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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