upcoming series that’s genuinely saddled with incredibly high expectations.

I still have the vivid imagery of the book in my mind. Hence, such a raving review makes me wonder: should I get Netflix, even just to see this series? And if I do, do I get an AppleTV or a Google Chromecast, or a Roku, or… ?

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RIP Robert M. Pirsig

There is no way I can forget Robert M. Pirsig (September 6, 1928 – April 24, 2017). It took me a while to read his first book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values“. Mostly so, because after the first chapter I wanted to understand, even contemplate, every paragraph he wrote.

In ZatAoMM, Pirsig wrote down the best possible description of what motorcycle riding means to me:

In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.

To me, Pirsig will remain a philosopher rather than an author. That is also why from time to time, I am able to pick up his books, read a bit at a random page, then find myself contemplating his words and their implications for life in general and my life in particular. In fact, ZatAoMM is the only book that makes me do that…

My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that’s all.

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Not even two weeks ago I wrote about Einstein, or about Brian Greene, to be exact. Since then I did finish William Gibson’s “The Peripheral“. The reviewers of that book must have been better, faster readers than me to call this a brilliant book. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a dazzling book. It challenges your brain to see the world painted just by words – Gibson certainly has a vivid imagination.

Cover of the paperback edition of William Gibson's 'The Peripheral'

Cover of the paperback edition of William Gibson’s ‘The Peripheral’

But I will have to read it again to get a better grasp on what the story really is about. It’s not an whodunnit, that’s for sure. And it’s not your classic scifi either. It sets your brain to work, just like Greene’s. Isn’t that what books are supposed to do?

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How To Conquer Your Fear

Frank Herbert taught us the “Litany against fear” in his Dune novels. Hayley Ashburn applies the litany in her highline walk, high up in the mountains. Quite an exploit, I’d say. 

Hayley Ashburn on a highline in the Italian Alps. Click the image to see the video on Vimeo.

Hayley Ashburn on a highline in the Italian Alps.
Click the image to see the video on Vimeo.

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There is a form of virtual reality in every fiction book and story. Some book and stories require a map, so that readers can better understand the geographical positioning of whatever it is that happens in the story. Tolkien prepared his own maps to illustrate parts of the world inhabited by Hobbits, Orks and Wizards. George RR. Martin did the same for his “A Game of Thrones” (AGOT) books.

agot-map.png

A UK dude called ‘theMountainGoat‘ is a big fan of AGOT, and among other things he has created an interactive map of the known parts of Westeros and Essos. You’ll find the “Speculative World Map” at this address: http://quartermaester.info/ . The map includes annotations about how the map was constructed and why it sometimes conflicts with the original maps in the books. You’ll find supplementary information about the this map – and about ‘theMountainGoat‘ – on his personal website called “serMountainGoat’s website“.

That’s all well and dandy, but what if you want to write a fantasy story and you need a fictional map, fast? Additionally, let’s assume that you can’t draw maps. No worries, the Internet has you covered: BoingBoing can point you to the required software and instructions on how to create your own maps. A lack of geographic inspiration should not stop you from writing the next Lord of The Thrones trilogy!

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BoingBoing signals an intriguing question: “Can a sexbot be a murderer?“.

[The robot] walks into a police station carrying a bag with the severed head of her former owner. She announces that she murdered him because his masochism kink insisted that she be real, and thus capable of being hurt, and so she learned to be real, and then she killed him, because he insisted on hurting her. Now she wants a public defender.

The story, written by , is published on the Slate website. If you’re going to read it, you should also read the comments on this story by a “an expert on robotic law”: “When a Robot Kills, Is It Murder or Product Liability?

Rights entail obligations. If I have a right, then someone else has a responsibility to respect that right. I in turn have a responsibility to respect the rights of others. Responsibility in this sense is a very human notion. We wouldn’t say of a driverless car that it possesses a responsibility to keep its passengers safe, only that it is designed to do so. But somehow, we feel comfortable saying that a driverless car is responsible for an accident.

It’s not that simple, of course. In fact, I’m guessing that this subject will remain a matter of debate for many years to come, as lawyers, insurance companies and politicians try to make sense of what is, in essence, an ethical question. Can a man-made object have “a free will”? Is “articial intelligence” really different from human intelligence?

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A Symbol Decidedly Grand…

As usual, delving into letters and fonts is a dive into history – the history of of writing and printing, of course, but it’s more general than that, since writing and printing and communication is about people first and foremost. That why I like the article “Design History: Get to Know Your Ampersands“.

Part 1 of 2: Evolution of the Ampersand from Jan Tschichold’s The Ampersand: its origin and development (via shadycharacters.co.uk - click for more)

Part 1 of 2: Evolution of the Ampersand from Jan Tschichold’s The Ampersand: its origin and development (via shadycharacters.co.uk – click for more)

The ampersand is a funny character, that did not have much meaning to me before I started to work in HTML and XML. But it was/is so much more. And I’m certain the same could be said about many other characters as well, even in a relatively simple alphabet as Latin.

For a good chuckle, head over to the OEDILF, and look up the ampersand. You’ll find, amongst others, this limerick:

A symbol decidedly grand
Is &, a.k.a., ampersand.
It’s used in &c.
What could be better? A
Wonderful way to write and.

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Late Night Special ;-)

I have just updated my computer-related poetry page with a new limerick about… byte sex. Might not be what you expected, though.

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