Constipated SF: "The Iron Tactician" by Alastair Reynolds

The Iron Tactician - Alastair Reynolds

Good SF ultimate goal must always be about the human condition. Literally. Always. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein arguably kick started the genre - a novel by a sex-positive teenage feminist in a corset, which tackled the question of what it means to be human, and how we connect with one another, and whether an individual can develop empathy or a moral compass in isolation, without family or society. Sf, as the genre of big ideas, and the genre that actively tackles universal questions of self, of society, of philosophy and religion and the nature of reality (yes, all of those…). It's who we are now, as well as how we might find ourselves living in the future - and that's always, always been the case. It's Margaret Atwood and Iain Banks and Arthur C Clarke and George Orwell and Octavia Butler and Robert A. Heinlein and Kurt Vonnegut and - well, all the damn classics. Hell, even “Star Trek”, cheesiest of pop culture staples, was absolutely tackling questions of civil rights and social justice on a weekly basis, under the pointy ears and sparkly moon rocks. It's always been about the characters, whether framed by technological innovation or political or geographical changes.



If you're into SF, read on.


Micro-Fiction, Text 005: "The English Fry-up" by Myselfie

NB: Sorry Bookstooge.

Feckless Writing: "5000 Words Per Hour - Write Faster, Write Smarter" by Chris Fox

5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter - Chris  Fox

I spend “a lot” of staring-off-into-space time doing stargazing...and find it leads not only to better scenes in my reviews, but to literature work that really hangs together. I used to write 1-3,000 words a week in my reviews...but then I felt I spent my life editing. Now, I become very suspicious of myself once I go over 1,000 words at a sitting, but that's just me. I support my writing habit by doing these posts...a process that has made me more careful than most people with 1st drafts...I've become pretty clear about what I definitely “don't” want in my posts. And yes, that slows me down. It just doesn't slow me down as much as having to decide at some later date to junk 50 or 100 words here or there. But, starting out, I too encourage people to write & write & write. Well, “marinated scenes” are indeed an important key no matter what.


This post on the 5-WPH-book that you’re reading right now made me try writing while walking. I’m still not ready to invest in Dragon yet, so I just used Google Voice to dictate an email to myself on my phone, then copied and pasted into Scrivener when I got home. I walked and talked for 10 minutes, then went in the house and set the timer to edit for another 15. I didn’t stop when my timer went off, but finished the section I was working on. It’s still a rough draft for sure, but I got 1075 words out of about 40 minutes of book reviewing writing – way faster than anything I’ve done up to this point, and I definitely hit that sense of flow.



If you're into self-help books, read on.

A Xanax and a Shot of Whiskey: "Published. The Proven Path From Blank Page to Published Author" by Chandler Bolt

Published.: The Proven Path From Blank Page To Published Author - Chandler Bolt

A few years ago an unknown girl from Belfast (the name eludes me at the moment) started writing a short parody of 50 Shades of Grey called 50 Shades of Red White and Blue as a joke for her friends on Facebook. After one week the word had spread and she had grown to a huge number of followers. During the second week she increased the number of followers. At the end of the second week she self-published an eBook on Amazon UK and sold a huge amount copies on the first day jumping to the top 10 in the paid Kindle store. I don’t know what number she sits at in the paid Kindle store now (many authors don't reach this even with a professional marketing campaign). All this came from a free Facebook account and a bit of “good writing”, this is the power of social media in the publishing world today.


I'm inherently skeptical of these "No. X in the Kindle Store" claims; simply making an initial impact in a crowded category is entirely possible through impulse purchases. True success, if one is reducing everything to financial terms, is in sustaining this success. To use generic terms - being a high-tier brand in the short term (No.5 in category within the first week, say) is no measure of long-term success or indeed any measure of success at all; category ranking only becomes interesting on timescales of quarters at the least or years. I know it's slightly different in terms of books and albums, but the theory is there; who cares if someone gets a bit of initial buzz?


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

Cultural Chicken Soup for the Soul:"An Experiment in Criticism" by C. S. Lewis

An Experiment in Criticism (Canto) - C.S. Lewis

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.


In “An Experiment in Criticism” by C. S. Lewis



Anarcho-punk, extreme literature..... Beware the coming revolution.


All the best writers are anarcho-punks:


-          JJ Rousseau: A Discourse On Inequality

-          Thomas Payne: The Rights Of Man

-          Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

-          Victor Hugo 'Les Miserables' set in the French Revolution in Paris.


Dostoevsky wrote his first novel 'The Poor Folk' aged 29. This resulted in him and his 3 co-radicals being sentenced to death by firing squad in the main public square in St Petersburg by the Tsar who was offended by their revolutionary contents. At the last second the Tsar commuted the punishment to 4 years hard labour in Siberia. Two of the writers went mad from this sadist act, but Dostoevsky kept on writing about being on death row, psychological torture, his time in jail and did so for the rest of his life. Orwell. 'Homage To Catalonia' set in Spanish Revolution in Barcelona where anarchists fight fascists.



If you're into literary criticism, read on.

#ITHINKICAN: "Antologia do Poesia Fã Clube Novembro 2016" by Several Authors

Antologia do Poesia Fã Clube Novembro 2016 - Manuel Augusto Antão

NB: Antologia do Poesia Fâ Clube Novembro 2016 = Fan Club Poetry Anthology November 2016

I doubt anyone else is going to review this poetry book (it’s in Portuguese, not counting my three contributions in English, and it’s poetry), so I thought I’d do it. The problem with reviewing a book with something of mine inside is that it's impossible to get any distance to it. So some of the time I'll rejoice, and some of the time I'll whimper, but I'm afraid that's unavoidable. Beware.


I do agree that reading is suffering as a pleasurable activity. It seems possible though that one of the reasons for this push away from a literary (and literate as some rather startling surveys have suggested) society is that people have a damn hard time finding their niche (Rilke for some of us...) when it comes to reading even though we know where we stand when it comes to religion, politics, music, and even debates on what is and isn’t art. It's almost as if there was some obvious and oppressive majority (our friends) to either instill their taste preferences in us or push us to rebellion through the "TURN THAT SHIT OFF!" gratification system. I doubt most of us (beyond the really hideously sheltered or those raised under horrifyingly religious parents) ever had our parents aware enough of what we were reading to get to the point of telling us to "put that fucking book down and get some fresh air, you pasty hobgoblin!"


If you're into Poetry, read on.


Seeing Comes Before Words: "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger

Ways of Seeing - John Berger

“But because it is nevertheless ‘a work of art”’ – and art is thought to be greater than commerce – its market price is said to be a reflection of its spiritual value of an object, as distinct from a message or an example, can only be explained in terms of magic or religion.”


In “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger


“Original paintings are silent and still in a sense that information never is. Even a reproduction hung on a wall is not comparable in this respect for in the original the silence and stillness permeate the actual material, the paint, in which one follows the traces of the painter’s immediate gestures. This has the effect of closing the distance in time between the painting of the picture and one’s own act of looking at it. In this special sense all paintings are contemporary.”


In “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger


I find it strange when someone tells me they’re attached to a certain painter and that painter in question is a genius; the definition of 'genius' is fairly broad, so one person's definition might not be another's. I haven't fully formed my argument, haven't pin pointed what it is that niggles at me. I think essentially the problem is that I attach 'genius' in other areas of human endeavour such as science or music or literature, to advancement. To pushing forward into new frontiers; to problem solving, to presenting the world in a different way. I suppose Cubism might meet those criteria, but a lot of Picasso's work seems purely derivative of existing art work and artists (e.g. Duchamp, Cezanne, Matisse, and especially African art and children's art) and he worked backwards into flatness, primitivism and naivety. He was certainly innovative and good at seeing and pulling together different visual stimuli into new combinations.


If you're into Art and Painting in particular, read on.

5th Commandment: "The Crime of Father Amaro" by Eça de Queiroz, Margaret Jull Costa (translator)

The Crime of Father Amaro (Dedalus European Classics) by Queiros, Eca de, de Queirez, Eca (2002) Paperback - Eca de,  de Queirez,  Eca Queiros

Re-read Project. Read originally in Portuguese in the 80s in my Eça de Queiroz phase.


“Her old religious devotion was reborn, full of sentimental fervour; she felt an almost physical love for the Church; she would have liked to embrace and to plant lingering kisses on the altar, the organ, the missal, the saints, on heaven itself, because she made no real distinction between them and Amaro; they seemed to her mere appendages of his being.”


In “The Crime of Father Amaro” by Eça de Queiroz, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.



I remember my feelings when I first read it. My take is quite different.


For starters, let me just state that I was raised a catholic and I'm still a practicing one.


Since the 80s I learnt a few more things along the way, namely that the first pope (Peter) was married and so were many subsequent ones. In the Greek Church, parish priests are required to marry, primarily to head off problems like the ones depicted in this classic of Portuguese literature. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says it is better to marry than to burn with sexual desire and risk "fornication". This biblical injunction was one reason the protestants dropped the requirement like a stone. The original reason for priestly celibacy is that priests were handing down their offices to sons, taking them out of church hands. Concubinage was winked at partially because any children would be illegitimate and thus could not inherit. The pope who declared celibacy the rule was warned about the problems it would generate, which we see to this day. I no longer believe "The Crime of Father Amaro" was an attack on Catholicism, neither to Catholics in general, but as an attack to corrupt people and corrupt institutions.



If you're into Portuguese Literature, Catholicism, and The Holy Roman Church, read on.

A Strangely Claustrophobic Experience: “How Proust Can Change Your Life” by Alain de Botton

How Proust Can Change Your Life - Alain de Botton

“To make [reading] into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement. Reading is on the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it.”

Quote from one of Proust’s books, In “How Proust Can Change Your Life” by Alain de Botton


“Even the finest books deserve to be thrown aside.”

In “How Proust Can Change Your Life” by Alain de Botton



I read Proust's masterpiece back in the 80s when I was attending the British Council. I still remember all too well one particular hilariously snippy Monty Python sketch (“the Summarize Proust Competition”). Back in the day, I too wanted to be able to rub elbows with the elite intellectuals who mocked Proust, so I picked up the first of three volumes (the weighty Moncrieff editions) and got started. The first few pages were tough going, but soon I became mesmerized, then I fell in love, and by the end of the summer I was tucking flowers into the plackets of my trousers and wearing bows in my shirts. Oh childhood! Swann's Way is the swiftest, plottiest volume in the monster, with “Un Amour de Swann” a little novel in itself, with a beginning, middle, end, and all that sort of thing. Originally drafted in a mere three volumes, the “Recherche” grew as Proust re-Proustified the later volumes while waiting for publication; many readers have wished that that long mini-book could be recovered.


If you're into Proust, read on.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam: "Silence" by Martin Scorsese


I wonder if the script and movie could have done more in the way of character development, especially regarding the protagonist. While viewing the film, I thought that the Andrew Garfield character's struggle with his conscience and deeply-felt religious convictions did not feel as organic, naturalistic, and credible as the Garfield character's somewhat similar struggle in Hacksaw Ridge. Martin Scorsese is certainly a more subtle filmmaker than Mel Gibson, but Silence is so concerned with its ideas and themes that perhaps character development and narrative flow lag behind. That said, those ideas and themes are quite fascinating—and chilling. 
And most modern cinema, for all its action and fireworks and slow motion people flying away from explosions and oh-so-very boring to me....There is nothing more boring to me than a sustained 20 minute action scene.... 


50K or bust! : "No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days" by Chris Baty

No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days - Chris Baty


“Anyway, whenever people express their reluctance to invest time in something that won’t have proven results, I ask them what they do for fun on weekends. Invariably, the time they spend running around on basketball courts, rearranging Scrabble tiles, or slaying video-game monsters is not done in an effort to make millions of dollars from corporate sponsorship. Or because they think it will make them famous. No. They do it because the challenge of the game simply feels good. They do it because they like to compete; […] because it feels really, really nice to just lose themselves in the visceral pleasure of an activity. Novel writing is just a recreational sport where you don’t have to get up out of your chair.”


In “No Plot No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days”by Chris Baty”


In the last few years I’ve read at least one book a week. Back in the day the number was two books a week.  And yes I haven’t read Twilight yet. Have you? THAT, my dear, is the drivel that you would expect from us non-professional WriMos. I’ve been working on a SF novel since, I don’t know, ages, and if it never gets published I will be fine with that because it's for MY enjoyment and satisfaction that I could do it... Every moron seems to think that we're all illiterate Neanderthals who maybe can read Dick and Jane and Dr. Seuss, but I've read Canterbury Tales in the Middle English, Beowulf in Olde English and Shakespeare in Elizabethan English...Like to see YOU try that!


If you're into the NANOWriMo, read on.

Micro-Fiction, Text 004: "The Poster" by Myselfie


The underpass is vacant apart from a solitary figure headed directly toward her. A woman around Rachel's own age, and not too dissimilar from how she looks.

'I see you're not taking the advice,' the police officer says nodding to the wall. 'The poster. We're advising young women to be careful not to walk alone when they don't have to. He's killed three.'

'I'm sorry, I didn't see it. I'm only headed around the corner,' Rachel replies.

'I'll walk you along. I hope you've been watching the news.'

Out of the underpass now, Rachel learns a lot about the officer. She learns her name, that she's part Irish, that she isn't a natural blonde, and the police are no closer to finding the monster.


The rest

Markov Chains and Hamlet

Lately I've been feeling adventurous and that got me thinking programming-wise. Is it possible to write a play like Hamlet by using Markov Chains?

Yes! There's a cheating way of doing that by using Markov Chain text generator.

It works more or less like this:

1. Take some text as input (e.g., the complete works of Shakespeare).

2. For every distinct word in it, determine what words follow it, and with what frequency.

3. Pick a word to start with -- e.g., choose one at random from all the words that start sentences.

4. Randomly choose a word to follow it, using the frequencies found in step 2.



If you're not afraid of a little bit of computer algorithmy, read on. This is the answer you've all been waiting for concerning Shakespeare's works.

Why Do Bad Films Happen to Good People: "Arrival" by Denis Villeneuve


Fitting with the idea of a language shaping our thinking/neurological processes, I think they were going for the idea that we had to learn the language from scratch rather than merely be provided a translation--and at any rate our own Earthly languages often don't translate in a clean A=B fashion in many areas (cultural nuances, and yes different ways of thinking make these translations less than clear), and so I imagine this is very true with translations between any human language and the heptodes' (where a "sentence" is a single holistic circle that can be written or read in any order--I know of no human language that evolved in that fashion).


They mentioned at one point the idea that people learn other languages most effectively when they are immersed (where they have to listen very hard and pick up on whatever cues they can from native speakers, with no help in their own language), and indeed forced to "figure it out on their own" to a large extent (they might still supplement that with classroom learning in the host country, but ideally that is conducted solely in the target language too--just with effective techniques of visuals, demonstration, and directed exercises given the students). The heptodes were providing as much of an immersive experience as they could with the on-board visits.



If you're into crappy SF films, read on.

My Memory, My Soul, My Quantum Entanglement: 6th





Micro-Fiction, Text 003: "The Lift" by Myselfie


Story Time.

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