Books Archives

October 20, 2001

Terry Pratchett and Paul Kidby - The Last Hero

Cover showing Cohen the Barbarian

The latest Terry Pratchett book is something special indeed! It's a shorter story than usual, but this is more than compensated for by the lavish and wonderful illustrations by Paul Kidby who also drew the two or so Discworld graphic novels that came out a few years ago. Kidby's interpretation of Rincewind is very close to the way I've always imagined him to look, and I'm glad to report that the incompetent wizard is in the story. I've only been able to browse the book a little (cuz I'm broke), but man, this is an object of desire, and would make a great Christmas gift for fans of fantasy literature and pretty picture books! I think there should be more illustrated books for adults in any case, and finding such a beauty in the shop just made me drool. Order it from or from before it goes out of print or somebody has the bright idea of reprinting it without illustrations like Pratchett's Eric novella.

By the way, also announced Amazing
Maurice and his educated Rodents
, a new children's novel by Pratchett.

This is a backdated entry from before this blog was started. It was originally published on Since posting this preview, I've read the book, and while I wouldn't consider it the best that Pratchett has written, I do recommend it for the artwork.

March 18, 2004

My next-door neighbours in the news

Of course, it was inevitable that the book made by the girls in the studio next door to mine would offend some bigot. King & King, a modern fairytale about a prince who isn't attracted to princesses contains nothing that a six-year-old can't understand, but there is always someone waiting to get offended at those yucky dirty homosexuals.

March 22, 2004

My next door neighbours (2)

I just dropped by at Linda de Haan's studio, to ask if she'd read the coverage of her and Stern Nijland's first book, which I discussed a few days ago. Turns out she had, and more. She handed me a pile of printouts from news websites, and listed a number of Dutch media outlets that had interviewed her today.
While we were talking she got two more phone calls, and tomorrow she'll have a local TV camera crew over.

Sales of King & King are brisk, as are the pre-sales for the sequel. Once again, the censorious impulse has defeated itself.

September 20, 2004

Progress in electronic books

No, this isn't about the latest innovations in making electronic book reading more pleasurable. Instead, John Quiggin at Crooked Timber is giving an honest, personal appraisal of how today's state of the art in e-books stacks up, overall, against printed books:

I've read about fifty pages so far, and my feeling is that, with a large flat-screen monitor, reading a good-quality PDF is comparable to reading a medium-quality printed book. Given the limitations, particularly the need to sit in one spot, I can’t see this become my preferred mode for a while. Still, there are a lot of advantages to consider, and in many cases, these will outweigh the negatives for me.

First, it means instant cheap access to new books published overseas. This is important for Australians... who often have to wait a long time for ‘colonial’ releases of books published in the metropolitan countries.

Second, there’s essentially no storage problem. Iron Council is 1.7 MB, so I could store about 20,000 similar volumes on an iPod...

Third, I can see big advantages for book reviewing of which I do a fair bit. I’ll easily be able to search for bits of text, cut and paste quotes...

October 10, 2004

Weird Tales covers

The mere mention of pulp fiction (and, of course: Whithe House in Orbit) make my blood bubble. Those similarily inflicted, may want to feast their bleary eyes on this collection of vintage Weird Tales covers.

October 11, 2004

Why the *&^)*!@*)!!! didn't I know about this?

KRO Radio reports that Artis Zoo is having 4 special radio play evenings in their planetarium. One of the plays run these evenings is Het Transgalactische Liftershandboek a 1984 version of the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy radio play. I didn't even know there was such a beast!

October 17, 2004

Going Postal

The 33rd Discworld novel, Going Postal, is, on the whole, another average one. It has new characters, but lacks new ideas. It has no belly laughs to speak of, but does have an unusually good plot with more real suspense than most other novels in the series.

Continue reading "Going Postal" »

October 28, 2004

Generic Freedom

I once read, somewhere, that during WWII codenames for military operations were randomly generated words. It makes sense. Easy to remember and with no possible connection to the subject matter - that's reasonable attributes for a codeword.

Now, selection needn't be completely random. Military planners have a natural affinity with martial and heroic sounding words. But that's ok, as long as the word give no clue as to what military action is being planned: "Archer". "Champion". "Jupiter". "Torch". "Overlord". "Iraqi Freedom".

The latter one is interesting, though. "Operation Iraqi Freedom" does indeed say something about what was being planned. Maybe that's why the name wasn't announced untill the operation was well underways.

There's been several operations Freedom in US history. There was, of course, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan just prior. But fossils like yours truly are probably more likely to remember Operation Freedom Train (Nixon's bombing campaign in North Vietnam, 1972), and Operation Freedom Deal (Nixon's bombing campaign in Cambodia, 1973). The analogy is there, all three operations focusing on destroying the bad guys infrastructure to degrade their offensive and defensive abilities.

Attacking infrastructure is sound strategy: The bad guys can't operate without infrastructure. Roads. Rails. Factories. Hospitals. Families, if you want to go right down to the basic element of infrastructure. Just ask the Mob. The Mafia has a very clear understanding of what attacking an enemy's basic infrastructure does to him.

So, Operation Iraqi Freedom is a logical moniker. But why just this moniker? There's been US codenames with equally long histories. "Liberty" was of course grabbed by Homeland Security at the same time - for the rather scary Operation Liberty Shield - but there were other possibilities. Why just "Freedom"?

I think I know why: Dick Cheney is a closet SF fan.

Just resently I read a novel published in 1998, "Semper Mars" by Ian Douglas. It's not a bad book; a lightweight near-future space opera with US Marines in space. The dastardly United Nations is set on world dominion. US space installations are under attack from the French Foreign Legion (mainly concisting of uncouth Germans with thick accents and looks borrowed from Nazi posters - boo!). It's a rousing read, I rather liked it.

And it's just the kind of SF Dick Cheney would like: Under French leadership, the UN starts lobbing cruise missiles at the hapless USA, aiming for population centers and public symbols like Capitol Hill in an attempt to demoralize the citizens. Of course, it does not work. Although hard pressed, the Marines strike back. And the operation is named --- Operation Freedom.

I mean, how could they NOT use that name?

There's another interesting thing with the codename "Operation Iraqi Freedom".
It's generic. A plug-and-play operational concept. Just insert your target of coice: "Operation Iranian Freedom". "Operation Korean Freedom". "Operation Dutch Freedom"....

But it's comforting to know that Dick Cheney reads science fiction. He can't be all bad.

November 15, 2004

Dangerous and Fluffy Moves to Monday-Friday (for now)

For the next two weeks or so, Dangerous and Fluffy goes bi-weekly, updating both Monday and Friday with big difficult comics. In other news, Timmerryn is godly. Enjoy!

December 13, 2004

"Now with a Happier Ending...."

Pointed out on Deleterius

"Romeo and Juliet —the personalized romance novel!
Starring YOU and a special someone in the role of Romeo and Juliet
The ultimate romantic, wedding, or anniversary gift —now available in a personalized "happy ending" edition, with optionally your pictures on the cover! It's the way Romeo and Juliet should have been - true love with a personal twist!"

That's right, this site lets you change the names of characters in classic literature, from the Wizard of Oz to Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde to a Christmas Carol - and even give Romeo and Juliet a badly-written happy ending! Let's have a look!

Continue reading ""Now with a Happier Ending...."" »

January 12, 2005

Advices, scads of advice

Neil Gaiman publishes a letter from Teresa Nielsen Hayden which lists just about all the important information for aspiring writers she knows. She knows a lot. Really a lot. Keep for future reference, or eat right here.

January 14, 2005

Limyaael's rants

Found by Adam, who has a way of finding these things on his search for dwarf porn or somesuch: Limyaael's rants on fantasy writing. She reads a lot of it, apparently, even though much of it irritates her. At least it inspires her to come up with long posts full of tips on how not to suck at fantasy writing.

January 16, 2005

Some guy reviews books so I don't have to

Continuing in the vein of recent entries relating to fantasy literature, here's a large collection of capsule reviews by Andrew Plotkin. One to go back to occasionally after reading some of those books.

February 12, 2005


A few weeks ago, Driek van Wissen, a light versifier from the fine old town I live in, caused a bit of a scandal in Dutch literary circles by bagging the title of Poet Laureate through extensive lobbying and public campaigning. Good for him, I suppose: I'm no fan of his work, but I don't automatically scoff at what he does just because it isn't serious literary poetry.
But if any one writer of light verse deserved to represent Dutch poetry internationally, it was John O'Mill.

Continue reading "Fatherlandsdickter" »

February 27, 2005

Are you a literary rebel? Find out!

At last, an internet meme that's actually significant! These, apparently, are the 110 most banned books (somewhere, presumably in the US). Make the ones you've read in full bold. Make the ones you've read in part italic. I've underlined the cases where I don't quite remember if I have read them myself or if I've become acquainted with them through citation or adaptation (in one variant, you must underline the ones you'd like to read, but I was more interested in the "uuuhhhhh" ones):

#1 The Bible
#2 Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
#3 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
#4 The Koran
#5 Arabian Nights
#6 Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
#7 Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
#8 Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (Prologue) - I've read the Prologue in full but not all the tales.
#9 Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
#10 Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
#11 The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
#12 Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
#13 Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
#14 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
#15 Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
#16 Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#17 Dracula by Bram Stoker
#18 Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
#19 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding -- I'm going to, Adam, honest.
#20 Essays by Michel de Montaigne
#21 Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
#22 History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
#23 Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
#24 Origin of Species by Charles Darwin -- I'm going to, Adam, honest.
#25 Ulysses by James Joyce
#26 Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
#27 Animal Farm by George Orwell
#28 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
#29 Candide by Voltaire
#30 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
#31 Analects by Confucius
#32 Dubliners by James Joyce
#33 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
#34 Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
#35 Red and the Black by Stendhal
#36 Das Kapital by Karl Marx
#37 Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire
#38 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
#39 Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
#40 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
#41 Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
#42 Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
#43 Jungle by Upton Sinclair
#44 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
#45 Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
#46 Lord of the Flies by William Golding
#47 Diary by Samuel Pepys
#48 Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
#49 Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
#50 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
#51 Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
#52 Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
53 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
#54 Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus
#55 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
#56 Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
#57 Color Purple by Alice Walker
#58 Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
#59 Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
#60 Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
#61 Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
#62 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#63 East of Eden by John Steinbeck
#64 Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
#65 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
#66 Confessions by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#67 Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais
#68 Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
#69 The Talmud
#70 Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#71 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
#72 Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
#73 American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
#74 Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
#75 Separate Peace by John Knowles
#76 Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
#77 Red Pony by John Steinbeck
#78 Popol Vuh
#79 Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith - Why is this banned?
#80 Satyricon by Petronius
#81 James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
#82 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#83 Black Boy by Richard Wright
#84 Spirit of the Laws by Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu
#85 Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
#86 Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
#87 Metaphysics by Aristotle
#88 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
#89 Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin
#90 Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
#91 Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
#92 Sanctuary by William Faulkner
#93 As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
#94 Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
#95 Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
#96 Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
#97 General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
#98 Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
#99 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown
#100 Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
#101 Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
#102 Emile Jean by Jacques Rousseau
#103 Nana by Emile Zola
#104 Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
#105 Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
#106 Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - Only very small bits, mind. Basically I've leafed through my father's copy.
#107 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
#108 Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
#109 Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
#110 Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Looks like I've read more from the very most banned than from the tail of the list.

March 1, 2005

Hokay. Banned books!

In response to Reinder's list of banned books he's read, here's mine, with commentary. Italics are partially read, bold is completely read.

#1 The Bible - To be honest, I really doubt this is true. Banned *where* exactly?
#2 Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain Good book. People just get upset because Mark Twain - horror of horrors - portrays Huckleberry's overcoming of prejudice realistically for his time period.
#3 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes With books written in foreign languages, a good translator is key to your enjoyment. I didn't have one.
#4 The Koran I've only read a little of it, but I should read more - it's on my to read list.
#5 Arabian Nights I've read all the ones I could find, but, well, the complete version is something like 30 volumes....
#6 Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain - People don't like this one because it shows boys being, well, naughty and disrespectful of elders. People want their children to read sanitised pap, it seems.
#7 Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift I can probably see why this one gets banned. Brobdinagian whores with lesions Gulliver could climb into on their breasts? Urination to put out a fire in Lilliput? It's a strange, scatological novel. Still shouldn't be banned, though.
by the way, after reading Gulliver's Travels the first time when i was 8 or so, I bought a copy for my own, with a tie in to some movie of it on a cover. They had edited out all the scatological biits. Damn secret censorship.
#8 Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer - I've read most of this. I remember how red faced I got when I had to deliver a report on the Reeve's tale in front of the entire class, explaining how the Reeve was one-upping all the sex and comic mishaps of the Miller...
#9 Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne Why on earth would they ban this marvellous book?
#10 Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman Read this as a child. Remember little.
#11 The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
#12 Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe Read this as a child, remember little.
#13 Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank Anne Frank was a wonderful girl, and her death ccan only be described as tragic in every sense. Why would anyone ban this?
#14 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
#15 Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens Charles Dickens is a good author, but damned hard to actually read.
#16 Les Miserables by Victor Hugo Have read most of it, but my mother had a habit of cleaning my room for me as a child, boxing all the books around my bed and putting them somewhere in the basement. So books I was reading occassionally vanished without a trace.
#17 Dracula by Bram Stoker It's probably shameful of me that I liked the old man in Whitby, the exxperiences with Cockneysin London, and the Scottish captain rather better than some of the main plot points.
#18 Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
#19 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding About half way through, but I have been rather ill this past year.
#20 Essays by Michel de Montaigne
#21 Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck Read about nine chapters of it, absolutely loathed it, and made do with Cliff's notes.
#22 History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
#23 Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
#24 Origin of Species by Charles Darwin I've read most of this, but I've never actually sat down and read cover to cover. I should.
#25 Ulysses by James Joyce
#26 Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
#27 Animal Farm by George Orwell orwell was a good author, but he was rather caught up int he McCarthy era to some extent.
#28 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell My mother gave this to me on tape when I was 8, thinking it was the Orson Wells broadcast of War of the Worlds. Trusting my mother, I put it on after I went to bed.

I had nightmares for weeks.
#29 Candide by Voltaire - Must read this
#30 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Wonderful book!
#31 Analects by Confucius
#32 Dubliners by James Joyce I like, but do not love James Joyce.
#33 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath was painful enough for me, thanks. just because it's controversial doesn't mean the author can actually write.
#34 Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway Didn't much care for Hemmingway, though. Felt his overly simplitstic writting style was talking down to me.
#35 Red and the Black by Stendhal - Never heard of it.
#36 Das Kapital by Karl Marx - Should read this.
#37 Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire - Never heard of this.
#38 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - People ban this? Why? The drugs?
#39 Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence Mmm. Read a little of it. Wasn't drawn in. Read some of D.H.Lawrence's Short stories recently and kind of liked them (I'm not convinced he's a good writer, but he has incredible charisma that makes you read anyway.), so I might give him another shot.
#40 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley I liked it a lot, too!
#41 Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser - Dunno it.
#42 Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
#43 The Jungle by Upton Sinclair - And hated it
#44 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque - I'm told this is just people in torment dying one after another, but beautifully written.
#45 Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx - Should read this.
#46 Lord of the Flies by William Golding - Eh. Doesn't really inspire me with the desire to read it.
#47 Diary by Samuel Pepys - I really *should* read this, though. I have read a couple interesting extracts.
#48 Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway Still don't like Hemmingway.
#49 Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
#50 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - Should read
#51 Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak - Should read
#52 Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
#53 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey Well, saw it on stage, actually. IT was good, but...
#54 Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus Been reading this in my spare time at Uni. However, I've been ill this year
#55 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller I've read a few pages of this. I found them whilst on a temp job I had for a day a few years ago at a landfill, and read them, as I read almost anything, given the chance. Took me ages to find what they were from.
#56 Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
#57 Color Purple by Alice Walker
#58 Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger Read some of this, but it was the year of my parent's divorce and I was a bit unsettled. I liked it, though.
#59 Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
#60 Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
#61 Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe - Should read this
#62 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#63 East of Eden by John Steinbeck - Gyah! More Steinbeck! Are they confusing "banned" with "Unreadable"?
#64 Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - I can't say I really liked it, though. Weird book.
#65 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou Now this, I loved. But it was a selection in an Anthology, and i haven't yet read it in full. Well! I'll soon fix that *heads over to*
#66 Confessions by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#67 Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais - Must read this too *adds to his amazon order*
#68 Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
#69 The Talmud
#70 Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#71 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
#72 Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence Odd book. Force of author's personality carries it and makes it wonderful, kind of like Herodotus.
#73 American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
#74 Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
#75 Separate Peace by John Knowles
#76 Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
#77 Red Pony by John Steinbeck - GYAH!
#78 Popol Vuh
#79 Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith
#80 Satyricon by Petronius
#81 James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl And a good book too.
#82 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#83 Black Boy by Richard Wright
#84 Spirit of the Laws by Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu
#85 Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut - I've read other Vonnegut, though. Sure I'll read this eventually.
#86 Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
#87 Metaphysics by Aristotle
#88 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder I don't *think* I've read this in full...
#89 Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin
#90 Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
#91 Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
#92 Sanctuary by William Faulkner
#93 As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner - ooh! I've heard this as a radio play *adds to amazon order*
#94 Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
#95 Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
#96 Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - My German friend tells me that, having read it, his class insisted on a "Werther's Dead" party.
#97 General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
#98 Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
#99 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown
#100 Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
#101 Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
#102 Emile Jean by Jacques Rousseau
#103 Nana by Emile Zola
#104 Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
#105 Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
#106 Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#107 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
#108 Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
#109 Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
#110 Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes - Gloomy, strange, surreal book - and a godawful movie.

I must admit I haven't heard of a lot of the late-in-the-list entries. Odd.

March 9, 2005

The Book of Jhereg

On the recommendation of quite a few people including Limyaael, I ordered Jhereg, the first omnibus edition of Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series. It was a good read; I can't say it made me go "whoa!" just yet but the three novels in the volume, Jhereg, Yendi and Teckla are original, well-thought-out and very entertaining. All my favorite moments were in the third book, which had little tidbits like this (in a sequence where the hero, Vlad Taltos, consults an oracle):

When he'd looked at me long enough to be impressive, her said, "If you try to expand your business, a mighty organization will fall."
Well, la-dee-da. I leaned over the table and slapped him.
Why didn't the ancient Greeks think of that?

Continue reading "The Book of Jhereg" »

April 6, 2005

Yes, yes, this is rather good.

Via Wednesday White at the Science Fiction Blog:

Skywishes shook her head. "You're the only boy pony any of us have ever seen," she said.

Aziraphale decided that now wasn't the time to comment on how improbable that sounded, especially as he'd seen several baby ponies.

April 27, 2005

The search for the Netherlands' dirtiest child

Are you, or do you know someone who is, the dirtiest child in the Netherlands? Can you walk out the door, freshly showered and in your best clothes, and get grime on you before you're past the garden fence? Does dirt like you? Then the parenting magazine J/M wants your story as part of their celebration of Annie M.G. Schmidt week, May 17-23. Annie M.G. Schmidt was the Netherlands' best-loved childrens' book writer, and this year's featured character is Floddertje, a little girl with a penchant for getting very very filthy indeed.

If you're not the dirtiest child in the Netherlands, you can still go to the Floddertje website to enjoy Fiep Westendorp's fantastic illustrations (see Voorpublicatie).

May 3, 2005

Simon L. Green - Nightingale's Lament

Nightingale's Lament by Simon L. Green is a cracking good read for on the train, no more, no less. I liked the combination of noir atmosphere, supernatural horrors and the urban setting, and found the story of the singer whose voice made members of her audience suicidal gripping enough, but I also thought I'd read some of the jokes before, and didn't find the characters all that interesting. I'd buy another one from the same series if it was in the shop at a time when I needed to go on another long train trip.

But the real reason I'm mentioning this book is to prod Einar into finally writing that rave review of another Simon L. Green book he promised.

June 6, 2005

Cool background stuff

Look at today's Liliane, Bi-Dyke:

One of the props Liliane is holding is Linda and Stern's King and King! Linda de Haan works practically right next door to me and I've mentioned the controversy in the US about King and King before, in the very early days of this blog. It's always nice to see them get props.

In Coldest Type: Crack Addiction in Book Publishing

This at American Digest is one of those articles that you need to know about in case you might need it later, especially if you do creative work that you might want to publish in print some day. The AD author reminisces about a book he worked on with writer Len Shatzkin, concerning stupid, crazy sales and marketing practices in the book publishing world. Reading it reminded me of a saying I read many years ago: "Before enlightenment, sweep floors. After enlightenment, sweep floors."

Continue reading "In Coldest Type: Crack Addiction in Book Publishing" »

July 16, 2005

Notes from the Harry Potter circus.

So after band rehearsal, Jeroen, Danny, Sidsel and I went to Scholtens Wristers at half past 12 to check out the queues at the Harry Potter launch. When we arrived, there was a sizable throng already, reaching to the bend in the road towards the Vismarkt. Unlike two years ago, there was no scaffolding on the buildings opposite the store, so we didn't get a good vantage point to view the proceedings from. But then, there wasn't that much to see.

Continue reading "Notes from the Harry Potter circus." »

July 31, 2005

Granny Weatherwax could so totally own Harry Potter.

Terry Pratchett's mad as hell and won't take it anymore, according to the BBC's website:

[Time] magazine also said Rowling reinvented fantasy fiction, which was previously stuck in "an idealised, romanticised, pseudofeudal world, where knights and ladies morris-dance to Greensleeves".

Pratchett, whose first fantasy novel was published 34 years ago, wrote to the Sunday Times saying the genre had always been "edgy and inventive".

"Ever since The Lord of the Rings revitalised the genre, writers have played with it, reinvented it, subverted it and bent it to their times," he wrote.

"It has also contained come of the very best, most accessible writing for children, by writers who seldom get the acknowledgement they deserve."

He also expressed surprise at Rowling's comments that she only realised Harry Potter was fantasy after the first book was published.

"I'm not the world's greatest expert," he wrote.
"But I would have thought that the wizards, witches, trolls, unicorns, hidden worlds, jumping chocolate frogs, owl mail, magic food, ghosts, broomsticks and spells would have given her a clue?"

Much as I'd like to see Pratchett and Rowling get in the ring to settle the matter, I can sort of see how Rowling could have failed to decide from those clues that she was writing fantasy. If she believed that fantasy literature was indeed, as she put it, "an idealised, romanticised, pseudofeudal world, where knights and ladies morris-dance to Greensleeves", which is not beyond the bounds of possibility, because to many, fantasy literature still has that reputation1), then I can't actually blame her for not wanting to read that stuff, or indeed for not classifying her own works as fantasy.
But she's had a few years to get caught up. There have been accusations of plagiarism from Neil Gaiman's work and other fantasy oeuvres. I don't think these accusations are justified but they should have piqued her curiosity somewhat.

By the way, in case anyone was interested, I quite liked The Half-Blood Prince although it's not my favorite of the series. Pratchet's last four or so novels have all disappointed me. Both authors need a kick in the arse, if you ask me. So fight! Fight!

Update/Addendum: Quoth Neil Gaiman:

Er, dunno. I read the Time article and thought it was astonishingly badly written and worse researched. The bit that puzzled me the most was that I remembered interviews with Ms. Rowling where she loved the Narnia books (it was a few seconds of Googling to find a 1998 Telegraph interview where, "Even now, if I was in a room with one of the Narnia books I would pick it up like a shot and re-read it."
as opposed to the Time version of Rowling has never finished The Lord of the Rings. She hasn't even read all of C.S. Lewis' Narnia novels, which her books get compared to a lot. There's something about Lewis' sentimentality about children that gets on her nerves.

The version of the history of "fantasy" that the article's writer paints is utter bollocks, and I assume Terry decided that needed to be said. I didn't see it as a swipe at Ms Rowling, though, but as a swipe against lazy journalists -- but "Pratchett Anger At Shoddy Journalism" is a much less exciting headline than the one the BBC came up with.

(I remember when Terry said some very sensible and good-natured things about the power of fantasy at the Carnegie Medals (in this speech, read it first), the headlines were all along the lines of "Pratchett takes swipe at Rowling, Tolkien"....)

Mostly what it makes me think of is the poem in Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest's NEW MAPS OF HELL, which went, from memory,

"SF's no good!" they bellow till we're deaf.
"But this is good." "Well, then it's not SF."

And it's an odd double-standard that applies to all genre work as much as to SF. It's always been easier for journalists to go for the black and white simplicities of beginning with the assumption that the entire body of SF (or Fantasy, or Comics, or Horror, or whatever the area is under discussion) is and always has been fundamentally without merit -- which means that if you like someone's work, whether it's J.G. Ballard or Bill Gibson or Peter Straub or Alan Moore or Susanna Clarke or J.K. Rowling -- or Terry Pratchett -- it's easier simply to depict them as not being part of that subset. I'm not sure that writing letters to the Times will ever fix that, though.

1)Indeed, from reading Limyaael's attempts at beating some sense into the thick heads of many fantasy writers (ranging from fanfic authors to big name bestseller writers), there's still far too much of that stuff about.

August 19, 2005

Harry Potter and the Idiotic Fans

"I wouldn't trust JKR to write Harmony [a Harry/Hermione pairing]. No thanks. There are many more talented fanfiction writers out there who understand the characters' relationships from the first five books so much better."

-The latest essay by this group.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is, on the whole a very good book. There are a few things that could, perhaps, have been done even better, but it's probably the best book in the series so far, save maybe Prisoner of Azkhaban.

...However, there's a certain group of people who are so upset about Harry and Hermione not getting together that...

...But perhaps I should start by quoting the Watley Review, my favourite parodic news source. In July, they wrote a hilarious bit of satire:

Disgruntled Harry Potter Fan Releases "Corrected" Version of Book

A disgruntled Harry Potter fan has released a "corrected" version of J.K Rowling's latest installment in the series, The Half-Blood Prince, prompting a storm of curiosity and support from many fans who disliked the direction of the story in the book. It has also, not surprisingly, prompted a storm of legal activity from Rowling's publishers.

"Whenever an author puts a work out into the universe, it is no longer their exclusive property anymore," said Mary Sue Pembroke, who is credited as the author of the modified book. "Harry Potter belongs to all of us, not just Rowling. She took some liberties with the story in this latest book that really weren't faithful to the logic of the narrative. My version is, I think it fair to say, much more faithful to the true Harry Potter mythos."

Rowling's book sold a record 9 million copies in Britain and the United States in the first 24 hours after its release. Despite the book's remarkable popularity, however, many fans were disappointed when the narrative did not follow their favorite predictions, in particular regarding romantic relationships between key characters.

"Rowling seems to think the relationships she's described in Half-Blood Prince were clearly telegraphed in previous books," sniffed Pembroke. "All I can say is, if that's what she thinks, she clearly doesn't understand Harry Potter like I do."

...Unfortunately, of late satire seems to have an unfortunate habit of turning true. - This is, by the way, the second version - the first version was even closer to the original, directly quoting large parts of the book, with only very slight changes to make Hermione Harry's love interest, and to make her, well, perfection itself.

...I begin to grow depressed. I shall merely leave off with a few links.

Angua9's analysis of this faction

Fandom_Wank's report on the first great rewrite of HBP

I've opened comments for the moment. I'll close them in a few days.

Edit by Reinder: Unfortunately, comments are still unavailable, and will be until I've done either a Movable Type upgrade and a bit of coordinatin' with Xepher, who is in charge of hosting this blog. Use my forum instead, if you want to comment.

August 26, 2005

Mary Gentle - Grunts

Grunts by Mary Gentle is one of those books I've been meaning to read for a long time, but putting off. I wanted to read it because the cover and blurb suggested something very similar to Terry Pratchett's Guards novels: a humorous story about the people whose job in other, conventional, fantasy novels would be to get butchered by the truckload. I put it off for fear that it would be nothing more than that: a Pratchettesque concept only not as good. Fortunately, it keeps getting reprinted. Grunts, as it turns out, is a much better novel than I had any right to expect; nevertheless, it didn't quite click for me.

Continue reading "Mary Gentle - Grunts" »

August 27, 2005

Diana Wynne Jones - Howl's Moving Castle

Now this is more like it! Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones was so compelling that I couldn't put it down, even when it was getting a bit late and I needed sleep. As a result, my reading of it towards the end became a bit sloppy and I had to stop myself a few times to go back a few pages to see what I missed. No matter: this is one novel I'll be sure to pick up again some time. Despite being written for a Grade 6 reading level, it's a layered story that rewards repeated reading.
Diana Wynne Jones is the writer of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a catalogue of fantasy clichés, so it's no surprise that this novel starts out in a very familiar fantasy setting (a pre-modern, monarchical society with wizards and witches actually existing) and with a story cliché to turn on its head: the heroine, Sophie Hatter, is the oldest of three sisters, and therefore expects she will never amount to anything. Wynne Jones has been very succesful in fleshing out this idea with psychologically credible elder-sibling behaviours: Sophie accepts her lot in life, shows responsibility towards the younger sisters, trusts authority, believes what she is told and makes safe, respectable choices - or rather, lets her (on the whole benign) stepmother make those choices for her. Meanwhile, her sisters show talent, attractive personalities as well as physical beauty, and an ability to think outside the box. (Continues with minor spoilers)

Continue reading "Diana Wynne Jones - Howl's Moving Castle" »

September 6, 2005

C.S.Lewis' "The Horse and His Boy"

Been having a bit of a week of nostalgia, rereading C.S.Lewis (who I haven't read since i was, oh, 15 or so. I was pleasantly surprised to find him an even better author than I remembered. Quick read, though - I've read two of his books already today and it's only 11am.

However, the reason I bring up The Horse and His Boy in particular is that it has huge numbers of what are now fantasy clichés: a runaway bride, fleeing an arranged marriage; a peasant who's really the heir to a kingdom; talking animal companions - and all of them work, and realising why they work, unlike the majority of books with those tropes made me realise why I hate them normally.

(Spoilers follow, I fear.)

Continue reading "C.S.Lewis' "The Horse and His Boy"" »

October 6, 2005

Oh, THAT Rubinstein

I was annoyed a few days ago to hear on the radio that yet another "theory" about the authorship of William Shakespeare's plays had raised its ugly head. Those things are like weeds, or bad pennies, or a particularly sticky kind of dog excrement that you can't quite completely scrape off your shoe. I did some casual googling but couldn't find anything relevant because I hadn't remembered the names of the authors, but Brian Weatherson at Crooked Timber was more dilligent. Actually, his post is far more cautious than I would have been; the comments, however, more than make up for it:
#1 from Jason Bridges:

It is perhaps worth mentioning that there is a long history of books purporting to establish that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his plays; that many of these books (like James and Rubinstein's) get favorable press, have approving prefaces written by well-known Shakespearean actors or directors, and marshal circumstantial evidence in a seemingly compelling way; that all of these books (so far) have proven to ignore evidence that decisively contradicts their theses, and that most Shakespeare scholars regard this genre in the way most evolutionary biologists regard intelligent design.

#9 from Brian:

Tracing back Steve's links, I see that Prof Rubinstein harbours some familiar doubts about evolution. Given that the Prof is disposed to recycle nonsense from outside his area of expertise, one suspects his scholarly objectivity.

And before anyone gets going about bad ad hominem arguments, I should note that in all of these cases there are many many things one could say on all sides of a given question, and non-experts have to defer to some extent to experts in picking out what is most salient. That means having some confidence that the person putting forward the view is acting in good faith. And I'm not particularly disposed to offer such charity to people who recycle the creationist playbook. So I now suspect there's some fairly obvious reason why the Neville theory can't be true, and that the authors of this book are rather declining to tell us what it might be. Given all the publicity there may well be an expert appearing in the press sooner or later to tell us what it is.

I followed that link in Brian's comment, and yes, it's that Rubinstein. The "Professor" who made a laughing stock of himself by recycling all the Creationist talking points while claiming to have an enquiring mind? Here's The Panda's Thumb's fisking of that bit o'rubbish.

I think Brian's second comment gets it right; given what we know about one of the authors, to wit that he's shown himself to be a bit of an idiot when writing in one field outside his area of expertise, there's no reason to consider him on the merits when he's writing in another field (literary scholarship) that is also outside his area of expertise.
However, there's a definite injustice in that this "professor" will undoubtedly make a good deal of money by co-writing a (probably) mendacious and (definitely) ill-thought-out piece of crap that annoys sensible people and actively subtracts from the sum total of human knowledge. At least The Shakespeare Conspiracy still spun a good yarn. This one is just another tiresome variant of "some weak-chinned aristocrat must have written Shakespeare's work because no commoner could be smart enough".

Read all the comments, Pharyngula: A historian disgraces himself, Stromata Blog: A New Shakespeare? and The Times Literary Supplement: Why Not Shakespeare? (scroll). And be glad Einar didn't get to blog about this one first; he's given to hyperbole about human stupidity when faced with IDiocy like that perpetrated by the likes of Rubinstein.

November 18, 2005

Nothing is sacred


November 20, 2005

Maigret et son Mort

I've had a Dutch edition of Maigret et son Mort by Georges Simenon in the house for almost two years, on loan from Jeroen (the lesson here is: do not lend me books), but hadn't got around to reading it until this weekend. Now that I've read it, I'd like to read some more Maigret. This one lived up to the series' reputation as literate, literary detective novels.

What I liked: the fact that throughout the first half of the novel, the characters took every opportunity to have a drink. Even a five-minute interruption in a stakeout and pursuit was used by the pursuer to knock back a nice cool one. The descriptions of the police work in which Maigret's individual brilliance solved part of the puzzle but the rest of it had to be filled in by relying on reports from other departments and off-the-record chats with minor underworld characters. This made it feel a lot more like real police work than the stylised version we get in detective novels where one person solves crimes alone.

I also liked the switch from fairly light-hearted to grim after the second killing. At that point, the boozing and puzzle-solving is superceded by mass raids and escalating accounts of the depravity of the criminals involved. There's a dark view of human nature contained in the novel - one in which tidy notions that a crime has to have a motive are given short shrift.

But let's not get too Gallic in my praise of the book. It's still a cop novel, not an existentialist magnum opus. It's a few hours spent in the company of the Inspector, his wife and his mates down the station. I'll have some more of that - but lending me the books is probably still a bad idea.

November 29, 2005

Susanna Clarke seminar

The group blog Crooked Timber is holding a seminar on Susanna Clarke and her novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (which I have given to two people so far without having read it myself - looking forward to it though). They've done one on China Mieville before.
Here's the Introduction to the seminar. Susanna Clarke is taking part herself.
They've got off to a flying start. I don't have time to read everything that's already posted, but will get back to it once I've read the novel. In the meantime, I thought some of you might like to know.

I'm sitting on a longer post about literary criticism on the internet, but focused more on the low end of the field: the livejournalers writing essays about Harry Potter for fun. I think the fact that people are writing literary criticism for fun, even if it's not exactly at the academic level (not being at the academic level has its advantages, by the way: the material posted to HP_Essays will be accessible and immediately useful to aspiring writers) will change the field a few years down the line, probably for the better. But that's something for a later posting.

This seminar, on the other hand, is by academics and will almost certainly be the sort of stuff that academics like to write about, if made slightly more accessible to the general public because it goes on a blog. Good. Yesterday, ROCR reader Martin Diehl emailed me with a question about lit crit that I was going to mull over a bit; it'll be helpful to be able to point somewhere and say "This is what they actually do" and also to be able to remind myself of just that. It's been 10 years since I got my degree, so some of my impressions of what people studying literature actually do have become a bit hazy and are probably out of date anyway.

December 2, 2005

Because she has no Latin and less Greek

We have our first recorded instance of Rowling denialism. I'm sure future scholars will debate fiercely whether the Duchess of York or Kate Bush wrote the Harry Potter novels (actually, it would fit Kate Bush rather well, what with her 12-year absense and a history of writing about the supernatural. Unless people start arguing that Kate's discovery at age 15 by one of the biggest rock stars in the world, who conveniently happened to share a mutual acquaintance with her brother, is "too good to be true" and that Kate's songs were really written by Vashti Bunyan during her 35-year absense. Then again, that tale of Vashti's pilgrimage to Scotland, being a descendent of religious writer John Bunyan, dropping out of the public eye for a lifetime after the flop of her first album, having that album slowly gain recognition until the Observer lists it in the top 100 British albums ever and the album fetches £ 900 at eBay auctions, and then being rediscovered at age 60 by the hottest young stars in indie music? Suuuuuuuure, that's likely).

Film director Nina Grünfeld simply thinks the rags-to-riches story of JK Rowling is too good to be true.

Writing in a commentary in Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten's cultural pages this week, she questioned whether it's really possible for Rowling to have been the sole creative force behind what's become an international book and movie empire.

Grünfeld recounted the stories told about Rowling, where it's claimed the aspiring author was a poor, single mother with a hungry child to feed, who got the idea for Harry Potter while she sat on a delayed train between Manchester and London. With no money for paper or an office, Rowling reportedly started scribbling out the story of Harry Potter on paper napkins picked up in Edinburgh's cafés

Grünfeld called it a "fantastic" story, that "gives hope" not least to single mothers around the world as well as mothers with unrealized dreams and strong purchasing power.

"But can a person be so productive and commercially successful in a media industry where nothing is left to coincidence?" wondered Grünfeld. "Is it possible that a person can write six thick books that are translated into 55 languages and sell more than 250 million copies in less than 10 years? Is it probable that the stories then get filmed and commercially exploited to the degree seen here, without any well-thought-out strategy or highly professional players behind them?"

And then came Grünfeld's provocative question: "Is it possible that JK Rowling exists?" Her own answer: "Well, who do they think they're kidding? Not me!"

Grünfeld then went on to float what she willingly concedes may be a conspiracy theory, that the books instead have been produced by hack writers like those at the syndicate that produced the "Nancy Drew" mystery series for young readers. The author printed on all the books, "Carolyn Keene," never really existed, Grünfeld notes, adding that she thinks Rowling is a product of "a gigantic concern with the names Bloomsbury Publishing plc and Warner Bros" in the concern's ranks.

Yes, it is possible after all to outdo Shakespeare denialists for sheer pointless, headache-inducing obnoxiousness.

May 23, 2006


Last week, Adam and I wrote what is referred to in fannish circles as a sporking, essentially a written MSTK-ing, of a chapter from the Harry Potter fanfic Hogwarts Exposed for an online community dedicated to that sort of thing. Besides being unbelievably awful,Hogwarts Exposed, noticeable for being based not just on the original Harry Potter stories (indeed it has very little connection with them at all) but on two other fanfics, from which it cribs backstory points about the defeat of Voldemort and Harry's fifth and sixth years at Hogwarts, which presumably weren't available to the HE writer when he was working on it. This makes HE a meta-fanfic.
Because Adam and I wrote our response in character, Adam as the cast of a webcomic he is writing, and me as the main cast of Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan, and because the process got way out of hand —the chapter is quoted nearly in full but the quotations make up only a small part of the finished product— the finished product reads more like a freestyle Role Playing Game than a point by point mocking of a bad fanfiction. I suppose that makes it a meta-meta fanfic. And one in which I let my own characters go out of character for the sake of some cheap gags. Ah well.
Why did we do this? For my part, I'd seen Adam and other writers doing these things before and it seemed like a fun writing exercise, and possibly a way of making the time wasted rubbernecking at Hogwarts Exposed worthwhile, so I thought I'd have a go. All chapters had already been assigned but Adam was willing to share. It's quite a lot of work, actually.
While we're on the subject of fanfics and the canon they're supposedly based on, Andrew Rilstone has something to say about the source material for The Da Vinci Code: the HMS Jesus/Mary Magdalene won't sail, based on what the Gospels actually have to say about Mary Magdalene, which is very little.
Andrew, in case you hadn't seen me wittering on about his writing before, is always a good read and one of very few bloggers who write about Christianity, from a Christian (C of E) perspective without coming across as some deranged fundamentalist.

I am probably going to regret posting this late in the evening after a long working day. Apologies in advance for any lapses in grammar, style or comprehensibility; I'll edit out the worst faults in the morning when my head is clearer.

February 21, 2007

Quick links for Wednesday

Children's literature is full of scrotums! (Via Neil Gaiman)

Matt Taibbi: Maybe We Deserve to Be Ripped Off By Bush's Billionaires:

While America obsessed about Brittany's shaved head, Bush offered a budget that offers $32.7 billion in tax cuts to the Wal-Mart family alone, while cutting $28 billion from Medicaid.

MediaFork is a new media-ripper derived from HandBrake, whose development had stalled recently. Works on OSX and linux (linux version Command Line only). I couldn't get the source code to build, but the binary version worked swimmingly. So far, I've done all my DVD ripping with MPlayer, but you can never have enough tools... and this one seems to be a little smarter than MPlayer at finding the correct audio channels automagically.

Teen 'sport killings' of homeless on the rise. Reminded me of this Majikthise post from a month or so ago. Remind me to be nice to a homeless person some time.

The man responsible for putting my old band's music on Sellaband and adding old photos showing me in the band also regularly sends me interesting music links, so I can almost forgive him. Today, he sent me a link to Dalek I, an obscure early synth duo. I didn't care much for this sort of thing when I was actually living through the synth pop era, but a lot of it sounds rather good to me now.

April 8, 2007

The Last Battle

I was rereading C.S. Lewis a while ago. I remembered that the last Narnian book wasn't very good. I had forgotten just how bad. Ignoring the simple things: poor characterisation, continuity breaking, new characters who are forced to act like idiots to forward the plot, and Susan not getting to come to Narnia because she decided she liked dating men, we hit the deep problems: The whole thing is about how evolution is a devilish trick that will damn us all, and how horrible Muslims are.

The plot, in simple form, is as follows: A monkey, who later puts on clothes and claims to be a man (spot the allusion to evolution) disguises a donkey in a lion skin and claims he's Aslan. All the other characters act like idiots, so the monkey is able to manipulate things, make deals with an Arabic country to take Narnia over and exploit it, and this causes the end of the world as per the Revelation of St. John. In the process, anything Lewis disliked is bashed, from young girls wearing makeup to evolution to skeptics (there's a group of dwarves who are so wrapped up in not wanting to be tricked that in the end they delude themselves that heaven is a mucky stable, because they entered it through a stable door. Those of you who know my love of dwarves can imagine how I feel about that.)

The first half, with religious feeling leading all the Narnians to bow down to the will of a donkey in a lion skin costume, going so far as accepting their enslavement by the Calormenes (basically, Arabs) because "Aslan" wishes it, is almost a parody of religion. The intended targets, however, remain evolution and Muslims (with a side of skeptics), with the foolishness displayed by the religious evidently being considered absolutely appropriate, I suppose. Lewis' views on evolution are explained further here, where he's quoted saying that Darwin's "monkeying with the ancestry of Man", as well as the study of psychology, stripped away (in that article's summary) "rationality, purpose, volition and freedom, imagination, commitment, [and] the image of God."

...What? So using rational thought to investigate man's origins and modes of thought is less rational than blind belief? Are the vague purposes given man in the Bible - to basically serve God as his servants every waking moment - conductive to volition and freedom, or are they in fact subsuming yourself to a God that cannot be as he is defined in the Bible? Is imagination destroyed by showing us the full spread of reality in all its myriad forms - the animals of Cambrian explosion, the strangeness of nature as a whole, the stars spiraling above us? Or is it destroyed by narrow-mindedness and refusal to consider new ideas that contradict with a single book? Commitment to what? Is this a request to return to the days when beaten wives were forced to remain married to their husbands and put up with it? And what exactly is "the image of God" anyway?

...In short, skip the book. The whole thing, save maybe the last 10 pages, (which it must be admitted do manage, unlike every other depiction I've ever seen, to create a view of Heaven that might actually be livable in), is a badly-writted screed with all the subtlety of "All those with living fathers step forwards. Not so fast, Johnson!"

May 1, 2007

Review of "The God Delusion" - Part I: Preface to Chapter 2

Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is an important book: There have been other books about atheism, but most are written in such a way to preach to the converted, or have been ignored. His book has succeeded where they have not, and for that, Dawkins deserves all respect.

Dawkins sets out his purpose in writing this as to make it clear for people stuck in religion that there is an alternative, and they have another option that is, indeed, an acceptable one. As someone who spent years tormented because I never knew that my growing discontent with the problems I kept finding in the weird branch of fundamentalist Christianity my mother espoused, and feeling I had noone to turn to (while never realising my father was a damn Freethinker, and I could have gone to him at any time. Sheesh, dad! You could have dropped a few hints, and not suddenly tell me when I'm 27 and have worked my way through it alone), I can only wish I had known about this book, or any other like it, as a child. (He wanted me to be able to make my own decisions, and so just made sure to teach me science and mathematics, and so on. I appreciate this, but, still...) This book fulfils its purpose as set out, and thus must be considered a total success.

However, it does mean that like "The Selfish Gene" and "The Blind Watchmaker", I'm going to be reading this book far too late in my education for it to really tell me much I don't know, so I'm going to end up much more critical than other supporters would be.

Chapter 1 deals mainly with the Einsteinian version of God - Spinoza's pantheism, or God as a metaphor for the universe and its laws. It's actually very well done - engaging, and also informative.

However, like the rest of the book, it's somewhat sloppy. References are given in three seperate forms: Footnotes, endnotes, and worked into the text; none of them would allow you easily locate a quote Dawkins used, unless the source is short, because Dawkins never gives page numbers. On page 16 (British hardcover edition), he begins to describe reactions to Einstein's public statement of his beliefs, gives a source for them, then parenthetically mentions that this source was his "main" source for all the quotes that came before. Does that mean some of them are not from that source? If so, where? Dawkins is silent.

I trust Dawkins, and am willing to believe he's gotten things mostly right, and don't feel the need to check he's accurately quoted Einstein. However, a standard rule of referencing is to be sure to cite anything that's especially difficult to believe. A section on the reaction to the Danish cartoons (page 25) claims that one sign at a protest read "Behead those who say Islam is a violent religion". This complete lack of irony is especially difficult to believe. Now, this is tangental to his main point, and three references do support major points in his description of the affair from Danish imams intentionally manufacturing protest and adding three additional images to the original set in order to provoke anger further. Sadly, I can easily believe the uncited, but plausible descriptions of violence that occured as a result of it. However, while getting upset about a few cartoons may not show intelligence, "Behead those who claim Islam is a violent religion" is ridiculously stupid, and therefore ought to have been cited.

Chapter 2 begins by setting out the existance of God as a minimal hypothesis, "There exists a super-human, upernatural intelligence who delibrately designed and created this universe, including us." He goes on to mention that individual religions add rather a lot of extra baggage to the hypothesis wihich makes it more and more improbable. He mentions polytheism, but explains that the arguments against it aren't significntly different than that of monotheism, and most of his readers are probably more familiar with monotheism. This is... to some extent fair enough. He also explains that the Trinity, angels, and saints are polytheism in all but name (an opinion I've long held myself). He deals at length with the deism and atheism of America's founding fathers, and their probable horror at religion taking over America, and it's great reading, and very convincing stuff. A summary of an incident from David Mills' book "Atheist Universe" on page 44 was very well chosen, but perhaps a bit too well chosen: it's far more exciting and readable than anything Dawkins writes himself, precisely because Dawkins has almost certainly never suffered significantly for his atheism, but Mills lives in America and has. Dawkins' detached style cannot compete with a good personal story.

Then he spends 9 pages on an unconvincing and, frankly, ridiculous discussion of "why the term agnostic is bad." He explains the source, T.H.Huxley, one of my favourite writers... then... redefines agnosticism as saying that the two possibilities are equally probable - that God's exostance and non-existance are both equally likely to be true.

This is poppycock. Unadulterated nonsense. Huxley was seperating himself from people who rejected religion outright on emotional grounds. He was defining agnostic as someone who analysed the evidence, and could find no evidence that God existed. Dawkins pulls his equal-probability claim out of thin air. This poorly-argued bit of claptrap should never have made the cut to reach the final book.

The second half of this section quotes half a dozen examples of undisprovable, but highly improbable things as supposed examples of why agnosticism (under his definition) with regards to questions of faith is foolish, and how the proper term is atheism. These range from Bertrand Russel's teapot orbiting between the Earth and Mars to invisible, intangible, and inaudible unicorns to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Also "the world is rhombus shaped and borne through the cosmos in the pincers of two enormous green lobsters" - which is highly disprovable, even easily disprovable, and should not have been mentioned.

This being Dawkins, he then has to spend a section attacking Gould. The concept of "non-overlapping magesteria" from Gould's "Rocks of Ages" (a book I admire), was one of Gould's many attempts to put religion in its place by defining it as precisely equal to ethics, and keeping it out of science.

Dawkins, however, spends 7 pages completely misconstruing Gould's points. Again. Is some great public demonstration of his inability to follow the logic of anything Gould writes at least once per book a requirement of his book contract or something? To be fair, though, his points in this section are perfectly valid, just directed at something Gould, a fellow atheist, didn't believe in the first place - which Dawkins admits on page 57 "I simply do not believe that Gould could possiblyt have meant much of what he wrote in Rocks of Ages", but goes on to say he, as Dawkins claimed Huxley did in his setting out of the meaning of agnosticism, was "bending over backwards to be nice to an unworthy but powerful opponent". Dawkins best evidence for this is that Gould says that we cannot comment on the question of God's existance as scientists. Dawkins reply that we can, however, comment on its probability. However, the key phrase is "as scientists": science does not work by what seems most likely or ought to be true. It works by making hypotheses, collecting evidence, and testing them. Dawkins' makes several arguments against this view, but all are very poor, and get increasingly far from anything Gould ever claimed as they go on. They all boil down to either "some things could potentially be proven one way or the other if we somehow got evidence" or simply saying that all logical endeavours count as science.

This section is his most flagrant example of lack of references: "How many literalists have read enough of the Bible to know that the death penalty is prescribed for adultery, for gathering sticks on the sabbath, and for cheeking your parents." The relevant verses are not given, though it's implied they're in Deuteronomy or Leviticus.

I'll lend a hand. The verses in question are Leviticus 20:10, Numbers 15:32-35 (Guess the implication was wrong), and Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Always make it as easy for someone to confirm a surprising revelation as possible. Being undeniably shown that sort of thing is in the Bible is a good way to demonstrate against inerrancy. Making vague assertions that sort of thing is in there is not.

However, I'm happy to say the rest of the chapter returns to the engaging and highly readable mood with which it opened.

July 20, 2007

Because it's You-know-who day

The Hermione Crookshanks Experience
Harry and the Potters
The Remus Lupins
Draco and the Malfoys
The Harry Potter Allience
The Mudblood brothers
The Hungarian Hornbloods (just 8 years old!)
Neville and the Longbottoms

There are many, many more. You can spend all day on Myspace to get in the mood!

July 28, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows spoiler-free capsule review

(Note: When I say "Spoiler-free", this should be taken as a statement of intent. I can't second-guess what other people will consider spoilers, and even minor revelations about the content of Deathly Hallows can be used to piece together the puzzle of what happens in the book, who dies, who wins, etcetera, before actually reading it. So while I go out of my way to avoid spoilers in this review, it still goes below the adcut (I removed the ad in an attempt to figure out what's breaking the template when the cut is used) in the blog, and under an LJ cut for those reading it through the Livejournal feed)

Continue reading "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows spoiler-free capsule review" »

July 29, 2007

Harry Potter and the Botherers of God

While we're on the subject of Harry Potter (and I suspect we will be for a little longer), Sara Robinson at Orcinus wrote a good piece on why fundamentalists are so bothered by myth-and-magic stories in general and Harry Potter in particular:

The common thread that runs through all of these is magic. And that, I think, is the real burr that gets under fundamentalist saddles. In fundieland, magic is the most frightening and legitimate of all the competing myth systems -- the Devil's own preferred alternative to prayer and submission. Other belief systems (Buddhism, Hinduism, the Greek myths) are viewed as sad and rather pathetically delusional; but anything that smacks of magic is feared as actively Satanic.

Why is magic such a hot button? The reasons go to the heart of fundamentalist theology. At their core, fundamentalists believe that humans are wretched creatures who aren't really even human unless touched by God's grace. (And, yes, this does mean that those of us who are unsaved can rightly be considered subhuman.) We cannot do anything right; we do not deserve to have control over our own affairs; and any notion that we have intrinsic power to achieve good in the world (or even the authority to define "good" or "bad" on our own terms) is a diabolical delusion. Left to our own devices, we will not only screw it up for ourselves; we will ultimately ensure the Devil his victory over the world -- including them -- as well.

Implicit in this is the idea that all authority is necessarily, rightfully external. The fate of the entire world depends on how completely we can give up our desire to control our destinies, and submit to God and his appointed earthly overseers. This obsession with the need for external authority is, in a nutshell, is why fundamentalism is a form of religious authoritarianism.

Stories about magic openly defy this whole belief system. Magic-using characters like Harry usurp the supernatural power and prerogatives of God -- a sufficient heresy in its own right. But it's worse than that: they're also exercising their own internal authority, and acting out of their own agency. And that's the last thing fundamentalists want their children -- or anyone else -- learning how to do.

That's why we're hearing all the shrieking hysterics from the fundie side.

Read the rest, and read the comments, as Orcinus is one of those sites where the quality of commentary is usually high.

August 7, 2007

Rilstone on Harry

On August 2, Andrew Rilstone asked Is J.K. Rowling actually any good? and answered "No". Now*) he's written the review to back it up, and it's one of those reviews that made me nod in agreement even though I really like the series as a whole and the latest installment in particular. This is how it's done, would-be reviewers (warning: the quoted section is merely a sample of the whole and should not be taken as a substitute for it):

Harry Potter and the Qualified Recantation: .... I thought that Rowling had cleverly dusted off the old and slightly reactionary genre of the school story and given us permission to enjoy it again. I thought that it was a witty conceit to set such a story in a world which functions, like Alice in Wonderland, according to a kind of dream-like illogical logic. That's very much how the adult world can appear to a child. (That was Lewis Caroll's point as well, obviously.) Snape asks Harry questions that he knows perfectly well that Harry can't possibly answer. Harry is sometimes late for lessons because one of the staircases in the school moved while he wasn't looking. The Headmaster makes strict and sometimes rather arbitrary rules but is just as likely to praise Harry as punish him when he breaks them. That's how school feels to a child. "I don't know how this works, I can't avoid getting into trouble because I simply don't know what these irrational adult-things expect of me." When I was eight, it was obvious that the class bully was a member of a secret order bent on world domination and that Miss Beale was a wicked witch in disguise. At Hogwarts, that's actually true. [...] The problem sets in around volume 4, when Rowling ceases to treat Hogwarts as a literary device and starts treating it as if it was a real educational establishment. The whimsical "Billy Bunter with a magic wand" adventures become subordinate to a painfully derivative fantasy quest story in which Harry is the Chosen One who can defeat the Dark Lord. This creates massive inconsistencies in tone. In the fifth volume, evil Blairite Dolores Umbridge starts to physically torture misbehaving pupils. Are we to read this as comic violence or react to it as a realistic depiction of quite serious child abuse? If the latter, are we entitled to ask whether there are social workers or schools inspectors in the wizarding world? If Harry is now the Hero With a Thousand Faces are we really supposed to care (or imagine that he cares) about his wizarding exams or who wins the Quidditch tournament?

I also like his use of style parodies to bring home his point, though neither that gimmick nor his use of the question-and-answer format midway through the review are strictly necessary. It's another fine example of the reviewer's craft, from a man who, unlike most bloggers, including, on most days, yours truly, actually thinks and organises his thoughts before posting. Read the whole thing.

*) Strictly in the non-journalistic sense of the word, i.e. after previously.

August 29, 2007

Starship Stormtroopers

Starship Stormtroopers, an eminently readable essay, or perhaps a transcripted speech, by Michael Moorcock from 1977, about authoritarianism in Science Fiction and Fantasy literature:

There are still a few things which bring a naive sense of shocked astonishment to me whenever I experience them -- a church service in which the rituals of Dark Age superstition are performed without any apparent sense of incongruity in the participants -- a fat Soviet bureaucrat pontificating about bourgeois decadence -- a radical singing the praises of Robert Heinlein. If I were sitting in a tube train and all the people opposite me were reading Mein Kampf with obvious enjoyment and approval it probably wouldn't disturb me much more than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkien or Richard Adams. All this visionary fiction seems to me to have a great deal in common. Utopian fiction has been predominantly reactionary in one form or another (as well as being predominantly dull) since it began. Most of it warns the world of 'decadence' in its contemporaries and the alternatives are usually authoritarian and sweeping -- not to say simple-minded. A look at the books on sale to Cienfuegos customers shows the same old list of Lovecraft and Rand, Heinlein and Niven, beloved of so many people who would be horrified to be accused of subscribing to the Daily Telegraph or belonging to the Monday Club and yet are reading with every sign of satisfaction views by writers who would make Telegraph editorials look like the work of Bakunin and Monday Club members sound like spokesmen for the Paris Commune.

Some years ago I remember reading an article by John Pilgrim in Anarchy in which he claimed Robert Heinlein as a revolutionary leftist writer. As a result of this article I could not for years bring myself to buy another issue. I'd been confused in the past by listening to hardline Communists offering views that were somewhat at odds with their anti-authoritarian claims, but I'd never expected to hear similar things from anarchists. My experience of science fiction fans at the conventions which are held annually in a number of countries (mainly the US and England) had taught me that those who attended were reactionary (claiming to be 'apolitical' but somehow always happy to vote Tory and believe Colin Jordan to 'have a point'). I always assumed these were for one reason or another the exceptions among sf enthusiasts. Then the underground papers began to emerge and I found myself in sympathy with most of their attitudes -- but once again I saw the old arguments aired: Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov and the rest, bourgeois reactionaries to a man, Christian apologists, crypto-Stalinists, were being praised in IT, Frendz and Oz and everywhere else by people whose general political ideals I thought I shared. I started writing about what I thought was the implicit authoritarianism of these authors and as often as not found myself accused of being reactionary, elitist or at very best a spoilsport who couldn't enjoy good sf for its own sake. But here I am again at Stuart Christie's request, to present arguments which I have presented more than once before.

Read on and take notes. And get yerself some John Brunner novels. They're good. (via)

Note: misspelling of "Tolkien" in the quoted section corrected because I'll have no part in spreading it around.

October 6, 2007

Books not to buy: Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools.

Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools is an awful thing to realise you spent six quid on.

At first, I thought it was a Musicians of Bremen plot, which seemed interesting. You know, a group of people who set off to make their fortunes, then get sidetracked into something better and settle down together happily.

The dialogue and characterisation was weak, and there's occassional Drawings from the Uncanny Valley, but I kept reading because I thought this was just a consequence of the fairy tale plot.

I was, of course, wrong. It quickly took a sharp right turn into cliché. They meet a spoiled princess, who reforms in .3 seconds. She has an evil uncle, who even thinks about how fun it is to be evil, who is trying to kill her. The heroes get blamed for her absence, she's sold into slavery, they rescue her, she gives a speech, rallying the commonfolk, and takes things back.

More about the heroes in a moment. Let's first talk about enemies By legal requirement in Philip Caveney's world, anyone evil must be described as being big and having a beard. The beard is best described every single sentence. For example:

There was a long silence while the men appraised each other. Then the bearded man stepped forwards, his sword raised. Cornelius waited, his expression calm. The man launched an attack, and Cornelius performed that lazy, almost imperceptable flick of the wrist. His opponent took a couple more steps forward, his eyes staring straight ahead, a bright pool of blood blossoming on his chest. Then he missed a step and went tumbling down the staircase.

Another, surprisingly similar one:
There were shouts of encouragement from Red Beard's companions and he looked around them for moral support, before shrugging his shoulders, hefting his huge double-handed sword, and stepping forward to meet Cornelius... The manling gave an almost imperceptable flick of his wrist, the silver blade blurred into motion and the big man grunted in surprise, clutching at his stomach.

And a third:

The bearded man and Cornelius stood in the dimly lit barn staring at each other.... The bearded man lunged forward, his sword raised to strike, but Cornelius parried the blow with his own blade and then performed a quick somersault up onto the tabletop... he intercepted a second blow and ran the bearded man through.

The heroes, meanwhile? A hairless dwarf with a baby-like features. A half-elf jester (OMG hated because of his half-breed status!) with empathetic powers to see the truth about people's character that strangely only ever kicks in when plot convenient, and otherwise fails. A talking buffalope (Why, why did I read past that word?). And a spoiled princess who becomes unspoiled in three pages, then is unable to do anything else but have the narrator preach at her for the rest of the book. Because, you know, the reader might not realise slavery is wrong, or that, um... alright, I'm not quite sure what lesson she learns from seeing people squabbling over bread while she thinks of the dinners back at the palace she didn't eat, and which in a working palace would have been happily eaten by the servants. But I suppose that the author had a child who wouldn't eat his vegetables, and needed a way of lecturing him.

In the end, the princess rejects the jester so that she can make a diplomatic alliance by marriage (people still do that plot?) and there's a deus ex machina map found. Both are awful writing to allow a sequel on the high seas. I'm sure there will be lots of Cornelius making almost imperceptible flicks of his wrist which kill bearded bearded bearded pirates. However, funnily enough, I won't be reading it

Avoid this book at all costs.

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