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A good book:
Thursday, January 25, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

I finished "Drinking Sapphire Wine", and it also wasn't awful (see yesterday). It got a bit richer than "Don't Bite the Sun", but not much. Not a waste of time, but I wouldn't suggest either one as a first Tanith Lee novel. Read some of the Tales from the Flat Earth novels first, and if you find you've become a Lee fan, go back and read these to round out the experience.

So now I'm reading Stoddard's "The High House", and it's very hard to put down. The characters and the action and the Good versus Evil stuff are all well done, but the main pleasure for me is the House itself. It's a big house, elegant and old-fashioned, with secret doors and hidden attics and peepholes, but most importantly with one obscure little door that leads to more corridors and doors and secret places and staircases and whole worlds that couldn't possibly fit into the House if it were just a house. That idea is a hook right into the depths of my mind.

As I told the little daughter for her something interesting last night, one of my recurring dreams involves finding a door somewhere obscure in the house (our house, or some house the dream made up) that leads into more rooms, corridors, crawlways, overlooks, and off into a constructed infinity of interesting places. Other people have told me they've had the same sort of dream.

Maybe they're childhood imprints; as this review of the High House points out, children think of their homes as the hub of the universe. So why shouldn't the universe be just an extension of the house?

I went to bed thinking about infinite houses and unending corridors, telling myself it'd be a nice thing to dream about. And I succeeded! It was one of my half-lucid dreams; I usually knew I was dreaming, I could control some things, but I knew that if I didn't follow certain rules the dream would end, and some of the things that I thought at the time I was controlling I wasn't really (I was just dreaming that I was).

And it was great fun. I don't remember many of the details now (the usual dream memory effect), but it started out in bed (an unfamiliar bed, although in the dream it was just my bed), with me looking at the wall and seeing a new opening there, and thinking "ah, that must be the entrance". And then off into infinity.

I remember a Beatrix Potter area, and a place where there was so little gravity that I could float off the floor just by thinking the right thoughts, and a tiny red and white house where a rather ferocious dog lived. And I remember furniture and books. At the very end of the dream I was reading a fascinating book (whose contents I don't recall), and knowing that I was about to wake up I put a tiny dog-ear on the corner of my page, and took the book with me back to my bed, and just before I woke up I slipped it under the bed. On waking up, in my actually-familiar bed, it wasn't there. Pity!

Lucid dreams are something we know our brains can do, but that they don't do very often. Estimate the impact on society of a drug that could reliably produce fully lucid dreams, where the dreamer is in complete control of the experience, and the experience is as vivid and realistic as a very vivid dream. Would such a drug be popular? Illegal? Disastrous? Would you use such a drug? How often?

The characters in the High House are readers, too, and some of the books they read are famous fantasy novels themselves. Enormous houses (finite or infinite) appear in lots of other books (maybe because they appear so often in our dreams). I'd like to build a bibliography (or to have someone point me to an existing one). What can we think of?

  • The High House, of course;
  • Gormenghast, not infinite, but it might as well be;
  • The Bridge (the Iain Banks one): the Bridge isn't a house, of course, but it's a big constructed structure with mysterious elevators, long corridors, vanishing rooms, and (at least for awhile) no visible endpoints;
  • The Library of Babel: Borges' infinite house is all library, and depressingly regular, but still!

Now I know there must be more than that; Borges uses vast or infinite houses in other stories, and I suspect Dunsany and Lovecraft have done the same. So send me more! I'm also very tempted to start writing one of my own...

Wednesday, January 24, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Opening a Powerpoint 2000 spreadsheet can cause arbitrary code to run on your machine. So don't do that. *8) [Note that microsoft.com is down at the moment and that link may not work; I'm sure it'll be back up Real Soon.)

Supreme Court Just Kidding, Reverses Decision

Urgent need for legislation: when giving talks about "e-commerce", it should be a Federal Offense to use airline ticket purchasing as your only example. ("Or books", says Ian.) Or getting stock quotes, for that matter.

They're doing construction all over the building this month, and on one of the doors that isn't currently working right there's this great sign. It says, in big letters, "PULL DOOR HARD". Then there's a little picture: it's a picture of a door, and on the door (in the picture) there's a sign, and the sign (in the picture) says "PULL DOOR HARD". I thought that was very funny.

So I finished "Don't Bite the Sun", the first of the two Tanith Lee novels in the volume "Biting the Sun". It wasn't awful, but it was sort of (what?) shallow. The Underlying Message was "even in a technological utopia, it's tough to be an adolescent: sometimes you get real bored, and sometimes your pet dies." Well, yeah.

The sequel, "Drinking Sapphire Wine" is also not awful so far. It looks like it'll be basically "and then later you grow up, and things sort of get better". It's been a long time since I read much Lee, and I remember her voice as somewhat more mature and nuanced. According to this Tanith Lee bibliography, these two novels were in fact written a few years before "Night's Master" and "Death's Master", which are probably the books that I'm remembering.

Irony and so on. Various noteworthy reader missives (some links mine):

One of my favorite descriptions of Irony comes from The Acme Novelty Library comic book written by Chris Ware. In issue no.10, there are lots of pages of pseudo-advertisements, modelled after the kind of '98-pound-weakling' stuff found in the backs of old comic books. One of the ads is selling Irony, and here's the text:

IRONY. New for the season. What the kids are talking about. Strange way of seeing the world which is completely alien to animals, insects, and all other forms of life. Rationalize wide variety of otherwise embarrasing and disreputable behavior, tastes, responsibilities for your actions. Usually most popular when culture is at its lowest ebb, but get yours now. What a handy thing, this irony. Just in time. NO, REALLY.............$2.00

Very nice, I think. If you haven't seen this comic book, I (obviously) reccommend it to you now.

btw, speaking as a library science student, let me agree with your reader who said they could think of 'lots of things more admirable than the ALA'--but then I thought your original comment might have been tongue-in-cheek! [ironic? -- ed]

Irony? It is a way of standing back, being superior, distancing oneself from the thing taking place or being talked about or shown so that you remain aloff, superior, or non-involved. There was an age of Gold, an age of Silver, an age of Lead (and/or plastic) and now an age of Irony--heavy stuff

Science Friday came and went, the rains and the impotent buildings hammering his consciousness like terrapins. Her tooth was loose, the aftermath of a turbulent night mostly forgotten and thankfully so. Again, again, the rains and the cold. Again, and again, the dreams came in the night, shaking her awake. And, as she sat upright, sweat streaming down her face, her chest, the policeman stirred. "Mia?" he asked.

Speaking of the Alanis Morissette song, the parody "Redundant" ("It's like rain, on a rainy day") is not to be missed. I heard this performed by local musician Art Paul Schlosser when I lived in Madison several years ago (and until I went searching for the lyrics just now, I didn't realize that this song wasn't original to Art Paul).

To go even further off on a tangent, this is not to be confused with the minor (but excellent IMO) Green Day hit "Redundant".

P.S. You need a big feedback box, like Steve, because it's hard to proofread/edit these long comments in a small text box.

Is Steve a big feedback box? (A joke!) You don't actually have to compose in the tiny box; cut and paste is your friend. And thanks for the well-researched links! I love it when people do my work for me. *8)

Thanks to all; keep those cards and letters coming! And remember: If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.

Tuesday, January 23, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

I've finally remembered to add abuddhas memes to the List. Good deep stuff there, about Consciousness and suchlike mysteries.

Gramma'd had to stay in the house for a week while her new hip finished fabbing, so after it was done we got a permit and went out for a ride in the country. We stopped for a picnic lunch in a quiet valley.

"Hey," she said as we got out the sandwiches, "isn't that Ottisk Hill over there?" We checked the GPS, and it was.

We passed out the sandwiches and chips, but Gramma just sat staring across the landscape.

"You okay?"

"Ah," she sighed, waving her hand out toward the valley, the dense greenery of the trees, the blue ribbon of river and the flower-specked meadows. "When I was a girl, Route 244 ran right through here. Parking lots everywhere, the Galleria right there under Ottisk Hill, a million lights and horns."

Pete reached over and patted her on the shoulder; her eyes were wet.

"Those were the days, I tell you; there was so much neon it was brighter at night than in the daytime. Now look at it! Buncha goddamn trees..."

So I don't feel especially voluble today. The last traces of numbness are gone, I think, from my finger after the little incident the other month. Which is nice; I was afraid there might be like Permanent Nerve Damage. My back is pleasantly stiff from shovelling snow over the weekend. It was an intensely idyllic weekend somehow; I didn't touch a computer the whole time, and I did lots of cooking. Baked salmon and Golden Bread and steamed cauliflour and so on.

At the moment I'd rather be, say, baking than, say, typing on computers. This suggests I ought to stop mucking around on the web doing "general keeping up with the industry", and start hacking on something interesting...

Monday, January 22, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

Ray Davis expands on our dialog about irony the other week. There is interesting deep stuff here; I'm not sure I have the right tools to descend into it this month.

Steve has stuck in his head the classic: "If you're goin' to Sam Clam's disco; be sure to wear some sort of Smoky Bear." Currently stuck in my head is the more prosaic "Decrement and Skip on Zero". I'm hoping that by mentioning it here it will be stuck in your head instead, although I realize it's not inherently catchy. ("Punch, brothers! Punch with care!")

Ian nicely describes one of the things that bothered me about the Shrub Inauguration: the frequency of appeals to and mentions of various people's imaginary friends in the sky. Can we have a civil religion that isn't based on primitive superstition, please? Can we have it by next Thursday? Thanks.

M points out (in personal communication) that George W. Bush, the 43rd President of These United States, seemed to be wearing a tie made from a Handi-Wipe.

(Strange Truths: all I can find on the Web in the way of an Official Handi-Wipes Site, is this Material Safety Data Sheet. "Boiling Point: N/A")


On yesterday's Fried Green Tomatoes notes, a reader comments:

I'd be interested in a good book featuring hot lesbian sex scenes. (Note that I said a *good* book.)

Well... I'm not sure that this is the sort of thing that males such as I are allowed to mention in public, but I finished Electric the other day, and some of the stories in it are really quite good. And virtually all have more or less hot lesbian sex scenes. But I feel a certain hegemonic patriarchical guilt reading them...

It turns out that Amazon did not in fact ship everything that I ordered the other day; seems that Eno's "A Year with Swollen Appendices" is now listed as out of stock, and they ain't got one for me. Tsk! Off to eBay?

Friday, January 19, 2001  permanent URL for this entry

did you ever notice how every Ludlum novel has a title of the form "The <proper noun> <noun>" ?

And in fact the second noun is usually abstract. I finished "The Scarlatti Inheritance"; it was Ick. Just then, nearly all the stuff I ordered from Amazon the other day arrived! But instead of starting any of it, I started rereading Sweet Thursday, because M is on a Steinbeck kick, and she just finished the Cannery Row books for the first time and really enjoyed them, and that reminded me how much I enjoyed them the first time, so now I'm reading Sweet Thursday for the second time (I dunno why I didn't start with Cannery Row).

Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday are the classic "gentleman bums and hookers with hearts of gold" books. I suspect there's an entire genre, though; can anyone think of any others? (Ref my quest for the canonical South Sea Islands book(s) back in June.)

Come to think of it, I've just recently read one ("gentleman bums", not "south seas"). On M's recommendation I read "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café" the other week; it was fun. Thoughtful, uplifting, funny, kind. And of course those hot lesbian sex scenes...

OK, so there weren't any hot lesbian sex scenes (although I'm not entirely sure about that time in the shack by the river with Idgie and Eva). But the main interesting relationships are all between women; the male characters tend to be heros or devils or symbols or clowns: larger or smaller than life. The narrative is carried by the stories of Ruth and Idgie, who are the loves of each other's lives, and Mrs. Threadgoode and Evelyn, who save each other in various ways, just by talking. But it also has trains and recipes, food and murder, love and hate. I pass M's recommendation along to y'all.

Clued Person of the Day: Sometimes it's very productive to do a Google search on the name of someone who you notice saying something clever. Today's person is Joshua W. Burton, who knows things about physics and computers and stuff. For instance, here he talks about cool issues that are several lightyears beyond what I actually understand but that I like to read anyway, if only to reinforce my own physics envy. And here he says funny things about possible reasons the ETs never answer our mail:

"What's the point? Look at the header; it's some dinky yellow G2 dwarf. The sector is lousy with them --- if we have Her shut it down, they'll find another star before She even has time to clean out the logfiles and reboot."

Catherine does lovely things with the look and feel of winter. Why is it that winter, when life is at its lowest ebb in the obvious sense, can be the most beautiful season?

Ashcroft bashing of the day: I don't know why the idea of this guy being Attorney General bugs me so much. But it obviously does. See the Guardian on a surreal sleepwalker with little right to wield power:

A president humbled by the narrowness of his victory would have found an attorney-general who enjoyed bipartisan respect. Instead Bush puts in charge of the justice system a politician whom few people trust, and the Christian right does not want, to administer laws he disagrees with.

And did you wonder, as I did, why you'd never heard of the famous Revolutionary War slogan "We have no king but Jesus!" that Ashcroft cited in his Bob Jones speech? Turns out it's not surprising, since it's nothing of the kind:

She breaks for rainbows

No one, anymore, expects our public officials to be well-versed in history (although maybe we should). But for a prospective attorney general to endorse the motto of an old English theocratic sect -- to proclaim it, mistakenly, as a motto of our Revolution and, indeed, of our nation -- is troubling. And it is no less troubling for that same man to suggest that Jefferson's Declaration conveyed some deep Christian message.

OK, I'll try to stop now! (For today, anyway...)

Here comes Brenda; Brenda Holiday!


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