Musings/Träumereien/Devaneios

Intertextual SF: "The Grace of Kings" by Ken Liu

The Grace of Kings - Ken Liu

Lord Garu, you compare yourself to a weed?” Cogo Yelu frowned.

“Not just any weed, Cogzy. A dandelion is a strong but misunderstood flower.” Remembering his courtship with Jia, Kuni felt his eyes grow warm. “It cannot be defeated: Just when a gardener thinks he has won and eradicated it from his lawn, a rain would bring the yellow florets right back. Yet it’s never arrogant: Its color and fragrance never overwhelm those of another. Immensely practical, its leaves are delicious and medicinal, while its roots loosen hard soils, so that it acts as a pioneer for other more delicate flowers. But best of all, it’s a flower that lives in the soil but dreams of the skies. When its seeds take to the wind, it will go farther and see more than any pampered rose, tulip, or marigold.”

“An exceedingly good comparison,” Cogo said, and drained his cup. “My vision was too limited to not have understood it.”

Mata nodded in agreement and drained his cup as well, suffering silently as the burning liquor numbed his throat.

“Your turn, General Zyndu,” Than prompted.

Mata hesitated. He was not witty or quick on his feet, and he was never good at games like this. But he glanced down and saw the Zyndu coat of arms on his boots, and suddenly he knew what he should say.

He stood up. Though he had been drinking all night, he was steady as an oak. He began to clap his hands steadily to generate a beat, and sang to the tune of an old song of Tunoa:

 

The ninth day in the ninth month of the year:

 

By the time I bloom, all others have died.

 

Cold winds rise in Pan’s streets, wide and austere:

 

A tempest of gold, an aureal tide.

 

My glorious fragrance punctures the sky.

 

Bright-yellow armor surrounds every eye.

 

With disdainful pride, ten thousand swords spin

 

To secure the grace of kings, to cleanse sin.

 

A noble brotherhood, loyal and true.

 

Who would fear winter when wearing this hue?

 

“The King of Flowers,” Cogo Yelu said.

Mata nodded.

Kuni had been tapping his finger on the table to follow the beat. He stopped now, reluctantly, as if still savoring the music. “By the time I bloom, all others have died.’ Though lonely and spare, this is a grand and heroic sentiment, befitting the heir of the Marshal of Cocru. The song praises the chrysanthemum without ever mentioning the flower by name. It’s beautiful.”

“The Zyndus have always compared themselves to the chrysanthemum,” Mata said.

Kuni bowed to Mata and drained his cup. The others followed suit.

“But, Kuni,” said Mata, “you have not understood the song completely.”

Kuni looked at him, confused.

“Who says it praises only the chrysanthemum? Does the dandelion not bloom in the same hue, my brother?”

Kuni laughed and clasped arms with Mata. “Brother! Together, who knows how far we will go?”

The eyes of both men glistened in the dim light of the Splendid Urn.

Mata thanked everyone and drank himself. For the first time in his life, he didn’t feel alone in a crowd. He belonged—an unfamiliar but welcome sensation. It surprised him that he found it here, in this dark and sleazy bar, drinking cheap wine and eating bad food, among a group of people he would have considered peasants playing at being lords—like Krima and Shigin—just a few weeks ago.”

 

In “The Grace of Kings” by Ken Liu.

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Eye-Opening SF: "Saving the World Through Science Fiction - James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar” by Michael R. Page

Saving the World Through Science Fiction: James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar (Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy) - Michael R Page, Foreword by Christopher McKitterick, Donald E Palumbo, C W Sullivan III

“Thus, traditional criticism’s charge that science fiction isn’t, in general, ‘literary’ because science fiction writers don’t focus on or have the artistry to deeply delve into character misses the point that science fiction isn’t about character, it’s about ideas. And therefore, science fiction should be judged by a different set of criteria than mundane mainstream fiction is evaluated.”

 

In “Saving the World Through Science Fiction - James Gunn, Writer, Teacher and Scholar” by Michael R. Page

 

Don't critics ignore SF because there's far too much of it, and the vast majority of it - like any sector of genre fiction - is a bit safe, geared more to selling to a niche of fans than the mass market? Certainly SF fandom is obsessed with genre distinctions (steampunk, space opera, mundane, whatever) that have absolutely no currency in the mainstream world - just like crime fandom (maybe to a lesser extent) worries about distinctions between golden age, hard-boiled, procedural and so on.

In both cases the really good stuff, the stuff that transcends the formulae and has something worthwhile to say - Atwood, or Houllebecq, or Alan Moore, Ballard, or Gunn - it "does" get noticed, it's just that people don't call it SF anymore.

 

 

If you're into SF Literary Criticism, read on.

Some Old SF Stuff I Bought on eBay

 

I do like old science fiction book covers- not just Penguin, but all the more lurid publishers as well. And then there's the feverish world of the pulp magazines etc. For me the classic era is the 1960s and 70s- the move away from quasi-imperialistic and rather conservative fantasies involving spaceships and aliens towards more warped, anarchic visions of disturbing dystopias and chaotic chronicles of inner space. But still - some great art produced in the 80s - with it's characteristically airbrushed look- and more recently as well.
 
That Harry Harrison book is a superb novel of interspecies conflict in a time of climate change. The 'toothy dolphin' on the front is in fact a reptile rather than a mammal-it's, ahem, a genetically modified plesiosaur used as a marine transport vehicle by highly evolved and human-hating saurians. I'd definitely recommend getting the first book in the trilogy-this is my copy in the same series:
 
They're illustrated throughout with superb woodcuts, which bring this alternative Pleistocene world to vivid life. The best stuff on the list is fairly far from the magazine SF novels which would have been the likely contenders for a Hugo equivalent at the time -- it'd probably have been a competition between E. E. 'Doc' Smith's Galactic Patrol and Jack Williamson's The Legion of Time. 1938 is just before John W Campbell made Astounding Science Fiction a less pulpy magazine, and some years before the average quality of prose in magazine SF really rises.
 
 
If you're into Old/Vintage SF, read on.

Oobla Dee Oobla Dah SF: "The Collapsing Empire" by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire - John Scalzi

I recently bought a box of pulp SF from eBay - most dating from the 50s and 60s. Lantern-jawed, pipe-smoking men save the world while their gorgeous female assistants are prone to outbursts of come-hither hero worshiping and swooning - especially when kissed fiercely and unexpectedly by the lantern-jawed men. The latest one was about a worldwide plague where the lantern-jawed hero is a journalist trying to uncover governmental secrecy while trying to decide whether to go to his mistress - young, beautiful, free loving and rich - or whether to return to his ex-wife - a dour and buttoned-up biologist - who has an in on a secret survival bunker. (He's a selfish and cold-hearted bastard, so my bet is on him going with the ex-wife and claiming to have loved only her all along.) “The Collapsing Empire” belongs to this book category.

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Micro-Fiction, Text 009: "The Fever of Storms and Floods" by Myselfie

 

Here, if you care for this sort of thing.

 

Popcorn Shakespeare: "The Hollow Crown I - Richard II" by Rupert Goold, Starring Ben Whishaw

 

Well, was last night's "Richard II" well worth watching? 

 

The director conveyed the story, the plot, as clearly as any director is ever likely to. And the location shooting was superb, both indoor and outdoor, truly aiding the action and showing off this island's ancient history to the global market. However, although "Richard II" is entirely written in carefully-designed and charming verse, one only heard snatches of it, and then only from the actors David Suchet (expected from such an experienced and accomplished actor) and, surprisingly, from young Ben Whishaw. If other actors in this production thought they were delivering the verse, they failed to convey it. Rory Kinnear (Bolingbroke) seemed to have learnt his lines entirely unaware that they were not written in the form of prose. And how my heart sank when occasionally Shakespeare clearly intended for us to hear two adjacent lines rhyme but the actor intentionally avoided it, minimising it, as if honouring Shakespeare's intention would create a detraction or distraction!

 

 

If you're into Shakespeare and Richard II in particular, read on.

Complex Patterning: "Alfred Bester" by Jad Smith

Alfred Bester (Modern Masters of Science Fiction) - Jad Smith

“These stories not only show Bester’s writable approach in the making but also reveal that his aesthetic had its roots in bricolage, or the practice of drawing on heterogeneous sources and writing styles to create unexpected narrative tensions and unities. Bricolage works by a logic of excess and encompasses more local strategies such as extra-coding, pastiche, intertextuality, and allusion. By definition, it re-orders reading protocols, requiring the reader to switch codes and synthetize incongruities.”

 

In “Alfred Bester” by Jad Smith

 

 

Alfred Bester was the first postmodernist SF writer. I won’t dwell on it again. If you’re interested, you can find additional information here.

 

I haven't been an adolescent for quite some time, but I still remember sitting in stone stairs in the side yard of my mother’s rural home in Alfaiates. I had just seen Star Wars and so my eyes were devouring a twilight sky waiting for the stars and planets to appear. This was my gateway to the imagination. In my unsophisticated mind, once so consumed by simple mysteries written by adults about girls not much older than myself, something unfurled. I began to see a world so much bigger than my own, and not just the universe laid open before me. SF made me think beyond myself, perhaps for the first time, and I became alive with ideas, possibilities. In this world, I could spiral deep into my own psyche or travel out to infinity. It was a spark of light in the night and I followed it.

 

 

If you're into literary criticism of the SF kind, read on.

Octaviasdottir: “New York 2140” by Kim Stanley Robinson

New York 2140 - Kim Stanley Robinson

“Did you ever read Waiting for Godot?

“No.”

“Did you ever read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead?”

“No.”

“Did you ever read Kiss of the Spider Woman?”

“No.”

“Did you ever read---“

“Jeff, stop it. I’ve never read anything.”

“Some coders read.”

“Yeah that’s right. I’ve read The R Cookbook. Also, Everything you Always Wanted to Know about R. Also, R for Dummies.”

“I don’t like R.”

 

 

In “New York 2140” by Kim Stanley Robinson

 

 

After having read the latest Stanley Robinson, a scene in Kurosawa's 'One Wonderful Sunday' from 1947 popped up in my mind, where at the very beginning two young lovers plead with the cinema audience to support young lovers everywhere and clap and cheer as they imagine themselves performing Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.

 

If you're into SF. read on.

Champions League 2017: Real Madrid vs. Juventus (4-1; Ronaldo scored 2 and made a huge difference in the game)

 

Just going to come out and say it, I am an unashamed, unadulterated admirer of Cristiano Ronaldo. As a football fan I remember his debut season well at Manchester United. The step overs, the pouting, the diving, the pouting was all commented on ad nauseam but what I remember most was a young man willing to get stuck in and work his socks off for the team. One game in particular stood out for me. United vs. Everton boxing day 2003. It was billed as some sort of clash between the two überwonder kids of the Premier League at the time. The honest, hardworking, running knuckle that was Rooney versus the precious, waspish, fancy foreigner. It was clear where some people wanted this narrative to go. But my recollection is Ronaldo bossed it. Rooney resorted to thuggery in the second half to try and stop Ronaldo as did other Everton players but it did not stop Ronaldo. Get up and go at them again, harder. Ronaldo was fantastic. The work that man has put in to get to where he is is phenomenal. That's something to be admired. I know United fans like to paint the picture of Ronaldo arriving at United as vital to his development as a global football mega star but I don't believe that is so. I honestly think wherever he went at age 17 he would have worked just as hard to ensure that he got to where he is today.

 

If you're into football and Ronaldo in particular, read on.

Frog in a Pot of Cold Water Over the Fire: "The Four Thousand, The Eight Hundred" by Greg Egan

The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred - Greg Egan, Dominic Harman

After reading the latest Egan’s work, I got thinking about the Caribbean Islands. I understand that the Caribbean Islands were discovered by successive explorers from Europe. I understand that Slaves from Africa were taken to these Islands as were White Indentured Workers, a polite name for White Slaves, by the people that had purchased Estates on these Islands. In this process the Indigenous peoples of these Islands the Carib Indians were to all intents and purposes wiped out, so for people of African descent to claim that they have a right to present day Islands is a nonsense. Drawing a parallel with the two factions in Egan’s work, I do not deny it benefited some people, but don't kid ourselves that it boosted the living standards of the ordinary people. This myth was invented back in the 50's or 60's by some Caribbean professor to give those of African descent a sense of grievance against those that imported their ancestors, mind you he stopped short of saying that it was their fellow Africans that enslaved them in the first place. I suspect the feeling of distrust is true of all Countries, it’s well known and it’s called Xenophobia. That’s what a stake in Egan’s piece using the trappings of SF.

 

if you are into SF, read on.

 

Professor of Something: "Learn Better" by Ulrich Boser

Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything - Ulrich Boser

“The act of writing is a good example of metacognition because when we think about composing sentences and paragraphs, we’re often asking ourselves crucial metacognitive questions: Who will be reading this? Will they understand me? What things do I need to explain? This is why writing is often such an effective way to organize one’s thoughts. It forces us to evaluate our arguments and think about ideas. […] some describe writing as a form of “applied metacognition”.

 

In “Learn Better” by Ulrich Boser

 

 

When I was a kid, we played football (the European version; I hate the word soccer) all day and must have been well over 10K hours. None of us got near even semi pro football. My son could do sprint training for 4 hours every night but he's not going to be Usain Bolt. There are thousands of musicians who have put in the practice but they're all on the 9 to 5 as well like myself (well, I’m more on the 08:30 to no-end-in-sight schedule, bit that’s just me being my usual obnoxious self…). Are we supposed to believe a la Gladwell that if we put in 10K hours we’ll become experts at something? I don’t believe this number, and neither does Boser. I think it’s just a number which Gladwell thought would look good in one of his books (I forget which).

 

What about thinking about learning? Is there something there?

 

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, read on.

 

 

Micro-Fiction, Text 008: "The Moon" by Myselfie (Dedicated to My Father)

 

here.

WannaCry Ransomware

Question? As Linux is open source, is there not the chance that hackers can find vulnerabilities more easily?

Answer: No. Since it is open source, defects are easily found by competent engineers and patched quickly, as you'd know had you any competence yourself.

 

We are frequently told that proper architecture and solutions are too expensive and that they need to be more "pragmatic" (i.e. cheaper) in their approach and everything will be fine. The reality is that it doesn't work. The direction comes from the top; project and program managers are under pressure to reduce costs as their number one priority. Ministers take the line from those who tell them about cost reduction, not from experts who are "just being perfectionist" and "scaremongering".

 

If you're into Computer Science and Computer Viruses in particular, read on.

Portugal and the Portuguese language are still fashionable... Who would have thought?

 

We cheated by bringing a quality song to the Eurovision Song Contest, and we didn't need any dancing bears, baking granny's, or rockers dressed as monsters. (*smile*)

Benfica's 36th championship. 200k people celebrating!

The 4th Pope in Portugal (6th visit of a Pope to Portugal): Fátima's 100 Years of the Prophecies

 

 

Some atheist friends of mine keep saying this Pope faces a daunting challenge not faced over most of the 2000 years since a hastily assembled collection of short stories made it onto the bestseller list: the march of science. There was a time when the church could just impose rules and people knew they had to live by them because heaven or hell awaited. They knew this to be true because there were no alternative narratives. Sure, there were competing sects but these said pretty much the same kinds of things: god is in charge, do what we tell you he says. In the last 100 years, science has looked at the cosmos and found no god; it has looked back to the beginning of time and found no god; it has considered the building blocks of matter and found no god; and it has considered the formation of life and found no god. It is almost as though there is no god. The harder the church makes it to be a Christian the greater the incentive to accept what science is saying: that god is how people understood the world before people understood the world.

 

But I prefer to think otherwise.

 

If you're into this kind of thing, read on.

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