Musings/Träumereien/Devaneios

Non-Standard Fantasy: “The Blade Itself” by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie

I "discovered" Abercrombie in 2012 when I was actually looking for some fantasy novels that "weren't Dragonlance-level shit". Back in 2012 I started off by reading “The Heroes” first. Only in 2013 I got to reading the First Law from the beginning.

 

Abercrombie does not sugar-coat his narrative. That’s for sure. That’s the first indication you’re not reading your running-of-the-mill fantasy:  it’s disturbing because it skews closer to real life than we are used to or comfortable with fantasy-wise. Protagonists fail, start things but don’t finish them, have their plans changed in mid-stride and generally push through as if they were making it up as the narrative progresses. While reading “The Blade Itself” I kept expecting conventional fantasy storytelling to assert itself and bring the characters back around to the “right” path, despite evidence to the contrary. I’m not that well versed in fantasy lore, but I think this first novel in Abercrombie’s fantasy milieu sets up a precedent for an ending that just isn’t what you expect, but I still kept waiting for that tide to turn back and give me a the usual happy ending cropping up in a lot of fantasy nowadays.  What I found most unsettling is that there IS a happy ending – it’s just the last person in the entire book you’d expect gets everything he wants. It was one of those endings, and one of those books, that sits with you for a very long time.

 

 

If you're into SF of the Grimdark variety, read on.

Tomato Soup is Lava: "Time Ages in a Hurry" by Antonio Tabucchi, Antonio Romani (Translation)

Time Ages in a Hurry - Antonio Tabucchi, Martha Cooley, antonio romani

Tabucchi’s notion of time (e.g., aging) is a weird one. I grew up thinking it didn't really exist, that it was just something us humans invented as a measurement, like cm or mm. But I also used to think tomato soup was lava. Time is the only God, because it behaves in exactly the way any self-respecting God should: it continues to do its thing utterly dependably, and ignores everything else. The problem, I think, is that our scientific knowledge of time is so limited that in any discussion, we can't avoid drifting into metaphysics, which doesn't really add to the discussion. Regarding "time" as an entity, I feel we are like a caveman looking at the Mona Lisa and wondering how it was done what it could mean. We simply don't understand the extent of what we're looking at, and, like every generation, fall into the familiar trap that, because we are the here-and-now, we are the cleverest there's ever been, so we KNOW the answer, when, in fact, we're not much smarter than all the thousands of generations before us. The generations who follow us will behave in exactly the same way.

 

 

If you're into Aging and the Notion of Time in particular, read on.

I Can No Longer Bear the Aggressiveness of Poetry: "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

Berlin-Hamlet - Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet

"When I came to Berlin, I no

 longer

wanted to live. Why isn't

   there a way, I thought, if 

  someone doesn't  want to live

 any more, simply to 

         disappear."

 

In "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

 

"I do not believe in poetry"

 

In "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

 

"I can no longer bear the aggressiveness of poetry,

and I do not wish my deeds to be investigated."

 

In "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

 

 

"My need is for those who will know/how/all of this will end."

 

 

In "Berlin-Hamlet" by Szilárd Borbély, Ottilie Mulzet (Translator)

 

 

I can't give any more quotes...The book is a long quote.

 

After having finished reading this heart-wrenching poetry book, my thoughts come back to Hamlet, as always. It's always about indecision... 

 

Borbély is masterfully able to give us this indecision in a modern version.

 

 

If you're into gut-wrenching poetry full of Angst don't read my review, read the book... 

I'm heading to the beach...See you all tomorrow...
I'm heading to the beach...See you all tomorrow...

The Linux Server Encyclopaedia: "Anonymous" by Roland Emmerich

 

Sigh. 
 
Sorry to interrupt, but what is it about the nature of our species that is to so attracted to conspiracy theories? We can trace this as far back as Homer and plenty of modern examples as well.
 
If I had a crystal ball I think it may well show a 2416 Ox/Cam luminary frothing at the bung as he expounded on the impossibility of an illiterate uneducated Lennon seen as the co-author and author of his celebrated works. I took an interest in the claims of the Earl Of Oxford after the film Anonymous made its preposterous contribution in 2011. I was particularly interested in the fact that the denialists draw so much confidence from their claims to have discovered hidden ciphers in epitaphs and ancillary texts. The Oxfordian method of unwinding these hidden messages (they are never ciphers) involves little more than separating all the letters and making words out of them as if they were a Scrabble bag with two dozen blank tiles. Oxfordians tend to stop as soon as they have found what they want. I was able to go a bit further, whilst sticking rigidly to their 'method'. As a result, I can offer a few new ideas about Shakespeare's favourite books which not even Professor Jonathan Bate may not have considered.
 
 
 
If you're into conspirancy theories, read on.

 

Entangled Strings: "Theories of Everything" by Frank Close

Theories of Everything: Ideas in Profile - Frank Close
I’ve got a theory that the rules of the universe ARE created by people thinking up theories about it. Although due to elitism bias, i am yet to receive any funding for my groundbreaking “hypothesis.” Fucking scientist bastards, getting paid for thinking about stuff they think I can’t understand... what a scam.
 
I suspect that a lot of the hostility and rejection of science by people who can't understand it is because it makes them feel stupid. It is, after all, fundamental to understanding how the world works. Some people are scientists; some people are not, but know what science is; but some people not only don't understand science, but don't know that they don't know, because they can't even see it. This is a bit analogous to being able to read. Some can go into a library and read in a few languages, some only in one, others can know what books are but not be able to read, and some don't actually know what books are and feel stupid, so pretend that they either don't exist or are some sort of conspiracy against them, which makes them feel important. There are theories around which involved such complex mathematics only a handful of people in the entire world can understand them. Peer review not much use here and enter this new age of egg-heads trying to “out-complexify” each other.
 
 
If you're into Physics and Loop Quantum Gravity, read on.

Literaryness Made Easy: "The Edge of the Horizon" by Antonio Tabucchi, Tim Parks (Translator)

The Edge of the Horizon - Antonio Tabucchi

Of course it's the old "can you teach talent" argument, isn't it? That's the meaty question, the puzzler of substantial length and girth that needs to be grabbed firmly with both hands. What produces worse writing? People striking off alone, with nobody to tell them to stop and their critics being self-selected (because you see a lot of that online in fandom communities) or people going to study creative writing and, much like Larkin claims parents do, getting fucked up by their teachers' preferences? Books aren't quite the same as music, there's less chances for an obviously wrong note that doesn't fit; even a single poorly. Chosen word in a 50,000 word novel is often far less jarring in the grand scheme of things than a G# when you expect a G in a 10-minute concerto. As they say, even Homer nods. Of course if you open a book and it begins "It was the best of times, it was the best of times", then there's a problem. And "bad" is just a really broad term. A book might be beautifully written but completely morally repellant, and I'd call that bad; it might have a thrilling plot but contain nothing but dull clichés and poor imagery and I'd call it bad. I'd even call a book bad if it was great for three quarters of its length and then had an awful ending. All these different “badnesses” are forgivable by different people to different degrees; I'd be more kind to a book which just had a bit of a flat ending to a book that thoroughly endorsed objectivism as a moral philosophy as its sole Daseinszweck. I'd be more forgiving of something that used cliché and well-worn archetypes with brio and enthusiasm and a little inventiveness than something that tries so hard to not be formulaic it feels like a schoolchild told they can't use "got, nice or went".

 

 

If you're into "Literaryness", read on.

Minor SF Movie: "Blade Runner 2049" by Denis Villeneuve, Ridley Scott

 

As much as everyone should respect the unbelievable amount of hard work needed to bring to life such a world, I've found it disappointing. I had just watched the original, before going for Blade Runner 2049. At the beginning I appreciated the fact that the movie was apparently trying to give time to the spectator to get immersed in the new world. Not even the original gave out many details about the background of the action: what's happened to Earth, what's the overall condition of Replicants, who really are the characters. Leaving a number of things to imagination is good, when it's done in a balanced way. I don't care to know who (or what) Deckard really is as long as the movie provides me with sufficient hints to guess and to actually appreciate not just the truth but how much and in what ways the truth takes its toll on the characters. Under this respect, K is really a character for which I felt sorry. But at a certain point during the movie, one gets the annoying feeling that SO MUCH is going on in the background that is crucial to the main plot lines and is ready to explode BUT of course that won't be happening in this movie. To this, people and critics may replay that 'the focus of the movie is something else'.

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Human Interconnectedness: "A Nest of Vipers" by Andrea Camilleri

A Nest of Vipers (Inspector Montalbano Mystery) - Andrea Camilleri, Stephen Sartarelli

Why is Catarella allowed to have any part in the operation of the station? He'd be an encumbrance even if moved to toilet-cleaning duties. Why does Montalbano never seem to have any means of communicating with the rest of the force on him? It's not that he can't get a signal since he's never shown to try! Why does he appear to operate outside the rest of the force in his own time and to his inclinations? He's more like a private eye than a policeman. Catarella is almost certainly a “raccomandato”, i.e., someone who got his job thanks to connections rather than going through a rigorous interview and testing process (in Portuguese would be harder to translate; I don’t there’s a noun for that; for the action, yes; it’s called “meter uma cunha”, meaning literally “to pull strings for somebody”). It happens an awful lot. But Catarella does crack computer codes, week in week out, so he's good at something!

 

 

If you're into Mediterranean Crime Fiction, read on.

The Glamorisation of Suffering: "City of Stairs" by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs - Robert Jackson Bennett

When is it necessary to kill a character to get a point across? I’m thinking about Vo here. By the time we get to the point when things get moving, I’ve already seen how damaging his religious upbringing had been to him. I've already seen how it had wreaked him and how this agony had shaped him into the character’s he'd become. I got that; bumping him off does nothing to further highlight the deed, nor to bring forth the message I got from killing him off. His death is just lazy writing. In fact, his death serves no narrative purpose and hence, it saps the very directive it was supposedly delivering. People don't just suffer in a void. Not all pain leads to tragic and abject death. Such “glamorisation” of suffering is a method to avoid endorsing and responding to that suffering. When everyone dies, it's sad, but we aren't called upon to answer for how we or our society has contributed to their suffering. We ache and move on. Nothing we do can change the fact that they are dead, and we have no impetus to change our ways because that impetus has ceased breathing. But when there's a living person staring you in the face, you are forced to acknowledge and come to terms with the reality of that person and how their suffering takes place in your world. This state-of-affairs is not so much with the Urban SF writers themselves as it is the culture of apparent "laziness" that they seem to have inspired (e.g., Grimdark comes to mind with so many bad imitators out there). 

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

Pictorial Cognition: "The Fantastic World of Paula Rego" at Centro Comercial Colombo

 

Science is now enabling us to fully define the functions of pictorial cognition. And those defined functions enable us to understand that Rego's paintings have nothing to do with pictorial cognition. And actually, all the science is doing is confirming what many people have understood for quite some time. And which is that fact that "modern" art, and/or abstract non-representational art, is/was nothing more than a great big scam.
 
Is it right to reduce art to the science of visual perception and little more?
 
Or maybe I should say, can be so much more because clearly I'm on the pure rationalist side of art interpretation. That's fine, but can we risk missing all the other things that people see, all the other reasons they might have for reacting to a work, the cultural connections, the composition, the colour, the way a piece might relate to the space around it, the narrative etc.?
 
Do people only "understand" very figurative art that connects directly to their own personal experience? I would say that's extremely limited and fails to explain all the people who enjoy modern art, for example. Is there is role for, say, imagination in the execution or reading of art? That there is no role for fantasy. But ok.
 
 
If you're into Art and Painting in particular, read on

RSC Live Shakespeare's The Tempest by Gregory Doran, Intel, and The Imaginarium

 

It is also interesting to read of the different productions through the centuries, and the way that the concerns of the time affect the interpretation and staging of the plays. Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree's 1904 adaptation is noteworthy, for example, not only because of his approach to Caliban but also because of how he dealt with the opportunity for special effects and his re-structuring of the play into three acts.
 
The truth is that if we're looking for anyone in "The Tempest", it shouldn't be Shakespeare, it should be ourselves.
 
And so we do. Shakespeare is clay that we mould to our own image, our tabula rasa on which we write the prejudices, the dreams, the prevailing fashions of thought. There is no interpretation so outlandish some director, or academic, has not thought of it. His canon is like the woodcutter’s magic purse and as soon as we have emptied it of all possible worth we look inside once more and find fresh coppers inside.
 
Perhaps it is that malleability that makes Shakespeare endure. That, and the majestic poetry that far outstrips the philosophy. Perhaps also we should not try so hard to make his plays deeper than they are.
 
 
If you're into Shakespeare and the RSC in particular, read on.

Baroqueness in Literature: "A Brusca" by Agustina Bessa-Luis

A Brusca - Agustina Bessa-Luís

"A Brusca" corresponds to a project with a less systematized approach, with the eponymous title of the first tale, with its forty pages. These tales are linked by the title, which reproduces the name of a site, a ruralism in connection with the Portuguese territory contemplated already in "Mundo Fechado" (Closed World) (first novel published in 1948), and especially from "A
Sibyl" (1954), for a whole line of novels.

 
Portuguese is a very plastic language, difficult and ceremonial, but also very surprising for being so baroque. I can feel this baroqueness in all of Agustina's fiction. Is it possible to fully translate it into other languages? To my knowledge Agustina has never been translated into English. I think only the novel "A Sibila"  was translated into German ("Die Sybille")
 
How will Agustina sound in English and German? 
 
 
Read on, if you're into this kind of thing.

Book Launch: Antologia de Poesia Contemporânea "Entre o Sono e o Sonho", Vol. VIII by Gonçalo Martins

 

For the first time I see one of my poems chosen and published in the VIII Anthology of Contemporary Portuguese Poetry "Between Sleep and Dream". 

 

 

If you're into Poetry, read on.

Shitty Philosophy and Physics : “Time Reborn - From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe” by Lee Smolin

Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe - Lee Smolin

“I propose that time and its passage are fundamental and real and the hopes and beliefs about timeless truths and timeless realms are mythology.”

 

 

In “Time Reborn - From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe” by Lee Smolin

 

 

Impermanence, Buddhist style?

 

Buddhism seems to acknowledge the play of opposites I've referred to elsewhere.

Recognising the yin-yang nature of the universe, in order to claim there is constant 'flux' (fluidity, rather than change; a subtle difference) - or for argument's sake, change - Buddhists balance that by asserting a 'greater' reality - the one, eternal, stable, whole (a supposed 'deeper' reality).

 

Contradiction and paradox is near the heart of evidenced, reasoned contemplation?

 

As for Aristotle:

time is a measurement of change is a measurement of time.

Change makes time possible, and vice-versa.

In principle, it seems that time persists, even in conditions of perfect stillness.

Yet any attempt to conceive a temporal progression, absent all change, seems to lead us into perplexing self-contradictions: any attempt to imagine how such unchanging time-flow could be measured, requires changing. It seems that time must be more than change; yet remove change, and time vanishes!  But if time is just a means to measure change, then in principle, it should permit the possibility of a world where change is cyclical. Yet our understanding seems to limit time to a linear, one way progression.

 

Or does it?

 

 

If you're into shitty physics, read on.

Programming is Like Music: "Python - Become A Master In Python" by Richard Dorsey

Python: Become A Master In Python - Richard Dorsey

Just what is the fascination with spreadsheets? I played with them on my Spectrum in the 80s, but it wasn't very useful. I used a spreadsheet on a Psion handheld in the 90s to keep track of some data. And nowadays I have a spreadsheet in LibreOffice to keep track of my expenses and work out my tax (estimate, since obviously, you need to use a proper package to get it right). I've worked in places in the meantime where bosses think that Excel is a suitable tool for project planning. It isn't. But if you only give people a hammer, everything looks like a nail to them. As a programmer, myself, I'm finding this whole thing fascinating. The quality of the kid's programming output (and yes, it is programming, not 'coding') is going to be directly proportional to the teacher's ability who's teaching them. I have a big worry that this will go the way of foreign language learning in school though, even without this concern over the quality of teaching. It's a subject that needs self-determination and a lot of time spent outside of the class room to truly get to grips with. Without these two things pupils, will probably grow to despise the subject - and we may even start to put off future would be programmers. Children as young as four have been learning programming skills in the classroom for many years with programmable toys: Big Trak, Roamers and BeBots are some examples which have been whirring around on the floor. Disguise a robot as a sheep and get it to run away from the farmer or program a lifeboat to reach a sinking ship etc.

 

 

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

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