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[Friday, January 31, 2003]


F--ing ponderous

From the delightful Baraita, I contracted this meme: First Lines of One's Ten Favourite Novels. (I also regret that our philosophy department is not nearly so cool as the one described in that entry.) I notice that subsequent discussion has drifted towards Ten Favourite First Lines of Novels, which is tempting, but I'll stick to the formal specification, since I'm just like that.

However, I did choose the following refinements to remove nondeterminism: one, in the case that
there is a prelude before the first chapter, I pick the first chapter; basically, the absolute first line,
the thing that greets your eye once you cross the title page and the blank page after it.

  • "In the raucous Cathedral Square the crowd gathered to hang a pig." Mary Gentle, Rats and Gargoyles

  • "The point is not to make another Earth." Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Mars

  • "There was a man named Lessingham dwelt in an old low house in Wastdale, set in a gray old garden where yew-trees flourished that had seen Vikings in Copeland in their seedling time." E.R. Eddison, The Worm Ouroboros

  • "Nothing ever begins." Clive Barker, Weaveworld (I wish I could say Sacrament,
    which has the killer opener "I am a man, and men are animals who tell stories.")

  • "'Palestine soup!' said the Reverend Doctor Opimian, chatting with his friend Squire Gryll; 'a
    curiously complicated misnomer.'" Thomas Love Peacock, Gryll Grange (a bit of a cheat; it's hard to pick a favourite Peacock, they're all part of one leisurely stroll through the Peacockverse, where there is always lots of port, except for the one about Taliesin and the one about Maid Marian.. so I just picked the best opening line. I was tempted by Crotchet Castle's, which takes up most of a page, but my wrists protested))

  • "There was a wall." Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

  • "Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls." Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan (And we all know how painful circumfusion is for a man over 30.)

  • "The remarkable person, called by the title of Old Mortality, was well known in Scotland about the end of the last century." Walter Scott, Old Mortality

  • "Towards the middle of the month of May, in the year 1660, at nine o'clock in the morning, when the sun, already high in the heavens, was fast absorbing the dew from the ramparts of the castle of Blois, a little cavalcade, composed of three men and two pages, re-entered the city by the bridge, without producing any other effect upon the strollers of the river-bank beyond a first movement of the hand to the head, as a salute, and a second movement of the tongue to express, in the purest French then spoken in France: 'There is Monsieur returning from hunting.'" -Alexandre Dumas, The Vicomte de Bragelonne (Oxford World's Classics, ed. David Coward; the translator does not seem to be named, rrrr)

  • and of course.. "This book is largely concerned with Hobbits, and from its pages a reader may discover much of their character and a little of their history." -The Lord of the Rings

Yes, I'm a geek. I could have thrown in something which was neither SF/F or historical by maybe picking Fifth Business, but much as I like it I don't think it makes the cut.

posted 9:32 PM |

[Thursday, January 30, 2003]


"It is educational that Lois McMaster Bujold was a panelist in both the Killing and Maiming panels."

This from a posting and subsequent fascinating discussion on writing, and the prospects of selling, fantasy.

There is, I think, cause for optimism, though. Just sticking to the United States itself, to forestall "Oh, of course it's easy to get something good published elsewhere" responses, recent years saw the publication of The High House, a thin, self-contained, idiosyncratic fantasy. It can't necessarily be called wildly original: it's a homage to, and almost a pastiche of, fantasists ranging from Lovecraft and Burroughs on these shores, to Chesterton and the Inklings on others. Also, it is true that the protagonist has an obsession - finding his father - and thus fits into some of the Worldcon panelists' specifications (but: no map!), and there's the whole quest thing, but still: it reaches into that deep well and pulls something out, which the fat fantasy tomes - and I do read them, I'm a sucker for anything with a fanciful map at the front and sword-fights - never manage to. Nobody else I know has ever read it, and I'm increasingly reluctant to urge books on others just because I happen to like them, so I haven't been proselytizing, much as I want to grab my dear friends and say "Will you for the love of God read this book, so we can make in-jokes about the characters and imagine other neat things to happen in this setting?" I'm well aware that this is sort of sad.

I'm that way with Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, too, but at least one close friend has actually read that (turned me on to it, in fact).

Anyway, besides The High House, Patricia McKillip, another American, continues to get published, and though I find her stuff increasingly precious (like Sharon Shinn's fantasy, which I can hardly bear) The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and the Riddle-Master books are still great, and her characters are certainly not angstbunnies on Great Quests, as a rule.

Of course, patriotism compels me to mention that there is plenty of good, off-the-beaten-track Canadian fantasy. Guy Kay, of course, and Michelle West, who fits the genre mould so far as to have a map, and some of the viewpoint characters are obsessed to varying degrees, but the characters are complex adults, products of strange and varying cultures; and not stamped out identically by their culture, but shaped by it, reacting to it, even hating it sometimes while still acknowledging that it is part of them. Okay, that's not 'plenty' yet; I think subconsciously I was thinking of Karl Schroeder as well, but he writes hard SF. But they're all three not only from Canada, but from the, erm, T-Dot. A nice thing to contemplate when this city is driving me nuts, as it is doing now.

posted 11:37 AM |

[Wednesday, January 29, 2003]


Your golden streets that no one ever sees

"T Dot, people. Our city refers to itself as the T Dot. Our city has a dorky white rapper name."

I've never heard anybody actually use this name un-ironically, although there is a T-Dot Cafe west of Bloor and Lansdowne. But then, it's been a long time since I heard anybody say either "T.O.", the former canonical nickname, or even the much-discussed "T'ranna". My auditory memory may deceive me, but this seems to have given way to something more like "Tchronno".

At any rate, 'nt' doesn't seem to fit the Upper Canadian/Midwestern tongue at all, unless a syllable boundary splits it, like in 'onto', and even that is iffy. I love the factoid, though, that in demotic Greek this digraph (1) starts words and (2) is pronounced like a 'd', so that the Greek on signs for "Danforth Avenue" reads "Odos Ntanforth". (For some reason, Logan is spelled 'Logkan', and I'm less clear on the reasons for that.)

They try to dress you up like someone younger and more free

Ridiculous, they try to make you seem..

-Shriekback, "(Open Up Your) Filthy Heart (To Me)"

posted 11:48 AM |

[Monday, January 27, 2003]


Aquinas on Software

Tomorrow (the 28th) is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. Whenever I read philosophy, logic, sociology, or anthropology, lurking somewhere near the front of my mind is the question "What does this tell me about software engineering?"

I haven't read far, but already the Dumb Ox has made some interesting points. Here's one:

"Knowing agents differ from those that do not know in the
fact that the nonknowers possess their own form only, but
the knower is adapted from its origin to possess also the
form of another thing, in the sense that the species of
the known thing may be present in the knower."

-Summa Theologiae, I, 14, 1, trans. Vernon J. Bourke

This is a nice definition of what separates cognitive artifacts, like
software, from non-cognitive ones: they contain within themselves a model
in miniature of some domain of discourse: the form of another thing.

More Aquinas on Software to come, as I read in dribs and drabs. In the meantime,
sounding a cautionary note, here is some Frazer on Software:

"With him, as with the vast majority of men, logic is implicit,
not explicit: he reasons just as he digests his food in complete
ignorance of the intellectual and physical processes which are
essential to the one operation and to the other."

-Sir J.G. Frazer,The Golden Bough

To create software requires such logic to be made explicit.

posted 8:51 PM |